Game of Thrones – “The Kingsroad”: Catspaw in the cradle

Week two in Westeros, and events are starting to move a little faster as things become a little darker (as if there can be a “darker” after seeing a ten year-old get pushed out of a tower last week).

The episode opens with a great scene.  Watching Tyrion be witty and self deprecating is always fun, but scene was more critical for beginning to hint at Joffrey’s true nature.  Tyrion rebukes him for both his callous disregard for Bran, and apparent disinterest in his condition or recovery, and his lack of understanding of the expected behavior of the future king of Westeros.  This sets up what we’ll see from Joffrey later in the episode.

Continuing with Tyrion as he heads inside for breakfast, I thought we were shown two crucial things as he sat at the table with his family. One was the warmth he showed towards his niece and nephew, Myrcella and Tommen, who are the younger two of Cersei’s three children.  The second thing was the seemingly innocuous questions he asked about Bran, yet then carefully gauged the reactions of the queen and Jaime.  Tyrion is far from a fool, and he seems to suspect that Bran’s accident was anything but and that his siblings were somehow involved.

We next move to another scene between siblings, but in this case one with a little more caring and a little less undertones of intrigue and suspicion.  Jon Snow brings Arya her parting gift, a small sword forged for a small girl, which she promptly christens Needle.  If the first episode hadn’t properly established Arya’s tomboy bonafides, I think her joy at receiving something to poke holes in people with gets us there.  It was also nice to see how much Jon cares for her and the rest of his siblings as he makes his goodbyes.  Kit Harrington had three great scenes in a row, first with Arya, then with Bran, and later with Ser Jaime, and he played the hell out of all of them.  His portrayal of Jon so far conforms exactly with my impression of the character in the books.

As Jon leaves Winterfell and heads north towards the Wall with his uncle Benjen and Tyrion, we continue south with Ned and the king as they return to the capital.  Their impromptu picnic gives us a chance to further delve into the relationship between the two men, including Robert’s concern that a conflict is brewing just beyond the horizon.  Ned’s flat-out refusal to even entertain the notion of sending an assassin after Daenerys speaks to his character, just as Robert’s still simmering hatred of the long-deceased Targaryen king and his family speaks to his.

Speaking of Targaryens, we’re treated to a brief interlude to watch Drogo and Daenerys have sex.  I only mention this because, you know, boobs.  Its been about 25 minutes, but consider me reminded that I am indeed watching HBO.  Also, Dany is crying.  This is awkward.

Right.  Where was I?  Ah, one of the episode’s action pieces, the attempt on Bran’s life in his sickroom at Winterfell.  After setting a fire to draw everyone away from Bran’s room, our unnamed assailant (he has no name in the book, here he is credited as “Catspaw”) slips in with murderous intentions.  Expecting Bran to be alone, he is surprised to find Lady Stark, who delays him (at the expense of her own hands) long enough for Bran’s direwolf to arrive and put an end to things.  It is now quite clear to the Starks that Bran’s fall was no accident, and Cat makes plans to head south after Ned so that they can deal with whomever is threatening their family.

Another interlude to watch Dany learn the, um, womanly arts.  I don’t have much to say about this storyline.  Instead I’ll just say that our second glimpse of the Wall (this time from the southern side) was just as impressive as the look we got in the first episode.

Finally, our attention turns back to Joffrey.  Finding Arya and Mycah the butcher’s boy play-fencing by the river, he takes the opportunity to demonstrate exactly how much of a sadistic prig he really is.  In the ensuing tussle he also demonstrates that he’s a weakling and a craven, all of which are prized characteristics in a future ruler of the kingdom.  Wait, I’ve got that backwards.  He’d make a godawful king (as Tyrion is well aware, even if no one else is).

The fallout from Arya’s fight with Joffrey also revealed some important things about the king and queen themselves.  Robert shows how much he truly hates making tough decisions, especially when it involves going up against his wife.  Cersei finally gives us our first look at how manipulative and evil she can be (well, I guess we already had the evil part covered with the whole “push a kid out the window” thing, but whatever) in setting up Sansa’s innocent direwolf Lady to be the victim.  Which leaves resolute, honor-bound, Ned to be the one to carry out the cruel sentence.  Good times.

For an episode relatively light on action, I feel like a lot happened, particularly as it sets up events in the weeks to come.  Not many new faces were introduced this week (which is good, since I assume next week we’ll arrive in King’s Landing and meet about a half-dozen new players) but we began flesh out the personalities and true natures of our existing characters.

(photo credit, HBO)

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