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Review: ‘Game of Thrones’ Spotlights Some Subplots — And What It Takes to Survive

Season 6 Episode 7, "The Broken Man," doesn't advance the plot too much, but one surprise return and some soul-searching remind us that life is hard in Westeros.

HBO

Every week this season, Indiewire will be bringing you a unique collection of viewpoints on “Game of Thrones,” as it is a show that elicits a unique sort of reactions. Our writers are well-versed in the world of the show and the culture surrounding it, and we look forward to seeing how their opinions fare in the cutthroat world of Westeros… Sorry, that is, the cutthroat world of television criticism.

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 6 Episode 6, ‘Blood of My Blood’ Is Full of Face-Offs

What Happened This Week?

Instead of jumping in with the opening credits, we get into the action right away, as we not only meet a happy hippie clan of settlers headed up by Septon Ray (played by “Deadwood” favorite Ian McShane) but discover that our old friend the Hound, abandoned for dead by Arya ages ago, is not dead! Settling into a simpler way of life doesn’t seem to be coming naturally to him, but by the end of the episode that doesn’t matter, because all of his friends are murdered. (Likely by some unnamed men, perhaps associated with the Brotherhood Without Banners, who rode up earlier with no good intentions.) And thus, the Hound picks up his ax for some vengeance.

That’s just one of the threads we follow this week — as often happens mid-way through a “Thrones” season, “The Broken Man” touches upon lots of relatively minor subplots. Margaery Tyrell continues at least paying lip service to the High Sparrow’s special brand of fanaticism, giving her grandmother a warning to leave town along with a rather heartbreaking hug. And renegade Ironborns Yara and Theon hit up a whoring hot spot, in which Yara doles out some tough big sister love — telling her brutalized brother that he might as well slit his wrists if he’s not willing to fight — but also coming out as one of the show’s few openly gay characters, which is to be applauded.

Game of Thrones 607

Natalie Dormer in “Game of Thrones.”

We also follow the Jon and Sansa Houses of the North Loyalty Tour, as brother and sister try to build up support for their attempt to regain control of their homeland… While attempting to underplay the fact that the bulk of their fighting force consists of wildlings. Lady Lyanna Mormont, baby girl head of the Mormont clan, is delightful and totally game, but Jon and Sansa struggle with other houses. This is despite the fact that, as Ser Davos points out wisely, the real war coming is “between the living and the dead — and make no mistake, the dead are coming.”

In addition, Jaime is trying to end the siege of Riverrun, but the Blackfish (AKA Brynden Tully, the late Catelyn Stark’s uncle) is a stubborn SOB and his attempt at parlay goes nowhere. (This subplot is not terribly interesting, but as the Blackfish himself says, “sieges are dull.”) Oh, and Arya is aiming to book passage home… but all the gold she might throw around won’t keep the Waif from finding and stabbing the hell out of her. Arya escapes, but her wounds are seemingly mortal.

There’s a lot happening, but on balance, there might be one common thread. The title of the episode is “The Broken Man,” but that title could easily be changed to the plural.

Remembering Why We Want the Good Guys to Win

Maisie Williams in "Game of Thrones."

Maisie Williams in “Game of Thrones.”

HBO

It’s hard out there for a Stark. The attack on Arya wasn’t so surprising as it was brutal, seeing her stabbed repeatedly as if she were a microwave dinner being vented and giving me flashbacks to Talisa’s death during the Red Wedding. It was a well-played scene, given the fact that she was so cocky about just leaving the Faceless Men in the dust after they’d taken the time to train her. And that jump off the bridge showed that her badass survival skills have been honed. I don’t feel any real fears for her mortality though since there are so many reasons for her to live on the show, chief of which is an awkward reunion with the recently returned Hound. (BTW, hi and bye to Ian McShane! We hardly knew ye.)

The episode got bogged down with some necessary traveling and stumping by the rest of House Stark, but Ser Davos proved once again why he was the finger-challenged Hand of Stannis. The way he handled little Lyanna Mormont was masterful and made me wistful for the days he learned to read from Shireen (never forget). It’s moments like these that show why we want the good guys to win — not because of might or good hair, but because of decency and understanding.

Grade: B-

— Hanh Nguyen, Contributor: The Hollywood Reporter, LA Weekly, GameSpot, Tech Republic (@hanhonymous)

“Oh the horror of setting up plots and characters for future payoff!”

Bella Ramsey in "Game of Thrones."

Bella Ramsey in “Game of Thrones.”

HBO

“The Broken Man” may be guilty of seemingly everyone’s least favorite “Game of Thrones” crime — table-setting, oh the horror of setting up plots and characters for future payoff! — but I can’t help but love each and every glass, plate and utensil (metaphorically speaking, of course) that this episode laid down. The Hound is back! And despite making a bid for a calm sort of life in a verdant valley with a bunch of hippies who are mostly afraid of him (thing I kept thinking: who owns that land? it all seemed very “Far and Away” there for a minute), all that progress (and not-dead-ness) went out the window with a vicious and violent flare-up, care of some angry dudes. Arya got stabbed! Margaery is up to something (I’ve never loved her more)! And the Greyjoys are effing pumped for battle!

But, if nothing else, this episode has my affection for its introduction of the totally badass Lyanna Mormont, a girl king to end all girl kings, who is somehow both a singularly-minded leader and totally petulant teen. That she’s apparently come along for the battle to come (including her 62 warriors, hey, Bear Island is small, okay?) will likely only lead to more memorable spars with the kid Starks, and I can’t wait to see them.

Grade: B-

— Kate Erbland, Film Editor, Indiewire (@katerbland)

“Solid, If Not Spectacular”

Ian McShane in "Game of Thrones."

Ian McShane in “Game of Thrones.”

Helen Sloan/HBO

Even with the massacre of Ian McShane’s flock and Arya’s stabby-time, this was a relatively sedate episode, concerned with the varying ways that people choose to survive. And in a season full of character returning from oblivion, how great is it to see Sandor Clegane again? That they brought in someone like McShane for only one episode (to serve as a spark for the Hound’s re-emergence) would seem to indicate that he will play a major role going forward. If the Hound finds his way to Sansa’s side, how will Brienne react?

In our brief stay in King’s Landing, we get the hint that Margaery is still playing a long game with the High Sparrow. I’ve heard a few people say that perhaps he’s not so bad, and might be a useful corrective to the excesses of the Great Houses; I expect any such lingering sentiment to evaporate in the face of his line about sex not requiring “desire on the woman’s part, only patience.” On the other hand, is there anyone who isn’t ready to pledge allegiance to little Lady Lyanna Mormont into battle?

We got confirmation that Yara and Theon are headed to Meereen – maybe they can help Daenerys hightail it out of there at last. I would not, however, recommend the Yara Greyjoy Method of PTSD Treatment to anybody. Can a forced mug of ale and a kiss on the head really bring back the old Theon?

And hey, we got a Bronn sighting! Between him, the Hound, Jaime and the Blackfish, and the Queen of Thorns, we did get an awful lot of quippage.  And if the suspense over Arya’s stab wounds was a bit false — it’s not like she’s going to die from them — at least they didn’t really try to make us think that by ending the episode with the shot of her plunging into the canal. All in all, a solid if not spectacular episode.

Grade: B

— Jay Bushman, Award-Winning Multiplatform Writer/Producer (@jaybushman)

What Dooms A Hero in “Thrones”?

"Game of Thrones."

“Game of Thrones.”

HBO

It was such a momentous reveal, they stuck it before the opening credits, even.

Not Ian McShane, who popped up in this week’s edition with a too-short cameo as a reformed soldier preaching an ill-advised ethic of non-violent tolerance. Instead, it was the unveiling of one of his followers, Sandor Clegane, better known as “The Hound,” which set the Internets afire. A blackguard with a heart of gold – well, maybe not gold, but certainly shinier than most swords for hire in this world – The Hound was last seen at the business end of a pretty harsh beating from Brienne. His reappearance proved the most arresting moment in an episode which backslid into an awful lot of table-setting. Seeing McShane’s character hung and his new community of friends decimated by a random group of thugs, The Hound learned the hard way a ethos “Game of Thrones” has operated by for many years; the hero who isn’t smart or strong enough to defend himself by any means necessary, will usually be doomed by his (or her) virtue.

At least “GOT” has gotten more artful with its table setting, lending real emotional impact to Emo Jon’s attempts to raise an army with sister Sansa, and Theon’s pledge to shake off the shadow of Reek for good and help his sister forge an alliance with Daenerys. (It was interesting to see Theon’s sister Yara revealed as a lesbian, chasing down a wench on shore leave in a way that was offhand and yet significant. But I kept wondering if that coolly queer moment was what gave producers enough confidence to sneak in a few gratuitous shots of topless women in the background. After all, this is HBO.) It even nearly managed to make Jaime Lannister effective, if briefly, by taking over the hapless siege of Riverrun from Walter Frey’s hapless kin, with Tyrion’s wisecracking former bodyguard Bronn at his side. That sense of accomplishment lasted until the Blackfish put Jaime back in his place again, emerging from the besieged castle walls to essentially give him the bird in a flowery fashion; I’ve said it before, but it pains me to see Jamie and Cersei mostly reduced to pouting and sneering through much of this otherwise stellar season.

Much of this episode felt like a bridge to greater things to come, but it did feature the return of two compelling, world-weary soldiers who hide flashes of their better nature behind bitter wisecracks and cynical observations. Here’s to Bronn and Sandor; can’t wait to see what The Hound does with that axe and the sad realization that he’s cursed to live a life of violence, after all.

Grade: B+

— Eric Deggans, TV Critic, NPR (@deggans)

Summation

We have a new favorite character in Lyanna Mormont and a returning antihero in the Hound — but plot-wise, not too much else to go on. Some fun banter and intriguing moments kept us engaged, but “The Broken Man” wasn’t the sort of “Game of Thrones” episode that leaves us gasping. That said, it was the kind of episode that makes those sorts of showstoppers possible.

Final Grade: B

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