The High Sparrow eyes another target. Jaime confronts a hero. Arya makes a plan. The North is reminded.
Having lost my voice thanks to a sore throat, I’ve found myself writing this analysis ahead of doing my video review, which is the reverse of how I usually do it. But even though I have not exhausted some of my commentary on the video review, which sometimes leaves me with little more to say in the analysis, I am finding it hard to say much either good or bad about this episode. Ultimately it feels fairly mediocre, with no great missteps but no great heights either.
Take for example the King’s Landing scenes. We learn that yes, Margaery was indeed faking her conversion to be set free, and she is now warning her grand-mother that she had best leave the city as soon as possible as the emboldened High Sparrow is looking to deal with more sinners. Before Olenna has time to leave, however, she gets a visit from Cersei who tries to be contrite about her past mistakes in order to keep the Tyrell-Lannister alliance against the Faith alive. Even if I try to look past my feelings about the casting and portrayal of Cersei and Margaery—these have of course been “done deals” for a long time now, but that doesn’t make them any less tedious—these scenes show yet again what a mistake it was to make so much of a minor character like Olenna. She has no arc of her own, she’s just there to be acerbic, and she’s there too much in this episode.
Meanwhile, the other Lannister twin has reunited with Bronn and ridden to Riverrun (which does look really good). The way Jaime deals with the Freys and with the Blackfish largely fits his actions in the books and although it feels peculiar to be back in A Feast for Crows, the scenes are solid. Its just too bad that his conversation with the Blackfish omitted Jaime challenging the Blackfish to a duel, which of course Ser Brynden rejects; the possibility is brought up by Bronn but for whatever reason Jaime doesn’t end up going for it in reaction to Tully’s scorn which seems like a misstep given that his character arc is significantly retarded compared to where it is in the novels.
The North gets the most scenes, showing Jon and Sansa attempting to acquire more men for their army. Their meeting with Lyanna Mormont on Bear Island is entertaining largely because of the performance of Bella Ramsey as the young leader of the House. Less entertaining is how Davos is, yet again, allowed to play a role that makes as little sense now as it did before. Even Sansa questions Jon’s reliance on Davos, though only to create a bit more of that false tension between the two half-siblings and to give her reason to turn back to Littlefinger for help (at least, it seems pretty likely that her letter is addressed to him). I am also finding myself less than impressed by Sophie Turner’s post-trauma Sansa. Unfortunately she comes across as more petulant than anything else.
The Northern scenes in this episode are (unfortunately) a very good example of how rushed the storyline is this season. In a single episode, the principal characters travel from the Gift to Bear Island to Deepwood Motte and finally end up at a campsite somewhere on the way to Winterfell. A similar example is the Ironborn storyline: Theon and Yara are already in Volantis. Indeed, depending on how one interprets the rumor in Arya’s scene, they may even have moved onto Slaver’s Bay from there (unless the show has relocated Volantis to Slaver’s Bay for their convenience).
This blatant disregard for any kind of realism is almost entirely why the TV show has been able to cut through the material of books four and five so quickly. Those readers who dislike the books have blamed it on the books being less interesting and having too much material that needs to be cut for TV. There’s even been those who sneer and wonder why Martin cannot tie up his storylines as quickly as the TV show can. All of this completely disregards the fact that its of course very easy to tie up storylines if you throw realism out the window. Each character can show up wherever you need them to show up, no matter the distance or how much time passes (or does not pass) for other characters in the meantime. It also helps to ignore or radically change the motivations of characters for no reason at all if that facilitates them doing what you need them to do for a quick resolution (after all, it makes creative sense if that’s what you want to happen. . .)
The return of the Hound is likely meant to be the big moment of the episode—it even gets a cold open—but it is rather lacklustre. Ian McShane’s septon is underwhelming compared to Septon Meribald and Elder Brother from the books and while his big speech is fine for what it is this is one of those moments where you simply cannot understand why they didn’t find a way to use the material from the books. Little is made of the Hound having changed his ways beyond him hinting at what he used to be like (the episode title, “The Broken Man”, doesn’t really fit all that well) and therefor it matters little when he’s quick to abandon a non-violent path to head off in search of revenge once his new-found friends have been slaughtered by some members of the Brotherhood without Banners. That this would happen was also telegraphed from a mile away, making the whole lead-up to the Hound’s change of heart rather pointless.
Inspired by the Books
Possible Developments in Future Books