Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Review: Game of Thrones "The Kingsroad"

Non Spoiler Review:
With introductions out of the way, The Kingsroad sends multitudes of characters in disparate directions. Bran's fate is up in the air as Ned prepares to return to King's Landing with Robert, bringing Arya and Sansa with him. Tyrion has opted to join Jon on his trip to the Wall. While Catelyn deals with the disintegration of her family, she begins her own investigation into what happened to Bran. Finally, in Pentos, Daenerys gets settled in as wife to Drogo, and learns a thing or two about how to manage her new (and hopefully less doggy-style) position.

The Kingsroad introduced plenty of ominous aspects as Cersei rises to greater heights of villainy. The direwolves suffer the brunt of their responsibility as protectors to the Stark children, and Ned's sense of honor is forced into increasingly odious actions in the service of his king.

While the influx of new characters aren't as furiously paced as last week, there are some new ones that don't get any real identification, but are sure to figure prominently. A lot happened this week, and the series is moving briskly (given the rapidly growing direwolves) to get plotlines in motion. It's another hour jam-packed with drama, backstory and fantastic visuals. It's fast become my favorite show this spring.

Spoilers Now!
A month has passed. The Dothraki make their way across the grasslands, while Daenerys gets some empathy from Jorah about her new situation. Viserys has accompanied them rather than remain at Pentos, as he wants to stay to ensure he gets his army. Jorah is apparently a wanted man back in the kingdoms (by Ned Stark) for selling some poachers into slavery. Viserys muses that he would never punish him for such nonsense.

Joffrey comes to find Tyrion in the morning, who is asleep in the stables. The king is making ready to ride back home. Tyrion tells his nephew he should first visit Lord and Lady Stark and extend his sympathies about their son. Joffrey doesn't care, but Tyrion tells him he will, and slaps him three times, then sends him on his way. Sandor, the shield to Prince Joffrey (also known as The Hound), tells Tyrion that the prince won't forget that.

Tyrion then joins his siblings for breakfast and they discuss Bran. Tyrion reveals the boy may live, which prompts an odd reaction from Cersei, who suggests the boy shouldn't linger in pain. But she turns her attention to her brother's decision to go to the Wall, which she thinks is ridiculous. Cersei departs with her two youngest children, leaving the brothers to talk. Jaime says the boy will be crippled if he lives and deserves a good death. Tyrion disagrees and would be interested in hearing what Bran has to say if he wakens. Jaime suggests his brother doesn't know what side he's on, but Tyrion counters that he loves his family.

Catelyn remains by Bran's bedside as Cersei arrives to pay her respects. She says she lost her first son to a fever and recounts how devastating it was. In fact, she never visited the child's crypt. She promises to pray everyday for Bran's recovery.

Jaime later comes upon Jon at the swordsmith, and speaks to him about going to the Wall. He says he's grateful to have strong men guarding them. Jon replies humbly that they've guarded the kingdom for 8000 years. Jaime suggests he may not be ready to give up his life for the Night's Watch, and almost seems to be dissuading him. 

Jon then goes to see his sister Arya, who is packing for the trip to King's Landing. The direwolves are growing fast, and she's trained hers, Nymeria, quite well. Jon has brought her the sword he had made as a gift and the two say good-bye.

Jon finally goes to see Bran, facing a lot of bitterness from Catelyn. He tells him he's going north with Benjen to join the Night's Watch and invites him to visit when he recovers. Catelyn tells him to leave, and he does so as his father arrives, but says nothing to him.

Catelyn is not happy with her husband for leaving with two of her children. Seventeen years earlier he road off with Robert, and came back a year later with another woman's son. Now he's off again. He had a choice, she says.

Jon says goodbye to Robb, then rides off with the king's entourage. They come to the fork in the road and Ned tells him he's a Stark even if he doesn't have his last name. Jon asks if his mother is alive, and Ned promises to talk about her the next time they see one another. Then he rides off to join the king's party while Jon and Benjen head north.

Ned and Robert talk later at camp, and we find out it's a woman named Willa who is Jon's mother. Ned apparently impregnated her while south with Robert—they were at war, and no one knew if they were coming home. 

Robert then presents him with a message brought by a rider. Princess Daenerys has wed a Dothraki. Robert bitterly recounts how Rhaegar Targaryen killed Ned's sister and now he worries that a Dothraki army will cross the Narrow Sea. There are still those in the kingdoms loyal to the Targaryens who can supply ships. Robert's certain war is coming.

On the road, Tyrion continues to try to turn Jon off the Wall—several of their company are rapists and criminals forced to join the Night's Watch, though some chose castration rather than serve on the Wall. Tyrion doesn't believe in all the nastiness that supposedly lies on the other side. We find out that Tyrion's father was Hand of the King to the previous ruler, and it was Jaime who killed him, while Cersei married the new king. Tyrion says he does his part for the honor of his house—he has his mind, while his brother has his sword. Later on, they finally arrive and look upon the vast expanse of the Wall.

Robb tells his mother she needs to tend to her duties and not sit by Bran all day. But their conversation is interrupted when he spots a fire outside and leaves to investigate. Then an assassin arrives to kill Bran (as a mercy, he says), surprised to find Catelyn there. They fight, and she's thrown down, but Bran's wolf rips the man's throat out and saves him, then goes to lie down next to Bran.

Daenerys has become intrigued by the dragon eggs, and they bring her some solace as she endures rough sex with Drogo. The Dothraki equivalent of her handmaids tell her there are no dragons left anywhere. One of her ladies, Doreah, is a former prostitute, and Daenerys asks her to teach her how to please Drogo.

Catelyn goes to the tower that Bran fell from and finds a long, blond (Lannister-like) hair on the floor. She summons Robb and three others—Luwin, Theon Greyjoy and Rodrik Cassel, suggesting someone is trying to kill Bran and he was thrown from the tower. She believes the Lannisters are behind it, given the assassin's dagger was too expensive to belong to him. She doesn't trust anyone to warn Ned, so she will go south herself but she agrees to let Rodrik accompany her. For now, Bran's life is in the hands of the gods, and she can do nothing more for him.

Daenerys is schooled in the art of seduction by Doreah, who tells her not to behave like a slave. In their tent, she can be in charge of him, and if Drogo wanted a Dothraki wife, then he wouldn't have married her. Later, she tries her new tact and succeeds in seducing him. He seems impressed.

Sansa and Joffrey share a walk together, and come upon Arya jousting with the butcher's boy with sticks. Joffrey doesn't like the fact that he's pretending to be a knight, and tells him to pick up his sword. Sansa warns Arya to stay out of it because she doesn't want anything interfering in her future marriage. Joffrey cuts the boy's face and Arya strikes him with her stick. Joffrey threatens to gut her, but her wolf attacks and bites his hand. She takes his sword and Joffrey pleads for mercy, and then she tosses it in the river and runs off to find her friend. Joffrey yells at Sansa to go.

As everyone searches the woods for her, Arya sends off her wolf for her own safety. The Lannisters find her and bring her to the king before advising Ned, so he returns angry that he wasn't informed immediately. Robert wants the business done quickly while Cersei wants Arya punished—Joffrey lied and said she attacked him. 

Cersei calls out Sansa to ask what really happened. Sansa says she doesn't remember. Arya attacks her sister and Cersei demands she be punished. Robert says children fight, and so it's over. He challenges his son by asking if he allowed a little girl to disarm him, then tells Ned to discipline his daughter and he will do the same with his son. 

Cersei speaks up again and wants the wolf killed, but there's no trace of Arya's. There's another wolf, Cersei suggests, which has Sansa in tears. Robert tells Ned to get her a dog instead and they shouldn't have direwolves as pets. After Ned asks if that's his order, Robert walks out. 

Ned tells the girls to go to their rooms and he'll do it himself. As he walks through the camp he passes Sandor returning with the body of the butcher's boy, who tried to run away. Ned then goes to Sansa's chained up wolf and kills it as mercifully as possible. At the same time, Bran wakes up.

The Verdict:
A very compelling episode that further rounds out many of the players, The Kingsroad shines some nasty light on Robert's family and the unpleasant people the Lannisters surround themselves with. The backstory we do get builds on the intrigue—specficially how Robert attained the throne from the mad king and Jaime's hand in his murder. In addition, the Stark family can trace its lineage back 8000 years, as long as the Wall has been in place. And the dragons were hunted to extinction (Or were they? I'm wondering if I'm reading too much into the ongoing focus on the dragon eggs).

Daenerys got some needed focus this week, and she appears much more likable and interesting now that she's actually engaged in conversation. I'm impressed that with such a large cast, even the Stark children and many of the minor characters are managing to get some play. Though the group that Catelyn summoned at the end had no introduction whatsoever.

Jon and Tyrion continue to be two favorites and I'm curious to see what adventures they have on the Wall. In contrast, it seems my Lena Headey is going to be one of the main villains and she doesn't lack for viciousness. That leads me to my first theory—I wondered if she might be Jon's mother (given her story about her child dying and never seeing him again), but I had doubts by the end of the episode. But then I started to wonder at the blond hair of Robert's children—could they all be Cersei and Jaime's? Could Jon and Tyrion be half-brothers, perhaps? It might be a stretch, but that's what popped into my head after some of the odd bits with Jaime and Jon following Cersei's story. But I'm sure the theory will change by next week.

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