Monday, June 20, 2011

Game of Thrones 1.10: "Fire and Blood"

“They have your sisters. We have to get the girls back. And then we will kill them all.”

Unlike most broadcast television season finales, the season finale of “Game of Thrones” was more the denouement than the climax of the season. Yes, there were several important, soon-to-be-iconic “Hell, yeah!” moments, but there wasn’t a big adrenaline rush. This episode was mostly about showing how people reacted to the huge events that happened last week and setting up the status quo for next season. In achieving those two goals, I thought it was successful. Do I usually like a bit more flash and bang in my season finales? Yep, I definitely do. But I think this worked in the sense that, as being a faithful adaptation (so I’m told) of a novel, the structure was naturally going to be more novel-like. And novels tend to have a decent-length denouement. Of the three big cathartic conclusions in this episode, it’s probably no surprise that I liked Robb’s best. I also really loved the scale of the resolution to Jon’s season arc. The big moment that didn’t work for me quite as well was Daenerys’. I guess this is kind of surprising, considering I’ve generally found Daenerys to be a compelling character in a story that has a bit of a dearth of compelling female characters. I guess Cat and Cersei would also be in Daenerys’ company, but they don’t have the power that Daenerys now has. Overall, while I didn’t find “Fire and Blood” to be as compelling as episodes 5-9, it was still a satisfactory effort. I also like the symmetry of this season’s episode titles. We begin the season with House Stark’s words, “Winter is Coming,” and we end with House Targaryen’s, “Fire and Blood.”

We begin the episode directly in the aftermath of how we ended the last one. It’s seconds after Ned’s execution. We see the bloody sword, and we see Ned’s head held out to the jeering crowd. Sansa faints, and Arya is still in the clutches of Yoren. Yoren hustles Arya away from the crowd, constantly calling her “boy” in a rather rough attempt to help her remain undetected. Relatively safer in an alleyway, Yoren hastily cuts Arya’s hair off to make her look more boy-like and even less recognizable. Arya ends up with a rather rough group of boys and other assorted criminals that Yoren is planning to take up to the Wall. One boy in particular tries to pick on her, but she uses the threat of her sword, Needle, to defend herself admirably. She has some help from a new friend we’ve seen before, too. The armorer’s apprentice who Ned discovered was one of King Robert’s bastards. Apparently, the armorer is getting tired off all the nosing around, because he asked the apprentice to leave.

Meanwhile, the news of Ned’s fate spreads quickly. Up at Winterfell, Bran is riding on Osha’s shoulders, and he asks her to take him to the Stark family crypt. He had a dream his father was there. Osha is pretty freaked out by the idea, but she eventually obliges. Bran points out all his relatives to Osha, but the conversation is interrupted when a vicious creature approaches. It’s just Rikon’s direwolf, Shaggydog. Rikon, the youngest Stark, is quite the creepy little kid. It turns out that he had the same dream as Bran about Ned being in the crypt. All three return outdoors, only to be greeted by Maester Luwin. He’s got the bad news of Ned’s execution, of course. I like little reminders like this that even though it’s usually only on the fringes, there actually magic in this universe.

We switch perspectives to Robb’s camp, where the bad news has already been delivered. The troops all bow to Cat as she walks by in acknowledgement of her grief. She walks faster and faster because she desperately wants to get to the woods to have a cry in private. She breaks down as soon as she’s out of view of the soldiers. She doesn’t have much time to cry, though, because she hears a horrible noise. Robb is using his sword to furiously chop away at a tree. When he sees his mother, he completely breaks down, and they share a hug. It’s really a beautiful moment. Robb wants to take a stand and kill all the Lannisters immediately to get revenge for his father’s death. Cat reminds him that they need to rescue his sisters first. Then she’s all about the killing.

Later at a war council, Robb’s bannermen are trying to help him decide who to pledge to. They can’t pledge to Joffrey for obvious reasons. Several bannermen seem in favor of pledging to Renly, but Robb, like his father, will have none of that. If a Baratheon is to be king, it must be older brother Stannis. One of the bannermen comes up with the best idea of them all. They’re going to separate from the rest of the Seven Kingdoms entirely. In an iconic moment, all the bannermen (and Theon) lay down their swords and proclaim Robb “King of the North.” I love this moment for its hopefulness and for the pride Cat shows in her son. After Robb is declared King, Cat goes outside to have a not-so-nice chat with Jaime. She really, really wants to kill him and send his head to Cersei, but she stops with just one blow to his head with a rock. Jamie admits he pushed Bran out the window back in Winterfell, but he stops short of telling Cat why, despite her repeated demands to know.

It turns out Cersei herself is doing just fine without Jaime back in King’s Landing. She’s sleeping with Lannister cousin Lancel, King Robert’s squire. My reaction was a very loud “ewwwwww.” Cersei certainly likes to keep it in the family. That’s not the only thing that’s horribly wrong at King’s Landing, though. Sansa is watching court, where everyone is listening to a minstrel sing a song about Robert’s death. The song is offensive to the Lannisters, so Joffrey orders the minstrel’s tongue cut out. Having had his fun for the day, Joffrey leaves the throne and demands that Sansa join him. He takes her to an area outside where all the heads of the Northerners who were just killed are displayed on pikes. He specifically points out Ned’s head and wants Sansa to look at it and see what happens to traitors. Sansa says she just wants to go home, and when Joffrey is crude in response, she finally grows a spine. She actually tries to push him off the balcony where they are standing, but unfortunately, the Hound stops her. Joffrey says that he’ll have another gift for her soon- Robb’s head. Sansa retorts that maybe Robb will be bringing her Joffrey’s head instead. A much preferable option, I’d say.

At the Lannister camp, there is talk of potentially suing for peace. Tyrion wisely guesses that that probably wouldn’t go well, considering Ned was executed and all. Tywin and Tyrion end up having a private chat, which is one of my favorite moments of this episode. Tywin admits that maybe Tyrion isn’t an idiot after all. He wants Tyrion to stand in as Hand of the King to keep Joffrey in line. This arrangement can’t possibly last long, because Tyrion seems like the only person who can keep Joffrey in line. And an in-line Joffrey is not good for the drama. Tywin actually acknowledges Tyrion as his son, which was quite surprising. The only condition Tywin places on Tyrion is that Tyrion can’t bring “that whore” to King’s Landing. This leads to a bit of an argument between Tyrion and Shae (who really wants to come along). Tyrion ends up deciding to disregard his father and bring Shae with him.

Despite the new, more cruel regime, the scheming schemers of King’s Landing continue to do there thing. We get a final, obnoxious “sexposition” scene where Grand Maester Pycelle tells Ros all about the kings he has served as Ros washes herself following sex. I think the point of the scene was that as soon as Ros leaves, Pycelle starts doing calisthenics, clearly not the doddering old man he pretends to be. Petyr and Varys have another of their throne room circling and threatening each other chats, which was refreshing bit of familiarity among the chaos.
Dany wakes up, Jorah says son didn’t live. Witch says baby looked like dragon- price for Drogo’s life. The horde is gone. Drogo is catatonic, out in the sun. Witch did it on purpose because the Dothraki burned her temple.

Jon is the last of the Stark clan to get the bad news, and his reaction is to try to desert the Night’s Watch to go fight with Robb. Sam desperately tries to keep Jon from leaving, but he’s not successful. Sam then leads a group of fellow new Brothers to follow Jon, but they’re held up when a low-lying branch knocks Sam from his horse. Jon stops riding and goes back to check on Sam. His friends convince him to return to Castle Black by reciting the Night’s Watch vows and reminding Jon to have honor. The next morning Jon and the Lord Commander have a chat about Jon’s brief absence. Luckily, the Night’s Watch doesn’t execute brothers when they’re only gone for a night. The Lord Commander reminds Jon how bad things are getting north of the Wall and asks which war Jon thinks is more important. That one or his brother’s. To sweeten the deal, he tells Jon that he’s personally leading a contingent to ride beyond the wall, and he wants Jon to join. In a very stirring speech, the Lord Commander declares that he’s going to find out what’s going on with the White Walkers and find Benjen, dead or alive.

The final plot left to deal with in this episode takes us back across the Narrow Sea to check in on Daenerys and Khal Drogo. Daenerys wakes up from her ordeal to find out that her baby did not survive. To make things worse, the lamb woman witch describes something that looks more like a dragon than a human. That’s not all, though. Drogo is still alive, but he’s completely catatonic. Daenerys cares for Drogo as best she can, but the witch has told her that he will only wake when the sun rises in the west and sets in the east. In other words, not gonna happen. She let Daenerys go ahead with authorizing the blood magic in retaliation for the devastation the Dothraki caused to her people. Daenerys tries to argue that she saved her, but the witch says she was raped three times before Daenerys had a chance to “save” her. Devastated that her sun and stars will no longer live a worthwhile life, Daenerys suffocates him with a pillow.

A funeral pyre is set up, and Ser Jorah is concerned that Daenerys will want to burn with her husband. She assures him that he shouldn’t worry and kisses him on the cheek. That kind of squicked me out. The Dothraki horde has moved on, presumably with a new leader, but Daenerys doesn’t let that stop her. There are slaves and others who couldn’t keep up with the horde still left behind, and Daenerys draws them to her with a big speech. Now she has her own Dothraki-style horde to lead. The witch is bound to the funeral pyre, and Daenerys is satisfied when she hears the witch’s screams as she burns. Finally, Daenerys decides to walk into the fire herself, but I wasn’t worried, because we’ve seen two examples where she seemed unusually resistant to heat (the bath in the very first episode, and the dragon’s eggs more recently. Speaking of the dragon’s eggs, Daenerys placed them on the funeral pyre, too. The next morning, Ser Jorah walks through the smoking rubble of the pyre. Daenerys is sitting in the center of it, alive, naked and surrounded by three baby dragons. Everyone who sees her bows in awe.

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