Coming into this episode from last week, the big question that everyone wants answered is: “Will Arya survive?” Or will the Waif succeed in killing her?
It’s easy to assume that Arya isn’t in real danger. After all, she is everyone’s second or third favorite character – at least according to most polls. But, this is Game of Thrones – and as we know from Lady, Ned, Catelyn, Robb, Hodor, Summer, Osha and many others, anything can happen.
Tonight’s episode leaves the Arya survival question wide open. But, it answers another big question: Did the Hound live or die after Arya abandoned him?
In the “Broken Man,” we catch up with Theon and Yara at a brothel; they safely escaped Euron – for now. Margaery is desperately trying to get her brother freed and save her family. Cersei may have made a fateful choice. Jon and Sansa try to build their army. And, Jaime and Bronn arrive in Riverrun.
Margaery still appears to be stuck in some kind of mind-control/Stockholm syndrome. However, she appears to be somewhat free again. She now wears a simple modest wool gown and her crown. So far, it’s been unclear whether cagey Margaery’s religious awakening is real or pretend.
When the sequence begins, Margaery is receiving counsel from the High Sparrow. She admits to him that for years she pretended to love the poor.
Then, in a fabulous show of church/crown collusion, the High Sparrow urges Margaery to perform her wifely duties and sleep with Tommen. After all, as the High Sparrow puts it, “Congress doesn’t require desire on the woman’s part, only patience.” Where are Ramsay’s dogs when you need them?
The High Sparrow wants to consolidate Tommen’s rule now that he is under his thumb. This means that Tommen needs an heir.
Historic note: As Richard III, Edward IV, Henry VIII, Henry VI, and a whole bunch of other kings could tell you, medieval kings were very insecure – and apt to murdered and overthrown – if they didn’t have a male heir. Richard III lost his crown after his son died. The birth of Edward IV’s first son in 1470 helped save his rule. After Henry VII’s first son Arthur died, Henry VII guarded his only remaining son (the future Henry VIII) as though he was a life insurance policy.
The High Sparrow also threatens the safety “body and soul” of Olenna if the Queen of Thorns doesn’t leave behind her sinful ways and repent. (In other words, with the king on his side, the High Sparrow is declaring war. Olenna needs to publicly submit or be eliminated.)
Later, Margaery meets with her grandmother in her solar, as Septa Unella looms in the background, listening to every word.
Margaery tells Olenna that the gods could have punished her for marching on the Great Sept, but they showed mercy.
Olenna can’t understand why her granddaughter remains so absurdly brainwashed. Worse, the High Sparrow still has her grandson and heir imprisoned.
Margaery informs her grandmother that Loras’ only hope is to confess his crimes and repent. If he does, the Faith will allow him to return to High Garden. The catch: Loras will have to renounce his name, title, inheritance, and live as a penitent!
Obviously, this isn’t even remotely acceptable to Olenna. Without Loras, her House and legacy faces destruction. But, Margaery is desperately trying to save her family.
Olenna urges Margaery to leave for High Garden immediately.
Margaery refuses on the grounds that she is the queen, and it is her duty to serve her husband. Ugh. We all know what the High Sparrow thinks that means.
Margaery then kneels before her grandmother and encourages (read: warns) her to go home. She grasps her grandmother’s hand and slips her a note.
Once Olenna is outside the solar, she opens the note. It has a rose drawn on it. The real message: Margaery is still true to her house but careful enough not to put it in written words.
Later Cersei pays Olenna a visit – and finds the Queen of Thornes writing a letter. Olenna barely looks up from the letter, ironically mirroring the time Olenna asked for Cersei’s help and Cersei did the same.
Nonetheless the Queen of Thorns really socks it to Cersei: “Loras rots in a cell because of you. The High Sparrow rules this city because of you. Our two ancient houses face collapse because of you and your stupidity.” It’s brilliant – and about time.
Smart people have been telling Cersei for years that she overestimates her intelligence, but she refused to listen. (Well, in her defense, who does listen when they’re told they are dumb?) But still, some of the smartest people you know warn you that you aren’t as smart as you think you are, shouldn’t you at least solicit your counselors’ advice like every other ruler in Westeros and Essos does?
What’s changed is that Cersei is more humble. She acknowledges that Olenna’s right. Cersei admits she delivered an “army of fanatics onto our doorstep.”
Cersei points out that Olenna and Cersei need each other.
This may be true. But, Olenna doesn’t let Cersei off the hook, nor should she. The Queen of Thorns Olenna muses that Cersei might be “the worst person” she’s ever met.
Olenna informs Cersei that she is leaving so she isn’t thrown into a cell at the Sept by that “shoeless zealot.” She recommends that Cersei does the same.
Cersei refuses to leave. She won’t abandon her son.
But, Olenna reminds her she has lost already. Cersei has no support. The smallfolk hate her. Her brother is gone. Cersei’s surrounded by thousands of enemies.
Olenna is giving her good advice. Yet, Cersei has a terrible history of not listening to wise counsel. Will she this time?
As Olenna returns to writing her letter, barely giving Cersei a second glance, tears well up in the dowager queen’s eyes. How much Cersei has changed from the brittle little girl who went to see Maggy the Frog.
If there is one thing that’s true in Cersei’s character, it’s that she really loves her children. In this scene, the newly humbled, shorn Cersei actually has the moral high ground. She’s repentant – and unlike the survivalist Olenna, Cersei is willing to risk her life rather than abandon her son.
The Hound is Back!
The episode tonight opened with a very un-Game of Thrones image of a community of smallfolk building a sept in a sun-dappled field. The menfolk haul logs, smelt nails, and chop wood. The womenfolk chop turnips and toss them into wooden bowls. It’s all very kumbaya and Whole Foods and beautifully natural. There’s even folksy guitar music – or maybe that’s a folksy harpsichord.
But, amidst all this strangeness, comes the big reveal: Sandor Clegane (aka the Hound) is BACK! He liveth yet.
When we last saw Sandor, at the end of Season 4, he had been bitten on the neck by “Biter” (a mute criminal from King’s Landing) – who hoped to collect the ransom on Sandor’s head. Naturally, this human bite became infected. And then Brienne and Sandor fought when Brienne tried to get Arya to go with her.
Afterward, when Sandor lay wounded, his infection from Biter’s bite was so bad that he begged Arya to kill him. Arya refused. (Instead, she boarded a ship for Braavos, cashing in her faceless man chip (the coin).)
In tonight’s episode, it seems the septon of this folksy religious community found Sandor and healed him.
Sandor now happily lives with these good people, chopping wood in regular peasant clothes. Not a twinkle of armor in sight. Sure, some men fear him. But, Sandor is trying to redeem himself by living a non-violent lifestyle.
Well, sort of.
Sandor is still very much the realistic pragmatist.
After three worshippers of R’hllor from the Brotherhood ride up to the community to ask for “protection money,” Sandor warns the leader that refusing them was a mistake. They will be back. He urges the leader to prepare to fight.
The leader refuses. He has renounced violence, which is a “disease.” (You can’t stop a disease by spreading more of it.)
A while later, as Sandor chops wood a few miles away, he hears screams as the Brotherhood massacres his community.
Sandor runs back to the community to find everyone slaughtered and the leader dangling from a rope on the sept. Infuriated by the injustice meted out to the only people in his life who showed him kindness, Sandor grabs his axe off the chopping block. The old Hound is back and he wants revenge.
Historical notes: Protection money and racketeering were alive and well in the middle ages. One example is the extortion that went on in the Anarchy when knights held entire villages for ransom.
It was not unheard of for knights to join religious orders and renounce violence.
Riverrun: Jaime confronts a hero
The Freys may be wily. But military strategists they ain’t. Jaime and his army easily move in behind the Frey army, without any challenges. The Freys didn’t secure the perimeter around the siege. Jaime then blithley informs the Freys that he will be assuming command of the siege.
Jaime wants a parley — that is, a chance to negotiate peace — with the Blackfish.
The parley does not go well for Jaime. Jaime is in a terrible negotiating position.
In negotiations, there’s something called BATNA (Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement). The long and short of it is, you can’t drive somebody to an agreement if you’re in a weak bargaining position, which Jaime is.
The Blackfish is tough, smart, experienced, and stubborn. He knows who has the upper hand in this siege.
Riverrun has enough food to sustain its inhabitants through a two-year siege.( Riverrun is in the fertile riverlands after all – upon whose silty banks agriculture was invented.)
Although in history there are some sieges that last for seven years and even twenty years, no commander wants to put a castle under siege for that long. Food runs out. The men get dysentery. The besieging warriors die most inglorious deaths.
The Blackfish points out that if Jaime can even breach the walls, only hundreds of the Blackfish’s men will die whereas Jaime will lose thousands.
Plus, why should the Blackfish trust Jaime would honor the agreed upon terms of surrender? Jaime’s not trustworthy – he’s the kingslayer and oathbreaker. And, Jaime’s family betrayed the Tullys at the Red Wedding during which the Lannisters and Freys colluded to butcher the Blackfish’s sister, nephew and men.
Braavos: Best laid plans?
Last week’s episode ended with Arya in danger from the Waif. When she tucked Needle into bed with her, it was pretty easy to imagine the Waif attacking her that night.
Arya’s not stupid. She knows she needs to get outta Dodge – and ideally as far away as possible – if she wants to survive. She has a plan, and apparently some gold.
Arya wants to book a passage home to Westeros. She wanders through a tavern where she finds a captain dining with another man. She throws down loads of gold and books a private cabin for herself, leaving that night.
Afterward, she pauses on a bridge to stare triumphantly at the Titan of Braavos.
But, then it is a scene straight out of Cinderella. A kindly crone approaches her, “Sweet girl.” It’s the Waif. She stabs Arya in the gut multiple times. Arya ducks and rolls off the bridge where she tumbles into the water.
The Waif saw the bloody cloud in the water and may assume Arya is dead.
A few moments later, Arya emerges from the canal. Blood is gushing out of her abdomen. She staggers into the market square. It will be a miracle if she lives and makes it on that ship before bleeding out.
The North is reminded
The North sequence opens as the Free Folk chieftains debate whether to fight for Jon Snow and Sansa against Ramsay, who has basically declared war. The chieftains are far from convinced they want to do this. They agreed to fight white walkers – not get involved in “southern” dynastic politics.
Tormund gives a rousing speech. He reminds the chieftains of how few people are left from Mance’s united army. If the Free Folk loose, their ancestors’ legacies will be extinguished. It will be like they never existed at all.
Jon implores them to help him fight Ramsay and his vassals: “After they finish with me, they will come for you.” Plus, as Jon points out, the Free Folk need a united North – who can fight with one goal — if they want to stand a chance against the Army of the Dead.
Tormund reminds them that Jon risked his neck to save their lives at Hard Home and then literally died for them.
They have to fight together to survive.
Wun Wun stands up says “Snow” and leaves. The others follow suit. The chieftains will support them.
Begging at Bear Island
Jon, Sansa, and Davos go to Bear Island to ask Lady Lyanna Mormont, who was named after Lyanna Stark, for men. Jon is hopeful because he saw the defiant message Lyanna sent to Stannis, penned in her own childish hand: “Bear Island knows no king but the king in the North, whose name is Stark.”
But, this little bear doesn’t make it easy for them. The pragmatic Lady Lyanna tells the trio to get to the point and cut the small talk.
After hearing their request, she turns to her counselors. (Take note, Cersei)
“Why should I sacrifice one more Mormont life for somebody else’s war?” she asks Jon & company.
Davos speaks. He knows how to reach common ground and acknowledges the burden of protecting your people when you don’t expect to be a leader. He also tells her that “the real war is between the living and the dead… Make no mistake my lady, the dead are coming.”
A divided north won’t stand a chance against the Night King.
Finally, Lyanna agrees: “House Mormont has kept faith with House Stark for a thousand years. We will not break faith today.”
The punchline: House Mormont can only give 62 men.
House Glover: No longer hand in glove with the Starks
The trip to see House Glover doesn’t go well.
Robett Glover isn’t happy with the late Robb’s leadership. He slags Robb for “taking up with a foreign whore” and “getting himself and his followers killed” as a result. And, quite frankly, you can’t blame him. Why should people risk their lives and families when their leader can’t even sacrifice a bit of personal comfort (choice of spouse)? Philippa Gregory: Take note.
Robett only agreed to talk to Sansa, Jon and Davos out of loyalty to Ned.
Plus if Ramsay knew he was even talking to them, he would literally skin Robett alive.
Once Robett heard that the bulk of the trio’s forces were Wildlings, there was no way he would join them.
Yara & Theon
Yara & Theon successfully escape from Euron and are at a brothel. While Yara gets it on with one of the prostitutes, Theon squirms nearby. It’s a painful memory of his former ability to perform sexually.
Yara gives him drink therapy. She tells him she needs him to be brave. Theon is acutely aware of all the bad he has done. He says his head deserves to be on a spike. Yara tells Theon they will get revenge on Ramsay if that will help Theon restore himself. Then she announces the plan: she is going to get Daenerys to support them.
The Broken Man in this episode could be Theon, who is broken and needs to find redemption. It could be Jaime whose identity has always been so deeply rooted in his martial prowess — will he restore his faith in himself at the walls of Riverrun? It could also be Cersei who seems to have genuinely changed. And, Arya body is now physically broken. Will she survive?