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This episode of Game of Thrones was so good that I didn’t even realize until it was nearly over that the best character didn’t appear at all. The Eyrie still showed up in the opening credits, but none of the characters in that area showed up, and we barely saw Winterfell either, with yet another scene reminding us that Theon is the son of the lord of the Iron Islands and being held in the North, in case we forgot the one from the last episode and the one before that, and the one before that. But while that scene dragged a bit, the stuff in King’s Landing and at the Wall and in the east was really good, and the last ten minutes of the episode were pretty damn dramatic – things are going very badly for some people, and even though I know what’s going to happen, I can’t wait to watch the rest of it play out.
At the Wall, the recruits are about ready to be sworn into the Night’s Watch when Benjen’s horse returns from his expedition beyond the Wall without him. Jon wants to be named a ranger like him so he can help find him, but is surprised to learn he has been named a steward like his friend Sam despite his skill with a horse and a blade. He’s angry at first, but Sam convinces him that since he’ll be the aide to the commander Jeor Mormont (yes, he and Jorah are related), he’s being groomed for leadership, and the two take their vows in front of a tree of the old gods. Meanwhile, despite getting a pardon from King’s Landing, Jorah stays loyal to Daenerys and saves her from being poisoned by a wine seller. The seller is severely punished, and Khal Drogo pledges to give his son the Iron Throne. Although Robert eventually listened to Ned, it was too late, and now he has a whole army of dothraki coming after his kingdom.
He has more pressing concerns though, having gotten too drunk on the hunt (thanks to his Lannister squire keeping the wine flowing) and skewered by a boar before he could kill it. He’s dying, and his last act is naming Ned the regent in his place until Joffrey is of age. Ned changes the wording to name Robert’s true heir the king, and the paper gets his seal. Later Ned is approached by both Renly and Littlefinger, who make him offers on how he can make sure the Lannisters stay out of power, but neither wants to give the crown to Stannis, the older brother who would be first in line after Robert, who we now know has no proper children. Ned refuses their offers, though he does get Petyr to get the city guard on his side. After an earlier conversation with Cersei where Ned basically tells her he knows everything, and after Robert succumbs to his wound, the two sides come together in the throne room for a confrontation. Cersei names Joffrey king and herself regent, and tears up Robert’s proclamation. Ned declares that Joffrey has no claim, but at the last moment, the city guard turns on him, killing his remaining men, and Petyr puts a knife to his neck, reminding him he said he wasn’t to be trusted.
So yeah, things got real. Ned cared more about honor and the proper line of succession than making sure his side won and the Lannisters stayed out of power, and now he’s a captive in the capital city. Even after being reminded that Robert was only king in the first place because he took it from the Targaryens, and he himself had a chance at the throne, Ned let himself forget that power lies in the hands of who makes the best grab for it rather than who it truly belongs to. He and Robert and Stannis may have been great warriors, but Cersei, Renly, and Petyr all know a lot more about how things really work in this society. Maybe in the past lines of succession and rules mattered, but this is a new age, full of spies and secrets, and Ned wasn’t ready for it. Now he has nothing, his daughters are unprotected, and his wife is still many miles away.
That recap didn’t mention a couple important scenes, the first of which was between Jaime and his father Tywin, a scene which didn’t appear in the book, but I thought did an excellent job of establishing the character of the latter, and giving some more insight into the former. Jaime eventually became a point-of-view character in the books, but without the ability to go inside the heads of the characters on the show, they need to find other ways to develop personalities, and some of these extra scenes with Jaime are doing a good job of that before he becomes more important. I also just liked Tywin basically laying out his beliefs while casually butchering a deer – it could be clumsy to just have him talking like that to his grown son, but the way he talked about how the Lannister name is the most important thing was interesting, and also gives some insight on how that could be twisted until you have someone like Cersei.
I also liked the early scene with Petyr, even if part of it was pretty over the top. Theon’s favorite whore Ros has arrived in town, and Littlefinger is teaching her and another how to be proper whores of King’s Landing. The scene did a pretty decent job of telling us a bit more of his background, how he grew up loving Catelyn and even challenged the first man she was supposed to marry (Ned’s older brother) to a duel. And how he realized he’ll never be able to be a great knight, but how he could use the skills he had to become better than any of them. Good foreshadowing for later in the episode. But I don’t think the stuff with Ros needed to be there – it was kind of funny, but it was also amazingly explicit for a scene that didn’t need any sex at all. The previously mentioned scene of Drogo declaring his intentions was another I liked – he really hasn’t had much to do on the show besides pour molten gold over Viserys’ head, but the intensity of his speech was palpable, even if he wasn’t speaking English. He’ll make a good Conan.
The rest of this season should give viewers a good idea of what to expect from the rest of the story – lots of blood, lots of betrayal, and lots of bad things happening. We’ll also see a bit more of the fantasy elements that have been downplayed somewhat by the skeptical inhabitants of the seven kingdoms. If you don’t like what happens in these last three episodes, you should probably stop watching, because things aren’t really going to change. But if you like them, you should strap in, because things will only get more intense, and if the series goes as far as it could, we could be preparing for some of the best stuff to ever be on TV. I’m already anticipating seeing so many great moments get realized on the screen, and I’m as excited for the next episode as I am for the next book at this point.