Game of Thrones, Season 6, Episode 7, “The Broken Man”
The Riverlands: The Quiet Isle
Of course, the Hound is alive and well but penitent, eager to let go of the things he’d done and live a peaceful life, avoiding any purpose. He is helping build a temple to the Seven do so. Rather than building houses first for these displaced people, they build a temple. Though this may seem strange, it’s actually proven by archaeology that humans settled together, creating civilization by centering around religion. It brought people to together from the nomad culture to one of stability and modernity. This shift to a religious centered-culture was a catalyst for a social change. That is the intent here with these people: to start a new way of life, to find community through peace amongst a war-torn kingdom rife with religious injustices. The Hound, however, still does not feel a part of the community, as shown by his working and eating in solidarity while everyone else mingles. These people were building their community around the temple, as so many have done in our own history. I live in an area of small towns and villages, all created by railroad workers but centered around churches. To this day, the towns center around the churches. It’s their history and their life. When the state Archdiocese tried to take them away, there was an uproar. The establishment in the big city did not understand the importance of these churches in the communities. When they are taken away, so is a history, a pride, a comfort, and a way of life.
Unlike the towns around me, though, which succeeded in their fight against the state Archdiocese by appealing to the Vatican itself, the Brotherhood without Banners polices the Riverlands. In the name of the Red God, they raze all work established by the Seven worshippers and slay them all, hanging their leader in the temple they were building if they have nothing to offer them. They are ridding the Riverlands of any opposition to those faithful to the Red God, unless they buy their safety. This is in line with what the High Red Priestess is wanting to accomplish. And the Brotherhood is already doing it. We may just get Lady Stoneheart, after all. Sorrowfully, the Brotherhood hangs the preacher, though he doesn’t necessarily believe in the Seven. To him, all religions are basically the same; he does think that there is a higher power, and whatever power that is still has plans for the Hound. It wasn’t there, as we found out when the Brotherhood slaughtered all the people. It gave the Hound reason to pick up his axe and start swinging at people instead of trees once more. And he had a reason to do it. This will be his way of reconciling his past with a sense of justice. He and Arya, then, have more in common now. Their aims are to apply their own justices throughout the land.
The Riverlands: Riverrun
The Lannister army approaches Riverrun, and it’s a pathetic sight of Frey riff raff dappled throughout the land around Riverrun. Jaime promises Bronn to be the right hand he doesn’t have. This angers Bronn because Jaime has made him empty promises before. How will this be any different? The Lannister army walks through the camps to witness Lothar Frey and Walder Rivers holding Edmure Tully hostage in a noose, ready to hang, threatening Blackfish that they’ll kill his brother (like they did his niece) unless they surrender Riverrun to them. Blackfish walks the battlements; looks directly at them; calmly indifferently says, “Go on then. Cut his throat;” and leaves. Jaime scolds the Freys for their incompetence. An entire army walked up to the camp without being stopped. Jaime takes charge of the situation, despite Walder Rivers’s protest. He backhands Walder with his gold hand and orders Edmure to be bathed and changed. Thus beings Jaime’s attempt at controlling the siege of Riverrun.
Blackfish agrees to a parley with Jaime, and they meet on the draw bridge. They greet each other not by titles but by their nicknames Kingslayer and Blackfish. Where one is derogatory, the other is welcomed. Blackfish assumes that Jaime is here to uphold his promise to his niece to deliver Sansa and Arya, but he doesn’t see them anywhere. Of course, he knows that’s not why Jaime is there. But it presents an interesting power dynamic where he is clearly asserting his control and Jaime’s incompetence and untrustworthiness. Blackfish asks if he’d like to resume his captivity, then, since he didn’t deliver the girls. Jaime turns to business, telling Blackfish that he’s trespassing on Frey property. Jaime orders Blackfish to surrender or he’ll kill Edmure, as Blackfish finishes. This is another power dynamic, the same used by Lyanna Mormont. When you talk over someone, you’re asserting authority over them. Blackfish says that Edmure is marked for death either way, so Jaime might as well kill him. Jaime tries to reason with him that hundreds will die if they’re forced to storm the castle. “Hundreds of mine, thousands of yours, if you can breach the walls.” Blackfish retorts. Jaime assures that they will and kill them all. However, if Blackfish surrenders, he’ll spare their lives on his honor, which is a joke to Blackfish. “Bargaining with oathbreakers is like building on quicksand.” Jaime counters that the war is over, but Blackfish disagrees, declaring that as long as he’s standing the war is not over. He was born in Riverrun, and he’s ready to die in it. Blackfish says they have provisions enough to hold out for a two-year siege. Jaime calls after a cool, retreating Blackfish, wondering why he even bothered treating with him. He says that the siege has been dull and that he just wanted to get the measure of him and isn’t impressed. Jaime pouts like a child that it didn’t go his way.
Margaery is expertly playing the devout and conservative queen, spending her time in the temple where the High Sparrow often spent his time and brought people for conversion. A nice juxtaposition is set up here as two communities are being built around the religion of the Seven: one in the Riverlands and one in King’s Landing. While one is more socially-driven and a necessary survival tactic, the other is purely political. The latter one is the way in which we often see religion used, unfortunately, especially if it’s a larger institution, which inherently gains power. A political religion never ends well for anybody, even if you’re the winner. The High Sparrow scolds Margaery for not sleeping with Tommen since her freedom was awarded. He tells her that it’s her duty to gods, king, and country to give the king a son-spawn. She claims that it’s hard to find the true path. So she’s allowed to have sex now? Religion is confusing, you guys. The High Sparrow admits that she’s come a long way and sneaks in a comment about hoping that Lady Olenna would follow suit. He not-so-subtly threatens Olenna, one in which Margaery aims to take care of in her own way. Olenna represents gluttonous sin, and Margaery represents the remorseful piety. She must teach Olenna, as Olenna taught her. It’s hard to get someone set in their beliefs to change them. Even if Margaery actually tried, it wouldn’t happen. Note Maragery’s simple apparel now and her relinquishment of her golden crown for a wooden one, which I really want. While beautiful in its craftsmanship, it’s simple.
Margaery immediately goes to Olenna, but she is only permitted to with Septa Unella keeping watch over the conversation, ensuring that Margaery is upholding her vows. Margaery must continue to earn her freedom and prove her loyalty to the Seven and the Faith Militant. Olenna tells Unella that she is no longer in the safety of the sept. If she told her men to beat her to a pulp, they would. Margaery gently tells her to knock it off after allowing her to finish her ramblings about killing Septa Unella (and I am lavishing it). Margaery points out that she marched against the gods, but Olenna sees it differently: They marched for Margaery. Another disagreement follows on Loras. Margaery says he must repent and return to Highgarden, renouncing his name and title. He never would be allowed to live otherwise, I’m sure. Olenna debates that he is the future of House Tyrell, the heir of Highgarden. He cannot be a mindless fanatic. Margaery counters with a carefully worded response, “As a free man.” Just like she is free. And she is using that freedom carefully to craft her own plans. Margaery sneaks a piece of paper into Olenna’s hands as she grips them, telling her emphatically that she must go home and leave this city at once to pray and do good deeds. Unella seems satisfied with this conversation. Margaery fights back tears as they embrace for goodbyes, and remains resolute, formal, and stoic as Unella beside her. Margaery suggests to Unella that they pray, while Olenna leaves the room. Margaery seems to be using the very thing the Faith Militant is using to rule as a tool for navigating the rough waters she's in and using that religious text as a way to end up on top and topple the High Sparrow. Olenna looks at the paper Margaery has given her: a rose. She smiles and breathes a sigh of relief, knowing she taught her granddaughter well and that she is still dedicated to House Tyrell.
One of my two very favorite parts of the episode belongs to the exchange between Olenna and Cersei, where Cersei tries to shame Olenna for leaving when Loras rots in a cell. Olenna perks up, declaring that this is all because of Cersei and her stupidity: Loras’s detainment, the High Sparrow’s rise to power, the collapse of their two mighty houses. Cersei admits that Olenna is correct, and Olenna can’t believe what she just heard. Cersei is hoping for them to finally unite against their common enemy. Olenna throws some more shade at Cersei. “I wonder if you’re the worst person I’ve ever met. After a certain age, it’s hard to recall. But the truly vile do stand out through the years. Do you remember the way you smirked at me when my grandson and granddaughter were dragged off to their cells? I do. I’ll never forget it.” Cersei swallows her pride and insists on a treaty between them. This has to be the hardest thing for her, with Olenna being such a bitter enemy for so long. Nobody ruffles her feathers like the Tyrells. It takes a lot for her to muster up the courage to ask Olenna for an actual alliance. Perhaps Olenna would have considered it, but Margaery is in control of the plans now. She’s going to let her carry on with it and let Cersei fight the Sparrow herself and lose. Cersei once again tries to shame Olenna by saying that she’d never leave the city and leave her son. Olenna can’t fathom why because she has no support anymore. No family around, other than her uncle Kevan who supports the King as his Hand. Everyone hates her. She’s surrounded by enemies. Is she going to cut everyone down herself? “You’ve lost, Cersei, and it’s the only joy I can find in this misery.” Cersei has no response because indeed Olenna is correct. And for some reason, I can’t fathom why Cersei didn’t have the Mountain smash Olenna like an accordion. But I’m glad she didn’t because Westeros needs more of Lady Olenna Tyrell.
Jon, Sansa, and Davos plea to the Wildlings for help. Tormund Giantsbane was supportive in the Wildlings’ agreement. Jon warns that once the Boltons come and defeat Jon, they’ll come for the Wildlings afterwards. No matter what, they’ll be forced into the fray. They all might as well team up. Jon saved them all. Tormund says that he died for them and that if they don’t die for him, then they are cowards. That right there is what the Wildlings don’t want to be known as: cowards. This is the clenching moment that persuades the Wildlings. Wun Wun the Giant is first to pledge allegiance. The other Wildlings follow.
At Bear Island (like a colder version of Rivendell), Sansa, Jon, and Davos visit Lady Lyanna Mormont, and I can’t contain my excitement as a House Mormont fan. Lyanna is cold to them, courteously saying, “Welcome to Bear Island,” followed by an awkward pause. Thus, the beginning of a wonderful scene happens. Sansa tries to butter her up, by noting that she was named after her aunt Lyanna, known for her great beauty. Sansa assures that Lyanna will be, as well, but Lyanna outright says that’s a lie. Her mother was ugly, and she’ll look just like her. However, her mother was a great warrior and died fighting for Robb. To note, in the books, Maege did not die at the Red Wedding. She was sent just before with a small fleet to deliver a note to Jon Snow that if anything happened to him, he officially declared Jon Lord of Winterfell and King in the North, officially making him a Stark and not a bastard Snow. The Mormonts also gave into Stannis in the books, supplying them with an army, likely because they had no choice with Stannis and the Greyjoys surrounding them. That all is skipped here (as well as Theon and Asha’s/Yara’s role in that battle). Another awkward silence ensues. With Sansa failing, talking to Lady Lyanna as if she were just a child, Jon tries this time, explain that he served under her uncle, who was Lord Commander at the Wall. Lyanna, cutting him off, is done with the small talk and wants to know why they’re here. Jon mentions the letter she sent Stannis that said, “Bear Island knows no king but the King in the North, whose name is Stark,” she finishes for Jon, once more cutting him off. She means business! Jon explains, “Robb is gone. But House Stark is not. And it needs your support now.” Lyanna seeks her maester’s advice and responds that he is a Snow and Sansa is a Bolton… or Lannister. Sansa takes offense and rebuttals that she did what she had to do to survive. Jon expounds that Ramsay Bolton can’t hold Winterfell. He holds Rickon prisoner as well. Jon tries to get her “to understand—” But she cuts him off again, saying that she is responsible for Bear Island and its people, so why should she “sacrifice one more Mormont life for some else’s war?” Jon and Sansa look at each other dumbfounded. Clearly, they did not anticipate such hostility from Lyanna.
Davos gives it a try, relating to Lyanna on another level. She tries to consult her master on what the hell the Seaworth house is. He suggests she shouldn’t bother; it’s new. Lyanna entertains this man by giving him a chance to speak as to why he understands how she feels. He figures she’d never thought she’d be responsible for this many lives at such a young age. He never thought he’d be in his position, either, as a crabber’s son, a smuggler, and now addressing a lady of a great house in wartime. He explains that he’s here because this isn’t someone else’s war. “It’s our war.” He goes onto say that Lord Commander Jeor Mormont chose Jon as his successor because he knew that Jon had the courage to do what was right, even if he was to die for it. He explained that both Jeor and Jon knew that the battle was not between houses but between the living and the dead, and the dead are coming. This is news to Lyanna, who asks Jon for verification. He verifies that Jeor fought them and more recently Jon himself. “We both lost,” Jon submits with a hung head. Lyanna then seems to show some sort of emotion, a combination of grief, sympathy, and concern. Davos continues to tell her that as long as the Boltons hold Winterfell, the North is divided, and it must not be divided in an effort to fight the White Walkers. The Maester leans in, but Lyanna doesn’t want his advice. She makes the clear choice without him. Lyanna agrees to give them men, and Jon asks how many. She consults with either her Hand or her military advisor and responds with a solid 62. To that, the Stark team is a little dumbfounded. They went through all this trouble to entertain a little girl for 62 men. Lyanna insists that these 62 men are worth ten times their number as fighters. They are a small house and can’t afford to offer more. Davos closes: “If they’re half as ferocious as their lady, the Boltons are doomed,” satisfying Lyanna. The audience then gives a collective, “YAS, QUEEN!”
Lyanna’s dynamic here with Jon and Sansa is telling of the Bear Island culture. Lyanna allows Sansa to speak and finish her words. However, she cuts Jon off at every possible moment. Here, the women rule and have done so for centuries. They had to while the men were at war and learned to defend themselves. They, too, became warriors. It’s actually brilliant writing here in this one scene to give the entire culture of a people, much like a short story might do with a few words or a description of a person.
At Deepwood Motte, Team Stark visits Lord Robett Glover, who already greets them with a hard no. With the help of the Boltons, they just took back their castle from the Greyjoys, which I’m sure was no cause of Ramsay’s. Lord Glover says he could be skinned for even talking to this lot. Glover asks what other Northern houses pledged to fight with them. Jon can only respond with House Mormont and no more. But Glover is fishing for the answer that Jon finally gives him: the Wildlings. This is a deal breaker for them. Glover tells Jon he only received him out of respect for Ned Stark, but requests them to leave. Glover begins to leave, but Sansa boldly calls out in the spirit of her mother, “I would remind you that House Glover is sworn to House Stark, sworn to answer when called upon.” Glover descends the stairs to look her in the eye, and Jon closes his. Glover gives Sansa some realness, though. He agreed that they served House Stark, wept when Ned was killed, and they and loyally followed Robb into battle. While the Greyjoys attacked their castle, Robb was off “taking up with a foreign whore.” And they all paid for Robb’s stupidity. As far as Glover’s concerned, House Stark is dead. Not even Davos could salvage this with a speech about the White Walkers, which totally should have been said. The Stark name has been tainted, even in the North, and the plays Arya/Mercy watched are proof of the tinted name.
In a crook of land surrounded by mountains with access to fresh water that Stannis used on his last campaign, Jon insists that they ride for Winterfell now instead of waiting to amass more people from small houses. Davos advises against it. He’s been a commander in many battles at this point. Just as Davos says that they still have a chance if they’re careful and smart, a fight breaks out between a Wildling and a Northerner. Lyanna is along with her men in the camp, as any warrior-king does. Sansa sees their raven and gets an idea. She writes to an unknown person, which she finds great struggle in doing, presumably for support. I have no idea if that support lies with Petyr Baelish or with Cersei because she’d have a tough time with either. Petyr would be the smarter choice, but it’s hard to trust him. She might appeal to the Crown because the Boltons turned against them, and she might offer the information that Ramsay killed his father. Can King’s Landing send troops there? Whose are they? They’ve already sent the Lannister army to Riverrun. Who is left? Will they be forced to go North instead with Brienne, and possibly unite with the Tullys over this? Could it be a letter to Highgarden? Margaery and Olenna took a shine to Sansa. The letter includes the words “to fulfill your”, assuming the word after is duty, so it might be to Jaime, or it might be to Littlefinger, who swore to protect her.
On their way to Mereen, Yara’s Ironborn stop at Volantis for a visit to the whore house that Tyrion also visited. She enjoys the company of a topless woman, and Theon enjoys nothing, not even a drink. Yara can’t take her sulking brother, so with a few kisses on the whore’s breast tells her to scram. “Nothing on the Iron Islands has an ass like that.” Theon doesn’t care of the jokes Yara is throwing about his eunuch status. She apologizes and says she would never hurt him. Theon is worried that Euron is going to catch up to them and kill them. Yara doesn’t seem to be too worried about that, especially right now. Yara orders him to drink, though he doesn’t want to. She requires him to chug the entire cup of ale. She tells him that she needs the real Theon to come back. This sniveling sack of potatoes is worthless. He escaped and is never going back to the Boltons. He no longer has to worry about being Reek again. They’ll get his revenge. She gets in his face to bluntly tell him, “Listen to me: If you’re so broken that there’s no coming back, take a knife and cut your wrists. End it.” It’s an ultimatum that Yara requires of him. Unbreak yourself or end your misery because this is no way to live. Theon didn’t survive all that crap just to end his own life. Like the Hound, he has work to do. It’s enough to get him unbroken and motivated in her quest to strike a deal with Daenerys and take back the Iron Islands and get revenge on the Boltons. This, of course, isn’t the way psychology works at all. You don’t just tell someone to get over their shit and they do. It’s either a writing shortcut because the show is fast-pacing the hell out of the storylines or an Ironborn way of life.
Arya seeks passage home and throws a sack of coins to a captain. He asks where he stole it. She knows he doesn’t care, as long as he gets the money. His ship sails in two days. She throws him another bag and requests a cabin and that they leave at dawn. She leaves, smugly smiling, taking her money with her. On a bridge, she looks over the canal to see the giant statue overlooking the sea with his broken sword. Waif approaches Arya as an old lady and slashes at her then stabs her in the stomach twice, twisting the last one. She pulls off her mask. Due to the magic of filming mistakes, the knife is in the first wound instead of the second. Arya pushes her off and spins off the bridge into the canal. Waif watches her disappear under the water in a pool of blood. Arya climbs out of the water, bleeding all over the steps and leaving a trace of blood as she walks through the market, getting stares from everyone. I finally care about Arya’s storyline, and this happens. It actually makes it more interesting. She couldn’t leave without a struggle, right?
I couldn’t believe how much this episode was catering to me in its inclusion of four of my very characters: Asha/Yara, Olenna, Sansa, and Lyanna. This episode dealt with themes of religion’s impact in society, going home, allegiances, and dealing with traumatic experiences. How can we reconcile our present with what has happened to us? How can we go forward—unbent, unbowed, and unbroken?