There has been a little play-fighting, plenty of training, more than a few threats and even some minor skirmishes. This week, the steel comes out in earnest with "The Wolf and the Lion". We are treated to a dizzying display of lances, shields, battleaxes, tiny little daggers, great big two-handed swords, ugly bastard swords, long swords, spears, shaving razors, and even Theon's dirk (and no, that's not a typo)!
There is also a lot of verbal dueling. Varys and Little Finger go a few rounds. Tyrion takes on the Tully sisters in a handicap match. Theon, Bran and even Maester Luwin go at it in a three-way slap fight! Theon comes back for round two as he and Ros give each other a few good jabs. Cersei and Robert square off in a slug-fest for the ages. Finally, it all ends up with a battle royal between Houses Stark and Lannister that starts with Eddard and Jaime trading barbs and quickly ends with them trading blows.
Arakhs and dire wolves are just about the only weapons you didn't see getting used this week. There is so much transpiring at the capital and in the Vale, that D&D wisely chose to forgo scenes in Castle Black and Vaes Dothrak to concentrate on the events in King's Landing. I'd like to say that I missed Dany and Jon, but this episode flew by so fast that I didn't have a spare moment to notice that they weren't being used until the end credits.
Credits - For the first time in a few weeks there is a big shift in map locations in the title sequence. The Eyrie came up so quickly I almost missed it but it was great to see.
Something I failed to notice before in the engraved metal rings around the sun/compass was the story it tells. I just saw the heraldry, but now I notice the history lesson. The Doom of ancient Valyria, Aegon's crossing of the Narrow Sea, Robert's Rebellion and installation as monarch are all included in the back story. I'm sure I'm late to the party in noticing this, but what a nice touch!
King's Landing, Tourney Grounds - The Red Keep looms in the background as Eddard makes his way to examine Ser Hugh's remains. Robert Stromberg's hand is readily apparent this episode more so than in any other since the pilot. I'm not certain where effects end and reality begins, but both merge into an absolutely gorgeous portrait of King's Landing's outlying grounds.
As Ned approaches the lists, we see the medieval grounds crew getting ready for the day's events. Oddly I was reminded of my upcoming trip to Citizen's Bank Park this July. Of course, Philly's extracurricular field entertainment is decidedly more Westerosi in nature than Seattle's.
Ned meets Ser Barristan inside a tent where the silent sisters are preparing Ser Hugh for the trip back to the Vale. Eddard asked Barristan who held the straws the knights pulled for their tourney order. A good question. Selmy only stares back at him and gives no answer. Would this likely have been a tourney duty for the queen? I'm speculating, but it seems plausible.
The pair exit the tent and proceed to have a discussion about past battles that introduces Ser Barristan by name and reputation. We also get a little-known (in Martin's novel) fact from Selmy that Eddard is also reputedly very skilled with a blade. This nugget will come in handy later.
Tourney Grounds, King's Tent - Upon hearing of Robert's intentions to joust (not enter the melee as he proposes in the book), Ned seeks him out. As Ned watches a distressed Lancel struggle to outfit His Overgrown Grace with equal parts pity and mirth, Robert relentlessly brow beats his squire with abject disgust. "Your mother was a dumb whore with a fat ass" slams into poor Lancel almost as powerfully as if Robert had hit him with his war hammer. I don't think I ever felt this bad for a Lannister on a read-through!
Mark Addy continues to delight as Robert. Resembling a drunken Santa on a bender he pontificates about his former prowess displaying both self-pity and self-deprecation while nearly leaving the tent half dressed. Great stuff!
Tourney Grounds, Lists - Watching the Mountain gallop up to the podium, I am sadly reminded of the shows finite budget. Clegane looks appropriately foreboding in his Darth Gregor armor and Ser Loras' elaborate suit is the first full costume that comes close to matching Martin's fantastically descriptive plate (minus the cloak of flowers). I am well aware that financial considerations necessitated the exclusion and reduction of many elements at the Hand's celebration. I just wish there were some way to have included more of the pageantry and heraldic imagery from George's written page. Excluding the viewer from the melee and archery contest is an obvious choice. The tourney itself just feels a bit too abrupt. It almost seems as though Hugh, Gregor and Loras were the only competitors.
Loras canters by and delivers his rose to the instantly enamored Sansa. The script writers have taken a subtle liberty here that while delicate and smart, would have played out so much better over the long run had they showed a little restraint with the Renly/Loras scene later on.
In the novel, Sansa is besotted by Loras' attention. Knowing what we know of Loras' sexual preference, I've always assumed that the Knight of Flowers picked Sansa completely at random to deliver the red rose. He certainly doesn't seem to remember her when they meet again later in the story. The stroke of genius here is placing Renly directly behind Sansa in the stands. We never know why Loras gives Sansa the rose in the book, but on the screen we get a definite motive for his actions.
The joust goes as it should. Loras tumbles Gregor from the saddle. Gregor goes Godfather on his horse. The Hound saves Loras from his brother and wins the day. The choreography for the Clegane brother's swordfight was superb. The last move where Sandor kneels to Robert and avoids a head sweep in one motion was ultra-cool. As Gregor stalks off, we finally get a visual comparison of Conan Steven's size. It's harder to see when he's mounted and Rory is so big in his own right that Stevens just looks tall next to the Hound. But he makes the two Kingsguard he passes look like children.
The Eastern Road - Catelyn's party is making its way to the Eyrie with a captive Tyrion. The scene starts with some nice dialogue between Fairley and Dinklage. Catelyn reveals to the Imp that she purposely misrepresented which way they were heading at the Inn. Tyrion for his part tricks Cat into revealing that the Vale is their true destination.
Out of nowhere the party is set upon by the mountain clansmen. While I was expecting the fight, the way it began with a sling shot to Marillion's harp was both funny and shockingly sudden. Bronn lets loose in a tornado of fury that cuts through his attackers with expert precision. Buster Reeves (the fight arranger) and Jerome Flynn (Bronn) combine to create a brutal dance that perfectly matches George's description of Bonn's fighting abilities. It reminds me of another actor with Flynn's surname. Jerome might not be as flashy, but he is easily more efficient! Never missing a thing, Tyrion slyly notes Bronn's abilities in the middle of the fight. You could almost see him file the information away for later use.
The attackers are fended off and Tyrion delivers his wonderfully dry "I'm willing if she is" line. Unfortunately, the scene is edited to the point that there are a few more great Tyrionisms that are missed. "Logs that Bleed", "Craven rhymes nicely with Raven" and "I never bet against my family" are all worthy examples. Another regrettable decision was the extracution of Lharys, Mohor and Kurlekut. I never truly expected them to make the cut, but they are missed nonetheless. A moment of silence please for House Howard!
Winterfell, Yard - In the first of only two scenes at Winterfell this episode, we get another exposition through teaching dialogue. This time it’s a joint geography and genealogy lesson between Maester Luwin and Bran. I'm not certain what metal is used in a Maester's link for geography, but perhaps Maester Luwin should brush up on his knowledge a bit before he is so quick to correct Bran. It’s a small thing, but the good Maester points to Lannisport as the seat of the Lannisters. Technically House Lannister uses Casterly Rock as its headquarters.
The lesson turns personal as Bran uses the words for House Tully to express his confusion and bitterness for his mother's decision to leave. I'm guessing that scratching the table with his mother's fish pin is symbolic of Bran's resentment for his mother's absence while at the same time trying to hold onto her in any way he can. Then again, he might just be bored.
Luwin is eventually able to appease Bran by suggesting that once he is back in the saddle he might be able to return to archery practice. The talk of riding, and also Theon's prowess with the bow he shoots throughout the scene will both be factors in following episodes.
Winterfell, Theon's Room- No, this isn't the scene I was referring to in the last sentence. In what is becoming a Game of Thrones trademark, Theon and Ros disperse more back story while having sex. With the full frontal male and female nudity, this scene is probably the raciest of the series to date. Somehow though, I suspect that another less-graphic sex scene later in the show will be a much hotter topic around the Monday morning water cooler.
Through Ros' taunts, we get a glimpse of Theon's inner conflict for the first time. Caught between his duty to his family and his respect for the man that has taken him in, it looks as though Theon has buried his head in the sand to his true situation. He doesn't like being reminded that he is Ned's ward in name, but hostage in nature. I wonder how he'll react next season when he has his homecoming. Exploring Theon deeper is a smart choice by D&D. In GRRM's books Theon is largely out for only himself. Giving him conflict between his family and his current home will make him seem more human and also make some if his later choices more believable.
King's Landing, Tower of the Hand - As Arya chases cats outside, Varys and Eddard have a heart to heart. The Spider hints that something foul is afoot concerning Robert and that he believes Ned to be one of the few men in the capital that he can trust. After dropping several hints about Jon Arryn's death including the use of the tears of Lys, mentioning Ser Hugh's possible involvement and subtly leading Ned towards the Lannisters by mentioning that Ser Hugh's mysterious benefactor likely had money, the scene ends with Varys' line about Arryn being killed because he "started asking questions."
King's Landing, Lower Halls and Dungeons - Arya's cat chase leads her into the dungeons where she encounters three monsters. The first is what I assume to be Balerion's skull. This is an impressive prop but I fear it may not have been used to its fullest potential. In the gloom it's hard to make out what she is looking at if you don't already know the story. My wife wasn't certain what was going on here. Having a room full of skulls as opposed to just the one might have helped with recognition, but that would have probably been too robust a decision for the budget to handle.
I think it might have been easier to reconcile if one of the other two monsters (Varys and Illyrio) had made mention of it as they walked by. Hiding in Balerion's maw, Arya eavesdrops on their conversation inadvertently listening in on what amounts to the largest plot of the story. It’s the only time (in the novels) that we get a direct look at two of the masterminds of the Game directly pulling the strings. Yes, Little Finger is also a major player, but his schemes always seem to be used for personal advancement. Varys and Illyrio appear to have larger machinations in mind.
Kings' Landing, Throne Room - Prophetic opening jib shot of Petyr intently staring at the Iron Throne. How much more can be said without words?
Varys enters the room and we are treated to an altogether different sort of joust than the one we enjoyed at the episode's opening. Varys leads out strongly with various snippets of rumors regarding the sexual improprieties going on in Petyr's establishment. The spy master reels off a litany of the secret sexual preferences of various nobles that patronize Little Finger's establishments for both his ability to accommodate and his discretion. It might not seem like much to a new viewer, but learning of Lord Redwyne's proclivity for young boys is a bombshell to more seasoned fans. Poor Horror and Slobber (his twin sons)!
The two trade punches back and forth for a while with an even flurry of threats. It looks like they may come to a draw until Little Finger visibly staggers Varys' when he reveals that he knows about the spy master's secret meeting with Illyrio. I was a bit shocked as well. From reading the books I've always placed Varys ahead of Petyr when it comes to information. Little Finger is possibly a better schemer, but I was surprised to see him come out on top of this verbal pugilism.
Renly interrupts the fun with news of Robert's imminent arrival and the scene ends with Varys landing a desperate parting shot about news from the East. Hopefully we'll get many more rounds between the two master schemers in episodes and seasons to come!
King's Landing, Outside the Walls - Arya finds her way outside of the dungeons via a secret tunnel that leads to the shore under the castle's cliffs. There's nothing really important here other than another great look at the Red Keep, but we're shown Arya's method of exiting the castle after events in later episodes ("The Pointy End").
King's Landing, Gate - Finding her way back to the castle, Arya must convince the gold cloaks to let her back inside. They try to dismiss her, but with typical Arya fierceness, she stands her ground until they readmit her.
I have to raise a question with this scene. It isn't a criticism per se. It more of a genuine desire to understand the writing process of adapting a novel to the screen. There is a point in the conversation where a guard asks if he needs to give Arya a smack on her ear to help her with her hearing. Arya later throws it back in the guard's face when she asks him if he would like a similar smack the help him understand that she is the Hand's daughter. The lines are virtually identical to the book except that George uses the word clout instead of smack. I'm curious as to why the change was made. This isn't the first point where I have noticed tiny adjustments to the lines. Certainly some great lines will need to be cut altogether and some will need to be altered to better suit the differences occurring in the translation. Changing the word clout to smack though serves no apparent purpose. Is this an example of a screen writer adding his own voice to the material? Did someone think the word clout was harder to understand? Was it just a lazy translation? I know I am totally dissecting this point, but whatever the reason for the switch, I would love some input on the translation process that screenwriters go through.
King's Landing, Tower of the Hand - Arya joins Eddard in his office. She blurts out everything she remembers from her trip to the dungeons. Eddard struggles to keep up with her. It is interesting to note that he seems less ready to dismiss her story than he does in the novel. There, he chalks it up to the overactive imagination of a young girl misinterpreting two mummers preparing a performance.
The discussion is interrupted as Jory leads a road-weary Yoren into the chamber. Yoren gives Ned the news of Tyrion's abduction while at the same time providing ASoIaF fan boys with a fresh sexual innuendo term when he tells the Hand that Catelyn has "Taken the Imp".
The Eastern Road, Outside the Bloody Gate - Catelyn and party receive her sister's honor guard at the foot of the Eyrie. Ser Vardis looks the part of the Knight of the Gate in his detailed armor. Bronn fires off his "I'll impregnate the bitch" quip with a devilish smirk.
I have a few problems with this scene. Unlike with a lot of Blackfish fans, the extracution of Ser Brynden Tully into Ser Vardis Egen isn't one of them. It's been speculated by some that the Blackfish will be cut from the series altogether. I'm confident that he's too important to later events to be axed completely. By reading into GRRM's comments regarding the change, I'm pretty sure that he'll be showing up next season.
My largest issue is with the omission of Catelyn's night time mule ride up the slopes of the Giant's Lance to get to the Eyrie. I guess that filming this might have been considered too costly, but the exclusion of George's descriptive narrative following Cat as she fearfully climbs higher and higher into the night sky is one of the biggest chunks of story that has been lost in translation so far. We also lose Mya Stone who could have been another opportunity to drive home the strength of Robert's seed.
Along with the failure to include Cat's climb, I have to take issue with the actual look of the Eyrie. I do like the extreme fantasy style they have decided to go with. With character development often (and rightly) taking precedence over magical gimmicks, It's important to find ways to remind viewers that we are in a different place. But George's description of the seat of House Arryn is almost more fantastic than the matte we get. I would have loved to see the Giant's Lance and especially Alyssa's tears included with the Eyrie. With the attention to detail seen in similar shots of Winterfell and King's Landing, I feel like there was a deliberate choice to change the Eyrie's look and I really don't know if it was necessary.
King's Landing, Small Council Chamber - Robert is enraged at the news of Dany's pregnancy. He and the council try to convince Ned that assassinating the last Targaryens is their only option. Ned refuses to take part in the deed and resigns as Hand. He quickly exits the chamber assaulted by Robert's growling threats.
There are two things I noticed while watching this scene that have been included in all the previous Small Council scenes but I haven't noticed before. The forts is the stained glass window. There is a similar one in the throne room. From what I can see, it is a blue winter rose (ice) surrounded by a seven pointed sun burst (fire). This is a wonderful nod to the title of the series.
The second thing I noticed was the absence of Ser Barristan to this and all of the other council meetings. As Lord Commander of the Kingsguard , Ser Barristan has a council chair in the book. I suppose D&D deemed it necessary to eliminate his presence to avoid too much clutter in scenes that already have so many players they can come across as a bit ungainly. Normally this would seem like a good choice, but Selmy could have been used here as the only other voice that agrees with Ned in the matter of the assassination.
King's Landing, Tower of the Hand - Eddard makes plans to head back to Winterfell. He is interrupted by Little Finger who promises to show him the last person Jon Arryn spoke to before he fell ill.
Eyrie, High Hall - Catelyn and Tyrion are ushered into the Arryn's throne room for an audience with Lysa and Robin. Kate Dickie was an interesting choice for Lysa. In the books, she is described as a softer, rounder version of her sister. Here, she still very much resembles Michelle Fairley's Catelyn, but she is thinner and more brittle. Both Tully sisters had their lives chosen for them, but the one who accepted her position has grown healthy and strong while the one who rejects her lot in life has slowly begun to wither away. It’s a better contrast than the one that George presents. Lysa meets Catelyn's arrival with an air of fear and nervousness instead of the warmer greeting that Cat had expected. What's more, she's obviously panicked that Lady Stark has brought a Lannister to her doorstep.
If Lysa is paranoid, her son is an absolute loon! Lino Facioli's depiction of Sweetrobin adds a dimension of crazy to the young lord that I never picked up from the reading the story, but I must say that it's creepily pleasurable. I was amazed to see that they included the breast feeding in the scene. While I'm pretty certain they used a prosthetic boob, Robin's shifting demeanor while he takes turns suckling chuckling and raging at Tyrion all while sporting a milk moustache ala mommy was the most disturbing moment of the series so far.
The weirwood throne they are sitting on perfectly reflects the warped relationship between mother and son. There is no denying the throne's beauty, but its flowing, twisting shape more than suggests something unhinged about the pair sitting on it.
The Eyrie, Sky Cells - Tyrion is escorted to the famous Arryn "dungeons" by Mord the gaoler. Stromberg provides a great perspective of Tyrion's plight as the camera slowly zooms outward. Still, I would have loved to see the scene resolve to an even wider shot to give a better sense of scale.
King's Landing, Renly's Chambers - This scene is the low point of the episode for me. Yes, I knew Renly and Loras were lovers and no, I'm not bothered by it in the least. Exploring the Renly/Loras liaison more fully was actually something I was looking forward to seeing since the relationship is very off-screen in the novels.
I'm disappointed for a couple of reasons. The first is the timing of this reveal. While I was hoping and expecting to get a closer look at the pair on television, I would have loved to see D&D drop a few more hints before letting us in on the secret. Little Finger's comment about them at the tournament was as subtle as a battleaxe. This is one relationship that new viewers should not have been able to piece together so easily. If Petyr's jape was an axe, then this scene was a projectile from a catapult!
I get that one of Throne's patented dialogue-driven sex scenes with a gay couple would only be fair considering all of the hetero action we have been given. Those scenes have all felt pretty natural and even germane to the story. Not only does this one scream of shock value, it is also absolutely too early in the story to show it. Develop the friendship for the viewer first. Let us see that they mean something to each other before you jump to the medieval manscaping session. D&D had an opportunity to slowly develop a mature relationship between two male characters in the unique environment of a epic fantasy setting and what they ended up giving us was an epic fail.
In addition to the timing, I'm not happy about the turn they have taken with Renly's character. I suppose that one could argue that he puts on a brave front in the book scenes and in truth he is a squeamish dandy incapable of living up to his brother's brand of machismo, but I much prefer Renly as the bawdy, braggadocios Baratheon brother who just happens to prefer lords to ladies. Renly's vanity will help carry him through some of the decisions he makes later on, but you would think that a fellow who attempts to pull off the power play he eventually goes for would have a little more backbone. Squirming at the sight of blood is something better left to Samwell Tarly.
King's Landing, Robert's Chamber - We move from the episode's worst scene to what could be the finest scene of the series. Robert and Cersei begin a discussion about matters of state and finish with a soul-exposing confrontation about matters of the heart. Mark Addy and Lena Heady give Emmy-worthy performances here. In Cersei, I almost saw an older Sansa who's youthful, idealistic views of the world and her marriage have been splintered apart like broken dragonglass. You sense that at one point she loved Robert and believed that she would live happily-ever-after, but reality has beaten her dreams into ghosts.
Speaking of ghosts, it's obvious that Robert has been living under the shade of one since before their wedding night. Isn't it interesting that the only time we ever see Robert deign to practice the art of kinging is when it concerns the descendants of the man he believes took his love away.
For all of its masterful writing and amazing acting, it’s the way the king and queen approach each other that gives this scene its true brilliance. The discussion is handled almost as if they are two old enemies meeting out in no man's land during a truce. There is no love visible between the two whatsoever, but you do see a begrudging respect as well as a deep familiarity between the two as they open themselves to the core. D&D have succeeded here in a way that George never has. Namely, they made me cry for a Lannister. I have always loathed the entire family (Tyrion excluded) and adding the Jaime and Cersei PoVs into the books might have shed more light on their motivations , but it has never brought me any sympathy towards them. I'm going to blame it on the wine I was drinking at the time, but tears were flowing down my cheeks as Cersei proclaimed "It doesn't make me feel anything" and walked off screen.
I do feel the need to digress for just a moment. While I definitely felt for Cersei, I need to mention that I didn't fail to notice the subtle toast about seventeen years being a long time to keep the realm together. Could she be hinting at anything? Hmm? It was also apparent that she once again brought up the baby that she "lost". It looks as though D&D are going to exclude the fact that she actually killed the baby to make her character more sympathetic, but how crazy would it make her if in fact they kept that little surprise in the script for later?
King's Landing, Brothel - This scene serves two purposes. The first is that it shows us how busy Robert has been keeping the whorehouses of the realm in the black. Second, it sets up the episode's finale. I was delighted that Little Finger's comparison of prostitutes to naval vessels made it into the show. Jory staring at the girl was a funny addition and it also helps to present him in a more human and sympathetic light for what is about to come.
King's Landing, Outside the Brothel - Leaving the brothel, Ned and Jory are beset upon by Lannisters. Let me begin with the one negative. They've switched the fight from a rainy night to a bright clear sunny day. It might be more reflective of Jaime's character to show him attack in broad daylight, but I missed the melancholy image of Ned cradling Jory in the somber summer rains.
Other than that, the additional changes actually strengthened this scene from the one shown in the book. On the page, Jaime leaves his men to deal with Ned and his retainers. His men are slaughtered and Ned's leg is crushed by his horse. Jaime's character is much slimier in the book at this point, so having him exit and letting his men do the dirty work for him fits.
In the adaptation D&D have been doing there best to show a few strands of honor in the Kingslayer. After the Lannister guards make quick work of Wyl and Hewett, and Jaime handles Jory in the blink, or stab, of an eye, we get a mano y mano confrontation between protagonist and antagonist that suits the changes to Lannister's character much better. Eddard too is changed for the positive. The book version portrays him as more of a general, a strategist if you will than a champion fighter. On television, it quickly becomes apparent that he is equally matched to Jaime and the Lion of Lannister is soon worrying that he may have bitten off more than he can chew selecting Ned Stark for an opponent. Combatants and viewers alike are robbed of the outcome as an overzealous Lannister guard stabs Ned through the leg with a spear. Jaime is furious with his man for intervening. This shows us that he has his own sort of morals and isn't the black hearted villain he is accused of being by some. The episode concludes with a wounded Ned collapsing to the ground and the Lannisters making a hasty retreat to what we assume will be Casterly Rock and eventually the Whispering Woods!
Things have really begun to heat up. If the show follows the course of events in the books then we have much more to look forward to in the weeks to come!