Game of Thrones Revisited: 6.07 The Broken Man
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Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And this year, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros, continuing with the surprise return of an old character in The Broken Man.
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
Outside of most season openers, cold opens have not been part of the show. But for the first time in Game of Thrones' history, a mid-season episode opens with a pre-title sequence. And it's a doozy, brining back a surprise character believed dead and reintroducing him to the show. We never saw Rory McCann's Sandor Clegane die of his wounds following his duel with Brienne and abandonment by Arya in season four finale The Children but his lack of presence thereafter seemed to all but confirmed his fate.
Showing that he is very much alive adds real impact going into the episode; McCann's name appears in the title sequence and the writers cleverly stay one step ahead of the audience, who's eagle eyes would have spotted his name and surely been awaiting his return. And he is joined by the fantastic Ian McShane who makes a bold and memorable one-off appearance as Brother Ray.
McShane certainly steals the show as a former solider who has sought to atone for his blood thirsty sins and is now trying to work with others to build a better world. Ray's speeches as he talks off his past are passionate and his interplay with McCann's Sandor - the man he saved from death - are rich and meaningful. Ray is not a holier than thou man like the High Sparrow; he swears, he gets stuck in and he is pragmatic. But he also has hope. Even when he encounters the three horsemen from the Brotherhood Without Banners who are obviously looking to kill, rape and plunder, he offers them food and a warm fire, rather than sending them packing.
Which makes his death - and that of his people - all the more tragic as Sandor hears the screams while cutting wood and finds the bloody corpses of the people and Ray hanging from the rafters of the church he was trying to build. It's a grim ending to an episode that has given his character purpose and makes him a slightly nobler figure, possibly even carrying something of a compassion for the group, while still keeping all his grit and violent tendencies intact.
While Sandor Clegane's reintroduction to Game of Thrones is the core narrative thread running through the episode, there are still of other wonderful character moments, particularly the introduction of another scene stealer - young Bella Ramsey's Lady Lyanna Mormont. This young girl and leader of the noble house Jon, Sansa and Davos are seeking an alliance from against Ramsey Bolton, doesn't have time for niceties. She cuts through all of Jon and Sansa's talk of past allegiances and honour between the Starks and Mormonts, reflecting the truth that they are technically neither. It's the pragmatic Davos that actually wins her over, cutting to the core reason for this alliance - the war not with the Boltons but between the living and dead.
Ella Ramsey is superb; fierce, pragmatic and portraying a fierce protection in Lyanna for the people of Bear Island. You really get the sense that every wise man and woman of the court listens to and respects her and her agreement to the alliance - giving Jon 62 men with the strength of ten mainlanders each - sees her become a key player in the North for the rest of the season.
After the revelations of the last episode, we see just how long a game Margaery is playing. She acts the perfect holy queen, devoted to Seven Gods, full of penance and a confidant of High Sparrow. But her visit to grandmother Olenna, with Septa Unella in tow reveals the truth, giving her a secret message in the inscription of the rose and convincing her to leave King's Landing and 'repent'. Olenna's position, like Cersei's, has become much more tenuous and the threat of her own imprisonment in the cells of the sept of Baelor is all too clear. Sadly, Margaery, like everyone else in King's Landing, will underestimate Cersei's ruthlessness in the end and never achieve her own goals.
While she has more appearances to come, this marks Olenna Tyrell's departure from King's landing. Diana Rigg is as superb as ever, uttering lines like "I wonder if you might be the worst person I have ever met" to Cersei before leaving her to ponder just how the queen mother might actually dispose of all her thousands of enemies. The clues to Cersei's final, catastrophic act are cleverly laid out here across the season as the seeds are planted for her actions in destroying all those enemies in the city. Luckily for Olenna of course, her departure from the capital spares her the fires to come.
After the mentions of Rivverun's rebellion this season, we finally see the return of the Tully home as Jamie and Bronn arrive to find the Freys engaged in a rather pitiful siege of the castle against the Blackfish and his men. Clive Russell is a delight as the returning Brynden 'Blackfish' Tully and his stand off with Jamie, full of mockery and confidence reveals just how much of a struggle this siege will be. It's a shame to consider the fall of Riverrun next episode as you so desperately want him to keep the upper hand.
The episode also offers up brief stopover in Volantis and Braavos. The arrival of Yara's Ironborn fleet in Volantis sees make the decision to forge an alliance with Daenerys at Mereen, though the real meat if this scene is her renewed fierce protectiveness of brother Theon who is forging a new path at her side. And finally we see Arya make the decision to return home to Westeros, booking passage on a ship before running foul of the Waif disguised as an old woman. The sight of the woman gutting Arya in the stomach is genuinely upsetting, setting the stage for their final showdown next episode.
The reappearance of Rory McCann's Sandor Clegane and the one-off appearance of the charismatic Ian McShane as Brother ray, make The Broken Man a genuine welcome surprise of an episode. And coupled with some slow but steady progression of various plot threads and the debut of Ella Ramsey's wonderful Lady Lyanna Mormont, it continues to maintain the high standard of season six so far compared to the one that came before it.