“The Broken Man” is an apt title for the latest episode of Game of Thrones; this episode is a series of character studies of several main characters and one secondary character presumed dead. Before the opening credits, The Hound is back, and the episode bookends its narrative with his potential redemption. It doesn’t work out as anyone would hope, but it is a compelling story and it does something that I have been wanting the writers to do for some time: It shows just what an evil fraud The High Sparrow really is.
You Can’t Teach an Old Hound New Tricks
We learn through clunky expository dialog that The Hound was discovered and nursed back to health over many weeks by a pacifistic monk of The Seven named Ray. Good old Sandor Clegane is now applying his skill with an axe to chopping wood for the community. Like the Hound, Ray was once a soldier who committed terrible crimes, but he renounced all violence and now acts as the leader of a small community displaced by the war. Like the real world sect of Albigensians (who were all too willing to die when they were slaughtered by the Catholic church and its retainers under Pope Innocent III), Ray’s community is founded on the idea that violence can never be cured by more violence, even if that means one’s own destruction. (He believes that, at least. The rest of them don’t know how to fight in the first place.) Sadly, it indeed leads to their slaughter while The Hound is off making firewood (interesting, given his problematic relationship with fire). The community is not purged for heresy, but raided by the brigand group, The Brotherhood Without Banners (who follow the Red Priest Thoros and the oft-resurrected Beric Dondarrion).
We’ve seen plenty of people die on Game of Thrones because they held to a higher moral code without properly assessing the environment around them and marrying their code to action and occasional intrigue. (The season started with a prime example: Prince Doran Martell.) In Ray’s case, he seems prepared to die, perhaps in atonement for the murders he committed, but this cannot be assumed of his flock. We get the sense that he wasn’t prepared to see them die, as The Hound finds him hanged in the skeleton of the community chapel, with a visage of horror on his face. It’s all the affirmation needed to spur The Hound to grab his axe and head off to chop more than wood. I look forward to it.
The High Sparrow Shows His True, Ugly Colors
Despite failing as a leader, Ray’s figure illuminates the hypocrisy and viciousness of the Sparrows, especially their leader. In humility, Ray admits that he does not know the true nature of god and asserts that men who claim to speak for god are false or fools. Compare this scene to that when the High Sparrow says that there are men who know the scriptures by heart but do not live by them, while there are “illiterate savages” who carry “the Father’s wisdom.” In that very same scene, as he speaks to Queen Margaery Tyrell, he speaks of the poor and wretched as man’s only true state whereby all grandeur and beauty are pretense.
Of course, the people he targets to lower into wretchedness are the most powerful, and in the vacuum he asserts his own power, his message that humanity is unredeemable without the faith of which he is the central force. He shed his finery years ago, taking poverty and wretchedness as his new disguise, all to conceal the misanthropy that was central to his “spiritual awakening.” It is his way of appearing to be of the people even as he admits to loathing them (in the most congenial way, of course), and to appear meek and pious even as he makes threats against those who refuse to submit.
Olenna Tyrell is next on his list, and she gets the message thanks to Margaery, who is still herself, even though she has learned to play the game of piety out of self-preservation under the watchful eyes of the Sparrows and especially Septa Unella. Olenna is fooled as much as anyone until Margaery slips her a piece of paper on which she has drawn the Tyrell Rose. Olenna takes the hint and hightails it to Highgarden (where I’m sure it will go right on her fridge), but not before she reads Cersei the riot act. It’s amazing that after loathing her so much, I almost feel sorry for Cersei when she swallows her pride and admits that this mess is her fault. Olenna is unmoved and just keeps twisting the knife, as she tells Cersei she has lost.
Cersei won’t lose King’s Landing, but I’m beginning to see how she will lose the king, her last surviving child. So even though we can’t count her out, she is very close to losing all that she loves.
Theon is Theon Again (Maybe)
In one raucous brothel scene, Yara Greyjoy plays grief counselor (of a sort) to little brother Theon, who is moping about their losses and the odds against them. She shows actual tenderness at points (promising not to joke about his castration) but is still the tough cookie that the circumstances demand. She needs him to be tough, too, so she gets him to pound some ale and buck up (the alternative being “slit your wrists”) and then goes off to “fuck the tits off” one of the whores. That’s what we call tough love.
The grand plan is to get to Meereen before their uncle Euron and team with Daenerys. Something tells me that, if they do get their in advance, Yara will be more Dany’s type than Euron. Meanwhile, Varys and Theon can be besties! I like how things are going.
The North is Not the North Sansa Remembers
Things are not going so smoothly in The North, which doesn’t have the fondest memories of recent Stark rule. Ser Davos, Sansa and Jon Snow are making the rounds trying to drum up numbers for their campaign against Ramsay Bolton at Winterfell. The bad decisions of Robb Stark continue to haunt them, however, and it is about as pleasant as an Amway pitch. Even when they secure support by appealing to reason regarding the true war to come, the numbers are slim. For example, House Mormont only pledges 62 warriors (but the scene with Lyanna Mormont was really fun to watch, so I consider it a worthwhile trip).
Their forces are not just small, but divided by infighting. Davos and Jon know it is rather hopeless to march now, but that they also can’t wait much longer. The audience is vexed because Sansa has yet to reveal that arch-slimeball Lord Baelish is waiting to lend military support (via arch-twit Robin Arryn of the Vale). In the end, we see her preparing a raven to call in that favor. We knew it was just a matter of time…
Arya Takes a Dive
We also knew it was just a matter of time before The Waif caught up with Arya…so why didn’t Arya know?! She had to know they were coming for her and they could assume any form…that’s why she’s trying to book it out of Braavos in the first place. When a strange crone approaches her on the bridge, she should have been on guard. (Also, why was she just chilling on the bridge? Why wasn’t she heading straight for her hideout the moment she booked passage on a boat? Jeez.)
But, coming as no surprise, it’s the The Waif in disguise and she sticks Arya multiple times before Aryan can throw her off and dive off into a canal. She surfaces after The Waif leaves and…yea…it looks pretty bad. Honestly, as she was wandering the streets, mortally wounded, I thought it had to be a dream. How could she be so sloppy? She is reckless, sure. That’s why she’s in this mess. But she seemed to be getting less sloppy, more cautious and aware thanks to her training.
We can assume she will survive this (barely), and maybe it will be her final lesson to get her act together. In the meantime, I’ll just keep assuming that it was a dream, just so I can be less annoyed by it all.
Predictions for Episode 8, “No One”
Episode 8 is titled “No One,” and Arya will have her showdown with The Waif and emerge triumphant. However, another Stark will soon die: Rickon. Every season, episode 9 is the big battle and episode 10 reckons the aftermath while setting up cliffhangers for the next season. This year, the big battle is for Winterfell, and I’m quite sure that Rickon will die before the battle begins…I’m guessing at the end of episode 8. Osha and him probably would have been better off staying with Bran after all. I may be wrong, but all I really care about is seeing Wun Wun the giant make it through alive. I love that guy.
That’s the battle we can expect, which is why the situation at Riverrun is bound to end in a sort of anticlimax. The scene there in “The Broken Man” was pretty dull (not Sam-and-Gilly level dull, though), and the affair will probably end with Edmure Tully being used by Jaime Lannister to break the siege and rout the Blackfish without much of a fight. Jaime and Brienne reunite and have a spat; Gendry reappears (because everyone from Season 4 is coming back, apparently) only to be nabbed by Bronn; but it all ends with a whimper before the big bang at Winterfell. The Blackfish dies; Jaime installs a puppet ruler at Riverrun (a Tully, no less) to help keep the peace in the north, abandoning the idiot Freys; Brienne leaves forlorn and empty-handed.
At King’s Landing, trial by combat will allow The Mountain AKA Ser Strong to obliterate at least one Sparrow, which will set in motion an actual showdown with the whole sect. I’m guessing episode 10 will be a bloodbath of its own, with King Tommen getting fitted for his golden shroud, Lancel Lannister and Kevan Lannister both biting the dust, and Maester Pycelle and Loris Tyrell getting fatally caught in the crossfire of power plays.
At the beginning of the season, I suspected Davos would be done for early on. I presumed this because the evidence of Melisandre burning Shireene Baratheon at the stake was bound to emerge…but I also thought we’d be done with the battle at Winterfell sooner. Now I think the revelation will come at the very end of the season, and one of them will fall. Melisandre would be the likelier corpse, as Davos is more readily deadly and now a trusted advisor to Jon Snow, while Melisandre…raised him from the dead. Only three weeks until the finale when we’ll know for sure!
Check out the trailer for Episode 8, “No One,” below.