‘Blood of My Blood’ is one of the most cogent illustrations of the intersectionality of the vital subjects and themes that makes Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire the masterworks that they are, across both their respective media. That this episode was simultaneously magisterial and grounded makes it a classic in my estimation, because these are two of the traits the series revels in that lesser, less balanced narratives often treat as mutually exclusive.
Several times this season I’ve mentioned the thematic elements that bind the various storylines within individual episodes that bind them together as installments, and that quality is on full display here, seamlessly linking threads taking place miles away from each other with no direct causal influence on each other that are nonetheless linked in concrete ways explored through the narrative itself, all in grand dramatic fashion in a manner that can only be compared to series such as The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad, further solidifying Game of Thrones as one of the finest dramatic television series in the history of the medium.
The Horn Hill sequence was satisfying for several reasons, the first of which being that it was a seamlessly executed, economical sequence centered around two characters that quite frankly, garner tremendous affection but are often charged with the thankless task of keeping the narrative thread intact while more “eventful” developments occur. The performances were spot-on, bringing some really sharp writing and scene construction to its fullest fruition. We knew from Sam’s descriptions of his father that he was a total shit, but I always entertained the possibility that he might be the sort of baffoonish shit entitled lords often tend to be, but this guy (James Faulkner) was genuinely intimidating. Seeing Gilly stand firm in defense of Sam’s honor and Sam performing the single bravest act of his life in absconding with his loved ones and taking the sword that his turd of a father thought he could hold over him was really gratifying to watch as a fan.
I’m also quite happy to say that after a couple weeks of well-acted tedium in Braavos, it paid off in an amazingly layered scene that is but the latest and surely not the last in a long line of moments that demonstrates why Maisie Williams is one of the best actors in the world. Lady Crane mentions to Arya backstage that she has “very expressive eyes,” which, not coincidentally, Williams does have, which is part of her gift as an actor, but what makes a great actor is not simply the gifts they are given, but how they use them and hone them. The way that Williams’ eyes can serve as a window into her character’s soul is a massive part of why myself and so many other fans of the series connect so much to Arya as a character.
What was so brilliant about this scene is that it encapsulates through so many layers what Arya’s arc has been over the past several seasons; through her connection with Lady Crane’s performance Arya ends up inadvertently emphasizing with someone she’s dedicated herself to murdering (Cersei). Not having been there but knowing quite well the people involved, Arya is able to genuinely and earnestly put herself in Cersei’s emotional position at the time of Joffrey’s assassination, which after all is the project of acting and storytelling in general. By relating to the pain of one of her sworn (and actual) enemies by being in touch with her own pain, Arya has now truly learned the lesson to learned from the obsessively drilled directive of “becoming no one.” Arya has truly gained a new perspective on events she likely thought she knew how she felt about.
At the risk of getting esoteric, empathy is in so many ways the very essence of being yourself, everyone, anyone, and “no one” all at once, which is why it can be so crippling when there’s no way to harness it. Acting, writing, storytelling, etc., are ways to at least attempt to harness this thing, which is why, I daresay, many of us of a certain ilk “are who we are.” Arya has experienced a lot more trauma than I have, personally, but I say with confidence that I feel her pain, by which I mean, I empathize with her, I understand why and that (not how, crucially, which is one of the fundamental differences between empathy and sympathy) she feels how she feels. This was one of the most beautifully acted scenes of the season so far.
The Great Sept sequence was absolutely spectacular and a great opportunity to show off the phenomenal costumes and production design you can almost take for granted as a viewer because those departments are so reliably excellent on this show. This sequence sat right on the borderline of excessive grandiosity and walked the tightrope with aplomb. The spectacle of the soldiers marching the streets, Jaime charging up the stairs on his horse in the wide shot, and the masterful dance between the performers on camera, the camera itself, and the editing were the highlights for me. This sequence was one of the best reminders of how truly epic this series is, with minimal CGI, as far as I could tell, especially compared to the usual epic events with heavy CGI involving dragons and wights.
I am continually and increasingly impressed by how well Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau work together. They’re both excellent individually and they’ve always worked well together, but their scenes together have gotten progressively stronger over the course of the series. Part of why these two are so amazing together is that they’re tasked with pulling off what could easily slip into being the pulpiest and most salacious storyline of the entire series, but never does thanks to their phenomenal performances (and great writing). The Cersei and Jaime scenes are always incredibly intense but never tiresome, forced, or over the top in any way inorganic to the series or any standard of realism. Headey and Coster-Waldau truly bring out the best in each other.
Finally, at the risk of framing all my analysis through the lens of electoral politics, I really Dany’s big moment at the end of this episode was basically her “convention speech.” She’s given a great many speeches over the course of a very lengthy campaign and this grand address she delivers to her Khalasar from atop her most beloved, loyal, and volatile dragon is the culmination of all the previous speeches; this is the big sell, the big ask. Dany is effectively accepting her party’s nomination for the office of world conquerer.