Game of Thrones Recap - Season 6 Episode 7: The Broken Man
This is a recap, so, spoilers abound!
I like to call my mother after watching Game of Thrones. It’s always been a bonding experience of mine. There’s always been a show. Usually something silly. Heroes, LOST. Most of the time, we’ve agreed on the quality of an episode. Our tastes line up. When I asked her about “The Broken Man”, she was very blunt in her assessment. “It wasn’t very good.” It’s a small disagreement but it is also the first we’ve had in a long time. “The Broken Man” lacked a certain degree of grandeur but I found its humility rather affecting.
Blacksmithing, building. The episode opened with a scene so idyllic that I was taken aback. A community removed from the horrible violence and politicking that dominates the show. I was taken in. And then? The Hound. Alive and as well after Arya left him to die. It might not have been a shock; the season has been pointing us towards his arrival early on. But it was well played. The Hound is back.
Better, the Hound is changed. There’s a softness to him. As much softness that someone like Sandor Clegane might ever have. He has suffered. “How many men did it take to cut you down?” asks the unnamed Septon (played admirably by Ian McShane). The Hound is larger than life but his defeat was not. One person defeated him and it was a woman. Yet, he survived. He is one of the broken men now.
A strong theme of this season has been religion and how it might affect the world. For some, like Jon, it has manifested in miracles. For those in King’s Landing, it is a political force. For the Hound? It is a vague thing. The ways that the gods or even the god (as is the case with the Lord of Light) are used or make themselves known pose a question: why are we here? The Hound has a role to play. Sadly, it will all but certainly draw him back into that terrible Game of Thrones and likely towards a one on one clash against his brother.
Religion might offer a community to the Hound but it offers a prison to Margaery Tyrell. Not a literal one. That has passed. Instead, she is now subject to the machinations of the High Sparrow. It is subtle and softer than the backstabbings and clashes that have played out in King‘s Landing but oppressive nonetheless. Yet, Margaery navigates it well. Out of anyone in the show, she might be the most skilled at deception. She is patient and knows how to placate her enemies to get what she wants. This long game approach has not been without setbacks but as she speaks with the High Sparrow, quoting verses and talking piety, her cleverness is on full display.
The High Sparrow counters this well. Margaery has shown her faith but her grandmother Olenna is unrepentant. An easy target for the Faith Militant. No direct threat is made. But the Sparrow’s ruthlessness is clear. He will drag the Queen of Thorns through the streets if it gets him what he wants. And he will do it with a kindly smile. Watched by one of his faithful all the while, Margaery still manages to warn her grandmother. Damn, she’s good. Dangerously, wonderfully good at reacting to obstacles.
While Margaery gets by on sly machinations, Jon Snow seems to get by through honesty. The Wildlings are not too keen to march and fight the Boltons. Even with Tormund speaking on his behalf, things look grim. Even when the miraculous is brought up: that Jon died for the Wildings, they still do not want to march. But Jon turns to the truth, which has rewarded him just as much as it has punished him. The Boltons will attack and they will kill everyone. The only thing to do is fight. With that very real threat drawing closer to their doorstep, the Wildlings agree to fight.
As Olenna prepares to flee King’s Landing, Cersei speaks with her. The Queen of Thorns is quick to blame Cersei for all of their misfortune. Cersei, remarkably, does not deny it. She made a deal with the Faith in order to best Margaery and the Tyrells. That singular choice has brought Houses Lannister and Tyrell to the brink of destruction. Olenna only finds comfort knowing that Cersei has suffered. Yet, I can’t join in the schadenfreude. I have no love for Cersei Lannister, but I’ve watched her world crumble around her. I’ve watched her pain. It’s made her far, far more human than many other characters on the show.
There’s less politcking at Riverrun as the Freys impotently attempt to draw the Blackfish out of the castle by threatening to kill Edmure. It’s a pathetic, clownish display of power that the Blackfish sees right through. Hoping to change the dynamic, Jaime and Bron arrive to lead the seige. This is far better than their sojourn to Dorne last season. It feels right for these characters. Damned if Jaime doesn’t get to show his sense of command too. When the Freys disagree that Edmure should be bathed and fed, he backhands one of them in the face with his golden hand. Jaime finds a balance between nobility and cruelty. He will treat Edmure well, having once been a prisoner of war himself. He will attempt to parley with the Blackfish. But it’s clear that he will fight if he must.
I had no clue where we were for a moment during the next scene change but it turns out we’re at Bear Island with the Starks. Under normal circumstances, this might have felt too sudden. But moving Jon, Sansa, and the others from house to house as they ask support feels like something right out of Suikoden and I love it.
The head of House Mormont is the young but self assured Lyanna Mormont and both Jon and Sansa struggle to sway her to support them. Instead, it is Davos who manages. The real war is coming: between the living and the dead. A very real end of times is at hand unless the North can hold strong. His speech is impassioned and the Starks gain...all sixty two of House Mormont’s soldiers. It’s a good scene, with shrewd power dynamics at play, particularly Lady Lyanna, but there’s room for levity. besides, the Starks need all the help they can get.
Jaime might need some help too. His attempts to parley with the Blackfish do not go well. As a side note, I enjoy how bombastic this episode has felt at times. When we are in the thick of Westerosi politics, the music swells and everything seems bold. It contrasts well with everything we experience with the Hound. Jaime and the Blackfish are two commanders holding strong to their duties, with lives hanging in the balance. But out there, somewhere, a lone man tries to simply exist without being pulled back to war. This dichotomy is sold by how intense the Blackfish is. “As long as I’m standing, the war is not over.” The North remembers and war will not stop hounding the realms.
The Starks find themselves before another one of the world’s broken men. Another man hardened and made harsh by war. Lord Glover. Even Sansa’s strong appeal to duty cannot get him to pledge support. He fought with Robb. His reward was to see his family killed by enemies. There is too much pain. Not everything can go smoothly for the Starks. Their cause is just but that only goes so far in Game of Thrones.
Elsewhere, Theon and Yara hide from their crazed uncle Euron in the middle of a rowdy brothel. It’s an interesting parallel. The Starks want to stand their ground. The Greyjoys must run and hide. The Starks prepare to fight a grand battle. The Greyjoys’ immediate battle is much smaller: Yara must contend with Theon himself. He is another one of the broken men. But he can heal. His sister will push him to heal and become strong again.
And after Theon has found himself again? They will fight their uncle. “Fuck justice. We’ll get revenge.” The Starks might fight for honor and justice but the Greyjoys will fight for something less lofty. Their uncle Euron wants the world; Yara and Theon simply want their home back. The Starks want Winterfell. The Greyjoys want the Iron Islands.
The prospects for both of them seems so slim. Jon and Sansa’s army is small, likely not enough to fight the Boltons. But time is of the essence and Jon insists they must fight. It seems a losing battle. They need more troops. If only Sansa knew someone with a creepy crush on her and a large army of capable soldiers-ooooh right. Littlefinger. She writes a letter and sends a raven. It seems like Petyr Baelish, as always, will get what he wants.
Far from it all, the Hound watches the Septon speak on sin. Both men know violence. One has found a calling to bring good into the world. The other struggles to understand his place. It seems the world is not content to let Sandor Clegane ponder forever. Men from the Brotherhood without Banners arrive. They all but demand supplies, riding away when given none. At that moment, it was clear: the Hound would not be able to hide. Violence would find him, as it finds most.
Violence certainly found Arya Stark. Smoothly arranging passage back to Westeros, she is not prepared for what comes next. The Faceless woman who helped train her sneaks upon her with a stolen face, stabbing Arya in the gut. For a moment, I didn’t think it was real. I expected something larger and more dramatic. A fight where the two young women would move beyond training and into life of death combat. But this is Game of Thrones. That was never going to happen. Instead, Arya falls into the canal. She hauls herself out and wanders the streets. No one will help her.
Suffering is unavoidable in Game of Thrones. Hell, it’s unavoidable in real life. We might not have such terrible tragedies happen to us as what we watch on the screen but we all struggle. How do we react? What do we do? That is the question in “The Broken Man”. And as we return to the Hound and find that the Septon and his community have been slaughtered, the burned warrior takes up an axe. The show has given its answer. What do we do? Be it for justice, revenge, or anything else, we stare the world in the face and fight.