Monday, June 13, 2011

Game of Thrones 1.09: "Baelor"

"If we played it your way, Kingslayer, you'd win. We won't be playing it your way."
- Robb

This would be a great time for me to go on a little rant about spoilers. I knew about the big, tragic, event that happens in this episode ahead of time. That one was my own fault. My mom gave me the book A Game of Thrones a few weeks ago because she found it on sale at Sam’s Club, and I compulsively turned to the end. I do wonder, however, what I would have thought of this episode had I not known that despite compromising everything he stands for, Ned would still be executed. I mean, I found the scene pretty damn effective under the circumstances in which I saw it, but I wonder what the shock value would have added or taken away. That’s an interesting intellectual exercise, but what really irritates me is a big spoiler I was subjected to that wasn’t my fault. I was reading the blog of one of my favorite TV critics when it happened (I’ll decline to name the blog here because this critic is extremely good about having a strict no spoilers policy and has probably removed the offending comment since I read it). People were all saying how impressed they were with a particular character, and a know-it-all fan who just couldn’t contain himself had to make a comment to pretty clearly imply that character is no longer alive in the books. That was not something I wanted to know, and knowing it makes me very sad. I understand that those of you who have read the books are big fans, and your knowledge is just bubbling up, about to boil over every time those of us who are new to this world asks a question or makes a comment that doesn’t jive with what happens in the future. Please, please resist that urge. I’ll stop my rant here before I inadvertently do some spoiling myself.

Anyway, on with my thoughts on this actual episode. We open again with Ned, who is still in the dungeon and looking rather worse for wear. Varys has once again stopped by to talk to Ned and give him water. Varys really wants Ned to give in and confess to his “crimes.” It’s been arranged that Ned will be allowed to take the Black and live out the rest of his days as a brother of the Night’s Watch, forgoing his titles and land. Arys thinks it would be in the best interest of the realm. If Joffrey’s reign isn’t stabilized, all out civil war could break out. Ned refuses to compromise his honor, though, saying he’s had plenty of preparation in how to die from his long career as a soldier. Since Ned won’t save himself, Varys decides to try another tactic. He asks Ned if Ned is interested in saving his daughters. They are both still in serious danger from the Lannisters, after all, especially Sansa.

Up at the Wall, the Lord Commander is showing his gratitude to Jon Snow for saving him from that creepy zombie. He gives Jon a very fancy sword that once belonged to his father. He even had the pommel changed out so it is now a wolf instead of a bear to match Jon’s (unofficial) House. The sword was to go to Ser Jorah (Daenerys’ friend from across the Narrow Sea), who is actually a family member of the Lord Commander, but since Ser Jorah was exiled, that’s obviously not going to happen. To make things even better for Jon, the Lord Commander has sent Ser Alliser to King’s Landing. This has two purposes. The first is to get Ser Alliser out of Jon’s hair. The second is to warn Joffrey about the imminent threat the White Walkers pose (these zombies are created by the touch of a White Walker). Jon brings his sword into the mess hall to show it off a bit, and while some of the other guys are testing it out, Sam gives Jon the bad news that Robb has gone to war along with the Stark bannermen. Jon is devastated that he can’t be there to help his brother. Old Maester Aemon has a much-needed chat with Jon. He warns Jon about the cost of maintaining the Night’s Watch vows, especially when family are in danger. Aemon reveals that he is actually a Targaryen, and he had to stand idily by at the Wall while the rest of his family was slaughtered by King Robert. It’s kind of ambiguous whether Aemon thinks sticking to your vows when your family is in peril is a good thing or not.

Farther south, Robb, Cat and their troops need to cross the Trident River. The only possible crossing is controlled by the extremely eccentric and really gross Lord Walder Frey. If they had rednecks in pseudo-medieval societies, the Freys would be it. Lord Frey is unreliable, to put it kindly, even though he’s a bannerman to Cat’s father. Because she’s known him since she was a girl, Cat wants to handle these negotiations. Lord Frey hems and haws about how big-time families like the Tullys and the Starks never marry into his family. It’s not surprising when Cat returns to the camp and announces the conditions upon which Lord Frey will allow them passage across the river and contribute troops to the war effort. His oldest son will be Robb’s squire, Arya must marry a Frey son, and most importantly, Robb, acting Lord of Winterfell, must marry a Frey daughter. Robb asks his mother whether any of the Frey daughters are actually presentable, and Cat hilariously replies that there might be one who will be acceptable. I thought it was entertaining that newly minted big damn hero Robb was asking his mom for dating advice. Anyway, Robb accepts the conditions in a very no-nonsense way.

Over at the Lannister war camp, Tyrion is dismayed to learn that he and his mountain tribe men are to fight on the front lines. Tyrion thinks (probably rightfully) that it’s a death sentence. Bronn, feeling sorry for him I guess, procures a foreign woman named Shae, presumably a prostitute, to make Tyrion’s last evening a little more comfortable. Tyrion, Bronn, and Shae play a sort of “I never” game. Tyrion has to guess things about their pasts, and if he’s right they drink, and if they’re wrong, he drinks. He reads Bronn like a book, but everything he says about Shae is apparently wrong. Shae gets Tyrion to tell the story of his short-lived failed marriage. Jaime had set him up with a prostitute and he didn’t realize it and married her. When Tywin found out, he let the entire Lannister guard have their way with her while Tyrion watched. While it was interesting insight into the character, I found this scene kind of brought the episode’s momentum to a standstill. This is an exciting episode filled with battle anticipation, and this scene felt out of place.

The next day, Tyrion gives an admirable effort at delivering a pump-up speech to the mountain tribes before the battle starts. Seconds after the tribes start on their way, Tyrion is knocked unconscious by a stray war hammer. Next thing he knows, Bronn’s carrying him on a wagon, and the battle is over. Bronn informs Tyrion that the Lannisters won the battle easily, but there’s a catch. There were only 2,000 Stark bannermen to fight. The other 18 thousand (or 16 thousand, really) are still with Robb. They were off fighting Jaime and his troops, and they end up catching Jaime the Kinglslayer himself. Jaime instantly demands a trial by combat to get out of capture, one Stark versus one Lannister, but Robb, who has become awesome since taking power (I seriously need to stop my gushing…it’s getting embarrassing) informs Jaime that they won’t be playing the game his way, because if they did, Jaime would win. Smart kid, that Robb.

Things are getting pretty grim for Daenerys across the Narrow Sea. The Dothraki are marching to the west, presumably on their way to the sea, and Khal Drogo is rather slumped on his horse. Eventually, he completely falls off. Drogo is brought to a tent, and it’s clear that his wound has festered and he’s very sick. Ser Jorah says they should run, because as soon as Khal Drogo dies, there will be a fight for power, and none of the contenders will want Daenerys or her unborn child in the way. Daenerys refuses to leave her husband’s side, though. Daenerys, desperate to save Khal Drogo, calls for the healer/witch who stitched him up in the first place. The healer says that the only thing that might possibly save Drogo is blood magic, and the cure might be worse than the disease. Daenerys doesn’t care, and as a sacrifice, the healer slits the throat of the Khal’s horse. The spray of blood all over Daenerys is rather horrific. Outside the tent, Ser Jorah has to fight off an especially uppity Dothraki who isn’t happy that dark magic is being used on the Khal. The fact that really eerie noises are coming from the tent doesn’t help. All of a sudden, Daenerys starts having contractions. Ser Jorah rushes her into the tent, eerie noises and all.

Back in King’s Landing, Arya is trying her hand at begging to survive. She’s unsuccessfully trying to trade a pigeon she caught for a pastry when she sees everybody running towards Baelor’s Sept. A passerby tells her that the Hand of the King is about to confess his crime, so of course Arya has to see what’s going on with her dad. Ned is dragged out onto the square, and he actually starts confessing, with the understanding that he’ll be joining the Night’s Watch as soon as the confession is done. He sees Arya standing on the base of a statue. Joffrey throws a wrench in the plans of all King’s Landing’s schemers, though, when he says that he’s not going to do what the “soft” women in his life want him to do. Ned is going to die. Ned has just enough time to motion to Yoren, the Night’s Watch recruiter who is watching from the crowd, to shield Arya from what she’s about to see before the executioner delivers the King’s justice. Poor Sansa is beside herself. Ravens fly from King’s Landing to deliver the grim news to the Seven Kingdoms.

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