[WARNING – This article contains SPOILERS for Game of Thrones season 6, episode 7, as well as open discussion of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels.]
Game of Thrones season 6 has been thus far a most interesting season for a variety of reasons, but chiefly because of its strange blend of book material, new material, and a willingness to deliver on long held fan theories. In many ways this makes season 6 the most satisfying yet, but it has also lessened some of the show's celebrated shock appeal.
Well, that was until nearing the final moments of 'The Broken Man', Arya foolishly let a strange old woman get too close and stab her repeatedly in the abdomen. The old woman was, of course, The Waif, who the Faceless Men have sent to assassinate Arya, and not realizing that sooner was a real rookie mistake on Arya's part. She survives that attack, at least initially, and Game of Thrones leaves us wondering who will come to her aid as she stumbles down a busy street holding in her guts. Since Arya has moved so far off book at this point it's tough to predict just what she'll do, but I imagine that saving a woman's life from poison is enough to earn Arya some bandages for her bleeding stomach.
So that's one Stark up against the ropes, and the others aren't fairing too much better. Jon and Sansa's tour of the north goes just as well as could be expected: the wildlings are in, as is House Mormont - now under the leadership of the young Lyanna, a character only mentioned in the books but thanks to her fantastic showing in 'The Broken Man', is quickly becoming a fan favorite. At Moat Cailin, which House Glover only just retrieved from the Ironborn thanks to the Boltons, Sansa's plea for Glover to stand with Stark once again falls on deaf ears. Realizing they don't have nearly enough men and with Jon insisting they march as soon as possible, Sansa pens a letter that can only be meant for Littlefinger, calling in on his offer of supplying her with the Knights of the Vale. Again, it seems almost a given that they'll arrive at Winterfell in the nick of time, but even so, further allying herself with Littlefinger is a gamble. Seeing a Stark restored at Winterfell is certainly in his plans, but only if it's one he can control.
And the surviving Starks aren't the only ones looking for new allies, as Yara and Theon have taken the Greyjoy fleet east with hopes of striking a deal with the dragon queen of Meeren. This is an interesting development seeing as in the novels it's Victarion (one of the Greyjoy uncles cut from the show) that takes the fleet and seeks out Daenerys on Euron's command, though there's a strong implication that Victarion will betray Euron given the chance. But on Game of Thrones, the simpler version is to have Yara seek out Dany, where the two will likely bond over being strong-willed women in charge of huge armies of men. It also appears that the magical horn, Dragonbinder is definitely cut, as it didn't appear at the Kingsmoot and there's no indication Euron has it or plans to use it on Dany's dragons.
The Queens of King's Landing
Now that King Tommen is a sworn protector of the Faith, the High Sparrow has almost complete control over King's Landing. This places the two women closest to Tommen in a tricky position, as they both want to retain their power but also their lives. For Margaery, she's now playing a dangerous game where she must have all convinced she's a pious woman with no aspirations of her own, while finding a way to free her brother and regain influence over the King. And for a character that readers are given very little insight to in the novels, Margaery has established herself as a top player in the drama of King's Landing on Game of Thrones.
In 'The Broken Man', Margaery is convincing in her piety, duping both the High Sparrow and Septa Unella. In fact, Lady Olenna almost buys in to her granddaughter's conversion until she's slipped a note from Margaery bearing the symbol of House Tyrell - a rose, growing strong. At Margaery's urging, Olenna plans to leave the capital and return to Highgarden, where she'll likely begin gathering those loyal to the Tyrell's in case they're needed. And one of the most loyal to House Tyrell is Randyll Tarly, Sam's father who we only met just last episode. In the novels, it's into Randyll's custody that Margaery is released as she awaits her trial (which the show has since done away with), so there's a strong chance that if Olenna begins calling up the Tyrell bannerman, Randyll will be one of the first to answer.
Cersei is in an even more dubious position than Margaery. Unlike the young queen, Cersei doesn't have the same network of allies to call upon. Jaime has left for the Riverlands and her uncle, Kevan openly despises her. All Cersei has is The Mountain, but he's only good for keeping away the Sparrows and eventually defending Cersei is her upcoming trial by combat. Cersei is entirely on her own, as Olenna is only too kind to point out, and that is going to make her desperate. When she's desperate, she's reckless, which is how Cersei is for much of A Feast for Crows, where her paranoia gets the best of her and she starts down the path that leads her to being arrested.
The show is past that point already, but they left out a key event - Cersei's burning of the Tower of the Hand. She does this after Tommen and Margaery's wedding because she can no longer stand to look at the tower where Tyrion murdered her father. The burning itself is handled by the pyromancers and their wildfire and it stands as a reminder that King's Landing is still loaded with wildfire, casks and casks of it. Though Tyrion used a boatload of it to wipe out Stannis Baratheon's fleet, much is still stored beneath the city and the only one aware of that is Cersei. So while burning the Tower of the Hand may be a moot point by now, burning her enemies - and perhaps all of King's Landing in the process - is not.
Return to Riverrun
Though his reasoning for being in the Riverlands isn't exactly the same as in the novels, Jaime has finally arrived at Riverrun and the siege can get underway - or at least continue with us now appraised of what's happening. And for a season that has little left from the books to adapt, these scenes are basically pulled right from the page. Getting to see the Frey army's pathetic attempts at hanging Edmure and The Blackfish's total disinterest was a hoot, and I only wish the show had somehow made a bigger point of the fact these exchanges have been happening for weeks. And of course, Bronn is always a welcomed addition, making his first appearance this season. What has he been doing since returning from Dorne? He obviously didn't get either the castle or wife he was promised.
Jaime's parlay with The Blackfish is a scene that plays out almost verbatim from the novels, ending much in the same manner, with The Blackfish content to hold up in Riverrun as long as he has to. But Jaime has no intention of sitting outside of Riverrun for long, and as he does in the novels, he may seek out Edmure Tully and find something more useful to do with him than the daily, empty threats of his hanging. Yet, there's no indication Jaime will need to deal with any other rebelling houses as he does after negotiating an end to the siege, so where will he go afterwards? Again, the timeline of events has been mercilessly shuffled, so it's hard to pinpoint just where he'll be needed next.
There's also something of convergence coming to Riverrun which very well could derail the course these narratives take in the novels. Brienne and Podrick will arrive in the next episode (something teased in the trailer), bringing with them their letter from Sansa Stark. In that same trailer, Brienne makes mention of persuading The Blackfish to surrender, which is an entirely off-book development, as is Jaime's insistence he loves Cersei and will "slaughter every Tully who ever lived" to get back to her. Clearly, Game of Thrones is setting up the Siege of Riverrun to be a far more important showdown than what in the books amounts to little more than a slow, drawn out end to the War of the Five Kings.
The Broken Man
With an unusual cold open, Game of Thrones season 6 continues the trend of bringing characters back from the "dead". First there was Jon Snow, then last week's Benjen Stark, and now The Hound - or as he's moreso known as now, Sandor Clegane. And much like those other returns, Sandor's was no less unexpected and it too lines up rather nicely with theories fans have been formulating for years. Which again, has somewhat hurt the show's unpredictability, something that this season more than any other was supposed to be.
Still, what was shown in last night's episode and what is only ever briefly implied in the novels is quite different. The novels have yet to outright confirm Sandor survives his injuries, but through conversations Brienne has with characters she meets on her travels, Septon Meribald and the Elder Brother, readers have inferred that Sandor was found by the brothers of the Quiet Isle and nursed back to health. Game of Thrones, however, is far more deliberate, choosing to show us Sandor convalescing at a peaceful settlement tucked away in the rolling hills of the Riverlands. There's no Meribald or Elder Brother, with Ian McShane instead playing a sort of combination of the two called Brother Ray.
Interestingly, for as wonderful a creation as Brother Ray is, embodying the necessary elements of those other characters as well as offering a counter-interpretation to the High Sparrow's version of the Faith, he never actually delivers the "Broken Man" speech from the novels. He gives a sermon to those gathered that employs a similar message, that "violence is a disease", but it never gets around to making the same the points. In Meribald's speech, he laments the high using the low as pawns in their war games, forcing farmers to fight these wars in which they have no stake, and that it's the horrors of battle that leave these men broken. It's a trajectory that mirrors that of The Hound, once a "dog" for a highborn family who used him to do their dirty work. Meribald ends that speech by suggesting these broken men are to be pitied, again implying that if The Hound was taken to the Quiet Isle he'd have been shown mercy and forgiven.
Even without the speech, 'The Broken Man', the episode, still paints a clear picture of Sandor as a man wanting to move one from his old life - until that old life finds him. It's the first appearance of the Brotherhood Without Banners in some time and they've obviously taken a dip in honor, and though the show is adamant it's not Lady Stoneheart leading them, it hardly seems likely Beric Dondarrion would sanction such action. Unless he's become so unlike himself due to constant revival he'd authorize the murder of innocents. Chances are we'll find out soon enough since Sandor took up his axe with a clear intention to hunt them down, and after he finds them, it could very well be the end of the Brotherhood, removing them from any further significance in the story and fan theories.
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday with ‘No One’ @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below:
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