Game of Thrones fans beware! The night is dark and full of terrors, and this review will have spoilers. Which could be a scarier prospect.
If you're in need of a catch up, you can read this to get you up to speed. This week: A lot of zigging where you expect zagging, and Sam finds you really can't go home again.
Beyond The Wall
Meera and Bran are saved by a mysterious rider who can seemingly slay – or at least incapacitate – wights.
If there was a downside to the emotional highs (or lows, as they were) of the last episode, it was the idea that the slow moving Meera and Bran could actually escape the scurrying wights. So credit to the team for not letting them get away, but having them saved by that mystery man, even as his coming is foretold in Bran's magical history tour. A little convenient, but no less entertaining. And that fire mace is sure to become the new, er, hot, toy for this winter season! Adult supervision required. May cause singed scalp.
Sam brings Gilly to his home and a warm welcome from his mother Melissa (Samantha Spiro) and sister Talla (Rebecca Benson).
Could anyone (at least outside of the book fans) have predicted that we'd want to find out more about Sam's family? Sam's nervous energy is well played by John Bradley, who always digs deep for his character, and complemented by Hannah Murray's sensitive Gilly, thrust once more into a situation she's ill-prepared for. Still, it's nice to see people (outside of his friends) treat Sam with some kindness. We have a feeling that warmth won't last...
Tommen talks with Margaery, who has seemingly converted to the High Sparrow's ways.
The way Natalie Dormer plays Margaery, it remains difficult to know if she's simply playing the latest hand that life has dealt her and faking her religious conversion to save her life, but we're leaning towards her actually finding some faith, misplaced though it may be. It's a quiet scene between the husband and wife with possibly (and understandably) the least sexual chemistry this side of Ramsay and... anyone... but sweet all the same, even if we do worry the effect it'll have on Tommen, who could be swayed by a strong breeze.
Sam's father castigates him. Gilly's true background is revealed. Sam decides to leave.
You could argue that the writers (this week's script is credited to executive producer Bryan Cogman) and George R.R. Martin tipped their hand to how Sam's homecoming would go years before, but it doesn't take away from the power of seeing how badly Sam is treated by his family. Who, let's face it, should be less smug and overbearing given that the other men all seem to be named after erectile enhancement drugs. Dickon? Randyll? Feels fitting that they're a bunch of dickheads. Kudos to the team for not going to expected "Sam sticks up for himself at the table" route, but still giving him a small victory with the choice to get out, and take the family sword. Valyrian steel, eh? Wonder if that will come in handy in future?
Arya is impressed by Lady Crane, and decides to save her life. Which does not go down well with Jaqen H'ghar.
With no Tyrion around, the laughs come again from the play (and its players backstage), but there's also a welcome pivot into showing just how good Lady Crane (Essie Davis) – Lady Stork in the books – is. While Arya's change of heart was a turn suggested last week, we're glad to see her sticking to her guns (well, sword), even if she knows it means slapping a big target on her back. And more meta even than the production? Crane asking Arya if she likes pretending to be other people. Which can apply both to her and Maisie Williams. Anyone else imagining Crane following up with "Do you want to join us for our next play, The Mighty Past And Future Adventures Of The Nameless Doctor"? Just us?
Jaime and the Tyrell force aim to retrieve Margaery and Loras. But the High Sparrow has an ace in the hole. Jaime is removed from the Kingsguard
Anti-climax, thy name is Part One of the Lannister/Tyrell rescue mission. If you were hoping for a big clash, you'll be disappointed. Tommen, of course, once again proves to be as useful as a bicycle for a fish, and Jonathan Pryce is smugness incarnate as he introduces his latest convert. Poor old Jaime and Cersei... They just can't catch a break right now. Bet they're going to just forget all this happens, yes? Wrongo! Other things we've learned this week: Mace Tyrell (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) gives RUBBISH speeches. Olenna would do a better job in her sleep.
Walder Frey is displeased at the lack of victory against Brynden Tully.
It's the return of everyone's favorite angry granddad! Yes, Walder Frey, the man you don't want planning your wedding or going anywhere near your family, gets to spit and threaten and generally rant at his less-than-impressive warriors. Always nice to see David Bradley back, even if it's more of an expositional scene in disguise than anything else. But look! Edmure Tully's back too, giving Tobias Menzies his contractual appearance in any big fantasy series.
Jaime and Cersei plot their next move.
A fairly standard Jaime and Cersei speeches 'n' snogging scene, in which Cersei repeats that they absolutely, positively won't let anyone stand in their way when it comes to vengeance. We must admit, however, that for all their tough talk, we've yet to see much impact. As always, however, don't count out the Lannisters just yet. And Lena Headey really is the best when it comes to angry threats.
Beyond The Wall
Much foreshadowed by all of Bran's flashbacks to his early days with Ned, the mystery warrior turns out to be Benjen Stark, last seen in the present (well, Season One) heading out beyond the wall. He puts himself back into the narrative and has been on an adventure all right, surviving an encounter with the White Walkers thanks to the magic of the children. So what we're saying is, Benjen is a badass. Oh, and Bran is the new Raven. The scene is really a spoken trailer for a promised, epic showdown between the Night's King, Bran and whatever forces can muster at the wall. They're going to need a bigger budget...
Dany reunites with one of her kids, and outlines her big invasion of the Seven Kingdoms.
Dany is the mother of dragons, did you know? It's not like she ever mentions it. She doesn't need to this week, as Drogon returns, bigger than ever to make an impressive entrance. We don't get to see Dany berating him for leaving her behind, just her big triumphant speech atop her mighty dragon. It comes across as a little repetitive after her barbecue in Episode Four, but it's still impressive.
A slight decline after last week's barnstormer of an episode, but this one has some fun to offer. Benjen's return is weirdly welcome, and only one or two of the stories feel like waypoints on the storyline, nudging events along without providing much nutrition. And even those, such as the return of Walder, have their little joys. We're past the halfway point now, so expect things to ramp up even further.
Highlight: Benjen riding to the rescue.
Lowlight: Tommen, the little pillock of a king.
Kill of the week: Slim pickings this week. Do the wights count? We're counting them.
Quote of the week: "I'm angry that horrible people can treat good people that way and get away with it." - Gilly, who clearly has not been watching the show.
MVP: Sam. It might not end well for him, but stealing the family sword proves he still has cojones.
Random thought: This week's spin-off show, Benjen, Zax & The Alien Prince, in which three friends evade bounty hunters and White Walkers.
Season 6, Episode review guide