Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review: Game of Thrones "The Pointy End"

Non Spoiler Review:
The Pointy End picks up as the palace purge spills out into the streets, catching both Sansa and Arya. As word of Ned's treason reaches Winterfell, Robb is faced with going to war with the Lannisters or swearing fealty to Joffrey. Jon gets a raven message, too, but Sam shows his book smarts as some new crazy from north of the Wall spills into Castle Black. Tyrion makes his way back to his father's camp, but that doesn't mean he's freed. Daenerys continues to exert her new power as the Khalasar moves west on a quest to gain gold for ships, and we learn it sucks to be a member of the lamb tribe.

That's a heck of a lot for an hour, but they also manage some great scenes with Osha and Bran, Barristan, Syrio, Varys—pretty much everyone. And even the Stark family's neglected child (which is saying a lot!) Rickon shows up for a moment. There's a bunch of shocking bits, some deaths, and the continuing sense that war is spreading faster than anyone realizes. Ned gets little focus (which is good, 'cuz he's got a lot of thinking to do), while the consequences of all he's done take centre stage. Most important, the dire wolves got two awesome scenes! It's difficult to pick the best of these episodes as the series has knit itself into one big television novel.

My only real critique deals with the passage of time. It was especially noticeable this episode, given the several weeks necessary to send ravens back and forth across the continent, assemble, and move armies, yet events at King's Landing appeared to take place over a matter of days with Joffrey sitting on the throne making pronouncements. Obviously many months have already transpired since the beginning of the series, but a few comments now and then wouldn't hurt to put events in perspective.

Spoilers Now!
Cersei's men rush out of the palace and massacre Ned's entourage as they ready for their journey back to the north. Sansa and Septa hear the commotion, and the governess tells her to run and stay in her quarters, then bravely goes to face the guards and (certain?) death. Sansa runs smack into The Hound in the corridors. She warns him she'll tell the queen if he hurts her, but he laughs and advises her the queen sent him.

Arya is having a lesson with Syrio when the Lannister men come to summon her to her father. Syrio questions why they would be sent by Ned, but he's told to stand down. Syrio orders the girl to run, then engages the men to great effect with his wooden sword. The commander slices it in half, and he's left to face him as Arya flees.

She arrives outside to find her father's men dead around their wagons, and she searches through the overturned trunks for Needle. A boy comes over, threatening her. She tells him her father's a lord, and when he grabs her she turns and stabs him with her sword. He dies. She runs off.

In the dungeon Ned is visited by Varys who brings him some water. He fills him in that all his household has been killed, Sansa is with the queen, and Arya appears to have escaped the city. Even his little birds can't find her. Ned starts to chastise Varys for not helping in the palace, but the Spider lets him know he was unarmed and it certainly would have done no one any good.

Varys turns it around and asks what madness made Ned tell the queen about Joffrey's birth. Mercy, Ned says, for the children. Varys gives him some harsh truths—Ned's mercy killed the king, forcing Cersei to act immediately to save her children. Ned suggests they can't kill him given Catelyn has Tyrion, but Varys rains on that parade and tells him his wife has let the imp slip through her fingers. Ned suggests he just slit his throat and be done with it, but not today, Varys says, and goes to leave. Ned asks him who he serves. "The realm," Varys replies. "Someone must."

At the Wall, the bodies of two men are returned, including the one who's arm Ghost tore off. There's no sign of Benjen or his party. They think they've been dead awhile, except Sam comments there's no smell of rotting flesh. Mormont sends them to be examined, and compliments Sam for his intelligence, despite his cowardliness.

Mormont is advised a raven from King's Landing has arrived, so he summons Jon to sit with him and explains what's happened with Ned and his charge of treason. Jon immediately wants to go south to help, but the commander warns him against rash actions, given his vows to the Night's Watch.

Sansa is summoned before the council and Cersei, and Pycelle seems to take pleasure in telling her how great a traitor her father is. She pleads for understanding but Cersei asks how she can possibly allow her to marry Joffrey now. Petyr suggests she be given a chance to prove her loyalty, so the queen suggests she might write to Catelyn and Robb to urge them to keep the king's peace and swear fealty to Joffrey. She hesitates, wishing to see her father first, and so disappoints Cersei that she would doubt them about her father's treason. Sansa finally acquiesces to write the letters. What will happen to Ned depends on her brother, the queen says. 

Luwin delivers Sansa's message to Robb, and he decides he will go to King's Landing, but with an army. He orders LuwinTheon seems impressed, asking him if he's afraid. Robb says he must be, and Theon suggests that's good, as it means he's not stupid. Flocks of ravens fly out of Winterfell to deliver their messages.

At the Eyrie, Catelyn just received a message from King's Landing, furious with her sister for not giving it to her sooner. Lysa refuses to offer any help in joining a war against the Lannisters. Her sister is always welcome, but none of her men will go fight for them. The Lannisters killed her husband and her knights will stay at the Vale to protect their lord.

Tyrion and Bronn are crossing through the woods when they're set upon by the hill tribes. The chief, Shagga of the Stone Crow, wants to kill Bronn and take Tyrion to entertain the children, but Tyrion negotiates for their release by offering them his father's armies to attack the Vale and make Shagga lord.

Thorne incites Jon by calling him a traitor's bastard, prompting him to draw his knife. But he's stopped by Sam and his friends. Mormont is disappointed and confines him to quarters. That night, Ghost is acting up, so Jon follows him out to Mormont's chambers, finding them unlocked. Then the door closes behind him, shutting out Ghost, and Jon faces one of the dead men who appears to be a reanimated corpse with blue eyes. It seems immune to his sword, until he throws a lantern on it and sets it on fire. A shocked Mormont comes out of his room and Jon takes him to safety.

Drogo and his men are attacking the villages of the lamb tribes to sell them into slavery in order to raise gold for ships. Daenerys and Jorah walk through the carnage, and she can't bear to watch the suffering as the men kill and rape the women. She decides to interfere and orders a host of women freed into her charge, but this causes dissent among Drogo's men, one of whom, Mago, takes his case before the Khal.

Drogo appears impressed that Daenerys is ordering everyone around, as it seems to indicate the blood of his son is emboldening her. He tells him to drop the matter, but Mago challenges him. Drogo fights, and though wounded in the chest, kills Mago (ripping his tongue out through his throat). Daenerys wants him tended to, but Drogo dismisses his wound, until one of the slave women, Mirri Maz Duur, says she's a healer, so he acquiesces to have her clean his wound.

Winterfell is hosting the assembly of leaders, but Greatjon Umber wants to lead all the forces, or he will take his own army home. Robb advises him he can do so, and when he's done with the Lannisters he'll return to hang him as an oathbreaker. Greatjon is offended and threatens him, but Robb's wolf, Grey Wind, leaps across the table and rips off two fingers. Robb suggests Greatjon only meant to cut his meat for him, and the other concedes that his meat is bloody tough, breaking the tension and putting everyone to ease.

Robb visits Bran in the night, as he plans to march his army under cover of darkness. He tells Bran Winterfell must always have a Stark, so tells him to remain there and look after their younger brother Rickon. Robb leaves, and Rickon comes in, telling Bran none of them are going to come back.

Bran prays in the godswood as Osha walks up. She says the old gods are answering him. They're her gods, as well, and all he has to do is listen to hear them. Down south, all the heart trees are cut down. He asks her if there are giants beyond the Wall, and she explains there are far worse things. Robb is marching the wrong way. They all should be going north.

Jon, Sam and their comrades burn the undead bodies. Sam explains they were touched by White Walkers and that's why they came back. Only fire will stop them. He's read all that in the old books in the library. The Walkers sleep beneath the ice for thousands of years, then awake. And he hopes the Wall is high enough.

Catelyn and Rodrik arrive at Robb's army camp as the snows begin to fall in the south. Mother and son are reunited, and speak privately about their family's situation. Robb explains that Jaime is attacking the Riverlords, laying sieze to the Tully homeland of Riverrun, while Tywin's army is marching up from the south. Robb has 18,000 men, and they need to defeat the Lannisters in the field. After the death of the mad king, Tywin had all the Targaryen children killed in their sleep. She tells him if the Lannisters win, Ned, his sisters, and all of them will be dead. That makes the choice an easy one, Robb says. 

Tyrion, Bronn, Shagga's men and allied tribes arrive at Tywin's army camp, but he receives less than a warm welcome from his father. Tywin explains that Ned is a hostage now, and the king is dead, which manages to unnerve even Tyrion. Tywin is marching north to engage Robb, but Tyrion mentions his promise to Shagga. His father suggests if the Stone Crows and their tribes fight in the coming battle, he will have all that was promised and more. Shagga agrees as long as the imp remains with them to fight.

Robb, Rodrik and Greatjon debate which army to engage—defeat Jaime and get the armies of Riverrun to join them, or confront Tywin? A Lannister scout is taken prisoner and brought to him. He's been counting their troops. Robb says he will deal with it himself, and to everyone's shock (including Catelyn) tells the man to convey a message to Tywin that winter will be coming for him, then sets him free. Greatjon nearly loses his temper again, but Robb stands his ground.

Sansa goes to court as Joffrey (and Cersei) dole out several declarations—Tywin is appointed Hand of the King. Barristan Selmy is retired to a keep on the sea. He's outraged, given his oath is for life. Jaime is named head of the king's guard, which is ironic, as Barristan notes he killed the king he was sworn to defend. Joffrey speaks up that he was too old to protect his father. Furious, Barristan asks for no keep, and throws off his armor. He draws his sword, prompting a near panic, but tosses it at Joffrey's feet, telling him to melt it with the rest, and storms out. 

Sansa asks to speak to Joffrey, pleading for her father's life. Pycelle berates her again about the noxious weed of treason. She says Stannis and Renly must have lied to her father, and Pycelle was giving Ned milk of the poppy for his leg that might have clouded his mind. Varys suggests there might be some wisdom in her words. She appears to touch Joffrey's heart, and he agrees he will consider it, if she gets her father to confess and acknowledge Joffrey is the rightful king. Sansa says he will. 

The Verdict:
It seems a lot of time must have passed over the course of the episode in order for Robb to get his army assembled and on the move south to prepare to meet the Lannisters. It would be nice if we'd get more of a sense of how long, given Ned's languishing in the prison and some decision about his fate must be lingering. That means Arya has been on her own for quite awhile since fleeing. No doubt Rickon has good cause to think his mother is never returning.

Catelyn's reunion with Robb was interesting, and not the typical motherly conversation one might expect. It's really all or nothing for the Stark's now. I'm wondering if Robb gave the scout misleading information and he actually plans to march against Jaime.

I'm continually impressed with all the little details that foreshadow future events—Ned's perusal of the Umber family entry in the book of lineages has led to the introduction of Greatjon Umber this week. Now we have some little scenes like Osha's conversation with Bran, implying the two of them will have more to do with one another. And now Robb, who started out as a virtual background character, is in the forefront leading the family army. 

Cersei has all the Lannisters (except Tyrion) placed in positions of power. That fact alone could promote civil war from the other houses. Three of them are engaged already against one another, and the Baratheons can't be far behind. 

Varys gave Ned a good dressing down about causing the king's death with his foolish mercy for Cersei. Now he needs to think hard about his next move and what will ultimately allow his family to survive, which is not going to be the honorable thing.

The supernatural aspect jumped up a notch with honest-to-god zombies, and the first hints of snowfall in the south. Sam's value in now evident—he'll be the brains of the outfit. It's looking very foreboding given most of Westeros' armies will be fighting in the south if all hell breaks out at the Wall.

This week Mormont and Varys impressed, and I'm left questioning why Petyr seemed to take Sansa's case. Osha, Barristan and Theon seem to be set up for potential valuable allies. Some final questions—did Syrio survive? Who is the Tully in charge of Riverrun? What does Barristan do now? Where will Tyrion's ultimate loyalties fall? How soon before winter arrives? And is Varys the most trustworthy man at King's Landing, and perhaps Ned's greatest ally?

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