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“The Broken Man” was a slow episode; it began with a cold opening and ended with a sombre finale, and in between there wasn’t a lot going on. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Seasons of television require moments of restraint, and whilst I didn’t find this episode particularly exciting, it set up future conflict in a reasonably intelligent way. Fan theories were touched upon to thrill book readers, which is enough to keep them entertained despite a noticeable lack of death (until the final two scenes), and there was a lot of strategic positioning going on; whether it be Sansa (Sophie Turner) sending a letter to Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen), Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) speaking with The Blackfish (Clive Russell), or Yara (Gemma Whelan) expressing her plans to make a pact with Daenerys (Emilia Clarke).

This episode was titled “The Broken Man” for a reason; The Hound (Rory McCann), Arya’s (Maisie Williams) worst enemy turned best mate, returned in what was a pretty cool opening scene. It wasn’t particularly shocking for me, because Ian McShane (the actor playing Brother Ray – The Hound’s ‘teacher’ in this episode) gave away the fact that he was going to bring back a character previously thought to be dead on the show prior to the start of season six. This could’ve been a number of characters, with Lady Stoneheart and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) cited as possibilities at the time, but it was obvious to most of us that the only real choice for this resurrection was The Hound, given the description of the character that McShane was set to play and the Gravedigger theory.

On top of that, McShane also revealed that he would only be on the show for one episode, which tarnished my enjoyment of the final scene in “The Broken Man” because it was abundantly clear that Brother Ray was going to die and that The Hound was going to move on. This didn’t make the final scene any less interesting, particularly because it teased Lady Stoneheart in a big way by re-introducing The Brotherhood Without Banners, but I do wish that I hadn’t read any articles about the series before it started because it would’ve been nice to have gone into this episode without knowing this information.

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Still, The Hound being back opens up a world of possibilities, including Cleganebowl. I think that everyone in the “Game of Thrones” fandom would like to see the two Clegane brothers face-off against one another at some point, so the fact that this is now a possibility is really exciting. Plus, the face that the reveal was done using a cold opening (i.e. a scene which occurs before the opening credits) made it all the more impactful, as it caught me off guard and made it feel as though The Hound’s return must have real significance. However, I should point out that the main reason that the episode was edited in this way was that Rory McCann’s name appeared in the opening credits!

Having said all this, The Hound wasn’t the only broken man in this episode; Jaime Lannister, Robett Glover (Tom McInnerny), and Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) also showed that they are also utterly damaged.

Jaime’s storyline is perhaps the most interesting here, as he is once again separated from Cersei (Lena Headey) and is thus able to understand the ramifications of his actions outside of King’s Landing. As a character Jaime has always shown that he can be kind as well as cruel, and any abhorrent things he may have done have always been for the sake of Cersei, including pushing Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) out of a window back in episode one. Cersei is toxic for Jaime and she stops him from fulfilling his true potential, so I welcome having him as far away from her as possible.

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However, I can’t say that I’m overly bothered about the Freys and The Blackfish. This isn’t to say that the characters themselves are dull or that the actors playing them are doing a bad job, it’s just that it doesn’t feel as though this storyline is ever going to go anywhere, given that the Lannister forces outnumber the Tully forces significantly and it would be silly to have Jaime orchestrating a protracted siege on a decrepit castle for the remainder of the series. He’s going to win the battle, so the real question is whether or not doing so is going to affect his character in an important way. Hopefully it will, because I think the majority of the audience would like to see Jaime return to how he was in season three, when he was finally showing some humanity on his travels with Brienne (Gwendoline Christie).

We know that Brienne and Jaime are going to meet up again in the next episode because their doing so is on the promo, and also because Brienne is headed to Riverrun, so I’m hoping that she can talk some sense into him. I’m not expecting some sort of dramatic change in the character right away, but perhaps Brienne can be the catalyst for another redemptive Jaime character arc.

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Elsewhere, Jon and Sansa were on a kind of recruitment drive in the North, trying to convince Stark loyalists to fight for them. Back in season one this was an easy sell for Robb Stark (Richard Madden); at the time Ned (Sean Bean) was still alive, and there was a sense of hatred towards the Lannisters permeating the North. However, following The War of the Five Kings people are less inclined to take up arms – they’ve lost their families, friends, and livelihoods, and they simply want peace. They feel a sense of betrayal at the Starks because of what happened in the North during the aforementioned war, as the ironborn attacked their castles and killed their people, so they aren’t really ready to put their faith in a bastard and a woman who has been married to two of her enemies.

Their logic is sound here, so it’s difficult to get behind the protagonists even though we know that their cause is righteous. They’re in a tough spot right now, so they need to do something to turn the tide – step in Littlefinger. It seems obvious to me that Sansa was writing her letter to Littlefinger asking for his support, and it also seems clear that she’ll get it… for now. I like to imagine that Littlefinger wants what’s best for Sansa, but it’s going to be hard for her to trust him in the future after everything he’s done, and I don’t think that he’ll be satisfied with an alliance in which he doesn’t have complete control. This leads me to think that we could well see a trademark Littlefinger betrayal before the season is over; imagine if Littlefinger was to lend his support to Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) and bolster the Bolton army instead at the last minute! He likes to fight for the team that’s got the best chance of winning after all.

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A scene which wasn’t so amazing in this episode was the one in which Margaery (Natalie Dormer) and the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) had a conversation about the marriage bed. I have to say that from a personal perspective I’m becoming increasingly bored with this storyline and with King’s Landing in general, because as I mentioned last week, there’s nothing that the Lannisters, the Tyrells, or the Faith can do to stop Daenerys or the white walkers. Although they were a key factor in the first few seasons of this series, the Lannisters feel like a side note to a far more important story now, which means that when they appear on screen they merely take up time which could be spent on more compelling events elsewhere.

Nonetheless, I’m not naïve enough to believe that this is really the case, because the way in which the showrunners are streamlining George R. R. Martin’s narrative leads me to believe that anything they’re putting on the screen has to be important in some way or another; it’s just that this storyling doesn’t feel like it is when I’m watching it unfold, and the way it feels to watch an episode of television is very important.

I’m expecting Cersei to get her comeuppance at some point, just as I’m expecting Margaery to outthink the High Sparrow, but how either of these things will come about is much less clear. It seems like Cersei will have a trial by combat to decide her fate, but it also appears that if she does she’ll come out on top, so the trouble won’t end there. Cersei wants the High Sparrow dead and the High Sparrow wants Cersei in chains, so it’s pretty clear that both of them can’t go on living as they are right now. After Bran’s visions last week, I’m expecting Cersei to use wild fire to burn down the Great Sept of Balor (probably with the High Sparrow inside) but because we’re talking about Cersei here something will likely go array. Perhaps she’ll set the whole city on fire, making it easier for Daenerys to take it amidst the chaos, or maybe she’ll unwittingly kill Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) and thus fulfil the prophecy which she fears so much. I think the latter would be a really satisfying way to end her character arc, so that’s what I’m putting my money on.

Finally, I should probably mention what was simultaneously my favourite and least favourite scene in “The Broken Man”, Arya’s stabbing by The Waif (Faye Marsay). Arya walked the streets of Braavos with a skip in her step, booking passage back to Westeros and staring out into the distance with a dream of freedom in her mind. She looked triumphant and happy for the first time in a long time because she was finally herself again – she wasn’t ‘No One’, she was Arya Stark and she was ready to go home.

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via bgr.com

Sadly, things aren’t so easy for the youngest of the Stark girls, and once again her dreams were wrecked by violence. The Waif, disguised as a very agile old woman, snuck up from behind her and stabbed her violently in the stomach, once again showing that she is a very bad Faceless Man; firstly because she didn’t finish the job, and secondly because Jaqen (Tom Wlaschiha) told her not to let Arya suffer – I don’t know if this is just my opinion, but being stabbed in the belly and allowed to bleed out in a canal isn’t a peaceful way to go.

The scene itself was great to watch because for a moment I really did believe that Arya was going to die, and it injected a feeling of urgency into the episode which was noticeably missing before that moment. However, when I took a step back and thought about the stabbing in the context of the series, I realised that Arya’s actions were wholly unbelievable. There’s a real inconsistency here with the portrayal of the character, because the Arya Stark that we know wouldn’t be so careless with her life as to walk out into the open and stand still for all to see; at least not when she knows that there is a skilled assassin out to kill her.

As such, there are two logical explanations which explain her carelessness; 1) she doesn’t think anyone is out to kill her, which seems incredibly silly given that she knows that she’s denied the Many-Faced God a life; or 2) the writers are lazy.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which one of these options is the reality of the situation, as it’s pretty clear that the character knew what she was in for when she spared Lady Crane’s (Essie Davis) life; after all, she ran away rather than returning to the House of Black and White. Some people have gone as far as to theorise that Arya has split-personality disorder in order to bridge the logical gap between Arya’s actions and the character as established by the first five seasons, but I have to say that I think this is a massive stretch on their part. Whilst it would be interesting if this was actually the case – with The Waif symbolising the side of Arya that wants to become ‘No One’ and destroy what’s left of the girl she once was – the show just doesn’t have the time to sink its teeth into a psychological phenomenon like this before the end of the season. To do so would require a lot of exposition and a lot of explanation that the writers don’t really need to implement, especially when most people have been satisfied with how Arya’s plot has been handled thus far in season six.

It’s more likely that Arya really did have a lapse of concentration at the worst possible time, and that the writers wrote the storyline in this way to save time in a series which has become diluted with characters competing for a slither of screen time. It’s a shame, but it’s the reality of the situation.

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via moviepilot.com

Where Arya goes from here is much more interesting to theorise about, because she’s definitely going to need help if she’s going to survive (although if we’re being honest with ourselves she wouldn’t survive – she has no access to proper healthcare and her gaping stomach wounds would either cause her to die of blood loss or they’d become infected, leading to septic shock). Help will most likely come in the form of Lady Crane, not just because she’s the only person that Arya knows in Braavos who doesn’t want her dead, but also because the writers have spent a lot of time this season trying to establish a rapport between the pair. I think having Lady Crane support Arya in her time of need would be incredibly cheap on the part of the writers, but frankly I wouldn’t put it past them right now given that they’re desperate to simplify proceedings at every turn.

I’ve seen screenshots which suggest that Syrio Forel (Arya’s ‘dance teacher’ in season one played by Miltos Yerolemou) could be the person who helps Arya survive her attack, but they could easily have been photo-shopped so I wouldn’t hold out much hope. I think that this would be a far better way to carry on her story and also to remind her of her past as Arya Stark, but when Maisie Williams has asked the showrunners whether or not Syrio Forel is still alive in the past they have responded with a resounding ‘no’, which probably means we won’t see him again on the series.

So, that was the episode. The Hound returned, the High Sparrow talked about the birds and the bees, Jon and Sansa recruited their army, Jaime went to Riverrun, Theon was sad in a brothel, (which I’ve intentionally ignored because it was a nothing scene), and Arya got stabbed. That might be a slightly patronising description of what was a reasonably well-written and intelligent episode of television, but that’s the meat of what happened in “The Broken Man”. It was an episode which took a long time to come to life, but the reintroduction of The Hound and the imminent conclusion to Arya’s time in Braavos were enough to provide a sense of intrigue and excitement. It wasn’t a memorable episode, and moments could’ve been executed with greater care, but on the whole “The Broken Man” was a decent hour of television.

6.5/10

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