Believe it or not, we’re now 50% through the first season of Game of Thrones. Up until this point a lot of work has been spent establishing the foundation of our story, but at times it’s seemed not a whole lot has happened. That all changed this week, as we got an hour absolutely crammed full of action, and what was far and away the best episode of the series so far.
The episode opens back at the tourney grounds where we left things in King’s Landing last week. Ned talks to Ser Barristan about the conditions surrounding Ser Hugh’s death (and unexpected promotion to knighthood shortly preceding it) and some of their shared history on the battlefield. Ser Barristan again brings up Ned’s father being cooked alive by the Mad King, which makes him like the fourth person to pick at this scab in front of Ned. Westerosi small-talk is cruel.
Ned then finds himself in King Robert’s pavilion, as the corpulent monarch is giving his squire Lancel Lannister a tongue lashing for being unable to arm him. Ned gently reminds his friend that it’s not the squire’s fault, it’s Robert’s own fault for being such a fat bastard. Everyone laughs, including Lancel, which causes Robert to do his best Joe Pesci impression (“funny how? funny like a clown?”). Man that dude is a mean drunk.
At the joust we are introduced to Ser Loras Tyrell, the Knight of Flowers, one of the most famous young knights in the realm. He unhorses The Mountain by riding a female horse in heat, causing Ser Gregor’s own mount to rear and buck him. What follows is one of those occasional reminders that this show is on HBO… Ser Gregor cuts his horse’s fucking head off. Ugh, that was almost as hard to type as it was to watch, definitely a visual I could have done without. Enraged, Ser Gregor abandons all decorum (and observance of the rules of jousting) and tries to dice Ser Loras into tiny pieces, only to be stopped by the Hound. A great bit of sword fight choreography here (as both actors are nearly 7 ft tall).
Having whetted our appetite for action, the scene immediately cuts to Catelyn on the road with her prisoner, Tyrion. We get some brief exposition about how they’re not on the Kingsroad as Catelyn had loudly told the tavern patrons, but are instead on the eastern road towards the Vale, where Catelyn’s sister resides. No sooner than all of this is explained, the travelers are attacked by the hill people. Another great action set, and it serves to inform us of the true character of two individuals. Tyrion has the chance to escape but instead stays to protect Catelyn, and Bronn is really, really good at killing people (also, witty: “give me ten men, some climbing spikes and a rope and I’ll impregnate the bitch”).
I’m going to skip describing the scene at Winterfell, because seeing Theon’s little kraken once was enough for me, let alone having to describe it here. Once again, we’re definitely watching HBO.
The next series of scenes serve to establish how everyone is playing an angle. Varys tells Ned that Jon Arryn was killed by a poison called the Tears of Lys (aka, iocaine powder), but that Ned should trust him because they are both true and loyal men. Then we see Varys doing a walk and talk in the dungeons with Targaryen benefactor Illyrio. Varys and Littlefinger then have a spy snark-off (which I believe was won by Littlefinger due to Aiden Gillen’s impressible smirk throughout the entire scene). The bottom line is this: everyone is looking out for themselves and trying to screw everyone else… except for Ned, who is so honest it hurts. It’s becoming very clear that in coming to King’s Landing, Ned brought a spork to a gunfight. Still, the scene where the Small Council agree to order Dany’s death was a great scene for all the actors involved.
Back at the Eyrie, we see just how cracked Catelyn’s sister (and Jon Arryn’s widow) has become. Her creepy son Robyn still breastfeeding at age 8 was pretty bad, but Lysa’s own paranoia and fear came through well in that scene. Tyrion’s facial expressions are awesome, as he realizes much sooner that Catelyn does how bad the situation is. I also loved the way the skycells were rendered. Definitely the most badass prison ever.
Back in King’s Landing we get a scene between Loras and Renly that was most certainly not in the books. In the books there was a great deal of innuendo and hints that Renly and Loras were going to Elton John concerts together, but nothing nearly as explicit as a mutual chest-shaving session (which apparently came with a happy ending). While I don’t have a huge problem with the show’s writers abandoning subtly and going with a giant neon sign flashing THESE TWO DUDES ARE GAY, I do have a problem with Loras actively encouraging Renly to rebel against his brother. That was certainly not something we saw from either character in the book, and I’m confused why the writers felt it was necessary here. This makes Loras (so far) the character I’ve had the hardest time reconciling with my expectations from the book.
That’s not to say I have a problem with all departures from the book. I thought the scene between Robert and Cersei was fantastic. There was this sense of loss in their conversation, like they knew things might have turned out differently, but really don’t know where it went so wrong. I liked Cersei admitting that she made a real effort to love Robert and then finally gave up when she realized that he’d never let go of Lyanna. Mark Addy has been killing it as Robert, and this scene was a great example why.
Finally, we have the showdown between Ned and Jaime that has been hinted at since the feast at Winterfell. Another great action piece, with the requisite amount of gore. Jory getting a knife through the head was particularly brutal. I enjoyed that Ned was holding his own against not only a younger man, but the best blade in Westeros, until he got the spear in the back of the leg. His fate will remain unresolved until next week.
One additional note, this week was our first major addition to the opening credits, as the Eyrie was added to the list of locations.
(photo credit, HBO)