For a series with as wide of a scope as Game of Thrones, there are some weeks where it feels like we’re destined to rotate between three settings: Meereen, The Wall, and King’s Landing. That was not the case in “The Broken Man,” where we saw the homes of House Mormont and House Glover for the first time, as well as revisited Riverrun and the Bridge of Volantis.
Like Cersei’s favorite Arbor Red, Game of Thrones is at its best when it’s allowed to breathe, and these last two episodes have done just that. There are only three weeks remaining in Season 6, and there’s a plethora of storylines waiting to be resolved: The Tower of Joy, Loras Tyrell, The Riverrun siege, The battle at Winterfell, Daenerys’s return to Meereen, The Greyjoys arrival at Meereen, Jorah’s search for the cure, Arya’s (hopeful) return to Westeros, Cersei’s upcoming trial, and the White freakin’ Walkers. Needless to say, we’re in for three action-packed episodes, and probably a few cliffhangers. It’s going to be great.
Riser of the Week: Sandor “The Hound” Clegane
Hide your chickens, hide your wine – the Hound is back! Last seen on the verge of death at the end of Season 4, The Hound seems to have fully recovered from his wounds, thanks to the help of Roy, a wayward ex-soldier looking for tranquility in all the right places. The Hound is reflective, wondering why the gods have spared him despite his murderous and sinful past. Roy, in an almost exact echo of Thoros of Myr in Season 3, tells The Hound that the gods aren’t done with him yet. That’s especially interesting, considering that Cersei (Lena Headey) is gearing up for a trial by combat. Could it be that the gods will need The Hound to represent the Faith Militant in this duel? There aren’t many people in this world who could take on The Mountain and live to tell the tale, but if anyone’s capable, it’s his brother. Cleganebowl 2016, coming to a television near you. Get your chickens ready.
Honorable Mention: Margaery Tyrell, for her Oscar-worthy performance that fooled even her own grandmother.
Faller of the Week: The Starks
As much as I don’t doubt Lyanna Mormont’s insistence that 62 Bear Islanders are worth ten times that of their mainland counterparts, it was a pretty bad week for the Starks if you have to say that winning over House Mormont was their biggest accomplishment. And remember, Lyanna only pledged her soldiers to the Starks because of Davos (Liam Cunningham). When Jon (Kit Harrington) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) tried to convince Lyanna to raise her banners, they were outwitted by a ten-year-old girl. Later, after failing to secure an alliance with the Glovers, Jon and Davos come to the grim conclusion that they must travel to Winterfell for war, despite being heavily outnumbered by the Bolton army. Elsewhere, we saw Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) attempt to leave the Faceless Men behind and return to Westeros. It seemed as if she had successfully bought passage aboard a ship, but now it’s looking like her ticket might never get punched. Instead, the vengeful Waif donned the face of an innocent-looking old woman and proceeded to reenact Talisa Stark’s murder by repeatedly stabbing Arya in the stomach. We don’t yet know what faith awaits to Arya, but regardless of what happens, in a season that seemed to have a theme of Stark Revenge, we took a collective step back this week.
Honorable Mention: Cersei, for not wearing nearly enough sunscreen to protect herself from those sick Queen of Thorns burns.
Backstory of the Week: The Broken Man Speech
When I saw that this episode would be titled “The Broken Man,” I instantly assumed we would get to see one of the greatest speeches from the books. Unfortunately, we did not. This section is designed for me to help flush out some of the storylines that the show can’t cover due to its time constraints, and as a result, it’s supposed to help you appreciate the series a little bit more. So in keeping with that idea, I’m going to present the speech in its full nature, right here. In the books, the speech is delivered by a man named Septon Meribald, who was replaced in the show by Ray (Ian McShane). Septon Meribald is talking to Brienne and Pod, who have run into the septon as they travel south. The subject of war comes up and how it leads to broken men. This is the conversation that follows:
“Ser? My lady?” said Podrick. “Is a broken man an outlaw?”
“More or less,” Brienne answered.
Septon Meribald disagreed. “More less than more. There are many sorts of outlaws, just as there are many sorts of birds. A sandpiper and a sea eagle both have wings, but they are not the same. The singers love to sing of good men forced to go outside the law to fight some wicked lord, but most outlaws are more like this ravening Hound than they are the lightning lord. They are evil men, driven by greed, soured by malice, despising the gods and caring only for themselves. Broken men are more deserving of our pity, though they may be just as dangerous. Almost all are common-born, simple folk who had never been more than a mile from the house where they were born until the day some lord came round to take them off to war. Poorly shod and poorly clad, they march away beneath his banners, ofttimes with no better arms than a sickle or a sharpened hoe, or a maul they made themselves by lashing a stone to a stick with strips of hide. Brothers march with brothers, sons with fathers, friends with friends. They've heard the songs and stories, so they go off with eager hearts, dreaming of the wonders they will see, of the wealth and glory they will win. War seems a fine adventure, the greatest most of them will ever know.
“Then they get a taste of battle.
“For some, that one taste is enough to break them. Others go on for years, until they lose count of all the battles they have fought in, but even a man who has survived a hundred fights can break in his hundred-and-first. Brothers watch their brothers die, fathers lose their sons, friends see their friends trying to hold their entrails in after they've been gutted by an axe.
”They see the lord who led them there cut down, and some other lord shouts that they are his now. They take a wound, and when that's still half-healed they take another. There is never enough to eat, their shoes fall to pieces from the marching, their clothes are torn and rotting, and half of them are shitting in their breeches from drinking bad water.
“If they want new boots or a warmer cloak or maybe a rusted iron halfhelm, they need to take them from a corpse, and before long they are stealing from the living too, from the smallfolk whose lands they're fighting in, men very like the men they used to be. They slaughter their sheep and steal their chickens, and from there it's just a short step to carrying off their daughters too. And one day they look around and realize all their friends and kin are gone, that they are fighting beside strangers beneath a banner that they hardly recognize. They don't know where they are or how to get back home and the lord they're fighting for does not know their names, yet here he comes, shouting for them to form up, to make a line with their spears and scythes and sharpened hoes, to stand their ground. And the knights come down on them, faceless men clad all in steel, and the iron thunder of their charge seems to fill the world . . .
”And the man breaks.
“He turns and runs, or crawls off afterward over the corpses of the slain, or steals away in the black of night, and he finds someplace to hide. All thought of home is gone by then, and kings and lords and gods mean less to him than a haunch of spoiled meat that will let him live another day, or a skin of bad wine that might drown his fear for a few hours. The broken man lives from day to day, from meal to meal, more beast than man. Lady Brienne is not wrong. In times like these, the traveler must beware of broken men, and fear them . . . but he should pity them as well.”
When Meribald was finished a profound silence fell upon their little band. Brienne could hear the wind rustling through a clump of pussywillows, and farther off the faint cry of a loon. She could hear Dog panting softly as he loped along beside the septon and his donkey, tongue lolling from his mouth. The quiet stretched and stretched, until finally she said, “How old were you when they marched you off to war?”
“Why, no older than your boy,” Meribald replied. “Too young for such, in truth, but my brothers were all going, and I would not be left behind. Willam said I could be his squire, though Will was no knight, only a potboy armed with a kitchen knife he'd stolen from the inn. He died upon the Stepstones, and never struck a blow. It was fever did for him, and for my brother Robin. Owen died from a mace that split his head apart, and his friend Jon Pox was hanged for rape.”
“The War of the Ninepenny Kings?” asked Hyle Hunt.
“So they called it, though I never saw a king, nor earned a penny. It was a war, though. That it was.”
(A Feast for Crows, Brienne V)
In my opinion, this is George R.R. Martin’s most powerful bit of writing. In A Feast for Crows, we start to see the toll the war has taken on the smallfolk, and utter devastation that comes bundled with the fight for the throne. And this pairs nicely with House Glover's refusal to join the Starks’ war. They’ve done this already. Multiple times. And to them, it’s simply not worth it.
Object of Power: Sansa’s Secret Letter
After Jon and Davos decide that they will march forth to Winterfell, despite their army’s small size, Sansa sneaks off and pens a letter to a mysterious recipient. There are a number of possibilities in play, and each would have drastically different results. The first thought I had was that she was writing to Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) to take him up on his offer to send the Vale’s army to fight for the Starks. She could also be writing to Robin Arryn, asking for the same thing. On the other hand, she might be sending the letter to Yohn Royce of the Vale, telling him all about Littlefinger’s treachery, including the murder of Lysa Arryn. And then, there’s also the option that she’s sending word to Brienne and the Blackfish about the upcoming battle at Winterfell and the need for the Tully troops. I’m still thinking that she reached out to Littlefinger, but I look forward to continuing to watch Sansa learn to master playing the game.
- Hot damn did Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) look amazing in that Lannister armor. And on top of that, he backhanded a Frey with his gold hand. I said it last week, and I’ll say it again now: Jaime is infinitely better when he’s not at King’s Landing.
- The Hound, loose in the Riverlands, angry at the world, wielding an axe. Is there anything more I could ask for?
- I'm sensing some similarities between the late Oberyn Martell and Yara Greyjoy. Daenerys has never encountered another woman in power, and I think the two of them could hit it off.
- Ah, how we all missed you Bronn (Jerome Flynn). I loved him telling Jaime “don’t fookin’ say it.” Those are the words of a man who’s been dealing with the Lannister’s shit for six seasons.
- “You’ve lost, Cersei. It’s the only joy I could find in this misery.” There’s nothing better than a sassy Queen of Thorns with her sights set squarely on Cersei.
- Is it just me, or was Arya painfully dumb in that sequence at the end? Like, so dumb that I’m starting to think that perhaps she was baiting the Waif. I’m not sure how exactly, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s fooling them. Either that, or I’m very much in denial.
- Also, I wouldn’t overlook the fact that when Jaqen told the Waif to kill Arya, he said “Don’t let her suffer.” I think it’s possible that he was testing the Waif, and she clearly failed. Whatever happens next in Braavos, I’m willing to bet there will be a twist or two.
- Last time we saw the Brotherhood without Banners, they were fighting the good fight, not murdering innocent women and children. This makes me wonder if they’ve elected a new leader…someone with a heart of stone.
Joe Brosnan works at St. Martin's Press and manages Criminal Element. He’s a New York Giants fan, a Petyr Baelish supporter, and is only now realizing how weird it is to write in the third person. You can follow him on Twitter @joebro33.
Read all of Joe Brosnan’s posts for Criminal Element.