Saturday, June 4, 2011

Game of Thrones 1.07: "You Win or You Die"

“A lion doesn’t concern himself with the opinions of a sheep.”

“You Win or You Die” was another compelling episode of “Game of Thrones.” A bit tragic, in the sense that it’s become apparent that none of the people who seemed like they could be decent leaders are going to have a shot at the Iron Throne, but compelling nonetheless. The actual competition for the throne begins to take shape. We see who is interested in the throne and why, and in some cases we see how far they’re willing to go to get it. Poor Ned is just plain out of his depth. A rigid sense of honor doesn’t do a whole lot of good when all your adversaries are willing to fight dirty and play the long game. And then there’s Jon Snow, who for some inexplicable reason decides to take his Night’s Watch vows even after seeing what a mess the organization is and getting a deliberately degrading first assignment just because for some reason the Lord Commander hates him. If I were Jon Snow, I’d have hightailed it away from the Wall several episodes ago. Maybe he just feels like he has nowhere else to go. I suppose one of the lessons in this story is that without the right heritage, you don’t even really stand a chance in the Seven Kingdoms. It’s difficult enough when you are of noble lineage.

The episode opens with the introduction of a new character, Tywin Lannister, who is the patriarch of that House and pretty much the bankroll for King Robert’s throne. He’s having a conversation with Jaime, who has apparently run off to daddy after the altercation with Ned and his guard. Symbolically, Tywin is breaking down a stag (the sigil of House Baratheon, King Robert’s House) as he speaks with his son. They talk about Ned’s decree that Tywin must answer for the Mountain’s crimes, and they talk about Tyrion’s imprisonment. It seems that word of Tyrion being freed hasn’t quite hit the Seven Kingdoms grapevine yet. Tywin is going to help Jaime raise an army against the Starks. The conversation overall just really shows how important family honor is to the big-time families in the Seven Kingdoms, especially the Lannisters. They have multiple common sayings about themselves, after all!

At King’s Landing, Ned and Cersei have a bit of a confrontation in a garden. Cersei suggests Ned return to Winterfell, and Ned reveals he knows the truth about her kids. None of Cersei’s children are Robert’s. In fact, they’re probably Jaime’s. Which is kind of gross. Cersei doesn’t deny that she and Jaime are lovers. In fact she goes into this creepy speech about how since they shared a womb together, they belong together. Ned continues to puzzle things out, and he realizes that Bran must have seen Jaime and Cersei together, and that’s why he was pushed off the tower. It’s impressive, really, how much Ned has suddenly been able to deduce, just from a list of Baratheon children’s hair color. We get a little more insight into what makes Cersei tick, which is just as squicky as you might expect. She took measures to be sure she would never be impregnated with one of Robert’s children, for instance. I guess she feels she’s justified in all of this because apparently, on their wedding night, Robert called out the name of Ned’s sister and not Cersei’s. Okay, Robert’s a creepy obsessive, but man can Cersei hold a grudge.

We next get a scene in one of Petyr’s brothels that I found really especially obnoxious. Ros has joined the brothel, and Petyr is having her practice her technique on another prostitute while he essentially tells the story of his childhood. He grew up with Cat and was obsessed with her, which we pretty much already knew. He also feels really inadequate compared to the Stark men, especially Ned. He turned those feelings of inadequacy into a determination to be more clever than his opponents. Cleverness and cunning certainly does seem to win the day over Ned’s rigid sense of honor in this episode at least. It’s unfortunate that what could be some interesting deepening of the character of Petyr, who is played by an extremely talented actor in Aiden Gillan, was kind of tarnished by what the TV blogging community has begun to dub “sexposition.” The tendency of “Game of Thrones” to just throw some sex in to lighten scenes that are just exposition is really irritating to me. Hint to the producers: it’s not working.

Not much of this episode takes place at Winterfell, but the one scene that did was very intriguing. There’s a conversation between Theon and Osha, the wildling woman played by Natalia Tena who was part of the gang that tried to rob Bran in the last episode. Theon tries to get Osha to address him respectfully, but Osha just gives him a difficult time about wanting to be called “Lord.” She doesn’t understand why some people get special titles when many others don’t, and she doesn’t understand why titles should matter. Osha just barely avoids getting raped for her imprudence. Theon is advancing towards her merrily when he is called away by Maester Luwin. It’s obvious that Theon is going to do something really, really stupid due to his feelings of inadequacy before the series is over.

Moving farther north, tragedy has struck at the Wall. A riderless horse has returned to Castle Black, and Jon Snow recognizes it as his uncle Benjen’s horse. Soon after this, the prospective members of the Night’s Watch are all out in the training area for what appears to be a ceremony. They’re being told how important their upcoming vows are. Jon wants to take a sort of temporary leave of absence from training to try and find Benjen, but he wants to take his vows even more. Considering what a mess the Night’s Watch is, I thought this was extremely stupid. The prospectives are then all told what their assignments are to be once they’re officially part of the Night’s Watch. Sam really wants to be a steward, and of course Jon really wants to be a ranger. Both of them are named stewards, and Jon is seriously offended, since he’s the best fighter by far. He doesn’t want to be wasted as a glorified butler/janitor. To add insult to injury, the Lord Commander wants Jon to be his personal steward. Jon lets Sam convince him to take his vows anyway by saying the Lord Commander must want to groom Jon for command. Jon and Sam do both end up taking their vows, because, again, they’re stupid. Jon’s direwolf breaks up the party by carrying a human hand back to his master.

Most of this episode is King’s Landing intrigue. Ned is walking through a courtyard, minding his own business, when Renly rushes up to him with seriously bad news. King Robert has been gravely injured on their hunting trip. He’s still alive, but he’s not expected to live much longer. The wound is seriously infected. Robert asks to see Ned alone, and he reads out his death proclamation for Ned to transcribe. Robert says he wants Ned to be Protector of the Realm until Joffrey comes of age. In writing down the proclamation, Ned changes “Joffrey” to “my rightful heir.” At the time, I thought this was an awesome move, but it didn’t end up meaning anything. Renly tries to cozy up to Ned, hoping he can get Ned to support him as the next King. He wants to kidnap Joffrey. According to the laws of succession, since Joffrey isn’t King Robert’s biological son, the throne should go to Renly’s older brother, Stannis. Because of his rigid sense of honor, Stannis is the only candidate Ned will support.

Petyr tells Ned he should allow Joffrey to be considered King. Ned would still be Lord Protector while Joffrey is a minor, and that will buy them some time to figure out a plan so that Joffrey won’t still be King when he comes of age. Ned doesn’t like this because it sounds like treason and it would also require him to play nice with the Lannisters for a while. Ned wants a favor from Petyr, though. He plans to expose Cersei’s secret and Joffrey’s parentage in the middle of the throne room, and he thinks he’s going to be outnumbered by the number of soldiers Cersei and Joffrey will have on hand. He wants Petyr to help him get the support of the Goldcloaks of the City Watch. Petyr assures him that the Goldcloaks will be loyal to whoever pays them the most. Ned writes a letter that he tells one of his guard is to be read by Stannis Baratheon only.

The Iron Throne craziness even spreads across the Narrow Sea to the Dothraki. Daenerys is trying to explain the Iron Throne to Khal Drogo because she hopes it will one day belong to her son and he will rule the Seven Kingdoms. Khal Drogo doesn’t get it- he thinks all a leader needs is a horse. Daenerys then talks about her desire to retake the Seven Kingdoms with Ser Jorah, who of course understands much better. Daenerys and her entourage go to a market, and Daenerys wants to try a sample of one merchant’s wine. That merchant almost manages to poison her, but Ser Jorah stops her from drinking the wine and saves her from being killed. It’s fascinating to watch how much Daenerys has changed through the course of the series. Her whole body language changes after the attempt on her life. She becomes rather rigid and cold as some Dothraki take the merchant prisoner. Ser Jorah warns Daenerys that King Robert will never give up in his quest to kill her. Khal Drogo is extremely upset over the attempt on his wife’s life, and in a big speech that looked more like the beginning of a WWE match (which is why the scene didn’t work for me), he shouts about how his son will have the Iron Throne. The Dothraki are going across the Narrow Sea to take the Seven Kingdoms, and for some reason, Daenerys doesn’t look especially happy about it.

Ned is about to go make his move when he finds out that Robert has died. What’s more, Renly and the Knight of the Flowers have left King’s Landing. Here’s hoping they’re rounding up a huge army because what happens next? Definitely not good at all. “King Joffrey” is sitting on the Iron Throne, spitting out demands. He wants an immediate coronation, and he wants knights to start giving him oaths of fealty. Ned presents Robert’s wishes, but a piece of paper does no good among Lannisters. Cersei tears up the proclamation and orders Ned seized just as Peytr arrives with the Goldcloaks. A huge battle between all the soldiers in the throne room breaks out (in which the Goldcloaks start killing Ned’s guard…oops), and in the middle of the chaos, Petyr creeps up behind Ned and holds a knife to his throat. What could the little weasel possibly want now?

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