A girl is stabbed … a couple characters return … and a newcomer steals a scene. In “The Broken Man,” the chess pieces continued to edge into position in King’s Landing and the Riverlands for climactic confrontations to come, while the drama stepped back to ask some major philosophical questions about the nature of violence.
We start with…
Cold open: Duh-na, na-na-na nah, duh na-na-na nah — hey, hold the door, that’s not the Game of Thrones opening credits! We’re just starting an episode with a scene, shaking things up with a cold open, like this is the start of season 4 instead of halfway through season 6. We see a series of scenes that’s Witness meets Westeros. Temple building, simple life, plain dress, and one very large man carrying a very large log who’s revealed to be… The Hound. Why the cold open? The production has to put The Hound actor Rory McCann’s name in the opening credits and, as GoT writer Bryan Cogman explains, that would have spoiled the reveal if fans saw his name before his character appeared. We’ll come back to this story line in a bit.
King’s Landing: Sure, it’s a series of meetings … but they’re rather awesome meetings.
— Margaery and the High Sparrow: Margaery shows off her scripture memorization. What I love about Margaery’s character is she tends to masterfully play any hand she’s given and this season she’s doing her best with the worst cards she’s been dealt yet. The High Sparrow expresses his concern that she’s no longer sleeping with Tommen, which leads to something we’d never thought we’d hear, and certainly something we never wanted: a High Sparrow sex tip (“Congress does not require desire on a woman’s part, only patience”). This exchange also indicates that Tommen is whining to the High Sparrow that his wife won’t sleep with him, which is perhaps the head-shaking saddest thing Tommen has done yet, and that’s really saying something.
The High Sparrow begins to express concern about Margaery’s grandmother, “I fear for her safety” — as if her safety isn’t entirely up to him. This is like a mob boss casually worrying about whether one of his men is loyal; it sets off all sorts of alarm bells. Naturally, the Sparrow is getting rid of anybody who might be a perceived threat — last week it was Jaime’s turn, now Lady Olenna, and soon Cersei with her trial.
— Margaery and Lady Olenna: Margaery bewilders the hell out of her grandmother by spouting pinwheel-eyed New Gods testament. Olenna is offering Margaery a chance to escape all this, but she’s staying committed to her role (presumably for her brother’s sake — she figures at some point she can get the High Sparrow to release him). Margaery urges her grandmother to go home lest there’s a Walk of Shame for the Queen of Thorns. Margaery then slips her something: a Tyrell rose. Olenna is relieved — no matter what she’s saying, she’s still a member of the family.
— Olenna meets with Cersei and they finally have a truly open and blunt conversation with all their cards on the table. It would be so great to see these two team up, but it’s far too late for that. Olenna rips into Cersei for her blunders last season that empowered the High Sparrow, and Cersei candidly admits she’s wrong. Has she ever done that before? And then she even says: “We need each other right now.” This is, once again like in last week’s episode, a newly calm and calculating Cersei. It’s like Qyburn started spiking her wine with Lexapro. Olenna gets in a couple last barbs on her way out the door: “I wonder if you might be the most horrible person I’ve ever met,” she says, managing to sound genuinely curious if that’s the case. Then Olenna runs down precisely how screwed Cersei’s situation is here. “You’ve lost, Cersei — it’s the only joy I can find in all this misery.”
Riverrun: Bronn, like The Hound, is back. And Bronn, like The Hound, is a man who sincerely wishes the show would go away and leave him alone to live in peace off camera somewhere. It’s like Bronn senses that Jaime is a main character and he’s the sidekick and so every time Jaime shows up he’s in danger of not surviving the scene. Jaime tries to flatter him and offer a high rank, but he wants none of it. He even shuts down Jaime’s family catchphrase.
As Jaime approaches Riverrun on his horse, I wish there were a few staircases for him to trot up like last week. They sneak up on the Freys by not sneaking up at all, and it’s fun to watch Jaime boss around the wedding murder hillbillies. What’s cool about this scene is it puts Jaime back on the side of the “bad guys” again after gaining our sympathy the past few seasons — he’s facing off against Stark supporters and trying to help the Freys.
We see Edmure Tully, this time with a knife to his throat. Once again, Tobias Menzies has as few lines as Rickon (which is to say, none). It’s like the producers are going: “Oh wait, you’re also on Outlander, right? You don’t get to speak.”
Jaime wants to parlay with the Blackfish, who wears awesome fish-scale armor. Jaime threatens to kill Edmure and every person in the castle. The Blackfish counters that Edmure is probably dead either way and that they can patiently wait out a siege in their fortified castle. This scene plays like classic Jaime — he always wants to be respected even when it’s somebody on the other side. But The Blackfish is not impressed and only came out to basically tell him so. “Sieges are dull, I wanted to see you in person,” says The Blackfish. The Blackfish’s lack of faith in Jaime’s word might sting less if his closest friend Bronn hadn’t basically made the same point just minutes ago. No sign of Brienne yet.
Volantis: Remember brothel scenes? It’s been awhile since Thrones has indulged in a rowdy brothel scene and perhaps nobody since Tyrion back in his more carefree days has seemed to enjoy one as much as Yara here. We didn’t know Yara liked women but are also not remotely surprised (book Yara is straight, btw). Theon looks utterly miserable, which is also understandable. Yara wants him to snap out of it and orders him to drink up. This is how characters handle a loved one with major depression in Westeros and Essos — they berate you for being such a downer, order you to chug a drink, and tell you to just kill yourself already if you’re gonna act that way (basically not entirely different than looking for sympathy on social media). Still, this is the kindest we’ve ever seen the harsh Greyjoys act toward each other. Yara wants Theon to shed his Reek-dom, and it’s indeed great advice.
We also get told their plan is to try and make a deal with Dany in Meereen: Her alliance and protection for their ships. I so want Theon, Varys and Grey Worm to meet and form a group of eunuch superheroes.
Riverlands and The Wall: Jon and Sansa go on a tour to drum up support for their fight against the Boltons. Like in King’s Landing, this is essentially a trio of key meetings.
First are the wildlings. This should be easy, and it is — they like fighting and have no other loyalties south of the wall, they might as well align themselves with the Starks. Jon convinces them this is their fight, too; it will be open season on wildings once the dust settles if the Boltons win. Wun-Wun is on board, and once the giant is in their corner, who’s going to refuse?
Next is Bear Island, House Mormont. So for casual viewers this might be a bit confusing: The girl is Lyanna Mormont — not to be confused with Lyanna Stark (whom she was named after). She’s the niece of Lord Commander Jeor Mormont of the Night’s Watch (who took on Jon as his understudy and died in season 3). She’s also the cousin of Ser Jorah Mormont (Dany’s faithful companion, who’s now searching for a greyscale cure).
Basically there are a lot of Mormonts scattered around the world on this show. The family has its own Stark-like drama going on. Now we meet Lyanna, who’s 10 years old and perhaps the biggest badass on this whole show. She was mentioned in season 5 after Stannis sent a raven asking her to pledge her house to his cause (her diss reply via raven said: “Bear Island knows no king but the King in the North, whose name is Stark”).
Lyanna cuts into Jon and Sansa’s argument, pointing out he’s a Snow and she’s a Bolton, so neither are technically a Stark. Jon starts to mansplain by beginning a sentence with, “What you have to understand m’lady…” which does not go over well.
Davos saves the day by addressing Lyanna like an adult and opening himself up to her while showing their commonality — both are people thrust into positions of authority they never thought they’d have and are trying to do their best to those who rely on them. That he throws in the Night’s King is effective also (sorry, but she is only 10 and telling her a spooky tale of a supernatural monster coming to get her works better on her than it would with a cynical adult). She pledges her men … all 62 of them. Hopefully Lyanna won’t be forced to marry Lord Robin in season 7.
Now we go to House Glover. Everything that the lord tells Jon and Sansa is understandable even though it’s exactly what they don’t want to hear. Their house was decimated by the War of the Five Kings and Robb Stark’s fatal blunders.
Both the House Glover and House Mormont scenes play a bit like the plots in Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman — here we have the background casualties coming to the foreground to object to their cavalier mistreatment as bit players amid the fights of more interesting superhero leads (except thankfully, Thrones doesn’t have endless bloodless beatdown sequences resulting in nothing of consequence — in Westeros, every action matters, particularly the small ones).
So the tally now for Team Stark: The wildlings, Mormonts, a couple other houses, and maybe the Tullys if Brienne’s mission succeeds. Jon is ready to fight Ramsay with the men in hand, he’s worried about winter grinding down his army, like what happened with Stannis. Sansa argues he knows nothing and should gather more men. She writes a scroll and we think we know who she’s calling for help.
NEXT: Where’s Ray? [pagebreak]
Somewhere else in the Riverlands: We see The Hound’s life with a man known as Brother Ray (the irreplaceable Ian McShane, who plays a very different kind of character here — seeing him smile so warmly and express such kindness is almost jarring for us Deadwood fans).
Until the tragic end of this sequence, which feels pretty inevitable, we’re treated to some philosophical discussion about violence in a show that’s soaked with it. Most characters are scrambling to survive and don’t have the time to step back and consider what they’re doing. We see The Hound in a light we never have before, more reflective of his actions. While Brother Ray is a unique spiritual specimen for this world, not truly committed to any one particular god, but just believing in a higher power in general. “If the gods are real, why haven’t they punished me?” The Hound asks, in one of many terrific exchanges. “They have,” Brother Ray replies.
Or this, from Ray: “Violence is a disease, you don’t cure a disease by spreading it to more people.” The Hound: “You don’t cure it by dying either.”
So when that trio of rogue members of the Brotherhood without Banners rides up, we know they’re trouble. “We’re talking about life,” Brother Ray tell them, which is something we never thought any character in this show would say.
Ray’s flock are all sheep in a land of wolves, and if it wasn’t these three it would have probably been somebody else. They needed at least some semblance of protection. Thankfully we’re spared from seeing what happens. The Hound returns and isn’t terribly surprised to find them all dead.
Braavos: Arya is at the port looking to book passage on a ship back to Westeros. It’s a sign of how much trouble she’s in with The House of Black and White that she actually considers Westeros a safer place than Braavos. A girl needs to get the f— out of town.
She encounters an old woman. Do you see this coming? She’s is secretly The Waif wearing somebody else’s face. Everything happens so fast. She shanks Arya’s belly and we freak out with Red Wedding flashbacks — this feels so much like Talisa being stabbed by the Freys.
Arya has been in deadly fights before, but she has been pretty lucky, largely using the element of surprise. Nobody thinks somebody who looks like Arya is about to suddenly attack. But The Waif doesn’t underestimate Arya plus has the element of surprise on her side instead.
Arya jumps into the water and loses The Waif. Eventually she climbs out. She’s heavily wounded, in serious trouble, staggering through the streets. She looks at every face, desperately needing help, not knowing which stranger is The Waif, coming at her to finish the job…
No sign of Dany, or Tyrion, or Bran this week. It feels like each season the show feels less obligated to check in with every key character in every episode. Only three hours left of season 7. After rocketing out of the gate this season, the last two weeks feel like they’re laying groundwork for major confrontations — Jaime vs. Blackfish, Starks vs. Ramsay, Cersei vs. The High Sparrow and something with the Greyjoys — either Euron catching up to Theon and Yara or the latter two meeting with Dany. Plus there’s still that big battle coming that the producers teased at the start of the season.
And so we cliffhang to next week. In the meantime, read our interview with co-executive producer Bryan Cogman where he talks about the return of The Hound. Separately, Cogman gives a bit of insight into that scene with instant breakout Lyanna Mormont. Read our chat with Ian McShane about his time on Thrones and some of his many other upcoming projects (including a potential Deadwood movie). Don’t forget to subscribe to our Game of Thrones Weekly podcast, and enjoy the newest episode posted below.
Plus, we have our weekly trivia question with a prize from the HBO Store. First correct answer to email@example.com gets it. Easy one this week: This week we saw House Glover and House Mormont. What are the sigils for each?