Thursday, May 19, 2011

Review: Game of Thrones "The Wolf and the Lion"

Non Spoiler Review:
Game of Thrones really steps it up this week with another jam-packed episode of political intrigue and consequences. Word of Tyrion's capture begins to filter back to King's Landing, prompting plenty of trouble for the Starks. News of Daenerys' pregnancy causes Robert to go ballistic, and Ned's investigation into Arryn's death continues, and leads to some further discoveries. Catelyn visits her sister, Lady Arryn, at the mountain fortress called the Eyrie. All that plus prostitutes, manscaping, dragon skulls, bastards, decapitated horses, more prostitutes, and another change to the opening credits.

The Wolf and the Lion—which should be no surprise refers to the Starks and the Lannisters—reaches a turning point in the series, and kicks off what will certainly be a perilous time for the Starks. There are some extremely long and complex scenes, which are a rarity these days on other shows—in particular with Cersei and Robert, which provides an illuminating portrait of their marriage. In addition, Theon Greyjoy gets further exposure.

No Dothraki or Jon Snow this week, allowing for the full focus to fall on Catelyn and Ned's troubles. For the pure amount of conspiracy, and the scope of ominous events that begin to unfold, this one is my favorite so far.

Spoilers Now!
At King's Landing, Ned goes to look in on the body of Sir Hugh. Barristan Selmy is there to meet him. This was Hugh's first joust, and all the knights drew straws for position—but who holds the straws, Ned asks?

Ned and Barristan once fought as enemies, though Ned is thankful he never faced him in battle, and the other man remembers the fine man his father was. Ned quickly changes the subject. How did Hugh purchase such fine armor? Barristan suggests Arryn left him some money.

Ned walks in on Robert as he's getting fitted for his jousting armor. He's much too fat, though, and he takes pleasure in belittling Lancel Lannister in front of Ned. Robert wants to fight in the tournament, but Ned's blunt and says he's too fat and everyone will just let him win anyway. That's not something Robert wants to hear, but he's ultimately convinced. After he mocks Lancel and sends him away, Robert comments his marriage to Cersei was Arryn's idea—a good match, he told him at the time.

Ned joins Sansa at the tournament, as Loras Tyrell, the Knight of  Flowers presents her with a rose (but shares a more meaningful look with Renly Baratheon). Petyr takes a bet with Renly, and subtly jibes him about his relationship with Loras.

Loras is to joust Gregor, The Mountain, but his mare is in heat which makes Gregor's stallion buck him off. Gregor's infuriated and cuts off his horse's head, then charges Loras, only to be met by his brother, The Hound. The two fight in front of the king, who finally demands they stop. The Hound immediately bows, but Gregor storms off. Loras tells him he owes him his life and holds The Hound's hand up in victory to the cheers of the crowd.

On the road, Catelyn has Tyrion bound as they stop to rest. He wants to know where they're going as he knows it's not Winterfell. She's been careful to mislead everyone to think they're going there, but actually heading east to the vale, where her sister lives. Tyrion warns her Lady Arryn's changed since Cate last saw her five years ago. He protests his innocence again, but the party comes under attack by some hill tribes. After a pitched battle, Tyrion gets Catelyn to cut his ropes. He attempts to make his way to a horse, but when Cate's in jeopardy he grabs a shield and manages to kill the attacker with it (repeatedly). Rodrik is injured, but they ultimately prevail.

At Winterfell, Theon practices archery while Master Luwin tutors Bran (and us) about the great houses of Westeros. Bran's not very interested in being quizzed and brings up the motto of the House of Tully—family comes first—which is ironic considering his mother left him alone. Luwin tells him his mother will be home soon, but he can't tell him why she left. As he watches Theon, Bran doesn't think he'll ever shoot an arrow again. If the saddle Tyrion designed works, he could shoot his arrows on horseback, Luwin suggests.

Later, Theon is enjoying the company of Ros, the prostitute everyone at Winterfell seems to know. She teases him about being jealous of Tyrion. When he calls himself Stark's ward, she laughs, given he's really a hostage to the family. That's not something he wants to hear or admit to himself.

Varys meets with Ned, asking about Bran's recovery and suggests that his sound mind is a blessing. Varys admits to suffering a mutilation himself, and while some doors closed, others opened in unexpected places. He has some information to tell him in strictest confidence. The king is a fool and doomed unless Ned can save him. Varys waited until now to tell him to see if he could trust him. He's one of the few men of honor in the capital.

Varys explains the king faces a doom similar to Arryn—the Tears of Lys, a poison that leaves no trace. A dear friend would have given it to him—Sir Hugh. But who paid him? Someone who could afford it. Arryn was Hand for 17 years, but he started asking questions.

Meanwhile, Arya is chasing a cat down into the dungeon, where she finds giant dragon skulls. Then she hears voices and hides in one of the skulls as Varys walks by chatting with Illyrio Mopatis (who is visiting from Pentos). They discuss the Lannisters killing Arryn and possibly Ned is next. Ned has found one bastard already and has the book. The wolf and the lion will be at each others throats, and they will be at war soon. Mopatis says they're not ready. Drogo won't move until his son is born. If one Hand can die, why not another?

Arya waits until they pass and then runs out, leaving through the sewers outside the city. She rushes back in to see her father, who is furious she's been missing, but she explains she heard two men talking and rattles on about the bastard and that they were going to kill him. But Jory arrives, bringing a Night's Watchman who needs to speak with him. It's Yoren, who tells him that Cate has taken Tyrion hostage, and it's a matter of a day before news reaches King's Landing.

Next, Petyr is in the throne room when Varys arrives.The two have an odd conversation, where Petyr suggests he visit his brothel and they discuss all the inclinations Petyr can accommodate. Petyr asks if someone somewhere keeps Varys' balls in a little box. Varys has no idea, but adds if the Lannisters were behind the attack on Bran, and it was discovered Petyr helped the Starks, a simple word to the queen would cause him enormous problems. Petyr counters that he saw him talking to Stark in his chambers, then shortly after with a foreign dignitary from across the sea, where Varys is from himself. Petyr wonders if the king might question Varys' sympathies, as well.

They're interrupted by Renly, announcing the king is coming to the council meeting. Ned is summoned as well, and Robert announces Daenerys Targaryen is pregnant by her Dothraki husband. He wants her dead. Ned says that would be dishonorable and they would be no better than the mad king if they assassinated a girl. He questions their information and Varys explains it came from Jorah Moremont, serving as advisor to the Targaryens. Ned hates him and says he can't be trusted.

Robert does not want a Targaryen heading a Dothraki army, but Ned says they've never crossed the sea. Robert is furious and the rest of the council agrees that it's all a messy business but should be done to save thousands who would be killed if there were an invasion. Better to err on the side of caution.

Ned tells Robert he followed him into war twice without question, but won't follow him now. Robert never used to tremble at the thought of an unborn child and he will have no part in it. He takes off the badge of his station and leaves as Robert shouts at him he'll have his head on a spike.

Ned hastily begins to pack and gets Jory to round up his daughters. Petyr comes to see him, telling him Robert mentioned treason after he left. He says if he's still there by nightfall he'll take him to the last person Arryn went to see. Ned tells Jory to round up all their men and station them with the girls, and goes off with Petyr.

Catelyn's party is met by Lady Arryn's troops on the road to the Eyrie, a mountain fortress. They arrive to see Lysa Arryn, Cate's sister, who is B.A.N.A.N.A.S. and still breast feeding her son Robin. Lysa accuses Tyrion of killing Jon and explains to Robin that all Lannisters are liars. Cate declares Tyrion is her prisoner and he will not be harmed, but her sister orders Tyrion taken down below to rest and introduced to Mord. So Tyrion is thrown into a dungeon, which is actually in a high tower that opens up to the cliffs below.

Renly and Loras Tyrell talk politics as Loras shaves Renly's chest ('cuz that's how he likes it). Renly complains how his brother doesn't think he's tough enough. Loras muses that Renly should be king, because he's not as blood-thirsty as his brother, but does what has to be done. Plus Loras' family has money (not as much as the Lannisters, but enough to bankroll the kingdom). Renly brushes all that off as nonsense considering he's fourth in line, but does seem to consider what he has to say.

Robert is brooding as Cersei comes in to see him and sits and has a drink. Without a Hand, everything will fall to pieces, and Robert suggests she wants Jaime to have the job. Ned's serious, she says, but was it worth it losing him this way?

Robert knows that if Daenerys convinces her husband to invade they won't be able to stop them. Cersei disagrees and Robert tells her she sounds like her father. Robert suggests if the Dothraki invade, the nobility will hide in their castles and stay there while the hordes go from town to town and kill everyone, steal the crops and livestock and enslave their women. The people would quickly decide Viserys is the rightful monarch.

Cersei counters that they outnumber them. But the Dothraki have one army united behind one leader. He has five armies with five leaders and their purpose died with the mad king. Everyone wants something different. Robert says they haven't had a real fight in nine years and the realm is all backstabbing now. He doesn't know what holds it together. She says their marriage does, prompting both to have a good laugh.

Cersei asks what Lyanna Stark was like, someone she's never mentioned before. She knows that's Robert's true love, but now she's realized Lyanna can do no more harm than they've done to one another already. Robert admits he can't even remember what she looked like, but she was the one thing he ever wanted.

Cersei admits feeling something for him once, even after the death of their first boy. She wonders if it was ever possible for the two of them, and Robert bluntly says no. That doesn't make her feel anything, she answers, and leaves.

Ned meets with a prostitute who has borne Robert yet another bastard—a daughter. He asks Petyr why Arryn would be tracking down all the illegitimate children Robert has, but Petyr can only suggest he might have wanted to see they were all looked after. 

Ned walks out, preparing to leave the city, but Jaime shows up with his men, wanting to know where his brother is. Ned says he ordered him imprisoned. Jaime plans on taking him prisoner himself and kill his men, so he gives the order to attack. Ned's guards are slain, including Jory. Petyr runs off to get the city watch.

Ned finally battles Jaime one on one, and but is stabbed in the leg from behind by one of the other guards. As he collapses on the street, Jaime is not impressed that he got robbed of a victory, and kills his guard. He gets on his horse and tells Ned he wants his brother back, then rides off as Ned collapses in the street.

The Verdict:
The Wolf and the Lion was probably the best so far—a balance of action, intrigue, and plot development. The rounding out of the secondary characters like Renly and the Knight of Flowers, an increasingly darker Theon, and some great scenes between Varys and Petyr, and Cersei and Robert made for a great hour.

Leaving out Jon and Daenerys was a good move, allowing focus on the conspiracies ripening at King's Landing. Is Varys plotting with Mopatis? Is Jorah the source of his information or did that come via Mopatis? His conversation in the dungeon was a big info-dump about the Lannisters, Arryn and a coming war (with the Dothraki, or perhaps someone else?). Can Petyr be trusted to help the Starks? What are Renly and Theon's respective roles in all of this?

This week is was Robert and Cersei under the spotlight, and I must admit she did illicit some empathy. Their marriage has sacrificed both their happiness for the greater good of holding together a fragmented kingdom. And we get mention again of their dead firstborn.

Did Robert really need Ned's help or agreement to assassinate Daenerys? Couldn't he have just gotten Varys to arrange the whole thing? That's really my only criticism in the way their lifelong friendship abruptly collapsed over their disagreement in council. But we've been getting several snapshots of how erratic Robert's become, so it might not be too big a stretch.

Other little details really rounded out the episode—is The Hound one of the good guys? Loras prodding Renly that he should think about being king (despite being fourth in line), and Arya's sass talk with the city soldiers. Character of the week goes to Lady Arryn, but who (what) is this Mord she mentions?

The Lannister/Stark feud is soon to explode, but it looks as though Catelyn and Tyrion may find themselves on the same side. But with the Stark family dispersed, it will be interesting to see how and if they make their way back together. It's easy to forget with all the goings on at King's Landing that winter is still coming.

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