Major spoilers ahead for 'Thrones' 6.06, "Blood of My Blood."
This week's episode of Game of Thrones Season 6 may have spent more time moving pieces around the chess board than taking out kings or queens, but one major development north of the Wall confirmed a long-held fan theory while also hinting at a battle between the Starks and the Lannisters later this season.
Cast your minds back to Season 1 and you'll recall that Benjen Stark was last seen riding north of the Wall in his capacity as First Ranger of the Night's Watch. All we were told was that Bran's uncle was investigating sightings of White Walkers, after which he was never seen or heard from again.
Five years later, he's back. So why is this such a big deal? Sure, he effectively cheated death, but it's not like he's the first person in Game of Thrones to do that, and he won't be the last. Benjen's return is significant for another reason: It takes the character of Coldhands from the page and brings him to life on-screen.
Who The Hell Is Coldhands?
It's at this point that those who watch the show but don't have time to read books containing six-hundred page descriptions of Brienne of Tarth's solitary travels on horseback might be wondering exactly what the deal is with Coldhands.
In A Storm of Swords, the third book in the series, a mysterious cloaked figure rescues Sam and Gilly from the wights, and later takes Bran, Jojen, Meera and Hodor beyond the Wall to the Three-Eyed Raven. He does not show his face, and it doesn't take Bran long to figure out that the man is, in fact, dead (at least in the scientific sense).
The man is nicknamed Coldhands on account of the fact that his heart no longer beats, and thus the blood has congealed and turned his hands black — and although George R.R. Martin has personally debunked the fan theory that Coldhands is Benjen on the page, showrunners Weiss and Benioff just confirmed that the two are one and the same in the television universe.
While the show removed Coldhands from those scenes with Sam and Bran, the fact that he's been brought into the equation this late in the game suggests that Benjen will have a major role to play in House Stark reclaiming the North.
There's a suggestion that Benjen may have been doing the work of the Raven during his time away, which is pretty cool — and, if you buy into the theory that the Raven (RIP) was in fact Bran himself, we have ourselves a situation in which future-Bran has been ordering Benjen Stark to protect present-day Bran. You don't need me to tell you that that would be a total brain melt, in the best way.
Where Do The Starks Go From Here?
Jon Snow was absent from this episode, but in a strange way the return of Benjen may have foreshadowed the Stark bastard's next move. Remember how, when they parted in Season 1, Ned spoke the following words to Jon?
"Next time we see each other, we'll speak about your mother. I promise."
In Game of Thrones, seeds planted generally get sown. Everything comes full circle. I'd be willing to put money on Jon Snow learning from Benjen of his true parentage — Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen — as the audience does, and that being the catalyst that rallies him to assemble an army from the loyal houses of the North and topple the Boltons.
More remote a likelihood, but still possible, is that the return of Benjen signals that Lady Stoneheart may also be making the transition from page to screen, especially as the Brotherhood Without Banners were given a mention this episode, and we know that Thoros of Myr will be seen again soon.
Either way, with Sansa intending to enact revenge on Ramsey and his men while Jaime heads north to reclaim Riverrun from Sansa's uncle, Brynden the Blackfish, what remains of the Starks and the Tullys will have to be prepared for one of the most brutal battles in the history of their Houses — and having Benjen Stark at their side can only help their chances of reclaiming what's theirs.
Check out the preview above for Season 6, Episode 7, in which Sansa and Jon assemble their armies while Jaime arrives at Riverrun...