Macall B. Polay/HBO

Two unexpected returns, an awkward family reunion and the Lannisters are checkmated in King's Landing

May 31, 2016 at 04:09 PM EDT

For a Game of Thrones episode with “blood” in the title (twice!), “Blood of My Blood” was a surprisingly bloodless hour in a season that — until tonight — has killed off known characters every single week. Hell, we even gained a Stark! The return of Benjen Stark after being absent since the series’ third episode was just one pleasant surprise of the episode, which also included a glimpse of the Mad King’s death and the High Sparrow seemingly check-mating the Lannisters.

We start with…

North of the Wall: Bran and Meera are on the run! Well, Meera is on the run, while Bran is quite literally being a total drag. Hodor’s horrifying sacrifice, the ultimate act of door-holding chivalry, may have bought them some time, but not much. Bran is warging out on the sled, seeing the visions that the Three-Eyed Raven left in his mental inbox in a cramming attempt to get him up to speed on what he needs to know to become the new Raven. What follows plays a bit like one of those YouTube supercuts with titles like “All 5 seasons of Game of Thrones in 5 minutes.”

Thrown into the mix is a jaw-dropping treat from our story’s mythological goodie bag: Jaime Lannister’s much-discussed assassination of the Mad King from back when he was in the Kingsguard for crazy ‘ol Aerys II. “Burn them all! Burn them all!” The Mad King cries, and we half expect Bran to warg into him and drive him even crazier until the only word he can say is “Burall. Burall!”

The Mad King is a tidbit that we never expected to actually witness, and it just shows how much of a narrative game-changer Bran’s story line has been this season that we’ve gone from watching a show that never had a flashback across its first four seasons to being surprised with fan-service-friendly greatest hit moments from Westeros’ past in nearly every episode.

The sled gets stuck and they’re seemingly doomed as the wights advance. And then: A hooded figure in black saves them from the horde. It’s a long-lost game of Thrones character. No, not The Hound. Or Gendry. Or Hotpie. Or Bronn. Or Shagga. Or Salladhor Saan. Or Arya’s direwolf Nymeria standing on her hind legs in a cloak. And no, it’s definitely not Lady Stoneheart (so just stop asking about her). It’s Benjen Stark! … You remember, Benjen Stark — Ned’s brother, the Night’s Watch former First Ranger, Jon Snow’s personal hero. He went missing ranging north near the start of season 1 and has missed all the fun over the last six seasons. This makes him perhaps the luckiest Stark around despite being dead. I’m sure Jon Snow especially would love to see his uncle — just so he can beat the crap out of him for making the Night’s Watch sound like a great career choice. Season 6 body count update: Direwolves -2, Starks +2.

We’ll come back to Bran’s reunion later in the recap…

NEXT: Defeat the Parents

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HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin’s novels.
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