After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 6, we’ll be answering a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros? This week, technology and culture writer Jacob Brogan is joined by Slate culture editor Dan Kois.
Brogan: Hi, Dan. Thanks for joining me to talk about “Blood of My Blood.” You co-host a parenting podcast, so I’m sure you too noticed that this was an episode built around terrible fathers, from the perpetually baffled Mace Tyrell to the incest-loving Jaime Lannister. Surely, however, none is worse than Randyll Tarly, the Lord of Horn Hill.
When Sam first made it home, I was pleased to learn that he apparently grew up in some sort of Westerosi Jane Austen novel, a place of bright colors and disappointing arranged marriages. Within a few scenes, however, we were out of Austenland and deep in Brontë territory, the screen so dark that I could barely make out Randyll’s face as he ranted about Gilly and banished his son for the second time. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. This is, after all, a guy who literally named his favored son Dickon. Is it any surprise that he too is a tremendous dick?
Kois: That dinner scene was truly painful, as Gilly stood up for Sam when he wouldn’t do it himself, and then, worse, Sam’s mom stood up for Gilly when he once again proved himself unable. I’m not sure that I view fleeing in the dead of night and stealing a sword without ever confronting his dad as the act of courage the show seems to, but I do imagine that Valyrian steel will prove useful in the winter ahead.
Brogan: Reflecting on that awful dinner, Gilly tells Sam, “I’m not angry at you. I’m angry that horrible people can treat good people that way and get away with it,” a phrase that probably speaks to feelings many of us probably share about Game of Thrones more generally. But mostly, of course, we get the spectacle of bad people treating other bad people badly, nowhere more so than in the King’s Landing plot. What do you make of the High Sparrow’s latest machinations?
Kois: I had a bad feeling about that encounter on the steps of the sept as soon as I saw foolish old Mace Tyrell failing to inspire his troops. Lady Olenna was right: They were indeed beaten, for now. But I recognized the High Sparrow's triumphant grin—it was the exultant smile of Prince Oberon as he stood over the Mountain, the grin of King Joffrey as he toasted his own wedding. It’s the smile of someone on Game of Thrones who thinks he's winning but who is actually being played. I admit I don’t understand what game Margaery is playing, actually, but I have faith that she’s got something up the sleeve of her tastefully grimy penitence-frock.
Meanwhile, Jaime and Cersei had the kind of passionate clinch the show gives them every few seasons to remind us that, oh right, we cheer for Jaime’s redemption yet he is still kind of grody.
Brogan: It’s hard now to remember how much Jaime came to charm us all back when he was wandering the woods of Westeros with Brienne. But, as we know, he’s always been awful: It’s telling—and unusually subtle on the show’s part—that we cut from his icky kiss with Cersei to Bran, supine and still paralyzed, regardless of the power that’s brewing in him. Fittingly, the show reminds us that it was Jaime who pushed Bran from the tower in the first place, moments after he observed an encounter like the one we spy on here.
Kois: Way up north, Bran and Meera have been saved by his uncle Benjen, last seen in Season 1 when he led some rangers a-ranging. His horse came back, as did two of his compatriots—as corpses, first, and then as wights. Benjen himself was nowhere to be found. Now, squeezing Bran a fresh steaming cup of rabbit juice, he marvels at how Bran’s grown (LOL) and tells them he was nearly wighted himself before the Children saved him by piercing his heart with dragonglasss. I can’t say he looks that great, though. Is he, like, immortal? Is that his deal?
Brogan: For a show that loves to kill your favorite characters, Game of Thrones sure has a hard time letting people stay dead. I too wonder what Benjen’s deal is, though, not least of all because I’m curious to hear what he’s been doing this whole time. He claims that the Three-Eyed Raven sent him, but has he just been chilling out in the woods until now?
More generally, I’m having trouble putting my finger on who was the worst, and that may have been because this episode felt more like a placeholder than true progress. With the exception of a few revelations—most of all the discovery that Benjen is still alive—this was an installment in which characters told us what they intended to do, not one in which they actually did things.
Kois: Led by the Queen of Telling Us What She Intends to Do, first of her name, Daenerys Targaryen.
Brogan: At least Daenerys wants to shake things up. The High Sparrow, by contrast, seems like the true conservative embodiment of all the scheming and plotting on this show. He’s all about setting plans in motion while somehow also still ensuring that nothing ever changes.
Kois: But to what purpose does Daenerys want to shake things up? Her speech today didn't inspire confidence in her master plan. Letting her Dothraki blood riders tear down the Westerosi stone houses doesn’t seem like a great start to a civil society. I was reminded today that there are some nice people in Westeros—Sam’s mom and sister, Arya and Starks in general, I guess that’s it actually, but still, do we really want to see all these characters overrun by Dothraki and dragons, living in yurts because Daenerys won?
I’m not convinced she has a real vision for nation-building once she establishes order, is what I’m saying. Name the country that got better when you introduced a thousand ships full of horse lords into the mix.
Brogan: Point taken. Does that make Daenerys the worst, though? Was she any more terrible this week than every other?
Kois: No, no. The worst was clearly the guy who does the farting sound effects for the Braavosi Traveling Players.
Scratch that! The worst person in this episode, as in all episodes in which she appears, is the Waif! Lurking about in the shadows, plotting Arya's downfall, smiling evilly as she thinks about how she will kill her (presumably by whacking her in the head with a stick).
Brogan: As I’ve said many times before, she sure seems to have a lot of deeply personal anger for someone who’s supposedly annihilated all trace of her personality.
Kois: I am done with her and her face-skinning boss and the Faceless Men and the house of Black and White. Arya has made her decision, retrieved Needle, and is ready to reclaim her name. More importantly, she is ready to rejoin the main action of the story, to kick ass and cross some names off her list. The Waif stands in the way of that. She is, thus, the worst person in Westeros.