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Game of Thrones: Season 6 Episode 7 – The Broken Man

“All I can do with the time I’ve got left is bring a little goodness into the world. That’s all any of us can do. It’s never too late to stop robbing people, to stop killing people, and start helping people. It’s never too late to come back.”

‘The Broken Man’ begins with images of rebuilding. Importantly, the rebuilding is on untouched soil. The unnamed characters we see hammering and sawing and hauling loads to build a tower are not interested in resurrecting an old structure.

This scene is also a cold open, something Game of Thrones has rarely employed, and in this episode it serves very much to establish the future hopes of Westeros. As Jon Snow tries to rally enthusiasm to defend against the army of the dead, and Cersei appears to have confirmed that humanity will destroy itself regardless, the characters – and the series, if we’re honest – needed to make clear some sense of hope. There needed to be a possibility that the land and the people who inhabit it can come back from their history of violence.

As the episode’s writer Bryan Cogman says:

‘It tonally doesn’t really feel like Game of Thrones until the end…The scenes have a light touch and gentleness and humanity and humour that you don’t find on the show…’

This opening, and the two successive scenes that follow in this location later in the episode, serve as the resurrection of Sandor Clegane. The Hound is dead, Sandor lives, having ‘coughed’ himself back to life not unlike Jon Snow did earlier in the season. But these moments of pastoral rehabilitation are only a suggestion of hope, because it’s not long before the Brotherhood Without Banners return and slaughter the burgeoning sept.

That this happens offscreen, barely heard at all by Clegane, is indicative of the series’ direction. Anticipated last week with the visit to Horn Hill, characters can’t escape the violence that pours all over Westeros. It will find them in the end and push them back.

For us, and for Clegane, it’s important that we return to the violence (there’s no escaping it) with some vision of the future. He has the slightest grip on his new life as a broken man of peace, but he doesn’t want to let go, even if the past isn’t through with him yet.

Another broken man, Brother Ray, describes this to Clegane:

‘Violence is a disease.’

But similarly, they need to believe they can withstand the violence.

‘I don’t know if my god is the real god but I just know we need to believe in something greater than ourselves.’

This isn’t necessarily religion, and positions Brother Ray and Clegane at odds with the ideology of the faith-at-all-costs High Sparrow. It’s worth noting that the High Sparrow carries his every move with constant shadowed support from the Faith Militant. Brother Ray sees tools, not weapons. Clegane seeks atonement for his violent past, but he similarly can accept that a peaceful future is worth fighting for.

This seems obvious – it is the catchcry of all who go to war – but as we’ve seen clearly in this season, and glimpsed in others, very few characters in Game of Thrones have fought for peace, even when they claim to.

The old wars were seemingly about justice, and about restoring order. But Bran’s visions cast those motivations in doubt. Robert Baratheon’s obsession with Lyanna Stark appears to have been far more important than a desire to restore peace to Westeros. Ned Stark’s heroism is murky, and belongs more to myth than reality, so maybe there was no desire for justice in the first place. In some ways, Ned’s stubborn idealism of Season One can be viewed as a response to his potentially compromised battle with justice in the past. He did support Robert’s ascension, remember.

Fat, bloated Robert in Season One wanted power and a party, not equality. Cersei still longs for power. The Greyjoys want what they feel is theirs. Daenerys wants the Throne she feels is hers by right. None of them have been able to find, or hang on to power because none of them want it altruistically.

There needs to be another motivation for bloodshed, otherwise the Night King has already won.

This is the challenge that faces Jon, Sansa and Davos in the trip around the North trying to rally support. Jon gets it from the Wildlings because they realise he is prepared to sacrifice his life for them, and for everyone. But he isn’t able to articulate that same sacrifice to House Mormont, or House Glover.

Sansa can only muster her line that the North remembers, and they remember the Starks. But Game of Thrones has been successfully demolishing the old power structures for a while now, and this approach is similarly futile. As Lord Glover makes abundantly clear, allegiance to the Starks is meaningless now. All those oaths are forgotten, broken, or irrelevant. For the Mormonts, they’re facing a Snow (who may not even be a Snow), and a Lannister-Bolton. For all their words, representing the Starks and reclaiming Winterfell because it’s the right thing to do just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Davos, who has occupied enough positions and perspectives in life (and on the show) is the only one to remove himself from the equation and see what is at stake:

“This isn’t someone else’s war. It’s our war. … The real war isn’t between a few squabbling houses. It’s between the living and the dead. And make no mistake, my lady, the dead are coming.”

So Sansa and Jon may not quite realise what they’re fighting for just yet, or who they’re representing when they try to fight, but they’re on the way. Arya’s scene stands in contrast: she has forsaken the Faceless Men because she couldn’t kill without reason. The placing of her scene is structurally a bit clumsy, but I can imagine it’d be difficult to place it at any point.

It seemingly hangs on the tension of Arya nearly dying, which is too large a moment to place early in the episode, or lose it somewhere in the middle. It jars as a breaker to the last two scenes with Clegane, but perhaps there’s intent here.

The violence comes, suddenly and without concern for our allegiances. Arya’s bloodied stumble through the streets of Braavos leads straight to the limping walk of Clegane through the masses of corpses he had been sharing a life with. Both these characters know that they can’t escape violence, but they’re endeavouring to control how they encounter it, and ensure they’re fighting for a reason that goes beyond any egotism. It’s clever, linking these two characters’ movements and actions, when one considers how in-step they were as travelling companions not that long ago.

While the King’s Landing scenes initially seem designed to confirm that Margaery is playing the long con, there are a couple of small seeds to consider, particularly when considering what direction they might grow in.

The High Sparrow shares a scene with Margaery, and places himself at odds with everything and everyone. And yet this comes subtly, because from the outside it looks just like every other moment he’s had this season, sitting on that bench, imparting nuggets of philosophy. Only now we know that his words aren’t being met by Margaery, she’s fooled him, and so we can see how fallible he is. And then he comes out with this line:

“Congress does not require desire on the woman’s part, only patience.”

This seals his fate. The High Sparrow has looked like someone who might be out of place when the magic of the North and East reaches King’s Landing, but now he confirms it. Nowhere in Game of Thrones has that line of thought played out this season. We have a tin ear to his words now. From Sansa’s rise, to Brienne’s strength, to Daenerys’ destruction, and typified in this episode with Lyanna Mormont, the women in the series are not the ones broken by the past. They are ascending. Men, and men who think like the High Sparrow, are on borrowed time.

For Cersei, we’re perhaps more removed from her psychology than we have been ever before. We are receiving her through the eyes of others, and judging her like Lady Olenna. She has no-one now, and no claim to power or authority. It has all been for nothing. When the eventual violence comes (next week, according to the preview), all we know is that Cersei will be acting with far more impunity than ever before, because she’s lost everything else. Burn them all, indeed.

In the books, the broken men are the ones who commit violence for the wrong reasons. Their actions break them all, sooner or later, and they become something to fear and pity.

The broken Sandor Clegane doesn’t get to finish building, and this episode doesn’t offer any resolution at all, or answers. But we do get an outline of what might be built in the future. Game of Thrones is suggesting there may be a way back for some of them, for those prepared to hope and work toward that hope by building something new. Something worth believing in that is greater than themselves, and more important than themselves.

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