TV Recap: Game of Thrones, ‘The Broken Man’

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The Broken Man Plot Summary:

Sandor Clegane is alive and well, living amongst a peaceful religious sect in a countryside utopia. Queen Margaery continues to tell the Sparrows exactly what they want to hear, while managing to pass a revealing message to her grandmother. Jon, Sansa, and Davos enlist the Wildlings and the Northern Houses in their upcoming war against the Boltons, with varying degrees of success. Jaime and Bronn arrive at Riverrun, where the Blackfish and co. refuse to surrender. Yara and Theon sojourn in Volantis and plan their next course of action via a potential alliance. Arya plans to return home but first receives an unwelcome visit from The Waif.

Photo Credit: Helen Sloan /HBO
Photo Credit: Helen Sloan /HBO

If there’s one lesson to be gleaned from Game of Thrones up to this point it’s that you can’t ever truly give anyone up for dead. Even when not outright resurrecting his characters, George R.R. Martin loves a good fake-out and the assumed-deceased (see also: Bran, Rickon, and Theon) often return down the road, as is the case in “The Broken Man” with the long-speculated return of Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann).

Last seen back in season four, gravely wounded by Brienne and left to die by Arya, Clegane reappears in this week’s cold open, taking part in a good old-fashioned barn-raising. In the time since we’ve last seen him, Clegane’s been rescued and nursed back to health by a band of peaceful pilgrims, led by former criminal and now septon, Brother Ray (Ian McShane). A far cry from the various extremist religions currently making things complicated in Westeros, Ray preaches that the gods demand neither fanatical penitence nor blood sacrifice, but simply good works and charity toward your fellow man. Though Clegane postures that his hatred is what kept him alive, Ray ascribes Clegane’s miraculous survival to the fact that “the gods aren’t done with you yet,” hinting at some greater purpose he still has yet to serve. It’s telling that Ray, who is well aware of Clegane’s reputation, never once refers to him as “The Hound.” Ray, who later relates some sins of his own (in a sermon Clegane can clearly relate to), espouses the possibility of spiritual rebirth and freedom and means to impart to Clegane that he’s been given the opportunity to put the shame and horror attached to his old name to rest and achieve redemption by becoming a force of good in the world.

Photo Credit: Helen Sloan /HBO
Photo Credit: Helen Sloan /HBO

While that hopeful message of redemption and peace is somewhat tempting, Clegane’s seen too much to completely buy into Ray’s non-violent message and recognizes the threat presented by the arrival of the Brotherhood without Banners to their camp. Well before the Brotherhood’s ominous appearance, it’s clear that Clegane’s idyll will be short-lived. Haunted by both the horrors inflicted upon him and those he’s inflicted upon others, he recognizes that Ray’s pacifism, in the face of the brutal realities of the world, is a danger to his people’s survival. Just as the dark and brooding Clegane stands apart from the shiny, happy people around him, the community itself is an anomaly from the world at large. Peaceful, cooperative, and innocent, it’s as doomed as Sansa’s direwolf from the moment we see it. Ray’s flock is just too green and too naïve to survive the winter we know is coming and sure enough (while Clegane is conveniently away chopping firewood), the Brotherhood returns and murders every man, woman, and child, stringing Ray up from the rafters of their church-in-progress, and reigniting the flame of motivational hate in an ax-wielding Clegane.

At least on the surface, Margaery (Natalie Dormer) seems to be embracing her new spiritual mentor’s lessons wholeheartedly. She quotes scripture flawlessly, expresses the appropriate sorrow for her past sins, and eagerly accepts the High Sparrow’s (Jonathan Pryce) counsel, even when it comes in the form of a thinly-veiled threat against her grandmother. Dormer has always been great, but she’s fantastic this week, completely eradicating Margaery’s customary smirks and knowing glances for a look of total wide-eyed innocence and piety. It’s a performance almost good enough to convince the audience she’s been converted, but thankfully, we soon see that Margaery’s allegiance still lies with her true mentor, the brilliantly scheming and scathing Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg, whom I could watch berate people for hours). By slipping Olenna that drawing of the Tyrell rose (right under the nose of Septa Unella, the Sparrow’s version of Nurse Ratched), Margaery convinces her grandmother to head home to Highgarden for her own safety and also reveals just how much she’s learned from the Tyrell matriarch. In fact, Margaery’s game is so subtle that even the formidable Olenna was fooled and the look on her face when she opens the note is one of not just relief, but admiration and pride for her clever granddaughter.

Photo Credit: Helen Sloan /HBO
Photo Credit: Helen Sloan /HBO

In the North, Jon (Kit Harrington), Sansa (Sophie Turner), and Davos (Liam Cunningham) entreat the Wildlings and the Houses of the North to lend their support in the impending attack on the Bolton-held Winterfell. After the events of “Hardhome,” the scene in which Wildlings readily agree to Jon’s request is neither suprising nor particularly necessary (though it’s always cool to see Wun Wun). The trio’s stop at House Mormont is much more satisfying thanks to the debut of ten year-old boss lady Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey). Lady Mormont is, quite simply, not here for your bullshit and she quickly shuts down both Sansa’s typical courtly compliments and Jon’s petition for Stark allegiance. It’s Davos (who, as we know, has a way with smart little girls) who finally convinces her to lend her support, by speaking plainly and framing House Mormont’s involvement in the attack on Winterfell as a fight not for the Starks, but a fight for her family and all of the living in the real coming war, the one versus the dead. (I also loved Lyanna’s declaration that, although she can only offer 62 fighting men, every man from the Bear Islands is as strong as 10 mainlanders and Davos’ concession that if they’re half as tough as their lady, their enemies are in trouble.)

Unfortunately, the Stark recruitment team have no such luck at House Glover and Sansa’s steely, imperious demeanor only serves to make matters worse with Lord Glover, who lost too much when Robb was defeated (due to his own foolishness, according to Lord Glover) to risk anything for the Starks again. That misstep on Sansa’s part was so reminiscent of Catelynn’s many, many bad choices and though I still hold on to higher hopes for Sansa, I’m dubious about her decision to send that secret scroll (likely to Littlefinger) in hopes of bulking up the Stark army ranks.

Photo Credit: Helen Sloan /HBO
Photo Credit: Helen Sloan /HBO

Elsewhere, the Greyjoy siblings take respite in Volantis, where Yara (Gemma Whelan) (also speaking for the entire audience) orders Theon (Alfie Allen) to snap out of his sniveling, cowering state, man up, and help her get their revenge and take back the Iron Islands, a plan which involves bringing their sizeable fleet to Mereen and allying with Daenerys. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) arrive in Riverrun and promptly take control of the siege from the bumbling, backwater Freys (who are basically the McPoyles of Westeros). Unfortunately, the arrival of the Lannister forces does little to shake the Blackfish’s (Clive Russell) resolve and a tete-a-tete between him and Jaime results in a standstill and a raising of the castle gates. In Braavos, Arya (Maisie Williams) prepares to return home but, in a moment of carelessness, lets the disguised Waif get too close to her and sustains a pretty serious battle wound. Dripping wet and bleeding in the streets, Arya scans the crowd for a helpful face, but realizes that in the land of Faceless Men, every man is a would-be assassin. (I would have dedicated more time to discussing this scene, but we all know this is a temporary setback and Arya isn’t going to be killed off. After all, there is only one thing we say to death. Not today.)

“The Broken Man” is a strong installment, but much like last week’s episode, felt like more of a table-setter than a powerhouse. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the episode certainly does a great job of moving all the pieces into position for the season’s end game – unleashing Sandor Clegane once again, revealing Margaery’s long con with the Faith Militant, and amassing the Stark army. Yet with only three episodes left and so much ground still left to cover (we’ve spent relatively little time with Tyrion this season and haven’t visited Dorne since the premiere – not that I’m complaining about that), I’m wondering just how and if all the season’s loose ends will be satisfyingly tied up in the short time remaining.

Rating: 8 out of 10