In the world of Game of Thrones, there’s no such thing as opting out of war and the suffering and violence that it entails. In “The Broken Man,” that point is hammered home deftly through the exploration of the supporting players in this ever-growing conflict. Unlike most shows on television, Game of Thrones is not always the story of the main characters, the heroes who defy all odds to save the day for truth and justice. Game of Thrones isn’t even strictly the story of the people who show up. Game of Thrones is the story of the people who are left: Blackfish, Margaery, Theon, the last of the Free Folk, Sandor Clegane, Jaime, 10-year-old Lady Mormont, Brother Ray, Cersei, the surviving members of House Glover and House Stark. They are what’s left in this fractured world. And they are all broken in their own ways — because to live in this world is to be or eventually become broken. There is no other fate. Don’t believe me? Ask Brother Ray.
Let’s take a look at our broken people and their various degrees of understanding that you can’t stay neutral on a moving train…
Sansa, Jon Snow, and Ser Davos continue their recruitment campaign for soldiers to fight in their battle with the Boltons. Surprisingly, the wildlings are their easiest sell — perhaps because, better than anyone on this side of The Wall, the wildlings understand what’s at stake. They accept that this world is broken. That living by an old order that relies on duty or honor or tradition is foolish in the face of an army of the undead that abides no such rules. It helps that Jon Snow has died for them, of course. He is the first of our broken men, no longer the naive, honor-bound man he once was. He has died since — any lingering tendency to glorify war or poetic sacrifice died with him.
When our trio arrives on Bear Island, it is Ser Davos’ turn to talk a leader into contributing their men for the cause. This time, that leader is a 10-year-old girl and, I kid you not, she is my preferred frontrunner for the Iron Throne. Not that she would accept such a position. Lady Mormont is much too practical for that. But she is more honest than Eddard Stark. More calculating than Cersei. And more ferocious than Drogon. Sansa’s attempt to play to her non-existent vanity and Jon’s attempt to play to her non-existent prejudice to tradition fall on deaf ears.
Rather, it is Ser Davos’ clear outlining of the stakes that finally convince Lady Mormont to pledge her 62 men: “The real war isn’t between a few squabbling houses. It’s between the living and the dead. And make no mistake, my lady, the dead are coming.” It’s a speech we’ve been waiting for since we first caught a snippet of it in a Season 6 trailer, and it doesn’t fail to disappoint in context.
Finally, Sansa gets her chance to convince someone of the worthiness of the Stark cause: Lord Glover. She fails. Lord Glover does not want to hear about his duty to House Stark. He pledged his men to House Stark once before, when Robb Stark made a bid for the Iron Throne, and his family and people paid dearly for it. It’s not hard to understand Lord Glover’s point of view. He’s right. Robb Stark’s decision to marry Talisa cost so many people so much, but it is hard to watch him stand there and lecture Sansa, Jon, and Davos — three people who are no strangers to suffering and sacrifice — on the depths of his own suffering. Unfortunately, this is often how suffering works, and Lord Glover — as well as Sansa Stark — are still playing by the old rules. They see the world in terms of houses and allegiances rather than the living and the dead. This may be a perspective that costs them dearly.
But Sansa isn’t ready to give up on her efforts to recruit, or in the old ways of raven-winged allegiances. She writes out a letter to some undisclosed recipient — could it be Littlefinger, or perhaps Blackfish? — presumably a last ditch plea to bring more numbers to their cause. Jon is intent on marching on Winterfell sooner rather than later so, whoever it is, they better act quickly. And Sansa better hope she is putting her trust in the right hands.
Though so many characters in tonight’s episode (and on this show) qualify for the descriptor of “the broken man,” Theon is the one who is explicitly called it in the context of the show. Yara and Theon have arrived in Volantis, on their way to Meereen where they hope to strike a deal with Daenerys. Yara is wholeheartedly committed to her quest for vengeance against their uncle Euron and her quest to reclaim the Iron Islands (though not committed enough to avoid stopping for a quick brothel break), but Theon is less committed. To anything. Their stop at the brothel is only a reminder of what he has lost.
Yara, ye of tough love, gives him some sisterly encouragement, Iron Islands-style: “Listen, if you’re so broken there’s no coming back, take a knife and cut your wrists. End it. But, if you’re staying, Theon, I need you.” The “pep talk” seems to work. Theon meets her eyes, a sign that he is beginning to value himself again, that he is beginning to choose other motivators over fear and shame. We saw this first in his decisions to help Sansa and stand up for Yara at the kingsmoot. It will be interestingly to see which version of Theon we get when the brother and sister arrive in Meereen.
Sadly, we’re back to only getting brief peeks into Arya’s life — a particularly frustrating choice in an episode that sees Arya being stabbed multiple times by The Waif, only moments after she had booked her passage back to Westeros (A Girl With No Name no more, she calls it home). I’m not sure what all of Arya’s training was for because The Waif manages to catch Arya unawares just by posing as a kindly old lady. I mean, this is Faceless Assassin 101 stuff. Arya should have learned The Old Lady Trick on Day One, you know?
Arya might have been sleeping during this particular lesson from Jaquen, but she still remembers how to exit a bad situation quickly and efficiently, throwing herself over the side of the bridge and into the water below faster than you can say If Arya Stark Dies, I Will Boycott This Show. She eventually crawls out of the water and onto the streets of Braavos, her slow, stumbling, wide-eyed walk through as she bleeds from her multiple stomach wounds only proves how terrible apparently everyone in Braavos is, as not one single person steps forward to help her. Where’s Ian McShane where you need him?
The Westerosian Countryside
If you answered that last question “reenacting my favorite parts from Pillars of the Earth and Kings,” then you get a biscuit. The Deadwood actor popped onto this show of “tits and dragons” to play Brother Ray, a reformed soldier preaching the good, compassionate, pacifist life to a band of followers somewhere in Westeros. Their potato-cutting and church-building is so idyllic, you immediately know they’re destined to die. How terrible that these beautiful, smiling people think that they are extras on Merlin, when, really, they are extras on Game of Thrones.
One amongst their cheery number knows what show he is on, and that person is Sandor Clegane, the most recent member of the Game of Thrones cast of characters to return from the presumed and/or actually dead. Many of you no doubt predicted that The Hound did not succumb to his apparently-only-near-fatal and into the sweet, peaceful embrace of death when Arya left him to do just that, but it was still brought a goddamn smile to this hedge-betters face when he popped up on screen. Cleganebowl is back on, people.
Away from the corrupting influences of people like the Lannisters and his own brother, The Hound tries a new way of living, but cannot fight his true nature — or, more accurately, cannot fight the true nature of this world. “You have to answer your prayers yourself,” Brother Ray tells his followers, before they are all murdered by the Brotherhood. He probably didn’t imagine this would lead to The Hound grabbing his axe and going on a spree of violence and vengeance in mind when he uttered these wise words, but, on this show, this is as close as we get to prayers-answering.
We all knew Margaery was faking, right? Though The High Sparrow might think he has the young queen under his thumb, she is loyal to no one but House Tyrell, a message she manages to convey to her grandmother, despite always being under the watchful eye of the evil Sister Unella. I am 100 percent on board with Margaery’s slow, meticulous, furious plan for vengeance. If this season of Game of Thrones truly is about the power of women, then Margaery will no doubt reign vengeance down on the Faith Militant before the season ends.
Question is: will Margaery have Cersei’s help in the matter? Historically, these two have been against one another, but they may hate the Faith Militant more than they hate one another. If Olenna has anything to say about it, she will no doubt air on the side of Never Trust A Lannister. When Margaery warns his grandmother to leave town, Olenna can’t leave without a parting shot at Cersei: “You’ve lost, Cersei. It’s the only joy I can find in this misery.”
All hail the return of Brynden “Blackfish” Tully. If Season 6 is to be the tale of the remaining Stark/Tullys rising from the ashes of all those who have wronged them, then let the Blackfish’s defeat of the joint Lannister/Frey army currently poised to attack Riverrun let it be where the first blood is spilled. As much as I like Jaime Lannister, he forfeited all hope at honor when he threw in with his sister-lover. The Blackfish’s burn-it-all-down mentality is my new favorite thing. The North may remember, but so does the Blackfish. He tells Jaime: “As long as I’m standing, the war is not over. This is my home. I was born in this castle, and I’m ready to die in it.” Bad news for Edmure. Good news for vengeance. Never bet against a broken man with a sandstone castle and nothing to lose, especially not Brynden “Sieges Are Dull” Tully.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Brother Ray: “How many men did it take to cut you down?”
The Hound: “Just one.”
Brother Ray: “He must have been some kind of monster.”
The Hound: “He was a woman.”
“There are plenty pious sons of bitches who think they know the word of god or gods. I don’t. I don’t even know their real names. Maybe it is The Seven. Or maybe it’s the Old Gods. Or maybe it’s the Lord of Light. Or maybe they’re all the same fucking thing. I don’t know. What matters, I believe, is that there’s something greater than us and, whatever it is, it’s got plans for Sandor Clegane.” — Brother Ray
“The poor disgust us because they are us, shorn of our illusions. They show us what we’d look like without our fine clothes, how we’d smell without perfume.” — High Sparrow
The most intriguing thing about the High Sparrow is that for all of his machinations and less-than-savory methods, he is a much more heroic character than Cersei or perhaps even Margaery. If we were on the side of the people versus the aristocracy, the High Sparrow would be our Batman.
“Congress does not require desire on the woman’s part. Only patience.” — The High Sparrow, making me (and probably Margaery) want to punch him.
“You could use a good bashing.” — Olenna to Unella
“I will never leave you.” — Olenna to Margaery, giving me all of the House Tyrell feels. Best grandmother/granddaughter dynamic on TV.
“Shall we pray?” — Fake Pious Margaery, being my favorite.
“We’re not clever like you Southerners. When we say we’ll do something, we do it.” — Tormund
“I wonder if you’re the worst person I’ve ever met.” — Olenna to Cersei
“I love my son. It’s the only truth I know.” — Cersei
“I’m leaving this wretched city as fast as I can before that shoeless zealot throws me into one of his cells. If you’re half as bright as you think you are, you’ll find a way out of here, too.” — Olenna
“Now that is a sorry attempt at a siege.” — Bronn
Jaime: “A Lannister always pays-”
Bronn: “Don’t say it. Don’t fucking say it.”
“If they’re half as ferocious as their lady, the Boltons are doomed.” — Ser Davos to Lady Mormont
“I served House Stark once, but House Stark is dead.” Oh, we’ll see about that, Lord Glover.
“I’ll never hurt you, little brother. Don’t you know that?” — Yara to Theon, moments before suggesting he slit his wrists if he can’t pull himself together.
Theon: “If I got justice, my burnt body would hang over the gates of Winterfell.”
Yara: “Fuck justice, then. We’ll get revenge.”
“So, he’s your most trusted advisor now? Because he secured 62 men from a 10-year-old?” — Sansa to Jon Snow, about Ser Davos.
Brother Ray: “Violence is a disease. You don’t cure a disease be spreading it to more people.”
The Hound: “You don’t cure it by dying, either.”
“It’s never too late to come back.” — Brother Ray