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Game of Thrones: Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things

“Distrusting me was the wisest thing you’ve done since you climbed off your horse.”

Throughout this episode, the refrain from 50 Cent’s epic ode to the pimp hand was stuck in my head. Edited for content, the primary message is that if you mess with me, you’re messing with a strong and vengeful force of will. So many of our heroes and villains proved themselves—sometimes to themselves—and others made the force of their indomitable will known.

Put another way: everyone’s strengths were emphasized in this episode, which is another way of saying that we are starting to understand their weaknesses, too. As we realize those weaknesses, so do other characters—it’s this complexity that makes the books so captivating, and is making the show equally compelling.

King’s Landing

As Sansa is starting to realize the perils of becoming queen, Arya is firm in her sense of herself in the world. Arya’s force of will is incredible—I got shivers as she talked to Ned about who she is. Again, mad props to young Maisie Williams. She doesn’t fit in the world of King’s Landing, or even the world of Westeros, because of how like her father she is. Sansa, as Cersei has acknowledged, doesn’t seem to have that strength of will. Perhaps the loss of her direwolf is a symbol.

Meanwhile, Ned has made a discovery about Jon Arryn’s death: he was researching genealogy and genetic traits, and had discovered one of Robert’s bastards who looks just like Robert as a boy. Along with Cersei’s description of her first-born as “dark-haired,” this might be a clue that something is up with the little towhead of bratty evil, Joffrey.

Littlefinger, too, proved his own sneaky force in his discussion with Sansa. One reviewer has argued that Littlefinger telling the Hound’s story to Sansa is no more than exposition, but I think it’s much subtler than that. The Hound is valiant but refuses to realize it: he is inclined to protect those more broken as himself, and resists that inclination because he sees the hypocrisy of knighthood. As Joffrey’s protector, the Hound could potentially make or break Sansa’s safety or success as Joffrey’s queen. If she were to ally with him, it would work in her favor. But Littlefinger created pity and fear for the Hound in Sansa—a pity and fear that might determine her future actions toward him. Littlefinger knows the value of a well-placed story, and how it can skew the listener’s sympathies. He’s a trickster, and a narratorial stand-in.

The scene—in fact, all of Littlefinger’s scenes—also underscores one of the primary themes of the books, and likely of the show: information. Not just who did what, but why. Know someone’s motivations and you know their weakness. The Starks tend to traffic in the abstract concept of justice and a hefty two-handed greatsword to back it up, but true power is in knowing what to do with information, how to analyze it, and how to twist it.

At the Wall

Samwell Tarley’s arrival at the Wall confirmed Jon’s power among the younger recruits: he’s called the better of them to his cause and threatened the blockheads with his direwolf. (Nice to see him again, too.) It also gave Jon a chance to lighten up. Samwell might be a coward, but he’s starting to realize the strength of loyalties and bonds. And Jon, whether he knows it or not, is building quite a reputation for himself as fair, just, and intimidating. He may be a bastard, but he’s certainly his father’s son.


Tyrion’s journey south, while ostensibly designed to just get him from one place to another, also helps us understand what’s going on with some of the less obviously important characters. He’s given Bran hope and forced Robb to assume the mantle (although sadly not the badger cloak) of his father. Above all, he has revealed the complex problem of Theon Greyjoy: a ward of the Starks since his father’s failed rebellion, Theon must act the sycophant while repressing his own resentment—a heady and troubling brew for any young man, especially one on whom Robb seems to depend.

We already know the limited force of Tyrion’s power, and the cliffhanger asks a question: can the Lannister name, his intelligence, and his inherent sympathy for the weak protect him from Catelyn’s formidable maternal urges and her own Northern sense of justice?

Vaes Dothrak

Dany just gets fiercer every day, doesn’t she? Right now, she understands her power in relation to her husband, and the other loyalties and bonds she’s forming seem to be more chance than anything else. I look forward to watching her realize her own power, apart from the Khal.

Just as Dany gets stronger and does her own work of building Team Dany, her brother continues to alienate people who might help him while simultaneously revealing his weakness. The scene between Viserys and Dany’s lady-in-waiting was incredible. I could feel the mood shift as Doreah pushed just a bit too far as she made the worst mistake a prostitute could make: feeling a connection. While Doreah’s plight is interesting, like Tyrion’s journey it is primarily designed to help us understand Viserys’s strength and weaknesses.

Bitter Enemies and Uneasy Peaces:

• Hodor!

• Bran’s dream of the three-eyed crow can’t bode well, but it might indicate that he’s come back a bit different.

• I love that Robert’s bastard son is called “Gendry.” He might as well be named “Having to do with generation, reproduction, and genetic traits.”

• Ser Jorah seems to have returned from his mystery expedition, but we don’t know where he went or why.

• Tyrion: “You must shape the horse to the rider.”

• Ned: “Syrio says…”

• Littlefinger: “Is there someone in your service whom you trust completely?”
Ned: “Yes.”
Littlefinger: “The wiser answer was no.”

• Jory: “Theon? He’s a good lad.”
Jaime: “I doubt it.”

I’d love to spend another page or two talking about Jaime’s conversation with Jory, and how he truly came alive discussing battle, but shut the conversation down as soon as it returned to kingly matters. The emphasis on manly relations, and the way in which those relations are determined through acts of violence, is fascinating, especially in the context of the joust--a game that is not supposed to have actual consequences, but here turns deadly because of the Mountain's strengths and weaknesses. But this review is late enough already.

A solid three out of four Hodors.
Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


  1. I love every scene between Ned and Arya. There were my favourite parts of the book and now they're my favourite parts of the show.

    One the great things about this series is that since it isn't bound to the POV structure of the novels we get to see character interaction that were never in the book, like Jamie and Jory's little chat about the good old days battling Ironmen. Downside is that some of these scenes tend to be heavy on clunky backstory dialogue and don't flow as well as others. They should really just give all the exposition speeches to Peter Dinklage. He does them so well despite Tyrion's odd accent.

    And look, there was Jerome Flynn as Bronn right at the end. Wonder where he's been keeping himself all these years? God, I hope he doesn't start singing.

  2. Excellent episode! Things are starting to pick up...

    Once again I realise how much the success of this has depended on their wodnerful casting! Arya in particular... spot-on!!! She is wonderful. I'm relieved my favourite character has been brought to the screen so well. :o)

    I am sooo looking forward to Viserys further confrontations with his sister, they really give Dany a chance to shine and come into her own. Bring on the coronation!!! :D

  3. Thanks for another fantastic review Josie, you give just the right amount of context and emphasis to all the character whose importance might otherwise be unrealised by the casual viewer.

    Can't wait for more Theon scenes, as he and Robb's relationship was never explored much in the books and there's got to be an interested and slightly F'd up dynamic there.

    It was also really enjoyable seeing Jory's interaction with Jaime and Littlefinger's creepy storytelling to Sansa. Thanks for highlighting the layers of meaning below the surface!

  4. These are consistently excellent reviews for a consistently excellent series.
    Thanks Josie. And George RR. And HBO.

  5. Josie, do you find it challenging to review the show having read the books? Because some of your comments and speculations are things I know that non-book-fans may speculate about, but I would hesitate to make note of, knowing what I do about the way the story goes. I would feel like I was leading the horse to water, because I knew what was coming. It's strange to not be able to speculate about the story direction, and I imagine it would be incredibly challenging to do reviews from that position.

    I really enjoyed the scenes between Jon and Sam this week. I wasn't sure about Sam when he first showed up on the scene, but once he and Jon had a few heart-to-hearts, I was sold on the actor.

    I also really enjoyed the scene between Jaime and Jory. The non-book scenes are rapidly becoming my favorites. They certainly tend to engage me more than those that just bring scenes we already know to the screen. Except when its Dany and Viserys. I LOVED her finally standing up to him. Kudos to both Emilia and Harry in that moment.


  6. Jess,

    Yes, it is very hard. Billie assures me it will get easier.

    Each episode is so full of stuff--some that connects to other stuff, some that is just "out there" and will connect later--that I'm constantly writing too much, too.

    ***Tiny Character Spoilers Below***

    Writing about Littlefinger was a tough call. I kept asking myself: do it now, or do it later? Would I remember to do it later? Is calling him a trickster and narratorial stand-in a spoiler, or a decent hypothesis given the evidence we've seen?

    I decided to do it because it is just one interpretation of the evidence we've seen: we know he thinks Starks aren't very bright; we know he has something of a past with Catelyn; we know he's untrustworthy; we know that there's something about Sansa and the Hound from their chat a few episodes back; we know Sansa is engaged to Joffrey, which puts her in a position of power despite her naivete; we know Littlefinger likes to exploit innocence (vis Ned Stark) and is good at sensing it; we know the Hound works for Joffrey; we know Joffrey is a petty brat with power issues. Having read the books means I know which patterns to look for and can see a pattern in fairly sparse evidence, but it's still a pattern that matches what we've all seen on screen and doesn't require the unseen in order to be a decent hypothesis.

    I also wanted to emphasize early on, in part as a reaction to other reviews, how storytelling isn't just exposition in this universe. Who tells a story, how, why, and to whom is just as important--perhaps more important--than the story itself.

    Above all, I keep asking myself: If not now, when? We know from the books how plots don't end, they evolve. When would be a good time to mention that groundwork is being laid for a later development? I started to foresee each review getting longer and longer, as I did more "And remember that one time, when so-and-so did this? Yeah, it matters now but I didn't want to say anything." As a reviewer, it seemed like a daunting prospect: an ever-growing list of stuff to mention later. As a hypothetical reader of the reviews, it didn't sound like much fun, either, because it would reduce me to more of a recap than anything else, unwilling to say anything remotely interpretive for fear that the way I deal with the evidence we've seen will be crossing the muddy Rubicon into Spoilerville.

    Also, how to say it in a non-possible-implication-spoilery way? "Littlefinger tells Sansa the story of the Hound and the Mountain"? Or just "So it turns out the Hound and the Mountain have a troubled history"? Choosing which facts to highlight, even in a recap, can be just as foreshadowy as anything else.

    ***End Possible Tiny Character Spoilers*****

    Okay, done now. I probably should have used some of that energy to write the review of the most recent episode, eh?

  7. From my perspective GoT should be treated like a LoTR adaptation or the Harry Potter films, everyone knows what's going to happen it's just the execution that's up in the air. But to my suprise there are people who haven't read Martin's books. Which is puzzling, because i'd consider (at least) the first 3 books as classics.

    You do a relly great job Josie on the reviews. Keep it up. This site has become such an integral part of my viewing experience that it feels really strange when i watch something and can't read a review immediately after. :)

  8. Thanks for the detailed response, Josie. You raise some interesting points. I'm really glad it's you doing the reviews, and not me, because I would struggle mightily with the balancing act. Good on ya! (And sorry to distract you from this week's review.)

  9. Really interesting response to Jess' question, Josie. I am glad you took the time to explain your thinking, which makes complete sense to me. I imagine it's also quite reassuring for the non-book-savvy viewer to hear that all of these mystifying little exchanges are actually detailed plot threads that will be soon woven into the beautiful and elaborate tapestry of that is the world of Westeros.

    By the way, I have started saving my GoT episodes to watch until after you've written your reviews. It's so much more satisfying that way. No pressure! ;)

  10. No pressure, eh? :-)

    Seriously, though: my next review will post on Thursday. I'm so sorry for these delays. My top secret work for an unnamed government agency has kept me very busy of late. Starting next episode I'll be much more prompt.

  11. For the first time, I could keep up with the episode without having to watch it twice. Yay!

    The review helped a lot, though. The implications are always much more than what I pick up.

    Arya is the character I look forward the most to seeing. If the series were only about her, I'd watch it anyway. But I love Tyrion and Littlefinger, too. The bit you said about the power of information was very insightful.

    The review also taught me a now word: sycophant.

    Thanks for all, Josie!

  12. Great review, Josie. I was very interested in the discussion about all the exposition, because I became very aware of it while watching. However, as someone coming into the story blind, it did help solidify how all of these characters and stories fit together. Additionally, this is one of those rare stories where the backstory is as compelling as the ongoing narrative.

    I jumped when Ned found the apprentice. I posted in an earlier episode that I believed that Cersei was telling the truth, but not being honest, about the loss of her first child. As the apprentice is dark and Joffrey is light, I think we can guess why she wanted the latter to be the heir. I will not be at all surprised if the apprentice is not a bastard at all.

    I found the story that Jon told Sam about why he is a virgin to be incredibly moving. For a young man to resist the allure of a naked woman simply because he would not wish his fate on a potentiality tells us a lot about who he is. I really like the budding friendship; two men, rejected by their families for whatever reason, coming together as brothers.

    I cheered when Dany clocked her brother. It's been a long time coming.

    Finally, am I the only one who flashed to 'A Knight's Tale' during the joust? Maybe it's just having Mark Addy around.


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