Well, there’s quite a lot of broken men in this episode, that’s for sure. After the fireworks of the last three episodes, it was only a question of time until they pushed in a breather for setup before the shit inevitably hits the fan in episode 9. This episode checked back with most characters, introduced a few new ones and generally brought people closer to where they need to be. Those are never the most engaging episodes, but of course, they can offer rich moments of character and tremendous insight in the themes of the story. Unfortunately, this is where “The Broken Man” drops the ball a bit, but more on that later. Now it’s time to return to the time-tested format of the geographical breakdown.
In the North, Jon, Davos and Sansa go recruiting as many men as they can in three scenes before taking stock in a fourth and final. The first of those is set up directly at the Wall, where they try to convince the wildlings to die for Jon, which they naturally a tad reluctant about. What wins the day is the argument that Jon dies form them already, so it’s their turn now. It’s unfair, of course, since there’s not exactly a big chance that they’ll come back as well, but there you go. The wildlings are on board, swayed because Wun Wun decided for Jon. Show of hands: who’s excited seeing Wun Wun charge into a formation of Boltons? Count me in, people!
The second scene is set on Bear Island, because fuck distances. They meet with Lady Lyanna Mormont, who is of course as adorable as you think she is. She’s like a mix of Queen Amidala and Ellen Ripley, first telling them to pack until they can collectively appeal to her loyalty to the Stark course and the bigger mission if fighting the dead, which is a nice reminder what this is really about. The third scene shows that things aren’t always going to quite as easily net the equally adorable force of 62 men, as the Glovers are in “fuck the Starks” mode, and rightly so. No one knows Sansa, who has by now married into the Lannisters and the Boltons and betrayed them both, and besides, there’s this ugly business with Robb marrying Talisa and everyone dying, so thank you very much. They don’t try the line about fighting an army of the dead, but I don’t think it would have mattered much here.
The fourth scene, then, is at the makeshift camp, where Jon quite unreasonably insists on them taking on the Boltons while outnumbered 2:1. I’m not quite sure why they shouldn’t try other people, but of course, the alternative would have been an X-Men-esque recruitment montage. Jon’s insistence, though, comes off as a pretty cheap way of generating some drama between him and Sansa, who is of course writing Littlefinger about the knights of the Vale she should have accepted in the first place. I still don’t feel her holding this secret from Jon, because I don’t know exactly what she’s hoping to achieve here or why he would be opposed. He doesn’t even know Littlefinger! Anyway, we’ll learn when they inevitably crash, so I’m reserving judgement until then. The sequence as a whole worked pretty well, and now the stage is also very much set for the final battle in episode 9, primed to end with the surprising rescue by the knights of the Vale. Also, it’s now been many episodes without Ramsay, and isn’t that just refreshing?
In the Riverlands, meanwhile, we meet Ian McShane playing “Brother Ray” and Sandor Clegane. This reveal was set up pretty big, with the series’ only third pre-credit scene, which I don’t think is justified. I have to be honest with you people, this stuff is personal. Septon Meribald’s monologue for me is one of the most important moments of the series and defines the themes and motifs that are behind it, and this here goes for a message of its very own that I very emphatically reject. For me as well as for my podcast co-host Sean T. Collins, this scene embodies all that’s wrong with the twisted mentality that pervades the successful series “The Walking Dead”: violence is bad, but no violence is worse. People that kill might not be nice, but they do what’s necessary and whoever is not ready for this is stupid.
I very much appreciate Brother Ray for his words about violence as a disease. However, the resolution of this arc bothers me. The Hound taking the axe after the pretty unmotivated and entirely foreseeable slaughter of the worshippers is presented as an uplifting, empowering moment, and while the show might later pull the rug under the viewers and present is a giant mistake, I did appreciate the ray (heh) of hope that the books offered with the Quiet Isle, showing that one can indeed leave behind a violent past and start anew. This is also why I think that the fans of the Cleganebowl are deeply misguided, but that’s another topic entirely. Anyway, as I said, this is kind of personal, so if you liked the scenes, that’s all right. They were competently staged and Ian McShane is of course great, so I enjoyed them quite a bit regardless.
Also in the Riverlands, Jaime’s army marches up unopposed into the Frey camp, because the Freys are idiots (in case you couldn’t tell from their choice of hats). They make the same mistake as in the book, where they threaten to kill Edmure, with the Blackfish calling their bluff. Bronn is also back, being made into some kind of super soldier to justify his presence, but whatever, Bronn! Jerome Flynn is always fun, so welcome back, man. I really hope you get that castle of yours someday.
The Blackfish, of course, is pulling the same ass-move he does in the books by deciding to kill everyone in the castle and burn it to the ground because he kind of likes the place and doesn’t want his people to be killed by Lannisters. If you’re confused about the cognitive dissonance between motive and action, then welcome, but that’s the Blackfish. The scene plays out pretty much as it does in the books, and I’m pretty confident that we will see it resolve in the same way. Get Lady Stoneheart hype now!
In King’s Landing, meanwhile, we learn that the High Sparrow really is a reactionary asshole and prime defender of the patriarchy, in case you needed a reminder. When reformed Margaery tells him she doesn’t really want to get fucked by Tommen, the High Sparrow informs her that her desire isn’t required and that she better gets down to do her duty, all the while rubbing her thigh. Lovely. The day that fucker burns is no day early.
However, the seeds of his downfall are there, as Margaery is indeed as many have suspected (not me, I shame to admit) only faking it and telling her granny to get the hell out of Dodge. I’m not sure if she has a plan yet, but she clearly is trying to get all important people out of the way before the High Sparrow hits the fan. We also get a check-in on Cersei. I have to say, it’s now seven episodes, and her trial still hasn’t started. Come on. Anyway, the Queen of Thorns pricks her one more time before she leaves, calling her on what she is and what she did. Cersei’s “we need to work together” routine falls apart at pretty much the same time as does Jaime’s, who needs brute force to coerce the Freys to obey him and utterly fails to convince the Blackfish that his word is worth a damn. Those two are going down together without even knowing it, and all the highs they enjoy before the inevitable end will be hollow.
Over in Braavos, there’s some box checking on Arya. She secures passage to Westeros, only to be stabbed by the waif. Seriously, this was a bit too obvious, don’t you think? Arya is walking through the streets like she owns the place, passing close to people who could be faceless men, but the waif approaches her when she’s alone on a bridge? Oh my. One problem for me with this storyline is that the outcome doesn’t really have you invested. Arya isn’t exactly going to die here, so it’s only a question of time until she bests the Faceless Men and gets out, and this seems like drawing it out. Reminds me of Meereen, which we gladly don’t visit this week.
We do, however, visit Volantis, and we’d rather not. What we get is one of those scenes that really suck because someone actually wrote and approved this. Yara is making a dick joke to Theon while suddenly being a lesbian (because how could a badass woman not be a lesbian, right?) and making out right in front of the clearly uncomfortable him, and generally behaving like an asshole for no reason before tough-talking him like that’s what he needs. The guy doesn’t need to get over a girl that sent an “it’s over” SMS, but he was tortured and humiliated. If Tyrion takes up his bad habit of dick jokes once they arrive in Meereen, I’m going to yell at the screen.
Anyway, mixed episode as so often. Emmet Booth of “PoorQuentyn”-fame called it “whiplash”, and I agree. When Game of Thrones’ writing is good, it’s really good. When it’s bad, you get dick jokes and talk about needing a bad pussy. Sometimes you wonder how many different hands are over those scripts.