“Game of Thrones,” you are a cruel god. You bring us the delightful Ian McShane as Ray, the leader of a free group of people living in peace and building a simple country sept. The amiable Ray was highly entertaining as he dispensed simple wisdom and led a peaceful community not nearly as violent or as hard-drinking as the one located in Deadwood, S.D.
And then, “Game of Thrones,” you killed him. But it was hard not to see that coming. It wasn’t by chance that “The Broken Man” ended by focusing on two characters who were completely alone. This episode — like much of the rest of this saga — was about the building of strange alliances and uneasy but necessary coalitions.
Ian McShane’s little group had no protection, nothing but each other and the kindness they all shared, but that was not enough. It may have been the shifty Brotherhood without Banners men who’d stopped by earlier who destroyed Ray’s little idyll, though, of course, it could have been some other collection of murderous strangers. There’s no shortage of killers and takers in Westeros and beyond (come to think of it, perhaps Ray’s little commune isn’t so different from the world of McShane’s previous show, the classic HBO drama “Deadwood”).
In any event, Ray’s group was vulnerable because they hadn’t allied themselves with any powerful entity, and so sadly, that was the end of that. After the small, peaceful group was callously murdered, the Hound was left alone, but not before we got to see him share some scenes with McShane. This show has a habit of coming up with duos that are instantly addictive, and I would have taken half a season of the Hound looking on gravely as Ray spun yarns and told stories in that green place. But the minute we saw how serene and peaceful that valley was, we probably all knew that such pleasures were never going to last.
So the Hound is alone, but he’ll have to find someone to ally with soon. Of course, he can fend for himself, if he needs to. But without the help of McShane’s kindly Ray, Sandor Clegane would have died, which is proof that, no matter how handy he is with a sword or ax, the Hound not going to be able to go solo for long. The gods are not done with him, and before he goes, he’ll probably fall in with a new group whose cause he can gruffly get behind.
Also suffering alone is Arya, who likely thought she’d outwitted the Faceless Men, which was an assumption she came to regret. Let’s hope she found the acting troupe or some other temporary ally before shedding every last drop of her blood on the cobblestones of Braavos. Could Arya eventually meet up with the Hound again? Let’s hope so. We didn’t get to see Tormund make googly eyes at Brienne this week (boo!), so hoping for a Hound-Arya (or a Hound-Brienne) reunion will have to make up for that omission.
If going solo isn’t the greatest idea, how about forming a supergroup instead? Jon, Sansa and Davos went on tour all over the North, trying to drum up allies. In a season that has repeatedly shown female characters taking the reins and controlling bigger and bigger portions of the story, the former Night’s Watch Commander had to beg a girl who looked about 12 years old for a few dozen soldiers — and far from thinking such supplications were beneath him, he was happy to get the audience at House Mormont. Lyanna Mormont remembered the old alliance between her house and the Starks, and became instantly memorable in her brief appearance on the show. (Put this iron-willed young lady on the Iron Throne, somebody.)
Lady Mormont’s army — which was, like her, small and fierce — wasn’t enough. It’s hard not to wonder if Sansa, like so many other characters in this episode and the season as a whole, ended up swallowing her pride and contemplating an alliance that was deeply distasteful to her. As she composed the note that was no doubt sent off on a raven, she looked especially troubled, which means that Littlefinger is quite likely not out of her life for good. He has armed men under his control, and she and her allies will likely need them if they’re to take back Winterfell. She’s not in a position to turn away any kind of help, no matter how much she distrusts the provider of that assistance. Just about everyone in this story has had to revise their ideas and goals and having to make compromises is becoming second nature — which is most likely a good thing (remember how well being uncompromising worked out for Ned Stark?). All over Westeros and everywhere else, characters are having to win over people they would rather not deal with and ask for things that they wouldn’t normally request, if they had a choice.
Sansa’s supergroup doesn’t really have a choice. They have a lot of brave fighters and a giant and a guy who came back from the dead, and they carry the honor of House Stark. That’s not enough. They couldn’t even win over House Glover, the head of which has decided that the Boltons are the devil they know, and that’s good enough for them. Hey, speaking of Ramsay Bolton, he wasn’t in this episode — did you miss him? Anyone? No? That sounds about right.
One of the fun things about this era in the run of “Game of Thrones” (as fun as anything can be in a show in which people are skewered on a regular basis) is that you never know who’s going to turn up again. Hey, there’s Edmure Tully (whom Tobias Menzies plays during his momentary breaks from the nine other shows he’s on). Hey, there’s the Hound! Hey, there’s the Blackfish!
Now, there’s the ultimate case of someone trying to go it alone, so to speak: Brynden Tully has got supplies to last a whole two years, but what are the odds that Jaime Lannister and Bronn (Hey, there’s Bronn!) will find a way to make that idea seem a lot less attractive to the current head of House Tully? Speaking of that siege, Jaime and Bronn is another pairing likely to bear much entertaining fruit: Just the way Bronn stopped the Lannister from uttering that famous saying about his house was worth the price of admission.
One alliance that is absolutely born of convenience and desperation and nothing else is the one between Queen Margaery and the High Sparrow. Jonathan Pryce continues to be a joy in the role; the Sparrow is so calm and so seemingly guileless that it almost slips by the viewer when he quietly threatens to throw the queen’s grandmother into one of his dank cells. As long suspected, Margaery is just pretending to have adopted the Sparrow’s beliefs, and she tells her grandmother as much by slipping her a small drawing of a rose. The survival of House Tyrell (whose symbol is the rose) is still the queen’s real priority, and though it’s sad that we probably won’t see Diana Rigg again any time soon, Margaery appears to have a formed a plan for sparing Olenna Tyrell jail time and dealing with the Sparrow as well. Perhaps Margaery has also got some ideas about what to do about the Lannisters, to whom she is now bound though marriage to the amiably dim Tommen.
Not every alliance worked out; the Glovers were having none of a coalition that involved the Free Folk, and Olenna Tyrell was just as disgusted by Cersei’s invitation to connive together. “I wonder if you’re the worst person I’ve ever met,” Olenna mused, before turning Cersei down in no uncertain terms.
Cersei’s not a good person, no. But beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to desperate alliances. Every character in “The Broken Man” had to weigh anew their loyalties to themselves or their own small group versus the bigger priorities of an entire region, a clan, or even a way of life.
Believing in God or the gods or the Lord of Light or anything else, as Ray said, is about believing in something bigger than yourself. Everyone in the story has realized, at some point, for reasons of survival or simply to draw a line in the sand, you’ve got to put aside your own petty concerns in service to a greater cause or something more important than yourself.
As we head into the home stretch of the season, battles are brewing. Something big is coming — and it’s not just winter. For the Boltons, what’s coming is an actual giant. They might want to lay in a few years’ worth of provisions before he turns up.
A few final notes:
- Yara Greyjoy is either a lesbian or bisexual, and though she’s not the first LGBTQ character in this world, it’s good that the show occasionally acknowledges that not everyone in this universe is heterosexual.
- It’s always a pleasure to see how subtly Natalie Dormer plays Margaery; there was real distress on her face as she hugged her grandmother under the stern gaze of the Judgy Septa (she has a name but I prefer Judgy Septa). There was also real steel in how Dormer played the queen’s humble agreement with the Sparrow; outwardly, she was pious and reserved but inwardly, her feelings are quite different. The chances of Margaery wearing his guts for garters one day are very high.
- Many, many people on Twitter like Lyanna Mormont a lot!
- That is one impressive collection of beards in the Wildlings camp.
- So there were folks that tried to go solo, others who formed supergroups, and then there was one little low-key duo as well. Yara waged her own interpersonal campaign to bring her brother back from the timid place that he’s occupied since leaving the grim confines of the Bolton-occupied Winterfell. But what does Theon being “back” even mean? Like so many others in this story, he’s changed a lot, and we’ve yet to see whether this new version of Theon will match the rest of the Ironborn in bloodthirstiness. That said, if Theon were to slit Ramsay’s throat, no one would be surprised — or shed a single tear.
Game of Thrones” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.