Game of Thrones: The Wolf and the Lion

“The seed is strong.”

It just gets better and better, doesn’t it? The latest installment of Game of Thrones was sharply drawn, in no small part because the action centered on Westeros, specifically King’s Landing and the off-kilter crazyland of the Eyrie.

GoT must negotiate between presenting the numerous threads and somehow still creating one comprehensive tapestry. As much as I enjoy the events that take place across the Narrow Sea, at the Wall, or at Winterfell—and although I recognize their importance for the other plots—the King’s Landing and Catelyn/Tyrion stories still feel like the primary storyline so far. This episode sacrificed narrative comprehensiveness for narrative unity, and it is all the better for it.

That’s not to deny the importance of those far-afield stories for the “main” plots of Starks and Lannisters. We found out this week where Ser Jorah went: to report news of Dany’s pregnancy to the network of spies that King Robert and his council have in place. Little moments like that make clear the interconnectedness of these stories: the fractured narratives are a necessity that, luckily, the show is occasionally willing to sacrifice for a delightful unified episode like this one.

Despite the title, this episode wasn’t just about Lannisters and Starks, though. It was about violent conflicts between warriors, on the one hand, and between those who must rely on other forms of power. The first half of the episode set up a series of potential conflicts between fascinating pairs—some of these conflicts will pay off down the line, and some paid off sooner than I expected them to.

The Hound and the Mountain. As the Hand’s tourney continues, the artificial violence continues to turn real and deadly. As a codified outlet for martial impulses in a time of peace, and as a homosocial ritual, the idea of a joust is partly horrifying, partly familiar (football, anyone?). The joust between Teenbeat cover-boy Ser Loras and Psychopaths Weekly Man of the Year, the Mountain, started off as a ritualized exchange of violence—and then turned insane. The Mountain decapitated his frakkin’ horse! Even the heavily regulated rules of tourney and their ostensible grounding in a sense of shared nobility can turn scary, bloody, and deadly in an instant. And, of course, the Hound stepped in: not just to save the pretty boy, but also to have an excuse to fight his brother.

Ned and Barristan the Bold. This is mostly an honorable mention: two seasoned warriors who respect each other on the field and off. Ned respects Ser Barristan because he kept his oath during the rebellion—in other words, Ned respects Barristan because they fought on opposite sides of the war. Ned’s sense of just behavior, old-fashioned even for this pseudo-medieval world, isn’t a solitary example. There are good men in King’s Landing. Well, at least one more.

Ned and Robert. Despite their shared history (and victory), Ned and Robert have been playing an uneasy game of cat-and-mouse ever since they first reunited in the Winterfell crypts. At first the tension centered on Robert’s willingness to ask for more than Ned wanted to grant, and Robert’s reliance on Ned’s willingness to do what he finds unpleasant but necessary. As they got closer to King’s Landing, and now that they are occupied in the mundane affairs of statescraft and the artificial violence of the tourney, though, the fissures in their relationship are growing more apparent to both of them. Their scene in the tourney tent could have gone either way at any moment: Robert’s drunken moods are beyond even Ned’s power to control.

The counterpart scene, in which Robert refuses to accept Ned’s unwillingness to order Dany’s death, and Robert (off-screen) rants and rages his way into declaring Ned a traitor, is the beginning of the dissolution of Ned’s relationship with Robert. Will Robert follow through on the declaration of treason? Will Ned be in serious danger? The soldier’s lance seems to have done some grievous harm to his leg.

Littlefinger and Varys. The conversation between Littlefinger and Varys was fascinating. They exchanged irrelevant information in their own type of joust: the ritual gossip about ultimately irrelevant matters was really a stylized contest in which each man took the measure of his opponent and showed off his own weapons. In “Lord Snow,” Ned told Jaime that he never jousted because he didn’t want his opponents to know what he was capable of. Littlefinger and Varys, because their skills are so similar, must constantly reveal what they are capable. A joust can lead to sudden death, but only sometimes does a whisper have such a quick impact.

Renly and Ser Loras. Robert’s little brother and the Knight of the Flowers have a relationship that seems to be more-or-less out in the open: Littlefinger certainly didn’t keep that secret at the joust, either because everyone knows or because he views Renly as powerless. (Or some combination of the two.) Loras is a bit of a pragmatic schemer: while he’s good at fighting, he doesn’t seem content to just be the Justin Beiber of Westeros. If Littlefinger is underestimating Renly, is he taking Loras’s influence into account?

Tyrion, Catelyn and Lysa. The Eyrie, brought to you by David Lynch’s psychotherapist. Catelyn hasn’t seen her sister in years, and while Tyrion had likely seen her much more recently in King’s Landing (where Lysa was married to Jon Arryn), they were both in for a rude awakening. Lysa’s off-kilter relationship with her breastfeeding first-grader is disturbing enough in the book, but this was even more off-putting. The weird silence and sullen glances of all of Lysa’s men, Tyrion’s face (which spoke more than a single quip could), Catelyn’s desire to treat Lysa like a normal person…shudder. The whole thing was just perfectly creepy. And again, shudder.

If we accept that the joust in the opening was a mise-en-abyme, or short scene that encapsulates the major arcs and themes of the rest of the episode, then it’s fairly clear that many of the encounters mentioned above were opening salvos in an increasingly complex ping-pong of gossip, violence, and betrayal. Whether conflicts (as in the case of Robert and Ned, for instance), encounters (Catelyn, Lysa, and Tyrion), or alliances (Renly and Loras), each two-person scene established forceful characters who are all chomping at the bit to tear each other’s throats out and kill their horses along the way.

Two scenes do stand out as radically different from the others, despite similarities of staging: Robert’s conversation with Cersei and Jaime’s encounter with Ned. Robert and Cersei seemed to be saying goodbye by admitting they’d never really connected and that their miserable marriage was the empty ritual that keeps the kingdom from drowning in its own bloodlust. Jaime’s encounter with Ned, which was presaged by at least three other conversations Ned had but didn’t fully understand, was heartbreaking for those of us on Team Stark.

One last bit of narratology. In an episode filled with two-person scenes, the opening and the closing had a novel structure: at the joust, the Hound jumped into the Loras/Mountain fracas and kept the fight from getting deadly. Outside the brothel, an unnamed soldier stopped the Ned/Jaime swordfight from resolving. Jaime is left wondering if he could have beaten Ned, and Ned is left with a punctured leg. In both cases, someone unexpected changed the game, and the participants never saw it coming. Perhaps we can take this episode as a mise-en-abyme, too: a sort of narrative form that foreshadows future developments in the multiplayer game of power.

Bitter Enemies and Uneasy Peaces:

• They Eyrie has been added to the credits.

• I’m not forgetting the Winterfell scene. I’m just arguing that it wasn’t particularly necessary.

• I love the small detail of the prostitute putting blush on after sleeping with Theon. Such a wonderful, subtle way to attack his prowess.

• Speaking of the rest of Westeros: I don’t think the simultaneous interlaced stories are actually simultaneous: Yoren left the Wall in the last episode and arrived at King’s Landing in this one—but the tourney is still going on, and Arya is still in the cat-chasing phase of her dancing lessons.

• The trend of shaved chests for grown men has spread to a fake medieval fantasy world. Are there no hairy men left in the universe?!

• I mean to say this last week: are any of you fellow book-readers slowly realizing that you’ve been saying most of the names incorrectly all this time?

• Ned: “But who holds the straws?”

• Bronn: “Your first? You need a woman. Nothing like a woman after a fight.”
Tyrion: “I’m willing if she is.”

• Bronn: “Give me ten good men and some climbing spikes. I’ll impregnate the bitch.”

• Loras: “Stannis has the personality of a lobster.”

• List of the dead: the horse, Ser Hugh (forgot to mention him last week), Jory, assorted redcloaks.

Three and a half out of four breastplate stretchers. And I promise next week’s review will be much more prompt.
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Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

11 comments:

Paul Reed said...

Five weeks in and I still can't work out what accent Peter Dinklage is trying to pull off. I've never heard anything like it in my life. Come back Dick Van Dyke... all is forgiven.

Mark Greig said...

First someone drowns a cat on The Shadow Line and now a horse gets freakin' decapitated on Game of Thrones. Was this Cruelty to Animals Week or something?

This was a fantastic episode. The best so far. There were just so many greats scenes. I honestly didn't think Lysa and little Robert could be any creepier than they were in the book. Tyrion's face in that scene was just priceless.

About the names – I'm actually surprised how many I've been saying correctly, but was shocked to find out it was Cat-e-lyn and not Cate-lyn.

Josie Kafka said...

Paul, I believe it is the accent known as "British" here in the US.

TVNerd said...

I surprised you didn't mention the wonderfully dreadful prisons in the Eryie. I remember feeling vertigo when reading about them.

Another great episode, and excellent review Josie. Your tardiness is fine, just don't make a habit of it :P

TVNerd

Jess Lynde said...

The horse bothered me until we got to the Eyrie. Then I had something new to haunt my nightmares. You are so right about the relationship between Lysa and her son being even more creepy when you see it played out. Shudder. Although I LOVED Catelyn's and Tyrion's reactions.

You know, I didn't think the visuals of the Eyrie and its prisons lived up to the book. There's something about going on that journey up the mountain and then spending the time with Tyrion in those cells that makes it so much more terrifying and imposing than it appeared on screen.

I'm with Mark on the pronunciations. Most of them are pretty close to way they sounded in my head. Except for Catelyn. I can't believe it isn't said Kate-lynn. I still say it that way when I'm talking about the show. Actually, Lysa doesn't fit with my mental pronunciation either. I thought it was like Lisa (as in Simpson) not Liza (as in Minelli).

Josie Kafka said...

Jess, I agree about the Eyrie. I hope they'll show more of the journey on the way down.

CrazyCris said...

Great review again Josie! I don't mind it being late since I couldn't catch up to the episode until today :p

I've actually been getting most of the names right! :o)

Favourite moments: loved seeing Arya chasing after cats, the looks on Catelyn's and Tyrion's faces when faced with Lysa and her freaky offspring, Ned and Jaime's confrontation (argh!!!)...

Surprised by the scene between the knight of Flowers and Renley. I didn't read that in the book! :p

And I too was underwhelmed by the Eyrie... perhaps if we saw someone "fly"? ;o)

Patryk said...

You couldn't have read a scene between two non-POV characters in the book. :) There were allusions like "they were praying together alot".

Wonderfull ep, i got the biggest charge out of the Hounds duel with his brother. Also Bronn skill with the sword was brilliant, can't wait to see more combat. Also in the end i wished for Jaime to kill that redcloak not just punch him. Even evil has it's standards, no one interrupts a fair duel.

The lack of Daenerys and Jon serves the plot, they need to spend some time adjusting before the real stuff in their threads starts happening. Judging by the title of the next episode we will move to the happening part. ;)

Nobody commented on the mountain men. I was picturing savages but those looked just like regular brigands. Maybe i didn't read their descriptions thoroughly enough in the book.

I wish they'd start filming season 2 alrady and launch it the winter (maybe with a tagline: Winter came ;P) because i just can't imagine waiting 42 weeks for more GoT (which will probably keep the title, chaging it to CoK would confuse viewers i bet)

Sooze said...

Wonderful episode. I had to watch again to really listen carefully to all the conversations. Fantastic writing.

I thought the Eyrie was great, but have not read the books. Lysa'a "throne" was as creepy as her.

Josie: "Paul, I believe it is the accent known as "British" here in the US." LOL and so true...I don't notice anything wrong with it - but I do notice when a Boston or Baltimore accent is done terribly wrong.

Looking forward to tonight's installment!

ChrisB said...

I loved the scene between Robert and Cersei. It's difficult to image seventeen years with a person you care so little about. Even here, although they were being civil, the only hint of warmth was the shared laugh.

The scene with Lysa and Robyn was so awful that it actually took me out of the story. All I could think of was how desperate a parent must be for their child to be in a film that he or she would allow the child to film such a scene as this. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

Paul is right. Peter Dinklage's English accent is not the highlight of his performance. I can forgive him the accent as everything else he does is so good.

Iago said...

Rewatching the episode and for me the scene that really stands out is Cersei versus Robert. Even after the spectacular second series I think this scene is one of the best things they've ever done.

One of my biggest complaints with the books is that, in a world filled with rich and detailed characters, Cersei comes off as a little one-dimensional. The TV series does a lot to make her almost sympathetic and it starts with this scene: it makes you realise just how much Cersei has endured and, whilst it doesn't excuse her behaviour, it explains it. She was sold off to the highest bidder and that person was in love with someone else. Jaimie talks about going to war over Cersei, but it's all talk - Robert actually did it for Lyanna Stark. There was no way Cersei was going to compete/compare with that level of devotion.

It shows a great 'What if', which is something the series does very well: what if Robert had been deal with his grief over Lyanna and be a loving husband to Cersei? Would she have still cheated on him with Jaimie and would the situation have fallen apart as it does? Robert with Cersei on his side would have been a formidable force.

I love the emotional honesty too, two people who've hurt each other to the point of immunity deciding to lay down their arms. This was a good episode for the plot and the Stark/Lannister rivalry but the Cersei-Robert scene stands head and shoulders above the rest of it.