Editor's note: spoilers below for sixth and seventh episodes of Game of Thrones' sixth season.
After last week's return of Benjen Stark (after five seasons!) and a dragon-roaring end courtesy Drogon, it was time to catch up with all the other characters we have been ignoring for a while, or ones that might be long forgotten.
So we began with a cold open in 'The Broken Man' - the seventh episode of the season - with guest star Ian McShane as Brother Ray helping construct what totally looks like a sept, and falls in line with the seven-pointed star resting on his chest. And then comes the big reveal - Sandor "The Hound" Clegane is not dead. He is, alive and well, it seems and is helping single-handedly carry and chop wood for the Sparrows. This is a big moment for the show, and more so for book readers, who have always wondered who the Gravedigger was and how much hype the Clegane bowl theory deserves.
And right after the credits the scene continued, as a renewed Clegane - still harbouring ill-feelings and guilt from his previous life - just wants it to be over. He wanted to be dead, he begged Arya to show mercy but she left him bleeding, and Ray stumbled upon him. Ray says that he didn't die for a long while after, which means the Gods still have something planned for him. Destiny and fate don't sit well with the younger Clegane, clearly, and a man with no purpose is a broken man. Sandor eventually asks, "Why haven't the Gods punished me?" for all that he has done, to which Ray replies, "They have." A contemplative Clegane seems to reflect back on everything that's happened.
Over in King's Landing, Queen Margaery - back into her gown and crown - is reading a holy book. "The Book of the Mother," she tells an entering High Sparrow before reciting straight from Chapter 3, Verse 12. The leader of the Faith is impressed with her, though he continues to probe to see if she's pretending. She used to, she admits openly, feeling pity for the poor instead of love. The High Sparrow then changes the subject for a more personal matter, that of her womb, it would appear. He wants her to give the King an heir, so that they can continue the good work they are doing, but Margaery says she doesn't have the desire. He doesn't see it that way, and why would he - women are only baby bearers in Westeros. Gender politics has a long way to go.
(Also see: Game of Thrones S06E06: 'Blood of My Blood' Recap)
The High Sparrow has another task for her, to convert her grandmother - the Queen of Thorns - to their side and make her repent her sins. Margaery pays her a visit under Septa Unella's eyes, and then begs her to listen but she's having none of it. That's until the granddaughter kneels beside Olenna and slips her a piece of paper. Her demeanour then shifts, and she silently agrees to what Margaery says. Since the previous episode, it seemed the Queen was playing the long game, and it's apparent to the viewers here, even if the Septa is blind to it.
And when grandma Olenna finds time to open the paper, she finds a hand-drawn outline of a rose - the sigil of House Tyrell - which shows that Margaery is still in the game, and not brainwashed as she might appear.
Somewhere in the north, Jon and the Free Folk are colliding on the topic of fighting Boltons, Karstarks and the Umbers. Even Tormund is having a hard time convincing his fellow men, until Wun Wun stands up, says just one word: "Snow" and promptly walks away. That's enough for the rest of them, and Jon is visibly happy to have their support.
Back to King's Landing, Cersei Lannister - accompanied by reanimated Ser Gregor Clegane - pays a visit to the departing Olenna Tyrell. "I wonder if you're the worst person I've ever met," the latter barks at the Queen Mother. She then proceeds to list all the ways Cersei has lost to the High Sparrow, which is why she's leaving the wretched city as soon as possible. "You've lost, Cersei. It's the only joy I could find in all this misery," the Tyrell lady says, now having to pretend that she doesn't know of Margaery's true intentions.
(Also see: Game of Thrones Season 6: Hodor, Bran Stark and the White Walkers)
In the Riverlands, the King's army - with Jaime and "up-jumped sellsword" Bronn leading them - marches into the Freys' unguarded camp and becomes witness to their terrible attempts at threatening Blackfish into surrendering the castle. Even with Lord Edmure on the noose or at the end of a knife, the two Frey brothers fail to push the Tullys into submission. Bored with the nonsense, the Blackfish tells them to have at it - kill his brother that is - but the Freys realise the loss of their bargaining chip and failure in sounding convincing.
Jaime has had enough, and berates the Freys for the lacklustre set-up they have mustered, going so far to hit one of the two with his made-of-metal right hand. He's in charge of the siege now, he says, and he wants Edmure to be washed and clothed. He's going to parley with the Blackfish, instead of fighting.
Jon, Sansa and Davos are off on their recruiting trip, and their first stop is Bear Island, land of House Mormont. Sansa goes first, trying to sweet talk Lady Mormont into how beautiful she's going to be when she grows up. The child is having none of it - she's quite fierce, to be honest - and instead shouts back about how her brother Robb caused the death of her mother. Jon goes next, trying to connect into the fact that he served as a steward to her uncle, Jeor Mormont. But the Lady of Bear Island has had enough of the small talk, and wants them to go straight to the topic.
Jon asks for House Mormont's allegiance on behalf of the only Stark in the room - Sansa - but the Mormont maesters are quick to remind that Jon is a bastard and Sansa married to House Bolton and Lannister. Having seen the two fail at their task, Ser Davos of House Seaworth steps forward - and after introducing himself - starts to compare his storyline to the Lady's. He then goes on to paint Jeor Mormont and Jon Snow as people who understand the real battle, the one between the living and the dead, the one everyone's been ignoring.
(Also see: Game of Thrones S06E05: 'The Door' Recap)
Davos is successful in convincing Lady Mormont about the real war up ahead, and after a whisper with her maester, she offers them 62 men. Jon isn't pleased with that number, but Davos knows how to charm his way and retain their support. "If they are half as ferocious as their lady, the Boltons are doomed," he quips.
Back to the Riverlands then, as Jaime gets the chance to parley with the Blackfish. "Kingslayer," the Tully leader says at seeing him. He's armed to the hilt with insults, going from the promise he made to his niece Catelyn ("Do you wish to resume your captivity?") to teasing him for the short lease he's on ("Do you have two years?"). The Blackfish is a steadfast man, and Jaime will have to think on his feet to throw him off his balance.
It does look like we are moving towards two wars on different fronts, the North-remembered vs the Boltons at Winterfell and the King's forces vs the Tullys at Riverrun, which should make for an explosive ninth episode as always.
Meanwhile, the next stop on the Starks' recruiting agenda is Deepwood Motte, which geographically speaking ought to have come before their visit to Bear Island. But storytelling trumps everything on television, and so here we are. House Glover isn't impressed with the Starks' offer, and rebukes them for involving the wildlings in their army. That makes it 1-1 on Mission Convince The North, with Ser Davos securing the only victory.
(Also see: Game of Thrones S06E04: 'Book of the Stranger' Recap)
After stealing all of their uncle's thousand ships, Yara and Theon Greyjoy have made it to Volantis which has to be the fastest movement of ships mankind has ever seen. (We should probably stop caring about it, considering how little regard the writers seem to have for such accuracy.) More importantly, their mission is now clear if it wasn't already. Yara wishes to meet up with Daenerys and join her cause. The Mother of Dragons does need a thousand ships, after all. Yara also wants Theon to find Theon, and truly take control of his mind and body. That is a cruel drinking game forced upon him, though.
Back at the Starks' free-folk-filled camp, men are bickering amongst each other even as the three - Jon, Sansa and Davos - tally up all that they have. Sansa thinks they need more, but Jon wants to attack now before a snow storm befalls them, just as one did Stannis. Spotting a raven, Sansa has an idea. Using her name and the Stark sigil, she scribbles a note which presumably is heading to the Vale, to ask Littlefinger for the support he promised. He's used Sansa before for his own means, and it remains to be seen what will come out of this now.
Also somewhere in the Vale, Sandor Clegane towers over the Murderers Anonymous meeting as Brother Ray tells a tale from his past. Just then, a few men from the Brotherhood Without Banners - along with a priest of the Red God - ride up to them, demanding gold, metal or just food. Ray doesn't give in, and the men on horses turn around after making a veiled threat.
Once a captive of the Brotherhood and Clegane, Arya - now fully herself - walks in the Braavosi market. She spots a Westerosi, and puts down a lot of coin to demand passage back to her home. Once that's settled, she takes half her money and walks onto a bridge, looking out at the Titan of Braavos. An old wrinkly lady approaches Arya, and after getting her attention, takes out a knife to repeatedly stab the Stark girl in the stomach.
A surprised and under-powered Arya looks up to find the Waif in disguise, hits her with her head and then jumps into the water below. After waiting for a while to come afloat, the Waif - convinced Arya has drowned - is on her way. Somewhere down the stream, she comes out of the water gasping for air. She surveys her environment, and then checks her wounds. As she walks through the market, all the eyes are on her but she's unable to hear anything what with being in shock and all.
There's more to come in the episode after that horror, as Sandor Clegane continues to work by himself. He hears the sound of a horse in the distance - the Sparrows don't have any - and you can tell he has assumed the worst by his face. He immediately runs back to the camp and finds everyone with arrows in them, dead on the ground. As he continues to walk through, he spots Ray - hanging by his neck from the roof of the sept. Sandor goes through a bit of processing, the man had helped and saved him even if he did despise mostly everyone, and then turns around to go pick up an axe.
The man was broken, but now he has purpose in his life again.