Game of Thrones, like the best fiction, is just as aware of its form as it is its story. When the viewer isn’t treated to the now famous duh-duh duhduh duh-duh theme over the building map, something is up. Our ears and eyes perk at this drastic shift and we’re wondering if there’s a glitch in the system; if the show has actually started*. We see brightly lit images that look like they should be in a Game of Thrones shot, but are a little too positive with folk happily building an edifice (not unlike the building of cities in our esteemed credits sequence). Then enter Ian McShane and we’re absolutely lost. In ‘The Broken Man’, it isn’t until we see the familiar face of a character long thought dead that we are assured this is the Game of Thrones we’re familiar with.
*To my knowledge this is the first episode since season one episode one that started with a cold open and not the credits sequence.
SPOILERS BE AHEAD!!!
Good old Sandor “The Hound” Clegane is alive and well. Having been saved by McShane’s Septon Ray, The Hound has been helping Ray and his band of missionaries in building a new sept. The Mountain’s brother is a one man tree-destroyer amongst this group of amateur lumberjacks and Ray shares The Hound’s haunted past. He may be a Septon now, but wasn’t so unlike Sandor Clegane in a previous life. Can you leave behind a life of violence and be something you’ve never been before?
Margaery Tyrell, newly freed from the High Sparrow’s cages, puts on the face of a woman who has turned over an entirely new leaf. She recites The Mother’s prayers and entertains High Sparrow’s advice, humbly laying herself at the altar of The Seven to repent. When High Sparrow lets slip that her grandmother’s safety is potentially in danger for her unrepentant sins, Margaery goes to her under the guise of a devout child of The Seven. Doubling down on what got her to this point, Margaery plays the part to a tee, but slips Olynna evidence that she’s truly a strong Tyrell woman, looking for her grandmother’s safety. We’ll see how long Margaery can wear this mask against this tyrannical Gods-fearing horde.
Jon Snow and Sansa Stark are mounting a battle to take back Winterfell and are on the campaign trail trying to shore their numbers. In equal measure, they are lucky and unlucky, garnering fealty from the Wildlings and the House Mormont while losing the argument to many, many more houses. Both the Wildlings and House Mormont are headed by people who aren’t at all what they may seem.
The Wildlings are a faithful group of warriors who will fight to survive. Even the giant, Wun Wun, shows a level of honor and understanding of the situation that I’m sure many Westerosi wouldn’t expect his kind to have.
House Mormont (from which former Night’s Watch Commander,Jeor, and his son and forever lover of Dany, Jorah, hail) is headed by ten-year-old Lyanna. As Jon, Sansa and Ser Davos enter her hall, we and they expect to have to explain the politics of the situation to an immature, naive and possibly scared little girl. On the contrary, Lyanna hands Jon and Sansa their asses with her understanding of her house’s allegiances and reasons for wanting to stay behind. It takes Davos to treat her as a true equal, not appealing to her womanly nature (as Sansa does) or her family’s warrior honor (as Jon does), to draw reason and a positive response from Lyanna…
…To attain 62 men.
Jaime Lannister and Ser Bronn the lordly sell sword are back on the battle trail together, this time attempting to stamp out the Tully name once and for all. Facing off against the Blackfish, Jaime fails miserably at intimidating him to come out of his castle. Why should he? The Blackfish can outlast this army and even if they battle, the numbers lost on the side of Houses Lannister and Frey would be catastrophic compared to the gain they would receive. And let’s not be so sure Jaime’s army would truly win that battle. After sizing up Jaime, the Blackfish mentions that he’s not impressed with the stature of the Kingslayer. Even Bronn wagers Jaime to lose that fight.
With the teaming of the Freys and the Lannisters against the Tullys, our own alliances have become so splintered that there’s no chance we make it out of this one happy. On one side we have the allies of Robb Stark. On the other we have those who are responsible for cutting off his head and a horde of Lannisters with a more likable Jaime at their helm (Plus Bronn. Please, don’t kill Bronn…).
In Braavos, Arya Stark is making her play to leave this stage of her life behind her. In a true yell-at-the-screen moment, Arya disregards an old woman as she stabs her in the stomach, revealing herself to be the crazy red-headed assassin. Arya falls into the water and comes ashore, bleeding to death, amidst townsfolk who have no idea what to do with this girl. We’d think that all the time Arya spent becoming other people would enable her to at least sniff out a threat this obvious. She’s no doubt learned her lesson as she regards everyone around her now as a possible murderous sycophant of the Many-Faced God.
As Arya is in the same position she left The Hound way back on that moor, The Hound finds himself healthy and with a new lot in life. His clearly cynical nature will never wane but listening to Ian McShane tell him there’s not just one way to be is taking hold. Sandor was a troubled man, unhappy with this past long before Septon Ray. He doubted his ability to be good when he was busy saving Stark girls from certain death and torture. This stuff isn’t new, it’s just proof that it’s possible to leave that behind and attempt to bring some good into this world.
That’s something we haven’t seen much from in Game of Thrones: the positivity required to build and not just burn everything to ash. Septon Ray only has one goal and that’s to make up for all the awful shit he’s done to people in his past. The Hound might even hope he can be this himself one day.
Until Ray and the entire village are murdered by the Brotherhood Without Banners.
The Hound may now have evidence that it’s possible to find some mental peace with the nature of his past but the show reinforces that this sort of blind ignorance is more apt to get you and everyone around you killed rather than saved. Sandor Clegane picks up an axe and storms off, venturing again into the game of thrones.
So where are we? ‘The Broken Man’ is exactly the sort of episode essential to understanding all of the characters we’re about to see brutally murdered and unceremoniously rewarded over the next few episodes. It’s a breath before the plunge. That’s a cliched metaphor but an appropriate one because it takes moments like these to reinforce the pain we’re going to feel when a sword is plunged into our hearts and the blade is twisted. Game of Thrones has, to this point, delivered on this sort of promise but I feel, without any good reason, that the pendulum will swing the other way. There will be victory. Even if it is for the precious few, we’ll have our day. I believe that is the intent of the final shot of ‘The Broken Man’. We may be losing people like The Hound to do so, but he and so many others will be necessary to the emotional and literal events about to occur.
From the sheer gorgeous photography and set design, to the well-rounded and satisfying writing of ‘The Broken Man’, this is one of the best episodes of Game of Thrones yet and is destined to be one we look back upon as the last moment before it all went wrong/right.
“Never too late to come back.” – Septon Ian McShane
- Just how great is it to have Ian McShane back on HBO? So what if he’s a one-off character, Ian McShane brings all the necessary gravitas to overwrite some of the rote nature of the character and the situation.
- Why is the Brotherhood Without Banners unceremoniously killing random villagers? This can’t be the way of Beric Dondarrion. Could this be a sign that, wait for it, Lady Stoneheart will actually make her appearance as the new leader of the clan? Is the resurrection of two key characters too much for one show in a season?
- Ser Davos’ respect of Lyanna’s 62 men speaks to his strengths in not underestimating a person and also befriending a young girl, a la Shireen Baratheon. Such a sweet moment.
- Ser Bronn’s (trips me out but tickles me to no end to call him “Ser”) toss away comment about the eunuch army, The Unsullied, was an interesting tidbit in making this world a little smaller. The characters are aware of what’s going on across the seas and no one still with a head on their shoulders is disparaging of these former rumors and myths.
- It seems as if Sansa has learned the error of her choice to forsake Littlefinger. Surely the note she pens is for him to join Jon’s army. Will he accept? Sure he will, but he doesn’t easily forget.
Check out my reviews of previous episodes of ‘Game of Thrones’: