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always begins with that iconic title sequence and theme tune, grounding the audience in the world and setting the tone. So when you see a random, mid-season episode start with a pre-credits sequence, you know you\'re in for something special.
It\'s an opening scene reminiscent of the Harrison Ford movie
, in which an Amish community build a new barn - only in this case it\'s a new church to the Seven, overseen by a new character known as Ray, played by the great Ian McShane.
Ray\'s followers struggle to carry huge great logs across the plains - and then, one man enters the shot carrying one single-handed. Shown very deliberately only from behind, and then from below, we\'re left to ask: who in the world is strong enough to carry alone what a group of five are struggling with? Well, who else?
Game of Thrones review: Blood of my Blood is fantastic
He may have been roundly beaten by Brienne, and left for dead by Arya, but it turns out Sandor Clegane - stubborn as the dog he is - refused to die.
The Hound is alive, far from the Broken Man of the episode\'s title, and isn\'t it wonderful to have Rory McCann back in this role? The use of that cold open suggests that the show itself agrees - as if they couldn\'t contain the excitement of his return for even a single minute longer.
The episode - written by Bryan Cogman - draws some interesting parallels between Ray and the High Sparrow, and between Margaery and The Hound. We have it confirmed here that Margaery is indeed playing the High Sparrow - and it\'s clear even
she slips her grandmother that drawing of a Tyrell rose.
You can see the machinations working subtly behind the scenes on Margaery\'s face, and the mask even cracks for just a moment as she embraces the Queen of Thorns. Natalie Dormer is
good at playing two roles at once, remaining convincing enough to the High Sparrow whilst still conveying subtle hints to the audience about Margaery\'s internal scheming. Absolutely terrific work from Dormer, in what is a very difficult role.
And yet, while The Hound\'s conversion isn\'t as complete as Margaery\'s is meant to be, it is more genuine. While he cannot quite shake his old ways, he genuinely seems to have found some measure of peace. He appears content to chop wood and listen to the sermons of a man who was once very much like him - and, crucially, one who was able to leave it all behind.
Ray may not have much, but he\'s at least happy. His sermons are more engaging and authentic than the Sparrow\'s as a result of his honest reflection on his lurid life experiences. Ray\'s life is no chore to live, and that\'s an achievable end-game for Sandor Clegane.
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And yet, come the hour\'s end - as ever - The Hound is the last man standing. Was it the Brotherhood Without Banners that killed Ray and his flock? If so, it seems out of character - or perhaps an indication that their zeal for the Lord of Light has taken a darker turn. "Violence is a disease", says Ray, and it\'s one that Sandor Clegane still isn\'t quite cured of.
But it\'s entirely possible that his time making peace with himself has tempered his uglier urges. When he picks up his axe at the end, it\'s a Westerosi equivalent of a retired gunslinger picking up his six-shooter for just one last showdown. Sandor was strong before, but what he\'s learnt since might only make him stronger. The Hound may be a different sort of beast now, and Gods save anyone that gets in his way.
Elsewhere, the episode features a lot of home truths being thrown around. Jaime Lannister finds himself cut down to size by the Blackfish; Cersei is shot down by Olenna; and Sansa Stark is put roundly in her place by Lord Glover - another recognisable face in Tim McInnerny - as she and Jon strive to recruit an army to fight the Boltons.
At least Davos fares better. The former smuggler is almost too gruff and common-spoken to be called \'silver-tongued\', but he\'s a smooth talker all the same, coming to the rescue here when the little Lady Mormont proves too spiky for the Starks. (His recent experience charming the similarly-aged Shireen surely didn\'t hurt.)
We also get the return of another fan favourite as Bronn gets a long overdue reintroduction, accompanying Jaime to rescue the siege of Riverrun from the hapless Freys. Over the ocean, Theon and Yara have sailed all the way to Volantis, washing up in a whorehouse (torture, for the newly gelded Theon), on their way to Meereen to help forge an alliance with Daenerys. The series hasn\'t always done best by Gemma Whelan, but she was fantastic in her scene with Alfie Allen this week, attempting to coax Theon back from being Reek.
And then there\'s Arya Stark, who seems happier and more confident than we\'ve seen her in weeks, and so obviously wound up with steel in her belly mere moments later. The Waif\'s surprise attack is shocking - far from the big duel we might have expected - and things seem bleak for Arya.
But you\'d think if the show was going to kill her - and for a moment, that did seem frighteningly likely - it would have done it there and then, rather than drag her death out into another episode. Quite how she\'ll make it through to sunrise and that ride home is anyone\'s guess.
While the past two episodes have done plenty to set up what\'s coming in the final run, arguably, having the Hound back is the most exciting prospect.
loves to split audience loyalties, getting us to root for characters that we really shouldn\'t.
The Hound is a brute, a killer, a monster. We\'re not supposed to like him. And yet, his particular brand of bastardy is exactly what\'s required in this world. The High Sparrow, on the surface, should be a figure we admire - the soft-spoken priest has morals and intentions that are ostensibly good. And yet we despise him.
so fascinating, and seeing what sort of man - or monster - The Hound is after his time with Ray will be more fascinating still. The only downside to the episode is that the legendary Ian McShane didn\'t make it to the end. Avenge him, Sandor. Avenge him!
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