While the entirety of season 6 of “Game of Thrones” has been about defying death — like literally, just refusing to stay dead — the latter half of the season has been about the return (or resurrection) of our faves, problematic or not. Last week we touched base with Walder Frey and Ed Tully, and “The Broken Man” opened with a surprising pre-credits sequence heralding the return of the only and only Sandor Clegane aka The Hound (Rory McCann).
It’s refreshing to have these characters back, because the surviving characters have been slogging through the trenches of diplomacy, constantly teetering on a razor’s edge between peacekeeping and warmongering, making and breaking alliances. Having someone like the Hound back, who seems poised to go on a vigilante justice kick throughout the realm, seems to promise more action — more doing and less talking.
The other theme of Season 6 has been about women stepping up to the plate in leadership roles. The ladies are disrupting Westeros if you will, cutting through the bullshit, not asking for permission, and making confident decisions without the approval of the men in charge in the hopes of affecting some kind of change, changing the course as a means of survival.
Mark Mylod, who directed two of the most exciting episodes of Season 5, “High Sparrow,” and “Sons of the Harpy,” returns to helm “The Broken Man,” written by Bryan Cogman, and it almost feels like a bottle episode of sorts. And it’s excellent— Cogman’s writing crackles with the kind of sly and cynical lines that make ‘Thrones’ so wicked and delicious, and Mylod has an excellent sense of timing, neither rushed nor lagging.
The episode begins and ends with the awesome Ian McShane, who plays a cool hippie septon of the Seven (that’s the religion of the High Sparrow), establishing a village in what looks to be the Riverlands (raise your hand if you instantly thought their church-like structure was intended to be a Wicker Man). It’s where we find the Hound, rage-fully chopping wood.
The Riverlands (and Braavos)
Brother Ray (McShane) found the Hound, near-dead, bleeding out from his battle with Brienne of Tarth, left to die by Arya Stark. Ray believes that “God’s not done with you yet,” though the Hound is lacking any reason for his survival beyond the fact that he’s hard to kill. The irony of “The Broken Man” is that while the Hound has been brought back to life, Arya (Maisie Williams) finds herself in the situation that she once left him in.
Caught unaware and on the business end of a dagger by the faceless Waif (Faye Marsay), Arya’s left to stagger through the streets of Braavos, bleeding out while the merchants ignore her, like some kind of Braavosi Kitty Genovese. Since death is not a thing in ‘Thrones’ anymore, we’re not lighting any candles for Arya just yet. It looks like she’ll continue to have to tangle with the Waif again next week, and maybe this experience will teach her about just what it means to leave someone for dead.
Also in Braavos? The Greyjoy siblings, who are enjoying the perks to be found in Braavosi brothels. Yara (Gemma Whelan) is practicing the Tyrion Lannister method of International Relations, which involves motorboating lots of boobs. Poor Theon (Alfie Allen) is horrendously anxious and awkward there, but sis gives him a good pep talk and makes him chug an ale. So fratty! Maybe it’s what he needs to banish the last vestiges of Reek.
“The Broken Man” puts the Hound back in action, although he clearly just wants to try and lead a quiet, pastoral life among the faithful. But violence is never far, and the Hound can smell it on a trio of rangy, hungry members of the Brotherhood Without Banners who roll up on the camp. Though Ray initially diffuses them, it isn’t long before they return, and the Hound finds himself the only remaining member of the camp, while Ray’s lifeless body swings from a beam in the Wicker Man church. With axe in hand, the Hound sets off to seek something — a mixture, of justice, revenge and instinct. How many guesses that he just might see himself in the ring with his brother, the Mountain, in some sort of trial by combat sitch?
In the world of diplomacy and alliances, siblings Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Sansa Stark-Lannister-Bolton (Sophie Turner) hit the road to seek out anyone who will stand with them against Ramsay Bolton. First, Jon rounds up the Wildlings with the help of Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), who tonight looks like a model for a really hip salon — that pomade is working, Tor!
Next, Jon, Sansa and Davos (Liam Cunningham) hit up Bear Island, where the feisty lady Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey), all of 10 years old, shows them all who’s boss. She’s awesome, give her a spin-off, please. If the Mormont name sounds familiar — Jeor, her uncle, was the former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and her cousin Jorah, is a handsome boring Daenerys detective and future Stone Man. She is 10x sassier than anyone on this show, and Davos recognizes that, using his fatherly charms to win her allegiance to the cause (as well as the threat of the Night King). He says that if the handful of fighting men she can provide are “half as ferocious as their lady, the Boltons are doomed.”
They strike out with House Glover, who aren’t super into the Starks right now, since Robb left them out in the cold, sitting ducks for the Greyjoys to trample all over Deepwood Motte. Also, the Boltons just helped them get their castle back, so Robett’s (Tim McInnerny) alliances have switched, historical pledges be damned.
Sansa’s wary of the motley crew of Wildlings and few dozen guys from Bear Island they’ve assembled (btw, is Bear Island open for tourism, cause I need to take a trip there immediately). Jon claims they don’t have enough time to get more forces, but she secretly sends off a raven to her last resort, House Cerwyn. Sansa doesn’t have time to not make moves, you know?
In the Riverlands, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) rolls up with Head Wingman In Charge, BRONN (Jerome Flynn)!!!! FORGET THE HOUND, BRONN IS BACK, Y’ALL!! Finaalllyyy, was Jerome tied up with a play or an indie film or something? Jaime has been so boring without him. Anyway, at Riverrun, Jaime is there to swag all over the pathetic Frey bros and their stupid skullcaps and lame trenches, and get this siege of Riverrun back on track, in the name of King Tommen.
He requests a parley with the Blackfish, Brynden Tully (Clive Russell) who is holed up in the castle, his ancestral home, though Frey has claimed ownership. The Blackfish sizes Jaime up and poo-pooh’s the Kingslayer with a sickening, “I’m disappointed.” He also says they can go ahead and hang his nephew Ed, and they’ll be cozy in the castle with their two years of snacks. This may prove to be a more challenging endeavor than Jaime thought. The Blackfish is not to be fucked with.
It’s not like things are going so well at King’s Landing anyway. Cersei (Lena Headey) is being shaded all over the place by Lady Olenna (Dianna Rigg), who is super exasperated that Cersei herself empowered the damn High Sparrow because she was jealous of Margaery and Loras, and now he’s got all the power and they have to bring him down themselves. “I wonder if you’re the worst person I’ve ever met,” she muses, “at a certain age, it’s hard to recall.” Seriously, Cersei should feel way more guilty/dumb about this entire situation.
It’s fairly obvious that Margaery (Natalie Dormer) is playing the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), and hard. No one else has done anything about him, so she’s got to take matters into her own hands. What are her plans? It’s not clear yet, but she does press a drawing of a rose into her grandmother’s hand— a rose is on the Tyrell sigil, and Olenna’s nickname, Queen of Thorns comes from this symbol—which communicates her loyalty to her house.
So while the men of “Game of Thrones” are playing one game, out in the open, the women are playing another, secret game that the men don’t know about, moving the chess pieces when the men aren’t looking. “The Broken Man” is one of the strongest episodes of the season, and the action only looks to amp up next week, as Cersei chooses violence, unleashes the Mountain, and Arya runs for her life in Braavos. By the way, with the way death is going in Westeros, I’ll believe Stannis Baratheon is dead when I actually see his severed head. Stay tuned, Throneheads.