Yep, The Hound is back… and so?
Leading up to “The Broken Man”, the last thing Season Six of HBO’s Game of Thrones needed was another subplot added to the mix. Following the overly drawn out back and forth around Jon Snow’s resurrection, the season had rebounded rather nicely: between the Starks’ determination to take down Ramsay, the Greyjoy siblings’ post-incestuous (I assume) relationship, the Lannister/Tyrell/High Sparrow menage a trois and Daenerys’ pleasant discovery that playing with fire really is all it’s cracked up to be, a number of promising conflicts were in varying stages of development. Even excluding a certain emotional holding of a door, the first six episodes of Season Six contained some of the most memorable images in the show’s run, as well as the promise of more climactic moments soon to come.
With all that in mind, The Hound’s reappearance can’t help feeling inadequate as the season’s first cause for a pre-credits cold open. Even with the twin returns of a fan favorite character to the series and Ian McShane/Swearengen to HBO, the scene simply lacks gravitas in comparison with the emotional character arcs in which the show has been trading as of late.
Thankfully, The Hound isn’t all “The Broken Man” has on its mind, even if it gives the episode a title and a bookend. Margaery clarifies her previously ambiguous embrace of the High Sparrow, passing a note to Lady Olenna in case we had any doubt that Margaery disagrees with his assessment of her marital duties. Her behavior with him could use a bit of subtlety, as it’s hard to buy that she suddenly disowns her beliefs in women’s pleasure or helping the poor, but the episode effectively elucidates her motivations and emphasizes the High Sparrow’s pigheadedness in a brief span.
Margaery also turns Lady Olenna against Cersei, if only out of a disagreement about tactics rather than motivations. The Tyrells and the Lannisters are determined to rid Westeros of the High Sparrow’s dogmatism once and for all, and the seemingly unavoidable showdown between them promises to be one of the show’s more intriguing entanglements (even if Season Six is increasingly running out of episodes for it to happen this year).
In contrast with Cersei, her brother seems headed for a conflict sooner rather than later, and it makes Jaime as fun to watch as ever. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is at his charismatic best toying with the Blackfish and showing the Freys how really to pull off a threat. Even if his impending siege of the Tully castle doesn’t quite have the potential pathos of the Starks’ plan to eliminate Westeros’s least favorite son, there’s nothing wrong with having Jaime back at his snarling best.
Speaking of that plan: “The Broken Man” doesn’t do much to move it forward, even considering the table-setting necessary for a fight between some of the show’s most and least beloved characters. Sansa and Jon are stuck trying to acquire as many military allies as they can, and the support of the young Lady Mormont and the refusal of Lord Glover don’t keep the Starks’ arc from being at its least intriguing since the siblings’ emotional reunion.
The Greyjoys provide “The Broken Man” with another half-baked glimpse at a looming familial battle to regain power, even if the episode doesn’t give their story enough time to become as repetitive. Game of Thrones has already established the abuse Theon suffers more than clearly enough, and his inability to match Yara’s sexual appetite doesn’t make for the most fascinating revelation. In conjunction with the unwelcome return of the show’s infamous proclivity for shots featuring bevies of naked extras, the scene is an unnecessary sidestep in a season packed to the brim with conflicts aching for resolution.
Arya’s inability to free herself from Jaqen and the Waif at least provides the episode with a much needed moment of genuine conflict, although the thought of her bleeding out for good in the street seems to be improbable even for the Show Where Anything Can Happen. One can only hope that Game of Thrones has exhausted its season quotient of character reappearances ostensibly designed to catch us some degree of off-guard, but perhaps future cold opens are coming.
Max Bledstein (@mbled210) is a Montreal-based writer, musician and world-renowned curmudgeon. He writes on all things culture for a variety of fine North American publications. His highly anticipated debut novel will write itself one of these days, he assumes.