In which everyone could use a helping hand.
The gods aren’t done with you yet.
Well, the Hound’s out of the bag.
This wasn’t a shock to book readers, who have been anticipating Sandor Clegane’s return ever since this episode’s title was announced: “The Broken Man” refers to a speech given by a character named Septon Maribald, who crosses paths with Brienne whilst wandering the Riverlands in A Feast For Crows. He speaks of how common men, poor men, get rounded up by their lords to go to war, filling their heads with dreams of glory and wealth and adventure, only for it all to come crashing down — either at the first taste of battle, or sometimes long after, once they’ve experienced the depths of human depravity. It’s impossible for a broken man to put himself back together without help, so fittingly, “help” was the major theme of tonight’s episode.
The Hound received it way back at the end of Season 4, when Arya left him for dead, only for a lone Septon — I’m calling him the “Elder Brother” because that’s the best book analogue, but he’s nameless here — to come along like a Good Samaritan and nurse him back to health. Now, his body restored if not his spirit, Clegane is a part of the Brother’s little progressive community, where everyone admits they don’t have the answers, and cussing is okay. (It’s gotta be, when Ian McShane is involved.) They’re also all a little afraid of him, which is probably justified given his history and, well, his face. But what I’m not sure about here is the timeline: we’ve long accepted that the events of any given Thrones episode aren’t happening concurrently, but how far back is this really, considering the kinds of introductory questions the Brother is asking?
Of course, it’s a great collection of scenes, made all the greater with the presence of McShane, whose earthy humor is a welcome fit for this utterly depressing world. A former disgraced knight who is now staunchly anti-violence, he tries to encourage the Hound, who had only his hate to keep him going. Whatever gods there are, the Seven or the Old Gods or the Lord of Light or the Great Pumpkin, they must have a reason for keeping him alive. (This is the part where everyone leans forward, beseeching the Universe with the single word “#CLEGANEBOWL.”) “But if the gods are real,” Clegane replies, “why haven’t they punished me?” They clearly have, suggests the Brother, and hey, getting beat half to death by a woman is pretty severe in the Hound’s mind.
Unfortunately for everyone, McShane is dead by episode’s end, along with everyone else in his cult, thanks to the Brotherhood Without Banners. The Hound grabs his axe, ready to start murderin’ again, though there’s a current of sadness here — this is not what his mentor would have wanted at all. Whatever redemption awaits for Clegane, if there is any to be found, will probably still look a lot like his old life. Only three episodes to get him to King’s Landing, right? There’s no time to lose.
The episode’s other big surprise centered on the girl who abandoned the Hound all those episodes ago. This one came even more abruptly, with Arya suddenly becoming a TOTAL FREAKING IDIOT and not being nearly as prepared as she seemed for a lethal attack by the Waif. She doesn’t even fight back — she just falls off the bridge and into the water, emerging only after her would-be killer glides away smugly. (After she unnecessarily removes her mask so we can all see who it is, like we didn’t know literally the MOMENT that old woman appeared on screen.) Arya staggers around the Braavosi docks, trying to stop the bleeding on her multiple stab wounds. I hate to break it to you, girl, but you really blew this one. Also, you’re probably going to miss your boat.
Bryan Cogman’s script — and, combined with last week’s episode, really placed him in a thankless position — was full of these kind of non-events, where conversations are had that give us the appearance of movement, but only serve to set up what is still to come. Again, not that I’m really complaining. The Blackfish/Jamie showdown, or Olenna smacking Cersei around, was worth the price of admission. But “The Broken Man” is the kind of episode that is inherently more interesting on a thematic level than on a plotting level, and this week we get to see all our main characters on the Westerosi side (again, no Tyrion this week, and no Dany, either) test how far their current alliances will go, appealing to what’s left of each other’s honor.
Take Theon and Yara, for example, who have apparently managed to sail around the arm of Dorne and land in the Free City of Volantis (that’s according to resident Maester Chase Branch, so we’re going with that), at a brothel. This makes Theon incredibly uncomfortable, though his sister is missing the same parts and she seems to be doing just fine. It’s also where Cogman pulls his rope-a-dope on the episode’s title, putting the phrase in Yara’s mouth as she tries to draw out what’s left of her brother. “I know you’ve had some bad years–” (“Bad years!” Theon chokes, hilariously) –“but I need you. The real you.” She wants to steal Euron’s plan like she stole the ships, and keep heading east to make a pact with the Dragon Queen. Which might not be hard, actually. We know she needs a fleet, and Dany will probably be more amenable to whatever Yara proposes if there isn’t an offer of marriage (or forced marriage) attached.
This week saw the return of another long-lost character in the Blackfish, holed up in scenic Riverrun (welcome back to the credits, Riverrun!), completely ignoring the threats of the incompetent Freys. They’ve been stringing up Edmure, threatening to finish the job unless the Blackfish yields, which he of course never does. One gets the impression this has been going on for days, maybe weeks, an endless cycle of impotent bluffing, until Jamie (and Bronn!) arrive leading a large column of CGI knights. Jamie only needs about four seconds to realize that the Freys are morons and to declare himself in charge, smacking one of them across the face for good measure. And with Bronn re-installed as his right-hand man (because…you know), he sets about making something of “whatever this is.”
That means a parlay with the Blackfish, and the castle gates are lowered as the Tullys put Jamie at crossbow-point. The Blackfish jokes that the Kingslayer’s probably not here to return the Stark girls, like he promised, but Jamie’s a man of action now and doesn’t have time for japes: if Riverrun doesn’t surrender, he warns, people will die. “Hundreds of mine, thousands of yours,” the Blackfish shrugs. As long as he’s still standing, the War of the Five Kings is still going, and Riverrun has enough provisions for two freaking years. “Do you have two years, Kingslayer?” Jamie’s honor is worthless, as he himself knows, not that it helps him much against a battle-hardened old man with nothing to lose.
But hey, at least it’s lovely country. Westeros can be quite picturesque when you’re not dying in a hundred horrible ways.
Jamie went north with the mandate to make the Lannisters’ enemies pay, but, yet again, this isn’t what Cersei had in mind. Also, pretty soon the other shoe’s going to drop for her: Margaery has been playing the long game after all, posing as the penitent ingenue to the High Sparrow, easily manipulating her husband, and swapping scriptures with RBF Septa Unella. She and Tommen’s little show last week got Marg her crown back, her most conservative dresses, and the genuine approval of the Sparrow, who gently (and a little creepily) suggests it might, you know, be time for her to return to her marriage bed. But the Queen, who’s even clasping her hands together like a nun, has gotten all she needs out of Tommen; she continues the charade for Olenna a bit longer before slipping her a piece of paper and telling her to go home to Highgarden. On the paper? A drawing of a rose. Oh, yeah. She remembers who she is.
Now armed with all the intel she needs, Olenna deflects Cersei one last time, adding some extra acid to her insults: “This is all because of you, and your stupidity,” But Cersei doesn’t try to argue with that, instead arguing that the Lannisters and the Tyrells still need each other — trouble is, Cersei has no support, is surrounded by her enemies, and can’t be trusted any farther than she can be thrown. The only thing she cares about is her ill-gotten son, and look what that’s cost her. “I wonder if you’re the worst person I’ve ever met,” says the Queen of Thorns, in the line of the night. “You’ve lost, Cersei. It’s the only joy I can find in all this misery.” Just want until Olenna finds out who just picked up an axe on behalf of the Faith.
Team Jon is having better luck making friends, but only just. With Brienne and Pod sent away south (and Melisandre, curiously, off-screen), Davos, Sansa, and Tormund each take their turns at the plate, hoping to add to the Stark forces. The latter, just like at Hardhome, does his bit to woo the remaining Wildlings (though some of them are still going on about Mance, like anyone cares): “[Jon] died for us…if we’re not willing to do the same for him, we’re cowards.” And because the Free Folk care more about their honor than most, that does the trick, even on Wun Wun.
Next they head to Bear Island (is Jon gaining Wyndham Rewards Points with all this travel?), home of the Mormonts, where they find another surprise: sitting in the great seat is Lyanna, a pre-teen girl with zero chill. She launches a fusillade of sarcasm at Jon and Sansa: “As far as I’m concerned, you’re a Snow, and you’re a Bolton. Or is it a Lannister?” She’s not interested in sacrificing her men for someone else’s war, even for the guy who served as steward to her uncle, but Davos gives her the real talk: this isn’t about squabbling northern houses, my lady — “The dead are coming.” The North needs to be united. The debate won, the young Mormont despot chirpily announces they “will not break faith today,” and gives them her entire fighting force: 62 men. Wait. All that for SIXTY-TWO MEN?? “If they’re half as ferocious as their lady,” Davos cracks, “the Boltons are doomed.” No joke. LYANNA MORMONT FOR THE IRON THRONE. Just, cave now and give it to her. Sorry, Dany. You’ve met your match.
Trouble is, having an army of uncouth Wildlings is a double-edged sword, as they next learn with Lord Glover; even if the man was willing to forgive how Robb let Deepwood Motte fall to the Ironborn, there’s no way he’s fighting alongside the likes of them. “House Stark is dead,” is his exit line before he returns through his shambling gates. Whatever, man. They should have brought the Mormont girl; she’d have shamed him into becoming her squire.
Jon and Davos are ready to brush it off, believing that they can set out from Stannis’s old camp and still make a good showing, if they’re actually smart about it this time. “We fight with the army we have,” Jon tells Sansa, a little exasperatedly. He didn’t ask for this. But like the Hound, he’s trying to make himself believe he’s been brought back from death for a purpose. Sansa, however, isn’t leaving it up to the gods, sending a letter to…someone. Littlefinger? Did she change her mind about his army? Is the Eryie back in the game? Forget Winterfell — can Lyanna Mormont become ruler of the Vale after her new husband, Robyn, dies an unfortunate premature death?
Next week: Brienne and Jamie reunite, sans bear; Peter Dinklage returns from vacation; Cersei chooses violence, like literally every other decision in her life.