Monday, June 6, 2016

GoT 6.7: The Broken Man (SPOILERS!)

A word of caution before I begin: I speak freely in this blog about Game of Thrones 6.7, "The Broken Man," which premiered tonight, 5 June 2016, so if you're avoiding spoilers, be quick and run away from here!
Lady Lyanna, an adult ruler in a ten-year-old body.
What do you call the reverse trailer at the opening of a show that reminds you what is happening before the new action begins? My long-term mutual follower on Google+, +J Bennett, actually went out and hunted down the answer: it's a recap sequence. As a show with a complex plot and an ensemble cast Game of Thrones has these memory prompts out of necessity. Despite rampant death, there are over a dozen lead characters who are still standing (more are returning from the shade all the time) and whose stories we are following in any given episode.

Tonight, in episode 6.7, sandwiched between the recap sequence and the opening credits with their rousing theme and the table-top model of the GoT world capitals, we settle into a scene in the story's present moment. It's a pastoral scene with a small community building a tower. Women are preparing a meal for the construction workers. The community centers around a septon, a clergyman for the Faith of the Seven. The last man that we see, we see only from behind. He is big and strong enough to carry a shaved tree trunk ready to become part of the tower structure that they're building—is it a sept?—and he drops the log and stands breathing hard as the camera swings around for the shock revelation of the burn-scarred face of Sandor Clegane, "The Hound." He lives.

The septon testifies before of his people of the murderous life he led before he started helping people. It is a story much like the Hound's. And what we see in this community being built from scratch on a verdant hillside with no other structure around is that the Hound has hopes of rebuilding his life from scratch as well, just as the septon has done. But this septon isn't the High Sparrow, who has a private army of septons for his defense. This small community in the hills is establishing themselves with no means of defense whatsoever, and their nakedness becomes all the more apparent when three soldiers on patrol pass by and ask them what they are doing.

"We're talking about life," the Septon says and smiles at his own cleverness.

"We're keeping people safe," says a soldier. They have utterly failed to communicate because each is talking in his own argot, and when they leave it seems clear to us, if not to the septon who must rely upon the Seven for his defense, that they will be back. Probably with reinforcements.

The septon watches Sandor Clegane chopping wood and says he's never seen anyone chop so well. Clegane is working hard to throw himself into the new life—he is trying to chop his old life away. Although he says nothing explicit, we can see that he's making an effort to begin a new life. 

You will remember that the last time we saw the Hound was when he had the cliffside battle to the death with Lady Brienne of Tarth. She is more than a match for him and eventually succeeds in throwing him over the edge of the precipice. Having defeated Clegane, Brienne looks for Arya, but Arya doesn't want to be found. After Brienne leaves, Arya comes out and has one more conversation with the Hound, at the end of which she just walks away as the Hound, in pain and certain of his imminent death, begs her to kill him.

The septon tells Clegane that when he found him he stank and was covered with bugs. He was obviously dead, but then he coughed. The septon says that over the next several days he was sure he was dying for sure, but he still pulled through. "A bone, here," the septon motions to his upper femur, "was sticking out your thigh."

In fiction if not in the real world, people who survive close calls with death often want to reform their lives. Clegane was clearly broken in body, and though he has healed with a limp, his attempt to escape his murderous past comes to an abrupt halt when, while he is down at the river, the septon and all of his followers are murdered. In the last shot of the episode we see the Hound pick up an ax.

Sandor Clegane's resurrection makes the third such return from death—or presumed death—this season. First there was Jon Snow's sharp inhalation at the beginning of episode 6.2. Then long lost Uncle Benjen shows up, a bit worse for wear and tear, in episode 6.6 just in time to be the one-man cavalry that saves Bran Stark and Meera Reed from the pack of running dead who killed Hodor. It's as if the television show most famous for killing off its characters has slammed its gears into reverse.

Yet this episode isn't titled "Yet Another Resurrection" but "The Broken Man," and the title seems to refer to just about everyone featured in tonight's show. Clegan is the first broken man we see.

Jaime Lannister has been exiled from King's Landing—ironically by his own son, though that unacknowledged relationship is part of Jaime's brokenness—and sent to Riverrun where he is supposed to evict Blackfish from his trespass of the castle. The Freys are already there and bungling the job, but when Jaime, his lieutenant Bronn, and the Lannister Army show up, they're hardly able to do any better. Frey expresses surprise when huge entourage shows up outside the gates at Riverrun, and Bronn points out how eight thousand men have been able to approach the Freys from behind unimpeded. "Good thing we're friends or we'd be fucking you in the ass right now."

Jaime is used to getting his way through wealth, military power, and swordsmanship, but now he is suddenly ineffective in everything. When he asks Bronn to set up the parley, Bronn asks, "A parley or a fight?"

"He's an old man," Jaime says.

"You've got one hand. My money's on the old boy."

That missing right hand is Jaime's constant reminder of his brokenness.
Bronn reminds Jaime of his essential brokenness.
In the parley on the drawbridge—an amazing and realistic set—the Blackfish shrugs off Jaime's threats. They're prepared for a siege of up to two years, and nobody seems to take the threat of storming the walls very seriously—not even Jaime. Broken.

Meanwhile, back in King's Landing, we see how broken Cersei is when Lady Olenna tells her off. Queen Margaery is playing a dangerous game in forming a triumvirate among herself, her boy-king husband, and the High Sparrow, and this new arrangement that saved Margaery from the walk of atonement has relocated the power in that triumvirate and excluded Cersei, who now seems just as broken as she did when she made her cross-town stroll with a bell-ringing septa.

Until tonight it wasn't clear how sincere Margaery was in her new religious conversion, but after the High Sparrow makes threatening mention of her grandmother, Lady Olenna, Margaery manages to get a meeting with her and discreetly passes her a note. We don't know what the note says, but even before Olenna reads it, she understands that she needs to get out of King's Landing quickly.

Yet another broken man tonight is, of course, Theon, whose psyche was totally devastated by Ramsay Bolton's torture, and who, as a result, was left emasculated. It's curious how common, relative to our world, castration and eunuchs are in the GoT world. Theon, Varys, Grey Worm, and all the unsullied have been castrated. Theon is fortunate that his sister hasn't completely given up on him—he seems to be bucking up from her hard love, and he is interested in her plan to sail across the Narrow Sea and travel to Mereen to meet Daenerys Targaryen and ask her assistance in taking back control of the Iron Islands. This sounds like it might be the opportunity that the Mother of Dragons has been waiting for because she needs not just ships but some friends when she gets to Westeros.
Jon Snow, Sansa Stark, and Ser Davos Seaworth have been wandering door to door seeking military support with which to take back Winterfell. They start with the decimated Wildlings, who remind me of the indigenous peoples of North America after the Europeans got through with them. The Wildlings are broken after the massacre and narrow escape with John Snow north of the wall, yet they are willing to keep on doing the right thing.
Jon, Sansa, and Davos visit House Mormont, which is now ruled by ten-year-old Lady Lyanna, who is well acquainted with all the rules and protocols of statecraft. Like any ruler, she has advisers, but no regent is in sight. I have read that in Medieval times childhood was nonexistent, that it is a creation of the industrial age. That makes sense because if I live in a world where the average lifespan is thirty, it behooves me to function as an adult as young as possible. Bran also functioned precociously young as a ruler when—just before Theon Greyjoy's takeover—he was the eldest Stark still in residence.
The Stark contingent's audience with Lady Lyanna is fascinating whether, with complete suspension of disbelief, I'm in the Game of Thrones world and watching a child function quite well as an adult, or if I look at it as a scene made by wonderfully convincing actors—which I can do only at some distance: the show is too compelling to think of it as anything but real. Lady Lyanna raises several objections to lending troops, but in the end she concedes because they have always been loyal to House Stark.
"How many?" Jon Snow asks.
I couldn't help noticing that Lady Lyanna consults with her advisers according to the nature of the question. Historical questions, like houses and families, go to the adviser on her left, but a more pragmatic question like how many troops they can spare goes to the adviser on her right. That's remarkable attention to detail.
"Sixty-two," she says. There's some obvious disappointment in the room, so she adds, "One of our men has the strength of ten men from anywhere else." Does that mean the force she contributes equates to six hundred and twenty men? We shall see.
I'm constantly amazed by my emotional involvement with this show. I mourned Hodor, and now I have to worry about Arya. Her downfall, as it often is, was hubris. I can see reclaiming the name of Arya Stark, but nevertheless she should have kept a very low profile instead of flaunting large sums of money before merchantmen with ships and especially instead of hanging out on bridges right there in Braavos. Since we did not see her die, I am in denial—she's going to be OK. Has to be OK. Right? So I've evolved a theory that, though Jaqen H'ghar gave the Waif permission to kill Arya, she wasn't supposed to let her suffer. At the end of the episode, Arya is wandering through the marketplace, possibly seeking Jaqen H'ghar or someone who can save her, and that seems like suffering. Jaqen H'ghar will be at least somewhat displeased with the Waif. Will that be enough to save Arya?
At the very least, I'm ready to see the Hound indulge in some righteous hacking and slashing next week, but I fear it won't be that simple.
Finally, apropos of nothing, I've never heard anyone mention—perhaps it's too obvious to mention?—that the Wall has an analog in the history of the real world with Hadrian's Wall, the wall built by Roman Emperor Hadrian to keep the Braveheart-savage fighting Scots away from the Roman farms of England. Perhaps the ferocity with which the Scots fought is best not brought up in polite conversation, so maybe that's why the analogy is so often passed over. The Wall is like Hadrian's Wall; the Wildlings are like the Scots; Westeros is the rest of Britain; and the Narrow Sea is the English Channel. You think? Sorta?