Is Game of Thrones getting too safe, too conservative and too attached to its own favourites? When push comes to shove, does the show wrap its favourites up in cotton wool to save them for a rainy day?
The Broken Man was a very good episode. It was directed by Mark Mylod, returning for his third season, and written by fan favourite Bryan Cogman. It was a slower paced hour with more time spent on the various fractious relationships rather than driving the plot forward.
Unlike many other episodes, the episode focused on a handful of locations and returned to each with shorter, snappier scenes. The Broken Man centred on the resurrection of Sandor Clegane. Utilising a cold open (aka a pre-credits scene) for one of the few times in the show’s history, the episode spent little time in dispelling any intrigue over his fate.
Not that anyone had much cause to wonder – the last time we saw him he was bleeding towards a long and lonely death after Arya’s refused to put him out of his misery. It felt like a satisfactory conclusion to his storyline, but his return ponders the question of why? How can the audience trust the show to kill off a character and then bring him back?
Yes, everyone remembers Ned Stark’s head bouncing along the steps of Baelor, the Red Wedding and the boy king Joffrey turning a violet shade of blue at his own nuptials. But since then the show has shown a taggering reluctance to trim the fat of its sprawling cast.
Some may argue that the untimely demises of Stannis Baratheon, Princess Shireen, Princess Myrcella, Prince Doran, Prince Trystane, and Roose Bolton represent recent sacrificial offerings to the bloodthirsty gods of GoT fandom. But none of their deaths have impacted the overall story in any meaningful way.
Hodor’s death a couple of weeks back was traumatic and devastating but ultimately he was a character whose main plot purpose was as a medieval taxi service.
Jon’s death was solved with a wave of the hands, some magic words and a bizarre lack of acknowledgement.
In fact, probably the two most recent deaths to have shaken up the lands of Westeros significantly was the late season four death of Sandor “The Hound” Clegane and the more recent vanquishing of Jon Snow.
The latter, as we all know, was short-lived. Jon’s death may have whipped the world into a swirl of off-season speculation but ultimately was solved with a wave of the hands, some magic words and then a bizarre lack of acknowledgement. (The refusal of anyone who comes into contact with him — even to raise an eyebrow to the fact that he has just risen from the dead — borders on the absurd.)
The Hound was never an easy character to love – but that’s what made him such a quintessential thread in the fabric of this story. He was the rabid attack dog of the Lannisters who morphed into the surprisingly moral saviour of Sansa, to the world-weary tutor for Arya. He was a seemingly one-note villain but after each layer was stripped back, revealed a surprisingly complex and principled person.
His scenes with Septon Ray (played by the excellent Ian McShane of Deadwood fame) were beautiful mediations on the nature of man, the relationships with the gods and the justifiable use of force delivered with a ribald down-to-earth tone of the common man. And the Hound’s apparent turn back to the path of violence in the last scene is an intriguing plot move with the Brotherhood Without Banners making their return, Arya intent on returning back to Westeros, and his brother coming back to life through arcane magic.
But it also hints at a show that is perhaps starting to slip into a sense of comfort with many of its likeable characters. Yes, the books hint at the Hound’s status to a degree that savvy readers were all-but certain of his fate (though the show appears to have cut one of the most beautiful pieces of writing in the entire series which was the inspiration for the episode title, but his return in the show is accompanied by a sense that nothing much has changed about him.
Just like Jon Snow, a near brush with death seems to have been a temporary inconvenience before a resumption of normal proceedings. Death is becoming something which major characters need not fear.
Even though religion is becoming an encroaching force in the world of Game of Thrones and even though a few episodes ago we were explicitly told the wildlings think he is a god – no one seems particularly impressed by the fact Jon Snow died but is now alive again.
With the end of the season rapidly approaching, some characters are no doubt set to meet their demise and others may yet reappear. Let’s hope that if and when they do, their deaths and resurrections manage to land the emotional punches these moments deserve.
That said, The Broken Man was filled with some wonderful scenes.
Sansa, Jon and Davos’ meeting with the young Lady Lyanna Mormont was the highpoint of the Stark ensemble’s attempts to rouse an anti-Bolton army.
Assumedly, Sansa is contacting Littlefinger to send his conveniently placed garrison of knights, but even then the Starks are going to need to start winning the support of a few more men if they are going to avoid repeating the doomed campaign of Stannis.
Jaime’s meeting with the Blackfish outside the gates of Riverrun was another wonderfully crafted scene that reinforced the sheer drudgery of medieval sieges. The glories of war and epic battles live long in the memories, but few seem to recall the long-winded periods of boredom that also accompany war.
The Blackfish (Catelyn Stark’s uncle) says they have two years worth of supplies at the ready but with only three episodes of the season remaining, it seems this siege will not last long.
The Waif appears to be equally bad at killing people.
Margaery’s double agent game was revealed with a sly note passed to her grandmother. It conveniently tipped her off to leave the city and avoid imprisonment. Margaery’s end game is hard to deduce, but by seemingly gaining the High Sparrow’s trust and with the remnants of a Tyrell-loyal army still supposedly within the city, the scene is set for a comeuppance in her favour.
Arya appears to have learnt little in the art of subtlety from her internship with the Faceless Men. While last week’s episode implied she was in danger after departing from the company, she decided to naively walk around carrying bags of money in broad daylight and plop them in front of the nearest man with a Westerosi accent for everyone to see.
If she was trying to avoid detection she did a very strange job of it. The Waif appears to be equally bad at killing people; apparently deciding that the perfect place to stab someone from behind is their… stomach?