Game of Thrones, Season 6, Television

Season 6, Episode 7: The Broken Man

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.”

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Game of Thrones, Season 6, Television

Season 6, Episode 5: The Door

In one of the most tragic episodes yet, Game of Thrones explores the cost of war. We see it with the Children of the Forest, whom we learn created the White Walkers in a desperate attempt to fight back against the encroaching settlement of men. This was their nuclear option, and as we know now, it likely causes their own extinction. To secure his place on the Salt Throne, Euron Greyjoy murders his own brother and, in this episode, sets out to kill his niece and nephew. Tyrion forges an alliance between Church and State (much like his sister did, to disastrous effect) by inviting the High Priestess of the Red Temple to Meereen, offering her fanatical ministers free rein of the city in order to spread the great word of Queen Daenerys. Arya has to give up her past, her identity, in order to train to become an assassin, though it clearly still haunts her, and her sister Sansa confronts Littlefinger about her rape and torture at the hands of Ramsay Bolton.

Ultimately, though, it is the sacrifice of Summer, the Children of the Forest, the Three-Eyed Raven, and especially Hodor that brings this point home to devastating effect. All along, Hodor’s very life has been enslaved to saving Bran from a certain defeat. In trying to win the battle against the White Walkers—or, at least, not to lose when they’ve only just begun the fight—Bran’s actions lead to the unintended consequence of destroying his friend’s mind, and eventually his life. For Bran, Hodor was probably the greatest cost of war yet, and now he must bear the weight of personal responsibility for his friend’s decades-long psychological maiming and death.

In war, the ends are often used to justify the means, but the costs and consequences of waging war have far-reaching and devastating effects.

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Game of Thrones, Season 6, Television

Season 6, Episode 4: Book of the Stranger

In “Book of the Stranger,” brothers and sisters are united across Westeros, all of them changed in some profound way by what has happened in the absence of one another. Sansa reunites with Jon at Castle Black, Yara with Theon on the Iron Islands, and Margaery with Loras in the cells of the Great Sept. Times have changed so completely since the beginning of the series; when once it was the brothers who were on top, it is now the sisters who are the strongest of the pair. Up until recently, Jon was Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. The last time Theon returned to the Iron Islands after a long absence, he rode in cockily telling everyone he saw he was the only living son and heir of Balon Greyjoy, and even tried to seduce his own sister (before realizing it was her). Loras was once one of the greatest knights in the land, charming everyone with his manner and delighting people with his prowess in tournaments.

Over time, and for different circumstances, the brothers have all surrendered the fight. Meanwhile, in “Book of the Stranger,” their sisters continue playing the game. Sansa begs Jon to help her reclaim Winterfell, though he’s broken by the fact that he was murdered by his own brothers for doing what he thought was right. “I want you to help me, but I’ll do it myself if I have to,” she says. This time around, Theon returns to the Iron Islands to surrender his claim to his father’s throne so that his sister might rule instead. Loras, a knight so rarely beaten, lies defeated in his cell as Margaery urges him to stay strong and survive as the future of the Tyrell house.

The title of the episode, “Book of the Stranger,” is named after one of the key books in the religious text, The Seven-Pointed Star. In her discussion with the High Sparrow, Margaery realizes that the man is quoting from the holy book and finishes the verse from memory: “And one day you walked through a graveyard and realized it was all for nothing and set out on the path of righteousness.” The brothers Jon, Theon, and Loras have all walked through that graveyard and are ready to surrender. It’s up to the women in their lives to help them regain their sense of purpose.

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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Television

Season 5, Episode 1: The Wars to Come

The failing state of Westeros continues to reel in the vacuum left after Robert Baratheon’s long-ago coup d’etat. The latest king (or, more accurately, Protector of the Realm) has been killed at the hands of his own son. The adolescent King Tommen and Queen Regent Cersei are left to fill the void, but for how long? Season 5, Episode 1 offers a clue in its title, based on the final words from a condemned Mance Rayder: “I wish you good fortune in the wars to come.”

“Wars,” plural.

Game of Thrones has always been a tale about power and the long struggle for succession after the ousting of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen (father of Daenerys). This season is set up similarly, only now the future is much more vague. If the first few seasons featured the dismantling of the Stark family, Seasons 4 and 5 seem to focus on the undoing of the Lannisters.

Without these two major families, few remain with a legitimate claim to power and the vassals to back it up. Who is strong enough to unite the kingdoms, to return peace and prosperity to the land of Westeros? Only Varys seems certain of the answer.

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Game of Thrones, Season 4, Television

Season 4, Episode 6: The Laws of Gods and Men

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In “The Laws of Gods and Men,” one of the series’s most tragic episodes to date, Tyrion Lannister stands supplicant before a court of men appointed to determine his fate. Prior to that, Daavos and Stannis arrive as supplicants to the nongovernmental power of the Iron Bank, and Daenerys hears the petitions of many who have been negatively affected by her naive rule. Even Reek, the man formally known as Theon Greyjoy, appears as a postulant to Ramsay Snow’s torturous household reign, refusing to even acknowledge his sister when she comes to rescue him.

In the end, in all of these cases except for the most beaten man (Theon), it’s the supplicants who manage to take the upper hand. Each of them proves to even the most rational and calculated leaders that “plain” stories told in “books filled with numbers” do not account for the emotions of grieving and aggrieved sons.

If last week was all about how women are able to wield power in a man’s world, this week was about the men. Even Yara, Theon’s sister, is praised for her “balls” when she dares to rescue her brother from the Dreadfort. (“You’ve got bigger balls than he ever did.”) But these aren’t men who fit into the continents’ typical molds of masculinity. Varys and Theon are both eunuchs, Tyrion is a dwarf, Stannis is the forgotten and unloved king, and newcomer Hizdahr zo Loraq is a noble’s son who has recently lost not only his father, but also his ruling power. Despite this, all but Theon manages to subvert those in power in both subtle and overt ways.

Though we visit with several other characters, the core of this episode’s narrative is Tyrion’s trial in King’s Landing. The whole second half of the episode focuses on the fan-favorite, but the beginning still managed to unite many very disparate storylines under several key themes. Not only are there power dynamics at play in each scene, with one party bowing to the authority of a higher power at first (before unsettling it in the end), but we also revisit a couple of Game of Thrones‘s well-worn themes: justice and history in context. With fantastic direction from Alik Sakharov, the camera reinforces the themes of Bryan Cogman’s script throughout.

“The Laws of Gods and Men” was a great episode. Everyone seems to agree that the writers wrote a tight narrative that worked on both a thematic and emotional level. And Peter Dinklage acted the hell out of it.

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Game of Thrones, Season 4, Television

Season 4, Episode 3: Breaker of Chains

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If Game of Thrones has one strength over many, it lies in the moral ambiguity of its characters. Characters have the chance to debase and redeem themselves in the matter of episodes. There are no fully “good” and “evil” characters; moral absolutism is a cruel myth that you believe only at your own peril (just ask Ned Stark).

In “Breaker of Chains,” we once again visit the “problems of the human heart in conflict with itself” (as said by William Faulkner). Last season, Jaime lost a hand to stop the men who wished to rape Brienne; this Sunday, he raped his sister, who also happened to be the love of his life, in front body of his dead son. A couple of episodes ago, the Hound decried thieves (“A man’s got to have a code”), then went on to justify stealing from a dead man walking. Jon Snow, ever a Stark, once struggled to kill a single man (Qhorin Halfhand) for the greater good, but last night was unblinking as he suggested killing several of his own brothers in order to maintain a tactical advantage over Mance Rayder’s wildling army.

People change. Not always for the worst, but not always for the best, either. Each character’s arc may not be– should not be– a straight line upward towards morality and redemption, but rather a sine curve of peaks and troughs. You hope that your favorite characters are on a generally positive trajectory, but you’ll forgive them for a few mistakes along the way. In “Breaker of Chains,” we get down into the ditches with the horrifically flawed Westerosi, and potentially lose a fan favorite in the process.

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Game of Thrones, Season 4, Television

Season 4, Episode 2: The Lion and The Rose

In “The Lion and the Rose,” an episode that featured the wedding of Joffrey (a Lannister lion) and Margaery (a Tyrell rose), we are treated to an early season shocker of the most satisfying variety.

In “The Lion and the Rose,” an episode that featured the wedding of Joffrey (a Lannister lion) and Margaery (a Tyrell rose), we are treated to an early season shocker of the most satisfying variety.

Game of Thrones started as a wildly unpredictable show, then became almost predictable in its unpredictability. We came to expect that the biggest twists would happen in the penultimate (second to last) episodes of the season. First, there was “Baelor,” when we lost who we thought to be the main character, Ned Stark. It was then we knew this show was going to be different. Then, there was “Blackwater,” where the Lannisters were able to successfully defend King’s Landing against Stannis Baratheon’s assault. The episode subverted our expectations, featuring only one setting instead of the many different parallel storylines. Last season, of course, was “The Rains of Castamere,” also known as the Red Wedding. Though it was a devastating episode, by this point we had come to expect the unexpected. Over the last few years, seasons progressed swiftly to the climactic ninth episode, leaving it to the season finale to roughly tie things up until next time.

The Purple Wedding, as it’s come to be known by fans, kills off a major player in the series in only the second episode of the season. Once again, fans of the show are reminded of their initial sense that nothing in the series can be anticipated. Though Joffrey had it coming for a long time, his death is another bold signal that, in the game of thrones, no one is safe– not even the villains.

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