If there was ever any doubt that Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had an indomitable plan for the HBO drama, then Sunday night's episode, titled "Blood of My Blood," effectively laid it to rest. Game of Thrones has been playing the long game brilliantly, and its latest reveal was its most satisfying yet.
[Warning: Major spoilers from Game of Thrones Season 6, Episode 6, "Blood of My Blood," lie ahead.]
The return of Benjen Stark has been teased since the Night's Watch Ranger disappeared in Season 1 after embarking on an ill-fated ranging in the north. If you've been counting, that's a hell of a long time to wait for one character's reappearance -- but it was so worth it.
"Blood of My Blood" picked up where Meera and Bran left off: running for their lives from the wights and into an uncertain future. Just when things looked hopeless, they were saved by a hooded stranger who turned out to be the long-lost Benjen Stark, Ned Stark's younger brother. Oh. My. Gods. It's another Stark family reunion!
"It’s hard for me to talk about Benjen’s return without getting into the nitty gritty of the adaptation process," co-executive producer and writer Bryan Cogman told EW about Benjen's long-awaited return. "But, yeah, Season 6 is rife with Stark reunions! That’s another thing that’s been very heartening to track with the fans. The show is so sprawling and there are so many threads, but -- at it’s [sic] heart -- it’s largely about this good family that was torn apart."
Of course Uncle Benjen isn't the same as we remember. He has turned into an undead after fighting with the White Walkers, ultimately becoming a character who is known in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series as Coldhands. Let him explain it:
"A White Walker stabbed me in the gut with a sword of ice ... The Children found me and stopped the Walkers' magic from taking hold. The same way they made the Walkers' magic in the first place. You saw it yourself."
Basically, the Children of the Forest found Benjen and plunged a shard of dragonglass into his heart to help ward off the White Walker magic. One, that sounds painful. Two, can one use a shard of dragonglass to cure a White Walker, or does it only work for newly turned wights? Timing seems important here. Three, Benjen now has Children of the Forest magic and White Walker magic running through his cold, undead veins.
And most importantly, does this mean Benjen has been engaged in some top-secret missions on behalf of the late Three-Eyed Raven this entire time?
Benjen's return to the series is significant for many reasons -- for instance, now Bran, the new Three-Eyed Raven, and Meera have a powerful new ally -- but its greatest importance is what it does to GRRM's plot. It effectively blows up Martin's own Coldhands reveal.
For years, book readers have theorized that Benjen is the identity of the undead, hooded character named Coldhands, who makes his first appearance in A Storm of Swords, saving Samwell Tarly, Gilly, and young Sam from a horde of wights. From what we know about the enigmatic character, Coldhands is a ghostly figure who rides a great elk; he dresses like a Ranger of the Night’s Watch, and he even calls Sam a “Brother.” However, we never see his face. He eventually is responsible for guiding Bran, Meera, Hodor, and Jojen Reed to the Three-Eyed Raven.
On the way, Bran notices that Coldhands won't show his face, never eats, and doesn't seem to be breathing. Because he's dead. Coldhands hasn't been unmasked in the book series ... yet.
However, Martin has adamantly denied that Coldhands and Benjen are one and the same. In fact, in the books, the Children of the Forest once stated that Coldhands "died long ago" -- a fact fans have used to refute the Benjen theory. So did Benioff and Weiss rob Martin of his epic reveal, or did the best-selling author have something else planned? It's impossible to know, but one thing's for sure: Benjen is one of the show's biggest reveals yet, and it's even more impressive when you consider that those seeds have been sown since Season 1.