(Warning: The following contains several giant, hulking plot SPOILERS for 'Game of Thrones' Season 6, Episode 7, as well as some potential ones for future episodes based on the books. If you aren't yet all caught up with the show, then proceed with whatever level of caution your friendly neighborhood three-eyed raven suggests is wise.)
Of all the harsh truths that Game of Thrones has taught us over the years, there's perhaps none more existentially devastating than this: In the end, everyone can be both a hero and a villain. With the show tending to paint even its most noble characters in subtle shades of grey, we've long since learned our lesson when it comes to believing that anyone in or near Westeros is truly pure of heart. Life, it seems, is more complicated than that.
That hard, harsh knowledge, though, may not quite have prepared us for the show's latest reveal. Y'see, from the looks of it...
(Note: This is where those aforementioned SPOILERS really start to kick in.)
Game of Thrones Just Turned Some of Its Most Beloved (Anti)Heroes Into Villains
Specifically, in the aftermath of this past Sunday's episode — Season 6, Episode 7 — it seems as though the fan-favorite Brotherhood Without Banners may just have transitioned from roguish scoundrels with a noble cause (fighting those who would take advantage of or harm Westeros' regular folk) to the very thing they initially set out to oppose.
Y'see, as part of the newly returned Sandor "The Hound" Clegane's recent rural wood-chopping vacation, we saw a trio of men threaten The Hound's newfound Septon friend — men who were apparently from the R'hllor-worshipping Brotherhood Without Banners. What's more, at the episode's very end, it seems that those same men returned to make good on their promise, and slaughtered both the Septon, and his entire community.
So, Wait, Are The Brotherhood Bad Guys Now?
Well, that technically remains to be seen — for two key reasons — but if we take the events of this week's episode at face value, then it sure does seem like it. There are, however, two key reasons to keep hope alive.
1. We don't actually know exactly what happened with the Septon. Now, sure, we know he's very, very dead — but we don't actually know for sure whether it was the Brotherhood that killed him (or, in fact, whether those three riders were genuine members of the Brotherhood in the first place). It remains entirely possible that the Brotherhood isn't responsible — or that if it is, it's simply a splinter group that is willing to kill innocents for their food. What's more...
2. The Brotherhood has always walked a fine line between helping people and helping their own aims. The show's take on the group was a little more overtly compromised than the novels' — by virtue of their trading of Arya's friend Gendry to Melisandre — but the group has always been more anti-heroic than straightforwardly "good." That may still stand, even if rogue elements within the organization are doing terrible things in its name.
The big question now, though?
If The Brotherhood Has Now 'Gone Bad,' Though, Then What Does That Mean For Game of Thrones As A Whole?
Well, here's the thing. Exactly what the Brotherhood's potential loss of honor means depends rather a lot on whether or not a certain vengeful lady manages to make it into the show in the coming weeks. Y'see, if (as in the books) the Brotherhood have had their cause taken over by a fairly reasonably vengeance-seeking figure, as opposed to simply opposing those who do the smallfolk harm, then it seems entirely plausible that splinter groups will have emerged, and that they would be grudgingly tolerated (or missed entirely). After all, if the main Brotherhood is now simply dedicated to getting revenge on, say, the Lannisters, Freys and Boltons, then a little murder here or there may be seen as a tragic inevitability.
If, however, as still seems the most likely, the group is simply a R'hllor-influenced gang of freedom-fighters, then the transition to murder — even by a splinter group — would seem to suggest that they have very much become everything that they spent the first few seasons of the show opposing: Self-interested, power-hungry thugs, with a license to kill "granted to them" from above. Game of Thrones' audiences can ultimately forgive a lot, but becoming that which you've always sworn to oppose? That's a tough sell.
In other words?
The Next Time We See The Brotherhood, They Could Be Fully-Fledged Antagonists
Which, from the looks of the recently released teaser for next week's episode (above), could be sooner rather than later. Y'see, we heard a few months back that Thoros of Myr is set to return to the show this season, and with Brienne about to arrive in the Riverlands, it seems that she could well be the one we'll revisit the Brotherhood alongside.
Which, seeing as the last time Brienne ran into the Brotherhood in the books she found herself being lynched for helping the Lannisters, might just bode poorly for everyone's favorite badass giant (sorry Wun-Wun). Were the Brotherhood to attempt to (or, worse, successfully) kill Brienne, after all, there's pretty much no way that we'd ever be able to see them as anything other than villains.
Alternatively, of course, there's always the possibility that we'll see The Hound track the group down in search of some vengeance. Now, if his arrival were to happen to coincide with that of Brienne (or, perhaps, Jaime Lannister) meeting the Brotherhood, a whole lot of intriguing plot developments could ensue. A prompt for The Hound to return to King's Landing for Clegane-Bowl, perhaps — or for a surprise move to the North, in search of a greater purpose?
Time, it seems, will soon tell.