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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Review: Game of Thrones "Baelor"

Non Spoiler Review:
Game of Thrones' penultimate episode left me absolutely stunned and totally ruined my Sunday night. It delivered the series' biggest shocker to date—even Cersei was horrified at the ending. Robb's army engages the Lannisters after Catelyn bargains with the lord of The Twins (now featured in the opening credits) for passage across the Trident River. Tyrion faces battle at the head of his father's army and takes a new confidant that draws out a very sad story from his past. Daenerys' plans are thrown into jeopardy when Drogo takes a turn for the worse, and she realizes her authority lasts only as long as her husband is Khal. 

This week was all about plans going well and going awry, as well as duty versus love. After last week's bounty of character scenes, Baelor brought a more intimate look to certain players, preferring to focus on the Starks, Tyrion, Jon and Daenerys. Events begin to slip out of everyone's control very quickly, leading to an unexpected conclusion for many.

It not only sets up an increasingly grave situation for Westeros, but tells us that anything goes on Game of Thrones. I have no idea what to expect with the season finale.

Spoilers Now!
Varys lets Ned know Sansa plead for his life, but Lord Stark still wants to know what he wants. Varys explains that when he was a boy (before his balls were cut off) he travelled with a group of actors, and he's learned that each man has a role to play. He's a good actor. He won't free Ned, though, as he's no hero. He just wants peace.

Varys informs him Robb is marching south with an army. Lord Stannis has the best claim to the throne, though, and he's giving Cersei sleepless nights given he's a masterful and ruthless soldier. Cersei's smart enough to know a tame wolf is more valuable to her than a dead one, so Varys urges Ned to put aside his honor and serve the realm—confess, and tell his son to lay down his sword. If he gives the queen the peace she craves, she might let Ned take the Black on the Wall and live out his life with Jon and Benjen. Ned counters that he grew up with soldiers and learned how to die a long time ago. "Such a pity," Varys says. Is his daughter's life precious to him, he asks as he leaves.

Theon shoots down a raven from Walder Frey's keep, bearing a coded message signally Robb's movements to the Lannisters. Robb needs to cross the Trident River at a bridge/fortress complex called The Twins. The Freys have held the crossing for centuries and demand a toll, so Robb must do whatever it takes to secure the crossing. Catelyn opts to go as she's known Walder since she was a child.

Walder Frey is a nasty, ornery old man with a lot of children and bastards. He and Catelyn talk privately and he informs her that her family has always looked down on him. Her father would never marry any of his children to his. Catelyn asks him to open his gates so her son can cross the Trident. Frey informs her Tywin can defeat them, and her husband is in a dungeon. Joffrey's king, which makes Robb a rebel. And he wonders why he should waste a single thought on any of the ruling families.

Jon's burned hand is healing, and Mormont gives him a new sword of Valyrian steal (a sword of his ancestors that was meant for his son Jorah, who brought dishonor to his family). He's grateful for Jon saving his life. He's also sent Thorne to King's Landing to lay the severed hand at the feet of King Joffrey—and also keep Thorne and Jon separated.

Jon's grateful, and he's also the new hero among his friends for saving the commander. Sam has some grave news, though, as he read a raven that was meant for Master Aemon—Robb is heading south for war. Jon wants to be there with him, of course, and his duty is brought into conflict with his family loyalty again.

Catelyn returns to camp with news Frey has granted passage, as well as sending some of his men to join their army, but in return Robb must take Frey's son as his personal squire, and Arya will marry his son Waldron when they come of age. And, when the fighting is done, Robb will marry one of his daughters (whichever Robb prefers). Robb can't refuse if he wants to cross, so consents.

Aemon is aware Jon is troubled, and tells him that love is the death of duty—that's why the men of the Night's Watch don't take wives. Honor and duty come easy when loved ones aren't in peril. Every one faces a day when they must choose. Aemon was tested late in life, when news reached him of his nephew's death, and the death of all his children and Aemon's entire family. Jon suddenly realizes who he's talking about. He's Aemon Targaryen, and the mad king was his nephew (and, in fact, had turned down the throne himself in favor of his brother). Aemon won't tell Jon to stay or go—he must make that choice and live with it, as he has.

Tywin is advised the Stark's are a day's march north of them. He admits Robb has some courage and tells his son that he and his wildings will be in the vanguard of the attack. Unfortunately, Tyrion can't control all the hill tribes as they're scrapping among themselves. He walks out in anger and returns to his tent, where Bronn is entertaining a new woman he found in camp. Her name is Shae, and Bronn leaves them alone. He promises her safety and gold if she becomes his woman, and she accepts.

As the Khalasar marches, Drogo has grown increasingly ill and falls from his horse. Daenerys tells them to camp there so he can rest, but Qotho, who is still begrudging her for taking all the slave women, won't take orders from her. She calls for Mirri, and they finally reluctantly comply, fearing Drogo's wrath when he recovers.

Drogo's wound is infected and Jorah says he will die soon. He suggests they leave him and get to the coast as fast as possible, but she won't. She's Khaleesi. Men won't honor blood here, he says. There will be fighting and whoever wins will be Khal. Her son will be killed. Mirri arrives, but Qotho is still showing Daenerys no respect and tells her if Drogo dies she will be next. She suggests Jorah wears his armour tonight, and tells Mirri to save her husband.

Mirri says she does know some magic, so Daenerys tells her to do it. This is blood magic—death pays for life. Not Daenerys' death, though, she's quick to point out. Drogo's horse is brought to her. Blood magic is forbidden, and the Drothraki are alarmed she's using it. Mirri cuts the horse's throat and all the blood flows onto Drogo, and then she sends them all away. Jorah is shocked at what Daenerys has done, and Qotho goes to interfere in the tent where Mirri is chanting. Jorah pulls his sword and fights him. Qotho is killed. Daenerys collapses—apparently her baby is coming. Jorah takes her back into the tent.

Shae, Bronn and Tyrion drink together and play a game of truth. Shae doesn't want to play, and Tyrion can't seem to guess at her history—her mother was not a whore. She doesn't want him to talk of her mother and father ever, so she asks who he was in love with, and Tyrion reveals he was once married.

He explains he and Jaime rescued a woman attacked by some men, so he took her to an inn and fed her. Her name was Tysha. He was smitten and asked for her hand by morning. They were married only a few days when Tywin found out and had Jaime tell Tyrion the truth—Jaime had arranged everything and hired the whore for his brother. To prove it, he brought Tyrion into the barracks and made him watch Tysha have sex with the men for silver coins. Shae says he should have known she was a whore.

In the morning, Tyrion is woken by Bronn that Robb marched all night and is nearby. He rallies his troops but Tyrion gets knocked out in the mad rush to battle. He awakens to Bronn dragging him through a field. They apparently won, and the hill tribes are pillaging the corpses. Tywin marches up. There were only 2000 Stark bannermen, not 20,000 as their scout had said. Robb wasn't there, either. So where are the 18,000 men, Tyrion wonders.

Catelyn and Rodrik watch as her son returns from the woods from another battle. They have Jaime Lannister captive. Catelyn demands he give her her husband and daughters back. Jaime suggests he and Robb fight and decide the war here and now, but Robb knows Jaime would win, and he's not doing it his way. Jaime's taken away and put in irons. Robb realizes he sent 2000 men to their graves for his ruse. One victory does not make them conquerors, he tells them all. The war is far from over.

Arya is on the streets, killing pigeons for food. Some children run by, saying the Hand of the King is being taken to the sept of Baelor. She follows the crowd to the assembly and takes a perch on a statue. Ned is led out and he manages to spy her. He passes Yoren in the crowd, and whispers "Baelor" to him, indicating where his daughter is, then goes on to the sept where Sansa and the council await.

Ned says he's come before them all to confess his treason. He announces he betrayed the king, the trust of his friend, and plotted to murder Joffrey and seize the throne for himself. He declares Joffrey is the one true heir of the Iron Throne. Pycelle tells the crowd that Stark has confessed his crimes and the gods are just. Baelor also taught them the gods can be merciful. He asks Joffrey what is to be done with the traitor. Joffrey says that on the wish of his mother Ned can join the Night's Watch in permanent exile, and Sansa has also begged mercy for her father. But those are the soft hearts of women, he declares, and treason will not go unpunished. He demands Ned's head.

Cersei is completely caught off guard, and the crowd goes wild. Arya runs out through the masses with her sword as the executioner comes out. Ned stares silently as Sansa screams, and he sees Arya is gone. Yoren has grabbed her and held her back. And Ned is executed.

The Verdict:
Wow. I'm feeling fortunate I never saw a hint of a spoiler for this. The careful plans of Varys and Cersei were undermined by their insane boy king (even mother was taken aback). And poor Ned, who made his choice to sacrifice his honor for the greater good, was killed for it. What a tragic way for his character to end. Dying is bad enough, but giving up all he represented in the hopes of saving his family, only to realize it was all for nothing at the end. So sad, and with that, HBO sends a clear message it's not pulling any punches with this show.

In contrast to Ned, Jon's struggle with his new duties versus helping his family was brilliantly outlined by Maester Aemon. His revelation that he is one of the last Targaryen's, who chose his duty to the Black over the destruction of his family was quite touching. I'm still not sure what Jon might do, but it was a great scene, as well as to see him rewarded by Mormont—who could very well become his surrogate father figure given both are in need of a father/son replacement.

I'm left liking Varys even more. If he truly does love the realm (which means some splainin' is in order about his comments with Mopatis some weeks back), Ned's death will leave him struggling to find a new hope. The mention of Stannis may mean Robert's brother may soon be making an appearance. Surely after all these weeks have passed there would be some news of this? But Ned's influence may reach from the grave, given the contents of his mystery letter to Stannis that could still bring his revelations about the Lannisters.

Robb's quickly proven himself now to anyone who might question his strategy. Together with his mother they make a good team, and the messy politics and responsibilities of being one of the great houses really hit home this week. Though, chances are there likely won't be a need for those weddings by the time everything is done with. 

We got Tyrion revelations too—his mother dying in childbirth, and the terrible story of his first love. Shae's introduction as a foreigner made me suspect she might bring news of the Dothraki. It's obvious she's got her own story to tell.

Joffrey's megalomania threatens everyone now. What will Cersei's move be if she realizes she can't control her son? What will happen when news of Jaime's capture reaches King's Landing? Could he actually be killed, as well? Coming off the heals of Ned's death, I'm now wondering how Drogo is going to fair. The prospect of Daenerys ruling the Dothraki is pretty compelling, but she's certainly going to face opposition. We also get more magic this time around, too, with whatever craziness Mirri is conjuring in the tent. Will it even be Drogo that returns, if he does awake?

I asked for some reference to time last week, and we certainly got it with Daenerys going into labor. It looks like nearly a year has passed since the series began. No wonder Bran and Rickon are furious with their parents. 

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