I’m feeling really uneasy about the way that ‘Game of Thrones’ keeps bringing back characters assumed to be dead. That’s getting to be a bad habit for the show.
It also makes clear a pattern that people from behind-the-scenes of the series cannot be trusted to tell the truth about their intentions. Following the death of Jon Snow in the Season 5 finale, show-runner Dan Weiss straight-up lied to fans and said the character would not come back, only to resurrect him two episodes later. Similarly, the director of the Season 4 finale stated in an interview that Ser Sandor Clegane, The Hound, was gone for good. That didn’t turn out to be true either.
To be fair, perhaps the episode director wasn’t privy to all of the writers’ plans for the character. Or perhaps the decision to bring The Hound back was made much later, after the writers ran out of source material from the George R.R. Martin novels. Regardless, anything someone from the show says in an interview from now on must be taken with a huge grain of salt.
A precedent set and now repeated, I have to wonder who else we’ll see again. Ever since he was allegedly killed off-screen in Season 1, I’ve been waiting for the House Stark swordmaster Syrio Forel to make a surprise reappearance. That seems almost inevitable now. Not to get spoilery, but the book series also resurrected a prominent character from the dead in a storyline that the TV show chose to ignore. Will we swing back around and follow through with that after all? From clues in this episode, I suspect we will. I don’t know how I feel about that.
Yes, The Hound lives. Abandoned by Arya Stark and left for dead after his brutal fight with Brienne, he shows up again now in the company of a religious commune out in the middle of nowhere. We’re told that he was discovered on the brink of death by the group’s unnamed Septon (basically, their priest – played by Ian McShane), who nursed him back to health. Although Clegane doesn’t entirely buy into the religion or the Septon’s hippie-dippy preachings about nonviolence, he stuck around to help them build a church. He considers himself broken and is done with war and fighting. He has nowhere else to go.
That all changes when a trio of soldiers from the Brotherhood Without Banners ride in on horseback and try to intimidate and extort the commune. The Septon talks them off by claiming that the village has nothing of value to take. The men leave, but Clegane warns that they’ll be back. The Septon, a former soldier himself who now embraces the power of peace and love, is not worried.
Soon enough, as Clegane is conveniently off in the woods collecting firewood, he hears the sounds of horses and runs back to the village, where he finds everyone murdered. The Septon, last seen so contented and full of himself, swings from a noose with a look of abject terror frozen on his face. Clegane, looking pissed off and determined, grabs an axe and heads out, presumably to exact some revenge. I’m sure the Septon wouldn’t approve, but The Hound can’t fight his nature.
Margaery, still acting pious and contrite, speaks with the High Sparrow about redemption. The Sparrow asks why she has not fulfilled her wifely responsibilities (i.e. boning Tommen) since being reunited with her husband. He stresses the importance of the king having an heir, which will surely solidify the standing of his own religion. The Sparrow also urges Margaery to convert her grandmother, Lady Olenna, to the faith. He makes a veiled threat toward the old woman’s safety if she doesn’t repent her sins.
Accompanied by the stern Septa Unella as a chaperone, Margaery meets with her grandmother and suggests that it’s time for her to go home. Olenna refuses to leave, until Margaery secretly slips her a note. It’s just a drawing of a flower, but this clearly has meaning between them. Margaery isn’t as brainwashed as she acts.
Olenna then makes plans to leave immediately for Highgarden. She’s interrupted while packing by Cersei, who apologizes for their past disagreements and offers an alliance between the Lannisters and the Tyrells against the Sparrows. Olenna isn’t having any of it. She still despises Cersei and makes no bones about it. She asks, “I wonder if you’re the worst person I’ve ever met?”, and rejects the offer with the most wonderfully catty dismissal as only Dame Diana Rigg could deliver it.
The Northern Kingdoms
Jon Snow spends the entire episode trying to secure alliances for the impending war against Ramsay Bolton. Even the Wildlings don’t want to fight Jon’s war for him. He has to convince them that it’s in their own best interest. Eventually, they agree with a handshake, assuring him, “When we say we’ll do something, we do it.”
At their next stop, Jon, Sansa and Davos meet with Lyanna Mormont, the niece of former Night’s Watch Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (and cousin to Jorah). Although only a child of 10-years-old, the girl is feisty and hard-headed. She clearly takes after her uncle, and rebuffs Jon and Sansa’s attempts at flattery. She nurses a grudge that her mother was killed while fighting for Robb Stark. When they appeal to her family’s oath of loyalty to House Stark, Lyanna snidely points out that neither Jon (a bastard) nor Sansa (twice married) are technically Starks. Finally, Davos wins her over by explaining that their true mutual enemies are the White Walkers. “The dead are coming,” he tells her. The girl agrees, “We will not break faith today.” However, she can only pledge a 62 fighting men, though she promises that they will fight ferociously.
That’s a disappointingly small victory and seemingly a waste of time, but it’s far more success than the trio have talking to House Glover. The current lord of the house is appalled that Jon Snow would fight with Wildlings and spurns his and Sansa’s attempts to recruit him to fight, declaring, “House Stark is dead.”
After returning to the Wildling camp, Jon tells Sansa that he wants to march on Winterfell as soon as possible, before the snow returns or Ramsay can build up his own army any larger. Sansa protests that they don’t have nearly enough men and need to continue collecting forces first, but Jon disagrees. (Has he learned nothing from Stannis Baratheon?) The last we see of her, Sansa writes a letter to be sent by raven. The contents of the letter or the intended recipient are not yet known.
As he was ordered by Tommen, Jaime rides to Riverrun with a Lannister force to assist the Frey army in retaking the castle from Brynden “The Blackfish” Tully. Bronn is at his side, but isn’t exactly happy to be there or very grateful that he was officially anointed a knight.
Walder Frey’s two idiot sons, Lothar and Black Walder, have done a truly pathetic job of laying siege to the castle. They haven’t even secured their perimeter, and allow the Lannister soldiers to walk right up to them unnoticed. Black Walder drags out the Blackfish’s nephew, Edmure Tully, and threatens to slit his throat if the Blackfish doesn’t surrender. The Blackfish doesn’t give a shit about Edmure and tells them to go ahead and kill him. His bluff called, Black Walder drags Edmure back towards his cage.
Jaime immediately asserts command and orders that Edmure be bathed and fed. He dismisses the incompetent Frey boys and calls for a parley with The Blackfish.
The castle lowers its drawbridge and The Blackfish meets with Jaime, who announces that he’s in charge now and that shit’s about to get real. He offers to spare the lives of all his men if The Blackfish will surrender peacefully. The Blackfish isn’t impressed or intimidated. He claims that he has two years of provisions inside and can outlast the siege. Then he walks away, expressing his disappointment that the famous Kingslayer wasn’t anywhere near as imposing as his legend.
Having hijacked most of the Ironborn fleet, Yara and Theon sail to Essos and make port in the city of Volantis. Yara drags Theon to a brothel. (It appears to be the same one Tyrion was kidnapped from in Season 5.) The castrated Theon may not have much interest in the topless whores prancing about, but Yara sure does.
While Theon is depressed and worried about their uncle Euron hunting them down to murder them, Yara is cocky from their success in stealing the fleet. She says that she wants the real Theon back and encourages him to get drunk with her. She tells him that, after a brief respite, they’re going to sail to Mereen and make a pact with Daenerys Stormborn (just like Euron said he’d do), then return with her army to retake the Iron Islands. Knowing that they have a plan, perhaps even a good one, bolsters Theon’s spirits a little.
With money she’d stolen, Arya books passage on a ship back to Westeros. Before that can happen, she’s approached by an old woman on a bridge. This could not more obviously be a trap, but Arya either doesn’t suspect it or just doesn’t react quickly enough. The woman is The Waif in disguise. She grabs Arya and stabs her several times in the gut. Arya shoves her away and leaps off the bridge into the water. The Waif waits a moment for her to surface, but seeing only blood in the water assumes that Arya is dead. She should know better.
The storyline could have ended there on a weak cliffhanger, but fortunately doesn’t waste our time with a gimmick like that. We see Arya surface and drag herself to shore. She’s in bad shape, bleeding quite a bit as she stumbles through a crowd of people, none of whom offer to help her – but she’s still alive.
The Hound is a fun character and I enjoy having him back on the show, but his reappearance feels like a cheat. I’m also a little disappointed in the way the episode wastes a guest spot by Ian McShane, one of TV’s most famous hard-asses, by having him play a namby-pamby throwaway character. He’s a perfect actor for this show, yet would be so much better utilized in almost any other type of role.
Aside from those quibbles, I enjoyed this episode. The other storylines come together well, and Yara is so much more appealing when she’s strong and confident, and shows some affection for her brother Theon. Their interactions here are actually touching. I also loved Jaime’s dealings with the Freys and with The Blackfish. I look forward to seeing how his siege plays out.