7 - The Broken Man
Written By: Bryan Cogman
8 - No One
Written By: David Benioff + D.B. Weiss
STARRING: Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Liam Cunningham, Natalie Dormer, Carice Van Houten, Alfie Allen, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Diana Rigg, Rory McCann, Dean-Charles Chapman,
Clive Russell, Jacob Anderson, Jerome Flynn,
Daniel Portman, Nathalie Emmanuel, Gemma Whelan,
Gwendoline Christie, Kristofer Hivju + Conleth Hill
WITH: Jonathan Pryce, Julian Glover, Anton Lesser,
Ian McShane, Tim McInnerny, Bella Ramsey,
Richard E. Grant, Essie Davis, Tobias Menzies, Tom Wlaschiha, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Eugene Simon, Richard Dormer,
Paul KayeIan Gelder, Hannah Waddingham + Faye Marsay
AND: Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Ian WhyteHafþór,
Júlíus Björnsson, Ricky Champ, Margaret JackmanIan Davies, Murray McArthur, Ross McKinney, Tim Plester, Daniel Tuite,
Leigh Gill, Rob Callender, Sam Redford, Ian Davies, Steve Love
Directed By: Mark Mylod
Showrunners + Producers: David Benioff + D.B. Weiss
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The build up to a truly riveting climax for Season Six gathers apace in these episodes. Whilst neither move the story on drastically further, there is some welcome development for two characters that once formed one of the show's more unlikely, but also more entertaining doubles acts - namely the Hound and Arya.
When these two were last together they seemed to have formed a deep bond, but Arya never quite forgave the Hound for his murder of a childhood friend of hers, and followin Brienne (brutally and perhaps unfairly) beating him in one-on-one combat, she took the chance to rob him and leave him to die.
And yet he still survived.
Many readers of this site may at first do a double take, especially if they never picked up the fourth book in the Song of Ice and Fire saga. The Hound had only the briefest of resurrections there, but his passing mention was enough to confirm that he had not been killed off by his wounds (which also occurred in an entirely different location). Here we have a much more developed explanation, whereby a whole community of pious and kindly people save him from his grievous injuries (the most significant being an infected bite on the neck – which harked back somewhat to Khal Drogo’s fate).
Having Ian McShane as a one-shot guest star was a great decision by the production team. He really makes the most of his role as Brother Ray; which is primarily composed of sharp interplay with the rather more cynical Sandor Clegane. At times this focus on a beautiful picturesque country retreat in the Riverlands is very ‘anti’ Game of Thrones. There is even a pre-credit sequence that may make some viewers unsure they are on the right channel. But towards the end of The Broken Man, there are clearly ominous signs of something nasty on the way.
The motivation behind the Hound ‘breaking back’ to his old mannerisms of swearing and revelling in brutal killing is strong; he had bonded with an entire community that made him see the world he lived in as worthy of some optimism after all. The revenge on the breakaway group from The Brotherhood Without Banners is grim and bloody, but also immensely gratifying. It is also fun to see the reunion of Cleagane with Thoros and Beric Dondarrion, and how they eventually allow their former enemy to have two acts of vengeance (by hanging) rather than just the one.
As for Sandor's cruel and lethal older brother, there is a snippet of his potential destructive capabilities (developed thanks to Qyburn). Although some deaths on the show have been more graphic than this, it still is a powerful moment as one of the Faith Militant is ripped apart – losing his spine, and bleeding profusely into a nearby drain.
Yet the potential for a Trial By Combat - which would be a guaranteed win for Cersei - is quelled thanks to the smart thinking of The High Sparrow, who prompts Tommen to change the law on how guilt or innocence is ascertained. Many fans have keenly hoped for a showdown of the two brothers since a brief face-off in Season One. Yet it remains something that has never quite happened thus far.
It is rather less clear-cut however for Jonathan Pryce’s beautifully-played zealot when it comes to getting ‘into bed’ with the Tyrells. (And there is a risque exchange with Margaery where he encourages her to resume conjugal duties with her much younger husband). Using her powers of intellect and wit, the Queen is able to show Olenna she still is bonded with the Tyrells. Thus it is clear to followers of the show that her public declaration on the steps of the Great Sept was tactical, rather than sincere.
Whilst that is some relief for the Queen of Thorns, she still has decided that enough is enough and embarks on a return home to Highgarden. Her verbal abuse of Cersei is a terrific one-to-one scene – to my mind such exchanges are the bread-and-butter of the show. Olenna's firm put down of Cersei as possibly ‘the worst’ person she knew in her long life is a great one-one-one scene for Diana Rigg and Lena Headey.
Arya has her best material of the season so far, as her carelessness in wondering the streets with no disguise and sure-fire she can return home almost costs her life. That she trusts Lady Crane to nurse her back to health also proves decisive; the 'Waif' finally ensures the marked woman is slain, for the purposes of the Many Faced God.
That the younger Stark lady uses her former blindness - which perhaps lasted several months in actual chronology - in the final showdown with her enemy is clever and poetic. Perhaps a brief scene of these two fighting in the dark would have been welcome, but the cutaway to The Hall of Faces and Jaqen's reaction soon after is still a rousing moment with which to end the second of this pair of episodes. Finally a girl is truly not 'No One'.
Elsewhere, we follow the other principle surviving Starks as they try to reclaim Winterfell from the Bolton-Karstark-Umber 'axis'. Jon is desperate to accumulate an army, even if know it is going to be comfortably outnumbered and less disciplined than that of his enemies. He has at best mixed success.
Initially, he manages to find the one remaining Mormont who is left intact and relevant to the North; the young girl Lyanna. However, despite not even being eleven yet, she has a gravitas and cool logic which makes her a formidable presence. Davos is the most confident in interacting with her, and it recalls the fine interplay Liam Cunningham had with Shireen actress Kerry Ingram.
Bella Ramsey's debut on the show rivals Maisie Williams' early days in the role of Arya, and she makes what could be a silly and overly comedic scene play out beautifully.
Speaking of comedy, how welcome it is to see 'Percy' from Blackadder - otherwise known as Tim McInnerny. He of course can do serious roles justice - as was the case in Doctor Who - but there is always a tinge of melodrama with this actor. Yet this is by no means a bad thing, when much of Thrones takes itself so seriously. His refusal of Jon is painful to see, but totally understable given how poorly the late Robb handled politics, in a region where self-preservation and insular thinking is commonplace. Also, this particular 'lost avenue' takes place in Deepwood Motte – an area of the Westeros map which is given much more prominence in the books. The showrunners do a fine job here in acknowledging their source material but carving out a different path.
More positively for the 'born again' Jon, the Wildlings will be with him come hell or high water. They have of course already faced the army of Wights, and whilst they suffered a heavy defeat at the time, they do know a worse enemy is looming that keeps coming back. Consequently an alliance is galvanised, with Wun Wun (the lone surviving giant) helping the process.
Sansa has little direct impact in negotiations. However we know from The Door that Littlefinger and the Knights of the Vale could help. A short scene depicts her receiving a letter, and the hope would be that the older Stark daughter has some options, which others in the 'good' Alliance do not have.
What is also notable in these Northern scenes, is that whilst Jon and Sansa have grown a great deal, they are not the best at the subtleties of politics and negotiations – which makes viewers wonder if either would quite manage on the Iron Throne, were the opportunity to present itself.
As for the Blackfish potential source of aid, some great work is done in exploring just how this is ultimately a dead end. It also functions as an interesting emotional journey for Brienne and Jaime. Since the Red Wedding, there had been next to no mention and absolutely no screen time for Clive Russell. So it is to the benefit of this present season that this fine character actor bows out with his two very best performances.
With Jaime dismissed from the Kingsguard, and having lost two children (with Myrcella’s murder hitting him especially hard) there is a bit of a redux for this great character. Flashes of the brute with a ‘charming’ smile begin to show again. Not much softness is displayed by the golden-handed warrior when he puts Walder Frey’s sons in line. Even less mercy is evident when he threatens Edmure Tully with a catapault demise for the child he gave to Roslin Frey. Bronn himself has had near enough of Jaime by now; knowing that the often-said 'A Lannister Always Pays His Debts' did not materialise in his case.
However, I have some minor issues with the Riverrun sections. One is that some of the dialogue for Bronn and Podrick is a little too self-indulgent and crude. The suggestion that Pod likes Brienne is very silly, as they were always just an odd couple of clumsy slow-witted serving boy and serious, proficient fighter. It may show some of Bronn’s frustration with not having a romantic partner after all the hard work he has done of late, or it may just be an attempt to do broad humour to please some of the ever growing audience of the show.
Another disappointment is that the Blackfish simply gives up on fighting for Sansa, even though he would be a good addition. However, this does help the story itself as later Jaime does not ask his men to pursue Brienne and Pod, as they row away down the river. (He certainly would have done if this notorious enemy of the Lannisters was present). Further, director Mylod opts to not show the final stand for Ser Brynden Tully, and we must assume the character either inflicted a fatal wound or two, or was instead swiftly dispatched by Jaime’s men.
Finally, some words on the other regions across the Narrow Sea. After her rousing speech atop Drogo, Dany has virtually nothing to do in this section of Season Six. However, she makes a surprise appearance once the Siege of Meereen begins in earnest. Without a line of dialogue, it is still very telling just how angry she is with Tyrion for his handling of both the city, and the politics with the Slave Masters who had visited not long ago. Peter Dinklage continues to be very watchable, but some of his recent dialogue is not of the highest quality, and could easily grace routine fan fiction. The lack of source material does sometimes work against the show, but it depends on a given storyline, and also if the director can paper over the cracks. The farewell scene between Tyrion and Varys is good setup for the later siege, and raises suspense if these two will ever reunite. However, once again they freely walk around Meereen without any guards for backup.
A much better section sees the relationship of Yara and Theon further developed. With his ability to father children, or indeed to have any kind of full physicial relationship taken away from him by (the mercifully distant) Ramsay, Theon still is struggling to feel worthy of being a player in the Game. But Yara manages to achieve some kind of response, through making her brother feel outraged over the phrase ‘a few bad years’. His torture will never leave his trouble psyche, and neither will his guilt for what he did in Winterfell with the Ironborn. But he still has potential to prove himself. Also Yara is quite brazen in showing that she has a preference for women, but treating them like objects – at least in the context of the ready supply of whores in Pentos.
Many pieces on the board have been set now. The biggest (and final two) episodes of the season should result in a rush of excitement and drama, as the 2016 run of Thrones reaches its destination point.