Game of Thrones “The Broken Man”—Thematic Analysis


After five episodes where the production punched us in the face repeatedly, we’ve now had a reprieve to catch our collective breath. This is the second episode without a face punch. Instead, it allowed us to recover from our wounds while we watched other broken characters recover from theirs.

"Brother Ray: “It’s never too late to come back.”"

Let’s start from the top. As we learn in the opening minute of the episode, the Hound is back. The show not only did not waste time dilly-dallying over this: it also brought him back in largely the same context as the books. This may seem a little strange, as tonight’s scenes were nothing like what happens in the book. But since the production is not tied to having a POV character on hand to show what is happening in a given corner of the world, there was no need to replicate Brienne and Pod passing through on their way to the Riverlands. After all, in the books, they don’t recognize him anyway—Brienne merely notes a hooded disciple. The reader recognizes the clues. So why shoehorn her in if she’s not necessary? Like Euron killing Balon earlier this season, the show dispenses with suspicions and large circular hints. The Hound is here, unhooded, under the care of “Brother Ray” (what, was the name Septon Meribald under copyright?)

But by cutting any connection to Brienne as she travels south towards Riverrun, or the larger ongoing story, the story of “the Hound’s Return” played a bit like a “story within the story,” if you will. In the books the community is on an island. Here they are an island in the middle of the larger ongoing story, a weirdly springlike world with green grass and quiet calm people, seemingly untouched by war or the changing of the seasons. In a way, it felt like the “play within a play” from Braavos, complete with big name stunt casting, mostly done “because we can.” Even the Brotherhood Without Banners passing through did not connect the story to the outer world, because it’s been so long since we’ve seen them. (For those hoping the Brotherhood would be under the guidance of a certain lady, we saw no evidence of that this week.)

"Brother Ray: “There’s a reason you’re still here.”The Hound: “Aye, there’s a reason. I’m a big f***** and I’m tough to kill.”"

At any rate, The Hound lives. And we can assume that after Brienne and Pod passed on in the novels that something similar happened to the commune, and all those who the Hound now counted as his community were murdered, part of the “punishment” we saw him tell Brother Ray he was waiting for the gods to lay upon him for his sins. And with that, the broken man picked up the pieces, and his axe, and went to get on with his mission.

Theon is another character who has spent seasons being broken to pieces. Yara doesn’t need a broken shadow of a man, though. She needs her brother, and she needs him to find himself again, even if she has to order him to drink all the ale in Volantis. (Also? New drinking game. Every time Yara says you drink, you drink!) I had thought that Theon, as Yara’s adviser, would be the one to suggest heading to Meereen and providing Dany with the ships they have no idea she needs so badly. But sadly he’s still too broken for such things. Instead, she came up with the idea herself. Quite convenient, that.

So after slapping a few butts, Yara went to get laid off screen. (I do believe that is our first outright lesbian character, yes?) And with that, the broken man picked up the pieces, and his ale, and went to get on with his mission.

"Theon: “If I got justice my burned body would hang over the gates of Winterfell.”"

We skipped over Jon Snow and Sansa Stark last week, but when we return to them, it turns out that, with a few exceptions, their plan to get the North back together isn’t going too well. (Too bad Melisandre wasn’t with them to say, “We’re on a mission from god.”) Sansa found herself shamed for her string of marriages and last names, and Jon for his only surname. But what was striking is that, in the end, it was Robb Stark who seems to have really sealed the deal when it came to their inability to get men to follow the name of Stark. The failures of Robb back in Season 3, the ones that brought about the fall of his house in the first place, were like ghosts following Jon, Sansa, and Davos wherever they went. His marriage to Talisa, his misplaced trust in Theon, and above all, his failure to win the war weighed heavy on our crew as they begged for someone, anyone, to join their cause. Some came. ( I expect bumper stickers reading “LADY MORMONT 2016”!) Most didn’t. And though Tormund did a great job of securing the wildlings, that worked against the larger goal by ensuring that all those racial prejudices we saw on display at the Tarly household come out in full force.

Jon will go to war anyway, with the army he has, not the one he wishes he had. (Also, it’s bad that they’re at the same camp where Stannis burned Shireen at the stake in, isn’t it? Davos is going to find something and figure it out, mark my words, and at a time when they can ill afford any more inter-camp dissension.) But Sansa is still playing the game for all she’s worth, and is undeterred. Jon may say it’s hopeless, but she clearly thinks she must have an ace of some sort up her sleeve, once again going behind his back to write a secret message. And with that, their broken clan picked up the pieces, and their last remaining supporters, and went to get on with their mission.

"Olenna: “Does it move or talk? I want to speak to you alone.”"

Down in King’s Landing, things are much as we left them last week. Cersei still hasn’t accepted that she’s lost, while Olenna is frustrated as hell that she has. We did get a glimpse into Margaery’s game with the High Sparrow, accepting instructions from him concerning the creation of an heir, while silently panicking at his threats against her grandmother. Speaking of which, Olenna, who began the episode railing against the fact that she seemed to have lost her granddaughter, was not only quieted by a single passed note from Margaery, but suddenly seems to have found renewed purpose. How she understood what this single drawing of the Tyrell rose meant is up for the viewer to decide. But apparently, to her, it spoke volumes. She recognized the warning: that the High Sparrow threatened her life and she should get out of town. And she recognized that Margaery is looking for allies, and that there is still one place that hates the Lannisters more than her family does. Meanwhile, Cersei continued to try and play Olenna for an ally, but the Queen of Thorns wasn’t having it. She kicked Cersei as hard as she could—as hard as the Blackfish kicked Jaime up at Riverrun.

How long will it take for the Lannister twins to understand they’re being moved around the board by others now, not calling the shots? Olenna’s advice to Cersei—to get out of town and retake control of her life— was solid, but Cersei was too foolish to hear it. Jaime was also told the truth of his situation by the Blackfish, and Jaime too refused to hear it, though one gets the sense that, of the two, Jaime is better situated to at least win the battle in front of him, even if he cannot see that he’s lost the war. And with that, the broken Lannisters picked up the pieces, and their last shreds of dignity, and went to get on with their mission.

"Jaime Lannister: “You have better instincts than any officer in the Lannister army.”Bronn: “That’s like saying I have a bigger cock than anyone in the Unsullied army.”"

But there was no one riding higher, or who had farther to fall this week, than Arya. She somehow thought she could escape her fate. A new change of clothes, a few bags of money, and a willing captain to take her back across the Narrow Sea and she would be fine. I’m confused by this, by the way. Why wouldn’t she travel on with the players? And what exactly does she think she’s going to do back in Westeros exactly? I suppose it doesn’t really matter—the answer is “The show needs to get her back to Westeros, so she’s booking passage. Bye Braavos, it’s been fun!”

But where the rest of the players tonight were already low, Arya’s belief that she was free when she was not put her in the position where she broke harder than anyone else. Within moments of her success in securing a ride home, she was brought all the way down with a knife to the gut—the sort of deadly wound that takes days to kill a man. I guess the Waif wasn’t so keen on the advice of Jaqen H’ghar to be gentle and quick. It was only a moment of her guard being down, but as we’ve seen from the endless training montages, that moment is all it takes to be knocked to the ground. Arya was injured, down for the count. But those hours and hours of training kicked in, and she rolled into the bay, hiding in the water in hopes the Waif would really think her dead.

"Brother Ray: “How many men did it take to cut you down?”The Hound: “Just one.”Brother Ray: “He must’ve been some kind of monster.”The Hound: “He was a woman.”"

For the moment, it seems to have worked. But Arya is bleeding openly through the streets on her way back to hiding. it won’t be long until the Waif is back to finish the job. After all, until Arya’s body is on the slab and her face hanging in the hall, the Waif will not rest, and Arya knows it. And with that, the broken girl picked up the pieces, and the last shreds of her abdomen, and went to get on with her mission.