The characters in Game of Thrones have suffered a lot over the years. Most are almost unrecognizable to their former selves. This episode’s title, “The Broken Man,” may be referring most specifically to the surprising return of Sandor Clegane (the Hound), but many other men and women bear this title, as well. One of the most important themes of the series is that war is awful business. George R.R. Martin was a conscientious objector in Vietnam and has spoken out against the glorification of war in other fantasy series. None of his characters escape the damaging effects of war.
In this episode, Jon Snow, still reeling from his murder, is unable to articulate the importance of his cause to the wildlings and minor Northern houses. He needs the help of Tormund, Sansa, and most importantly Ser Davos to sell a cause for which he once argued passionately.
Theon and Jaime have both been physically broken, a trauma that has similarly marked their psyches for life. Jaime wears his father’s armor (or something made to look like it) and plays the part of stern commander, but he is missing more than a sword hand in his limp confrontation with the Blackfish at Riverrun. Theon’s sister, Yara, does not understand what it means to be abused and urges him to find himself, not realizing that a broken man cannot just flip a switch to be healed again.
Sansa also carries around the trauma she suffered at the hands of Ramsay, using it to fuel her quest for vengeance on the Boltons. She tells Lyanna Mormont, “I did what I had to do to survive, my lady. But I am a Stark. I will always be a Stark.” Her sister, who only recently realized the same, is physically broken in this episode. Stabbed and left for dead, Arya searches the unfriendly Braavosi faces and finds no help or sympathy.
Finally, Margaery plays the part of a broken woman in her complete conversion to the Faith. Unlike the other characters, she has not actually been broken, but pretends to be in order to play the High Sparrow. Even her grandmother fears for her until Margaery is able to slip her a reassuring drawing of their house rose. She is still a Tyrell, and as their house motto goes, she is “growing strong.”
In the lush domain of the Riverlands, we reunite with Sandor Clegane as he works with a group of people to build what looks to be a rural sept (a house of worship for followers of the Faith of the Seven—the same religion as the High Sparrow). There is no sign of winter here in the green lands of south central Westeros, and the Hound seems to be enjoying his time as an anonymous woodcutter.
The man who leads them is a septon, distinguished by his Seven-Pointed Star necklace. He seems to know the rough story of the Hound, whom he saved from an almost certain death. A couple seasons ago, after a fierce battle with Brienne, he suffered a broken leg and cuts that would later have “bugs all over.” Arya walked away from him as he begged that she put him out of his misery, unwilling or unable to deliver the killing blow. The septon found him and saved his life, so Sandor has been working alongside him ever since, trying to put his past behind him.
Knowing the Hound as he does, the septon delivers a sermon to this effect, telling his followers about his time as a soldier hunting honor and glory on the battlefield. Instead, he found himself burning villages and killing innocents, and chose to make amends for his past wrongs. “That’s all I was, a coward who followed orders, no matter the orders… I remember once a woman screaming at us, calling us animals as we dragged her son from their hut. But we weren’t animals; animals are true to their natures, and we had betrayed ours.”
It was like he was talking directly to the Hound, who once killed Arya’s friend Mycah on Joffrey’s orders, simply because Joffrey accused the boy of pretending to be a knight playing with wooden swords and was humiliated when Arya defended him. Sandor’s very nickname, the Hound, shows that he was considered like an animal because of his savagery and unquestioning obedience to orders. Like the septon, he reached a breaking point and refused to follow orders any longer when he said, “Fuck the kingsguard, fuck the city, fuck the king” and walked out on his duties after the trauma of the Battle of the Blackwater. “It’s never too late to come back,” the septon says, looking directly at Sandor.
Then, three riders interrupt and make thinly-veiled threats of extortion. These men are from the Brotherhood Without Banners, a group of men whose original purpose was to protect the smallfolk of the Riverlands during the War of the Five Kings. When the Hound met with them several seasons ago, their leader warned him that, “No matter whose cloak you wear—Lannister, Stark, Baratheon—you prey on the weak, the Brotherhood Without Banners will hunt you down.”
It’s surprising, therefore, that the bandits later return to slaughter the innocent commoners. Their purpose has clearly been warped, despite the fact that they still pay insincere lip service to the cause (they say their mission is “protecting the people” when the septon asks). Perhaps it is due to the corrupting influence of fanatical religion; after all, they use a line from followers of the Lord of Light (Melisandre’s religion) in their threat: “Stay safe. The night is dark and full of terrors.” They may have killed these people not only for their horses, food, and steel, but also for their beliefs.
In the absence of strong governmental leadership, fanatical religious institutions have been taking root across Westeros. These groups, purportedly established for the protection of the smallfolk in opposition to the aristocracy, are themselves operating to extort the people—rich and poor alike—for their own gain. We see this not only in the Riverlands with the Brotherhood Without Banners, but also in King’s Landing, with the rule of the High Sparrow. More on that in a bit.
The Hound, who has been living peacefully since Brienne kicked his butt and Arya left him for dead, continues to question his purpose. He says that if there was justice in the world, he would already be dead. He’s always thought of himself as a monster, like a dog that needs putting down, but he has also been impossible the kill. For this reason, the septon believes the gods must have a purpose for him yet. Clearly, it’s not just for cutting wood.
When the men from the Brotherhood Without Banners return and slaughter the innocents, the Hound picks up the ax for another purpose. Though he keeps trying to put his deadly past behind him, it stalks him ceaselessly. The Hound was made to kill, but at least this time it will be in service to something greater than Joffrey Baratheon: justice for the people who took him in and believed he could be better.
Queen Margaery, finally wearing her crown again, is reading the Seven-Pointed Star when the High Sparrow interrupts. “As water rounds the stones, smoothing what was jagged, so does a woman’s love calm a man’s brute nature,” she recites as she turns to look at the High Sparrow. Margaery has positioned herself as the feminine force in opposition to this religious zealot’s violent nature, though we don’t yet know how she plans to undermine his rule.
The High Sparrow has come to ask her why she has not returned to King Tommen’s bed. This is curious, as he has previously claimed to want the downfall of the rich and powerful; why, then, would he encourage furthering the line of ruling Baratheons/Lannisters? I’m guessing that, as he has said in the past, he knows that the land needs the crown in addition to the Faith. He wants to bring down the aristocracy, as he shows again by stripping Loras of his inheritance and throwing the future of House Tyrell in jeopardy. But he cannot totally destroy the monarchy. What he can do is bring the crown in line with his own interests, as he is trying to do with Margaery and Tommen. In this way, he seems far less concerned about the spiritual as he is about the power it affords him.
Once again, the High Sparrow reveals his belief in the patriarchy when he encourages Margaery to give up her chastity and put aside her spiritual desires for her duty as an obedient wife. “Congress does not require desire on the woman’s part, only patience.”
This is an age-old axiom of contradiction that has roots in the Middle Ages, when women were expected to be both chaste and child-bearing. Preachings about Mary Magdalen were used as instruments of social control, targeting feminine sexuality as a source of disorder in society. At the same time, it was also believed that the woman’s highest purpose was in producing heirs—especially in the monarchy, where the lack of a male heir meant the potential for major political and social unrest, even war. Margaery seems to be weaponizing her conversion by withholding sex from King Tommen and a pliant heir from the High Sparrow.
The man also shows his misogyny in threatening Margaery’s grandmother, Lady Olenna, while leaving her father Mace and even Jaime Lannister out of it entirely. All three of them acted to try and attack the Faith, but it’s only Lady Olenna who is accused of being a sinner. “The Queen of Thorns is a remarkable woman, a strong woman, and an unrepentant sinner. You must teach her the new way, as she taught you the old, or I fear for her safety, body and soul.”
Is the High Sparrow truly convinced of Margaery’s devotion? She has been playing the role so adeptly that even her grandmother, the astute Queen of Thorns, is convinced; so, it’s possible, but I worry for her. Is he playing her to get what he wants— Lady Olenna out of the capital— or is his threat sincere, as is his belief in her conversion?
She plays a dangerous game when she visits her grandmother to warn her to leave King’s Landing. They are forced to talk under the watchful eye of Septa Unella. When she recites the line, “The Mother watches over us all,” the camera pans tellingly to Unella. Margaery is under constant surveillance, but is finally able to get her message through to her grandmother when she slips a note into Olenna’s hand. “Go home,” she begs her.
When Lady Olenna opens the note alone, it turns out to be their house sigil: the rose. This tells her that her granddaughter is not brainwashed, but pretending, all while working for the sake of her family. In this context, she finally understands the severity of Margaery’s warning, so the Tyrell matriarch wisely decides to get the hell out of Dodge.
Before leaving, she is confronted by Cersei, who begs her to stay. Does Cersei want her to stay and help, as she says, or is it so that House Tyrell could be more easily eliminated in its entirety? It’s unclear.
However, what is clear is that Cersei is a much, much worse manipulator than she ever believed. In this very conversation, she tries to put herself on equal footing with the masterful Lady Olenna, but gets immediately rebuffed. The Queen of Thorns is back with all of her sharp barbs, reminding Cersei how she enabled the High Sparrow and his minions only to suffer the worst of the consequences herself. She hasn’t destroyed the Tyrells, as she had hoped, and now they’re maneuvering themselves out of her grasp.
Before leaving, Lady Olenna warns her, “You have no support, not anymore… The rest of your family have abandoned you, the people despise you. You’re surrounded by enemies, thousands of them. You’re going to kill them all by yourself? You’ve lost Cersei. It’s the only joy I could find in all this misery.”
Without Jaime or Tommen, Cersei is truly alone in the city. The only influence remaining for Cersei is over the Mountain, whose sole purpose is to unquestioningly protect her. With her trial by combat on the horizon, has Cersei’s pathetic attempts at scheming set herself up for her own demise?
Back in the Riverlands, Jaime and Bronn lead an army of Lannisters to assist the helpless Freys in their siege of Riverrun. They watch as the Freys try to threaten the Blackfish, Catelyn’s uncle, into surrendering. He refuses to give in and calls their bluff, encouraging them to go ahead and slit his nephew, Edmure Tully’s throat. Edmure gets to live another day as the Freys decide to keep him hostage.
Jaime rightfully insults the Freys, smacking one of them with his golden hand, and orders Bronn to take over the organization of the siege. Jaime acts like his cocky, confident former self in a way he rarely has since the loss of his hand. Using his golden hand to force a vassal into submission seems like the perfect symbolism of how much he has healed from his trauma. Or, at least, that’s what Jaime wants everyone to believe.
When Jaime and the Blackfish parlay on the drawbridge to the castle, the Tully man is able to cut deeply into Jaime’s swagger, revealing the still-broken man underneath. The Blackfish refuses to surrender, even when Jaime offers to spare the lives of his men. This confuses Jaime, but to the Blackfish it is clear: this is his ancestral home under siege, and he’s prepared to defend it no matter the cost. He has two years of provisions. Does Jaime have two years of his life to give in securing Riverrun, a fortress that means so little to him?
The Blackfish can smell his disinterest and knows instantly his weakness. “I wanted to see you in person, get the measure of you…. I’m disappointed,” he says to Jaime, and leaves him rattled on the bridge. The Kingslayer would never have accepted defeat so easily, especially not after being treated like an inferior by the old commander, but Jaime will never be the same after the loss of his sword hand—the symbol of his past life. He has been physically and emotionally castrated.
Another man who lost physical pieces of himself and has to confront the effects of that trauma is Theon Greyjoy. He is sailing with his sister, Yara, to meet with the famed Dragon Queen and offer her the Iron Fleet before their uncle, Euron, can get there. On the way, they stop at the independent city-state of Volantis and Yara, at least, is able to enjoy herself at the brothel. She encourages her brother to drink and be merry, to return to his former life or to end it already, not understanding that he has been broken and can never be the same.
Sansa was also Ramsay Bolton’s victim of violence and sexual assault, and like Theon, she has been permanently affected by that trauma. Her experiences have made her all the more determined to defeat Ramsay and reclaim her childhood home, but they’re having a hard time marshalling enough troops to their cause. Along with Jon Snow and Ser Davos Seaworth, the three of them set out to recruit allies in the North.
First, Jon and Tormund convince the wildlings that their causes are united, since Ramsay Bolton won’t let the wildlings live in the North for long. Then, at Bear Island, they seek to persuade the very young, but very competent Lyanna Mormont to side with them. Lyanna is the ten-year-old (!!) niece of the late Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (who gave Jon Snow his Valyrian steel sword) and the cousin of Ser Jorah Mormont.
At first, Jon and Sansa are unsuccessful, but Ser Davos proves his worth with a very well-reasoned argument: the threat to Bear Island lies not to the south, but to the north, in the form of the White Walkers, and they’ll need to be a united force to reckon with them. Wiser than any other southern lord yet shown, Lyanna does not question the existence of White Walkers and understands instantly the threat they pose. She agrees to lend them her men… all 62 of them.
Next, they head to Deepwood Motte to form an alliance with House Glover. This castle is near the sea and was captured by Yara Greyjoy back in Season 2. The head of the house, Robett Glover, is upset with the Starks for failing to protect him from the ironborn attack. He refuses to help them even when Sansa reminds him that his house is sworn to House Stark and has been for centuries. “I served House Stark once, but House Stark is dead,” he tells her. This seems like a rash choice, considering the fact that Deepwood Motte has been subject to ironborn raids for centuries and therefore should be nothing terribly new, but Jon and Sansa let him get away with refusing his duties to his feudal lords.
When they set up camp outside Winterfell in the same place as Stannis’s army last season, they must come to terms with their sparsely-populated forces. Jon insists that they attack quickly before the weather takes a turn for the worse and Ramsay is able to recruit more forces, just as Stannis argued before him. Last season, it was Stannis who made the same point to a reluctant Ser Davos, who wanted to wait out the winter at Castle Black. Interestingly, Ser Davos has forgotten his previous argument (does he think Jon Snow has a better chance? Or is this just bad writing?) and it is Sansa who urges patience. As a commander with plenty of experience in battle, Jon dismisses her easily.
Her only recourse is to send a raven to an unknown recipient—most likely Littlefinger. Earlier in the season, Sansa denied his help, since he was the enabler of her abuser. She is clearly marked by her trauma—a broken but unbeaten woman—and seemed to draw strength from rejecting Littlefinger for his part in her abuse. Now, desperate to retake Winterfell and rescue her brother, she may have decided that she needs the troops from the Vale more than anything. She might be making a deal with the devil, and unfortunately for her, Littlefinger has a long history of offering deals only to stab people in the back (see: Ned Stark, Lysa Arryn, Cersei Lannister, Sansa Stark already…).
Finally, Sansa’s sister, Arya, tries to make her way back to Westeros by booking passage with a Westerosi trader. However, the Waif—wearing a different face—finds and stabs her multiple times in the stomach. Arya jumps into the river to escape. When she emerges and makes her way through the city, she looks at all of the foreign faces with fear and mistrust. She is a stranger in a strange land, physically broken and needing help that is too far away.
Other Thoughts on “The Broken Man”:
- My money is on Arya turning to the acting troupe and Lady Crane for help. She had a strange connection to the actress and felt a profound amount of empathy for her. Lady Crane might be the only kind face she can think of in Braavos. This is not to mention the fact that many of the actors were played by relatively well-known British character actors, and I doubt the show is through with them yet.
- So much for my theory that the Waif is Syrio Forel and would want to protect Arya from true harm…
- But… why didn’t Arya have Needle with her?
- Many people are hypothesizing that this was all an act. Arya wasn’t quiet about walking around with lots of coin, drawing attention to herself. She also stands on a bridge out in the open, almost begging to be attacked. She leads a trail of blood—something like pig’s blood, people are theorizing—to an ambush with Needle. The part where I think this theory falls apart is that the Waif’s knife is long—even if Arya rigged something on her waist, she’s getting stabbed by that knife. Also, how does she know the Waif isn’t just going to slit her throat? Sure, she can probably bet that the Waif wants her to suffer, but what if she followed Jaqen’s orders and ended her quickly? It’s a HUGE risk. My bet is that she was stabbed for real, but that also means that she’s more than a little stupid and naïve to be out in the open without her sword. I don’t know what to think!
- Also… am I far too comfortable with the idea that Arya can’t die? HAVE I LEARNED NOTHING?
- Stabbing someone in the stomach hardly counts as ending someone’s life without suffering, as Jaqen instructed the Waif; it’s one of the slowest and most painful ways to die. I wonder if Jaqen will know or take issue with either her failure to follow instructions or her failure to actually kill Arya.
- The title of this episode (“The Broken Man”) may draw its name from a famous speech in the books delivered by a man named Septon Meribald (who seems to have been combined with another character from the books to create the septon we see in this episode). In it, he talks about how war breaks men and reduces them to beasts. “In times like these, the traveler must beware of broken men, and fear them… but he should pity them as well.” I think this is true of all of the broken characters in this episode.
- When the septon told the Hound that the “gods aren’t done with you yet,” he replied, “I’ve heard that before. Man was talking about a different god, though.” He’s talking about this moment in Season 3 when Beric Dondarrion told him to “Go in peace, Sandor Celgane. The Lord of Light isn’t done with you yet.” A lot of men believe that the Hound has a higher purpose.
- I loved this exchange: “How many men did it take to cut you down?” “Just one.” “Ooo, he must’ve been some kind of monster.” “He was a woman.”
- The scene with Lady Olenna writing a letter as Cersei came to her for help is an interesting flip of the scene in Season 5 when Cersei sat writing a letter as Lady Olenna asked her for help. This was right after Cersei authorized the High Sparrow to arrest Loras, and was unwilling to budge when Lady Olenna came to her for help in releasing him. This week’s scene highlights just how far Cersei has fallen since then, suffering at the hands of the institution she empowered. She implores Olenna to stay in King’s Landing and help their joint cause, since the High Sparrow is still in power and Loras is still in jail, but Olenna quickly reminds her that Loras is there because of her and her “stupidity.”
- I can’t help but think that Lady Olenna’s remark about Cersei’s fate (“You’re surrounded by enemies, thousands of them. You’re going to kill them all by yourself?”) was foreshadowing. As I hypothesized in last week’s recap, Bran’s vision of the wildfire exploding under King’s Landing may have been a vision of the future. Cersei, who ordered the pyromancers to produce wildfire several seasons ago, could be storing the dangerous substance for the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card: burning King’s Landing to the ground.
- This is not the first time Margaery has been shown studying and memorizing the holy text. I have a lot of faith in Margaery’s intelligence, and hope that these scenes are showing her arming herself for her fight against the High Sparrow.
- The High Sparrow had a run in with Lady Olenna last season, resulting in this great conversation. In the end, the High Sparrow told her, “You are the few. We are the many. And, when the many stop fearing the few…” He then left her to fill in the rest. This season, we have seen very little of the pious, “of the people” High Sparrow, and much more of this threatening one.
- Davos and company have set up camp in the same location as the doomed Baratheon forces did last season. While he noted that it provided a clear strategic advantage, I also think that it may provide a little narrative drama if he manages to stumble upon the fact that his beloved friend and Stannis’s daughter, Shireen, was burned alive at that camp.
- Speaking of Shireen, I love how kind Davos is towards children, especially young girls. When Lyanna said, “We are not a large house, but we’re a proud one. And every man from Bear Island fights with the strength of 10 mainlanders,” I loved Davos’s reply: “If they’re half as ferocious as their lady, the Boltons are doomed.”
- Ever since this note was sent to Stannis, which they referenced in this episode, I have been waiting for Lyanna Mormont’s introduction on the show and could not have been more pleased with how she was portrayed.
- It’s too bad that we did not get to see more of Lyanna’s mother, Lady Maege Mormont. She was known as the “She-Bear” and was only comfortable in armor. She’s only seen in the background of scenes in Season 1 as she fought for Robb Stark in the War of the Five Kings. I think she’d be damn proud of her she-bear of a daughter.
- I can pretty much guarantee that these next three episodes will be an amazing finish. All of their runtimes are slated to be around 60 minutes, a bit longer than the average episode. Also, two of the episodes will be directed by the same man (Miguel Sapochnik) who directed the incredible “Hardhome” from last season (the one where the Night’s Watch and the wildlings fight the hoards of wights and White Walkers). I’m hoping this means lots of great action sequences.
- There’s a lot I’m looking forward to, but mostly the chance that I might finally see the Hound confront his brother, the Mountain. This has been hinted at for a long time, and fans have taken to calling it Cleganebowl. It has never seemed as possible as it did after this week’s episode. With the Hound taking up with a septon and the Faith of the Seven, then finding his rage again, it seems all too perfectly timed with Cersei’s impending trial by combat. She has already said that her champion will be the Mountain, but we don’t yet know who the Faith of the Seven will be selecting as their champion. They’d do a lot worse than the Hound, who has always hated his brother for his brutality, dating back to when the Mountain burned his own brother’s face for playing with one of his toys. It’s likely that the “hate” that he claimed kept him alive until the septon found him was hate for his brother. I won’t believe it until I see the both of them in the ring, but I’m holding out hope for this long-awaited fan theory.
- Another option (probably far-fetched) is for the Faith to put forth King Tommen as their champion in Cersei’s trial by combat. Think about it—Cersei has control over the Mountain. She would have to make a choice to sacrifice herself or sacrifice her son. Tommen is ridiculously impressionable (though, perhaps not stupid enough), so there’s an off chance that he agrees to it if the High Sparrow convinces him that he can “save his mother’s soul” by having her admit her guilt before the trial. In his conversations with Tommen, the High Sparrow has made much of Cersei’s love for him. He could use this line of reasoning to convince Tommen that she would never do anything to harm her son, and therefore could be “saved” before the trial even begins. It would force Cersei to put her money where her mouth is; she’s always, always, said that everything she does is for her family, especially her children. But, what if she had to sacrifice herself to save them? Remember, Tommen is on borrowed time; Maggy the Frog prophesied that all of Cersei’s children would die before her, and so far two of the three have been killed. Cersei has already admitted to Jaime that she feels powerless to change the inevitable. Might she really let Tommen die, believing it has to happen anyway? Anyway, it’s a fun idea to play with. We shall see…
- You’ll notice that I’ve linked many names in this recap to their pages on wikia. This is because some of my readers (ok, my parents) still need more reminders about which character is which. Hopefully this helps make it easier for people to put faces and backgrounds to names, if they needed the reminder.