(This Game Of Thrones post is written from the point of view of someone who has not read the books the series is based on. As such, spoilers are strictly forbidden. Any spoilers in comments will be deleted on sight. If you see spoilers, please mark them as best you can and e-mail todd at vanderwerff dot us or contact Todd on Twitter at tvoti, and he'll take care of them as soon as possible.)
Game of Thrones is definitely a different kind of show for HBO to be airing. But "The Wolf and The Lion," the show's fifth episode, really reminded me of The Wire. Because just like with that show, I've been watching this thing for a month and enjoying it just fine, but it's this episode that jolted me into realizing just how invested I am. It's that point where you stop trying to figure out every character's relationship to each other, as you realize you've finally absorbed all that information through gradual osmosis. And, of course, it was a point at which all of the scheming and conversing and table-setting began to lumber forward and gain some real momentum. Swords were drawn! Blood was spilled! Six-year-olds were breastfed!
The defining moment of the episode, for me, was not the terrifically-done conversation between King Robert and his wife, nor the exciting action scenes (Tyrion taking out one of Catelyn's attackers and the cliffhanger battle between Jaime and Ned) but simply the fact that Ned quit as the Hand of the King about four episodes into him assuming the role. Now, I'm not saying that this is a permanent break-up (I know as little about what's to come as the rest of you noobs) but I was worried this show was going to end up saving all the action for its closing episodes. But here, already, we have Tyrion as Catelyn's prisoner and Ned facing doom at Jaime's hand; Robert is looking to assassinate Daenerys and his enemies are looking to move their plot in motion, and so on, and so forth. I didn't think the news about Daenerys would reach Robert's ears so soon, nor did I think Ned's principled nature would clash up against Robert's more muddied kinghood so quickly. I'm glad to be proven wrong.
The focus here was a little less sprawling, too. While other episodes have always jumped back to the Wall and across the Narrow Sea to keep us updated on Jon Snow and the Targaryen family, this time almost all the action was in King's Landing and the new location of The Eyrie, a big fortress governed by the nutty Queen Lysa Arryn, wife of the murdered former Hand of the King and sister to Catelyn Stark. There were some conversational interludes giving us some more backstory, like Theon and Bran in Winterfell or Robert's brother Renly's relationship with a foppish knight called Loras. But mostly we were following Ned as he kept hunting for clues to Arryn's murder, and Catelyn as she attempted to deal with Tyrion and her sister.
Let's start with Ned, who had a lot of shit on his plate before he got stabbed in the goddamn leg at the end of the episode (at least, it looked like it was his leg). He now knows that Arryn was poisoned and that before his death that he had been investigating Robert's bastard children, possibly because he wanted to keep the Lannisters off the throne. He also thinks that maybe people are conspiring to kill Robert, but that's mainly based off the testimony of his youngest daughter. And at the same time he's trying to stop the ranting king from killing Daenerys in cold blood because she's pregnant. That big confrontation was well-played, especially in that the audience (or, at least, I) understands that Robert has a point. As dishonorable as such an action might be, it's tougher to be a king when there's real pretenders to the throne running around that someone could plonk a crown on. Ned's idealism is inherent, and his cred is backed up by his rugged homeland, but what's Robert supposed to do with that? It also seems to me that if you want to not have the Dothraki attack you, then you probably shouldn't murder their new queen. But that's just me.
At the same time that we understand Robert's position, our sympathies are obviously with Ned and his daughters, especially Arya, who grows more awesome each episode. So I'll admit to being fairly alarmed at his decision to postpone fleeing King's Landing to investigate one last thread of the Arryn mystery, particularly since it was at Petyr's behest. I get that there's something inherently trustworthy about such a scoundrel, but it's not great when your only ally in the city is basically a slimy, sneery pimp who's obviously no use in battle. As demonstrated by Petyr being absolutely nowhere when Ned and his guys (including Jory, who took a knife to the eye and I think is gone for good) get taken down by Jaime's guard. I had a feeling Ned wouldn't get out of King's Landing that easily. But I did not think shit would go down between the Starks and the Lannisters this quickly, either.
Catelyn is the main cause of all this trouble, of course, and she probably shouldn't have taken Tyrion as a prisoner considering the evidence against him is a pretty obvious frame-up, as he notes. But plot-wise, it's a beautiful thing, because they make quite a bickering pair and Tyrion's brutal little hero moment with the shield was something to see. Apparently that was his first kill (nice to see they're not treating him like Yoda, or any other kind of small-statured kung fu genius) and Dinklage sold the moment well, just the right amount of adrenaline and disquiet at having to bash a dude's head open with the corner of a shield.
I'm also happy Tyrion is on board to meet our new character, Queen Lysa (played by Kate Dickey, who I remember from crazy UK art movie Red Road). Lysa has pretty much the best introduction you could ever give a character — she greets our heroes while breastfeeding her six-year-old child. That she'd be doing that at all is a little unusual, but that she'd be doing it while greeting her sister she hasn't seen in five years speaks wonderful volumes. Lysa's appearance was more of a tease for future episodes than anything else, but here's what I gleaned from it: she's crazy, her husband obviously wasn't around much, and that castle she's in is nigh-unbreachable. Game of Thrones has done very well so far in setting out the different kingdoms for us, and The Eyrie is another nicely unique one.
Acting-wise, the apex of the episode was definitely in that long, cards-on-the-table conversation Robert had with his doting wife Cersi (hah). Mark Addy has been a standout as the bored king so far but this was probably his most subtle moment so far, where he got to show a range of emotions rather than the usual pent-up frustration and bullying. Lena Heady, never one of my favorite actresses, had not made much of an impression as Cersi so far, mostly because the character is so ice-cool. But she did a decent job too, investing at least a modicum of empathy in character I should have absolutely no sympathy for. Cersi was part of a deal to unite the kingdom and ensure a Lannister would be on the throne eventually — apparently, she lost their first child, at which point things went very cold in their marriage.
So even though we know what kind of horrible shit Cersi is up to, we understand it can't be fun to have a husband who mourns a lost love when he isn't having sex with whores, and have your entire existence justified essentially as a pregnancy vessel. In that way she's quite a good parallel to Daenerys, who was matched with Khal Drogo for the same reason but is asserting herself way better in that partnership. So I felt for her a little when she asked Robert if there was ever a way to make the marriage work, and he just said no.
Robert also had quite a stunning monologue where he summarized his fears about a Dothraki invasion — sure, he could hold them off from taking his castles, but then what right does he have to be king? It's something he probably isn't able to admit in front of his council or his war-buddies like Ned, but it also makes a hell of a lot of sense. At the same time, as he readily admits, the kingdom he's ruling is really more of a confederacy of schemers and backstabbers looking for their way into power — not too many people really seem to serve at the pleasure of their king; rather, they serve at the pleasure of their lords, or their houses, or what have you. "Your father wants to run the world, Ned Stark wants to bury his head in the snow…" he tells Cersi. "What do you want?" she asks. He raises his glass of wine. It's something we had essentially gleaned over the course of the last four episodes, but somehow it doesn't feel like a violation of the old "show, don't tell" rule to have him give voice to his inner demons.
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Robert really doesn't like that kid Lancel. "Your mother was a dumb whore with a fat arse, did you know that?" He is kinda creepy, even for a Lannister.
Addy is sporting quite a belly in this role, and he's always been a portly guy. "An inspiring sight for the people, eh?"
I wasn't quite sure what to make of Renly and Loras' scene, which played fine, but do we really need one more person conspiring to overthrow Robert? Nevertheless, it's good to have some gay characters in the mix, one of whom obviously knows his way around fighting despite his flowery armor.
Speaking of them, the tournament scene at the beginning of the episode was even more brutal than the lance-to-the-throat Ser Hugh took at the end of the last episode. Poor horse.
"Nothing like a woman after a fight," Tyrion is told. He eyes Catelyn, saying, "I'm willing if she is." She's a pretty popular lady!
I think Bran's scene was designed to give us some more info about the seven kingdoms and stuff, but it was hard to cotton on to everything.
Theon's argument with the prostitute just reminded us about the info we got last episode about his status as a ward of Ned's. It also gave us our first penis shot — I assume HBO demands those be sprinkled in among the boobs lest they be accused of not playing fair.
The sight of the big dragon skull in the dungeons was quite something.
The revelation that Varys is scheming against Robert, literally one scene after he said he was one of the kingdom's few honorable men, was hardly surprising. Conleth Hill is doing well in that role.
His "anything you can blackmail, I can blackmail better" conversation with Petyr was a heavyweight bout of one-upmanship, although I think Petyr walked away with the belt.
So, the lion is the Lannisters, right? And the wolves are the Starks?
Arya's pimpest moment today was her bitching out those lame knights who try to block her entrance to the kingdom.
The prison/large castle windowsill Tyrion was tossed in is pretty badass.