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Monday, 6 June 2016

Game of Thrones S6E7: The Broken Man

Game of Thrones
Series 6, Episode 7
The Broken Man.

It feels like this series of Game of Thrones has barely started, and yet it's almost over, with just three more episodes after this one - one of which, we must presume, will be devoted predominantly or wholly to a battle at Winterfell, Blackwater style, meaning that no other plotline will get a look in. 

This week's episode has a pretty decent spread of storylines, though, focusing on Olenna, Sansa, Theon, Jaime, Arya, and, in an odd turn, Sandor Clegane.

In King's Landing, Olenna is frustrated and upset by Margaery's behaviour, but - when it is revealed to her that Margaery hasn't been brainwashed and is just trying to survive - takes her daughter's advice to leave and return to Highgarden. In the Riverlands, Jaime takes over the siege of Riverrun, much to the chagrin of Walder Frey's sons, and parlays with the Blackfish; and elsewhere in the Riverlands, Clegane works in a small community led by a kindly preacher, only for tragedy to quickly strike. In the North, Jon, Sansa and Davos attempt to rally support behind their cause and gather men for their army, with varying success. In Volantis, Yara and Theon prepare to sail to Meereen and meet Daenerys. In Braavos, Arya books passage on a ship to Westeros, only to be attacked and stabbed by a disguised Waif.

Gosh, it's been ages since we've seen you.

In terms of format, this episode is actually pretty similar to the episodes of series five, where you'd have an episode split down the middle in terms of what storylines it involved. In this case, Olenna and the King's Landing stuff is confined to the first half, with Theon and Arya's parts confined to the latter half, and Jaime, Sansa, and Clegane's parts being threaded throughout the episode. It's not a bad structure, but it can feel a bit jarring when ten minutes from the end, a new viewpoint barrels into the episode.

Clegane's storyline is the most jarring, not least because I don't think anybody was crying out to know what happened to Clegane, and in part because it really is just one long cliche. 'Formerly bad or violent person is injured and ends up joining a small community of good people, but oh no they've all been killed and now he has to take up weapons again' is a storyline that turns up time and time again, especially in fantasy fiction, so it was obvious that was what was going to happen from Clegane's very first scene (which was, coincidentally, the episode's opening scene).

Incidentally, that first scene was odd and out of place enough that for a moment I wondered if I was watching a completely different show. Admittedly, I'm fairly sure that was the point of it. 

But, you know, I don't really care what happens to Clegane. I would've been just fine with him slowly dying on that hilltop being the last we ever see of him.

Yara and Theon's part is also really odd. It seems to mostly consist of Yara yelling at Theon to drink ale and to stop being traumatised, which, okay, is in-character for Yara, but is probably not the great, helpful therapy that the show seemed to want to portray it as. 

Riverrun is very pretty, as well.

Meanwhile, I actually really enjoyed Olenna's part - it feels a bit disingenuous referring to it as that, since we also get a scene with Margaery as the viewpoint character, but since two out of three scenes have Olenna as the audience stand-in, it probably still works. This section lets us see a bit more of Margaery's faithful-penitent ruse, as she does her best to manipulate both the High Sparrow and Septa Unella - and it's not entirely clear how much success she's having. Certainly the High Sparrow, who makes a pointed remark at her about how knowing the verses of the Seven's holy book is not the same as being actually pious, and who at one point very overtly threatens Olenna, at least seems to suspect that she's not being entirely honest with him - but, of course, he currently needs her to keep Tommen in line.

The Sparrows were always pretty sinister, but there's something truly creepy about Septa Unella looming over Margaery as Margaery insists, in a flat, controlled voice, that they are dear friends. I must admit, though, I'm disappointed at Olenna rebuffing Cersei - like, okay, I know you don't like Cersei, Olenna, and I know this is her fault, but you really do need all the allies you can get.

I also actually really enjoyed the Riverrun stuff. I don't like Jaime, but the contrast created by putting him in close proximity to the Freys did him a lot of favours, and it was surprisingly easy to root for him this episode. It'll be interesting to see how the siege of Riverrun turns out, especially as we know that Brienne is also on her way there, to persuade the Blackfish to commit his forces to Sansa and Jon's cause.

Speaking of Sansa and Jon, my god, Lyanna Mormont might be my new favourite character. Just this tiny little girl effortlessly cowing two grown adults, making astute political decisions, and just generally be abrasive and caustic as all get out. Her role in this episode is short, and we'll probably never see her again, but she definitely made a big impression on viewers.

That stag crown is super-nice.

Of course, all this stuff about Sansa and Jon appealing to small houses for men - with very little success - is just to set up Sansa doing what we all know she's going to do, and asking Littlefinger to commit the Knights of the Vale to their cause. Given that the Vale has a pretty big and mostly unharmed army, and Ramsay has a meager five-thousand men (like, compare and contrast with the Tyrells there, who we know have over a hundred-thousand), Sansa asking Littlefinger for help pretty much cinches their victory - and sure enough, her last scene has her writing a letter and marking it with her direwolf seal, and while we don't see who she's sending it to, it is most definitely Littlefinger.

(You can kill him afterwards, Sansa, it's fine.)

Which leads us onto Arya's storyline, the last of the bunch. It's a pretty short one, with Arya booking passage only to be approached by an old woman who almost immediately tries to stab her, because surprise, it's the Waif/whoever is wearing the Waif's face. I actually thought for more than a few moments that the show was going to kill Arya off, and I was horrified - but no, she survives, and we get a great shot of her point-of-view as she staggers through Braavos, looking at the people around her, knowing that any one of them could be a Faceless Man.

I did actually really like this episode, and we're being set up well to see a lot of pay-off in the episodes to come: We're presumably going to get sieges of Winterfell and Riverrun, the High Sparrow either getting overthrown or solidifying his power (and possibly Cersei and Margaery's trials, as well?), more stuff with Bran and the Night King, Arya leaving Braavos, and Daenerys meeting Yara and Theon (and maybe setting off for Westeros?). Either way, the next three episodes should be packed.

In fact, it looks like several of those pay-offs could be coming sooner than we think, as it seems like next episode will have Arya and the Waif having their final showdown; Cersei getting the Mou - I mean, Ser Robert Strong, to do violence to the Sparrows; and at least the start of the siege of Riverrun.

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