Brow Beat

This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros: The High Sparrow

Even his outfit is gross.


After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 6, we’ll be answering a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros? This week, technology and culture writer Jacob Brogan is joined by Slate pop critic Jack Hamilton.

Brogan: Hi, Jack. Thanks for joining me to talk about “The Broken Man.” Last week, Dan Kois and I declared the waif the worst, with Dan going so far as to claim that she is, in fact, the worst person “in all episodes in which she appears.” While that’s a bold statement on a show that includes the (still mercifully absent) Ramsay Bolton, this episode went a long way toward proving Dan right. She shows up briefly, using mere seconds of screen time to repeatedly stab Arya in the stomach. While I have little doubt that the girl-formerly-known-as-the-girl-with-no-name will survive, I’m mostly looking forward to her doing a little stabbing of her own at this point.

Fortunately, even if Arya doesn’t make it, Game of Thrones has another killer child in its constantly growing stable: Has any character on this show ever charmed more quickly than Lyanna Mormont, Lady of Bear Island? Should we just give the hating a rest and declare Lyanna the best person in Westeros?

Hamilton: Lyanna Mormont is a revelation: Not since the Home Alone films has a child so dazzlingly asserted his or her capacity for violence. (Or maybe just since Arya Stark up until, like, an episode ago.) The prolonged negotiations for the support of Bear Island and its (count ‘em) 62 soldiers was definitely the most purely enjoyable scene of this episode and a great reminder that Game of Thrones’ sense of humor—never forced or too clever—might be its most underrated asset.

And the surprise returns of Al Swearengen and the Hound and the continuation of the latter’s improbable redemption story offered up another feel-good moment, albeit one that quickly (and inevitably) ended in slaughter. I guess we no longer need a Deadwood movie.

Brogan: Were it not for the grim fate that Ian McShane meets in this episode—an episode that leaned heavily on noose imagery, now that I’m thinking of it—I would like to pretend his character here, Septon Ray, really was Swearengen in disguise, somehow arrived in Westeros via a transdimensional anomaly. Instead, I’m left mourning his passing. If I had a clearer sense of who those followers of the Lord of Light were, I’d be tempted to call them the worst, but if the “Next Week” segment is any indication, they’ll be getting theirs soon enough.

I was struck, though, by the contrast between Septon Ray and the High Sparrow, who I’ve been faithfully militating against for weeks. By Westerosi standards, Ray has a surprisingly chill approach to religion, telling the erstwhile Hound, “Maybe it is the Seven, or maybe it is the old gods … what matters, I believe, is that there’s something greater than us, and whatever it is has got plans for Sandor Clegane.” Meanwhile, the High Sparrow instructs Margaery that she’s duty-bound to sleep with her husband in the grossest way imaginable, observing, “Congress does not require desire on a woman’s part.”

Hamilton: Gross on about 15 different levels, especially since there seems to be an increasingly leering quality to the Sparrow’s interactions with Margaery (although subsequent developments suggest this may in fact be by her own design). For me the goings-on at King’s Landing—a storyline that had started to really bore me in recent weeks—may have been the most intriguing part of this episode, particularly the furtive paper exchange between Margaery and Lady Olenna, when Margaery presses a drawing of a rose (the sigil of House Tyrell) into her grandmother’s hand before sending her on her way, presumably back to Highgarden. Given the shock of the Hound’s return and Arya sporting more cuts than my man Chuck Chillout, I feel like this development sort of flies under the radar in “The Broken Man,” but it feels incredibly important, as it would seem to provide confirmation that Margaery is indeed working the long con on both the High Sparrow and her own impressionable-tween husband. What do we think is going on there? Whatever it is I don’t think it bodes well for Cersei, who once again appears to be getting scooped on the scheming by her own daughter-in-law.

Brogan: Though they’ve never had a place on the Game of Thrones marquee, the Ladies Tyrell, Margaery and Olenna, have always been among its best characters. And though that rose note was ambiguous, it perfectly signified both their subtle brilliance and their deep reserves of mutual strength. Even at their lowest, they manage to throw more shade than a beach umbrella in Dorne: “You’ve lost, Cersei. It’s the only joy I could find in all this misery,” Lady Olenna snarks at the former queen.

And speaking of Lannister losses, this episode reminds us for the first time in a while—possibly for the first time this season—that Jaime is short a hand. Despite that, he’s still convinced that he can outplay the Blackfish. But even he can only do so much, given the astonishing incompetence of the Freys, who we here see threatening to execute the hapless Edmure Tully (or, as my girlfriend has renamed him, Mr. Outlander). Will the Kingslayer be dragged down by his lousy allies?

Hamilton: I do think House Frey is due for an epic comeuppance and has been since the Great Stark Massacre of 2013. My guess is that the Freys will suffer some sort of bloody humiliation at the hands of the Blackfish before Season 6 wraps, but I also think Jaime will find a way to recuse himself from this losing situation before getting further dragged down into it. At this point Jaime’s allegiances to his own family have to be paper-thin—this is now the second of his son-nephews that’s basically treated him like a disposable role player.

The Frey gang is so unsympathetically inept it’s tempting to give them this week’s WPiW, but I keep coming back to the High Sparrow, even if he’s only in one scene this week. Maybe it’s my Irish Catholic upbringing, but something about his arrogant literalism, faux populism, smug “humility” and the way he talks about the Gods like they are his close personal friends represents everything I can’t stand about the repressive and self-serving anti-intellectualism of fundamentalist religion generally. His interaction with Margaery was grotesque, and his desire for power and domination are starting to feel just as naked as everyone else’s, despite the best efforts of whatever burlap sack he’s donning week to week. High Sparrow needs to go.

Brogan: He sure does. I found myself thinking about him again later in the episode when Ser Davos tells Lyanna (who, again, is this episode’s stone cold most valuable player), “The real war isn’t between a few squabbling houses. It’s between the living and the dead. And make no mistake, my lady, the dead are coming.” Though he may not belong to one of those “squabbling houses,” the High Sparrow certainly acts like he does. If the dead are coming—and they are—we can only hope that he’s ready to join them when they arrive.

Hamilton: Agreed. And if the High Sparrow meets his fate at the hands of a wight-ed Al Swearengen it might just be enough to sway House Hamilton’s allegiance to the Night King.