No one said redemption was easy. In “The Broken Man,” Game of Thrones shows us people can change, but the road is difficult and, in some cases, lethal. Who is the broken man? The bigger question would be who isn’t broken? And amongst those broken, how many have found a way to re-create themselves? In “The Broken Man” battle lines are being drawn amongst a chessboard of evolving characters, as Season 6 of Game of Thrones heads towards its final three episodes.
As it sets up the confrontations to come, “The Broken Man” isn’t full of action and suspense. Well, maybe a little suspense, with the Stark recruiting campaign and a little action for Yara Greyjoy. What stands out in “The Broken Man” is the well-written and well-acted dialogue. We see intriguing conversations between Sandor Clegane and Brother Ray, The High Sparrow and Margaery Tyrell, Olenna Tyrell and Cersei Lannister, Jon Snow and the Free Folk, and—the high point of the episode—between Lady Lyanna Mormont and Davos Seaworth. The writers and directors of Game of Thrones know how to showcase their talented cast.
As well as having great moments between characters, we were given scenes of stunning landscapes, some of which we’d never seen before. There were some beautiful scenes of the Riverlands, Riverrun, and Bear Island; expanded cityscapes in Braavos and Volantis; and two different battle encampments. Game of Thrones may only give us 10 episodes a year, but what they create is spectacular. “The Broken Man” is a terrific episode to rewatch simply to drink in the richness of the scenes.
Sandor Clegane and Brother Ray
We learn that Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann) is still alive when “The Broken Man” opens. Since rejecting the role of Joffrey’s dog at the Battle of Blackwater, Sandor Clegane has tried to find his way in the world where he could independently make moral decisions. While kidnapping Arya he seemed to save a part of himself in the process. After being terribly wounded he wanted to die, but Arya refused his request, leaving him to be found practically dead by Brother Ray (Ian McShane). Ray tells him, “The Gods aren’t done with you yet.”
Brother Ray is a man The Hound can relate to—a killer who was willing to follow any order no matter how terrible, who eventually turned away from that path. Ray offers hope, pointing out, “It’s never too late to stop robbing people, to stop killing people, to start helping people. It’s never too late to come back.”
Yet Sandor Clegane isn’t Brother Ray—a man so committed to his transformation that he won’t consider returning to the path of violence or introducing others to it, even for self-defense. When Brother Ray explains, “Violence is a disease. You don’t cure a disease by spreading it to more people,” Sandor Clegane responds, “You don’t cure it by dying either.” When Sandor Clegane finds Brother Ray hanging dead, he picks up an axe and decides to take his own path. Game of Thrones doesn’t preach a message of peace, instead reminding us that this is a cruel and terrible world. (Just in case we didn’t learn that lesson back in Season 1 when Ned Stark was killed.)
Theon Greyjoy and Yara Greyjoy
Though the title of the episode refers to the plight of Sandor Clegane and the redemption of Brother Ray, there are quite a few broken characters on Game of Thrones. Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) has been broken by Ramsay Bolton, and even though Theon escaped he’s still psychologically captive. Alfie Allen plays this damaged character with great skill. But Yara (Gemma Whelan) is tired of watching her brother cower like a beaten dog. Us too. She tells him she needs the real Theon Greyjoy: “If you’re so broken that there’s no coming back, take a knife and cut your wrists. End it. But if you’re staying, I need you.” She asks if he’s with her, and he looks her in the eyes and nods. Perhaps the broken can be healed with the right combination of penance and tough love.
The High Sparrow and Queen Margaery Tyrell
By coming out the other side of his own redemption story, one involving shoes and largess, the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) has become a breaker of men. Though actually, he’s been focusing most of his efforts on breaking women. Loras Tyrell remains imprisoned, but the High Sparrow seems to have used Loras’s incarceration to manipulate the various queens remaining on the chessboard. Jaime is sent off to lead the Lannister army, without being imprisoned in the High Sept. Mace Tyrell and Kevan Lannister seem to face no retribution for their role in the confrontation with the Faith Militant; instead the High Sparrow focuses his threats on Lady Olenna Tyrell. The impending danger to her grandmother reveals that Queen Margaery (Natalie Dormer) has not fallen under the spell of the High Sparrow, but has plans to save her House.
We aren’t fans of the current King’s Landing storyline because we tired of the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant narrative some time ago. Yet “The Broken Man” proves to be an exception due to the phenomenal scenes between Margaery, Olenna, and Cersei Lannister. Margaery, played so well by Natalie Dormer, has always been fascinating to watch. The confirmation that she continues to play the role of manipulator, not the manipulated, comes as a relief. Even as the High Sparrow tells her to close her eyes and think of the Seven Kingdoms when it comes to bedding King Tommen, we suspect she’s trying to sell the High Sparrow on her own penitent transformation. Seeing Queen Margaery hand her grandmother the paper with the drawing of their House sigil, affirms that every action Margaery takes appears to be motivated by a larger plan.
Olenna Tyrell and Cersei Lannister
In King’s Landing the women have been active plotting and planning. Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) assassinated Cersei Lannister’s son Joffrey Baratheon, while Cersei (Lena Headey) invited the High Sparrow into the High Sept in order to go after Olenna’s grandchildren Margaery and Loras. Is Cersei is still technically engaged to Loras Tyrell?
Cersei and Olenna have a powerhouse scene together, played perfectly by Lena Headey and Diana Rigg, in which Cersei acknowledges she made a mistake aligning with the High Sparrow and Olenna calls her the worst person she’s ever met. It’s a pretty great scene between these two powerful women. Olenna has taken her granddaughter’s warning and is leaving King’s Landing. Cersei is alone and still in danger, with no allies in sight, yet she has no intention to leave her only surviving child, Tommen.
Jaimie Lannister and the Blackfish
With the Freys doing such a poor job trying to get the Blackfish to surrender, Jaime Lannister brings the Lannister army to Riverrun. Jaime brings Bronn with him, bringing much needed comic relief into “The Broken Man.” When Jaime promises to make Bronn the right hand that he lost, Bronn makes it clear he’s heard enough about how the Lannisters always keep their promises. It seems like the words of House Lannister may have died along with patriarch Tywin.
The Blackfish isn’t moved by the Freys’ threats to kill his nephew Edmure Tully, and Jaime takes over the siege. When Jaime tells the Blackfish that the war is over, Lord Tully responds, “As long as I’m standing, the war is not over. This is my home. I was born in this castle and I’m ready to die in it. So you can either attack or try to starve us out. We have enough provisions for two years. Do you have two years, Kingslayer?” It turns out that the Blackfish only treatied with Jaime because sieges are dull and he wanted to get the measure of the Kingslayer. Well, it certainly gave us the measure of the Blackfish, who managed to escape from the Red Wedding, take back Riverrun from the Freys, and now resists a siege led by Jaime Lannister.
Arya and the Waif
We only have a few moments with Arya, but in that brief time Arya books passage to Westeros, is stabbed by the Waif, and stumbles through Braavos bleeding. We can’t imagine that Arya will die, so it seems like something else is at work here.
Jon Snow and the Free Folk
To fight the Boltons, the Starks must raise an army. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is effective trying to convince the Free Folk, who are indebted to him already, but it’s not so easy with the highly politicized Houses of Westeros. As Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) tells him, “We’re not clever like you Southerners. When we say we’ll do something, we do it.”
Davos Seaworth and Lyanna Mormont
Whereas neither Jon nor Sansa are able to convince Lady Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) to join the Stark fight, it’s Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) who knows how to speak to her interests. He tells Lyanna, “What Jeor Mormont and Jon Snow understood is that the real war isn’t between a few squabbling houses. It’s between the living and the dead. And make no mistake, my Lady; the dead are coming.” When she offers her 62 fighting men, Jon stumbles in his response, but Davos tells her, “If they’re half as ferocious as their Lady, the Boltons are doomed.” We’re reminded why Davos is so easy to root for. Later, at the encampment where they prepare to attack Winterfell, Lady Lyanna Mormont stands among the fighters, intending to lead her men into battle. Lyanna Mormont as impressive a leader as Bella Ramsey is an actor.
Sansa Stark and Robert Glover
Despite enlisting the help of House Mormont, House Hornwood, and House Mazin, the Starks fail to gain the support of House Glover. Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) shows some of her haughty former self when she reminds Robert Glover (Tim McInnerny) that his house is sworn to answer when called upon by House Stark. Despite the political lessons she has learned and the change she has experienced, her prideful arrogance still asserts itself. Later, when talking to Jon, she dismisses the contribution of Davos, who has more political and battlefield experience than all of the remaining Stark children combined.
In moments like these, and when she keeps secrets from Jon, we wonder where the series is going with Sansa. We’re eager to see her transform more fully into a strong, independent, and wise woman, but Game of Thrones often takes two steps forward and then one step back with her character. Arya may be the vengeful sister, but we’re hopeful that Sansa Stark will exact some revenge on the villainous Ramsay Bolton before the season is over. Let’s hope the series doesn’t let us down with Sansa’s character development once more.
“The Broken Man” Review
Seeing the Starks have to work for what we hope will be a victory over the Boltons creates interesting tensions. The Starks must deal with the aftermath of their brother Robb’s choices. When personal feelings have gotten in the way of political decisions, it’s led to Robert’s Rebellion and the War of the Five Kings. The kidnapping of Lyanna Stark when she was promised to Robert Baratheon started the rebellion, while it was Cersei’s betrayal of Robert that led to the War of the Five Kings. The North declared Robb Stark King of the North and had military success against the Lannisters. Yet it was Robb going back on his promise to Walder Frey, as well as Catelyn Stark’s decision to free Jaime Lannister to save her daughters, that led to the fall of House Stark.
Arya and Cersei are also facing the consequences of their actions. Both of these women pretended to change, and in Arya’s case maybe even tried to, but in the end they remain true to who they are. Brother Ray maybe able to transform into a new version of himself, but most cannot sustain, or even begin, such a change. We still have hope for Sandor Clegane and Theon Greyjoy because, for better or for worse, they have proven more malleable than most.
The most impressive of those who have faced being broken is Margaery Tyrell. Outwardly she is completely transformed, seemingly able to deceive master manipulator the High Sparrow, while inwardly she remains true to herself and her family. As a woman who has managed to marry three kings, Margaery is clearly made of sterner stuff than most.
“The Broken Man” didn’t reveal anything new about the characters we already know (except that Sandor Clegane was still alive), but it deepened our understanding of them. Excellent acting, good writing, and beautiful settings made this a strong episode of Game of Thrones.