Although two bombs get dropped in this week's episode of Game of Thrones, it's an hour focused on putting the narrative chess pieces into place. Yes, he is back. Yes, she is dying. But "The Broken Man" doesn't finish off any of its major moves. Those bold turns are yet to come.
The first bomb explodes during a rare cold open: The Hound, a.k.a. Sandor Clegane, is alive! In his first appearance since season four, we quickly learn that he recovered after Brienne pummeled him off the side of that cliff. The second bomb comes later, when Arya gets brutally stabbed by the Waif in disguise.
The last time we saw the Hound, he was begging for mercy. "Kill me!" he called out in vain to Arya, moments before she left him splayed out on the rocks, seemingly moments from his demise. Now Arya finds herself in a similar position: We leave her, for now, as she's bleeding out on the streets of Braavos, in need of assistance that no one will provide. It would be natural to conclude that she, too, is seconds away from death. But come on! Arya won't die. No way. The Hound's "resurrection" sends a clear signal that even when all appears lost, or at least drained of all plasma, there's still a very good chance of survival.
"The Broken Man" also hints that Arya will survive by bringing the Brotherhood Without Banners back into the mix. Brotherhood leader Beric Dondarrion was fatally wounded by the Hound in season three … until the Lord of Light brought him back to life. The Brotherhood's reemergence underlines the idea that Arya might cheat death, or even be resurrected in Beric-esque fashion. Some fans on Twitter are already wondering whether a character in the books known as Lady Stoneheart — a zombie version of Catelyn Stark, who goes full Kill Bill on everyone who harmed her family — might actually turn out to be a zombie Arya in the TV series. I don't know whether that'll happen. But I feel confident saying we'll see more of Maisie Williams on this show.
Although the previous episode tipped toward optimism and characters (seemingly) choosing to do the right thing, the pendulum swings back toward skepticism and scheming this week.
Let's start with the Hound's new buddy, Septon Ray, who's played by the wonderful Ian McShane. (He's the HBO version of Septon Meribald from the books.) Ray argues that the Hound's life was saved by the gods, but the Hound questions whether the gods are even real. Later, after alleged members of the Brotherhood swing by to threaten the group, Ray tells the Hound that trying to kill them won't solve any problems: "Violence is a disease," he says. "You don't cure it by spreading it to more people." But by the end of the episode, after those aggressors have slain the Hound's pseudo-family and hanged Ray at the end of a noose, he realizes his only choice is to pick up an axe and get busy killing.
The theological argument between the Hound and Ray segues rather pointedly to images of Margaery reading scripture and doing everything the High Sparrow would expect of her. Or so it seems. Just as the Hound questions the existence of the gods, we learn that Margaery's piousness is simply pretend. After the High Sparrow implies that Olenna may be in danger because of her sins, Margaery forcefully tells her grandmother to get the hell out of King's Landing, while clandestinely slipping her a sketch of a rose, the sigil of House Tyrell. The implication? Though it seems like Margaery has become a faithful believer, she's hiding some devious plan beneath her royal robe. Ray may preach that it's "never too late to stop robbing people, to stop killing people" and Margaery may talk a solid game about how she "was merely good at seeming good." But this episode suggests that killing and deception are still necessary tools of survival.
"The Broken Man" isn't quite as strong as "The Door" and "Blood of My Blood," partially because it lacks the emotional drama we saw in those two installments. With the exception of that horrifying moment when Arya took a knife to the abdomen, this episode doesn't have anything like the heartbreaking "hold the door" revelation, or Samwell's sword-snagging triumph, or Dany's "Fired Up, Ready to Go, Riding a Dragon!" speech. Like Ray's unfinished church, it seems like the framework for something else, a basic structure for the final three episodes of the season.
A huge amount of the plot focuses on attempts at persuasion and alliance-building that aren't always successful. Jon and Sansa talk the wildlings into joining their efforts to defeat Ramsay Bolton, and Davos convinces the Little Big Shot of Bear Island to add a whopping 62 soldiers to their ranks. But Sansa quickly realizes that her confidence in the Stark name — and her role as a symbol of it — may not carry the weight she had hoped.
Little Lady Mormont questions whether Sansa can really call herself Stark, given her marriages to Tyrion* and Ramsay, and Lord Glover flat-out refuses to support her and Jon. "House Stark is dead," he says, a declaration that tells Sansa the political winds are gusting in a totally new direction. This is a tough moment for her. For all of the difficulty Sansa endured as wife to Thing 1 and Thing 2, she remains somewhat sheltered from the real world — and that includes the fact that her family's name means something different now. After that disastrous meeting with Lord Glover, she writes a letter to someone. Though we can't see who it's addressed to, surely the two words that follow "Dear" are "Lord" and "Baelish." (Or possibly "Brynden Tully." Just some wishful thinking.)
Speaking of the Blackfish, Jaime has as much luck convincing him to surrender Riverrun as Sansa does attempting to sway Lord Glover. At least Jaime is a bit more authoritative than Lothar and Black Walder, those Frey doofuses who threaten to hang Edmure Tully, then say they'll slit his throat unless the Blackfish hands over the castle. In response, ol' Blackfish tells them that their mother was a hamster and their father smelt of elderberries.
Cersei also hits a dead-end when she attempts to convince Olenna to stay in King's Landing and fight the High Sparrow. Olenna not only refuses to buy what Cersei is selling, she lobs choice verbal grenades back her way for even trying. "I wonder if you're the worst person I've ever met," Olenna says. "At a certain age, it's hard to recall." To which I say: Thank you, Dame Diana Rigg, for once again proving you're the Dowager Countess of Game of Thrones.
With all of these characters at odds — including Theon and Yara, who are determined to join forces with Daenerys, and Brienne, who is set to face off against Jamie — Game of Thrones has set up a ton of conflict that begs to be resolved in the mere three hours left in season six. "The war is not over," the Blackfish tells Jaime Lannister. If "The Broken Man" is any indicator, the war is only just getting started. Like the Hound, everyone has finally reached the point where they'll need to pick up their axes.
* An earlier version of this recap mistakenly stated that Sansa was married to Joffrey.