Game of Thrones just can’t let sleeping dogs lie. (Sorry, that’s the only dog pun in this post, promise.) “The Broken Man” drew serious interest thanks in no small part to the reintroduction of the Hound to the show, with some gnarly new face makeup and a new purpose in life. The Hound and Ian McSweareng— uh, Ian McShane’s Brother Ray dominated the conversation this week. No, really: DOMINATED.
The endless flow of words about The Hound starts with Alyssa Rosenberg at The Washington Post, who found Sandor’s pastoral lifestyle and attempt to regain some spirituality touching.
"…for Sandor, inaction itself is a kind of sin. It will be interesting to see, however, how his return to the world interacts with the way “Game of Thrones” critiques high fantasy tropes, in as much as it still does. A vision of knighthood restored by a man who didn’t look the part, and who had no desire to live up to the moral code that knights swore to, even as they flouted it, is still a vision of a functional knighthood. The darkest version of “Game of Thrones” is one in which knighthood is a rank lie, and men like Ramsay Bolton win the Iron Throne because they have the force of will and cruelty to claim it."
Laura Bogart at Salon explored a similar thematic field, discussing how Thrones often presents portrayals of resilience:
"When the Hound comes upon the preacher’s hanged corpse dangling in the center of the scaffold, that pale skeleton of a temple, a home, he loses whatever hope he may have had for a quiet life, where he didn’t have to be that man who’s been broken down[…]This broken man is assembling himself all over again, and even if the glue holding him together is hate, his walk has become certain and strong—and the axe he lifts up will be raised again to bring about a cold catharsis of oblivion."
Other reviewers pointed out the stark contrast between the pastoral Hound scenes and the more gritty and violent world of the show. Alan Sepinwall at HitFix:
"Game of Thrones is often at its most interesting when it’s playing with our sympathies and sense of morality like that — when it wants us to accept that the best way of dealing with a horrible world is to be horrible yourself[…]even if the show wants us to admire Ray’s pacifism, it also acknowledges that it’s out of place in this nasty, cruel world. We don’t want our heroes to become more like the villains, but the villains keep winning because they’re always prepared to do worse than their opponents will."
"Through distinctive music and unusually bright and vivid cinematography, Sandor’s sanctuary of sorts is almost disarmingly pastoral. This is, in part, to help contribute to the shock of the cold open, which is exceedingly rare for the show. It also serves to contrast the tragic ending, creating a sort of “pastoral elegy” in the poetic tradition.[…]As with last week’s visit to Horn Hill and the episode’s trip to Bear Island, Sandor’s exile serves to show us a corner of Westeros that has lived—but cannot continue to live—outside of this story."
"…his storyline in this episode, with the communal support of a killer-turned-foolish-pacifist and his followers? Not the best. It felt sort of clichéd, actually, and very un-Game of Thrones, in a way.[…]Of all the people to find the Hound, it was a septon – Ian McShane’s Brother Ray – who made himself and his flock an easy target and then refused to defend himself? Of course The Hound’s going to dish out some violence after that. It very much felt ripped from a 1980s action movie. Except for the part where we didn’t get to see Sandor dish out any vengeance just yet.[…]McShane was great, but his character was too frustratingly foolish to buy into. I get that he wanted to leave certain horrors behind, but if he knows men might be coming back to kill them all and doesn’t do anything about it, he kind of deserved what he got."
The Hound’s return took up the majority of the thematic conversation this week. There was plenty of talk about the Sansa/Jon/Davos plot (in particular some love for Lyanna Mormont, who was called a badass female by at least two reviewers and received similar accolades elsewhere), the Arya plot, and the King’s Landing plot, but all of it mostly focused on how the pieces are moving. Yes: Margaery is scheming again, she has not gone full-bore religious zealot. Yes: the High Sparrow is a creep who just told the Queen of Westeros that sexual desire is not necessary for baby-making. (Bless Price Peterson at Yahoo! for that amazing image/caption combo.) Yes: Arya got stabbed’d and was maybe not the smartest person in the world to allow a stranger to approach her when she was on the run from face-stealing assassins. Yes: the letter Sansa wrote is probably to Littlefinger and/or the Vale and she’s not telling Jon about it for some reason.
Surprisingly, the other plot that drew interest was the one-scene check-in with Theon and Yara, who have successfully made it to Volantis. (OK, it’s not that big a surprise—the title of the episode is “The Broken Man” after all, and there’s no one more broken than Theon right now.) Laura Hudson at Wired:
"The Ironborn often feel like a cultural analogue for traditional masculinity, with all the attendant stoicism, machismo and contempt for the “weakness” of human feeling. What Yara’s really saying is that it’s time for Theon to “man up” and just get over his horrific abuse, or at least pretend that it never happened.[…]Like many people, she understands trauma as a binary thing: a window is either broken or not broken. But to be traumatized is often to be quantum, to live forever in two places at once: the moment when it happened and the moment where you are."
"Theon is all angst and jangled nerve; his PTSD-induced panic at a whorehouse is expertly conveyed by director Mark Mylod’s decision to frame him in a claustrophobic close-up, and by Alfie Allen’s understated skittishness. We see that he is trying, so hard, to be the Iron Born his sister knew[…]The truth is that she is sitting across from the real Theon Greyjoy, the wreck who is left after trauma—who may pick up his sword again, but will never, ever be made whole, even if he does get the justice of seeing Ramsay’s head on a spike. The real Theon Greyjoy is the living embodiment of all the violence he’s doled out, and all the violence he’s survived."
These two perspectives stated what underlined a lot of the reviews this week—Nerdist’s Alicia Lutes mentions the theme of “duality” which is rather resonant given the discussions about trauma from both Lauras here—with regards to breaking and rebuilding. Jeremy Egner at The New York Times, for example, says, “The return of the Hound, revealed in a rare cold open, provided the spine of an episode that was largely about alliances productive and wearying, newly forged and torn asunder,” neatly tying the Hound’s return with the political maneuverings of the rest of the characters in the episode.
So while the speech from which the episode’s title is derived does not actually appear in the episode, “The Broken Man” generated as much discussion as the Cleganebowl theory, to which it appears to lend some credence….