Like the books, I’m moving through the narrative character-by-character. I’ll try not to break the timeline too badly. Spoilers likely to follow.
The second lil’est Lord of Winterfell opens the episode with a dream about a three-eyed raven, and wakes to Old Nan knowingly (read: cryptically) commenting on the fact that he’s been dreaming. But because this is basically the middle ages and because she’s a woman, no one really picks up on the subtext.
Theon tells Bran that he’s wanted downstairs to meet some guests, and it’s all done in a way that obliquely hints at Theon’s backstory while also introducing us to Hodor (Hodor!). Hodor is an enormous stableboy with a vocabulary that begins and ends with his own name. He’s also Bran’s chief mode of transportation and a fan favorite character, which makes him a lot like Bumblebee from the Transmorphers.
The guests turn out to be Tyrion Lannister and his escorts (valets), on their way back to Kings’ Landing from The Wall. They just popped in to see what condition Bran’s condition was in, and find that while the fall didn’t kill him, he doesn’t remember the short amount of time surrounding the “accident.” Tyrion reveals himself to be an amateur saddle designer and gives Bran ye olde blueprints to a mount that will allow him to ride a horse again. Bran then has nothing to do for the rest of the episode.
The reception in Winterfell is palatably chilly, so Tyrion decides to spend the night in a local brothel, rather than strain Robb’s unconvincing hospitality. On his way out of town, he runs into Theon who must have been like, “hey, it really seemed like we were going to get into my backstory earlier, is there a chance we can squeeze it in now before you go?” And they do. Theon’s family are from the Iron Islands and they rebelled during the war that made Ralph king (Ralph). Tyrion alludes to the fact that The Greyjoy’s rebellion didn’t go so well and that Theon is a captive in Winterfell. Most importantly, he notes the absence of Cat Stark, and accurately guesses that she’s nowhere near Winterfell at the moment. Tyrion then leaves the episode on a sex joke, which sounds about right.
Meanwhile, on The Wall…
Jon and The Boys of the Night’s Watch are practicing their sword fighting again, only now Jon is trying to pass on some of his knowledge rather than peacocking for an uncaring Commander Thorne. Enter Samwell Tarley, a character that comes closer to fans of the books in body-type and mindset than any other. That is to say, he’s an overweight coward who prefers books to fighting (sorry, I read the books too, just saying…). Thorne immediately sends Sam against the jerkiest character in The Watch, and the poor kid flops down on the ground after a few hits, tearfully yielding. Thorne decides that the easiest way to get Sam back on his feet, is to have the jerky kid kick the shit out of him, to which Jon disagrees. Thorne mistakes Jon’s unwillingness to see a fat kid kicked to death for love and poses a new training exercise: Jon vs. three dudes.
Jon beats them all up.
Sam is grateful that three men had to suffer in his place, and thanks Jon for the assist. He tells us what we already know: that he’s a coward. Back in oldentimes, cowardice was contagious, so Jon’s buddies are justifiably afraid to be seen with Sam.
Later, while Jon and Sam are standing watch over a wall the height of the Burj Khalifa, we learn how it is that Sam came to take the black. You see, he’s the son of a wealthy family, and his dad was grossed out by Sam’s…well, by Sam. So his father gave him an ultimatum: take the black or die in a hunting “accident.” Sam chose the former, so there he stands, melting the heart of the dreamiest boy in The Night’s Watch.
Jon’s sympathetic, so he asks his buddies to treat Sam like a real brother and not beat the shit out of him in practice anymore. This is a plan that the asshole who kicked Sam while he was down simply can’t abide, so in the spirit of brotherly love, Jon and his buddies come together to sick Jon’s wolf on the fucker. The next morning, when no one will fight Sam in the yard, Thorne (rightfully) gets pissed at Jon, telling the kids that, yeah, he’s a hard ass piece of shit, but he has to be to keep them alive, and this shit isn’t helping. In this instance of slobs v. snobs, I rule in the favor of the snobs.
Later, while Jon and Sam discuss how and why they’re both still virgins (Jon doesn’t want to bring another bastard into the world, Sam is fat), Thorne interrupts to further humiliate them with a story of cannibalism beyond The Wall. He and some other men were on a scouting expedition for Mance Rayder (remember that name) and what should have been a two week trip turned into a six month nightmare. He tells them, “they’ll call you men of the night’s watch, but you’ll be fools to believe it…” once again proving that Jon Snow knows nothing.
I’m always going to think of the events occurring on the side of the world with the non-white people as Dany-centric, but this week Viserys takes center stage in what becomes a turning point episode for he and his sister. The gang arrives in horse city and Viserys is cranky from riding in “the wrong direction.” He wants Drogo and his men to prance their ponies on the corpses of King Ralph and his pals; instead, he’s been humiliated by his sister and the Dothraki, watching his power over both recede.
Dany asks a practical question of Ser Roger Moore: can we reclaim the Iron Throne with buff dudes on horses? The answer she gets is a little wishy-washy, so they return to the subject of Ser Roger’s exile. It turns out he was selling slaves and not for reasons previously alluded to. You see, Ser Roger had a petty wife, and only human trafficking could sate her lust for the finer things. So he sold people for love. That’s not so bad, right?
Visery’s, meanwhile, has camped and is having a soak with a trafficked human woman. They talk about dragons, the Faceless Men, pirates, dragon glass and other things that prompt viewers to look at their cats and say, “oooh, that’s from the books!” Mostly though, they’re talking’ dragons and how the last dragon (Sean Connery) died many years before Viserys was born. He does, however, remember seeing dragon skulls in the throne room as a kid, and how the last few were “no bigger than dog skulls.” The older skulls were bigger, which maybe implies that the magic in this world was slowly drained off until there was nothing left. Or maybe it means Viserys is engaged in sexposition with this lady and he’s talking about his boner. At any rate, she upsets him by asking about the skulls (I wish my girlfriend was as interested in my collection of skulls) and he goes on a flight of fancy, imagining that King Ralph smashed them all, likely while wearing a Hawaiian shirt and dancing to “Louie, Louie.” He gets mad at her because HIS DAD USED TO OWN A DEALERSHIP, OKAY?!
The scene ends—as most scenes on this show do—with a woman wincing during the act of sex.
After a soothing bath with a crying woman, you’d assume that Visery’s nerves would be a little less jangled, a little less susceptible to rage-induced freak outs. You’d be wrong. Visery’s assumes that Dany has been giving him orders again and starts attacking her, but this time, his sister clocks him. She’s what my gay friends call, “fierce.” The timid girl who allowed her brother to sell her into slavery and grope her breasts is gone and it’s about fucking time.
Later, Dany tells Ser Roger about “hitting the dragon.” Ser Roger doesn’t buy that Viserys is the dragon, and gives Dany a crash course in global politics: people are concerned with how much food they have on the table, regardless of who sits on the throne. The “secret toasts” that people supposedly drink to Viserys are an illusion he convinced her of and nothing more. The apathetic worldview and her brother’s cruelty only make it clear to Dany that she’s the one who’s meant to lead the army into Westeros, not him.
Sansa gets her own chapters? The fuck?
Not much to report here, other than her already-developing feelings of inadequacy as she contemplates the full weight of her impending queendom. She’s worried that Joffrey hates her for the incident with the wolf on the Kingsroad and fears that when they’re married she’ll only have, ugh, girls. Her first scene this week takes place in the throne room, and she asks her finishing school teacher-lady if her grandpa and uncle died there. Always a barrel of laughs, Sansa.
Honestly though, Sansa’s point-of-view is an interesting one if you can dig through the childish angst. She’s “the girl who would be queen” and like her dad, she’s learning a lifetime of political savvy on the fly. The show gives us two princesses to care about, and while Sansa doesn’t have the juicer hook of wanting to play with swords, there’s an interesting deconstruction of the archetype that develops with the series. I pray thee, hold on to your butts.
MUCH later in the episode, Sansa and Arya are watching the first joust in The Hand’s Tournament when Littlefinger introduces himself. In case you missed it from last week, Littlefinger was really into Cat Stark when she was still Cat Tully. Really, really into her. So he hangs out with her underage daughters, explaining how he got his name (he was “little” and lived in a place called, “the finger”) and how The Hound got his scars. The latter is far more interesting (and maybe even true). The Hound’s older brother is known as “The Mountain” and when they were kids, The Mountain saw The Hound playing with one of his toys, so he shoved his little brother’s face in the fire. The end! Sleep tight!
Sansa then gets to witness her first joust between some guy name Ser Hugh and…uh oh…The Mountain. Ser Hugh gets killed during the match, a piece of The Mountain’s lance snapping off in his neck. Very wet. It’s sick. Littlefinger picks up on Sansa’s revulsion and says, “Not what you were expecting?” That line is going to apply to a lot of what goes on for Sansa over the course of this series…
A small council meeting brings the news that Kings’ Landing is going total fuckhouse for “The Hand’s Tournament.” More people keep flowing into the city, and pretty much all of them are fucking or punching each other. Ned wearily solves the problem by throwing more men and money at it, but his thoughts lie with the death of John Aaryn. He’s going sleuth!
Ned asks Pycell about the death since he treated Aaryn during the sudden and brief illness that took him. All signs point to poison, and Pycell would also prefer that those signs point to Varys, as he’s grossed out by the man and his lack of genitals. Eventually, the conversation turns to the last book Aaryn read: a genealogy of the lords and ladies and their kids. Pycell says that one of the last things Aaryn said was, “the seed is strong.”
Meanwhile, Ned runs in to Arya, training for her “water dance” lessons by standing on one foot at the top of a staircase. There’s not much to this scene, other than Arya being able to tell her father, explicitly, that being a capitol “L” lady isn’t for her. Something we already knew, but thanks anyway.
Later, Littlefinger and Ned take a walk, and we get to see, yet again, how out of his depth Ned is. It’s maybe one of the best scenes in the episode, and it deftly shows us just how much Littlefinger knows about Ned (the genealogy book, for example) and how easily he’s able to guide him along by feeding him pieces of new information. Ned’s storyline often feels like a mystery subplot, but really, he’s the last to solve this particular puzzle. What we’re actually seeing is the manipulation of our hero, all for the benefit of the man standing next to him. What does Littlefinger gain from furthering the Ned’s crusade? Another piece off the board.
This show often explores the sudden—sometimes subtle, sometimes violent—way that things change, and this scene is the first of many to nail that idea. Ned’s an old school warrior, and he’d be dangerous on a traditional battlefield, but as Littlefinger points out each and every spy that’s watching them, including his own, it becomes obvious who the real danger is. Littlefinger, possibly toying with Ned, tries to give him the practical advice that no one can be trusted, especially not him. But Ned only sees Littlefinger as helpful and physically unthreatening, so he trusts him anyway.
Littlefinger’s prodding leads Ned to an armory, also visited by John Aaryn shortly before he died. There he meets Gendry, the king’s bastard son. That’ll certainly be important later, but for now, let’s just leave it at that.
Ned’s final scene in the episode involves yet another private meeting with yet another devious character: Cersei. She comes in the guise of wanting to “put the ugliness with the wolves” behind them, but Ned must have finally learned something about subtext, because he sees right through her. Cersei points out that Ned is “just a soldier” following orders, to which Ned replies, “I was taught to kill my enemies, your grace.” I may have my problems with Ned’s myopic worldview, but this is a great moment in the series, made even better by Cersei’s response: “As was I.”
Last but not least…
Four episodes in and the final moments of each episode have all been…good. Bran’s fall from the tower in the first episode is the closest we get to something better than that, but it doesn’t match the adrenaline rush I get every time these final few minutes unfold. It wasn’t the moment I fell in love with the series (that’s next week’s episode!) but it was the moment that kept me going.
This has been the most tonally inconsistent of the recaps so far, and I’m still struggling with which details to leave in or out, as well as how much commentary to inject into the proceedings. Part of that has to do with the volume of characters we’re meant to care about and keep track of (there’s one more to go before the end of this recap!). Up until now, the show’s chief concern has been setting the pieces on the board and making sure you understand the general rules. With this episode, it feels like the people behind the scenes actually started to play the game.
So we have Cat at an inn. She’s on her way back to Winterfell after the trip to Kings’ Landing. No one knows she’s there. In walks Tyrion Lannister, who quickly buys a room from an opportunistic young man (Bronn!) before noticing Cat. He seems happy to see her, unaware of why she’s on the road in the first place or that she’d be looking for him. She name checks a few of her father’s banner men. Everyone in the bar seems to know her. And then she drops the bomb on Tyrion. She tells the room about Tyrion’s attempted murder of her son and asks for their help in bringing him to justice. A roomful of swords are drawn, all pointed at Tyrion’s neck. Cut. To Black.
Goddamn, I love it so much. Next week’s episode is “The Wolf and The Lion.” See you then.