Spoiler Alert: Please do not read further if you have not watched Game of Thrones, Season 6, Episode 7 yet.
Last week, I had said that Game of Thrones seemed to be taking a breather; the show-runners are continuing with their 'Frankie Say Relax' mode of storytelling even in the 7th episode, The Broken Man. It's a little worrying, especially when there are only three more weeks to build up to a crescendo. Are you reading this, Weiss and Benioff?
Last week's prediction that Queen Margaery's faith in the Church of the Seven was an ersatz is now true.
She is dressed in better clothes and most importantly, she has been given her beloved crown back. I think this was the first signal by the show-runners that she is back and she's at least ornamentally and symbolically gotten back what she was yearning for. And, it's definitely not divine deliverance that she is seeking.
My favourite old-lady of Westeros, Lady Olenna also realises that her granddaughter might not be "lost" after all, as Margaery secretly hands her a sketch of the rose (Tyrell House sigil), imploring her to leave King's Landing — the High Sparrow made a veiled threat that she Olenna might be taught a lesson otherwise.
Sidebar: Lady Olenna dishes out the best insults ever. She doesn't disappoint one bit in this episode as she tells Cersei off:
Loras rots in cell because of you. The High Sparrow rules this city because of you. Our two ancient Houses face collapse because of you and your stupidity (emphasis).
In Braavos, Arya Stark walks around the market with an insolent gait, despite that fact that the House of Black and White, especially the Waif are looking to murder her. She books a passage to Westeros only to be stabbed in the gut multiple times by the Waif who catches her off-guard disguised as an old lady.
Arya pretends to die by jumping into the sea, resurfacing minutes later — scared and bloody.
She walks through the market again, with her innards spilling out, unable to ask for help, because really, who can she trust? She has made an enemy of the face-changing assassins.
There was an interesting contrast to her brazen and bold walk through the market in the beginning to her walking through the same market looking at everyone with suspicion.
Arya cannot trust anybody but herself. It's going to be a miserable and pathetic future ahead of her.
Sidebar: Come on, Arya! They taught you better. Don't be cheeky and walk around the city like you're not in trouble. You made it so easy for the Waif to kill you. And, if Arya does end up dead, it would signal an extraordinarily vacuous form of storytelling. A girl must die, but that's not to happen this way. Capisce?
But, the story this time was not about these arcs at all, as the title suggests, it was about The Broken Man.
In Episode 4, I wrote about the "women of steel" who were probably going to be important contenders to the Iron Throne, this episode is about the men of steel. In a way, all of them — Jon Snow, Sandor Cleagane, Jamie Lannister and Theon Greyjoy — are making their comeback, proving their relevance and sometimes, even questioning it.
The episode opened with Cleagane and there was something wrong with pleasant Scottish music in the background, and the visuals of the women and men going about their work cheerfully — had the underpinnings of a socialist utopia — and that was what it was — unattainable utopia, especially in the twisted world of Game of Thrones.
Cleagane is saved by an old, peace-loving man (read as Hippie folk of Game of Thrones) of the septon — but this old man is more of an agnostic than a believer. He wants to make the world a better place, less violent and gentle — there is a long drawn speech aimed at Cleagane, but one that conveniently addresses his audience, where he says that it is never too late to take the path of non-violence. And in this 'Murderers, Sinners Anonymous' type session, Cleagane appears almost convinced but the Brotherhood Without Banners make a rude interruption, later killing these hippie-peace-lovers. And, Cleagane is not happy, he picks up the axe and we know now that The Hound is back.
Cleagane, with his scarred face, has had both physical and emotional upset in his life — Cleagane was damaged goods, he feared fire because of the trauma caused to him as a child and he did terrible things as an adult to fulfill the demands of an evil authority in King's Landing. It's almost as if he was a symbol and a metaphor for the rotting carcass that is Westeros. Cleagane was also resurrected from almost-death and just as he finds his share of zen and calm, it is brutally taken away from him through the very things he was running away from — weapons, rage and violence. This turmoil has renewed a sense of purpose in Cleagane, he is meant to be a warrior, not someone who fells wood.
Jon Snow is coming to terms with his status as a bastard — it seems that such a status matters a great deal to the people he's seeking help from. And the fact that he has an army of Wildlings or the Free Folk who are not accepted by those south of the wall at all. Jon also appears to be coming to terms with his own resurrection, he doesn't know what to make of it, what to do, where to stand. Of course, Sansa and Ser Davos are giving him all the support they can, but the internal anguish he feels is obvious.
Yara and Theon share a tender moment as she tells him to either be a broken man and slit his wrists — she won't judge him for it. But, if he wants to be with her and make a difference, he needs to stop cowering and thinking about the past. Theon's body-language up until now, still had the remnants of all the horrific things that Ramsay did to him, but in that moment, you can see that there is a resurgence of energy within Theon. He is unwilling to accept himself as broken.
Jaime Lannister reaches the Riverrun Castle along with Bronn (the wonderfully hilarious sidekick) and decides to confront Blackfish who greets Jaime as 'The Kingslayer'. Jaime on the field is confident, even though he has only one good hand — it is almost as if war is what he is meant for. There's something far more noble about Jamie when he is on the field, with his army and a purpose. He tells Blackfish to surrender, who tells Jamie that he would rather die fighting than surrender; Blackfish is adamant about keeping the Castle not because of its merits, but for sentiment. Blackfish tells Jaime he wanted to see him in person and then says that he is "disappointed". And that is what Jamie has been — disappointing — ever since he went back to King's Landing. Cersei exerts an inexplicable, yet dangerously powerful influence over him. Away from her, he is different. And it is only on the field that his true mettle can shine.
Worn out, weathered and broken in so many ways, these men of Westeros — Jon, Sandor, Jaime and Theon — are back in places where they do their best work, on the field, in war, on the run and seeking vengeance. They are warriors not meant to be seated on a throne or be advisers to a lord or a king. It is in battle that they will display their true valour.