Game of Thrones surprised us right out of the gate this week. Not with a certain character’s return, but with a cold open. After all, if you don’t witness a character die in any show or movie, don’t assume he or she is actually dead. On this show, even witnessing the death isn’t a sure thing. However opening the episode in what appeared to be Middle Earth before the theme song was a legitimate surprise to anyone who’s settled into a Sunday night GoT routine. I’m not sure we needed half the episode to follow a character that has yet to tie into this season, and much of one’s opinion on The Broken Man depends on just how much you were willing to see from the titular character.
Aside from the Hound’s mini-arc, not a whole lot happens. Jon, Sansa and Davos’ recruiting trip provided some entertainment. I do love a good Davos speech whenever the opportunity presents itself, especially while hosting the latest episode of Kids Say the Darndest Things. Sansa’s resolve is stronger than ever, and the forthcoming battle for Winterfell has potential to be the best on-screen battle we’ve seen from the entire series thus far. Last week, I somewhat praised a setup episode on the condition that this following week up the ante. Instead, I feel we took a step backwards from an hour that already had me on the fence. The Hound reveal wasn’t quite as anticipated as Benjen’s long awaited return, at least for me. And the surrounding stories went absolutely nowhere in the grand scheme of things.
Let’s scroll through some of the lack of progress made in The Broken Man. Before this episode, Yara and Theon were sailing to hopefully meet up with Daenerys. Now, they’re on the way to hopefully meet Daenerys. Before this episode, Jon was bringing Sansa and Davos to rally the northern houses to prepare for war. Now, they’re rallying northern houses to prepare for war. Arya was on the run from her former allies. Now, she’s on the run from her former allies. Last week we figured Margaery was up to something; now we know she’s up to something. Jaime went from approaching a stalemate to engaging in said stalemate. Bronn and the Blackfish redeemed this sequence with some solid entertainment and fun lines, but the encounter itself went nowhere. Just like the rest of this episode. The only real progress comes from the Hound, who wasn’t even a player in this game the night before.
Of course, these smaller episodes leave room for character development. But that aspect of this episode fell short in several areas as well. Arya’s actions are inexplicably out of character. No more than a couple of days, hours for all we know, have passed since she betrayed the most dangerous and mysterious house in Braavos. Yet she parades through the streets, sans Needle, arrogantly tossing gold around like an amateur. She became the very type of target she’s trained to hunt, oblivious and unaware. Then the old witch from Snow White hobbles out and, wouldn’t you know it, it’s not really an old lady. The hardened Arya that’s been established by this story doesn’t make that mistake, which is an example of plot-driven writing instead of a character-driven one.
If Arya were real, in that crazy scenario, I’m willing to bet she lays low or is at least prepared for an attack. But because her real climax has to wait until episode 8, 9, or 10, she makes a convenient mistake that drags out her already dragged out plot for another episode or two. Jaime continues to abandon his ambitious ideas in favor of blindly following his sister’s orders. Everyone who was responsible for the Frey-Lannister alliance is dead, including the one they plotted to kill in the first place. Jaime has zero allegiance to this cause, yet is about to go to war with someone he’d probably get along with under different circumstances. This whole episode felt like a pause button, one that stalls us while the heavy hitters prepare themselves. I’m certain the next few will pick up the pace, but the Thrones formula feels a bit contrived if those big moments absolutely have to wait until the last three episodes. Regardless of what they contain, I’m certain one of the upcoming sequences could’ve fit into this seventh episode. The Broken Man ended at 9:52 and had an Arya sequence that could’ve been completely cut without taking anything away from her story. That’s at least another 12 minutes to work with, a stretch that could’ve been dedicated to one of next week’s highlights. This isn’t the NBA. I shouldn’t be able to see everything important if I start watching at the start of the fourth quarter.
I’ve had Season 6 as Thrones’ best yet for some time now, but with the ongoing condition that they continue to stick their landings. This has obviously been a harsh framing of a fine and solid episode but, under my own high standards and the standards of many, an episode like this doesn’t hold up. Until the inevitable craziness that’s about to happen, I’ll have to put this sixth season alongside Season 4 for my co-favorite as of now. I could’ve been just as satisfied by reading a tweet of this episode: “The Hound is back. Stay tuned.” If the reports are true that say this is the last ten-episode season of Game of Thrones, with how much story there is left to tell, there is no excuse to put anything but legendary episodes on screen throughout the remainder of this series. The only reason my expectations are so high is because we only get ten of these, then have to essentially wait an entire year for more. You’re telling me it’ll be seven next year, and I’m supposed to cheer for episodes like this? It’s a harsh review, but only to set up upcoming weeks. By the Thrones law and formula, which we can apparently predict now, things should be better from this point on. Originally, I would’ve expected or asked for an Episode 8 on par with The Mountain and the Viper. After this week, it has to be Hardhome.