Last week, Game of Thrones re-set its feet, caught its breath and followed up with some characters, such as Arya Stark, Margaery Tyrell and Samwell Tarly, whose dragon- and White Walker-free story lines needed attention and forward momentum. Now, with the sixth season working through its latter half, it’s time to pick up the pace again, and that means narratives must collide.
But first, there is some other old business to tend to. This week’s episode didn’t even jump right into the opening credits sequence. Rather, we see Ian McShane, in his much-ballyhooed guest appearance, leading the construction of some sort of tower, apparently a sept. The actor had said he would be instrumental in bringing back a beloved character thought dead, and he was right. Lugging some pretty big lumber around is none other than the Hound, Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), whom Brienne of Tarth nearly beat to death at the end of season 4. He seems to have a new lease on life, chopping wood and working with vigor. That said, he’s still a bit prickly, and he chooses to sit alone during meal times. McShane’s holy man character, however, tries his best to break through to him. “What kept you going,” he asks the Hound. “Hate,” the jaded warrior replies.
The holy man, who merely believes there’s something bigger and isn’t prepared to say that any one religion is correct, wants to save the Hound. Clegane, of course, scoffs at this idea, but the holy man, named Ray (of light, eh?), reminds him that he’s already been punished for his sins in the brutal beating he took from Brienne.
With the concept of salvation floating in the air, the show cuts to Queen Margaery reading from a holy text while the High Sparrow comes to poke and prod at her, perhaps still skeptical of her conversion. The Sparrow also wonders why the queen hasn’t served her duty in her bed with Tommen. In other words, she must produce an heir for this new holy monarchy. She doesn’t need to have desire, the Sparrow tells her, as a pious man of power would do to a woman he views merely as a vessel. He also makes a point of reminding Margaery that her grandmother, the Queen of Thorns, is a sinner who must be converted. If Margaery is acting and playing a larger game, she’s selling it very well. Lady Olenna doesn’t seem to get this until the queen tells her to leave and gives her a hard stare — and apparently places something in the elderly noblewoman’s hand , under the nose of the septa who follows Margaery around. It’s a note. Rather, it’s a doodle of a flower, reflecting the Tyrells’ noble sigil.
Before Olenna leaves, Cersei pays her a visit to find some common ground. “I wonder if you’re the worst person I’ve ever met,” the Queen of Thorns spits back at the Queen Mother, who continues to press her message of Lannister-Tyrell unity. Olenna breaks it down for her in simple terms, ticking off everything that’s lined up against Cersei. “You’ve lost,” she says, urging her to leave King’s Landing. Even after everything she’s been through, Cersei is certain she’s in the right, and Lena Headey conveys the Queen Mother’s bitterness with a spiky grace.
As for Jaime, Cersei’s brother and lover, he’s off on a mission. His job? Treat with Brynden “Blackfish” Tully, who has retaken his family’s castle, Riverrun. The Freys are there, threatening to kill the Blackfish’s nephew, Edmure, if he doesn’t yield. “Go on, then, cut his throat,” the Blackfish dares him. That’s enough for Jaime and Bronn, his “up-jumped sellsword” companion. The message is that the pros are here to handle this the right way. Jaime smacks some faces, starts throwing around orders and commands that Lord Edmure be bathed and clothed in clean fabrics. The siege is under Jaime’s command now, and he wants to parley with the Blackfish rather than fight.
The elder but still-fierce Tully agrees to chat, and he doesn’t agree with Jaime that the war is over. The Lannisters and Freys can attack the castle, or starve out the Tully forces, but it’ll take two years for the latter to happen. “Do you have two years?” the Blackfish asks, taunting the man he and many others call “Kingslayer.”
North, where the snows are falling, Jon tries to rally the Wildlings to his cause to seize the frosty region. If they don’t take it, they’re as good as dead. The Wildlings are skeptical, but Tormund speaks up for Jon, playing the death-and-resurrection card. It gets a rise out of the giant among them, who merely utters “Snow.” That’s good enough for the other Free Folk. “We say we’ll do something, we’ll do it,” Tormund reminds Jon.
The first order of business is to try to coax the Mormonts of Bear Island to join them. Jon and Sansa try to negotiate with Lady Lyanna Mormont, a child, but a tough-talking one at that. She doesn’t suffer fools, and she presses Jon and Sansa to make their case. They flail about, so it’s up to Ser Davos to argue on the remaining Starks’ behalf.
Davos can relate to her. Both of them never thought they’d be in the positions they’re in today, she a child, he a former smuggler. He comes quickly to the point: This is a war between the living and the dead, even if the Boltons now stand in the way, and the dead are indeed coming. With a divided North, there’s no defense against the murderous winds of winter. Like that, House Mormont is in — and that means another 62 fighting men. That’s it, folks. Every little bit counts to the Onion Knight, though. “If they’re half as ferocious as their lady,” Davos says, “the Boltons are doomed.”
Next up, the Glovers. They’re not so receptive, especially once Jon confirms that Wildlings make up the bulk of his forces. Nope, Lord Glover is not having it, and so he turns his back. But Sansa reminds him of his house’s duty to the Starks. Still, the Lord of House Glover isn’t having it. “House Stark is dead,” he shoots back at her. It’s an important moment. Sansa has been on a bit of a hot streak since she fled Ramsay’s cruelty, but now she gets her first firm rebuke. How she responds will be instrumental to her development.
She presses with Jon, jockeying to be his top adviser over Davos. Jon wants to march to Winterfell now, even with his rabble of 2,000 Wildlings and assorted dozens from northern houses. They can’t risk another storm. Sansa responds with silence, but instead she writes a letter she intends to send via raven. In all likelihood, she’s reaching out to Littlefinger, after all. With her wounded pride now comes pragmatism, which is a promising sign. But is she playing into another Littlefinger trap?
Catching up with the renegade Greyjoys, Yara, Theon and their forces are in port and consorting with prostitutes. Once upon a time, Theon would have indulged as much as Yara and the others, but since Ramsay emasculated him, he just doesn’t have the stomach, the urge or the biological ability for it anymore. He can’t even guzzle down ale, but Yara isn’t having it. She wants the real Theon back, “not this wretched pretender,” and she urges him to either kill himself or get back to his old self. The plan is to sail the fleet to Meereen and give Daenerys Targaryen the help she needs to return to Westeros.
Back with McShane’s holy man and the Hound, we hear the cleric confess the murderous truth of his past, how he killed a boy. He’ll never forget what he did, but his message is that it’s never too late to come back and start helping people, to do some good in the world. The message resonates with the Hound, at least it appears to. Just then, some rough-looking horsemen appear. They’re from the Brotherhood Without Banners, and they’re on a mission to “protect the people.” Their threat is clear: They’ll be back to take whatever they want. The Hound knows it, too, and he warns the Septon to be prepared to fight. Of course, the cleric isn’t so eager to spill more blood.
If you’re into Game Of Thrones, we recommend that you check out our Game Of Thrones section here on the blog.
It takes much of the episode, but the focus eventually returns to Arya, who is eager to book passage out of Braavos and back to Westeros. As she gazes longingly to the horizon, though, an old lady approaches … and it’s the Waif in disguise, to no one’s surprise. The servant of the House of Black and White quickly slashes and sticks Arya, turning a knife in her gut. Just as it looks like one of the absolute favorite characters of “Game of Thrones” fans is about to die, she tumbles over the side of a bridge and into a river. Arya can still walk and breathe, but her blood is spilling from her gut as she wanders the streets of Braavos, looking for help. She could really use her old buddy the Hound right about now.
Too bad, for her sake, he’s still in Westeros, chopping wood. He takes a break from his relentless regimen only to hear an odd sound from the septon’s camp: nothing. He dashes back and finds everyone dead, the holy man hanging from the frame of the structure they were building. It’s all the convincing he needs. The way of mercy is not his way.
The Hound will hunt again, and this time he has an ax.