‘The Broken Man’
At the start of this season of Game of Thrones, rumours broke that the final two years of the show would see a reduced episode count. Ahead of this week, that was seemingly confirmed by episode 7 director Jack Bender. As someone who values the smaller, more character-driven moments of the show, this wasn’t really great news for me. Yet on the back of this episode, I can sort of see why it’s happening.
That’s not to say ‘The Broken Man’ was a poor outing. It wasn’t. But it was probably the closest Thrones could get to a filler episode, discounting the two battle-centric specials, without being a noticeably different show. There’s too much going on across the map at any given time to pull off, or indeed have the capacity to pull off something like ‘Fly’ from Breaking Bad, but even so, ‘The Broken Man’ served a purpose. The plot needed to advance in multiple locations, but each one of those locations needed to only move forward slightly, so we start next week in the right position.The peculiarity of the episode was clear from the outset. Until now, we’ve only had two ‘cold opens’ on the show – that is, a scene before the title sequence. The first one was naturally the first episode, as our three intrepid rangers of the Night’s Watch fell to the White Walkers. And the second came at the beginning of season 4, with Tywin overseeing the melting-down and repurposing of Ned’s ceremonial Valyrian sword to make ‘Widow’s Wail’ (for those keeping count, in Tommen’s possession) and ‘Oathkeeper’ (Brienne). Two pivotal scenes, and two scenes that felt justified being a cold open.
I’m not so sure we needed one this week to signal the return of the Hound. Yes, it was cool and dramatic to see his face and then cut to the familiar sweeping theme tune – and I’m sure that coolness and drama was only amplified for those who haven’t read the books – but it’s episode seven, and is it a moment more in need of a cold open than, say, episode 3 of this year, after Jon is resurrected?
Moving on from how he reappeared, the scenes with Clegane and Ian McShane’s Brother Ray were pretty strong. He’s still the same brooding character from before, but by the end, the moral compass had turned on its head somewhat. When the Hound encountered the Brotherhood without Banners before, their honour had been questionable, but they were still broadly ‘good’, if misguided and greedy. Since then though, just as the Hound has mellowed somewhat, the Brotherhood, it seems, have darkened. There’s a very exciting and logical explanation for that in the books, but until it’s on screen, I’ll reserve judgement on the show development’s validity.
On the subject of book changes though, I will express disappointment at Brother Ray. McShane played him well, a convincing mix of charm, kindness and the actor’s own gruff indifference. But Ray, as noted by producer Bryan Cogman, came at the expense of the character ‘Septon Meribald’. Narratively, there might be little problem, but type in ‘The Broken Man speech’ on YouTube (no spoilers in the video itself, avoid anything below it though) and you’ll get the idea of why it’s a sad change to make. Anyway, it’s interesting to wonder where Clegane goes now. He might go on the rampage against the Brotherhood, but like Ray said, it’s not a fight in his favour, no matter how good a fighter he is. No, given how many characters are in the Riverlands right now, I’m betting on some surprise reunions taking place soon.One such character is Jaime, who this week took command of the siege of Riverrun. The scene did a great job of emphasising the different power struggles – Jaime dominated the Freys and persuaded Bronn, growing into his leadership role in the Lannister army. Yet he was totally outdone by Brynden Tully, the Blackfish, who was his typically dour and pragmatic self. In the end, Jaime’s emotional blackmail for Tully to ‘save his men’ by surrendering was as unconvincing as the fake hanging of Edmure by the Freys. The siege might have properly dug trenches now, but the situation hasn’t changed – Riverrun has supplies, and strong walls.
The bulk of the episode followed Sansa and Jon around the North on a recruitment drive. Their mixed fortunes – gaining House Mormont, and all of their 62 men; failing to gain House Glover – would be concerning, but for the fact that it feels somewhat telegraphed for a Game of Thrones development. If the battle is fought between the two armies as they are now, then Ramsey will win, brutally and comfortably. It’s not that the outcome couldn’t happen – like Tyrion once said, “if you want a happy ending, you’ve come to the wrong place” – but more that such a pivotal battle for the future of the show won’t be a one-sided affair, as there would be no tension. So, the Starks will gain more troops, it’s just a question of when and how they do so. Unless of course, something completely left-of-field happens, in which case I’ve made a prediction equivalent to saying Leicester would get relegated in the Premier League this season.
Down in King’s Landing, there wasn’t much, but it was significant. Despite previous appearances to the contrary, it would seem Margaery is playing the long game, and playing it rather well. However, what exactly she’s planning is unknown. I maintain that her recent scenes sold the illusion of her conversion too well, but at least she’s still the same cunning character as before.Across the Narrow Sea, we had two brief developments. Firstly, we caught up with Theon and Yara in Volantis, having escaped Euron in episode five. It’s clear that the manner and logic of their escape is something we’re meant to just accept, so looking forward, one wonders how they’ll fare with Dany. They have what she needs – ships – but I’m not sure whether they quite know who they’re dealing with. There’s just as much chance Dany feeds them to the dragons and takes the ships, as there is of a ‘pact’.
I’m also bemused by the fact that Yara is managing to get Theon to somehow just ‘snap out’ of what is significant psychological harm, as well as all the problematic mannerisms he’s developed due to this harm. The show has done a great job of portraying the effects of Theon’s torture and slavery until now, showing it to be something that won’t just go away. So for it to be on the verge of just disappearing is troubling, and completely out of character. Theon has a future on the show, obviously, but that future can’t just retcon what is essentially the outcome of his entire development thus far.
Finally, we only briefly saw Arya, but that didn’t change its significance. Looking more Starky than ever, she was buying passage home, everything was looking up…until the creepy old woman turned out to be the creepy young woman who was chasing her – the Waif – and Arya is in real danger. Where does she turn now? Also, as a side point, the portrayal of the Braavosi observing her bleeding, yet not helping her out is the sort of city detail and character that’s been missing from Meereen. Especially in a fantasy world like this, the cities have identities – King’s Landing we know, Braavos is a merchant’s paradise for Darwinists; what’s Meereen?
Overall, this was a middling episode. Not a whole lot ‘bad’, but for once, not a great deal of ‘great’ either. Still, the stage is now set for a final three episodes with a lot at stake.