In the aftermath of Ned’s death, Yoren cuts Arya’s hair so she is less recognizable and tells her that he will be bringing her North. In Winterfell, Rickon and Bran both have dreams of Ned’s death and soon receive confirmation from Maester Luwin. In King’s Landing, Joffrey has a singer’s tongue removed for singing an unflattering song about King Robert. Joffrey shows Sansa her father’s head and gloats about eventually beating Robb. Sansa’s defiance earns her a beating from the Kingsguard. In Robb’s camp, there is disagreement as to who Robb should pledge to. Eventually the Greatjon declares that Robb is the only king he means to bow to. Robb is soon after declared King in the North. Tywin is unhappy that Jaime has been captured. He orders Tyrion to go to King’s Landing and rule as Hand of the King in his place. He warns Tyrion not to bring Shae to court.
Dany wakes up asking for her son. Jorah tells her that the boy was stillborn and deformed. Mirri Maz Dur told her that only death could pay for life. Furious, Dany demands to see Drogo, but finds that he is alive but only technically – he is listless and brain-dead. Devastated that she has lost both son and husband, Dany asks why the witch has done this. Mirri explains that despite Dany’s attempt at ‘saving’ her, she had already lost all that was precious to her because of the Dothraki – this was her vengeance. Jon abandons his vows and leaves the watch, despite Sam trying his best to stop him. Shae convinces Tyrion to bring her to court with him and Sam is able to stop Jon from leaving for good by chasing after him with Pyp and Grenn.
Dany tries, to no avail, to reawaken Drogo but when he does not wake up, she admits to herself that he is dead and smothers him in her sleep. Pycelle is preparing to meet Joffrey as King for the first time as Littlefinger and Varys discuss their various ambitions. Arya gets acquainted with her fellow potential Night’s Watch recruits and faces two of them down before meeting Gendry, who too is headed to the Wall. At the Wall, Mormont talks to Jon about his attempt at deserting the Watch and tells him that their war is more important than the war about who sits the Iron Throne, as they set out from the Wall with 300 rangers.
Dany lights a large funeral pyre, burning her eggs and Drogo before commanding that Mirri Maz Duur be sent into the pyre as well. Dany gives a speech, promising vengeance against her enemies and salvation for her people before entering the pyre herself. The next morning Jorah finds her singed, but unharmed and with three newly hatched dragons.
The only real downside to reading the books before watching the show is that everything is already ‘spoiled’ for you. Obviously I knew Ned would die in the previous episode, but unsurprisingly enough, that did little enough to keep me from feeling the pain of his death all over again. Watching the various members of his family grieve in their own ways brought the reality of his death that much closer to home since of course given that Ned and his death will quickly become a non-factor in upcoming seasons. Of the various reactions to Ned’s death, I would say that Rickon’s hit me the hardest and not just because he’s the youngest – though it is related to that. Rickon seems too young to differentiate dreams from reality and sadly enough, that means that Ned has been dead to him for even longer than for Bran and the others.
The director did a great job of leveraging the compassion we feel for the Stark by switching the scene to Joffrey’s cruelty and giving a clear indication that his rule will be every bit as terrible as we’ve come to expect. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, but Jack Gleeson is absolutely terrific as Joffrey. It’s reached a point where it seems hard to believe that he’s acting (he certainly is, but I’m just saying it’s hard to believe). His wanton cruelty is much better explained in the show, I feel, where he is told repeatedly by both his parents (in their own dismal ways) that he needs to show strength (as Cersei tells him) and that he needs to rule well (as Robert tells him. The less we say of Cersei’s principles of ruling the better, and Joffrey clearly has not had the best role models when it comes to rulers so to some extent he cannot be blamed for such a piece of shit. However, it’s the joy he takes in his sadism that really makes the character so horrifying to watch. On a related note of actors who are killing it, Charles Dance’s take on Tywin Lannister seems absolutely perfect. He really captures the stern authority that the character is supposed to project and the total respect and obedience he commands from everyone around him. Well, everyone except Tyrion apparently. It’s sad to think just how much unhappiness could have been avoided if Tyrion had listened and left Shae behind. I’m not a big fan of Sibel Kikelli’s performance as Shae, not in this episode at least (I can’t remember what I said the last episode, and I can’t check now). She seems a little too forceful and aggressive and it weaken’s Tyrion by comparison. I get that Tyrion is not meant to be a particularly strong-willed character when it comes to pretty girls giving him the attention he craves, but Shae is a little too blunt and over-the-top for my taste.
Then again, this episode has plenty such moments. While the King in the North scene was a little overstated for my taste, the interesting bit from it was Theon’s steadfast declaration that he was Robb brother “Now and Always”. I like to think that this means that Theon is eventually redeemed, but it feels like pushing a dagger deeper into my heart. The writers are indeed heartless. Dany got a similar blow last week, though the effects have only become obvious now – Drogo is alive but soulless and dead in all but name while Dany’s son was born stillborn and deformed, a monstrosity. It was a truly intense scene and for some reason, Mia Soteriou’s sincere yet pleasant explanation of why she destroyed Dany’s life was very powerful. Dany killing Drogo was another powerful scene – and it brings to a head just how shitty Dany’s life has been. She’s had an awful life so far – an orphan whose childhood was funded entirely off of charity. She eventually found love and acceptance, only for that to be taken away as well. Her revenge at the end of the episode is brutal but it’s hard to think of it as undeserved. The appearance of the dragons was a great piece of television, just for the visuals of a young girl being reborn in fire. It’s all very symbolic but I can’t help but think that it would have been better if the scene had not been cut away after Dany enters the pyre. The way is was currently done, Jorah finds her a good few hours later and it made me wonder if she had just been sitting around, bored, while her people slept.
All in all, this had several elements of a strong final episode to great first season. We leave Robb and the Starks in dramatically promising positions – Robb himself as the newly crowned King in the North, Arya seemingly in precarious company but not in immediate danger, Sansa seems like she could in trouble but then again perhaps not in mortal danger. Meanwhile, dragons are born and the war beyond the Wall is about to begin. On the other side of the table, Varys and Littlefinger all continue to manoeuvre their way to better positions under their new King’s rule.