Ned visits the late Ser Hugh and meets Barristan Selmy there. Ned wonders about Hugh’s death and learns that Robert intends to joust at the tourney. Robert meanwhile is raging at Lancel Lannister. Ned and Robert talk about the tourney and Ned convinces him not to joust. Robert is infuriated but concurs and they talk about the past. The tourney begins and Gregor goes up against Loras Tyrell. Renly and Littlefinger bet on the outcome and Sansa implores her father to ensure Loras is not killed. Loras wins the joust, but in his fury, Clegane butchers his horse. The audience is shocked when he turns to attack Loras but Loras is saved by the Hound. Robert, after some delay, orders an end to the violence. Arya continues her ‘dancing lessons’ and is trying to catch a cat. The cat escapes and she ends up in the dungeon where she hears Varys and Illyrio discuss political matters, and mention her father. Varys pays a visit to Ned and tells him that Robert is in danger and mentions a poison that might have been involved in Jon Arryn’s death. Varys implies that Hugh poisoned Jon Arryn and tells Ned it was because Arryn started asking the wrong questions. Varys and Littlefinger discuss some matters including Littlefinger’s illegal activities and Littlefinger brings up Varys’ visitor in the afternoon. Their knowledge of each other’s activities reveals puts them in a stalemate. Arya returns to Ned and tries to tell him what she heard but she muddles it up and Ned doesn’t believe her. Yoren interrupts and informs Ned of Catelyn’s capture of Tyrion. Ned demands to see Robert but Robert has already summoned him – he is in a fury that Dany is pregnant and insists that they send assassins after her. Ned is strongly against this but everyone else agrees with Robert. Ned resigns in protest and makes arrangements to leave the captial and return to Winterfell. Littlefinger visits Ned just as Ned is making preparations to leave. They go to see the last person Jon Arryn saw before he died – a prostitute that Robert fathered a child on.
Meanwhile, Renly and Loras get intimate and Loras convinces Renly to aspire for higher aspirations. Cersei visits Robert and they discuss Ned’s return to Winterfell. Robert admits that if the Dothraki arrive at Westeros, he will be unable to stop them. Robert notes that they have not fought a real war in 9 years and the realm is constantly scheming and backstabbing and wonders what holds it altogether. Cersei answers that it’s their marriage and they both find this very amusing. After a moment, Cersei asks about Lyanna Stark and Robert admits he can’t even remember Lyanna’s face. Meanwhile, Catelyn brings Tyrion to the Vale. They are attacked on the way by hill tribes and Catelyn unties Tyrion so he can help fight them off. Lysa Arryn is less than thrilled at Tyrion’s presence. Lysa accuses Tyrion of killing Jon Arryn and her son Robert insists that Tyrion ‘fly’. Tyrion is imprisoned under the care of the gaoler, Mord.
Ned is ambushed by Jaime Lannister, who is furious about Catelyn’s arrest of Tyrion. Ned says that it was at his command and that Tyrion’s life will be forfeit if Ned dies. Jaime acknowledges this and orders that Ned be taken alive but that his men be killed. Jory tries to protect Ned but is killed by Jaime himself. Ned and Jaime fight and are evenly matched until a Lannister man stabs Ned in the leg. They leave him there and ask for Tyrion once again.
I feel this whole episode was a deeper exploration of the character of King Robert Baratheon. I specify his full name because each of those three parts are important in understanding him. The basic character is Robert Baratheon and this is the Robert that shares a hilarious scene with Ned. He is boisterous, though oddly likeable man who wants nothing more than to eat, drink and sleep around, to paraphrase him from the first episode. This Robert is deeply flawed but is ultimately good natured and his regard for Ned is abundantly clear. However, Robert has a darker side to him that only becomes obvious in the scene with the small council – he is unable to let bygones live in the past and continues to pursue his hatred of the Targaryen dynasty. Then there’s Robert the King and here his failings become glaringly obvious. He is a failure as a king and as a husband, yet the entire existence of the Seven Kingdoms as a political entity depends on his Kingship and on his marriage and he has dismal records with both. His scene with Cersei was every bit as fascinating as it was tragic – they hate each other so much that their hatred is actually uniting them. It never will though – you get a sense that this is a rare moment of civility and honesty for both of them but once it passes they’ll be back to their usual selves. Robert, especially is astonishingly honest:
“You want to know the horrible truth? I can’t even remember what she looked like. I only know that she was the one thing that I ever wanted. Someone took her away from me and seven kingdoms couldn’t fill the hole that she left behind.”
As hard as the truths they tell each other are, you want to shake them (Robert especially) and tell them to get over the past. They can’t of course, and that is the tragedy of the series. That said, Robert telling Cersei that it could never have worked between them was just brutal and I normally hate Cersei but no one should have to hear that more their husbands.
Suddenly though, there are a lot more plots going on in King’s Landing. Loras and Renly are up to something but it’s clearly not going to be a straightforward power grab. Meanwhile, Varys and Littlefinger are like two equal and opposite forces holding each other at bay and it will be fascinating to see whose will breaks first. I suspect the first one between them to make a mistake will be swiftly destroyed by the other. Speaking of Varys however, it is extremely sad that Arya has not met Varys because if she had, she might have recognized him in the dungeons and Ned might have believed her. I can’t blame Ned for dismissing her – it’s hard to take someone who’s been chasing cats around too seriously. Littlefinger, and the rest of the small council, certainly seem like a bunch of fools and flatterers but you would think that knowing this, Robert know better than to trust their opinion. Of course, Robert hears what he wants to hear and what he wants to hear is that Dany must die. The reveal that it was Jorah who is spying on Dany was very casually slipped in and I wonder when (if ever) this comes back to haunt him.
Catelyn herself, in the meanwhile, seems to almost be having some doubts about Tyrion’s guilt, but she seems to have come too far to risk letting him go without hearing Lysa out. Lysa, of course, is pretty much unbearable and annoying from the get go and her overbearing pampering of her son just makes it worse. Tyrion’s cell in the Eyrie is terrifying even for someone without a fear of heights but the hopelessness of his situation seems much worse. It’s interesting that Tyrion killed his first man in defence of Catelyn Stark, but I guess stranger things have happened on the field of war. The instant chemistry between Tyrion and Bronn was very well done as well – Bronn is just the right mix of badass and rogue.
There was a lot of exposition in this episode, which is fine, but having read the books, I can’t say that I find anything worth adding on regarding those scenes. I will say, however, that I love the new material that HBO has added – the Robert scenes especially are excellent and really help flesh out a character that will not be with us for a whole lot longer.