The return of Sandor Clegane
Sandor’s story bookends the episode. In the opening scene, we see a group of country folk, followers of the Seven, building what looks like a church under the management of Ray (played by the incomparable Ian McShane), who, it is revealed, found Sandor’s body and nursed him back to health. Strong as an ox and good with an axe, Sandor seems to be a valuable member of the church community, though he hasn’t lost his cranky demeanor.
During a sermon, Ray talks about his own past as a soldier, how the screams of his victims still haunt him. He is a pacifist now, and he proves it when three ruffians from the Brotherhood Without Banners show up, inquiring about what provisions Ray’s group has. Ray greets their demands with warmth, letting the men know that they have no supplies on hand, but offers them a chance to dine with them. The men ride off, warning Ray and his followers to stay safe.
Ray’s peaceful, community-driven fellowship provides a sharp contrast to the High Sparrow’s obsession with sin and repentance. Ray tries to bring Sandor out of his shell, but not just for ordinary, camp counselor reasons; he believes Sandor was spared by the gods and that the gods have a plan for him. Sandor himself doesn’t seem to think much of the gods, but he is clearly seeking some kind of redemption. He is eventually set on the path to redemption. However, as with most fictional stories, his new journey begins with tragedy.
Sandor recognizes that the Brotherhood won’t be satisfied with Ray’s offer of a meal around the campfire, but Ray seems to think he can reason with them. The former proves right; after venturing out to collect firewood, Sandor returns to find all the followers slaughtered and Ray hanging from the rafters of their skeletal church. Saddened and angry, Sandor grabs his axe, making revenge (if not redemption) his next earthly focus.
Sandor’s story is pretty typical for genre fiction: the retired soldier finds peace in a small community, but has to return to fighting after said community is attacked. Although it’s not an original plot, it does serve a nice thematic purpose for the show, giving viewers a glimpse into a world outside the Lannisters and the Starks. While plenty of noble characters have been slain, the poor folk of Westeros have long been the unseen victims of the wars being fought. The butchery of Ray’s followers serves as a reminder that no corner of the world, however idyllic, is safe from the bloodshed. It also hints that despite the horrors of war, violence may be acceptable if it is for a righteous cause. The next step in Sandor’s story is a mystery, and like the gods, the show provides no clear answer as to where he will end up.
Will The Hound make his way back to Westeros, and if so, will he also make the internet’s dreams come true by battling his greatest foe, his brother The Mountain? We’ll have to wait and find out.
Jon and Sansa build their coalition
Like Sandor, Jon has been reluctantly returning to war this season, and his efforts have been slowly progressing. Jon and Sansa need an army to retake Winterfell, and they get their first volunteers, convincing the remaining Wildlings that their survival depends on getting rid of the Boltons. It’s a ragtag alliance, but at least the Wildlings are bringing their mighty giant with them.
The Wildlings are few in number, and the Stark children will need help from the noble houses of the North. They find an ally in House Mormont, currently led by a young girl with steely resolve (played by Bella Ramsay, who handily stole the scene). Lyanna Mormont was elevated to the head of her house after her mother died fighting for Robb Stark, and she is naturally resistant to Sansa’s talk of fealty. Davos takes a different approach, relating to Lyanna’s struggle as a person in a position they never expected to be in. It works, and Lyanna pledges her forces to the Stark cause, a full retinue of 62 men. Jon and Sansa are a little shocked at the low number, but perhaps they should be more grateful; Ramsay did manage to cripple Stannis’ army with twenty good men, after all.
The Starks are less successful with House Glover, whose leader tells them he will not risk any more of his men for their fight against the Boltons. The North is in disarray, and it seems like many of the noble houses would rather stay out of the fight between the Starks and Boltons. Jon and Davos seem content to build their army by degrees, but Sansa is disturbed by their motley crew. Desperate for help, she sends out a letter, but the recipient is a mystery for now.
Margaery plays a long con
Back in King’s Landing, the Faith Militant seems to have control of the city. King Tommen and Queen Margaery have pledged themselves to the Faith, thwarting the military alliance between the Lannisters and Tyrells. The High Sparrow intends to use Margaery as a tool to bring the Tyrells to the Faith, and she seems receptive to his commands. Margaery meets with her grandmother, Lady Olenna, and gives her the Sparrow’s spiel as Septa Unella watches. However, while Olenna protests, Margaery slips her a piece of paper with a rose drawn on it, the sigil of House Tyrell. Letting her grandmother know where her loyalty still lies, Margaery shows she’s got her own set of thorns, and she seems to be playing the High Sparrow. To what end? That will (hopefully) become clear before the end of the season.
Olenna accepts Margaery’s hint and plans to leave the city, not wanting to end up a prisoner of the Sparrow. Cersei still believes they can confront the Faith, and tries to sell Olenna on a continued alliance. It would seem Cersei still believes herself to be a power player in King’s Landing, but she doesn’t know the truth about Margaery’s con, and Olenna has no intention of clueing her in. The elder Tyrell rebuffs Cersei, reminding her that the rise of the Faith Militant is her own doing, and that she is more or less powerless these days. It is a vicious verbal lashing for which Olenna is known, and Cersei quivers with rage, not wanting to betray her appearance of composure.
Jaime parleys unsuccessfully
The other Lannister of note still in Westeros, Jaime, arrives to the siege of Riverrun with Bronn and an army of Lannister troops in tow. “Siege” is perhaps a generous term, as the Freys have largely just squatted in front of the fortress, impotently taunting the Tully defenders. The Tullys are led by the Blackfish, a steely old man who seems completely unperturbed that the Freys have his nephew Edmure as a hostage.
Jaime recognizes the poor conditions of the siege and seeks to parley with the Blackfish. He offers to let the old general and his men live, thinking that they will take the easy way out. The Blackfish considers Riverrun to be his, however, and would rather die than give it up. He informs Jaime that he has provision for two years, and invites him to try and breach the walls. Like Cersei, Jaime no longer inspires the fear he once did. He is bargaining from a position of weakness, and will need to do something bold if he wants to climb back up the food chain.
A girl needs to watch her back
Arya takes her first step back to Westeros in The Broken Man, offering a high price for passage on a Westerosi ship. She is in a hurry to get out of Braavos, having betrayed the group of assassins training her, and her fears are well-founded. While Arya strolls the city, The Waif sneaks up on her, disguised as an old woman. She grabs Arya from behind, stabbing her in the gut a couple times before Arya breaks free and escapes into a canal. Stumbling through the streets and bleeding heavily, Arya is now much closer to death’s door than to Westeros. If she is to escape, she may need to deal with the Faceless Men permanently.
As season 6 slowly builds up to an unknown climax, the various players scattered across the world are all looking to reclaim something, whether it be their social standing, their homes, or even just a sense of purpose. For all the talk of the gods in this season, the gods themselves have been silent, leaving characters like Sandor and Arya to figure out their own path. When Sandor takes up his axe in The Broken Man’s final moments, he is reclaiming his power in a world in which power is the only thing that seems to matter. If anyone is to succeed by the end of the season, they will need to do so with their own strength, not the favor of the gods.
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