I’m going to begin this post with the bad news. Unbelievable as it may seem, there are only two episodes left in this first season of Game of Thrones, after which we’re going to have to wait 9 long months before returning to a story that, I assure you, will definitely leave a lot of threads hanging. The good news, however, is that this show has only gotten better as the weeks have passed, with this past Sunday’s George R. R. Martin (author of the Song of Ice and Fire novels on which this show is based) penned episode being, in my opinion, the best so far. There wasn’t a ton of action (outside of two absolutely perfect fight scenes), but there was a lot of goings-on, as all of our major players began moving into place for the mad dash to the finish of this season.
I rather enjoyed watching this episode knowing that it was scripted by Martin himself. A former television writer (on shows in the late 80’s like Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast) he famously left the medium behind because of what he perceived as restrictions on the scope of his creativity. In fact, he’s said in interviews that the Song of Ice and Fire novels grew out of his desire to tell a story that would be “un-filmable” due to the scale of its visuals and the size of its set-pieces (like battles and such); things that he had hated having to compromise on in his television scripts. This episode though showed no rust on his tv-writing chops, and having the source-material creator working with these characters seemed to add a sense of wry self-awareness to several of them (particularly Bronn’s interjection to Tywin about his father, “you wouldn’t know him”). Martin also gave strong character development moments to Bran, Osha, Robb, Arya, Varys and Rickon (the youngest Stark) got some face time!
Martin also gave us my single favorite scene of the series so far, Syrio fighting the Lannister guardsmen to allow Arya to escape. A fan-favorite character from the books, Syrio made the jump to the screen perfectly due to spot-on casting and a flawless performance. The casual competence with which he dispatches the four guardsmen using nothing but a wooden practice sword finally gave us visual evidence of Syrio’s true skill with a blade, which had previously only been hinted at. As in the book, when he finally is forced to face Meryn Trant of the Kingsguard, it seems that he will be over-matched (due to a lack of weapon, not ability), but also as in the book this confrontation takes place after Arya flees, leaving the slight possibility that Syrio somehow survives. We can only hope that Syrio was right about death- that it was not today.
Varys echoes this sentiment to Ned when he visits him in the Black Cells (he actually uses the exact same words as Syrio “not today” when Ned asks to be killed, perhaps hinting at some Varys-Syrio connection?) to reprimand Ned for being so, so, so stupid. It’s about time too, that someone speaks up for us viewers that have been smacking ourselves in the forehead with every successive Ned blunder. It’s a neat twist of this story that the clear “good” character is constantly waylaid by his own rigid understanding of honor and righteousness. Westeros is certainly not a place where good deeds go unpunished. Varys, ever the pragmatist, explains to Ned how it is no fault but his own that he landed himself in prison, with a hole in his leg, and his entire household murdered. Mercy, it seems, was the root cause of all this misfortune. Kind of a bleak outlook on the world when you think about it.
In Ned’s defense, mercy seems to be hardwired into the Stark DNA for some reason, as we see Robb acting as a mercynary (see what I did there? mercynary? it’s like mercen- ah, forget it) on a couple occasions. First, after calling his father’s bannermen to war, he suffers a challenge to his leadership by Jon Umber. The Greatjon goes so far as to pull a sword on Robb in his own hall, but after Grey Wind makes a snack out of a couple of Umber’s fingers, Robb suggests that perhaps the Greatjon only meant to help Robb cut his meat, giving him diplomatic cover for what would have otherwise been an unforgivable offense. This deft move by Robb not only consolidates his leadership, it wins the unyielding support of an important ally in Umber, who is impressed by Robb’s toughness. Robb’s second act of mercy is to spare the Lannister spy, but that was mainly so that he could deliver the night’s bad-ass action hero line “Tell Lord Tywin winter is coming for him. 20,000 northerns are marching south to see if he really shits gold.”
Tywin himself is well aware that Robb is on his way, and has mobilized the entire Lannister war machine. This is where Tyrion and Bronn find him, having survived passage through the Mountains of the Moon by allying themselves with several of the local hill tribes (shout-out to another awesome Tyrion line: “I want to die at 80, in my own bed, with a belly full of wine, and a maiden’s mouth around my cock” Damn, Dinklage is awesome). This scene with Tywin and Tyrion is great, as you can see Tyrion shrinking some, in the face of one of the few men formidable enough to lock wits with him, and also a man who has shown Tyrion nothing but disapproval and displeasure his entire life (sidebar for non-book readers: Tyrion’s mother died giving birth to him, Tywin has always held that against his son, in addition to the whole dwarf thing).
Across the Narrow Sea we have some important happenings as well. Drogo thoughtfully brings some raping and killing (it’s the Dothraki version of a fruit basket) to an unlucky village, but Dany intervenes to save some of the women. Showing how much their relationship has truly grown, Drogo completely backs her play over the objections of one of his men. And by “backs her play” I mean “kills the dude barehanded and then rips his tongue out.” At least we know now why the Dothraki make the powers in King’s Landing so nervous.
Last but not least, we also got our first glimpse at what the rule of Joffrey (ie. Cersei) is going to look like. Kind of got a Joe McCarthy vibe from the whole thing, “declare your loyalty to us or else.” The move totally works on Sansa, who I find myself feeling much worse for than I ever did in the books. Cersei also moves to dismiss Barristan the Bold from the Kingsguard, which is unprecedented as Kingsguards serve for life. Great scene, as he angrily tears off his cloak and storms out.
Phew, I guess a lot did happen in this past episode. I haven’t even mentioned what happened at the Wall (zoinks! zombies!), Hodor’s penis (fuck you very much HBO), or Arya following Jon’s original advice and using the pointy end (hey! the episode title!) of Needle on the stableboy. I can only imagine our final two episodes are going to be equally momentous.
(photo credit, HBO)