“The Broken Man”
I really need to stick to my pledge not to write these magnum opuses about Game of Thrones, because I just don’t have the time and energy to do it on weekends this season. But the show isn’t cooperating – it keeps delivering excellent episodes that practically demand to be covered in-depth. This is still a flawed adaptation, certainly (but then all adaptations are flawed in some way – and Martin’s books are, too) but on balance this virtually book-free season marks a sizable recovery from the last, where the show and the books awkwardly parted ways.
In truth, the recovery of Game of Thrones comes not because Benioff and Weiss seem to have found the accelerator, but because they’ve found the brake. As powerful as “The Door” was, it’s these last two episodes that have really recaptured some of the feeling of A Song of Ice and Fire. This is a series whose best moments have always come in silence and awkward verbal confrontation, in characters battling their own demons rather than enemy warriors or wights. Both “Blood of My Blood” and “The Broken Man” have given the story and characters room to breathe, and in doing so reinvigorated the real drama that’s always underpinned the action and violence.
A bit of history was made here, and it certainly took me off guard: for the first time as far as I know, Game of Thrones began with a cold open. That fact alone clued me in that something of consequence was going to happen here, but as soon as I saw the lower half of a large man carrying a caber-sized log unassisted, I knew who that man was. And rarely have I shouted a roar of approval as loudly as I did when Rory McCann’s face appeared and the opening theme and credits began to roll. It was a wonderful moment, and beautifully staged for maximum drama.
The Hound is one of those so-called minor characters in Game of Thrones that has an outsized emotional connection (like Hodor). He was great as written by Martin, but McCann is so superb in this role that the TV version of The Hound is on another level. I always suspected that Sandor Clegane wasn’t dead, because after all we hadn’t seen him die – not to mention that Ian McShane (who looks pretty fucking great for 73) largely spoiled his role in a snippy interview this winter. I want to dislike McShane for the way he dissed this series but it can’t be denied he’s a hell of an actor, and he and McCann have great chemistry. The Hound is a fitting exemplar of the show’s return to characters battling their demons, because no one does so more than he. Sandor is the ultimate grey man, but I never once failed to see an innate decency trying to force its way through his emotional and physical scars. I loved his philosophical debates with McShane’s Septon character and I’m sad there won’t be more of them, but the Septon’s death returns The Hound to the fray as a knight of dark justice – and serves as a grim reminder of the ugly side of the Brotherhood Without Banners.
Other highlights in this outstanding episode:
- No Daenerys and no Ramsay Bolton
- Margaery is playing the High Septon after all – but then, some of us never doubted it for a second. She’s an incredibly cunning young woman, but I’m not sure she’s cunning enough to pull the wool over a cunning old Septon’s eyes. I suspect he suspects the truth, and each of them are playing each other.
- Olenna verbally eviscerating Cersei. I’ll miss that venomous tongue if indeed the old bird is away from the scene for a long while. Especially gratifying was her musing on whether Cersei was the worst person she’d ever met.
- The return of Bronn. I’m not sure it makes a world of sense in context, and I’m not sure why exactly Bronn is willing to play the role of Jaimie’s sidekick. But I suspect Benioff and Weiss just love Jerome Flynn so much they wanted to find a way to get him back into the narrative. I’ll live with that.
- The whole interchange between Jaime and The Blackfish. This is one of the few elements of this season of GoT that’s more or less taken from existing portions of ASoIaF, but Jaime is at a different place in his development in the TV than he is in the books when he arrived at Riverrun. I don’t get the sense that TV Jaime really understands what it is that drives men like The Blackfish – what loyalty and honor and betrayal really mean to them. “I wanted to see you, take the measure of you… I’m disappointed.” Me too, Ser Tully – but this is the Jaime we have, not the Jaimie we might want. There’s no way The Blackfish would ever make a deal with Jaimie Lannister after all the water and blood that’s flowed past his ramparts, but Jaime doesn’t really get that.
- Jon and Sansa’s quest to build their army. The highlight here, clearly, is Davos Seaworth once again stamping himself as arguably the greatest character in a remarkable cast. Where both Sansa and Jon fail to establish any connection with little Lady Mormont – indeed, each word out of their mouths only hardens her will against them – Ser Davos shames them both in his unassuming, quietly profound way. Sure he’s good at connecting with little girls, but it’s more than that – he’s remarkably unclouded by pride and spite, despite all he’s endured. Davos is the ultimate practical man, and one of the few in Game of Thrones fluent in the language both of nobles and the common people. He’s an honorary Northerner, that’s for certain.
- I think it must be assumed that the note Sansa was about to send by raven was to Littlefinger. After failing to win the support of House Glover, it’s clear that things are moving far too slowly for Jon and her. The opportunity to fight alongside wildlings is hardly an enticing offer to lay before Northern lords bred to loathe them for centuries. Obviously this would be a huge personal defeat for Sansa, but she has every reason to be desperate – and it’s clear the strain between she and Jon is wearing on them both. More than that, it’s surely making a deal with the devil, for Petyr Baelish has everything but the horns. Still – in the situation she’s in, does she really have any choice?
- If there was a scene in the episode that didn’t quite click for me, it was in the brothel Yara and Theon visited (in Volantis, maybe?). I know it was meant to be awkward, but I think not awkward in the way it actually played out. I’m not feeling Yara, and I’m not feeling this sibling relationship. But the important takeaway here is that Yara and Theon are sailing for Meereen to try and enlist the aid of Danerys Stormborn (did she already have that idea, or was she inspired by Euron’s campaign speech?). Presumably she’ll get there before her uncle, which leads one to suspect it may be her fleet that Danerys uses to sail her Dothraki/Second Sons/Unsullied army back to Westeros – probably having to fight their way past a rival Ironborn fleet on the way.
- Finally, a girl gets stabbed. Even if the preview hadn’t spoiled it we surely knew Arya wasn’t going to be allowed to leave Braavos freely knowing everything she now knows about the House of Black and White. She did make it as far as booking passage with stolen money, but the Waif arrived and cut her down in the streets before Arya threw herself into the harbor to escape. Stumbling through the streets bleeding out obviously doesn’t leave Arya in a good place, but I don’t believe for a moment she’s going to die here. And I also think we’re seeing the true purpose of this detour in her journey at last. In watching Lady Crane’s brilliant turn as Cersei Lannister, Arya actually managed to find empathy for the woman she surely loathes above any woman in the world. And now, she feels the pain of all of those she’s stabbed with (and without) Needle. She has to understand the pain of others in order to find herself again, and only then can she return home and face what’s waiting for her there.