Warning: contains spoilers for anyone not up-to-date with Game of Thrones season 6 episode 7, “The Broken Man.”
“The Broken Man” opened on an idyllic pastoral vision. Hundreds of miles south of the Night’s King’s army, a rustic sept was being constructed in the lush, green Riverlands. Men whistled while they worked, stew was cheerfully ladled out, a Septon preached pacifist repentance. For once on Game of Thrones, something was being built instead of destroyed.
It couldn’t last. If we’ve learned anything from the past 50-odd episodes, it’s that Game of Thrones is about the death of hope. Goodness is despoiled, peace is made war, and innocence is burnt at the stake. An all for naught, for the most part. The recent history of the Seven Kingdoms is a story of thwarted plans and broken vows. The characters run around like ants fleeing a torrent of boiling water, scattering and changing direction all in a desperate bid to survive.
“The Broken Man” appeared to reinforce the show’s pessimism by laying the blame for a massacre of smallfolk at the feet of the very men once sworn to protect them. The Hound, revealed to have survived Brienne’s attack and been restored to health by the aforementioned Septon (Ian McShane), identified the work party’s aggressors as members of The Brotherhood Without Banners. If the Brotherhood, supposed protectors of the people, were responsible for killing a bunch of harmless commoners and stringing up a Septon, we’re left asking why, among the other questions the episode left us with…
What’s going on with the Brotherhood Without Banners?
Before we start, the Hound didn’t witness the slaughter of his group and neither did we, so nobody yet knows who is responsible. It looked reminiscent of a wildling attack, though the chances of any of that lot having found their way this far south are slim.
Could another group be trying to frame the Brotherhood and damage their reputation among the common folk? We know the Brotherhood has been causing trouble for the Frey army at Riverrun by raiding their supply lines. And the Freys do love a massacre…
Assuming though, that The Hound was right and those three riders were from the Brotherhood Without Banners and committed the massacre, as Westeros’ answer to Jerry Seinfeld might say: what is the deal with that? The Brotherhood formed to protect the smallfolk whose lives were destroyed by “squabbling houses.” The Septon’s group weren’t fighters who preyed on the weak. They were precisely the kind of people The Brotherhood had vowed to protect.
Could you explain it away as a religious conflict? The Brotherhood follow The Lord of Light, and the Septon’s group worship the Seven. If that were it though, you’d think the group would have been burned as human sacrifices, Melisandre-style?
Those three could of course be a splinter group of murderous mavericks. Or alternatively, something could have happened to make the Brotherhood change tack. Some wily commenters under this week’s review suggest that another resurrected character from the books might be responsible for the Brotherhood’s new bloodthirsty approach. The sullied know who’s under discussion, we’ll say no more above the line.
Who did Sansa write to?
Jon Snow’s army needs men to defeat Ramsay Bolton and take back Winterfell. Two thousand wildlings and change from a few Northern houses isn’t going to do it, Sansa fears. To whom then, has she secretly written to request back-up?
Was it her great-uncle, the Blackfish, Brynden Tully? What’s left of the Tully host is currently holed up in Riverrun under shabby siege from the Freys and now the Lannisters. The Blackfish proved unwilling to give up the castle to save the life of his nephew, Edmure, but would he abandon it to support Sansa? It’s worth remembering that Littlefinger was the one who told Sansa about her great uncle’s siege, and he’s usually three steps ahead of anyone else. Did he want Sansa to draw the Blackfish out of his hole, in service of the Lannisters?
Another option is her fellow Winterfell escapee, Theon Greyjoy. The Iron Islands and the Starks weren’t allies, but they do share a common foe in Ramsay Bolton. Theon’s in Volantis on his way to meet Dany, unfortunately, so unless he arranged to have his mail forwarded before making off with his uncle’s fleet, a raven to him at Pyke would be a waste of time.
Finally, Sansa refused the offer of Littlefinger’s help via the Knights of the Vale at Moat Cailin, but the time might have come to swallow her pride and accept the help of a man she considers either an idiot or her enemy. That raven could well have gone to him. And if the results fall in his favor, he may well assist.
What’s Margaery’s plan?
A player equal almost to Littlefinger, Margaery confirmed suspicions this week that all that penitence and prayer hasn’t truly reformed her character. She showed her true allegiance to House Tyrell by sneaking a drawing of a Highgarden rose into her grandmother’s hand before warning her away from King’s Landing. The note, if intercepted, wouldn’t have necessarily given the game away, but Olenna saw its true meaning: her Margaery’s no saint; she’s a double agent.
She’s also refusing to join the king in the marriage bed, no doubt another tactic to control Tommen. Is her plan to get her young groom back on side and convince him to turn on the Faith Militant?
Never play a player though. There’s every chance the High Sparrow knows an act when he sees one.
Has Cersei lost?
Lady Olenna told her so, and we’re not ones to argue with the Queen of Thorns, but is it really already game over for Cersei Lannister? She has a trial by combat coming up soon, and a monster of a champion to fight her corner. She’s still the mother of the king, even if that means less and less as Tommen’s allegiances went first to Margaery and then to the High Sparrow.
Her mother’s love being her sole redeeming feature, in Tommen, Cersei still has something to lose. The death of all three of Cersei’s children was prophesied by the witch she visited as a child, and so far that prophesy is two for three.
Where is Melisandre in all this?
She rode off with Jon, Sansa and Ser Davos on their tour of the Northern houses, but didn’t appear at any of the audiences with the Lords and Ladies. Could her magic come to the Stark army’s aid when the battle arrives?
Will Arya survive?
Of course she will. Perhaps that grateful actress from the previous episode will prove herself a dab hand with a needle and a length of fishing line, who knows? But like her former travelling companion, the Game of Thrones gods aren’t finished with Arya yet.
Who was the titular “Broken Man?”
Theon and Sandor Clegane vie for that title, and both men have been granted a new lease of life after suffering extreme punishment. Then there’s Ian McShane’s character, a man broken by his own violence and born again in the light of the Seven. Jaime also referred to his lost right arm this week, reminding us that he’s also ‘broken’ to some extent. As was the recently resurrected Jon Snow, and perhaps even Ser Davos, whom life hasn’t treated well. Come on, it’s Game of Thrones, they’re all broken men to a one.
Is there any hope left in the Seven Kingdoms?
The bleak sight of Ian McShane’s Septon dangling from a noose and the Hound picking up his axe tells you just how far pacifism gets you in Westeros. Violence is be a disease and it’s already endemic here. Just take Arya’s fate: after sassily securing passage on a ship home, she’s gutted like a fish and left bleeding without an offer of help. Can nobody have a good day in the Seven Kingdoms (or in Essos)?
Perhaps the pairs of lovers can. If, by some miracle, the romantic love in the stories of Sam, Gilly, Missandei and Greyworm aren’t snuffed out, they might snatch some happiness when all this is over. Er, any takers for that bet?