The Blood of my Blood is Myself
The core theme of ‘Blood of My Blood’, and perhaps even all of season 6, is reflection on identity. In this particular episode it’s the question of who a person is within the context of family and dynasty. Tommen is manipulated to fall in line with the Faith by his wife Margaery. Daenerys is nudged toward embracing her heritage as a Targaryen conqueror by Daario Naharis. Sam torn down by his lord father, and built back up again by Gilly. Bran is told of his destiny as the Three Eyed Raven by his reanimated uncle UnBenjen. Jaime is relieved of his position as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard by his king nephew-son, and then called to take up his place as head of House Lannister by his sister-lover. And “Mercy” is inadvertently brought back to her identity as Arya of House Stark by the charismatic actress Lady Crane.
Tommen and Margaery:
Margaery really spells out the theme of this episode when she speaks with Tommen about how the High Sparrow isn’t really who she and Tommen took him for, and then reflects on who she has been and who she has appeared to be. “I’ve had lots of time to think about how good I was at seeming good.” Now part of me wonders how genuine Margaery is in all of this, seeing as her “genuine” discovery of piety has really just put her right back to where she wants to be by using her manipulation to bring Tommen into the fold.
But this theme of characters being reminded who they were born to be is played out throughout the entire episode:
Dany and Daario:
Daenerys is told by Daario that she was meant to be a conqueror rather than a conciliator, and she then mounts Drogon and reclaims her former identity as the fearsome Mother of Dragons. This seems pretty true to her book storyline, and the event actually feels pretty believable. Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed this scene quite a bit. The CGI on her riding Drogon was better than it was last time Dany rode him, and the Dothraki extras did a very good job at portraying hype.
Jaime and Cersei:
Jaime is stripped from his position as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard by his own son, and is encourage by Cersei to claim the position he was born into, as the head of House Lannister. This even comes with the same creepy “twincest against the world” attitude that Jaime and Cersei displayed at the beginning. This definitely seems like a divergence from Jaime’s book plotline, but it’s one that works so far for this world. There is a certain chivalry to Jaime’s actions, sticking by the show’s less evil portrayal of Cersei, and doing his best to take care of his last living child rather.
Sam and Gilly:
Samwell comes back home to be berated by his father just as he always was for his softer more scholarly disposition, and for bringing what is secretly a wildling back to Horn Hill. Gilly stands up for Sam, and despite looking completely ridiculous dressed up like a southern lady, keeps a certain pride in who she is and reminds Sam to do the same. It’s perhaps Gilly’s reminder that makes Sam unable to leave her at Horn Hill, and brings him to continue to break his vows by taking what is essentially a wife, fathering a son, and even taking the Tarly family sword.
Bran and Benjen:
Bran is rescued by his uncle Benjen, who is now a wight. Uncle UnBenjen has apparently been “sent for by the Three Eyed Raven,” though it’s unclear which Three Eyed Raven sent for him. Was it Max Von Sydow, or was it Bran? This turn of events is interesting because it implies that in the show and the books, Bran will have the power to animate reanimate the dead.
So “ColdBenjen” reaffirms to Bran and Meera that Bran has become the Three Eyed Raven, and that it is his destiny to face the Night King and the army of the dead when they reach the world of men. Bran is himself, but he is also not himself. He has also merged with something that is beyond human and beyond himself.
SIDE NOTE: Benjen is a reanimate corpse. Just look at his face. He died. The Children did not use the dragonglass to save Benjen’s life, they used it to cancel out the White Walker’s magic and prevent him from turning into a wight. In fact, I find it very unlikely that Brother-uncle Benjen has been casually walking around north of the Wall for 5 years, and more likely that he simply rises from the dead when he is needed. Apparently, Benjen is “show!Coldhands”, but [according to Martin] Benjen is not book!Coldhands. It still leaves the question whether this will be the destiny of Benjen in the books, or if they have something else planned. With Benjen being such a mystery, it seems like it would be a big change for the show. But at the same time, it also seems a bit redundant for Benjen to become Coldhands #2 in the books. We’ll have to wait and see.
Faceless Man in the Mirror
Something I have been noticing this season is how the show uses cinematography to connect scenes to one another on a thematic level, from episode to episode and this season to previous seasons. For example, Bran (who is now the rightful Lord of Winterfell), is depicted standing where his lord father stood in the scene he is introduced. Young Ned Training Benjen is shot to reflect Jon training Olly. The S6Ep2 ending shot of Jon’s resurrection was originally story boarded to mirror the S2Ep2 ending shot of Bran’s waking up, but it was later changed to match the S6Ep5 closing shot of Wyllis becoming Hodor. Another example would be the way Arya’s training montage was set up to reflect the injuries taken by people close to her. Or how Melisandre washing Jon’s body before resurrection was a direct call back to how the Faceless Men wash bodies before they have their faces removed so that their identities can be worn by someone else.
In this episode we get perhaps the clearest example of this visual symmetry yet, when Arya is having second thoughts about poisoning Lady Crane, and a girl looks into the mirror.
In this shot, having viewed a play to remind herself of who she is and where she comes from, Arya must look at her own face in the mirror as she decides whether she can forsake her own personal code of justice and kill an actress purely in service of the Many-Faced God. The focus shifts from Arya’s face in the mirror to the rum, as she decides between being true to herself or doing what has been asked of her. After this Arya speaks to Lady Crane, and her conversation with Lady Crane causes her to further empathize with the talented stranger, and not to take her life.
This shot is even repeated when the actress who plays Sansa looks at herself in the same mirror, indicating her envy of Lady Crane, and her involvement in the plot to poison her.
This mirror gazing moment of self reflection is a direct call back to the ending shot of ‘The Red Woman.’
In this shot, Melisandre has failed Stannis Baratheon, and has found herself in a crisis of faith. She finds herself doubting that her Lord of Light has a purpose for her, or whether she is even capable of fulfilling that purpose. At her lowest point Melisandre looks at the woman in the mirror to take stock of who she really is, and takes off her glamour to reveal the feeble old woman that lies underneath the facade of the seductive “Red Woman.”
The parallel between these two scenes is no accident, and it’s likely not just a stylistic choice since the two episodes have different directors. But in both shots there is a vial on the table which is focused on, the same basic composition, and even the score is exactly the same.
In anycase, Arya’s self reflection leads to her sword in the stone moment, where Needle is salvaged, and with it her sense of self.
The last thing I would point out is that the scene between Jaqen and the Waif is pretty interesting. Though the Waif is given permission to kill Arya, is seems that the Waif too is unable to let go of her sense of self. Maybe not her name, but her disdain for Arya seems to be deeply personal and perhaps based on being from a much lower social class. In her conversation with Jaqen the Waif tells him “you promised me,” hence referring to herself as “me,” rather than “a girl,” indicating that the Waif too isn’t truly no one.
From this I get the sense that Jaqen doesn’t really care much if Arya or the Waif dies, as he sees both as tools to serve an agenda or further an ideology. I don’t think there is any chance Jaqen is coming after Arya.
Perhaps the next time he see Jaqen, he may well be wearing the face he was removing from a corpse… perhaps in Oldtown.
Killerbowl = Fucking Confirmed.