Game of Thrones is now the most awarded show in Emmy history. While there’s no dearth of articles here on The Fandomentals that would argue it’s unworthy of such recognition — hilariously so even — in the wake of such accolades we feel it is our duty to continue dissecting the most recent season in order to explain this stance. As such, Kylie and Julia have fused into “Julie” yet again for the next chapter of their series of Season 6 retrospectives. This one covers Sam and Gilly’s “plotline”, for exceedingly generous definitions of “plot”.
The idea behind these retrospectives is that we consider each arc in and of itself, to better understand the story GoT showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D) were trying to tell. Without the action jumping around, we’re able to really hone in on what specific characters go through and deal with in the course of a season. However, because thus far our discoveries have been…ehrm…less than glowing, we find it rather impossible to think of these characters as being any way related to the characters found in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
From what we can tell, much of GoT’s audience is confused and think they’re similar, so to avoid confusion, we’ve helpfully come up with nicknames for the Weisseroffi inhabitants.
Now that we’re squared away with who the story is about, we’d normally take this time to jump into a
However, not to spoil you, but what we found rewatching these scenes was that there was so little substance, this can hardly be considered a story at all. Therefore, rather than splitting up the recap and then doing a teeth-pulling analysis of questions we have no ability to answer, such as “what was the thematic meaning?”, we’re going to combine these efforts and bring you an
where we talk about the takeaways and implications as we go.
They’re on a boat!
We open and Sam and Gilly are on a boat! Gilly thinks this is great. It’s lucky for her that she didn’t recently suffer a great loss or anything, because she’s able to devote all her mental energy towards improving her literacy skills. She knows all the homophones.
Sam, on the other hand, is very seasick. (See-sick?) Involuntary physical reactions are funny, we guess. But poor Sam has been suffering ever since he left Castle Black. Or he’s an asshole, because only now does the topic of where the hell they’re going come up.
See, Gilly thought they were all going to Oldtown, but they don’t let gross girls and their cooties in there, and she can’t get her own place because, like, she barely understands this society and has no means of supporting herself. (Why did Sam bring her? Oh right, the random rapists who showed up when the plot demanded it.) So Sam unilaterally decided that she and “Little Sam” are going to his family home in Horn Faire. His father is… something, but his mom and his sis are okay, so he’s sure she’ll be fine.
We *think* this is the set-up for Sam’s “arc”? You see, there’s only two threads we managed to string across these scenes, and even those come up short at the end. But the first deals with Sam’s conception of self, and how his father influences that. And yeah, that sounds promising, but just keep reading. There’s no questioning, however, that thinking about his father is deeply uncomfortable for him, and with what we know from his backstory, this makes sense. So this exchange sets-up what Sam struggles with in Season 6: facing his father.
The other thread that begins here is Sam and Gilly’s relationship and how that “develops” (or more like how Sam’s conception of it changes) during the course of the season. And it starts out with Gilly being (understandably) a tad upset that the bf is just dumping her off with the in-laws so that he can have fun in college. She pulls out a receipt of the time that the writers thought Sam needed a touching moment and was all “wherever you go, I go too. You’re my forever girl, Gilly.” He tells her that he’s only going to college so that he can keep her and the baby safe.
Gilly, who really should be the one to go to college if we’re being honest, points out how she thought he was more concerned about the Ice Demons and the hordes of undead. But Sam doesn’t care about that shit. Or, like, not really. He just wants to protect his woman, yo.
Gilly is, as we discussed, a literal cinnamon roll, so she accepts this half-baked plan with the same grace with which she accepts Sam’s continual patronizing tone. She goes even farther, in fact, and tells Sam she would never be upset at “the father of her son.”
Sam looks touched.
Look at Assertive Gilly, stickin’ to her name and making this choice! We’re a little torn, because we definitely like women on GoT being afforded as much agency as possible, but then as impenitent book snobs we can’t help but recall how this was such a major character moment for Sam in A Feast for Crows, and now the paternity fake-out decision is out of his hands.
However, this does introduce us to one crucial theme of the season: girl power!!!
Oh, and Sam barfs once more for lols and the scene ends.
So much green in the galaxy
Three whole episodes later and the cute fam has landed that ship… somewhere. Lannisport?
Okay, let’s talk the geography a little, because we suspect that either the writers have never seen a map of Westeros (watch your own opening credits, dumb dumbs, even if Sunspear is just called “Dorne”) or they really just don’t give a fuck. Unfortunately for us, we do, so we have to think about this shit. And we don’t feel that this is unfair, seeing as official Game of Thrones sites include stuff like family trees, and maps, and basically the work of someone far more creative than these yahoos, that D&D will randomly evoke to give the façade of a meaningful setting.
Horn Hill is in the southern part of the Reach. In the foothills of the Red Mountains of Dorne, near the Prince’s Pass. It’s quite a ways inland (like, a few hundred miles) but the nearest port is Oldtown. If you travel northeast from there, you’ll eventually hit it.
Sam and Gilly left Castle Black at the end of last season, and the next time we see them was on the ship. We presume they went east to Eastwatch-by-the-sea and sailed down the east coast of Weisseroff. In the books they did this, and then sailed all the way around Dorne and landed in Oldtown, after a pit-stop in Braavos. But on the show, Oldtown is the one place they clearly didn’t get off that boat, since they see it for the first time in episode 10. So how the flying flip did they get to Horn Faire?
Maybe they went to Cheryl’s Landing then travelled down the Rose Road? It’s possible, but that’s a long fucking way. Perhaps we’re supposed to presume that they went west to the Shadow Tower and sailed down the west coast, because the Ironborn reavers really haven’t been a thing in this show. But then they landed where? Lannisport? That not much shorter of a trip overland. Again, the one place that makes the most sense, is Oldtown. But we know they didn’t go there. Did they sail up the Mander to Highgarden and then travel overland? Ugh!
Look, we know it’s annoying to have to think about logistics, especially when you’re busy being so bold in your story telling, but it’s also kind of your job when you’re a writer. Sorry.
Whatever. They traveled at the speed of the plot and now they’re almost at Horn Faire! Hooray! And look, some Tarly men met them somewhere with a wheelhouse.
Gilly is transfixed by all the green Reach-ness. So Sam mansplains the concept of autumn to her, and then starts randomly listing off different species of deciduous trees. This would have been a good time to exposit about the route they took to get here. Just saying. Not that trees aren’t important too. Gilly, being as sassy and assertive as she is, gently calls Sam out for how nervous he is and deduces that Sam never told his dad that she was “a wildling,” and that this will be a problem.
Sigh. The Free Folk don’t tend to refer to themselves as “wildlings.” It’s kinda, like, derogatory. What even is nuance or PoV bias?
Sam confirms that, yes indeed, Randyll Tarly, as is logical for a marcher lord from the Reach, really hates those wildlings.
“He’d hope I’d make a man of myself by ‘killing some bloody wildings.'”
Take note, because aside from girl-power, Randyll “Wildling Hater” Tarly is the only other element in enough focus to be considered a theme here.
Sleeves and Bedrooms
They reach Horn Faire and, boy is it pretty, you guys.
Also the Tarlys must be really lucky since they have more servants than Cheryl and TomTom put together. Is eight still hilariously small for a castle of this size? Sure! But it’s seven more than the king.
Sam’s mom and sis, both graduates of the Madison Lannister School of Skirt Management, flutter down the stairs to greet them.
They’re in their dresses straight out of a Ren-Faire catalog, while Gilly is just chilling in her potato sack and Uggs. Was there nowhere to buy a dress between here and Lannisport? Or any bathtubs? Hannah Murray is an attractive woman, but god does Gilly look like shit.
The ladies don’t seem to mind. Mama Tarlly is busy being happy to see her sonion, and Sam’s sis, Tiffany, barely says a “hello” before until she blurts out how she’s shortly going to be subjected to a forced marriage to Symon Fossaway. (A red or a green though?). Oh Bryan Cogman, always bringing that levity.
Mama gently reproves her for daring to question her father’s authority, then turns her attention to her son’s presumed sex worker Baby Mama.
Yeah, those two actions go together. What even is patriarchy?
At least her grandsonion is adorable. And he really seems to like her.
Mama Tarly’s already planning all the educational activities and tutors she’s going to get for this kid. Poor guy’s not going to have a single school night off between Mandarin class, violin lessons, and tennis. Not too shabby for a bastard, we guess. What even is feudalism?
Sam asks where his dad and bro are, and it turns out they’re being all manly and killing things. We’re not sure if we’re supposed to view this as bizarre behavior on their part. It’s probably at least a little rude if Sam was expected, we suppose.
Tiffany may be a little socially isolated, because she is super excited about Gilly being here to be her new BFF. She starts chattering away about how they’re going to share clothes now, and that Gilly can have one of her spare bedrooms. (One of them? What is happening?) Good thing there’s no social mores that would restrict the virginal daughter of a highborn lord from chumming it up with a presumed sex worker. What even is worldbuilding?
Everyone heads inside with Tiffany babbling about what color dress of hers Gilly should take. Hooray for people actually being nice on this show for a change! Boo for this interaction making no sense for a show that pretends raping Sansa is an unavoidable “reality of the world”!
Beauty and the…wait, no, shut up.
Later that evening, probably after Gilly was given a tour of Dickon’s four bathrooms or whatever that upstairs situation is, we find Sam pacing a hallway, looking like he’s got a bad feeling in his tums. But then that clears up when Gilly comes out in a Ren-Faire gown of her own. Honestly, we’re just so happy that she finally got a bath that we don’t even really care that she’s randomly cosplaying as Belle. Though we do care if that’s the show’s subtle way of implying that Sam is “the beast”.
Their awkward walk towards dinner is slightly awesome though. Maybe this is Hannah Murray’s way of tossing shade on Season 6 costume designer April Ferry, just like when Carol was picking her loose threads. Oh gods, is this why Michele Clapton is making a Season 7 comeback? Someone take our keyboards away from us.
And that finally takes us to the moment you’ve all been waiting for! The…
Family Dinner of Extreme Drama (and Exposition)
Which opens with, and we shit you not, a solid half-minute of people chewing. 32 seconds, to be exact.
This is also our introduction to Randyll “Wildling Hater” Tarly (plus the all-important, totally needed to be randomly aged up, Dickon), and we’re quite sure the dude is wearing armor at the table. Like, you do you, Randy, but this really puts Victarion’s fear of emasculation to shame. Aside from this overcompensation, we’re also left to ponder Gilly learning the way of the fork and knife from Mama Tarly and whether or not this table is bizarrely small for a castle of this size because literally nothing is happening.
Finally Sam decides he can’t take the silence anymore, so he asks if the venison they’re eating is from today’s hunt, since he would clearly know nothing about the curing process, we guess. Only martial dudes can understand manly meat things. And speaking of martial dudes, Dickon jumps all over the subject of hunting like those football bros who think anyone else is interested in hearing them talk about their fantasy draft picks. We’re pretty sure this is meant to be humorous. Here’s hoping that actor doesn’t get pigeon-holed into such roles…
Dickon asks Sam how hunting is up at the Night’s Watch, and Sam tells him that they mostly just kill rabbits and squirrels. You know, to survive. But we get a reaction shot of Randyll acting like this is the worst thing in the world. Sam shoulda mentioned the bears we guess, since those are Officially Badass. Instead, he decides to randomly tell everyone that Gilly is a great “huntress”. Mama Tarly thinks that’s a neat factoid, and casually asks her hubby (she calls him “Randyll”) who that Umber chap was that they met a while back who talked about teaching his daughters to hunt.
This throwaway line really does nothing but irritate book readers (where would they have met this Umber? Is it Mors? Greatjon? Meeting Hother makes sense since the dude was in Oldtown for a time, but then the daughters thing…GAH!), and to pile on the anachronisms. Women hunting (or at least hawking) was not exactly a transgressive act in this kind of society. But poor Tiffany didn’t get to learn:
“Your father taught you to hunt? Our father would never teach us.”
Who’s the “us” in that sentence, Tiffany? Your uncast sisters? Maybe that’s who all those extra bedrooms are for.
She then goes on to suggest Randy could learn something from Gilly’s father, because ho-ho the audience knows Craster is actually a rapist piece of shit and isn’t that amusing dramatic irony? Luckily, Randyll is all about Tiffany’s sass, and gently corrects her.
And he’s equally gentle about that forced marriage, we guess.
So we’re treated to, you guessed it: more awkward silences. This time Mama Tarly fills it by offering Sam bread, which he accepts. Then Randyll just loses his shit and starts tearing into Sam for being fat and unmanly. This is…sort of true to how the abusive dynamic of the books was painted? But then we’ve got Mama Tarly contradicting him and throwing out stuff like:
“Randyll, to be maester of the Night’s Watch is a great honor.”
Which…okay, we guess? We love it that she understands how her son is strong in the real way, even if her assertiveness feels woefully out of place. Unfortunately, this sentiment is instantly undercut by Gilly, who starts arguing that no, Sam is actually strong in the D&D Way. He killed a White Walker on their way down to Castle Black, as well as a Thenn, and he is more of a man than Randyll and Dickon will ever be! This is more or less an exact quote, mind you.
So, just to clarify, we’ve got someone assumed to be a Mole’s Town sex worker shaming a great lord and challenging his masculinity at his own table. However, Randyll just pounces all over “on our way down to Castle Black” and focuses entirely on the fact that she’s a wildling. He then goes on a tirade about how wildlings are the worst thing to have ever happened to Weisseroff, and oh wait…look at that sword hanging on the wall! It’s Valyrian steel! It was supposed to go to his firstborn son, but Sam is too busy being a wildling-lover to get it.
Look, we know Cogman was trying his absolute hardest to make this sword exposition work, but it was just clunky, there’s no way around it. Especially given how Sam’s been disinherited since Season 1, so why would Randyll even think to bring this up? And shouldn’t he be impressed that his son didn’t have to pay for sex?
Whatever, the dude is about to kick Gilly out of his castle, which we’re hesitant to call “understandable”, but given the social conventions that are supposed to be at play here, it at least makes sense. (Well, what would make the most sense is her never being invited to the table in the first place.) But all of a sudden those social conventions magically disappear! Mama Tarly JUMPS UP, cuts her husband off, and assertively declares that she, Tiffany, and Gilly are leaving. Maybe to take care of the Amazing
Shrinking Disappearing Baby or something. She makes it clear that she does not approve of Randyll’s behavior here and will not stand for it. Randyll tries to say that Sam is dishonoring them, but Mama Tarly is just so amazingly empowered that she shuts him down.
But Randyll is more compelled than that random dude with the megaphone in Republic City, so he softens, telling Sam that Mama Tarly is “a fine woman”. Guess his fear of emasculation only shows up when the plot demands it. Her empowered words moved him, so he tells Sam that Gilly will work in the kitchens and that he’ll raise the Amazing Shrinking Baby, but Sam is not welcome back. Which…like, the dude took the black, so yeah? Wasn’t this kind of what he had hoped for? Randyll just wants to make his waifu happy, we suppose.
The real tragedy is that John Bradley is acting his face off in this scene, and really selling just how overwhelming and triggering this must be for Sam. But then he’s got his sassy sister and large-and-in-charge mom, plus a dad who just consented to let a dreaded wildling stay in his castle. Immigrant labor is cheaper, we guess.
Goodbye…OR IS IT?
Anyway, due to his banishment from the Kingdom of Rohan, Sam goes to say a last goodbye to Gilly and the Amazing Shrinking Baby. From what we can tell, it’s in the middle of the night with no one else around. Maybe Randyll just told his guards to leave the gate up for him or something. That makes all the sense.
The goodbye is fine, and kind of touching, in a way. It’s clear that Sam bonded with bby!Sam because he seems sad about leaving him. And then Gilly tells Sam that he’s “not what his father thinks he is”. Like…it’s nice. Sure. So Sam heads out, and the camera focuses on Gilly contemplating her new life, and probably thinking these are nice digs for a kitchen worker, while sad strings play in the background.
The music abruptly stops and Sam comes barging back into the room, adamant that he and Gilly “belong together” and she and the bby are coming with him. She’s slightly hesitant, mostly because she doesn’t believe in grand-theft-wardrobe, but Sam tells her it’s all cool. We personally would have raised the question, “hey didn’t you tell me that there are no women or children allowed at the Citadel, so what exactly am I going to do?”, but different strokes.
It’s important to note, by the way, that this is the climax of the Sam/Gilly relationship arc, because their scene in the final episode has nothing to do with this. Or anything for that matter. But we’ll get there. Now, we think we’re being quite generous using the term “arc”, but it does need to be pointed out that at the start of the season, Sam was willing to leave Gilly and the babe (with the power) at his house while he went on to pursue an education and then like…live the rest of his life, probably. However, this scene is Sam realizing how that isn’t what he wants, and instead that:
Granted, this realization is majorly undercut by the logistical issues, including the fact that Gilly and the Amazing Baby were probably better off at Horn Faire with those sassy and assertive women looking out for them, than in a completely unknown city with nowhere to go and no resources.
Then there’s also the fact that this is almost entirely a rehash of Sam’s character arc from last year, which we described as “learning to be a Man™.” In terms of how he viewed Gilly, he realized over the course of Season 5 how she meant so much to him that he was willing to make a major life change for the opportunity to keep her out of harm’s way. And because maesters are vaguely useful. But more he needed to protect his lady.
Sam: If Gilly stays here, then she’ll die. And the baby that she named after me will die. And I’ll end up dying, too, trying to protect them. Which means that the last thing that I’ll see in this world will be the look in her eyes when I fail them. And I’d rather see a thousand white walkers than see that.
Jon: You know that the Citadel will make you swear off women, too.
Sam: Oh, they’ll bloody try.
Like, okay, we guess you could say that last year he was willing to take major risks to keep her safe, whereas this year that went one step further and he came to understand that he needs her with him? His feelings for her grew even more this year? She does bolster his confidence, and they had the fun homophone times, so sure.
But we really have to ask: who finds this compelling? Because we’re suddenly yearning for Anakin wishing he could wish away his feelings. Plus there’s also the fact that so little actually progressed on this front, had all of Sam’s scenes been scrapped with the exception of him arriving at the Citadel in the final episode (sorry for that massive spoiler, but we’re getting to it soon), we wouldn’t have been lost at all. Which means that there was actually no real character or plot development here, when you get down to it. He’s stagnated, basically since Season 4, even the show wants to pretend that this assertion of his affections for Gilly is a momentous thing.
Anyway, back to the “action”, Sam, Gilly, and Sam make their way through this completely empty castle, because the Tarlys have no bannermen, or guards, or servants, or dudes delivering mead, or whatever. Sam swings by the dining room so that he can steal Randyll’s sword. Which he would just totally leave lying around like that. Sam probably takes it because of that whole “Valyrian steel can kill white walkers” thing, but this is never actually articulated. It could just as easily be his idea of a middle finger to his dad. He’s not able to stand-up to him in-person, so this is the closest he comes. “Won’t he come for it?” Only if D&D plan beyond one season at a time, Gilly, and those odds aren’t high.
You know, Randyll had three episodes to go after them, and he didn’t (despite knowing exactly where they were headed), so we’re going to guess that they’re safe. However, speaking of Papa Tarly, we do need to point out that Sam stealing Heartsbane is the culmination of that other thread we mentioned: the one about Sam’s conception of self and his father’s influence on that.
See, we’ve grown to know and love Showboating Sam for 5 years now, but Randyll is the one person he doesn’t brag to. This is entirely reasonable, since Randyll is an abusive asshole who flies off the handle about how unmanly Sam is.
This season felt to us as though D&D thought about actually exploring how that affected him, but got bored after the first bullet point in Steve the Intern’s write-up. So they stuck in an abusive dad, and they had Sam rendered speechless at the table, likely being triggered by Randyll’s tirade. Then, potentially emboldened by Gilly’s assertions that he’s “not what Randyll says he is,” Sam finds the inner strength and stands-up to his father. Stealing Heartsbane is his act of resistance, even if it’s not in front of the guy. That’s not nothing, especially given the way Sam was just cowering at the table, upset to his core, even if him reaching this moment was a bit rushed and a little too convenient.
Except that all of this was contextualized by the sassy women of Horn Faire standing up to the dude, and ultimately getting their way. Is he drawing strength from them? Additionally, Sam tells Gilly the reason he sat quietly was because he was afraid that his father would turn her and the babe away if he argued. So really any impact the stealing of the sword might have had on a thematic level is just totally sapped by everything else surrounding this moment. It’s just something random that happens. The most we can hope for is that this will be somehow plot-relevant later.
And to reiterate: the goodbye fake-out and sword stealing scenes comprise the climax of the only semblance of a possible arc for Sam this year. An arc so poorly thought-out and full of so little meaning that we may as well have just started Season 6 with…
The Dewey Doldrums System
That’s right, the two remaining scenes that have nothing to do with anything proceeding it! Except for maybe undercutting its “meaning”. So what actually happens?
Well, first we see Sam and Gilly in dinky little cart, though at least in this case that’s actually the logical way of travel. Eh, almost, that is; they tell the poor cart driver to stop when they’re still a fair distance from Oldtown so they can do some sight-seeing. And what a happy coincidence, they arrive just in time to see the white ravens flying out. Out of the wrong building, but whatever. We acknowledge that this is actually on the “nitpick” level. Sam is carrying around that stupidly large sword, and Gilly has a new dress. Tiffany won’t mind.
They take the Airport Shuttle to the Citadel and enter a long bare room with nothing but a table at the far end. Sitting at it is a maester engrossed in a pile of books. Sam greets him and he looks up. The shot is framed as though it were a significant reveal or something; we have no clue why.
Sam has a letter from Jonny, but this maester guy is too… important? Lazy? Dignified? to reach forward and grab it, so Sam has to lean over all the way across the desk to hand it to him. It’s really dragged out. We can feel ourselves aging.
But, oh no, there’s a problem. Bureaucracy Maester checks one of his giant books (hilariously reading with one finger! Imagine such a world!) and declares that he can’t accept the letter because Jeor Mormont is the Lord Commander at the Wall.
Okay, we get that this is supposed to be funny, and potentially a Brazil reference, and that everyone hates standing in line to renew their driver’s licence, but this is stupid. Tyrion knew about Jeor’s death last season. Stannis knew that Tywin was dead instantly. Are you telling us that no one bothered to inform the Citadel, the hub of all news and knowledge in Weissroff, that a new Lord Commander has been elected? The Night’s Watch is not what it once was, but it’s still a damn important position. And we know Maester Aemon was doing poorly even then, but one of the most important parts of his job was sending local news back to the Citadel. Like, the maesters know everything, that’s what makes them so important and powerful.
But whatever, it probably got a chuckle out of a total of two people, so it was totally worth tossing logic and world-building aside.
Bureaucracy Maester is upset at all these irregularities, but he’s happy to kick it upstairs to the Archmaester. In the meantime, Sam can use the library. Neat? That’s nice of him, we guess. It just seems like this offer to let Sam use the library comes out of nowhere. Is the library the official waiting room?
Anyway, Sam is so excited to look at all the books that he doesn’t say boo when Bureaucracy Maester informs Gilly that she’s not allowed to come and has to just stand in the hallway with the baby while he goes and reads. There isn’t even a bench for her.
And what really just extra pisses us off is that Gilly would have loved to use the library at least as much as Sam. Like, they’ve gone out of their way to establish her as this intellectually curious woman who’s so empowered by literacy; and then they just toss that aside for the sake of a lame joke.
Sam follows Bureaucracy Maester down some corridors, and then they come into a room filled with bookshelves. The music starts to swell (sounding a little like an orchestral cover of “Feel this Moment”) as he walks along them and runs his hands along the spines and junk. But then he reaches the end and the camera swoops into the open space, and O.M.G. it’s like the fucking Senate chamber in the Star Wars prequels.
Call us cynical assholes, because this is super pretty, but how is this library so huge? This is a society where all books are copied out by hand. How are there so many books in the entire world? Like, yeah, we get it, it looks nice. We’re both book lovers; we have tears in our eyes. But, like, world-building… logic…
Belle Sam is happy. End scene.
We would like to be able to pull out some huge insight, or some grand overarching claim, but to be perfectly honest, we can’t get past the question “why does plotline this even exist?”
No, really. We can’t answer this. Normally we can at least point to *something*, however shitty and illogical it is (*cough* a building packed with C-4 *cough*), as the moment a season is crafted around for a particular arc. The “Battle of the Bastards” was the focusing event for the Northern Theater. Arya leaving the guild and killing Walder Frey was the focus for her Season 6 subplot. We are quite sure that D&D usually work backwards, thinking of an endpoint for a character and then writing up to that. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, by the way. We also assume Martin knew A Feast for Crows would end with Cersei being hoisted by her own petard. In fact, it would be concerning if television writers didn’t know where their characters were headed in a given season.
But this final scene for Sam…just. What. No. What? The library was pretty, we will be the first to admit it. We want to touch the books too. But it was simply so unrelated to anything that happened, that the other stuff that did happen felt entirely unnecessary.
The idea is that Sam has an arc where he confronts his father, he gets validation for the choices he’s made in his life, and he ends up owning those choices…that’s not a bad arc. Sam stealing the sword, in many ways, was him asserting his identity, right? Because by depriving his father of this possession meant for his “true heir,” he was implicitly making the statement that he is worthy and his way of living and being is not a problem.
But there’s two major issues with this. One is that everything Sam might have “fought” for in this arc was completely undercut when he just ditches Gilly and his adopted son in a hallway. It’s not even like he even had started his course-load or anything. He was just bored and wanted to read while he was waiting for a dude. So, how the hell are we supposed to care about his assertions of identity or love for Gilly when all of this was just completely ignored to allow John Bradley the chance to flex his comedic muscles?
The second major issue is that all of Sam’s assertion about who he is were undercut by the fact that there were these women outright mocking and undermining Randyll at his own table without any sort of repercussion, so there was the unfortunate implication that Sam really is weak for not standing up to this dude. Because like it or not, this guy 100% changes his tune about how he’s going to proceed with a DREADED WILDLING in his home simply because Mama Tarly questioned his authority. This is very far from the abusive, authoritarian Randyll Tarly portrayed in the books, as well as the one we were told about in the early seasons of the show, and simply, it’s disingenuous to how such a dynamic would play out. Randyll calling Mama Tarly a “fine woman” and letting Tiffany rib on him for not teaching her how to hunt sits in contention with Sam’s fear of him, as well as say, Tiffany’s arranged marriage.
By the way, we’re not trying to say Sam is like, a stupid-head for having PTSD from the guy who we’re told chased him to the Wall in a hunt, half-hoping he’d die. We’re saying Randyll’s character adapts to the needs of the plot and is so inconsistent, that it undermines any meaning from Sam’s resistance to him.
Plus, while we’re at it, D&D continue to remind us that Sam actually is strong in the toxically male sense. It’s not that Randyll is disappointed in Sam for not being martial, it’s that Randyll makes incorrect assumptions about Sam’s fighting prowess. Gilly stands up for him because he’s killed a Thenn and a white walker, not because he’s like…a good guy. What’s funny is that Mama Tarly started to make that point, but Gilly ended up declaring how Sam’s a “better warrior” than Dickon or Randyll will ever be. This isn’t exactly Sansa-in-Winterhell levels of missing the point, nor Carol the accidental feminist, but it’s pretty far up there. Once again, given the opportunity to challenge the conception of toxic masculinity as strength, D&D simply endorse it.
All this happens, and yet none of it actually needed to for the last scene to even occur. Sam and Gilly are in the exact same place at the beginning of their “The Winds of Winter” scene as they were at the end of their scene in “Mother’s Mercy” in terms of characterization and development, and even plot-motive. Sam wanted to go to the Citadel then, and arrives at the Citadel here.
In fact, the last scene of the season makes more sense if you assume Horn Faire never happened, for two reasons (all good things come in pairs!). For one, his final episode of last year was him… “manning up” (we need a shower) and choosing to join the Citadel because he felt that’s how he could both contribute to the Night’s Watch and protect Gilly best. Emotionally he was ready to take that challenge on. The scene where he’s so elated to finally be in that library? That directly relates to his conversation with Jon in “Mother’s Mercy”; not his thinking Heartsbane is nifty in “Blood of my Blood.”
Secondly, going to Horn Faire at all brought up a very good logistical concern about Sam’s decision to take Gilly with him. Where was she going to go when he went to college? Horn Faire was presented to us as the solution to a question that hadn’t been raised until “Oathbreaker.” However, the way Horn Faire concluded, with Sam whisking her out over there again, only served to get rid of said solution, without actually fixing the problem. Are we meant to believe that Gilly will wait in a hallway while he earns his Bachelor’s? Are we to assume she’ll just “figure it out” in Oldtown when as of four episodes prior, she didn’t know how to cut meat? We actually do have all the faith in Gilly to figure this out, but the whole field trip (up the Mander?) just paints Sam as this myopic, slightly selfish idiot. He wants his womanz near him. Awwww? But she’s kind of fucked, dude. And, oh yeah, you ditched her!
We’re sorry, we just absolutely can’t let that point go. We know that it’s clearly just a joke and we’re not supposed to think of the implications of this, but that only makes it worse.
So once again, we ask: why does this exist? Bran is living proof that D&D have no issue benching someone for an entire season if it’s not “cinematic”, so the only thing we can guess is that Sam getting a Valyrian steel sword was deemed especially important. And frankly this is a generous guess, because we know what D&D’s “planning ahead” looks like:
We also have to raise an eyebrow at anyone who claims that this is the most engaging way in which Sam could have come to possess a sword, especially when thematically, it’s a complete rehash of his past two seasons.
Can we talk about Gilly a little, too? Like, a very little, because holy shit was this woman just not prioritized at all. This is something we had a major discomfort with last year, when her personality changed according to the needs of a scene (her assertiveness vanished when she had to be the damsel in distress almost!rape victim, for instance), and this was even worse. She exists as a mouthpiece to remind the audience how Sam kills things, and she’s also the object of his affection. The one scene where the focus is on her for more than 3 seconds is where she’s contemplating her new life at the ren faire after Sam leaves.
But PSYCHE that was just a dramatic fakeout so we could seal-clap at Sam’s assertions of his affections for her. For like, the fourth year in a row.
And what pisses us off the most too is that she really is quite a remarkable character. We’d both rather the plotline be about her, frankly, since she’s got that fish-out-of-water thing, her recovery from escaping an abusive situation, and her staunch intellectual curiosity. Yeah, we think she’s unrealistically assertive, but on this show we could use all the actual empowerment we can get. Plus you could blame some of that assertiveness on her lack of social awareness; she knows to be scared of Craster and that’s it, even if the Gilly of the books is obviously quite different.
But no. She’s just like…a body with a baby. Sam reacts to her as he needs, and she’ll offer emotional support when a situation demands it. Remember when she had sisters? She only remembered that one time the audience needed to know about greyscale. She says she’s excited to see Oldtown, so she’s got a penchant for travel? We’d love to know, but we don’t, because she’s not vomiting into a bucket so let’s just not bother.
Given how we’re whining about no focus on Gilly, you’d think we’d have been all about the Empowered™ women of Horn Faire. And truly we are torn, because positive female interaction on this show is such a rare, rare gift that we almost want to ignore when it’s contextualized by someone who mutilates past lovers and knocks the art of soup-making. It was kind of nice in a way to see Tiffany embracing Gilly and offering to give her new clothes, and who could ever look at Mama Tarly’s earnest face and be upset? It’s a grandma wanting to protect her grandkid. It’s women standing up for women!
But our brains simply cannot ignore the fact that this was so fundamentally unearned, even within this stupid plotline. Why didn’t Mama Tarly stand up to Randyll when he suggested that Tiffany marry Bad-Teeth Fossoway? Or, idk, when he banished Sam before the events of Season 1? She was only willing to stand up to the banishment of a wildling her son impregnated but not her actual son?
And please don’t make us remind you that this is the show that raped Sansa for the following reason:
“If she’s marrying Ramsay, what would happen on her wedding night? And we made the decision to not shy away from what would realistically would happen on that wedding night with these two characters, and the reality of the situation, and the reality of this particular world.” —Bryan Cogman
Every single time Mama Tarly defied her husband at the table, or Tiffany ribbed on him, or the mere fact that Gilly was even sitting there in the first place…it all just takes a giant dump all over Cogman’s rationalization. The patriarchy doesn’t only get to exist as a nifty excuse for violence against women or for drama, and it doesn’t get to magically disappear just because you want to be funny or because you want to fool critics into thinking you fixed your “woman problem.”
It’s not like we want to be offended or particularly enjoy it, and of course we’d rather be able to just shut up and fist-pump with Mama Tarly’s feminist stand. But we can’t, because Horn Faire is simply the perfect example of how utterly meaningless, sloppy, and sensationalist Game of Thrones is as a whole. We’re not fooled. We’re not laughing. And we’re certainly not dramatically satisfied.