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Spoiler Alert Thursday

As those who follow me on Twitter likely noticed, I found Sunday to be really stressful: there was nothing worth watching on at all. This offended my warrior spirit and the general consensus that you get it your way on your birthday. Before anyone feels obliged to say something like, “Happy belated birthday!” or whatever, you should take into account who I am: I’m the sort of person who is absolutely puzzled by the institution of the birthday. Seriously: who gives a fuck? The point is, in the mythology of “the birthday” you are supposed to get what you want, when you want it, and how you want it. And I don’t want some prissy show about the 1% circa decades ago.

We noticed while discussing these issues that we don’t really watch any shows that do not, in some way, thematize violence. We found this odd, but I’m not sure why. (Although, presumably, “Mad Men” is likely the most structurally violent television show currently being produced given its focus on the well-off, advertising, and its apparent celebration of casual sexism.) I have no good explanation for this other than that, on average, non-violent shows just suck or, alternatively, that we have a mean streak. Both are likely true.

As a result, we decided to re-watch “Game of Thrones” in preparation for season two’s premier on Sunday. (This would also be after having watched “Generation Kill” for the sixth time–in a row.) On New Years Eve–because we are winners–we attempted a re-watch of “Game of Thrones,” but our TV died just as we were beginning and it was too late to go buy a new one. Like all of our TVs, it was handed down from my parents. The general pattern is they get a new “main” TV, the old “main” TV is moved into the basement, and then the basement TV is put into their SUV and carted off to our house the next time they stop by. Thus, for the past few years, our TV has been an ancient–albeit giant–rear projection TV. The bulb finally broke just as we were set to return to The Wall. So, in an absence of anything else to watch–and, besides, why would you watch “Mad Men” when you could watch “Game of Thrones,” which is the best show presently being produced–we initiated a re-watch.

Fortunately, “Game of Thrones” was available On Demand and, fortunately, On Demand was working. It is not uncommon for On Demand to not work for no good or discernible reason. (It is also the case that TV channels randomly disappear from the guide for a few days and then reappear. A few weeks ago, Showcase disappeared; now Dusk has disappeared.) We made it to the fourth episode when On Demand began to fail. Although the episode was clearly listed as available (as is the entire season), the fourth episode hadn’t actually been uploaded to the On Demand system. Yes, I pay roughly $180/month for this shit. Fortunately, it was easily available online and I downloaded the Torrent. This was likely the first time we had watched anything in high definition on our new TV–so, blacks aren’t pixelated and so on. (We’ve since downloaded the entire season and will be watching it this way.)

What follows is an episode-by-episode recap of the first half of the season. I’m aiming to post an episode-by-episode recap of the second half of the season on the weekend.

Winter is Coming–Like all of the novels, the first episode begins with a prologue that is secondary to the plot of the novel, but which sets into motion subsequent events. We begin Beyond The Wall with a ranger excursion seeking out Wildlings, which, apparently, is all that the rangers do: kill Wildlings if they stray too close to The Wall. One of the rangers comes across a number of dismembered bodies arranged in a strange pattern. Sensibly, he returns to the leader of the excursion revealing what he has seen. The leader, clearly an arrogant noble who is likely of limited skill, insists they go back to the site only to discover that the bodies are gone. Soon thereafter, they are attacked by a rather large looking hominid creature with pale blue skin–the killing of the head ranger is especially good. The original ranger is certain that this is a mythical White Walker (apparently renamed such from the novels because HBO producers didn’t want the Others of the novels confused with the Others of “Lost”–of course, given that “The Walking Dead” had recently aired on AMC, it isn’t clear why they had no problem with “White Walkers”). The ranger manages to escape, perhaps because the White Walker allowed him to do so, and, next, we see him below The Wall (which clearly indicates that The Wall isn’t the least bit impervious to penetration) running through the North. He is summarily executed by Lord Ned Stark, but gives his warning that the White Walkers have returned.

On the way back to Winterfell, the castle of the Starks, there is a rather significant scene. The party comes across a giant stag that has been gutted. They wonder what could have taken down such a large stag (the sigil of the Baratheons). Certainly not (mountain) lions (the sigil of the Lannisters). They follow the blood trail into the woods and find a dead female direwolf (the sigil of the Starks) with a number of pups trying to nurse from her. She has a chunk of the stag’s antler stuck in her throat. They briefly discuss the direwolf: Theon Greyjoy, a ward of Ned Stark’s, wonders why the wolf is so huge–he’s never seen one before. Ned says that it is a direwolf, but direwolves have not been seen Below the Wall in a long time. (Note: we are now at two creatures that should not exist: White Walkers and direwolves.) Ned insists that the puppies be killed because they won’t survive on their own. Jon Snow, the bastard son of Ned, intervenes, pointing out that there are as many direwolves as there are legitimate children and, coincidentally, that their genders match: two girls, three boys. Ned relents and allows the children to keep the direwolves. As they leave, Jon finds a sixth direwolf, the runt of the litter who has been forced away from the mother by the rest of them. Perhaps Jon isn’t a bastard after all…

Upon returning to Winterfell, Ned learns that Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King (a sort of vizir), has died. Ned, his brother Brandon, and Robert Baratheon had previously been the wards of Jon Arryn. At the time of Robert’s Rebellion–which had the goal of rescuing Lyanna Stark from Rhaegar Targaryen–Jon Arryn had also been Hand to King Aerys–the “Mad King”. When Rhaegar Targaryen, the oldest son of Aerys, was accused of kidnapping Lyanna Stark, Brandon Stark rode to King’s Landing to insist that Aerys command Rhaegar to release Lyanna. Rather than releasing Lyanna, Aerys took Brandon hostage, which in turn forced Lord Rickard Stark to go to King’s Landing and insist upon the release of both of his children. Ultimately, Aerys determined that all of the Starks and their allies should be taken hostage and ordered Jon Arryn to bring him Ned and Robert, dead or alive. Arryn refused this order and organized resistance to Aerys which ultimately led to Robert’s Rebellion which ends with Robert killing Rhaegar, Aerys murdering Brandon and Rickard, Jamie Lannister murdering Aerys, Tywin Lannister having all of the surviving Targaryen children murdered, and Lyanna dying under uncertain conditions. Point being, both Ned and Robert owe a lot Jon Arryn and his death affects them greatly. The death leads Robert to bring his entire court north where he asks Ned to become the new Hand of the King, a position which Ned only reluctantly accepts.

Otherwise, in this episode we learn that Jon Snow wants to go to The Wall with his uncle Benjen and join the Night’s Watch; Joffrey, the firstborn son of King Robert and Queen Cersei, is a nasty psychopath; King Robert is an incompetent king who prefers to whore, drink, and hunt rather than rule–warriors, it would seem, make bad rulers–and who prefers his long-dead fiance, Ned’s sister, to his actual wife; Jamie, the Queen’s twin brother, is super-arrogant and supremely confident in his martial abilities; Tyrion, Jamie and Cersei’s younger dwarf brother, is the lowest in his family pecking order so he delights in outrageous behaviour and is able to get away with it because he is, more often than not, smarter than everyone around him; and, most importantly, that Jamie and Cersei are, in addition to being twins, are also lovers.

This last bit of information is what ultimately sets up what is to follow: Bran, the second youngest Stark child, is an avid climber who scales up an abandoned tower at Winterfell and finds Jamie and Cersei going at it. Cersei panics–as she is wont to do when confronted with a crisis–while Jamie treats it as a joke. However, given Robert’s obvious jealousy, Jamie only has one option: he must kill Bran before word gets out and Robert kills them in a fit of rage. Significantly, prior to Bran’s climbing up the tower, his direwolf, Summer, is rather anxious and whines, pointing to the strange fact that the Stark children are somehow “bonded” with their wolves and that the wolves have a greater clarity of vision than do humans.

Across the sea, in a somewhat disconnected plot (at this point, at least), we are introduced to the two lone surviving Targaryens: Daenerys and her older brother Viserys, both of whom are siblings to Rhaegar, the Targaryen who pissed off Robert and Ned and which lead to a regime change. We learn that Viserys is an arrogant and ambitious idiot who is exceptionally cruel to Daenerys. In order to secure an army to help him regain the Iron Throne, which he takes to be his by right, Viserys, through the agency of a local magnate named Illyrio Mopatis (who appears to be generally sympathetic to the cause of the Targaryens albeit for rather opaque reasons) essentially pimps out Daenerys to Khal Drogo, the leader of a horde of horse-riding barbarians similar to real-world Mongols. At their wedding, we are introduced to Ser Jorah Mormont, who has apparently sworn fealty to Viserys, who gives Daenerys books about the history of the Seven Kingdoms. Illyrio Mopatis also gives the gift of three dragon eggs, which are thought to be dormant or petrified, but nonetheless valued for their beauty and rarity, not to mention the symbolic connection the Targaryen family sigil, a three headed dragon: we have two dragons so far, where’s the third?

The Kingsroad–With the basics of the plot set in place, the second episode initiates a change in scenery and location: Jon Snow, accompanied by Tyrion Lannister, Benjen Stark, and some other recruits for the Night’s Watch make their way to The Wall; Ned, his two daughters Sansa (now betrothed to the psychopath prince, Joffrey) and Arya, join King Robert’s retinue making their way back to King’s Landing, the capital city of the Seven Kingdoms; Catelyn Stark begins her vigil over Bran who is in a coma and looks to be crippled; and, finally, Khal Drogo begins his trek to Vaes Dothrak, the “city” of the Dothraki, to present his new wife to whichever other Khals might be in the city at the time.

This episode–other than the final scene with Bran and his direwolf Summer–is the first time we are shown the significantly grown wolves demonstrating aspects of their personality. First we see Arya and Nymeria packing their belongings. Jon comes into Arya’s room to give her a parting gift–a rapier-like sword–and Arya tries to show Jon how well trained Nymeria is by asking her to go get a pair gloves. Nymeria, clearly understanding the command but not understanding why Arya would ask her to do it, more or less declines. (Gordon and Mica both liked this.)

Next we encounter Summer, Bran’s wolf. Once everyone has left Winterfell, Catelyn and Robb (the eldest of the Stark children) are talking in Bran’s room and the remaining wolves–Grey Wind (Robb’s), Shaggydog (Rickon’s), and Summer–begin to howl. Catelyn screams for them to stop, which prompts Robb to look out the window and see that a tower (incidentally, Maester Luwin’s library, but this isn’t mentioned in episode nor is Tyrion’s borrowing of a number of rare books from the library; one assumes it’s a comparatively impressive library given that Tyrion has nearly unlimited resources to use to get his hands on books). Robb, now in charge of Winterfell, runs off to oversee the firefighting efforts, at which point an assassin enters Bran’s room. Fortunately for Bran and unfortunately for the assassin, Catelyn is there and tries to defend Bran. She manages to fight off the assassin for long enough for Summer to make it to the room and rip the assassin’s throat out. Having saved Bran, Summer jumps onto the bed and snuggles up next to Bran with the assassin’s throat bleeding out all over the place. Catelyn seems rather confused, not only because of the attack but also because of Summer’s defense of Bran, and she seems to catch on that there is some sort of connection between the children and the wolves.

Finally, we see Lady, Sansa’s wolf, being calmly and properly walked around the temporary town that has been constructed around the Inn at the Crossroads. Again, Sansa and Lady’s personality mirror each other and Lady demurely sits in the middle of the temporary town when Joffrey asks Sansa to accompany him on a walk in the woods where they–while rather tipsy (Joffrey already classy getting his ladies liquored up)–come upon Arya and a boy playing at swords (sticks, really) by the river. Being distracted by the arrival of Joffrey and Sansa, Arya is hit by the boy and Joffrey uses this as pretext to challenge the boy to a duel. Joffrey, of course, is armed with a real sword while the boy has a stick. Joffrey begins to beat up the boy and Arya jumps in to save him by wacking Joffrey on the back of the head with a stick; Joffrey turns his rage on Arya, but the boy is able to escape. With Joffrey now threatening Arya, Nymeria jumps in out of nowhere and bites Joffrey’s arm whereupon he looses his grip on his sword, Arya wiggles free and promptly throws the sword into the river, thoroughly humiliating Joffrey. It would seem that Nymeria isn’t interested in doing things that serve no real purpose–like packing gloves–but is ready and willing to listen when it is important, like not killing the prince. Meanwhile, Sansa throws a tantrum because she fears that Arya has ruined her engagement to Joffrey and hurt him and all that Sansa ever wanted was to be married to a prince.

Arya and Nymeria flee into the woods, knowing that they are in trouble. Realizing that the Lannisters will kill Nymeria for what she has done, Arya tries to drive Nymeria away by throwing rocks at her. Back at the Inn, Joffrey has tattled on Arya and made up a story–Arya and the boy ambushed him with cudgels in the woods, cruelly beat him up, and threw his sword into the river. Sansa is asked to back up the story, but she refuses to side with either Arya or Joffrey, claiming that she doesn’t remember anything. Robert mocks Joffrey for being beaten up and disarmed by a girl. Cersei demands that Nymeria be killed as compensation for Joffrey’s wounds, but, of course, Nymeria cannot be found; Lady, however, can. Ned is ordered to kill Lady as compensation and Sansa, throwing another tantrum, points out that it wasn’t Lady’s fault. All the same, Lannisters want blood and blood is what they get.

We’ll take this opportunity to point out that, so far on their visit to the North, the Lannisters have crippled one Stark kid, attacked another, had a direwolf killed, and Arya’s friend was run down and killed by Joffrey’s bodyguard, Sandor Clegane, commonly known as “The Hound.” The journey isn’t going especially well for the Starks.

Lord Snow–In this episode, Jon begins his training at The Wall and comes to realize what the Night’s Watch really is; Ned arrives in King’s Landing, secretly followed by Catelyn; Joffrey continues to reveal that he is a pyschopath and Cersei instructs him on how to be a psychopath but seem sane; Robert reminisces about when life was easier; and Daenerys finds out she is pregnant with Khal Drogo’s child.

From the first episode, we already know that The Wall and, hence, the Seven Kingdoms, faces an unexpected threat: the White Walkers who have been dormant for thousands of years. We hear this story from Old Nan, a servant who has become responsible for looking after Bran, who tells of a long night–a winter that lasted a generation and the world was completely dark for all those years–thousands of years ago when the White Walkers first appeared riding dead horses and assisted by the re-animated corpses of their dead enemies. (Despite their association with undeath, do not themselves appear to be undead but, rather, have necromantic powers of sort–which goes along with the general theme of the resurgence of magical and semi-magical creatures.) Even if the threat were expected, the Night’s Watch would remain completely inadequate to the task. For whatever reason–perhaps because of the stories told by Old Nan–Jon is under the impression that the Night’s Watch is a great brotherhood of valiant and honorable warriors. He is shocked to discover that they are thieves, “rapers” and other sorts of criminals, along with a couple unwanted noblemen–third and fourth sons, those who are otherwise unfit for civilized life in Westeros and certainly not qualified to inherit a title, or those who have disgraced themselves in one way or another. Unlike all of the other recruits, Jon has had the benefit of martial training and when their weapons training begins in earnest, he quickly defeats each and every opponent sent against him. Jon comes to a false conclusion: everyone around him is completely useless and he is somehow being punished–by his father, by his uncle, by everyone–by being sent to The Wall. (It isn’t easy being hipster Jon Snow.) Tyrion, however, being the curious sort has done his research on each of the new recruits and come to the reasonable conclusion that none of them have ever held a weapon before today and that they certainly didn’t have the luxury of being trained by a master-at-arms from a warrior family. Jon therefore seeks to redeem himself by training his fellow recruits, no doubt pointing to his future at the Night’s Watch in some command role, if not the position of Lord Commander (an issue that resurfaces in a later episode).

In addition to his intervention on behalf of the other recruits, Tyrion has a meeting with Maester Aemon (such a Targaryen name… Maesters have the duel function of being impartial stewards sent to advise noble families, manage their affairs, and, when time allows, carry on careers as scholars), Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (father of the disgraced Jorah, who is serving Daenerys) and Yoren, a “recruiter” for the Night’s Watch. Recognizing that The Wall is significantly understaffed and that something is going to happen sooner or later, Aemon and Mormont try to convince Tyrion that whatever that something is, is coming soon and they will need all the help they can get. Tyrion doubts anything more than wildlings will ever come–he doesn’t believe in the existence of magical creatures–but agrees to help them recruit by impressing Night’s Watch’s need on his sister, the Queen. Yoren and Tyrion agree to travel south as companions. Oh, and Tyrion finally gets to piss of the top of The Wall.

Meanwhile, Ned and his retinue arrive at King’s Landing where he is immediately summoned to a meeting of the Small Council, which is comprised of “Lord” Varys (the spy master; not actually holding the rank of lord, but is styled lord as an honorific), Lord Baelish (in charge of money–and former mayor of Baltimore), Grand Maester Pycelle (who, as Grand Maester, seems to have a pro forma appointment to the Small Council because he controls the network of ravens and stewards), Renly Baratheon (Robert’s younger brother and “Master of the Laws”), Stannis Baratheon (Robert’s older brother and “Master of Ships,” who is absent from the meeting), and Ser Barristan Selmy (Lord Commander of the King’s Guard).

On his way to the meeting, he must pass through throne room, where he encounters Jaime Lannister. We find out that Jaime killed the Mad King during Robert’s Rebellion, which Ned views as shameful given his oath to protect the king at all costs. Jaime points out that the Mad King deserved to die, especially for what he did to Ned’s brother and father–what he did, we aren’t told; all we know is that the Mad King died screaming “burn them all!” Ned does not consider this to be reasonable grounds to kill the king he is sworn to protect. Honour, it would seem, is important to Ned and honour, it would equally seem, is in limited supply in King’s Landing.

At the meeting of the Small Council, Ned is informed that Robert has ordered a tournament in his honour–”The Hand’s Tournament,” which Ned wants no part of–and that the Seven Kingdoms are significantly in debt to Tywin Lannister: the treasury is empty and only Lannister gold keeps it running. Lord Baelish is ordered to find the money to pay the winners of the tournament. We also learn at the meeting the Lord Baelish once fought a duel with Brandon Stark to win Catelyn Stark’s hand in marriage. Clearly, Lord Baelish lost the duel, but he implies that he is still in love with Catelyn.

This, of course, brings us to Catelyn who has finally arrived in King’s Landing on her mission to bring news to Ned that the Lannisters were behind the assassination attempt. She thought she had travelled in secret by taking boat, but she is surprised to be intercepted by two Golden Cloaks–members of the City Watch–who were sent to bring her to Lord Baelish and hide her in one of his brothels. It turns out that Lord Baelish is very well informed about what goes on in the city and the kingdom and, when we get to the brothel, that Varys is equally well informed. Ned is summoned to the brothel whereupon he promptly attempts to choke Lord Baelish to death for the offense of bringing Catelyn to such a place. Clearly, Ned has a visceral reaction to brothels implying that he would not himself be the client of one–which goes to the theory that Jon Snow is not a the product of Ned knocking up some whore. (This follows from the previous episode where Ned refused to tell Robert who the mother of Jon Snow was letting Robert have whatever theory he wanted–which goes to the theory that Jon’s parentage is something that would put his life in danger; e.g., if he were half-Targaryen.) In the brothel, Lord Baelish promises to help them uncover the murder plot. Significantly, Lord Baelish claims ownership of the dagger that was used to attack Bran, but he says that he lost it on a bet in a recent tournament when he betted against Tyrion that Jaime Lannister would defeat the Ser Loras (“The Knight of Flowers”)–this, of course, is rather suspicious: one is inclined to believe that Tyrion would never bet against his brother, but Ned and Catelyn wouldn’t know this… but Varys would. So, while the Lannisters are likely behind the murder plot, Lord Baelish–with the acquiescence of Varys–is purposefully pushing the Starks to that conclusion prematurely.

Meanwhile, across the sea, Daenerys is beginning to assert herself as Khaleesi first by forcing the khalasar to stop while she explores a forest and, then, over her brother, Viserys, when he attacks her in the forest. While the Dothraki want to kill Viserys, she nonetheless allows him live, but his horse is taken from him and he must walk like the slaves. This seems to win over the loyalty of many of the Dothraki who begin to accept her as Khaleesi despite being a foreigner.

Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things–In King’s Landing, Ned begins his investigation into the death of Jon Arryn. At The Wall, Jon extends his authority over the other recruits and works to protect a new, self-described craven, recruit named Samwell Tarly. Tyrion and Yoren begin their trek south to King’s Landing. At Winterfell, Bran begins to have strange dreams involving a three-eyed crow. And across the sea, Viserys has a hissy fit as it becomes increasingly apparent that Khal Drogo is not especially interested in invaded Westeros anytime in the near future.

Beginning with Jon Snow at The Wall. A new recruit named Samwell Tarly–a portly and cowardly fellow in the tradition of Neville Longbottom and Samwise Gamgee–arrives at The Wall. Despite being of noble birth–we’d previously heard about the Tarly’s when King Robert was bragging about his first kill to Sir Selmy which incidentally happened to be “a Tarly boy” who thought he could end the rebellion by killing Robert–Samwell is absolutely incompetent with weapons, fat, cowardly, and a self-confessed craven. He does, however, seem to be rather nice and excessively shy. Ser Alliser Thorne, the master-at-arms at Castle Black, has the other recruits attack Sam as part of his weapons training. They easily knock him over and Sam cowers. Ser Thorne insists the recruits beat him until he gets up onto his own feet. Jon intervenes to protect Sam. Ser Thorne then forces the other recruits to fight their way past Jon and then beat up Sam, which the other recruits don’t want to do knowing the Jon can easily defeat them–which he does. Ser Thorne stomps off in anger, especially at Jon who he has taken a particular disliking to. Sam thanks Jon and Jon points out that he will have to fight tomorrow.

While Jon has won influence over most of the recruits, there remains one, named Rast, who is especially cruel (he was sentenced to the Night’s Watch for being a “raper”) and who does not agree with Jon’s policy that no one will hurt Sam. In order to rectify the situation, Jon, Pyp, and Grenn attack Rast in the night, hold him down in his bed, and Ghost jumps on his chest, bearing fangs and growling menacingly. The next day, Sam is safe from attack, but Ser Thorne points out that you don’t want a man who can’t fight next to you on The Wall if it is attacked.

Meanwhile, Tyrion and Yoren have begun their journey south back to King’s Landing and stop by Winterfell to pass along Jon’s good wishes to Bran and to give the saddlemaster blueprints for a saddle that will allow Bran to ride despite being crippled. Because Robb believes that the Lannisters (as such) are behind the attempt on Bran’s life, even though it is clear to everyone else that Tyrion had no involvement in the attack, the Starks treat him rudely and Tyrion stays the night at a brothel in the village outside the castle. Taking advice from Theon Greyjoy, the ward of the Starks, Tyrion shacks up with Ros, the local prostitute. But, before doing so, Tyrion makes sure to mock the haughty Theon pointing out that he is a hostage because his family is most well-known for their failed rebellions–evidently the war that Ned joined Robert in fighting nine years ago.

Across the sea, Daenerys sends one of her servants–a former prostitute–to tend to Viserys in an attempt to make amends for forcing him to walk the rest of the way to Vaes Dothrak and to invite him to dinner. Viserys misinterprets the invitation as a command, storms into Daenerys’s tent and slaps her. Daenerys fights back for the first time ever and tells Viserys that he will not hit her ever again. Ser Jorah later tells Daenerys that Viserys would not make a good king and that no one in the Seven Kingdoms secretly want him back as their ruler. In fact, the common people don’t care one way or another who is king, so long as they are left alone.

And, at King’s Landing, Ned starts to investigate the death of Jon Arryn. With Lord Baelish’s assistance–or prodding–Ned finds out that Jon Arryn’s squire was recently knighted. In Westeros, while any knight can knight another person, knighthood is usually only granted after some sort of service or proof valour. A squire who has never seen battle would not be expected to be knighted, especially when there is no evidence of merit or, in Ser Hugh’s case, skill. Ned sends his captain of the guard, Jory, to summon Ser Hugh of the Vale. But, being an arrogant newly minted knight, Ser Hugh refuses the order. With the Ser Hugh lead drying up, Ned follows another lead to a blacksmith’s shop which Jon Arryn had visited a number of times, but never purchased anything. Ned discovers an apprentice there with an uncanny resemblance to Robert and deduces that Jon Arryn was searching for Robert’s bastards. Gendry, the apprentice blacksmith, is likely the oldest bastard.

The Tournament of the Hand finally begins. Sansa, being enamoured with tales of knights and bravery and valour, is very excited to attend to see the glamorous knights joust. The first joust is between Ser Hugh, who is wearing brand new and very expensive plate armour–the sort of armour an undistinguished squire could not afford on his own, and Ser Gregor Clegane, commonly referred to as “The Mountain Who Rides” on account of his great size. Ser Hugh is killed by The Mountain, who exploits an unprotected part of Ser Hugh’s neck, killing him with his lance. Sansa is completely shocked when she discovers that real knights are not the least bit like the knights of her favourite stories. During the joust, Lord Baelish tells Sansa the story of The Hound and The Mountain, the brothers Clegane. The Hound, who fightens Sansa, has a half-burnt off face. Lord Baelish tells her that when they were children, The Mountain found The Hound playing with one his toys without permission. He promptly grabbed The Hound, shoved his face into a fire, and held him down while it melted and burnt off.

Finally, Catelyn Stark stops at the Inn at the Crossroads–the same inn where Lady and the butcher’s son were killed by the Lannisters–only to be surprised when Tyrion and Yoren walk into the same inn. The Inn happens to be located in territory claimed by her family, the Riverlands, and she calls upon the men in the Inn to honour their oaths to her father, Lord Horster Tully, and assist her in arresting Tyrion. The episode ends with Tyrion surrounded by dozens of swords.

The Wolf and the Lion–Most of this episode takes place at King’s Landing, following Ned’s investigation in Jon Arryn’s death and the conclusion of the Hand’s Tournament, and in The Vale at Jon Arryn’s castle, The Eyrie, where we meet Catelyn’s “touched” sister and her ultra-creepy son, Robin Arryn, the heir apparent of The Vale.

In King’s Landing, we see the conclusion of The Hand’s Tournament in a joust between Ser Loras Tyrell, styled The Knight of the Flowers, who appears to be rather young and rather pretty–thus immediately winning Sansa’s affections, especially after he gives her a flower prior to the joust–and The Mountain Who Rides. (We also learn, when Lord Baelish mocks Renly, that Renly and Loras are lovers–later we see Ser Loras shaving off Renly’s body hair while discussing their own plot to claim the throne. It ends with some man-on-man sex.) Ser Loras is riding a notably smaller horse than The Mountain; a mare who is in heat. Ser Loras manages to win the joust through trickery when The Mountain’s horse is distracted by the mare in heat. Ser Loras easily knocks The Mountain off his horse and wins the joust. The Mountain, however, does not like being tricked–not that The Mountain plays fair himself, of course–and demands his sword from his squire. He promptly chops off the head of his horse and attacks the unarmed Ser Loras. The Hound jumps out of the gallery to either defend Ser Loras or use this as a pretext to kill his brother, The Mountain. After letting them fight for a while, King Robert demands they cease fighting and The Hound is nearly killed because he immediately stops fighting while The Mountain does not. In return for saving his life, Ser Loras declares The Hound to be the winner. Ser Loras says, “Thank you, Ser” to which The Hound says, “I am no Ser.” Needless to say, between the death of Ser Hugh, Ser Loras’s trickery, The Mountain killing his horse, and the fight between The Hound and The Mountain, Sansa is becoming more than a little disabused of her romantic conception of the knighthood.

At the Eyrie, the ancestral fortress of the Arryn’s located at the top of a mountain and said to be impenetrable, Catelyn discovers that her sister, Lysa, is as Tyrion puts it, “touched,” and that her nephew, Robin Arryn, were this the twenty-first century, would be riding the short bus given that he appears to be at least ten and still feeding from Lysa’s breast, which he does in open court to the horror of Catelyn, Ser Rodrick Cassell, Tyrion, and the mercenary Bronn, who has joined Catelyn’s party to keep Tyrion hostage. Catelyn accuses Tyrion of the attempted murder of Bran and Lysa has him imprisoned.

Back at King’s Landing, Ned’s investigation continues. First, Lord Varys says that Jon Arryn was killed with a rare poison called the Tears of Lys and suggests that Ser Hugh was the poisoner, which led to his knighthood, being able to afford such extravagant armour, and being killed by The Mountain.

Next we see Arya trying to catch feral cats on the instruction of her “dancing master” Syrio Forrel. Arya chases a cat into the dungeons below the castle and overhears a conversation between Lord Varys and Illyrio Mopatis concerning Daenerys’s pregnancy, how this affects their plans, and that the Lannisters and the Starks will soon be at war with one another thereby destabilizing the Seven Kingdoms. It would seem that Varys and Illyrio are scheming to have the Dothraki led by the surviving Targaryens invade the Seven Kingdoms and claim the throne. Arya reports what she overheard, but Ned doesn’t believe her and dismisses what she says. Her story is interrupted by the arrival of Yoren who tells Ned that Catelyn has arrested Tyrion.

With news out that Daenerys is pregnant, Robert convenes the Small Council and orders them to arrange the assassination of Daenerys and Viserys. Ned has no interest in participating in the murder of children, gets into an argument with Robert on the ethics of killing children (Robert seems to favour killing children, especially if they are Targaryens), and Ned resigns as Hand of the King.

Finally, Lord Baelish invites Ned to one of his brothels where Ned is introduced to a young prostitute who has another one of Robert’s bastards–a girl–whose physical characteristics (like Gendry’s) are very similar to Robert’s. Upon leaving the brothel, Jaime Lannister, no longer dressed in his King’s Guard armour but in Lannister colours, arrives with a company of men-at-arms. Jaime demands that Ned have Tyrion released; Ned declares that he instructed Catelyn to arrest Tyrion. Jaime, no longer wearing the colours of the King’s Guard and Ned no longer being the Hand of the King, has Ned’s guards killed. Jory tries to attack Jaime and is quickly killed with a dagger through the eye. Ned and Jaime fight, but the fight is interrupted when one of Jaime’s men stabs Ned in the back of the knee with a spear. Jaime, having his own rather perverse sense of honour, refuses to kill Ned and beats his man-at-arms.

***

Given the importance of Jon Snow and the fact that Gendry survives until at least the middle point of the third book thus indicating that bastards will be important to the future of Westeros in one way or another, I’m eager to read this new book, Bastards: Politics, Family, and Law in Early Modern France, by historian Matthew Gerber. Given that there are “real world” precedents for kings acknowledging bastards as rightful heirs (e.g., The Sun King) and given that A Song of Fire and Ice is loosely inspired by late medieval/early modern Europe, it stands to reason that once Gendry realizes that he isn’t just an apprentice blacksmith, but the oldest bastard son of King Robert and once Jon Snow realizes that he is either the bastard of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark or he is the legal son of Rhaegar and Lyanna (recall: not only were the Targaryens in-breeders, but they were also, from time to time, polygamists meaning that Lyanna and Rhaegar could have been legally wed), we’ll have a situation with two new potential claimants to the throne. Although Jon has the problem of being a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch.

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March 29, 2012 - Posted by | Spoiler Alert Thursdays

2 Comments

  1. The series of novels is much more about our fantasies and preconceptions of what early (not late) medieval life looked like and has very little connection with the reality. Most of the things in the novels would be ludicrous set in late medieval times, even though the TV show occasionally borrows various archetypal late medieval elements, which should be anachronistic or impossible in the much – less developed early medieval world that’s indicated by the vast remaining majority of the text(s).

    Comment by burritoboy | April 3, 2012

  2. Your dating is off and you are wrong. (1) The series is “loosely inspired” or “loosely suggested” by the War of the Roses–a late medieval English civil war whose conclusion coincides with the standard periodization of the Renaissance; (2) it happens a few centuries after a technologically more advanced tribe crosses the ocean and claims England for itself–e.g., Norman conquest/Targaryen conquest; (3) there is a centralized monarchy assisted by professional ministers overseeing early administrative offices–comparable to what is going in both France and England through the second half of the fifteenth and into the sixteenth centuries. Standard periodization of European history puts the “late medieval” period at roughly 13-15th centuries, depending upon country and “early modernity” is usually periodized to the 15th-16th centuries, again, depending upon country. What comes next–in Europe at least if not Westeros–is an increasingly centralized monarchy, rapid development of administrative functions, and variations upon absolutism. Oddly, the very ideas that Joffrey expresses in the first season and which are dismissed by Cersei as insane.

    Comment by Craig McFarlane | April 3, 2012


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