Subtitle: the thin line between redemption and revenge
We start pre-opening with the reveal of Sandor Clegane alive and well and hanging with the same spiritual groupies Don Draper hung with in the season finale of Mad Men. As predicted, The Hound is the latest back from death and/or oblivion. This episode is about three things, all of which are found in Sandor’s scenes and story. One, he and his new friends are living separate from the war and the aristocracy. Two, that doesn’t save them from being dragged into it. And three, he’s haunted by his past.
In King’s Landing the High Sparrow interrupts his bestie Margaery’s reading to straight up tell her to get into Tommen’s bed and not get out until they have a baby. Margaery has lost all interest in sex because a) her husband is 14 if I’m feeling generous, b) her 14 year old husband is husband number three and one and two died horribly in front of her, c) she was in prison for months, and d) while in prison for months she was told repeatedly that sex is the worst sin ever, and she’s a terrible person for having any desire for it at all. Like, for real, she and her brother both, were locked up, starved, beaten, and lectured to because they had sex and now the first thing she’s expected to do is have sex with an underage boy until she’s pregnant and it honestly feels like the worst thing I’ve had to listen to on this show. Dear High Hyena:
Then, if that wasn’t enough, the Sparrow tells her she has to convince her grandmother to join their cult or he will be forced to kill her. Margaery heads straight to her, scary nun in tow, but tells her not to repent but to leave — flee, her eyes entreat, and she presses a paper into Olenna’s hands. Grandma is relieved to find the sketch of a rose, proof positive that Margaery is not a convert, but a covert operative. She’s doing all of this for her family.
Before Olenna gets out, however, an increasingly desperate Cersei tries to get her to join forces. Instead Olenna uses the opportunity to show Cersei exactly how alone she is, and how she has no one to blame but herself. It’s an interesting scene. Olenna is leaving because she trusts Margaery. Cersei is refusing to leave because she doesn’t trust Tommen, or anyone else. She admits the Sparrow’s reign is all her fault — she invited the Hyenas into the Pride Lands and now they’ve taken over — but she’s not ready to admit defeat. She wants to watch the world burn.
Jaime, resplendent in his Lannister armor, and Bronn are reunited for a new road trip to Riverrun. There they find the ridiculous Freys putting on a show for the Blackfish, and the audience, in which they threaten to first hang and then slit the throat of my poor Edmure. It’s not clear in the scene, but in the book this is a daily ritual and I think we’re supposed to believe it is here, too, and that Edmure is not really in danger. He is not slain but instead set to be returned to his cell. At which point Jaime interferes, takes over, and asks to treat with Brynden Tully.
Jaime looks visibly tired as he explains the war is over, the Tullys lost, thousands will die if they battle it out and all he wants is for the madness to end. He tries to stand on his honor, and is reminded yet again he doesn’t have any honor left. He lost it years — a lifetime — ago, when he was a kid and asked to kill his father but killed his king instead. I think if anyone should abandon his life and turn to religion it’s Jaime Lannister, he’s clearly exhausted of trying.
In the North it becomes clear that before Jon can convince the Houses of the North to join up with his army of wildlings he has to convince the wildlings to be his army. Tormund makes a stirring speech pointing out that Jon literally died for them but it’s the last giant’s one word endorsement — “Snow” — that really does the trick.
They move on to House Mormont where it takes Ser Davos’ ability to treat tiny little girls in power with gravity and no condescension to get the 62 soldiers they have to offer. (Aside: Is fierce tween princess Lady Lyanna Mormont one of the 62 because she’s definitely dressed in armor on the battlefield in a later scene?)
House Glover, who has a house sigil of a glove, obviously, is next but they refuse to join up because a) the Boltons helped them get their castle back, b) Jon’s army is made up of wildlings aka their enemies, and c) they were burned by House Stark when Robb married Talisa instead of stopping the Ironborn taking their castle in the first place. These are not terrible reasons from the point of view of the small people.
Our trio end up with a much smaller army than they wanted, but Jon gets set to march because Winter is coming. Sansa wants to hold off and look for more men, more Houses, but Jon shouts there’s no time before heading off to help Davos break up a fight in the ranks. Jon and Davos are pragmatic, both concerned about the monsters and the weather and the people more than the war. The bastard and the onion knight don’t care about power plays, they need Winterfell to hold off the Night King’s army.
But Sansa is an aristocrat once betrothed to a king. She’s been groomed to believe her Stark blood is worth something, that it’s the reason she’s still alive, the reason she was sold to first Joffrey and then Tyrion and finally Ramsay. She spends the episode trying to assert herself as an heir to power but the Stark name isn’t worth what it once was. Sansa’s story parallels Cersei here, again, and like Cersei, she’s not willing to let it go. She spies a raven and writes a letter, playing the hand left to her — I’ve no doubt the message is meant for Littlefinger and his army of Arryns. Like she told the Little Lady Mormont, Sansa will do what’s necessary to survive, and advance.
Pirate King Yara pauses the ocean-road trip to Mereen and her queen to confirm she’s a lesbian, and we all rejoice. All except Theon who is sad and lonely and consumed with guilt. Yara is over it, she’s on a mission to make a pact with the dragon queen and take back the Iron Islands, and she needs him whole. I hate that she bluntly tells him to either kill himself for real or buck up and join her crusade. But I like very much that Yara legitimately cares about her brother and Theon honestly wants to both atone for his sins and support his sister.
In Braavos, . . . SIGH. Arya books passage back to Westeros and wanders about completely unconcerned that she’s abandoned a team of assassins. Arya is not nearly as bright as I want her to be. The Waif finds her, obviously, and stabs her, obviously. Arya drops off the bridge, probably loses her money, crawls back out but is bleeding as she walks down the street and no one helps her. Why is her story so terrible??
And we end back with the Hound. It comes out in group therapy that the priest who saved him understands Sandor so well because he too has a murderous past. He ends his story with the theme of the episode, and possibly the season: it’s never too late to come back.
The support group is interrupted by a trio of Lord of Lighters who later return and murder the entire commune while Sandor is chopping wood. So much for redemption, the Hound is now Batman.
Winning: Margaery Tyrell, Olenna Tyrell, Lyanna Mormont, Bryden Tully, Yara Greyjoy
Dead: all of Sandor’s new friends