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Last night's rock solid episode of Game of Thrones was paced a bit slower than the first two, but it was still an engaging and well produced hour of television. There was less in the way of major revelations, but we learned more about some of the characters, met a few new ones, and got to see a little bit of how things normally work in King's Landing before they inevitably go to hell as the plot wears on.
Everyone finally arrives at the capital city, where Ned is quickly rushed into a meeting of the council he will usually lead, with the King too busy feasting and whoring to usually attend. He meet's the king's brother, the Grand Maester, and the two most important figures in the bunch: Varys, who controls the king's network of spies, and Petyr Baelish, the treasurer who has a history of devotion to Ned's wife Catelyn. Ned finds out from discussion of a tournament being planned in honor of his arrival that the crown is deeply in debt, and refuses to allow anymore outlandish spending until he talks with Robert. He's busier talking to other people in this episode though, sharing icy barbs with Jaime, failing to connect with Sansa, and indulging in Arya's desire to learn to use her new sword Needle by hiring a skilled trainer named Syrio to teach her. The last scene shows the beginning of her training, and Ned watches happily as first before memories of battle intrude on his thoughts, and he looks very unsettled as he remembers that war will probably be coming again soon.
Catelyn arrives later in secret, though Varys and Petyr know about it, and hide her in a brothel to keep her safe. There Petyr admits the knife used by Bran's attempted assassin is his, but claims to have lost it in a bet with Tyrion before the story began. Ned and Catelyn want action, but know they can't press the issue with Robert without proof, and so they share a worried goodbye before Catelyn parts. At the Wall, Jon struggles to become friendly with the other recruits, and Tyrion observes the place for a while before leaders of the Watch beg him to ask his sister for help supplying them with resources they'll need with the coming winter. He then decides to set off south again with Yoren, a recruiter for the brotherhood. Across the sea, Viserys is brought low by a dothraki soldier when he goes after his sister, and she realizes she is pregnant, and confidently tells Khal Drogo that it's a boy.
There's a decent amount of political intrigue in there, although it's mostly child's play compared to what will come later when the stakes really get high. Without too much of significance going on in the plot, the episode rested entirely on character-building conversations and the performances of the actors, and I'm glad to say it did well on this front. The books were always fascinating because they treated a fantastical world with dragon eggs and winters that can last for years with the maturity required to examine how a society in that world would actually work, and were unafraid to pull punches when it came to showing the things people would do to gain or hold power. The fantasy elements are almost a sidebar for much of the early going, and since the show will require the ability to pull off these human interactions well to stay interesting before the weird stuff gets a chance to really become important, it's great that they seem to be able to handle it. There were lots of scenes with a couple characters just talking, and the fact that I never really got bored makes me wonder how good the show could be when major things actually start happening.
If you extract the main plot of this episode with Catelyn's secret arrival, Daenerys' pregnancy, and Arya's training beginning, what you have left is several one-off conversations, and the fact that so many of them were interesting and would warrant revisiting speaks to the amount of detail that has been put into each character. Bran is awake and listening to stories from an old nanny, and she tells him some particularly chilling tales of a winter that lasted for generations, and how it was accompanied by the arrival of the White Walkers and other foul things. It's not only a good foreshadowing for the horrible things that might be coming again, it's just a plainly creepy, effective little scene. Particularly good music in a score that I'm becoming an increasingly big fan of. Ned and Robert both talk with Jaime about him stabbing the old king in the back despite it happening over a decade ago, and while he clearly isn't a good man from his actions already in the series, you get a sense of the constant scorn he must always feel for having betrayed the man he was supposed to protect, even if the betrayal helped get everyone in power the influence they currently have.
Robert brings it up as part of a conversation about first kills, and he expresses obvious nostalgia for his youth and regret for the overweight, unhappy king he has become, clearly far from the ideal ruler of such a large kingdom. Elsewhere Cersei tends to Joffrey's wounds, and listens to him wax on about what he'd do if he were king to secure ultimate power, before explaining to him how a ruler should focus his efforts on where they are needed, and use intelligence over brute force to get what he wants. She's grooming him for the throne, and the way she's so focused on it makes you wonder how soon she expects him to sit on it. I also liked the scenes of Ned talking with Arya, and struggling to explain to her things like why he would allow Sansa to marry someone as awful as Joffrey. He clearly isn't a fan of the way things work in this city, and is struggling with the realities of having to live in that corrupt system going forward. Jon starts to realize the reality of what a life on the wall will mean, and Jorah's reaction to the news of Daenery's pregnancy makes you wonder what exactly he's up to. This episode was just loaded with strong little moments for its huge cast of characters, and I was thoroughly entertained despite a relative lack of action. I'm not convinced by Tommy Carcetti as a medieval accountant just yet, but otherwise I was definitely pleased by the show's continued dedication to the source material.