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The latest episode of Game of Thrones was the best one yet, and I think a big part of that was it didn't feel the need to touch base on absolutely every character and plot thread. I didn't even notice until today that we visited neither Jon at the Wall or Daenerys across the Narrow Sea, but we didn't need to, because most of the really important stuff that happens with them needs to wait a little bit to get going, and there was plenty going on in Westeros, especially in King's Landing. It was easily the bloodiest episode yet, and one that should prove to anyone wondering that yes, there is a point to all this, and things are going to get messy.
One of the issues with adapting a series of novels to television is the inherent difference in how information is given to the audience. Besides the prologue, every chapter in the first book is from the perspective of one of only eight characters. This has two consequences - lots of pertinent information is stuff that we learn just by reading the characters' thoughts, and events that happen without any of those point of view characters present can only be learned about by hints or hearsay. Translating the story to the screen has both negative and positive effects - all of that exposition is a little harder to get across naturally through dialogue, but we get to see things that we never would have had a chance to, since the point of view is omniscient rather than limited to a handful of characters. Reinforcing family histories through post-coital conversations or even a literal history lesson for Bran is a bit stilted, but we also get great scenes like the brutally honest conversation between King Robert and Queen Cersei, and things that are only suggested such as the relationship between his brother Renly and Ser Loras get more of a chance to develop, and makes the entire cast seem richer.
So Ned is still pursuing information on Jon Arryn's possible murder this week, when a number of things happen in quick succession. Varys tells him about the poison that was likely used on the previous Hand, and that Ser Hugh, the knight who was (almost) killed in the joust by the Mountain, may have administered it. Arya is chasing cats when she hides among some dragon skulls mentioned by Viserys last week, overhears a conversation about bad things happening soon, then runs to tell her father. He learns about Catelyn kidnapping Tyrion from Yoren (the recruiter for the Night's Watch), and then resigns as Hand when he refuses to go along with Robert's intention to kill Daenerys after learning that she's pregnant. And just when he's about to get the hell out of dodge with his daughters, Petyr shows him another of Robert's bastards, a newborn being kept in a brothel. He leaves the building and finds himself surrounded by Jaime and his men, wanting answers about Tyrion, who brutally cut down his guards. Jaime and Ned have a little skirmish before someone stabs him in the leg, and it's the end of a pretty bad week for our hero.
This whole sequence of events is by far the best work the series has done so far, in my opinion. As the mystery behind Jon Arryn's death deepens but refuses to become any clearer and the danger palpably grows all around him, the sense of dread is noteworthy, and comes to a fever pitch when he quits his job and loses the one powerful friend he has in King's Landing. Varys and Littlefinger both claim to be on his side, but the conversation they have together, basically just a series of threats that become less and less veiled, a pissing contest of who has the most spies, shows that they're out for themselves first, and will only help Ned as far as it helps them. So Ned's all alone, and a spear in the leg is far from the end of the troubles he'll face in this city. He still has a chance to regroup and find a way out of this, but I can't imagine many people thinking he's looking pretty good right now. I really liked the scenes with Arya too, showing more of the city's ugly underbelly. Her confrontation with the guards who won't let her back in the gates is well played, and people repeatedly mistaking her for a boy hints at later developments.
I really liked the stuff with Tyrion and Catelyn, too. Partly just because Peter Dinklage is still fantastic in this role, but it's just a well-handled subplot in general. While dragging Tyrion bound in ropes to her sister's castle known as the Eyrie, her small band gets attacked by a pack of wild men, and only a few remain standing when it's all over. Before the fracas Tyrion seems to have given her reason to doubt his guilt, because she cuts his bonds, allowing him to protect her and bash a man's skull in with a shield. She still brings him to her sister though, and it's there they find a horrifying sight. Lysa seems a lot worse off than the last time she saw him. She's still breastfeeding her six year old son Robin, and she's just off-kilter in general. Tyrion is thrown in a cell with no fourth wall overlooking a cliff, a fall from which will doubtlessly be fatal. Lots of cool visuals in this part of the episode. The castle sitting precipitously on top of a mountain, the outside view of the open prison cells - this show's fantasy isn't particularly flashy, but it's there, and it's interesting. The Eyrie is probably the most fantastic location within Westeros, and they've captured it well. We're at the halfway point in this season, and things are only going to get crazier from here. I hope you're ready.