Little Swords, Big Armies
“The Pointy End”
Game of Thrones
HBO, Sundays, 9 PM
Written by George R. R. Martin
Directed by Daniel Minahan
Last week I mentioned the imbalance in male-to-female nudity in Game of Thrones. The previous week I desired magical creatures. Game of Thrones rectified both those oversight in generous measure in this episode. We got a glimpse of Hodor (Kristian Nairn), the gigantic and corpse-white minion who carries the crippled young Bran around, frolicking through the woods stark (heh) naked. This episode also gave us not one but two zombies, and the promise of many more to come. I’m mentally rubbing my hands together in glee. Magic at last! I’d like to think this has something to do with the fact that this time around, the creator of the series himself, George R. R. Martin, is writing the story. About time, I say.
“The First Sword of Braavos does not retreat.” — Syrio
We pick up where we left off, in mid-sword fight. The Gold Cloaks of the city guard, having turned against Ned, are slaughtering the last of the Stark warriors and capturing the children. Sansa, being as wimpy as she is stupid, is fairly easy to capture, after her devoted nurse sacrifices her life in a futile attempt to save her. Arya is luckier. She’s in mid-session with her fencing master, Syrio (Miltos Yerolemou, Hububb), when the guards burst in. She, and we, are treated to a virtuoso display of swordsmanship, in which a master armed only with a wooden sword and rapier (heh) wit dispatches six armed men, literally with one hand behind his back. I had to rewind and watch that scene again. Syrio is not only fun to watch, he gets almost all the good lines. I hope he survived his encounter and that he’ll be seen again. I love a wily man. Arya is nearly as wily, and makes good her escape. Finding all her household servants slaughtered, she keeps her wits about her, recovers Needle, the sword Jon Snow gave her earlier, and fights her way to freedom. From the very beginning, Arya Stark has been one of the few characters I can root for wholeheartedly; she is as honorable as her father but smart enough to know when to stand and when to run. I look forward to any scene with her in it.
“Why is it no one ever trusts the eunuch?” – Lord Varys
Meanwhile, Ned Stark has already begun to rot in his dungeon. A visit from Lord Varys (Conleth Hill,Perrier’s Bounty) serves largely to fill us in on the necessary backstory. Varys, like Tyrion and all the Other outsider characters, gets to speak his mind, so his first question is to question Ned’s sanity in showing his hand to the queen. Varys assures Ned that he is a dead man, that his household guards are all dead, and that Arya is nowhere to be found although Sansa is safe. Ned can take all of this, because he’s sure that the Queen won’t kill him as long as Catelyn holds her brother. When Varys reveals that Catelyn has released Tyrion, Ned is struck almost dumb with shock. Well, gee, Ned, what did you expect from a wife as honorable and dumb as you are? The very quality he loves in his wife – her honesty – is her and his undoing. By acting in accordance with the law, Catelyn is forced to relinquish her only hostage for Cersei’s behavior. This would be a more distressing turn of events if anyone outside of the Stark family honestly believed that Cersei gives a damn about her dwarf brother. Tyrion’s status as hostage might give his father pause, but his sister would have trouble stifling a yawn over the whole matter. So Catelyn’s action, while regrettable, probably will make no difference in the long run: Ned will be in just as much danger as before. Meanwhile, Varys tells Ned that he “serves the realm”, implying that he alone has the best interests of the whole of Westros in mind. I hope this is true because it makes Varys much more interesting than the cliché of the scheming courtier.
“I’ll be a queen like you.” – Sansa
The only Stark left alive and mobile in the palace now is the hapless dupe, Sansa. She quivers and sniffles when told her father is a traitor; she defends for a few minutes and then completely capitulates to Queen Cersei’s every demand. Within moments she is promising to do or be or say anything the Queen requires, as long as she has a chance to marry Joffrey and become queen. I have to wonder if, in that vast and echoing hollow that serves as her brain, there’s an idea rattling around that this is her revenge on her father for the slaughter of her direwolf. Of course, that’s a mistake, because it was really King Robert who ordered the death of Lady. But it’s pretty typical of Sansa to displace the real responsibility onto her father, so she can continue to fawn on her would-be royal relatives. I had to laugh when Sansa told Cersei that she wanted to be “a queen like you”; on her best days, Sansa cannot touch the shadow of this Machiavellian monarch. She doesn’t have the brains or the ruthlessness to be a queen like Cersei.
“Only fire will stop them.” – Samwell
The brief scenes we got at The Wall were notable for the depth of information they packed in. Also, zombies. When Jon Snow and his buddy Samwell return from their oath-taking, they bring back the bodies of two dead Rangers. When Samwell comments that they don’t smell like rotting corpses, men begin exchanging uneasy glances. No one wants to admit that the legendary Walkers may be back; no one wants to open himself to ridicule. Only Samwell approaches the problem in a practical way; since they have to dispose of the bodies anyway, why not burn them? I loved the point being made here, that these tough-guy Rangers with their macho ethic are at a loss what to do when something threatens their notion of reality, but the soft intellectual they despise is the one who comes up with an answer. The Rangers put the corpses in storage to ponder the matter, but that night Jon Stark’s direwolf, Ghost, wakes him and leads him to the Lord Commander’s door. There he fights one of the revived Rangers, now a zombie with blue glowing eyes. Jon has to kill him a couple of times, because he keeps getting up like the Black Knight inMonty Python and the Holy Grail (aka Mønti Pythøn ik den Høli Gräilen). Too bad they burned the corpses, because if I was Jon Snow I think I’d lock one in with the sadistic trainer, Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale, Silk). Brief as these scenes were, they were gratifyingly well done. I’ve waited several weeks to see the Wights from beyond the Wall again, and I’m hoping to see more. This is, after all, why I’m watching this fantasy series.
“I have already killed you.” – Khal Drogo
This hour opened with swordplay, and continued with plenty of fighting, but the gore came in one-on-one action. In the East, we see Khaleesi Daenerys attempting to save a few captive women from gang rape, and finally appealing to her lord. Drogo not only sides with her, but duels with a recalcitrant warrior smarting under the insult of bowing to a “foreign whore”. Jason Momoa once again strutted and roared magnificently, but now put his money where his mouth is. Scorning to soil his sword with a traitor’s blood, Khal Drogo ducks and weaves, sneers at a sword cut, throws his weapons away, and taunts his opponent with graphic descriptions of his body disposal (suffice to say that a clean fire, like the Wights, is not an option). Finally he kills his man with his own sword and rips out his tongue. Throughout this bloody employee relations moment, Daenerys stares with her usual slack-jawed gawk, until realizing Drogo has been wounded. She then allows one of the slave women to tend to him. For a ruthless and bloodthirsty Targaryen, Daenerys is pretty dense. I wouldn’t let a victim of conquest anywhere near the conqueror, but Daenerys seems to embody not only the arrogance of the Mad Kings but the naiveté of Ned Stark.
“How would you like to die, Tyrion son of Tywin?” – Shagga, son of Dolf
I love the imperial red of the House of Lannister. You gotta give it to these guys, they have style. Tyrion Lannister, having talked his way out of an ambush staged by the ancestors of the hillbillies from Deliverance, arrives with them in tow at his father’s military camp. Tywin is not delighted to see his son, but seems willing to honor his son’s promise. Having suffered humiliation and a facial scar at the hands of Shagga (Mark Lewis Jones, Being Human [UK version]), chief of his mountain “allies”, I suspect Tyrion is about to give them the same treatment King David of Israel gave to Uriah – a spot in the front lines, exposed to the enemy. These rather dim backwoodsmen don’t seem to grasp the fact that the Lannister motto – “A Lannister always pays his debts” – can also be rendered as “Payback’s a bitch”. This is only a speed bump for Tywin, however, who is slavering over the possibility that Robb Stark may be leading his men out of Winterfell in a frontal attack. Robb himself is fighting to maintain discipline among his own men, who think they know how to run a war better than he does. They’re probably right, particularly since Robb seems bound and determined to follow in his honest but blundering father’s footsteps. The stage is set for yet more disaster for the Stark family.
“All these swords, they should be going north.” – Osha
Again, the oracle of the wildlings urges these oblivious Southrons to stop wasting their time on internecine warfare and turn to the North, to address the real danger out of the ice and snow. She tells Bran that the White Walkers sleep under the ice of the North for a thousand years, before Winter wakes them and sends them South, to threaten Westros. I love these hints. I only wish I didn’t have this sneaking feeling that I may not see another Walker until Season Three. While I am growing to enjoy this series more than I thought I would, I continue to be frustrated by both the slow pace of plot development, and the lack of novelty in what I am seeing. If I want to see medieval warriors bashing one another, I’ll watch Camelot orRobin Hood. If I want to see convoluted politics, intrigues and double-cross, The Borgias is one channel over. The introduction of the zombified Wights is a (dragging) step in the right direction, but I’m still holding out for dragons. Until then, Game of Thrones continues to draw me in and hold my interest.