Jaime is with his father, Tywin. They discuss Ned’s warrant from the previous episode that demands Tywin answer for Gregor Clegane’s crimes. Jaime brushes it off, but Tywin tells him that Jaime thinks too much about others opinions of him. He gives Jaime half of their forces (thirty thousand men) and tells him to raid Catelyn’s homeland. Tywin clarifies that he is not fighting this war for Tyrion’s honor but to protect the Lannister name. Tywin expresses disappointment that Jaime has not used his talents and opportunities to do anything more than serve as a glorified bodyguard. He urges Jaime to become the man he was meant to be.
Ned confronts Cersei in the gardens and reveals that he knows her secret. She doesn’t shy away from this. Ned asks why she hates Robert so much but she says that she used to love him but Lyana’s ghost prevented Robert from loving her. Ned offers her the chance to run, while Robert is still gone on the hunt, but she dismisses him saying that in the game of thrones, you either win or die. Littlefinger reveals his backstory to a pair of practicing prostitutes. In the North, Theon tries to take advantage of the wildling captured in the previous episode but is stopped by Maester Luwin. Osha dismisses the threat Theon poses but insists that the real danger is North beyond the Wall, not South where Robb has marched. At the Wall, Jon and Sam spot a riderless horse returning which Jon identifies one as his uncle Benjen’s. Back in King’s Landing, Renly reports that Robert was gravely injured by a boar. Ned arrives and they discuss Robert’s will in private. He dictates the will to Ned asking him to act as Protector of the Realm and Regent until ‘his son’ comes of age. Ned cannot bring himself to tell his dying friend that Joffrey is not his son so he changes the will to say ‘my rightful heir’. Robert also says that Ned was right to stop him from trying to have Danaerys killed and rescinds that order. He asks for something for the pain and tells Ned to let him die in peace. Ned gives these orders to Varys and Barristan Selmy, but learns that it is too late – the orders have already flown out.
Dany is trying, unsuccessfully, to convince Drogo to take the Iron Throne, but Drogo hates the prospect of crossing the sea. Dany visits the market. Jorah receives a royal pardon from one of Varys spies. Later, a wine merchant tries to get Dany to sample his wares but Jorah realizes that it is an assassination attempt and stops it. Back at the Wall, the new men of the Watch are assigned positions. Jon is upset because despite his skill with a sword, he has been assigned to the stewards instead of the rangers. Sam helps him realize that he is being groomed for command, not shunned and humiliated. In King’s Landing, Renly offers his support to Ned and suggests that they take the throne from Cersei and the Lannisters. Ned refuses since Stannis, not Renly, is Robert’s rightful heir. Ned realizes that he needs Stannis to come claim the throne sooner rather than later and writes him a letter saying so. Littlefinger criticizes this decision and suggests that Ned make amends with Cersei and retain his position in the capital. Ned, being honorable, refuses this course and instead asks Littlefinger to help him secure the city watch’s support in deposing Cersei and Joffrey from the throne. Littlefinger agrees.
Sam and Jon go to the weirwood to say their vows to the Watch. Ghost finds a dead man’s hand. Drogo finds out about the assassination attempt and flies into a rage, promising to deliver the Iron Throne to Dany. Ned learns that Robert has passed away. He gathers his men in the courtroom and declares that Joffrey is a bastard and not the heir to the throne. Cersei demands Ned be arrested. To Ned’s surprise, the Goldcloaks kill the Stark men instead of supporting them and Littlefinger himself puts a dagger to Ned’s throat, telling him that he did warn Ned not to trust him.
That was quite an ending wasn’t it? I’ve come to really like the way these episodes carefully build up to such excellent endings. Of the three different endings we get, I would say that the storyline at the Wall has the least impressive or interesting conclusion with a simple severed hand. However, Drogo’s declaration of war would get even a withered old man rallied up and it served as an oddly fitting piece of hype before the big twist at the end of the episode. This episode finally delivers the dramatic payload that the entire season has been building up to – even more so than the previous episode since the last one ended with Ned’s discovery but not its consequences. Now that we know how bad things are, I feel like the season is going to maintain this crescendo of tension and plot momentum till the last episode.
Let’s talk about Ned for a bit. This whole season, he’s blundered from one good-natured mistake to another. He’s been decisive yes, but also far too blunt for a place like King’s Landing. He has tried to have his cake and eat it too – he wanted to maintain his honor but at the same time he wanted to do the right thing. The contradiction may not seem obvious now, but it’s certainly there – the honorable thing to do was to tell Robert right away, everything else be damned. The honorable thing would be to arrest Cersei and Joffrey immediately and even have them killed. The right thing to do would have been to respect the spirit of his friend’s wishes and do better than Robert would have, it would have been to remember that his family is at the mercy of the Lannister and to form better alliances than with Littlefinger of all people. He did neither the right nor the fully honorable thing and as a result he was utterly outmaneuvered. Robert’s death at the hands of a pig seems extraordinarily fitting given that he was little more than an animal himself. His statements to Joffrey however, seem to be there only to raise the dramatic irony of his caring for children born of two people he despises. The momentum in King’s Landing has shifted very firmly in Cersei’s favour and it remains to be seen whether or not only winners of the game survive.
In other parts of this world, Jon throws a remarkably immature fit at not getting what he wants, though it is supported by his uncle’s apparent death. Still, it’s a low point for his character but a high one for Sam who is able to see the truth in things. It’s fairly touching that Sam volunteers to say the words in front of the weirwood and it’s a sign of their blossoming friendship. Dany, in the meanwhile, is given the perfect gift from Robert in the form of an unlucky assassin. Had Jorah played his part, I do not doubt that Dany would be very dead by now but he did not and this decision is of course a declaration of his own – he will fight for Dany and his love for her outweighs his desire for home.
I think I’m definitely going to miss Mark Addy as Robert. He was pretty much perfect in the role – loud, boisterous but still capable of moments of shocking self-awareness. He had this way of making the character seem surprised by his own self-awareness, a mixture of confusion and vulnerability that somehow managed to balance (in my eyes) the brutality of the rest of his nature. So, fare thee well, Addy and farewell Robert – may you both have much pork. I think this might be the first episode without Sansa and Arya – I really miss seeing Maisie Williams performances. In fact there was no Dinklage this episode either, how odd. The funniest thing though, is that I didn’t even realize that they weren’t in the episode until I started writing this out. However without the usual scene stealers I think it gave some others time to shine. Clarke is continuing to do well as Dany but I got to give it to Jason Momoa for his performance as Drogo. His anger was raw and just plain exhilarating – he really sold the barbaric nature of the Dothraki and Drogo’s fury at having his wife and son almost taken from him. I feel bad for Aidan Gillen – he had to perform through one of the most awkward exposition scenes in all of television. I won’t say that he did too well at it since I often find his interpretations of Littlefinger a bit too hammy and over the top but still I think it’s fair to say that most people would not have seen the betrayal at the end of the episode coming.
Despite having some boring filler (the sexposition scene, the time wasting at the Wall) this was still one of the better episodes in an already excellent first season. I feel the episode could have been slightly better paced but apart from that I have no complaints. The tension that has been building up over the course of this season is finally beginning to pay-off but it’s not happening in a way that’s going to please the fans though they will probably be more riveted by the bad news than they would have been by any good.