Game of Thrones’ sixth season has largely scaled-up the various problems facing Westeros (and beyond); we’ve had encounters with White Walkers, trippy tree-visions set way in the past, and a huge focus on mythology and magic over the political, pragmatic dog-fighting that ran through the show’s earlier seasons.
But in this week’s episode, The Broken Man, the balance was redressed, with renewed focus on the ramifications that the lengthy war has had on the rest of the kingdom. Those fans who feel Game of Thrones has been sacrificing nuance for shock value in later years (see: various B-list cast member getting stabbed, stabbed, and stabbed again this season) will enjoy The Broken Man, which asks tough questions about leadership, power and war, all while bringing a certain fan favourite back into the fold.
Here are the biggest moments from this week’s episode.
The return of 'The Hound'
Season Four culminated in an intense fight between Brienne and The Hound, and it’s safe to say Brienne beat the living tar out of the warrior. Clegane fell from a cliff edge and landed, splayed, on the rocks below. Arya, his companion at the time, refused to give him the mercy of a quick death, and walked off to the docks where she would board for Braavos.
In the show’s opening moments, we find that The Hound has been saved from death by the grizzled Septon Ray (Ian McShane), and is working with his group of faith-based commonfolk building a new church in the Riverlands. How quaint.
Septon Ray explains that Sandor Clegane was saved by the Gods – though he’s not sure which one – and has some higher purpose to serve, even if that higher purpose involves unpaid manual labour and eating stew.
It’s a weirdly serene part of the episode, and like Sam’s trip to Horn Hill last week, suggests that away from the warring power struggles in Westeros, people are just trying to rebuild their lives and move on. Like anything serene and calm and pleasant, it doesn’t take long for it to sour.
Sandor and Septon Ray are accosted by a group of men Sandor believes to be the Brotherhood Without Banners. We last saw them in Season Three, when they took Arya under their wing and showed her their own brand of vigilance. Sworn to no houses (hence the name), their pursuit of justice borders on the fanatical, and when Sandor nips into the woods to chop some logs, he comes back to find the entire community brutally slaughtered.
The whole ordeal forces his hand, Sandor picking up his axe to start fighting again. What does it all mean though? Book readers have had hints that the Brotherhood’s well-intentioned campaign ends up a bit bloodthirsty due to a change in their leadership. Given the similar ideologies between Septon Ray and The High Sparrow, maybe Sandor will return to the capital to fight on behalf of The Faith. His zombie brother is currently Cersei’s bodyguard, so her eventual trial by combat could be blow-the-doors-off huge.
Jaime and Bronn wage war on Riverrun
After his failed attempt to take out the High Sparrow last week, Jaime was dispatched to the Riverlands where Catelyn Stark’s uncle, Brynden “Blackfish” Tully, had taken over his family’s former home from the Freys and declared himself Lord.
Jaime’s mission is to lift the siege and cool things between houses Frey and Tully, which is made difficult when the incompetent Frey men throw out empty threats and Red Wedding-related taunts, which only ensures the Blackfish stays behind his walls. They set up a gallows in front of the castle, and even hang a rope around his nephew Edmure’s neck to get him to yield, but the Blackfish plays his hand slowly, doing nothing, pointing out that they can’t go through with the hanging or else they’ll lose their hostage.
Eventually, he agrees to meet Jaime at the front of the castle, were he proudly declares that they have two years’ worth of supplies with them and he refuses to bow. Tywin Lannister may have orchestrated the Red Wedding that uprooted House Tully, but the bad blood still runs thick long after his death, and it’s up to Jaime to deal with it.
“I wanted to get the measure of you,” the Blackfish tells Jaime. “I’m disappointed.”
The delicate political situation is a nice throwback to the earlier conflicts that cropped up in Game of Thrones. It might seem like a distraction, but not for long; Brienne was dispatched to Riverrun by Sansa a couple of weeks ago, and despite their previous road-trip, it looks like she and Jaime are on completely different teams now. Is a reunion on the cards?
House Stark goes campaigning
As frustrating as it is for Game of Thrones to draw some stories out over several weeks only to rush others in the space of a single episode, Jon, Sansa and Davos’ skirmish across the smaller Northern households plays out nicely across this week’s episode, even if it likely covers several weeks’ time.
They visit Bear Island (which, thanks to the show’s plump CGI budget, looks bloody amazing) and meet Lyanna Mormont, who we last heard of in Season Five when she sent Stannis a stern letter saying her house would never support a non-Stark in the North.
This week, we meet 10-year-old Lyanna. House Mormont has been ravaged by the ongoing war – Lyanna’s mother, Maege, was killed supporting Robb, her uncle was Commander Mormont at Castle Black until he was betrayed and her cousin is none other than Jorah, currently backpacking throughout Essos looking to cure his greyscale.
Lyanna is a stern, uncompromising young lady and challenges Jon first over his bastard-born status and then Sansa for being married to two different Lords. “You’re a Lannister, or a Bolton, I forget,” she quips. The message is clear: House Mormont may be a smaller house, but they don’t want to lose loyal men for a lost cause.
Davos steps in and explains the ongoing war against the dead; Jon confirms his men have fought, and lost, against the White Walkers. Lyanna (who incidentally was named after Ned’s sister, the woman kidnapped at the Tower of Joy) eventually agrees to give them her best men – though she admits that they only have sixty-two.
House Glover, meanwhile, staunchly refuse to join the Starks, proclaiming House Stark “dead”. They occupy Moat Cailin, which was the small castle that Ramsay had to butcher his way through on his way to Winterfell in Season Four. While their reluctance to get involved is understandable, it means the Starks have far less support than they’d like, prompting Sansa to write a letter to someone imploring them for support.
Is it to her uncle, the Blackfish, or is it Baelish? Sansa and Jon’s own parlay about their best move mirrors Robb and Catelyn’s differing views on war and politics from the earlier seasons, and solidifies one of the themes of the episode; rebuilding a new country after years of neglect and war is not as easy as nailing a few planks of wood together and calling it a church.
Arya plans her Braaxit
That’s ‘Braavos exit’ in case you’re not following the upcoming referendum.
After failing to assassinate Lady Crane last week, Arya has chosen to leave Braavos and head home. She finds safe travel and is getting her affairs in order, when she is ambushed by her stick-wielding rival from the Faceless Men, who is masquerading as an old lady.
Initially the whole thing seems like a nightmare, even when Arya is brutally stabbed in the abdomen, which is never a good thing. She manages to escape, James Bond-style, throwing herself off a bridge and pretending to drown, which is apparently enough to placate the trained assassin.
Emerging from the canal, dripping wet and bleeding heavily, Arya plods through the town, terrified of the faces around her. Suddenly, any one of them could be her killer, or another Faceless Man preparing to strike. Braavos’ snaking cobblestone alleyways take on a terrifying horror-film vibe to it as she stumbles, dying, through the streets.
Are her days numbered? Game of Thrones has been playing with themes of rebirth for a while now, whether it’s through resurrection (Jon), ritual (Euron, Dany) or divine intervention (Sandor, Benjen). Arya’s stabbing might be what drives No-One from her mind – and brings her to Westeros as a fully-fledged Some One again.
Margaery continues her long-con
Last week’s reveal that Tommen had aligned church and state kind of came from nowhere, but this week we got a bit more insight into Marg’s state of mind. In short: she seems to be pretending to convert for her own safety, but her constant surveillance has made that hard to explain to her family.
Once the High Sparrow very gently floats the idea that her grandmother Olenna might be imprisoned for rallying Tyrell troops against the faith, Margaery meets with her and implores her to leave. The sassy OAP isn’t having any of it, under the impression her daughter has been brainwashed, but a secret slip of parchment from Margery adorned with the Tyrell rose communicates what is necessary: she needs to leave King’s Landing, and Margaery is safe as long as she plays along.
Her conversion is a rebirth in its own right, although it’s purely surface-level. With Olenna on the way out, she has one final verbal beat-down with Cersei, pointing out what a stellar job she’d done of dooming both their houses thanks to her insistence on hurting House Tyrell (it was Cersei’s anti-Margaery sentiment that prompted her to install the Sparrows, after all).
Now that Jaime has gone, her family have distanced themselves from her. With a trial impending, Cersei has no-one on her side but her giant zombie bodyguard. Will that be enough?
We had a quick visit with Theon and Yara, who have sailed to Volantis, where Tyrion and Varys passed last year. Yara, while enjoying the prostitutes in the area, tries to break her brother out of his hysterical fugue by forcing him to neck his ale, which is an amazingly poor way of undoing mental torture and semi-castration.
She implores him find himself again and reclaim his identity so they can meet Dany and convert her to their cause, saying he’s no good as a shuddering wreck. It’s exciting to think these two may end up in Meereen this season… or will Euron get there first?