*Spoilers, naturally, follow for those yet to watch Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 7 ‘The Broken Man’’*
Game of Thrones returned to its strong episodically thematic roots in ‘The Broken Man’, as writer Bryan Cogman delivered a solid but unspectacular hour predating the sh*t storm about to hit us.
Game of Thrones has a carefully structured flow of events that ensures the biggest holy sh*t moments are reserved for the second to last episode of the season, ala the Red Wedding and Ned’s beheading- this ensures an inevitable lull mid season as the story is built in the direction of the crazy endings- the calm before the storm, so to speak.
We’ve seen that both last week and this, with the show seemingly in flux, even though monumental events occur all the same. ‘The Broken Man’ returned us to thematically linking the entire episode to its name, delivered the return of a fan favourite long rumoured dead, leading to the show’s first ever intro scene. Ever.
The Hound represents the eponymous Broken Man, stranded at a resort full of ‘broken men’, run by a former broken man himself. Ian MacShane’s Game of Thrones appearance have been mightily anticipated, and the man himself has not been shy talking about it, even spoiling the return of the Hound in one interview. But he delivered nonetheless, as only Al Swearingen can- and made an impact on the story despite his relatively short time onscreen.
The Hound’s return is a significant event, especially if a certain well known theory (Cleganebowl, don’t google it) is set to play out. One feature of Game of Thrones, which is more prominent in the books than has been played up on the show, is that if you do not see a character die with your own two eyes, never for a moment assume that they’re gone for good (hell, that’s a good assumption to make even if you see them expire with your own two eyes). It’s why until a few weeks ago, some people still did not believe that Stannis was gone for good, until Brienne confirmed it to Davos and Melisandre when she appeared at the wall.
‘The Broken Man’ is an allegory for the personal brutality and barbarity of war, the deeply personal cost the common man pays whilst fighting in the highborn lord’s Game of Thrones. The septon running the place eloquently puts it, the things they have to do as part of war, things that strip away, not to talk about your honour, but your humanity entirely. Things that turn ordinary, decent people into monsters, machines of war. Things that leave them broken after war, and in many instances in need of penance for the rest of their lives.
That was what the septon played by McShane (known as Brother Ray) was offering to the group of broken people he had assembled, penance; but the Brotherhood Without Banners messed all that up when they showed up and killed every last one of them. Now the Hound, who obviously was enjoying the peace and quiet of his new station, would be plunged back into the violent world that left him nearly dead towards the end of Season 4.
The Broken Man theme shows up over and over again throughout the episode. Theon Greyjoy is another huge example, reduced to a shell of the man he once was, all the way down to the disappearance of his hitherto vivacious libido. Ramsay’s handiwork is still plastered all over him, physically and mentally, which makes sense, as one simply does not recover from such abuse overnight.
But he also happens to be Ironborn, and to his sister, a broken man is a liability she’d rather not have. The Ironborn live a hard life on the Iron Islands, with little vegetation and too much salt- and that climate breeds hard people with little sentiments. Euron has little qualms killing his brother and targeting his nephew and niece, and Yara makes it pretty plain to Theon that if he wants to keep wallowing in self pity, he might as well slash his wrists and be done with. If not, he can get on board the plan to woo Dany far East and return to conquer Westeros together.
The Waif, Arya’s relentless nemesis, is plenty broken herself. In fact, the episode title could be a metaphor for what the Faceless Men does to its assasins, which is strip them of any identity and agency they have, and turn them into something no better than the mindless killing automatons war turns the poor folk in Westeros into. The only difference is they have cool magic and bada** killing skills to go along with their ‘brokenness’.
Arya drew a line in the sand last week, refusing to carry out the assassination and join the guild of ‘broken men’. That had earned her a death sentence, something she was well aware of, which made me mad to no end at the simple way the Waif sneaked up on her and stabbed her. When a pissed off Faceless assassin is chasing you, you get suspicious at anything you see, a cat in the street, much less an overly suspicious old lady by the waterfront.
Arya is a survivor, and even though her situation looks dire at the moment, she should find a way out. Martin is a cold blooded killer of beloved characters, no question- but the big deaths generally serve a narrative purpose, and Arya dying alone and nameless in the streets of Braavos would be the stupidest writing decision since the dawn of time.
Figuratively, there is no bigger ‘broken man’ than Tommen of House Baratheon, the First of His Name. This kid, with some help from his incompetent mother, has watched as his kingdom fell under the thrall of a soft spoken religious lunatic, and all he has been able to do is occasionally look tough, and back down every time he’s challenged. Margaery Tyrell is the real player left in King’s Landing, and over the past few weeks she has effectively outshone everyone there bar the High Sparrow. Even the usually unflappable Queen of Thorns has looked lost this season; but luckily for all of them, Margaery knows her way around manipulating situations to her advantage.
There were huge discussions last week as to whether her seeming conversion was real, and obviously it wasn’t. Margaery is doing the best she can with the incredibly terrible hands she’s been dealt, and I get the feeling by the time she’s done, the High Sparrow would have no idea what hit him. She has the guy pleading for her to fulfil her conjugal duties, for Christ’s sake!
Olenna, on a signal from Margaery, is leaving town, but not before giving Cersei a long overdue dressing down. It is indeed her stupidity, her vindictiveness and her short sightedness that has them all in the mess they’re in; and Olenna let her have it straight up. Unsurprisingly, Cersei is once again making the same mistake, by smugly assuming that having the Mountain would be enough to save her from everything- forgetting the High Sparrow has been ten steps ahead of her from day one. If she has thought of utilising a trial by combat with The Mountain as her champion, then surely the High Sparrow has also thought of it, and probably looked for a loophole around it.
Finally Edmure Tully, another broken man. The rightful lord of House Tully has had a rough time since his capture at the Red Wedding, where he was supposed to marry a Frey to atone for Robb Stark reneging on his promise to marry a Frey. Edmure was never a terribly bright nor brave fellow to begin with, and you get the feeling his time in the dungeons has exacerbated those unflattering qualities.
He’s now the bargaining chip to win Riverrun back from the stubborn old warrior, his uncle, Brynden ‘Blackfish’ Tully- who’s retaken the castle of his birth. He has no intention of budging, calling on them to just slit the throat and be done with it.
Jaime shows up to take charge of the siege, and calls for a parley with Blackfish. In happier circumstances, this might actually have been a giddy meeting for Ser Jaime to get to. In his internal dialogue in George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, Jaime only shows deference to three warriors; Ser Arthur Dayne- The Sword of the Morning- Ser Barristan Selmy, and Ser Brynden Tully ‘The Blackfish’.
The Blackfish knows exactly what Jaime wants, and has no intention of giving up the castle. He was just bored from being too holed up, and viewed the parley as nothing but entertainment. It was also an opportunity to get the measure of Jaime Lannister, which apparently was a disappointment to the crusty old bastard.
One great question the Blackfish raised was whether Jaime had fulfilled his oath to Catelyn, who as we might have forgotten, released him in exchange for the return of her daughters. So Jaime was returning without fulfilling his oath, and then with a request for Blackfish to cede Riverrun. No wonder he was met with such contempt.
As things are going, Jaime might have to storm the castle, leading to mass casualties. Brienne, as we know, is making her way to Riverrun, setting up an inevitable meeting between the two buddies.
Finally, we go up North, where the Stark efforts to gain an army isn’t going so great. Somehow Jon had to woo the wildlings to his side again, which seems preposterous to me, after all that he had done for them. He’s basically Jesus Christ, dying for their sins, and now he has to beg them to fight for him? Luckily, Tormund made a great pitch, the giant Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun gave it his seal of approval, and then everyone else fell in line.
The march throughout other parts of the North did not turn out so well. After a great negotiation scene with the coolest ten year old house lord of all time, they gained a grand total of 62(0) fighting Mormont men. Not what they were expecting for all the up and down lady Lyanna Mormont took them through. The mission was a bust everywhere else.
Camping afterwards, the situation seemed hopeless, with Jon proposing they attack anyway. Sansa still hasn’t told Jon she basically has an army in waiting at Moat Cailin, for whatever reasons she has- but in this dire strait, she decided to reach out to Littlefinger anyway, presumably to bring up his Vale knights.
Also, one minor gripe- enough with telling us about Stannis being the ‘greatest military commander in Westeros’. We’ve never seen anything in the show to suggest so, from his defeat at Blackwater to Ramsay fookin Snow routing him outside Winterfell, the Stannis we know is nothing like a military genius, or Ramsay and his ‘twenty good men’ would never have gotten close enough to basically destroy all his army’s supplies on the eve of Season 5’s battle for Winterfell. Now Stannis in the books, that’s a military commander to fear; but the version written by David and Dan and played by Stephen Dillane was nothing but a disappointment.
‘The Broken Man’ reminds me a lot of one of the best episodes of the CW show ‘The Originals’ I ever watched, ‘Apres moi, le deluge’. At the end, the episode delivers a more than solid show, but the scariest part is what lies ahead, not what we had just watched. Last season’s episode 8, ‘Hardhome’, turned out to be the best of the season, bucking the trend of mostly episode 9’s carrying that mantle. Still, with the pieces laid in place by last week’s ‘Blood of my Blood’ and ‘The Broken Man’, the climaxes coming up would definitely be worth two weeks of relatively slow episodes.
Watch the preview for next week’s episode, ‘No One’, below…