Monday, 6 June 2016

Game of Thrones - The Broken Man

Contains spoilers.

Moving at such a tremendous pace is proving to be both the making and the undoing of Game of Thrones' sixth season. It's allowed episodes such as The Red Woman, Book of the Stranger and The Door to feel streamlined and focused while still covering an enormous amount of ground, but it also forced the early and potentially game-changing Home to suffer from pacing issues and botch its key moments. The Broken Man is a peculiar episode in that it encapsulates both the strengths and weaknesses of this lightning fast season. Certain stories tonight felt streamlined and moved quickly - Jaime and Bron arriving at Riverrun and beginning their negotiations worked well, as did all that went down in King's Landing - but other stories suffered from this heightened speed and lost a lot of the power they should have possessed: the poor sufferers tonight were Arya, and Sandor Clegane.

We have to begin there. Yes, Sandor "The Hound" Clegane apparently survived his attack at the end of season four and has since been living in harmony with a small group of villagers led by Ray (Ian McShane). It's a reveal that many viewers saw coming, but that's OK. Predictability often comes hand in hand with reliability. The issue here, though, is that we pick up with Clegane at too specific a point in this timeline. When Ray sits and discusses how Clegane was when he found him and divulges his own backstory it feels like sloppy exposition (why would he only talk about this now?), and the three brief scenes we're given before the story's climax unfolds aren't enough to warrant the dramatic cliffhanger. When Clegane finds Ray and the villagers dead there's no impact. Sure, this is bound to set him on a murderous, revenge-stricken path, but why should we care? A character like Clegane, who is packed with personality and emotion and history, is here forced to feel brushed over in a story that should feel monumental. It's a real shame, as his return could be truly exciting, but it evokes little to no feeling.

Similarly, Arya's short sequence in the episode's climax plays out with predictability and, in some ways, reliability. It begins well, with Arya using both her skills and her charm to book passage back to Westeros, but the Waif's attack is too sudden and too quick to have an impact. Sure, it's a thrilling sequence, and I'll admit to jumping out of my skin even knowing full well that it was coming, but it fails to work in the long term. The sequence should feel like a huge cliffhanger (and it has every right to, given how long Arya has been in Braavos now) but instead it comes across as sloppy and poorly plotted. Arya would know better than to just turn, smiling, to an old woman moments after abandoning her training. It may be thrilling, and the sequence is somewhat saved by the infinitely creepy resolution of Arya wandering through the streets of Braavos unsure of who she can ever trust again, but sacrificing character in favour of pushing a story along is very rarely acceptable, and here it just doesn't work.

Thankfully though, the rest of the episode works generally well. The miniature check-in with Yara and Theon was solid tonight: all at once it lets us know where they've reached in their journey, shows Yara trying to get her brother back to his old self, and uses the show's trademark nudity for actual purposes. The brothel setting both allows Yara's sexuality to be explored casually and without an overbearing focus, and also to demonstrate Theon's uncomfortable nature in an environment he previously enjoyed. It was nice to see this used for real character purposes, and not to just keep viewers watching. Furthermore, it was refreshing that the show simply opted to cut characters out for good this week rather than forcing them in for the sake of it. There was no Daenerys tonight, no Tyrion or Varys either. This marks the first time Tyrion has ever been absent for two consecutive episodes, and of course he is missed, but I would much rather miss his presence in a solid episode that suffer a rushed scene in a sloppy one.

Where The Broken Man impressed me the most, though, was in its willingness to keep focus on the strategising and tactical affairs of war. Game of Thrones has the budget and the viewership to simply do an entire season of battles, but battles can't exist without the build up and it's good to see the show acknowledging this. Between Jaime arriving at Riverrun, Margaery secretly informing her grandmother of her true loyalty, Cersei's plea for help against the Sparrow, and Jon, Sansa & Davos' attempts to rally their armies, this felt like Game of Thrones' first season all over again. The show's first year is unquestionably my favourite - it's at its most medieval and its most human all at once - so it was great to feel that tone again. But these pieces can only be built up for so long. At some point, everything will be set and the show's only option will be flat out warfare. Perhaps this season has been slightly underwhelming in its calmness (even at such high speeds), but I'd put all my money on the outcome hitting a million times harder now that we've gone through all of this.

Notes - 
  • I really love how involved Sansa has been in plotting the war against the Boltons. The show is point blank refusing to dull her down this year and it's great.
  • Margaery subtly slipping the drawing of the Tyrell sigil to Olenna was a nice touch.
  • As was Olenna's complete takedown of Cersei. Cersei, as much as I love her, is seriously at fault for a lot of this, and now that she is completely alone in King's Landing (besides the Mountain of course) it'll be really interesting to see where the season takes her for the remaining three episodes.
  • Lyanna Mormont needs a spinoff.
  • Now.
Next - No One

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