Monday, July 10, 2017

Game of Thrones (Re)Watch 6.7: "The Broken Man"

Read the previous piece in this series here.
Read the next piece in this series here

6.7 “The Broken Man”
Written by Bryan Cogman
Directed by Mark Mylod
Commentary by Bryan Cogman, Ian McShane (Septon Ray), and Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell)

Another episode, another wild misinterpretation of a character’s arc, motivations, and actions. This time with a guest spot by a snarky Englishman who famously referred to the show as “just tits and dragons” and said fans upset by him spoiling the Hound’s return this episode “need to get a fucking life.”

I think I like him.

Sandor’s arc this episode is seeded by hints in the books that he’s not dead after Arya leaves him, but in fact washed up at the Quiet Isle and is serving as a gravedigger, having decided to leave his old life entirely behind. I, for one, would be perfectly okay for this to be Sandor’s fate and to never visit him again in the entire series (although I’d also be okay for Arya to turn up, recognize him, and take him along on her adventures). Here, Sandor’s helping build a sept with a group of smallfolk whose behavior looks remarkably like a hippie commune. The septon (McShane) preaches to his little flock about redemption; he used to be a fighter and followed orders, regardless of what those orders were, and now he’s given up all violence. (McShane refers to this as “AA for serial killers.”) He talks about making amends and although you can never take back what you’ve done, you can always change and help people instead.

Of course, this peace and “therapy” can’t last; a group of soldiers comes to see what they’re doing. The septon assures them they’re fine and don’t have anything of value for the soldiers to kill them for. They leave with the farewell remark “the night is dark and full of terrors,” which isn’t at all foreboding, and Sandor argues with the septon about self-defense. He says they’re going to have to fight, but the septon says the people here don’t know how and he doesn’t do that anymore. So of course the soldiers come back and kill everyone and hang the septon in the half-built sept, so of course Sandor has to grab an axe and go on the warpath.

Once again, this stuffs a man back into the mold of acceptable toxic masculinity. In the books, the men of the Quiet Isle have lived and served for at least thirty years (the history of the sept is a bit fuzzy in the books, but it’s been there long enough to collect the rubies from Rhaegar’s breastplate as they’ve washed down the Trident) without being bothered. Sandor could conceivably live out his days and die there without ever being yanked back into a life of violence. In the show, we’re given a man who’s renounced violence of any kind and he and his people are brutally murdered for no good reason. Because men aren’t allowed to be non-violent. That’s not how show-Westeros works. If you don’t fight, you’re a victim, full stop. This whole episode exists to a) show that Sandor’s still alive; and b) shove him back out into the world with a vendetta so he’ll start killing again (probably leading up to what fans are calling “Cleganebowl” where he’ll fight Gregor). The Westerosi society of the show has been reduced to lowest-common-denominators, and those denominators are all sex and violence. This isn’t edgy or realistic; it’s lazy and shallow.

Speaking of sex, Margaery’s apparently not been having any with Tommen, and the High Sparrow gives her a Talking To about a Woman’s Duty™ and the need to produce an heir. He says, verbatim, “congress does not require desire on the woman’s part, only patience.” Just lie back and think of Westeros, Margaery. On the one hand, this underscores one of the (probably unintentional) themes of Cersei’s storyline: women may find power through manipulating men sexually, but that’s not real power. As soon as they’re no longer desirable, they lose that as a path to power, and really their “power” lies in getting men to do things for them, not in doing things themselves. Here, Margaery has decided she no longer wants to have sex because she’s always used sex to manipulate men (there’s hints that she’s done it for her own enjoyment before, but we don’t see that. We only see her with Renly, Joffrey, and Tommen, none of whom she’s actually attracted to). So the moment she takes control of her sexuality in a way that doesn’t serve the patriarchy, she’s chastised for it.

Taking bets on whether Benioff and Weiss (or Cogman) realized they were doing this.

The High Sparrow also threatens Olenna, telling Margaery that if she doesn’t come around to the same “conversion” Margaery and Tommen have, that he fears for her safety, “body and soul.” After all, he’s got Septa Unella the Abusive following Margaery around and not allowing Olenna to meet with Margaery alone. Margaery’s only way of warning Olenna that she’s in danger and assuring her that she’s not really religiously brainwashed is handing her a sketch of a rose.

Olenna prepares to leave King’s Landing and Cersei tries to stop her because her leaving would ruin a good chunk of Cersei’s plans. Olenna tells her the High Sparrow has essentially taken King’s Landing and it won’t be long before everyone ends up in one of those cells. She suggests Cersei gets out, too, but Cersei’s stubborn and vengeful and has no intention of going anywhere.

Up north, Jon and Sansa are begging lords for men. They go to Bear Island, where Lyanna Mormont talks back to Jon and Sansa, but then somehow is talked around to giving men to the effort—by Davos. Considering that Lyanna’s objections to helping were that none of them are really Starks (Jon’s a Snow; Sansa’s a Lannister or a Bolton), I don’t get how Davos of all people, who isn’t even a northerner, managed to convince her, but oh well. Then they go to Deepwood Motte, where Lord Glover kicks them out. Later, Sansa writes a letter and sends it off by raven, making a Resolve Face as she does so (gee, I wonder who she’s writing to).

In Braavos, Arya makes plans to go home and relaxes her guard like an idiot and gets stabbed repeatedly in the belly for it. Somehow she manages to swim in the canal with multiple stab wounds to her abdomen and make it to shore then stagger through the streets. I’ll have much more to say about this nonsense next week.

Jaime’s headed to the Riverlands with Bronn, of course, because everyone needs a smart-mouthed sidekick. The siege camp on Riverrun is a joke, and Brynden isn’t having any of Lothar and Black Walder’s threats against Edmure’s life. Jaime isn’t having any of Lothar and Walder either, and immediately takes over the siege. He tries to talk Brynden into surrendering, but Brynden’s having none of that, either.

Yara and Theon have reached Volantis, and this is easily the most disturbing scene in this episode for several reasons. Yara’s making out with one of the prostitutes, while Theon is clearly uncomfortable with being here. Yara tells him to lighten up because “some of us still like it.” She bullies him into drinking despite him arguing that he doesn’t want to, then tells him he needs to get over this whole trauma thing because she’s “tired of watching [him] cower like a beat dog” and if he’s really that broken, if he’ll never get over it, he needs to just “take a knife and cut [his] wrists. End it.” Otherwise, he needs to man up, come with her, and help her take back the Iron Islands. When he assures her that he’s with her, she leaves him to go find her prostitute again.

Time for the break down.

First: The Volantene brothel. That Volantene brothels are staffed by sex slaves has already been established. In case it wasn’t obvious that these women aren’t free, they all sport the teardrop tattoo that’s also been established earlier in the series. Yara’s dalliance with the slave puts her in the position of rapist because the slave cannot refuse. Tyrion’s whole scene with the Volantene sex slave earlier notwithstanding, Westerosi prostitution is not the same thing as Volantene sex slavery, and that Benioff and Weiss keep treating it like it is is really disturbing.

Second: Suddenly Yara’s a lesbian because of course she is. Leaving aside the fact that in the books, she likes men and is in a relationship with one of her crew, making her a lesbian in this context is as cliché as it gets. She’s a reaver, essentially a Viking, a fighter, so of course she’s a lesbian. And this isn’t communicated to the audience through any sort of mutually beneficial relationship, but through a scene with a sex slave that’s clearly meant for the male gaze.

Third: Pardon my Anglo-Saxon but excuse me with the ableist bullshit here. This is so dangerous. She drags her brother, who’s suffering from PTSD, who was mutilated because he enjoyed sex too much, into a brothel, which of course triggers him, then tells him he needs to get over it because she’s tired of his whining. And if he can’t get over it, he needs to just kill himself.

Are. You. Kidding. Me.

This show has a really bad track record with disabilities already, but this just takes the cake. Again, the toxic masculinity of Westeros won’t allow a man to be anything but strong and violent at all times. Remember that in order to be a victim, Theon had to be feminized—he cried, he was almost raped, he lost his penis—but now that he’s free, he needs to get back on the masculinity train or else. If they had to do this, there’s a real opportunity to discuss PTSD and the way people treat those with trauma disorders, but instead, Yara’s “pep talk” is exactly what Theon needed to snap out of it and be the support Yara needed. He’s not strong enough to challenge her for the Driftwood Throne, but he’s strong enough to be the masculine presence she needs to be a legitimate female ruler (I’ll get into that more when they meet up with Dany). Clearly Benioff, Weiss, and Cogman didn’t seriously consider the implications of having one of their protagonists (we’re clearly supposed to be on Yara’s side here) voice such dangerous sentiments and how that might affect certain members of the audience. Again, if they had interrogated that in any way or made it clearly problematic, that would have been something else. But they didn’t. This is portrayed as a positive way to snap him out of his “funk” and get him back on the right track. And it is absolutely disgusting.

RIP: Septon Ray

Next week: Sandor goes hunting. Jaime and Brienne reunion. The Waif goes Terminator.

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