Game of Thrones – S6/E7 “The Broken Man” – REVIEW

“What matters…is that there’s something greater than us”


The Quiet Isle…?

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Ian McShane is being a nice and rugged leader, knowing everybody’s name but not actually lending a hand. We know your game, pal; a wink and a bum pat does NOT equal being helpful. They’re building some kind of church in a lovely pastoral scene that looks like a postcard with the caption “visit Yorkshire”. Most of the guys are doubling or tripling up on the logs but then, from behind, we’re shown a big bloke toiling with one on his own. He drops it for a rest, slowly turning to reveal what nobody was expecting: The Hound returns! Clegane Bowl is on!

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He starts chopping the log, bringing the axe down violently as Ian McShane throws some cheeky taunts his way; it’s obvious that Sandy is some way from finding peace. They hold a refreshingly cynical chat about the gods, McShane swearing casually as he admits he’s got no idea who the gods / god even are. For all his swagger and laddish charms, he’s still a believer; spouting how the divines have a plan for the artist-formerly-known-as-The-Hound. It’s more palatable than the Sparrow’s pious spiel and markedly less pretentious. His religious view is one that focuses on the good in all men, their potential to be great and, through that greatness, their chance to create a good life for themselves and others. This is a refreshing contrast to the fanatical and destructive manipulations of the zealots we’ve met so far.

Kings Landing

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Speaking of religious zeal, Marge and the High Sparrow geek out over the bible before he sits her down on the designated manipulation bench and tells her that, contrary to her wishes, she has to let Tommen have his way with her so that an heir can be produced, and the alliance between crown and faith can be perpetuated. He tells her that she should essentially lie down, spread her legs, and shut up about it. Far from the commie, ultra liberal front he’s so far shown, Margaery is nothing to him, merely a tool by which he can cement his grasp over Tommen and the realm. We sincerely hope the Queen is not OK with being raped and used, and comes to her senses once again.

It seems that it was an elaborate ruse all along. Under the supervision of her former captor Septa Unella, Marge slips a note to her grandmother under the pretence of appealing that Lady Olenna go back to Highgarden. Dianna Rigg provides a breath of fresh air as always, telling the Septa that she will happily provide the “good bashing” that she evidently needs. Olenna, secure in the knowledge that her granddaughter is still hers, leaves the room and unfurls Marge’s note. It’s a drawing of a thorned rose, House Tyrell’s sigil.
We’re very glad that Margaery hasn’t suddenly become a fanatic, a shift that had us scratching our heads as to how the writers had performed such a 180 with her character.

Around the North

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Jon, who’s still EXACTLY the same as he was, if not softer, convinces the remaining wildlings to join him in his conquest. Well, technically its Tormund who swings them Jon’s way with his manly sensibilities. The new ginger-bearded leader tells Jon that it isn’t their fight, and he’s right, in theory. Jon however makes the point that, should he fall to the baddies of the North, so will they. They share a cool, old-fashioned handshake to seal the deal. His death and resurrection, whilst used as a motivator by Tormund, is still spoken about in strangely casual terms as though it’s an everyday occurrence. Not even Sansa bats an eyelid which, to us at least, feels like a strange move by the show runners.

The Riverlands

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At the head of a column of Lannister troops before the gates of Riverrun, Jaime and Bronn continue their banterous friendship. Bronn continues his meteoric rise in the world, but still has to do the grim jobs not befitting of a Lord; on this occasion mucking in with the troops to dig trenches. Jaime continues to promise him a title, a castle, and a posh wife. We really hope he gets it because he bloody well deserves it for what he’s done for Jaime and his diminutive brother. As Jaime is about to spout that Lannister catchphrase, Bronn interrupts him and reminds us why we love him: “Don’t fucking say it”. He’s had enough of Lannisters, and so have we.

Poor Edmure’s being put through the ringer as the Frey boys threaten him in various ways. The Blackfish appears at the ramparts to see a dagger at his nephew’s throat, the very same dagger that killed Catelyn. He’s hard as nails and tells them to get on with it. He’s basically Westeros’s Captain Price. Predictably the Freys bottle it, releasing Edmure who looks like he may well need a change of underwear. Jaime bowls in, gives one of the Freys a metallic pimp slap, and takes command. He shows his cunning, whispering to Bronn to set-up a negotiation.

 

Bear Island

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Jon, Sansa, and Davos go to see the ruler of Bear Island, the seat of House Mormont. Though we are allowed only a brief glimpse of the castle and surrounding area, it looks beautiful and distinct from the others we’ve seen thus far. The Lady in charge, who is about 10, is named after Lyanna Stark and it’s a cool piece of foreshadowing to hear Jon say the name which the whole internet suspects hold so much significance to him. Lyanna mark II is tough and, already, world-weary. She questions why she should risk Mormont lives for another house’s war. Jon and Sansa are stumped and beginning to flounder when Davos steps in, as usual being disarmingly sincere and informing the young Lady that they must unite the North in order to stand a chance against the dead. It works, and Lady Lyanna pledges all 62 of House Mormont’s fighting men to the new Stark franchise’s cause. What a waste of a trip. Though we fell in love with her character at first meeting, we have to question whether or not grown men would accept the order to leave their homes and risk their lives for a fight that isn’t their own because “zombies are coming”. Obviously they are, but some cynicism would have added a dash of realism.

 

Back at The Riverlands

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Jaime and the Blackfish have their first meeting before the battlements. Jaime tries to take the diplomatic route; he’ll spare the lives of everybody if they surrender the castle without further resistance. Blackfish obviously refuses and tells Jaime that he won’t give up his home whilst he still draws breath. Whether or not it’s feigned, he shows a distinct lack of regard for the lives of his men and Edmure. The men never use each other’s proper names, the old war-horse referring to Jaime as “Kingslayer”. Blackfish makes his lack of respect for the Lord of Casterly Rock perfectly clear, sneering and turning his back on him with disdain. Blackfish informs his opposite number that they have enough provisions for 2 years, making a siege completely pointless. He openly expresses his disappoint with Jaime as he concludes the negotiations, raising the drawbridge behind him. Jaime has a decision to make: attack, or find a more devious, Lannister-ish way to break the siege.

 

About The North

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The Stark roadshow heads to House Glover, but is turned away at the gates. Lord Glover makes a very good argument for doing so; last time they drew their swords for the Starks they lost their home and their ruling family to the ironborn whilst Robb, the supposed “King in the North”, was off doing his own thing and walking blindly into a trap. Even Sansa’s hard arse gambit fails to pay off: “House Stark is dead” says Lord Glover before storming off. Jon evidently possesses no flair for negotiation; he’s fallen flat on his face whenever he’s tried to sway a noble to his cause. Perhaps his skills are best served on the battlefield, leaving the ruling and diplomacy to his far more accomplished sister. Siding with wildlings also seems to have sullied the reputation of House Stark and serves to repel houses from their cause. They seem to have precious few men thus far and, therefore, reason for despondency. Remember, though, that Baelish has mustered the Knights of the Vale to the cause, a fact yet unknown to Jon and Sansa. Unless Littlefinger has an alternate plan in motion, which doesn’t seem terribly unlikely, the Starks should have enough firepower to reclaim the North once more.

As fights break out among the rag tag ranks of the stark “army” it becomes clear to Sansa that they have no chance of re-taking the north with only the barbarian rabble at their backs. With just Jon and the obscure Davos to lead their forces, it’s painfully clear that there isn’t anywhere enough of a creditable command structure in place to lead any kind of invasion force. She writes a secret letter to somebody, presumably Littlefinger, though we’re not privy to her thoughts just yet. It’s a thrill to see the Stark seal once more as she stamps the letter.

 

In Volantis

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Theon and Yara’s breakaway ironborn have moored in Volantis. We really like that Yara choosing a female prostitute is not commented on or shown as a big deal; it’s completely normal. Homosexuality is too often seen as a plot point or topic of conversation in films and television, so well done GoT for not drawing attention to it. Theon seems depressed in the midst of the women and alcohol, lamenting what he’s lost both physically and metaphorically. Yara tells him to harden up and be the “real Theon”, or top himself. It sounds like a harsh thing to say to a brother, particularly one who’s been through the ordeals suffered by Theon, but her heart’s in the right place. Like Euron, they too plan to sail to Mereen and get Danaerys on their side. It’s a race against time which they have no excuse for losing considering that Euron doesn’t even have any ships, aside from his own; the infamous “The Silence”. We really hope we get to see the pirate king of the Iron Islands in action soon, lest his ominous introduction to the show be utterly wasted.

In Braavos

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Arya attempts to book passage back to Westeros, throwing bags of money at a ship’ captain. Shortly afterwards she is stabbed brutally, multiple times in the belly by the Waif who is disguised as an old woman who suspiciously emerges from the shadows. We saw it coming a mile off. Arya somehow doesn’t but musters the strength to throw off her assailant and jumps into the water, her blood pooling on the surface. There’s no way Arya should be able to survive this merciless attack but, because she’s a main character, she obviously does. Waif just assumes she’s dead and doesn’t go after the body, instead smiling smugly and going away. Arya resurfaces, miraculously still alive, and staggers through the market place, blood pouring from her punctured stomach. The beginning of this scene is odd, considering that Arya probably knows that the Faceless Men will be on her case, and when you take into consideration the situation in which we last saw her. Her arrogant, flippant attitude towards paying for a ship and walking around Braavos without a care in the world potentially means that the person we saw being stabbed wasn’t Arya at all, but somebody taking on her guise. Eagle eyed viewers may also have noticed that “Arya” doesn’t have Needle by her side; surely the real Arya Stark wouldn’t let her beloved sword out of her sight. This would, however, be a plot hole seeing as we were shown in last week’s episode that, to claim a face, it must literally be cut off of a corpse. However, we have previously seen Arya’s face being worn in the House of the Undying, so goodness knows what the arbitrary rules set by GoT’s writers are. As we suggested in last week’s review, it’s entirely possible that Jaqen may wish to give his life for Arya’s as he probably feels that he still owes his to her. Only death can pay for life.

 

The Quiet Isle

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Earlier in the episode, we saw some guys from the Brotherhood Without Banners approaching the Hound’s new group of merry friends. For representative of a group supposedly on the side of the common people, they look less than friendly. McShane tells them that they’re welcome to stay, but he’s got no significant provisions for them. They go on their way, but they still look shifty. McShane’s character goes on to hold a sermon, telling his congregation about how he’s ashamed of what he’d done during his time as a soldier: ransacking villages, pillaging crops, and slaughtering innocents. He speaks freely and without piousness, more like an uncle than a preacher. He’s a damn decent bloke, and his people are innocent, wishing nothing more than to live in peace and dedicate themselves to their gods. We know what that means, don’t we?

Later on, Sandor chops wood alone in the woods. He hears a scream and tears towards its source. It what must have been a lightning-fast raid, all of the unarmed villagers have been put to the sword and, most crushingly of all, McShane hangs from a rope suspended from the half-built church. The fury ignited inside him once more, Sandor grasps an axe and strides away to exact him vengeance. If the atrocity was in fact carried out by the Brotherhood Without Banners, we must question why they’ve suddenly turned into plunderers who murder without discrimination or honour. How can a group established to combat this very thing descend into the mass murder of innocents? We also have to wonder what Sandor is hoping to achieve armed with only a hand axe against a group of experienced, clearly ruthless guerrilla warriors.

 

Something made abundantly clear to us in both this episode (The Broken Man) and the last (Blood Of My Blood) is that over the course of these reviews, we’ve been wrong about something. In one of our Game of Thrones videos, we said that the show didn’t reward long-time viewers, frequently pandering with exposition. With the return of Benjen, essentially a minor character in a few episodes of season 1 (5 years ago) and Brynden Blackfish Tully, a background character in season 3 (3 years ago), we see the chasm between the true fans/book readers and the casual viewers begin to widen. This first dawned on us when we couldn’t explain adequately to a casual viewer friend of ours who either of these (seemingly) suddenly returning characters were and what their importance was. The return of both of these characters was met with equal parts confusion by one half of the audience, and fist-pumping excitement by the other half. The show offered explanations for the re-introductions of these characters, but even those explanations required some knowledge of them and when we saw them last, which is how the show should treat returning characters. There’s something for everyone, be you (like us) a dork who hungrily devours information about GoT’s lore and backstories like a fat kid left alone in a sweet shop, or proper person who watches for the spectacle.

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There is a sense that episode 7 returns to the habit of slowing down plots, dedicating scant time to each storyline without really contributing or offering a resolution to any of them. It’s immensely frustrating, as infuriatingly little progress is made, resulting in an episode that feels disjointed, ponderous, and turgid. We’ve much rather see some storylines reach their conclusions or next phases; Dany, absent this week, has been in Essos for far too long, Arya’s affair with the Faceless Men is becoming protracted, and Cersei’s crusade against the Faith is boring the socks off of everybody. We really hope to see some significant progression soon, lest the series’s ending be a rushed, meaningless, and sudden bloodbath.


What did you think?


Dan S and Mat

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