(The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones debuts on April 14th, marking the beginning of the end for HBO’s cultural touchstone. Over the years, we’ve covered all 67 episodes of the series, and are revisiting those original reviews in our new retrospective series titled, “Winter is Coming”. We’re pulling these straight from our vacuum sealed digital time capsules, so step into the virtual time machine with us and read our impressions from way back! With the benefit of hindsight, there is plenty of reasons these reviews will raise some eyebrows.)
Like “Blood of My Blood” preceding it, “The Broken Man” is faced with the tall task of a major character reintroduction, while still serving the many moving pieces in Westeros, as no less than a half dozen fresh conflicts percolating just below their boiling points. Of course, this amounts to two hours of Game of Thrones vacillating between moving, intense character moments and a whole lot of posturing and shit talking – but between the two episodes, there are just enough compelling moments to provide balance to the sheer amount of plot construction.
The most discussed story of the episode will surely be the return of Sandor Clegane, reinforcing the rule that those who don’t die on-screen are never truly dead (and once or twice when they are, of course). But perhaps the most satisfying development is the ever-evolving situation in King’s Landing, where Olenna’s power is put in check, causing a subsequent temper tantrum that kicks Cersei’s butt into gear with her plan to take down the High Sparrow. Knowing that her daughter is still holding onto hope to saving Loras, Olenna throws a lovely sh*t fit on her way out of town, challenging Cersei to stop screwing up the legacy and future of their two “ancient houses”. She yells, and Cersei either kills her or uses Olenna’s insults as power (hoping for the latter, of course) – frustratingly, we don’t find out anything about either in the hour, abandoning King’s Landing after the first third of the episode, never to return.
There are just enough compelling moments to provide balance to the sheer amount of plot construction in “The Broken Man”.
Another interesting wrinkle is dissecting Margaery’s long game, seen playing out as she plays to the ego of the Septon and assures her grandmother that she’s still good ol’ scheming Marge underneath the crown, conservative (for her) dress, and talk about hating poor people and being ashamed of her feelings. How else is one supposed to seduce a man of the cloth, but to appease to his spiritual ego? Maybe it’s just hope Margaery will get off the famous GoT Hamster Wheel of Plots sometime soon, but her sly smirks and glances off-screen during her conversations with the Septon are finally getting her character back on track – it certainly feels like there’s more to the story, clinging onto the story’s role as another humbling moment for a person with high aspirations while screaming to exist as so much more.
Speaking of lessons, there’s a lot to learn for everyone across the length of “The Broken Man”, some of them bloodier than others: Arya and The Hound, their stories forever bound by GoT fans and editors alike, go through some uniquely challenging experiences on their journey to self-discovery. At least, that’s what it feels like on the surface: on a deeper level, the central thematic connections the final third of “The Broken Man” are trying to construct don’t quite hit home as powerful as it seems on paper. Arya’s journey is mostly the by-product of a lot of pointless plot development (the Hamster Wheel is large and strong in Braavos), while The Hound’s return provides an important lesson Game of Thrones always finds new, violent ways to express; that is, that men in a violent world cannot escape the nature of who they are, the unfortunate legacies and curses casting longer shadows than any honorable light ever could.
The Way “The Broken Man” frames those final scenes between the two, cutting back and forth between Septon Ray’s discussions about identity (Hey, Ian McShane! Bye, Ian McShane!) and Arya getting stabbed in the gut by the Waif, the journey of Arya’s nonsense and the Hound’s spiritual search lose a little bit of their effect on both sides. The Hound’s reintroduction comes in conjunction with Arya’s story almost getting to a point where it matters again (she’s just got to survive through the night!), and the image of Ray swinging from the rafters of his church and Arya stumbling through Braavos as she bleeds out doesn’t quite provide the neat visual bow “The Broken Man” is suggesting in those moments. Plus we’re supposed to believe the Hound couldn’t hear dozens of people getting murdered a few hundred yards from his peaceful woodcutting in the sunset?
Regardless, The Hound’s reintroduction and Arya’s stabbing suggest directions for their stories: and in these necessary plot dump hours, keeping that sense of momentum is important in keeping the “in between” moments powerful and engaging. Take Sansa, Davos and Jon’s semi-successful quest to expand the army they’re building to take back Winterfell: there isn’t any tangible development building towards what’s been a foregone conclusions for seasons now, so the impetus of these scenes fall on finding something in its characters to remain compelling, and not get lost among the many other running, intriguing plots of Westeros. Though Sansa’s continued discovery of her own power is exciting to see (and Lyanna Mormont’s debut is badass), this story is the least enjoyable of the hour: it goes through steps easily detailed by a simple conversation, the one time a bit of exposition might do Game of Thrones good, building out more time to build the sudden trust between Davos and Jon, instead of having to cut itself off at the knees by teasing some letter Sansa sends to someone we don’t know.
The rest of “The Broken Man” falls victim to this formula: Blackfish and Jaime talk some necessary smack to each other, reminding us of the everlasting legacy of Jaime’s oath-breaking days, all while building to a conflict with some completely unnecessary (but typical) genital-measuring exercises of Westeros leaders. Again, we know where this story is going, so there’s nothing to happen here but tap feet, and wait for whatever big twist will happen (because clearly, something weird is going to go down) when Jaime finally begins his siege of Riverrun, in order to fortify the position of a family he clearly doesn’t respect (for a crown that loses more power by the minute, under the thumb of the Sparrow).
“The Broken Man” is one of those Game of Thrones episodes stuck between big reveals and even bigger twists: after 50+ episodes, however, one would think GoT could find new ways to deliver these hours sandwiched between the flashier, gasp-inducing hours of the show. Sure, there’s always plenty to chew on in any episode, no matter how anti-climatic; but the lack of ingenuity on a surface level, denies a lot of the potentially satisfying or powerful moments of “The Broken Man” their due, in another busy hour whirling around the ever-increasing amount of locations in Game of Thrones.
- an underrated moment in this hour is Yara telling Theon to get over himself and get back to living and kicking tail. Much needed.
- The Waif is such a silly, ineffective character.
- I love how Olenna and Lyanna feel like spiritual reflections of each other, one at the beginning of her political career, and one at the end.
- We all know Mountain vs. Hound is coming… give it to us now!!!
- No CGI giants going to Winterfell? Does that mean there’s a budget for wolves??!
- Welcome back, Bronn!
- “A Lannister always pays – ” “Don’t say it. Just don’t f*cking say it.”