Posted on Monday, June 6th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
We’re at the point in Game of Thrones season 6 where all hell is set to break loose. And it will. Next week. “The Broken Man” is the second table setting episode in a row, but it feels necessary with so many pieces in play. When the credits roll here, just about everyone is in a perilous and desperate position. Blood will flow next week and the week after. This week was all about preparing for battle – the swords will unsheathe soon enough.
The Return of Sandor Clegane
“The Broken Man” begins with a cold open, making it the fourth episode in the series so far to do so. It quickly becomes obvious why: Sandor Clegane, aka the Hound, is alive (if not particularly well) and living in some kind of religious community run by Brother Ray, played by the great Ian McShane. A normal opening would have given away Rory McCann‘s name in the credits and spoiled the return of one of Game of Thrones‘ best characters, who seemingly perished at the end of season four after a battle with Brienne of Tarth. By coming before the opening titles, Sandor’s comeback is treated like a proper event. The show really is so much more interesting when everyone’s favorite bad-tempered-but-sympathethic monster is on the chess board. He’s like a classic Universal Monster – you love him despite the fact that he’s also a vicious murderer. It’s just his nature.
The nature of his return is far different from the books (but we’ll tackle that below). He was found dying on the side of the road by Brother Ray and he was nursed back to healthy by Brother Ray, a soldier-turned-Septon who couldn’t be more different than the other religious figures on the show. Unlike Melisandre, he’s no zealot. Unlike the High Sparrow, his simple ways don’t fuel insane and terrifying mania. He’s the closest thing Westeros has to a hippy commune leader – he’s coarse but he’s honest, he’s gentle but tough enough to temper the Hound. And he’s also dead when the credits roll, because genuinely good men don’t last long on Game of Thrones.
The Starks Recruit the Wildings
A significant portion of this episode is dedicated to watching Team Stark scramble across the North, desperately seeking the aid of various houses that were loyal to Eddard and Robb before everything went to hell. Stop one was easily the most successful of the bunch: Jon Snow officially confirms support from the Wildlings after a meeting with their leaders. It’s the kind of scene where the twenty-foot-tall Giant attending the meeting stands up, gives the former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch a nod of approval, says “Snow” and goes about his business, a message that everyone else in the circle can instantly translate.
However, the scene also makes it clear that this group actually owes Jon their loyalty. He rescued them at Hardhome before literally dying for them. They may be unconventional allies, but it’s an alliance built on blood spilled and slowly solidifying mutual trust. How many times has Tormund seen Jon act with his people’s best interests at heart? Unlike every other alliance on this show, there is no politics here and no silly back-and-forth. Winter is coming and the dead are coming and these are the only Stark allies who truly know what this means.
The Starks Try to Recruit Everyone Else
The rest of the Stark Recruitment Tour doesn’t go quite as well, but it does lead to a character introduction for the ages. A visit to Bear Island, home of House Mormont, brings Jon, Sansa and Ser Davos face-to-face with Lyanna Mormont, the 10-year old Lady of the house. Bella Ramsey is incredible in her few minutes of screen time, beautifully portraying a young girl who has been forced to grow up far too quickly and takes her responsibilities very seriously (no walnut-smashing here). Like Jeor and Jorah, she proves herself very capable of representing one of Westeros’ key supporting families. She’s tough and she’s measured and she’s wise enough to take Davos’ warnings about an army of the undead seriously. Most importantly, she offers House Stark her support…and all 62 of her men. But hey, it’s something, right?
The visit with House Glover reflects the faltering allegiances of the North. Why should they be loyal to the family that got so many people killed when it was House Bolton that helped them take Moat Callin back from the Ironborn? Centuries of pacts were broken alongside Robb’s forces at the Twins and the Stark name is melting away like snow in springtime. This isn’t the first time the Starks have faced desperate odds, but all of the pluck and courage and nobility in the world can’t compete with an actual army headed by a vicious psychopath.
Of course, Sansa happens to have an army hidden in her back pocket. All she needs to do is contact the man who left her in the belly in the beast. All she has to do is is trust the one man who should never be trusted. Then again, could the Starks take back the North without the help of Petyr Baelish and the Knights of the Vale?