The power plays in King's Landing finally come to a head in "You Win or You Die". We quickly learn that Robert has been "done in by a pig" and all the main players go into high gear making their bids for advancement before the king is even dead. Tywin finally makes his entrance as the Lannister host mobilizes. Across the Narrow Sea, Dany is lobbying for a resistant Drogo to invade Westeros after her brother's death. Following a two-episode hiatus for Jon and the Night's Watch, we are again back at Castle Black as things begin to heat up in the cold beyond the Wall.
Credits - Same stuff.
The Reach?, Lannister Camp - Its all crimson tents and golden lions as the Lannister host assembles and prepares for a possible war. We know from last episode that at least some of Tywin's men are harrying the Riverlands, but so far it appears as though the lions themselves are staying out of things directly. As striking as the camp appears, showing a purple shield with a Flement unicorn or a yellow Crakehall boar banner could have established a better picture of just who is along with Tywin at this point.
Lannister Camp, Tywin's Tent - Enter Charles Dance as Twin Lannister. He may not be bald and he may not have the robust sideburns of his literary counterpart, but Dance has Tywin's manner down to a tee. I believed him as Tywin from before he said a word. Obvious foreshadowing aside, what a marvelous way to introduce this character by having him coolly dress a deer while reprimanding and dictating to his son in an equally dispassionate manner.
NCW looks devilishly dashing in his black and gold Lannister armor and he plays counterpoint to Dance very well. There is both contrast and tension between the two as the aims of the older lion do not seem to quite coincide with that of his cub. Chagrin flashed across Tywin's face as Jaime tells him that killing Ned Stark would not have been clean. Jaime has his own honor code. It's obvious that Tywin has long ago forgone any such restrictions in order to keep himself and his house waxing in power. To Tywin, family is everything (which is a trait he shares with Hoster Tully ironically enough), not personal gain or glory. He is sickened at the way his son is wasting his natural talents as a guard for the King. In Tywin's mind, it is high-time for Jaime to step up and take his birthright. Jaime is rash and short-sighted in his actions. Tywin is most definitely a long-term thinker and a very dangerous player in the Game.
While the grand swordplay and choreography of fights have been excellent so far, I think that the way Dance handled his skinning knife during the conversation was my favorite use of a blade in the series so far. The effortless way he butchered the deer and even more so the casual style in which he handled the knife while facing Jaime makes me think that Dance either has a lot of hunting experience or is just a consummate master at body language. Amazing work!
King's Landing, Courtyard - I love the camera angle the used for Cersei as she stands over Ned and notes "You're in pain" in a manner that is completely devoid of any compassion whatsoever. Heady's delivery of the line was inspired. When confronted with the truth about her secret that Robert's children are all in fact Jaime's, Cersei doesn't shy away from it and proudly owns up to her sins. D&D add more evidence of a subtle shift in the Queen's character here. In the book, it wasn't Robert that Cersei hoped to be with, but Rhaegar. Again, I believe this change was implemented to make her more sympathetic in later seasons. Knowing that Robert never returned her love and in a sense dashed her childhood dreams to pieces might make viewers a little more able to feel for her as her life slowly starts to unravel. In the novels I delighted in watching her lose her grip on reality. I'm very interested to see if D&D can change my loathing for the Queen on television.
Further evidence of Cersei's softening would be in the omission of her come-on to Eddard. In the book she makes advances towards him in an attempt to sway him. Eddard of course shuts her down, wanting nothing to do with her. I don't know if the cut was because of time, or if D&D intentionally left it out, but either way, Cersei uses sex as one of her most reliable weapons. Making her softer is a good idea, but they should be careful about going too far. I would hate to see her watered down to the point where she won't cross this line.
Even in the face of adversity, Cersei manages to handle Eddard with pride and a certain sense of grace. When she admonishes him that "You win or you die" it is made blatantly apparent how ineptly Eddard is vying for control in a game he neither wants to play nor is fully aware of playing. She may have a vastly over-inflated opinion of herself, but at least Cersei knows the rules of the Game. By contrast, Eddard is still sitting there with the newly-opened box on his lap trying to puzzle out the rule book.
King's Landing, Brothel - This scene completely exposes not only the children of King's Landing, Ros and her friend, but more importantly Petyr and his motivations for power. Another change from the books, Petyr's lust for power is being made much more obvious much earlier on. In this episode's sexposition moment, Little Finger lays out the origins of why he's become the man he is today while Ros and friend have some gender-confusing sex play in a medieval version of The Crying Game. Too bad Dustin Hoffman wasn't available to play Ros's buddy.
I know there are a lot of nay-sayers regarding the "gratuitous" sex in this scene, but I would like to point out that Petyr does in fact own several brothels which is at least somewhat relevant to the plot. In my mind, there is a limited number of opportunities to really see what makes Petyr tick. He's certainly not likely to blurt out his little soliloquy in from of Varys or Pycelle. We also don't have the option of going into his or other characters minds as we could in the book. We are left with the Mockingbird singing his tune to a pair of inconsequential prostitutes. Perhaps when viewed this way, the sex isn't as gratuitous as it might first appear? Little Finger could just be talking to them and they needn't be shagging each other, but to paraphrase Ralphie from another great HBO show, "They are hooo-waaahs".
Winterfell, Great Hall - In the episode's only Winterfell scene, a chained Osha shambles into the great hall to replenish the rushes. She is quickly set upon by an obnoxiously pompous Theon Greyjoy. I cringed as Alfie whined that "My father is Balon Greyjoy, lord of the Iron Islands". That delivery was easily the worst part of the scene and probably the episode. The best part of this scene isn't Natalia Tena's lockdown portrayal of the captured wilding. It's not her blunt manner as she runs circles around Theon's logic demonstrating the differences in value of social status north of the Wall. It's not in the way Luwin reproaches Theon reminding him yet again that he is just a glorified version of the lowly prisoner that he was about to accost. The coolest moment in this scene for me was when I noticed the Nimbus 2000 leaning on the table next to Natalia! Ha! I'm assuming it was intentional, but regardless, it was a great Easter egg moment!
Castle Black, Atop the Wall - Let it Snow! After a two week break, Jon and Sam are back on sentry duty atop the Wall. They spy a riderless horse making its way back to the Wall. I noticed that Sam didn't seem quite so scared to be looking out over the Wall as he did previously.
Castle Black, Yard - Jon rushes off the elevator to find that the horse was his uncle's. I know that Jeor's nickname is the Old Bear, but James Cosmo looks positively ursine as he frets over a panicked Jon.
King's Landing, Throne Room - The hunting party is back and a blood-soaked Renly delivers the fateful news about Robert and the boar to Eddard. I must have missed the press release that Fat Tom had been cast by the lovechild of Fabio and Steven Seagal. I can't believe it's not Buda!
King's Landing, Robert's Bedchamber - Not to throw out another Harry Potter reference, but Robert lying there reminded me eerily of Dobby's death scene. You be the judge! It was a good touch showing Robert saying goodbye to Joffrey. Even on his deathbed he still has no idea how to be a father, but at least he is trying. Eddard walks in and sees Cersei. Awkward! Poor Ser Barristan looks like he needs a drink. Anything but Lancel's wine!
Robert clears the room and begins to give Ned his last will and testament turning the kingdom over to Ned for safe keeping. I was very glad to see them include Ned switching Joff's name with "rightful heir". It may have been a little forced showing him write it all down, but it’s a fine, yet important point that needed to be there.
Even though I knew how the scene would end, I was shouting "Damn it Ned! Tell him!" at the screen. Ned you poor, honorable fool!
A minor cavil for me was Ned's response to Robert's request that he help Joffrey. Ned answered that he will do all he can to honor Robert's memory. In the book he more pointedly replies that he'll look out for all of Robert's children which means his bastards. It's another case where the book dialogue was changed for the worse without any apparent purpose.
King's Landing, Hall Outside of Robert's Room - Ned walks out of the bedroom and consoles a numb Ser Barristan. Varys injects veiled suspicion towards Lancel and the Lannisters for possibly drugging Robert's wine. When Eddard directs the Spider to stop the hit order on Dany, we get a nice segue over the Narrow Sea after Varys retorts "I'm afraid those birds have flown".
Vaes Dothrak, Dany's Tent - Using well-articulated Dothraki, Dany makes her case to Drogo for attacking the Usurper and winning back the Iron Throne. Drogo isn't interested. He gently rebukes her and ends the conversation with no hint of a desire to grant Dany's request.
Mamoa and Clarke do a great job of speaking a made-up foreign-sounding language here in what is perhaps the longest conversation in Dothraki to date. I much enjoyed Dany's incorrect usage of the word "dirt" for "land". It shows that she is still learning to be a Dothraki while at the same time demonstrating the complexity of the designed-for-the-show-language.
This scene takes place almost exactly at the midpoint of the episode. I was starting to suspect that the Dany story would be put on hold this week. Instead, the writers were just letting things simmer longer. It seems as though they slowed the pacing quite a bit for episode 7. Most of the scenes until now have been lengthier than the choppier tempo used in previous installments. I think that for this episode it was a good idea to slow things down, but I expect to see the scene switches speed up again next week.
Vaes Dothrak, Western Market - Hey! The parrot made the cut!
Even though we lose the obligatory shot of the dragon eggs this episode, we still get plenty of obtuse dragon talk as Dany and entourage explore the Western Market. I have no idea why they felt the need to suggest that Jorah doesn't believe in dragons. I know they are trying to show that the people of Westeros do or do not believe in the existence of magic to varying degrees. Usually I think that this adds color to the world. When talking of the white walkers for instance, we get many diverse opinions on whether or not they are or were real. No one living (until recently) has witnessed any evidence that the Others ever truly existed. Dragons however, are proven to have lived. The average Westerosi, especially a noble, should know this to be fact not conjecture.
Jorah heads off to look for mail. Varys' little Oompa Loompa hands him his pardon and departs. I'm not sure if the average viewer will understand just what it is that Jorah is about to give up. All he has to do is disappear for a few hours and his status is returned. It's there to see, but perhaps it’s a bit too subtle for someone not familiar with the books to piece together.
Western Market, Wine Merchant's Stall - This scene is almost a verbatim recreation of the assassination attempt from the book and its executed extremely well. I loved the Redwyne Grapes on the cask! Great stunt work with the whip as well.
Castle Black, Yard - Another very similar scene from the book with a few noticeable exceptions. The first was Pyp's assignment to the stewards. He's a ranger in the novel. In wondering why they felt it necessary to make the change. I can only surmise that as a steward, Pyp will have more of an excuse to be around Jon and Sam. It won't matter later when they go ranging because if you notice Pyp was sent to the kitchens so when they go out en masse later on, he will probably be a field cook.
One of the recruits gets sent to One-Eyed Joe. We never see him, but if they feel a need to cast the part how about this guy? I wonder if the kid the cast as Dareon will come back in a few years or if they will just recast the part.
I assume they wanted to give Maester Aemon more face time here (he is in this scene in the book as well), but its seemed as though he has command of the stewards and not Bowen Marsh. If so it's another small, but inconsequential change.
One more small tidbit that we can glean from Pyp's story is that Lord Smallwood is apparently the second lord (along with Paxter Redwyne)we didn't know about who fancies boys. I doubt that the sexual preferences of either of these two lords will be important later in the novels, but D&D should take care using creative license in this manner. It definitely makes it interesting for ASoIaF nerds like myself, but you never know how something like this could come back to bite them later. Or maybe GRRM could become inspired by something of this nature and infuse similar character traits to his cast members in the book. Probably not, but here's to hoping!
King's Landing, Corridor - Renly urges Eddard to seize Joffrey before Cersei can act. He makes a pretty good case until he proposes to take the throne for himself. Again Eddard's sense of honor impedes him from taking a more prudent course. He just can't bring himself to do the easy thing over the right thing.
King's Landing, Tower of the Hand - Eddard orders Fat Tom to Dragonstone to summon Stannis back to King's Landing. Little Finger enters and much like Renly, urges Eddard to act. Of course, I believe that Petyr knows exactly what Eddard will do and only suggests using Joff as a puppet to seem more sincere about securing the gold cloaks for the Hand.
Beyond the Wall, Haunted Forest - Enter wolf-gate. I don't have so much of a problem with Ghost barking as I do with him making any noise at all. At any rate though, I'm willing to chalk this up as a minor gaff. Maybe they can edit the woof out on the DVD? What's more important is that we actually get to see Ghost!
The weirwood Sam and Jon say their words beneath looks really spooky. As they roll off their pledge I'm reminded as I was in the book of the oath taken by another group of protectors. We all know what a huge comic book fan George is. I've always suspected that this was a nod to Hal Jordan and his extra-terrestrial pals.
Vaes Dothrak - These scene demonstrates the final example of Robert's incapability as king. The only matter of state that Robert ever seems passionate about attending to is anything concerning the death of the Targaryens. We've seen his lack of ability to act when the forces around him pull him one way or the others. Now we see that its Robert, not Dany or Viserys that brings his own worst nightmare to fruition. If he would have listened to Ned and left things alone, Drogo would likely have stayed on Essos. Now he's got a mad-on for Westeros that no one short of a Maegi can cure.
This is likely the scene that won Mamoa the job of Drogo. What power! As I watched Drogo rant, I kept thinking about Jason in a small audition room somewhere doing his haka. They were probably too afraid not to give him the role immediately!
King's Landing, Outside the Throne Room - Ned has just learned of the king's passing. As bells begin to toll throughout the city (nice touch), he meets with Little Finger and Varys on his way to confront the Lannisters. Petyr is a bit too calm and confident about securing the city watch. Varys does a nice job of setting us up for season two by delivering the news of Renly's flight.
King's Landing, Throne Room - All of Robert and Ned's missteps come to a head as Little Finger and the gold cloaks backstab (literally and figuratively) the Stark contingent. Gillen is great as he slides the knife under Ned's throat and chides him about his previous warning.
Of all the shocks and twists so far this season, this scene has generated the most buzz amongst my personal friends. My wife clapped at the end of the scene (not because Ned was captured, but because the episode was so good). My best friend, who has been slowly warming to the series after a tepid initial reaction told me that he was going to have to start reading the books. He's not a reader at all (unless you count comic books) so I count this as very encouraging evidence that fever for the show is growing.
The ratings for the show have just come out and surprisingly they have stayed the same. With Memorial Day and the HBOGo promotion releasing this episode a week early, most everyone expected the viewing numbers to take a dip. I'm cautiously optimistic that after the great ending this week, next week's show (written for the small screen by GRRM himself) will be the most-watched yet! If you aren't familiar with the events of the book, I strongly advise tuning in!