Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have only read the first three books and I have no knowledge of what transpires in the show moving forward. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.
THE BROKEN MAN
Seven episodes down, three more to go. And after this season, only approximately 13 more episodes to go…For the entire show. As I talked about in the season six primer, the entire show and its vast storyline is a lot closer to coming to an end than most people realize. And, last week, Thrones producers confirmed that after this season, there will only be about 13 episodes left, split into two seasons — meaning we’ll get a seventh and eight season, each of which will be shorter 6 or 7 episode seasons.
So why is this so important? Well, it changes how each of us should be viewing and thinking about each episode at this point. For a long time, it seemed like we were just at the beginning of a story that would take years to unfold. So, everything we watched seemed a little less important, because we knew that a lot more still had to transpire before we started to near the end. But all of that has changed; we are there now. The finish line is in sight, and every episode, every scene, every dialogue should be relished at this point. There is no more room for any filler episodes or even filler scenes. Everything we see now is important. We are inching towards the end, and the glorious end that we will see shortly down the road is being set up right here, right now.
In the seventh episode, entitled The Broken Man, we saw just that — a lot of broken characters, trying to put themselves back together. More importantly, we saw these characters starting to cement their positions — the positions that will likely dictate how they fit into the greater end of this entire story. Theon made the decision to no longer be a broken man, and to serve his sister as the strong Theon that she needs him to be, as we learn of their plan to sail to Mereen to parlay with Khaleesi — no doubt a decision that will shape how they fit into this story’s final act. We see another broken character, Cercei, who has pretty much reached rock bottom, and is attempting to piece things back together by proposing a union with the Tyrells. Unfortunately for her, she is rejected by Lady Olenna, and it seems like desperate times will call for desperate measures as violence is imminent for Cercei in King’s Landing. In Braavos, Arya certainly has become the broken man, now fighting just to stay alive, putting her voyage back to Westeros in jeopardy.
The list goes on. But perhaps the most obvious broken man of them all, and also the greatest surprise (for me personally) to date, is The Hound. Dreams do come true, and The Hound is alive! For several seasons, I have been saying that The Hound must still be alive. After Arya left him bloody and wounded, it was assumed that he was left for dead — after all, he was in pretty bad shape. But generally speaking, if Thrones is going to kill off a major character, they are going to milk it for all the dramatic value that death is worth. So, to not show the death itself, led me to believe that The Hound would find a way to survive and eventually reemerge.
After being Hound-less for a couple seasons, and witnessing his amazing reemergence, let’s explore the greatness of his character for a moment. The Hound was always my favorite character, especially after the evolution of his character via his bond with Arya. The show originally presented him as the ultimate villain — Joffrey’s dog who would carry out whatever brutal acts Joff commanded. And of course, his appearance made him look all the scarier and less likable. But slowly, we came to see that this man was not all evil and surprised us all with a conscience. Several times he protected Sansa from Joffrey and even offered to help get her out of King’s Landing. Then, we learned about his brutal disfigurement at the hand of his brother, The Mountain, when they were just small boys. We learned that this was the cause for his deep fear of fire and we started to develop a sense of sympathy for this once brutal villain — we began to see his humanity. But at the same time, there was a realness to his character — even as we began to see his softer side, he did not hide the fact that he was driven by one thing — his love of killing.
To me, this was the beauty of his character. On the one hand, he had a conscience that guided his actions and ultimately made him a purer character than most of the sinners in the Thrones world. On the other hand, he loved nothing more than the ultimate sin — taking lives. And this is what made him so real. In a Thrones world full of pretenders, schemers and social-climbers, The Hound knew exactly who he was and he did not try to hide it. The juxtaposition of the good and bad in him made him such an interesting, wonderful and relatable character. And then he joined up with Arya and we got to see the continued exploration of this as his good shined through in trying to protect Arya, but his love of killing was also brought out by Arya, who also shared a similar love for killing, albeit hers driven by revenge. So when Arya was the one to leave him for dead, it was heartbreaking, when we knew deep down that this was a good guy who got dealt a bad hand. But The Hound was strong and survived, and now reappears as another broken man, trying to rebuild himself and figure out exactly who he wants to be.
For some time, the stew has been simmering in King’s Landing, and there’s no doubt that it’s about to come to a boil. Between the Tyrells, the Lannisters, the Faith Militant and everything else going on, blood will definitely be spilt very soon. We start in King’s Landing with Margaery studying the holy text, continuing to play the part of the pious repenter. In fact, she is playing the part so well, that some of us might be wondering whether she is acting at all; perhaps she has truly turned to the Faith of the Seven. But, Margaery has always been the master manipulator, with her eyes set on becoming queen and raising House Tyrell to the top, so my money is on the fact that she’s just playing the game. It seems to be working as she has Tommen fooled into prioritizing the Faith Militant over his own family, weakening the positions of Cercei and Jaime. She also appears to have the High Sparrow himself fooled into thinking that she is on his side. So, she takes his advice and tells her grandmother, Lady Olenna, that she must return to Highgarden, while secretly slipping her a piece of parchment. On that parchment turned out to be a rose, the sigil of House Tyrell, implying that Margaery is in fact still in favor of her own house and just playing this role to help strengthen the position of House Tyrell.
Separately, Cercei pays Lady Olenna a visit and proposes a union between the two houses. But, Lady Olenna is getting out of town and has no interest in any sort of coalition with Cercei or House Lannister. She is quick to point out the truth, which is that Cercei is single-handedly responsible for all the trouble they are facing now. After all, it was Cercei who put her trust in the High Sparrow in an effort to further her cause. That eventually backfired when we learned who the High Sparrow and Faith Militant really were, which ended up crippling those in power in King’s Landing — the Lannisters and the Tyrells. Lady Olenna chose some particularly poignant words, appearing to honestly reflect as she tells Cercei “I wonder if you might be the most horrible person I’ve ever met.” Rubbbing salt in Cercei’s wounds, she continues “You’ve lost, Cersei — it’s the only joy I can find in all this misery.”
So in an episode entitled The Broken Man, we see that Cercei may be the most broken of them all. She’s now endured the deaths of two children — both murdered, while her third has been all but taken from her, under the spell of Margaery and the High Sparrow’s manipulation. Jaime is off fighting in Riverrun. She has so little at the moment that she might have even realized some solace from having Tyrion around — the brother that she always hated. So here she is, in the middle of King’s Landing, almost completely alone and more powerless than ever. But what she does have is her undying vengeance. As she’s stated dozens of times before, she tells Lady Olenna that she is driven by her mother’s love, and we know that Cercei will stop at nothing to protect Tommen from those using him and to avenge the deaths of the children she’s lost thus far. Since her great walk of shame, Cercei has appeared weak and fragile, but let us not forget who she truly is. She is fierce, she is cold and she will stop at nothing. Let’s also not forget that she’s got the freekish Mountain at her side, sworn to fight for her; it seems like that fight is about to take place.
It’s good to see the Riverlands again, the middle area of Westeros which was a common setting in previous seasons, especially for the Hound and Arya. We arrive at the seat of the Riverlands, Riverrun, home to House Tully, or what’s left of it, which is really just The Blackfish (Catelyn and Edmure’s uncle). We see House Frey attempting to lay siege to Riverrun, as commanded in last week’s episode by Walder Frey. Their attempt to win over the castle by threatening to kill Edmure does not even command the attention or respect of Blackfish. He’s much wiser than them and knows that they will not kill Edmure — they need him as a bargaining chip. The Freys are also a bunch of bumbling fools and just simply do not know what they’re doing.
Enter Jaime and Bronn, with a sizable Lannister army at their backs. Jaime lets it be known that the siege is now under his command and Bronn barks out orders to start to set up a perimeter for an actual siege. But before blood is shed, Jaime wants to speak face to face with the Blackfish. As we know, Jaime is not a bad man, and he has no desire to engage in an unnecessary war, especially against a side that he does not feel to be his true enemy. So the men talk face to face, and Jaime tells the Blackfish that the war is over and there is no reason to shed any additional blood. But which war is Jaime really talking about? The war for the Iron Throne? Sure, that war might be over, but there are many more wars to fight. Starks vs Boltons, Lannisters vs Faith Militant, dead vs living, etc… Surely, war is not over. That aside, the Blackfish tells Jaime that Riverrun is his home, the place of his birth, and he will not simply turn the castle over to the Lannisters. Furthermore, there is no doubt that he too is driven by vengeance for the death of his family and all the horror the Lannisters have inflicted upon the Starks and Tullys. Before he retreats into his castle, the Blackfish tells Jaime that he simply wanted to measure him up, and that he is unimpressed with what he saw.
It seems like battle is imminent in the Riverlands, save for one possible X-factor, Brienne of Tarth. Sansa sent Brienne to Riverrun several episodes ago once she learned that Blackfish had retaken the castle. Sansa wants Brienne to get the Blackfish to join their northern cause in the fight against the Bolton. That was several episodes ago, so it’s a bit illogical that Jaime arrived to Riverrun before Brienne has. But, in any event, it sets up the perfect scene. Brienne arrives to Riverrun as battle is impending between the Lannisters and Tullys, with Brienne appealing to Jaime, the character with which she had once grown so close. Jaime will be pitted between helping Brienne and fighting for the Lannister cause. It will be an interesting dynamic and ultimately the most important outcome will likely be whether or not Blackfish and his army can/will join the Stark cause in the North.
A NORTH DIVIDED
Speaking of the North, Jon, Sansa and Davos are on the campaign trail, trying to win as many supporters to their cause as they can. With the help of Tormund, they win over the Wildlings, about 2,000 in all. They next stop at House Mormont, where we find the 10-year-old Lyana Mormont sitting in power. After Jeor Mormont joined the Night’s Watch, his son Jorah was exiled from Westeros and many more Mormonts died during Robb’s war, there is little left of House Mormont. And Lyanna appears unwilling to sacrifice any more life to support the Stark cause, until Ser Davos steps in and explains to her that this is not a matter of a Stark war, but a matter of the war that is coming for everybody — the war of the living vs the dead. And if the North is divided, they will stand no chance against fighting the dead.
When all hope seemed lost, Ser Davos proves himself once again as an invaluable asset. In this example specifically, perhaps it was his love for Princess Shireen (Stannis’ daughter) and his experience in talking with her that allowed him to speak to Lyanna in a way that resonated with her. House Mormont only has 62 men to offer, but the Starks will take what they can get. It will be interesting to see whether Jorah plays any role in this storyline at all. We know he’s on the move to find a cure and perhaps his journey will take him back to Westeros? After all, his exile was lifted a couple seasons back (note of the termination of his exile was intercepted by Ser Barristan, who forced Jorah to confess to Khaleesi, which is what got him banned from her). So, it’s entirely possible that he makes it back to Westeros and sits as the rightful Lord of House Mormont, and joins the Northern cause…But maybe a long shot.
Next they arrive at House Glover, where they are again met with hostility. As viewers, we are getting to see all the Northern houses that once supported House Stark and fought behind Robb without hesitation. But Robb’s poor decisions didn’t just cause his own demise, but also great loss for all the other Northern houses that followed him into war. So now, today, when asked to do the same again, most Northern houses are not interested. This time, in the face of rejection, Sansa reminds House Glover that it is their sworn duty to pledge their allegiance to House Stark. It was a bold statement, met with an equally bold response, “House Stark is dead.” Certainly, for quite some time, we have always felt that House Stark was dead. It was only until recent episodes that some hope is starting to brew for House Stark. But, we’ve never really heard anybody say outright, that House Stark is dead, until now. Sansa, having heard this bold proclamation, and perhaps finding some truth in it, resorts to sending a raven, presumably asking for help. We can only assume that she is reaching out to Littlefinger, who can support with the Knights of the Vale. Hopefully, she isn’t making a mistake by reaching out to him.
THEON, YARA (AND KHALEESI?)
Having stolen some of the best ships with a fleet of their best men, Yara and Theon arrive at Volantis and enjoy themselves at a brothel. Well, at least Yara does. The idea of naked women, once Theon’s greatest joy, now appears to trigger the Reek inside of him. Without his manhood, it’s hard for him to be around this, and he starts to regress into his Reek shell. But Yara pulls him out quickly with some tough love. Some very tough love. She tells him to be the Theon she needs him to be, or to kill himself. Harsh, for sure, but it’s the words Theon has needed to hear for some time now. It’s enough of him wimpering around and time for him to step up and be the hard, bold, brave Ironborn brother that Yara needs. He nods at this, before Yara tells him that they will sail to Mereen to convene with Khaleesi.
A few things to consider are: 1) Will they get to Mereen before Euron, their uncle, does? 2) How will Khaleesi receive them? 3) Most importantly, if they do join forces with Khaleesi, what will their cause be? For so long, Khaleesi’s goal was to reclaim the Iron Throne that rightfully belonged to House Targaryen. But, in recent episodes, we’ve seen Khaleesi become more of a conqueror than a ruler. And, in last week’s episode, Daario explicitly told her that she is meant to conquer, not to sit on a Throne. Similarly, we know that the Greyjoys want to conquer and take back the Iron Islands, and perhaps more. So this begs the question, what will their goals actually be? Are they the good guys who will take back what is rightfully theirs? Or do they become the bad guys who conquer and destroy? It’s hard to think that it will be the latter, but maybe that’s the direction this is headed.
ARYA IS IN TROUBLE
Before we talk about Arya’s story in this episode, I have to say, I am still having trouble understanding how Arya did a complete 180 so quickly. For many seasons, she was training to join the Faceless Men. She slept on the streets, she begged, took countless beatings, lost her eyes and even swallowed poison and risked her life to show that she was willing to part with her Arya identity and truly become nobody. And then, just like that, in the course of one episode, all that goes out the window and she suddenly wants to become Arya again. Now, to be clear, I am not complaining about it. We all love Arya and Arya as nobody just wasn’t the same. We want Arya as Arya, with Needle at her side and the kill-list on her tongue. And I understand why she turned back to Arya — her conversation with Lady Crane about Cercei (who Lady Crane was portraying in the play) wanting to avenge the deaths of those who were taken from her before she got to say goodbye, made Arya realized that she wanted the same. She also seemed to disapprove of killing somebody without knowing why she was killing them or what they did to deserve it. Arya kills, but she has a code. She kills those who deserve it. So it all makes sense — but it just happened very fast.
Anyway, that train has left the station and Arya is back to being Arya. And she can’t wait to get the hell out of Braavos as she books passage to Westeros. She then looks out at the Titan of Braavos, the ultimate symbol of all things Braavos, and the object under which she’ll have to sail to leave Braavos. But she becomes sloppy. She becomes Arya again and with that comes emotion and reflection as she gazes into the distance. Perhaps, a reminder that her identity could get the best of her. In any event, she lets her guard down and is fooled by the Waif, wearing the face of an old woman, who stabs her several times in the stomach. For a moment, my heart dropped and I thought maybe that was it for Arya, but she headbutts the Waif and rolls over the bridge into the water. She walks through the streets of Braavos, badly wounded and losing a lot of blood. We are left to ponder who might help her, and will she in fact make it out of Braavos? Could it be Lady Crane, the life she saved, who in turn saves Arya’s life? A more daring guess is Syrio Forel — Arya’s Braavosi sword-teacher who taught her many seasons back, and is presumed dead at the hands of the King’s Guard, those we never saw him die.
THE HOUND IS BACK
As Arya walks through the streets, blood oozing from her stomach, we fade back to The Hound, chopping trees in forest. It was an interesting transition of scenes, when considering that not long ago, the tables were turned and The Hound lay wounded and bloody, as Arya left him to die. Much has changed since then, and we now see The Hound has joined a small community somewhere in the hills of the Riverlands. They are a simple people, led by Brother Ray, a priest who confesses to not knowing if any of the gods are real. The Faith of the Seven, the Old Gods, the Lord of Light — who knows if any of them are real — or maybe they are all the same. What he does know, and all that matters to him, is that there is something greater than humans, whatever that may be. And he tells The Hound that this power of something greater has a plan for The Hound. Through their dialogue, we learn that Brother Ray found The Hound nearly dead and saved his life. He tells The Hound that he thought he’d die several times, but The Hound kept fighting for his life. When he asks him what drove him to keep fighting, The Hound states that it was hate. But Brother Ray doesn’t believe this, and insists that The Hound is part of a greater plan.
During his small sermon, Brother Ray confesses that he once was ordered to murder a boy and felt tremendous guilt for the things that he had done. But that it is never late too late to make a change, to start doing good, to start helping the people around you. It’s unclear whether this was a real story, or one he made up for The Hound to hear, but either way, it seemed to strike a chord with The Hound as he realized that he no longer needs be a broken man, and ponders who he wants to become next. And then a few men from the Brotherhood Without Banners arrive, all but promising to return to take what they want. The Hound tells Brother Ray that they will return, but their options are limited as none of them, minus The Hound, are fighters. Still, neither assumed that the Brotherhood would slaughter the entire village. The Hound, off chopping wood, somehow misses the entire slaughter, but returns to see the entire village dead, with Brother Ray hanging before his eyes.
This was a bit of a strange event. The Brotherhood Without Banners have been presented to date as good characters, who do not pledge their allegiance to any one king or house, which is why they have no banners. Instead, they roam the lands, protecting the people from evil. They might be a bit rough around the edges, and need to do some amoral things to get by, but we’ve surely never seen them commit murder of the innocent, much less slaughter an entire village. So, my assumption is that these brothers went rogue and acted on their own. Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion (leaders of the Brotherhood), wherever they might be, will not be okay with what these men have done. But The Hound has seen enough. He knows who he is and who wants to be. He is on the hunt, now with an axe as his weapon of choice.