The Illusions of Peace
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
George R. R. Martin, as every writer does, has his strengths and weaknesses. It seems to be a mundanely obvious statement but with a work of art as popular as his, that fact is often lost in translation. Martin has a true, nearly unparalleled gift for intricate plotting, character complexity, and world building. His gifts for pacing, sex scenes, and narrative cohesion are less impressive. For his rises and falls, however, Martin has an uncanny ability to craft some truly memorable moments of seemingly simple dialogue whose depths seems to grow the more one harkens to what those snippets of verbiage truly meant. The speech about the broken men, found in the chapter Brienne V of A Feast for Crows, is arguably the finest of Martin’s eloquent segments. It may not be the most exciting speech in a sense (a certain one in White Harbor comes to mind) but it’s perhaps the most meaningful. It’s a fairly lengthy speech but its length allows for the vitality of its verbiage to sink in, removing the verbosity to glance at the truth of what war is for those who don’t sit at the pedestals of power. Bryan Cogman’s script doesn’t go into the gist of the speech, which is not something I expected, but instead it takes those words and displays them over the narrative of the episode. It is a bit disappointing, considering that Ian McShane’s casting is one of the most highly anticipated casting in the show’s history and it felt as if the speech was tailor made for his dramatic talents. The displaying of Martin’s speech over the episode, portraying its meaning without saying the words themselves is a clever subversion by Bryan Cogman’s script, but considering that this is the shortest episode of the season, the elimination of Martin’s finest words stings just a bit. It’s where the episode is colored by my knowledge of the books and it becomes a slight thorn in enjoying what is a quiet, but fairly consistent episode of the season before shit hits the fan in the next three episodes.
The underlying thematic unity in an episode with a bit of lacking narrative cohesion was some of Cogman’s richest, deepest work yet and with episodes like Kissed by Fire under his belt, it’s still an achievement. Septon Meribald’s speech to Brienne about the broken men left behind by war echoes throughout Sandor Clegane’s storyline, a welcome return of a fan-favorite character who even anchors the episode’s cold open, a supreme rarity for Game of Thrones. Sandor is seen walking through the construction of what looks to be a small sept to serve the New Gods of the Seven. Ramin Djawadi’s almost idyllic score beats throughout the sequence as the bright, gleaming green landscape of the Riverlands glistens under the bright golden rays of the sun. Ian McShane makes his memorable one-off appearance here as Septon Ray, a man whose name fits with the lands that surround him. He’s a man who used to be a thief, a murderer, a man as he notes roamed the lands of Westeros without a conscience hiding beneath that gruff, kind demeanor. He remembers one night when he dragged a young boy out of his home and cut his throat in front of his screaming mother. He remembered that boy’s death for the rest of his life but it was his mother’s screams reverberating throughout the air that never quite left him, that never allowed for him to forget what he had done in the name of survival. War is always, regardless of the era, fought on behalf of those resting upon the pedestals of power, ravaging those beneath those pedestals without any mercy, any thought to their survival. War turns decent men, poor men, men with no greater wish than to lead a quiet life of fulfillment (in a generalized sentiment) into broken men, into beasts. Westeros is full of these broken men and women, destroyed by a consistency in the violence that tears apart their world, again and again. It is a dark, cynical note when Sandor returns to find the camp destroyed, all of its inhabitants dead and Ray hung from a noose.
Ray before his demise notes to Sandor that the gods weren’t done with him yet. He may have been filled with nothing but hate, but he needed to keep the strength of his faith by his side, regardless of where that faith derived from. Maybe his religion was right, maybe it was wrong, but maybe all of the gods people worshipped were the same fucking thing. Ray’s declaration points towards the importance of faith itself, for that was the thing that was going to keep Sandor from breaking apart any further. The episode is largely a construction of people struggling to keep their faith in some semblance or another so they don’t break apart. Margaery, possibly the most level-headed and intelligent person on this series, is in the toughest of positions between various power factions who would no doubt throw her under the proverbial bus (carriage?) at a moment’s notice to secure their own fragile power. Olenna in taking apart Cersei in a feverishly delicious sequence notes the broken power of the Tyrells and the Lannisters, brought about by Cersei’s short-sighted envy and the stupidity it wrought upon the capital. Margaery, a victim of that stupidity, understands quite clearly the amount of effort and faith required to keep up her charade of complicity. Her slipping the note to her grandmother with the rose was a hushed warning that Olenna ought to keep faith in her shrewd granddaughter for without that faith Margaery’s planning could seemingly go nowhere and the members of House Tyrell would break apart their fragile peace by their own hands. It’s as a masterful note one would expect from Margaery, but far more surprising is Cersei’s acquiescence to Olenna that her narrow-kindnesses wrought terror upon their houses, her proposition of a truce against their mutual enemy in the Faith. Their mutual faith, as strenuous as it feels at that moment, is the only way the power of the High Sparrow can be broken.
Arya is literally broken by the Waif, who appears like the evil witch out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, even though she lacks any sort of apples but a knife that she uses to stab Arya three times in the gut. Arya escapes bleeding through the streets of Braavos, at the mercy of faith that she will survive. Sansa, Jon, and Ser Davos arrive at the beautiful Bear Island to ask for House Mormont’s leadership. There, the ten-year-old ruler Lyanna Mormont proves to be a wise namesake for the fierce Stark woman of yesteryears. She cannot break the responsibility she has for her people for the sake of a war on behalf of a family she is fiercely loyal to but one whose loyalty yielded a significant price to pay. The War of the Five Kings is the reason a young girl is sitting on the throne of Bear Island and frankly being far more effective than most of the adults at their daily existences, pursuits of power or otherwise. Ser Davos appeals to her inner strength and understanding of what was stake to tangle sixty-two men out of her. Lord Glover is less understanding and his reasoning makes quite a bit of sense once it’s combined with Lyanna’s hesitancies. The Glovers bled a lot for the Starks and then Robb went and lost it all and their houses suffered greatly for the price of loyalty the Starks ultimately demanded. It’s a similar gravitas towards what Jaime and his retinue (with Bron!!!!!!!) discover with the Frey’s apathetic screech of a siege. He offers the Blackfish what he considers to be a bit of a truce and the Blackfish flat out refuses, even if Edmure’s neck was at risk of meeting its maker. It didn’t matter in a sense that the Freys had the right to a castle. The castle belonged to House Tully and Jaime has to arrive at an understanding that this episode of his was something the Blackfish had grown up in, the one that belonged to his massacred family. He knew the tales of Ser Jaime Lannister and he didn’t have faith in the man embodying the legend. He had faith in his own courage, the courage of his men, and the strength of his conviction. He was no broken man, grabbing an axe out of a stump and walking bitterly towards whatever left had left in his wake.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The shaking leg
+“How many men did it take to cut you down?”
“It was a woman.”
+“I was gonna give you a proper burial but then you coughed.”
+Ian McShane was stunningly superb in this role. What a shining example of this show’s casting acumen and you know what, spoiler interviews forgiven.
+The traditional roles of a woman and a man being parlayed between Margaery and the High Sparrow was delicious, considering how they’re both playing one another. The High Sparrow’s suggestion of sex between Margaery and Tommen being a duty was uncomfortable, but his suggestion that sex does not require desire on a woman’s part but only patience betrayed the disgusting misogyny he so thoroughly embodies.
+“I had pity for them, but I never loved them.”
+“The poor disgust us because they are us.”
+“Shall we pray?”
+“I wonder if you’re the worst person I’ve ever met.”
+“You’ve lost, Cersei. It’s the only joy I can find in all this misery.”
+That shot of Riverrun.
+“If they are half as fierce as their lady, the Boltons are doomed.”
+“Hundreds of mine. Thousands of yours.”
+“As long as I’m standing, the war is not over.”
+“Violence is a disease. You don’t cure it by spreading it to more people.”
+Yara and Theon’s scene was really quite touching.
+So, the Brotherhood Without Banners is taking a nasty turn? Exciting.
Episode Title: The Broken Man
Written by: Bryan Cogman
Directed by: Mark Mylod
Image Courtesy: Parade