No one did much on “The Broken Man” other than talk. But it was still pretty satisfying stuff.
Yes, Arya got herself stabbed by the Faceless Men. And last we saw her she was wandering through a Braavosi market, bleeding from the gut. But that whole scene amounted to a quick update of the storyline. The talking was the stuff.
By my lights, the best bit of dialogue also happened on Braavos, between Theon and Yara. (Man, the Ironborn sailed across the Narrow Sea fast.)
It packed in more character information than pretty much any other single scene this season. There was Theon’s discomfort and inward-looking stare while all the other Ironborn enjoyed themselves with the local prostitutes. There was Yara’s gruff joking about Theon’s lack of male equipment while she pawed one of the ladies herself. (Yara likes girls, apparently.) Then there was Yara’s quick turn to gruff camaraderie when she realized she’d hit a sore spot, and finally her insistence that Theon get himself drunk because she knows that’s the only way he’s going to get out of his own head.
We haven’t seen much of these two together. But they’re brother and sister and have a whole lifetime’s worth of mutual knowledge, and both Gemma Whelan and Alfie Allen played it beautifully. Yara started out assuring Theon they’d get him justice, and when it became clear Theon’s self-hatred goes too deep for him to care about justice, she pivoted to vengeance. And when that didn’t work, she hit on the thing that did: She needs Theon to get his shit together, because she can’t pull this off without him. One of the great things about Game of Thrones these days is that all the two-bit players and misfits from the initial seasons are coming into their own as the show’s major movers and shakers. It looks like Yara and Theon and their Ironborn followers are going to be the ones who bring Daenerys to Westeros. But they’ve got Euron and the other half of the Ironborn fleet hunting them down. So they’re going to need each other’s support.
Back in Westeros, and also on the dialogue front, we got Jon and Sansa attempting to rally the various Northern houses to their cause. Jon was, as he always is, unflaggingly decent in his dealings with the Wildlings. But what was really moving was seeing Ser Davos step up to convince Lady Mormont to join their crusade to retake Winterfell. It was Davos talking to Shireen all over again, offering common respect and humanity and a little elder wisdom to the young women his world treats so cruelly. Both were examples of the show being served well by its often bitter and horrifying slog: Acts of simple human loyalty and friendship land with enormous weight against that backdrop.
Sansa once again flexed her newfound strength when she challenged Lord Glover to fulfill his oath to House Stark. But that conversation was also a reminder of how badly the Starks — and the North, by extension — were beaten in the war. Which forced Sansa to swallow the unpleasant necessity of writing to Littlefinger for aid. (I mean, who else would she be writing that letter to?)
A somewhat more grim conversation occurred at Riverrun. Cersei may have reawakened Jaime’s will to power, but he still retains a certain moral code. He doesn’t want the siege of Riverrun to waste human life, and he wrests command from the Freys to ensure the battle is undertaken properly. It’s doubtful he cares whether Edmure lives or dies, but again, you don’t end these sorts of conflicts effectively by being capricious with your prisoners. And then Jaime goes right up to the gates of Riverrun to try and negotiate a peaceful surrender with the Blackfish.
Unfortunately, Jaime is still a Lannister — the House that betrayed the Blackfish’s niece to her death and that ravaged his home. So he’s not buying.
But at least we got to see Bronn cracking wise again.
As for Margaery and Lady Olenna, they had a whole conversation last night that wasn’t a conversation at all — just Margaery spouting religious pablum for the benefit of the ever-watchful Septa that’s following her around now. Their actual conversation involved no words, just Margaery slipping her grandmother a piece of paper with a picture of a rose — the sigil of House Tyrell — to let Lady Olenna know who’s side she’s really on. The High Sparrow and the Faith Militant seem to have completely solidified their grip on King’s Landing, so it will be interesting to see what Margery’s play here will be.
Judging by the preview for next week’s episode, Cersei’s play will be to unleash the zombified Mountain on the Faith. But it’s hard to see how that will be anything other than a suicide run. It was both satisfying and a little chilling to hear Lady Olenna tell Cersei she’s lost — she brought the Sparrow and the Faith to power, she lost Tommen to their influence, and Olenna herself is returning to Highgarden while there’s still time. Cersei, such a deadly presence in King’s Landing for so long, now looks well-and-truly cornered.
And finally, oh my gosh, the Hound is alive! And so is his brother, albeit in the aforementioned zombie form. So maybe we’ll still get that Hound vs Mountain smackdown hinted at way back in season one?
But what was really striking about the Hound’s return was his circumstances: A helping, if quiet and distant, hand in a small community that was so shockingly bucolic and utopian is felt like it belonged in a different show. Game of Thrones did a good job casting Ian McShane as the surprisingly ecumenical septon leading this little band: In most actor’s mouths, his reminders that we’re all still capable of bringing good into the world, regardless of what horrors we’ve committed, would have been unbearably trite. But McShane brought just the right note of world-weary wryness to the dialogue. His character knows what he’s saying sounds ridiculous, and knows it’s still true, and that the Hound needs to hear it.
In fact, between Jon talking to the Wildlings, Ser Davos talking to Lady Mormont, Yara talking to Theon, and the septon talking to the Hound, Game of Thrones was almost beginning to seem like a normal show: People are forging alliances! Wounds are being healed! Things are going right! So it was inevitable that the Brotherhood Without Banners — now gone cruel and rogue — would show up to slaughter the septon and the commune en masse. It’s a shame we got to see so little of McShane. And it was a slightly too-convenient plot device to drive the Hound to revert to his old, violent and vengeance-seeking ways.
I’ll note one last thing, for the sake of those of us who’ve read the books: This season we’ve seen a few old storylines for George R.R. Martin’s novels — the return of Benjin Stark, Jaime’s trip to Riverrun — finally turn up, albeit a bit delayed, after it looked like David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had abandoned them within the show.
Now, the corrupted Brotherhood Without Banners has arrived. And again, if next week’s preview was any indication, Jaime and Brienne will be reuniting. And both of those are delayed subplots from the books as well.
If the Brotherhood is back, and if Jaime and Brienne are reuniting, well then that suggests something else from the books— or, should I say, someone else — that it seemed the show had abandoned may finally show up as well.