Monday, May 16, 2011

Review: Game of Thrones "Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things"

Non Spoiler Review:
Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things plays out like CSI: Westeros—Ned finally gets down to business and looks into Jon Arryn's death, which leads to some surprising findings (and more characters). Tyrion and Catelyn's journeys back home come to an interesting fork in the road, and Daenerys' rise to power is reaching a critical point with her brother. On the Wall, Jon gets a new friend who's a bit high maintenance.

In addition to those major plots, a host of others figure prominently, including the Tournament of the Hand announced in last week's episode, and some focus on Theon Greyjoy, who has only wandered around in the background until now. But aside from plot and character, this week brought a massive info-dump of backstory about Targaryens, Greyjoys, King's Landing, the founding peoples, and on and on. The amount of information was a bit untenable at times, and I wonder how anyone who doesn't give each episode a couple of viewings manages to get all the detail. I really enjoyed it, but the series has quickly become insurmountable to anyone but a devoted watcher.

While there was little action aside from some jousting and a particularly gruesome death, there's a real sense things are kicking into high gear. And a particularly great final scene that offers Catelyn some of the spotlight.

Spoilers Now!
Bran appears to be practicing his archery (and walking) as a raven flies in and he follows it into a chamber. The bird has three eyes, and then Bran wakes up from his dream with Nan watching over him. Theon Greyjoy arrives to announce Robb wants to see him, and calls a servant to carry the boy out.

Yoren and Tyrion have arrived and go to see Robb, who is acting Lord of Winterfell, but Robb is less than hospitable to Tyrion. Bran is brought to them, and Tyrion immediately asks if he remembers what happened when he fell. Though he gets no answer, Tyrion offers him a gift—a diagram to shape a saddle to his condition so he can ride again. Robb wants to know why he's helping them, but offers him the hospitality of the castle for his kindness to his brother. Tyrion dismisses the overture and false courtesies, for both their sakes, he says, and leaves.

Theon Greyjoy sees Tyrion off, recommending a prostitute for him. Tyrion quizzes him on the whereabouts of Lady Stark, but Greyjoy dismisses his questions. Tyrion knows she's not there, and goads Greyjoy, given his family apparently lost a rebellion against King Robert. Tyrion remembers seeing his father's ships burned in their harbour by the Greyjoys. Theon was the only surviving son, and became hostage to the Starks—a fact which really grates on Theon at the mere mention of it. 

At the Wall, Jon is training under Alliser Throne, and a new recruit Samwell Tarly is brought in, who is absolutely hopeless in fighting and the object of ridicule. Jon takes him under his wing to defend him, though Sam admits he's a coward. 

The Dothraki arrive at their City of the Horse Lords, Vaes Dothrak. Viserys is not impressed, but Daenerys admonishes him for insulting her people. He's angry that Drogo is marching the wrong way with his army. She later asks Jorah if the Dothraki could ever conquer Westeros under Viserys. Jorah says the Dothraki have never crossed the Narrow Sea, though Robert would be foolish enough to meet them in battle, but his advisers are different. He brings up Ned Stark again, who drove him from his land. He admits to selling slaves because he had no money and an expensive wife, who is now in another place with another man.

Viserys later bathes with Doreah and she asks him about dragons, as he is called the Last Dragon. He tells her brave men road them from Valyria to build civilization, and the breath of the greatest forged the Iron Throne. She always wanted to see a dragon, but he admits he's never seen a live one. The last one died many years before he was born, though he has viewed their skulls which once lined the palace, and he rattles off a litany of dragon names.

Sansa is given a tour of the throne room by her governess, Septa, and told how she will one day sit there. What if she only has girls? she asks. If so, the throne would pass to Joffrey's brother. Septa then quizzes her on the history of the place, and Sansa answers that Aegon the Conqueror built the Iron Throne, and Maegor the Cruel built the Red Keep. Her uncle and grandfather were killed in that room by King Aerys. She wants to know why, but Septa tells her to ask her father. But Sansa is still angry with Ned and says she won't forgive him.

Meanwhile, Ned wants no part of the Tournament of the Hand, which is bringing multitudes of people to King's Landing and raising a ruckus. Ned dismisses the council and talks to Pycelle privately about Jon Arryn. Pycelle says he was struck ill very fast, but Jon had come inquiring of a book the night before he died—The Lineages and Histories of the Great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms

Ned rifles through the imposing tome, pausing at the Umber family. Jon did not tell Pycelle what he wanted with it, though on his deathbed he repeated the phrase "The seed is strong." Ned suggests it was poison that killed him, but Pycelle thinks it unlikely as ArrynPycelle muses and adds that Varys is a eunuch, just in case he didn't know.

Ned next stops by to see Arya, who is continuing her training. With news of Bran, she asks if he will be joining them there, and wonders if he can be a soldier like he wanted. Ned says there are other opportunities for him despite his injuries, and for her, he suggests she'll marry a high lord and rule his castle. But she says no, that's not her, and runs off to train.

Thorne makes Sam Jon's new Watch partner at the top of the Wall. Jon wonders what he's doing in the north and Sam explains that when he turned eighteen he was deemed unworthy of his title, and his father sent him off to take the Black or he would be met with an accident on the hunt. Sam doesn't think he'll get any better at fighting. Jon says he can't get worse.

Given he promised Catelyn he would help, Petyr gives Ned a name—Sir Hugh of the Vale—who was recently Arryn's squire, knighted almost immediately after his death. As they walk through the garden Petyr points out all the spies who are watching Ned, and asks him if there is one whom he trusts completely. Ned says yes. Petyr suggests he send him to visit Hugh, as well as an armorer in the city whom Arryn visited before his death. Petyr adds that distrusting him was the wisest thing he's done since arriving.

The Captain of Ned's guard, Jory Cassel, goes to talk to Hugh, but he will only talk to Ned himself, given he's a knight now and quite uppity. Ned, meanwhile, has gone to see the armorer who Arryn visited. Jon had asked to see one of his young smiths. The boy shows off a fine helmet he made, but he announces he made it for himself. Ned is amused and asks about Arryn. The young man explains Arryn asked about his work and how he was being treated, and then about his mother. The boy says his mother died when he was little. She had yellow hair. Ned stares at him, then gives the helmet back. He suggests if he ever wants to wield a sword, to come to him. When he walks out, he tells Jory the boy is Robert's bastard son.

Jory next comes to see the king to deliver a message from Ned, but is met by Jaime, who is guarding the door as the king frolics with some whores. Robert does it on purpose so Jaime has to listen. Jory tells Jaime they met years before, fighting side by side at the Greyjoy siege. Jaime comments on seeing the Greyjoy at Winterfell, whom he describes as a shark. He holds as much animosity to him as Tyrion does. Jory tries to leave the message with him, but Jaime won't take it. He doesn't serve Stark.

Jon tells his fellow Watch recruits that Sam is no different than any of them—there's no place for him in the world so he's come there. One of the recruits says he won't go along with their pact to protect him, so later Jon and his friends intimidate him with the direwolf and tell him he doesn't touch Sam. The next morning at battle, everyone holds back when fighting against Sam. Thorne is furious with Jon and warns them all when they're outside the Wall they'll want a man at their back and not a boy. 

Viserys is feeling particularly psychopathic and hauls back a girl that his sister sent to invite him to dinner. How dare she summon him, he rages. He slaps his sister and calls her a horselord slut, but she's defiant, strikes him down and says she's the wife of the great Khal, and the next time he raises a hand to her will be the last time he has hands. Viserys is stunned, and slinks out.

Jon and Sam continue to bond, and talk while cleaning the dining hall. Sam doesn't see the reason why they have to be celibate, and Jon confesses he's a virgin. He's a bastard and has no idea who his mother is, so when he was last in a brothel he couldn't go through with it. He believed if he got her pregnant there would be another bastard named Snow. 

Thorne comes in, bitter at the lack of fighting skill among them. The last winter was ten years before, and though Jon can remember it, Thorne explains he spent six months beyond the Wall, tracking someone called Mance Rayder. They were caught in the winter, the horses died first, and then they had to eat the rest of their party. They don't know cold, he tells them. Soon new recruits will come and they will be passed on to the commander, but they will all die in the coming winter like flies. He leaves Jon and Sam to consider that.

Daenerys tells Jorah she hit her brother, the Last Dragon. But Jorah tells him her brother Rhaeger was the Last Dragon and Viserys is just a pretender. The common people won't care about that. Jorah and Daenerys both pray for home, but she realizes her brother will never take back the Seven Kingdoms and can't lead an army. He'll never take them home.

At the tournament Joffrey shuns Sansa, while Robert is drunk and loud, prompting Cersei to take her leave. Petyr introduces himself to Sansa, Arya and Septa. Arya immediately pipes up and asks why they call him Littlefinger, so he explains it was because he was a small child who came from a land called The Fingers.

A knight, Sir Gregor (the Hound's older brother) known as the Mountain, jousts Sir Hugh of the Vale. Hugh is killed messily (and conveniently) on the field. Petyr then tells a horrified Sansa the story of the Mountain and the Hound—Gregor found his little brother playing with his toy by the hearth, and grabbed the Hound by the neck and held him in the fire as his face burned. And that's how The Hound got his scar! Sansa is frightened at the story and says she won't tell, and Petyr says that's good as no one would save her if he ever found out.

Cersei comes to see Ned hoping to put all that happened on the Kingsroad behind them. She says forcing him to kill the wolf was extreme, but she wants to know what he hopes to accomplish in King's Landing. Robert will always do what he wants and leave him to pick up the pieces. Ned's a soldier, just taking his orders, she observes. He was trained to follow (as his older brother was trained to lead). Ned counters that he was trained to kill his enemies. As was I, Cersei replies.

Catelyn and Rodrik are on the way home resting at a roadside inn. Who should walk in but Tyrion and his party, who is at first turned away because they're full. But he throws coin around and quickly gets a room. Despite her efforts, he sees Lady Stark. He tells her he's sorry he missed her at Winterfell.

The other tavern patrons are shocked to learn Catelyn's in their midst. She rises and assures them she was Catelyn Tully the last time she stayed there, then she calls out several people she recognizes, praising each of them and their families whom she knows and respects.

Tyrion doesn't see the purpose of all her chattiness with everyone. Then she announces Tyrion came into her house as a guest and conspired to murder her son. In the name of King Robert she calls upon them to sieze him and help return him to Winterfell to await the king's justice. Tyrion finds himself at the points of several swords.

The Verdict:
My head hurt after watching this episode for the enormous amount of backstory and characters tossed around. It's always a struggle guessing what was random backstory versus essential plot information—this week, for example, the special attention given Theon and his family history, as well as all the talk of dragons and the Targaryens. But all of it remained very compelling.

It was a bit amusing in places when characters suddenly launched into spontaneous history lessons—Septa quizzing Sansa and Petyr's Did you ever hear how the Hound got his scar bit. But Game of Thrones has had no qualms embracing its dense history.

At last Ned's gotten around to investigating Arryn's death, though he seems to be less than discreet about it all (especially if Cersei sees he's reading the incriminating book in question). I realize that in Westeros, people can have a look at hair or eye colour and immediately discern family lineages. That's great for plot, but a bit of a groaner when Ned seems to recognize a bastard son of Robert just like that. Talk about an intuitive leap of faith. Was Jon Arryn's quest to find a rightful ruler to Westeros who would pacify both the Targaryen supporters and Robert's? Who's the new bastard's mother? And was the focus on the Umber family in the book a red herring?

Background characters continued to get some enjoyable scenes and opportunities to grow—particularly Theon who seems like a timebomb in some respects with the level of resentment he's suppressed regarding his status as a hostage. I enjoyed Cate's chance to shine at the end given she's behaved like such a bitch to Jon. She's a lot more hands-on than Ned and it will be interesting to see how she and Tyrion end up—as well as how Ned responds to news of what she's done. Petyr continues to grow on me, but I'm wondering what his motivations are, given he takes such delicious pleasure in torturing Sansa. Is he purely motivated for a love of Cate?

Finally, I'm thinking Viserys is a goner very soon, and curious as to what Jorah's ultimate motivation is in their affairs. The prospect of Daenerys rising to power with possibly a goal to take over Westeros is really intriguing, given that was the least interesting storyline I found from the premiere. 

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