Nothing like a palace cleansing to start an episode. The Lannisters move quickly to make sure the Stark household is pretty much stomped out soon after Ned is arrested. One of my favorite secondary characters from the books, Arya, really gets moved to the forefront after this event. Unfortunately, one of the best characters, in the tv series anyway, Syrio Forel, is lost protecting Arya’s escape. We don’t get to see much of Arya after she runs away, but a pivotal moment does occur, besides the murder of the Stark household guard and imprisonment of Ned. Arya, accidentally kills a boy who tries to stop her from leaving the castle. In the book, if I remember correctly, this was a much bigger deal and they do try and play it as, at the very least, a shock. I felt a little more could have been made of it though. This was the first person she killed, a definite loss of innocence and a turning point in her life. It was symbolic of where her life is headed, that she is going to have to rely on herself and grow up rather quickly. I didn’t get that sense from how this scene was presented nor by the fact that we don’t see her for the rest of the episode either.
As the episode continues, the fallout of King Robert’s death continues as well. Robb Stark was already marching with an army before his father was taken now he has much more of a purpose than simply a show of force. Catelyn realizes that her sister is pretty much worthless at this point. Lysa basically tells her that she will not rise to her defense and she will not commit any troops to her cause. One gets the feeling that if the army of northerners came marching through the Vale they would be met with resistance, family ties be damned. With no other alternative, Cat leaves the Vale in search of her son, if for no other reason than to see him before he marches off to war.
Robb is indeed marching and we get the sense that he is up for the task. He is holding councils of war with many of his bannermen, all his elders. We get a few exchanges establishing his leadership and it’s no surprise that he is being set up as the antithesis of Tywin Lannister; old versus young, established versus up and coming, organized versus ragtag army and definitely favorite versus underdog. He makes decisions that seem a bit reckless, but we all know that it really comes down to guile instead of foolishness. I’m specifically referencing when Robb lets the Lannister spy go free with a message to Tywin. Of course, how it all works out is still very much up in the air.
Another key development, especially as we’re getting ready for the next season is the power move of Tyrion. As he is leaving the Vale with his bodyguard Bronn, they are set upon by the mountain men. I won’t quibble with the fact that in a previous episode the mountain tribes attacked and pretty much tried to kill everyone and this time they try and sneak up on the travelling party, but it is odd nonetheless. Even so we get to see Tyrion demonstrate his diplomatic skills and gain a cohort of personal guards. By the time he presents them to his father, Tyrion has his own little army of barbarians. We do get a little more insight into Tyrion’s daddy issues, basically as you might guess, it’s an approval thing. Tywin is disappointed in his dwarf son and refuses to acknowledge he has any attributes, though he begrudgingly helps him with his ragtag band, he still compares him to his much more attractive brother Jamie.
The most interesting action takes place in the two areas off of the map, the Wall and with the Dothraki. The corpses that Jon found while taking his vows are in fact, zombies, for lack of a better word and they rise from the dead and attack the Lord Commander. The undead are dispatched with ease, but it’s these little supernatural hints that remind the audience that this is fantasy, not some alternate reality, no matter how dirty and unkept the characters are or how many whores are around. What’s more is that it’s a great tease. With only a few episodes left, are we going to find out what is coming to life beyond The Wall or will that go unanswered until the new season? Guess we’ll have to wait and see.
The events across the sea let us see the aftermath of a Dothraki invasion. It is not pretty, burning, pillaging raping, the basic horde free-for-all. Dany does not abide by such behavior and demands it stops. This causes problems among the Dothraki, leaving Drogo to defend his rule and his wife all in one duel. He wins of course, but is wounded. A slightly tangential note, but it is obvious that the Dothraki draw some of their inspiration from the Mongolian people who invaded Europe in the 13th century. Unlike Patrick Rothfuss, however, Martin doesn’t quite telegraph it as much. Rothfuss, who I think is an excellent writer on most counts, goes a little too far in bringing in a people (in his case a secret society) inspired by history. Martin and the producers of the television series play it just right. We know where the idea came from, but it isn’t as clumsy as Rothfuss. Anyway the other warning bell that goes up with Dany saving so many women from rape and subjugation is that in Martin’s world, no good deed goes unpunished so look for consequences from this noble act.
The final scene like so many final scenes of the series leaves on a suspenseful note, not quite a cliffhanger, but a message that more is to come. Sometimes it’s the closing shot, sometimes it’s the music and sometimes it’s the abrupt ending. No matter what, the end of each episode comes as a bit of a surprise and even though at this point I think as an audience were pretty vested, it’s makes it that more dramatic. It really feels like an old serial, leaving the view wanting to know more. In this case, after Sansa pleads for her father’s life, the final shot is from behind the Iron Throne. It’s almost as if the throne envelops her as the episode fades to black. Not only that, but the music is a trigger in that it is quite the ominous tone. Even so, Sansa begs for mercy and Joffery demands a confession from Ned in order to grant him clemency. Will Ned abandon his honor to save his life and protect his children? wait and see:-)