Episode Title: "You Win or You Die"
Writers: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Director: Daniel Minahan
Previously on "Game of Thrones":
Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) captured the Imp, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) because she had been led to believe that he was responsible for the attempted murder of her son, Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright). Because of this, Tyrion's brother Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster Waldau) confronted Catelyn's husband, Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark (Sean Bean) in a street battle that left Ned wounded and his personal guards dead. When Ned awoke, King Robert (Mark Addy) reinstated him as the Hand of the King and ordered him to set aside his issues with the Lannisters and make peace. Robert then left Ned in charge of the Kingdom while he went on a hunt.
After hearing reports that the Lannisters' men were terrorizing the land to strike at himself and his wife, Ned sent a tersely worded decree ordering the Lannister patriarch, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) to come to King's Landing immediately or be branded a traitor. Meanwhile, Tyrion was able to free himself when a mercenary representing him at trial by combat was victorious. Across the Narrow Sea, Daeneryes Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) continued to gain the adoration of the Dothraki people. Jealous (and more than a little foolish), her brother, Viserys (Harry Lloyd) threatened her unborn child if her husband, Khol Drogo (Jason Momoa) didn't give him the crown he was promised.
In response, Drogo kept his word by crowning Viserys with molten gold, killing him. And back at King's Landing, Ned finally realized why his predecessor was killed: the children of Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) were fathered by her brother, Jamie.
Jamie Lannister meets with his father, Tywin, who chides him for leaving Ned alive after their battle. While skinning an animal, Tywin tells his son that a war is coming and he gives Jamie command of half of his forces to free his brother from Catelyn. Back at King's Landing, Ned has finally figured out that Queen Cersei and Jamie were behind the attempt on Bran because he saw them together. She doesn't exactly deny it either, but he tells her to leave with the children immediately and warns her about Robert's wraith when he finds out. Elsewhere in the city, Lord Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen) pontificates on losing Catelyn to Ned years ago, while directing two prostitutes to pleasure each other.
Back in Winterfell, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) taunts the Wildling girl, Osha (Natalia Tena) who he captured when she and her friends tried to rob Bran. Theon even seems to be on the verge of molesting the girl when Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter) chases him off. Osha soon tells the older man that she and her friends were fleeing from the White Walkers. At the Wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is alarmed when his Uncle Benjen's horse arrives without its rider. And at King's Landing, there's more bad news. King Robert has been fatally wounded during his hunt, quite possibly due to being drugged by his squire, a Lannister. Near the end of his life, Robert orders Ned to draw up his will.
Ned outwardly agrees to become the Lord Protector of the Kingdom until Robert's "son" Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) comes of age. But Ned fudges the will to say "his rightful heir," leaving the line of succession open. Ned also attempts to call off the assassination attempt on Daenerys, but he is told that it is probably already too late. Across the sea, Daenerys attempts to convince Khal Drogo to help her reconquer her father's kingdom, but he doesn't see the point. Later, she visits the marketplace with her entourage and bodyguards. Ser Jorah (Iain Glen) also gets a message that his pardon has come through, but he knows that means Daenerys' life is in danger.
Just as a merchant from Westros is about to give Daenerys a tainted drink, Jorah insists that the man drink it himself first. The would-be assassin tries to flee, but he is easily captured. Drogo is livid about the attempt on his wife and vows to cross the sea and conquer the kingdom in the name of their unborn son. At the Wall, Jon is given his assignment as a squire to Ser Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale), much to his disappointment. He almost leaves on the spot, but his friend Sam (John Bradley) points out that he may be in the position to become one of the future leaders of the Night's Watch. More secure about his place at the Wall, Jon takes his vows with Sam. And they are both unnerved when Jon's dire wolf, Ghost approaches them with a severed hand.
In King's Landing, the King's brother, Renly (Gethin Anthony) attempts to get Ned to arrest Cersei and Joffrey so that Renly can assume the throne. But Ned points out that Renly's surviving brother, Stannis is next in the line of succession. Renly storms off and Ned sends word to Stannis. Littlefinger approaches Ned and suggest making peace with the Lannisters to put Joffrey on the throne… and then use his real parentage against him if he ever becomes a problem. Ned rejects that plan, but he secures Littlefinger's aid in getting the City Watch to back his next move.
Shortly thereafter, Robert dies of his wounds and Renly flees the city. Joffrey and his mother have assembled the forces loyal to them and declared Joffrey the new King. Ned enters the throne room with Littlefinger and his other allies flanked by armed men. He produces Robert's will, but Cersei rips it up and denies Robert's last rulling. Left with no other hand, Ned states that Joffrey's claim to the throne is illigitmate and orders Cersei and Joffrey to be put into custody. But the Queen has outmaneuvered Ned and her men begin slaughtering his. And before Ned can make another move, Littlefinger holds a knife to his throat and reminds Ned that he should never have trusted him.
Seven episodes in, "Game of Thrones" still manages to amaze me week after week. This is epic television at its best.
I can't remember the last time a TV series put the lead character in jeopardy and it actually seemed like he could die. But if King Robert can be killed this early in the story, then Ned really could be next. I've managed to avoid most of the spoilers for this series, but I know that George R.R. Martin doesn't seem to have any problem killing off characters when he sees fit.
It's funny, it didn't actually occur to me to suspect Littlefinger's motives until last week's episode. I assumed that he had his own agenda, but if he's really in league with the Lannisters that's a legitimate surprise. The beginning of this episode actually set up the ending through Littlefinger's monologue while the prostitutes were screwing around with each other. That scene was alternately creepy and hilarious, but it was also a little gratuitous to the point of being uncomfortable to watch.
And speaking of creepy, I was really rooting for Theon to take on a larger heroic role until it seemed like he was going to molest Osha. That seemed like an odd direction for his character after he had some sympathetic beats in the last few episodes. That's also kind of disappointing. Sometimes I think that this show could use some more heroes. Right now, the only really heroic characters in this story (in my opinion) are Ned and Jon Snow, with Arya, Robb and Bran as possible heroes down the line.
On a side note, Ned Stark is way too generous with his enemies; which obviously came back to bite him. But it's hard not to admire a man who goes out of his way to protect women and children the way that Ned has for Daenerys and even for Cersei; although she didn't take his advice to run. I thought that Sean Bean was a little harsh in the role at first, but his portrayal of Ned Stark has proven to be a perfect fit for this world.
Jon Snow is still the most interesting member of the Stark family outside of Ned. I finally looked up Kit Harington this week to see what he had done before this show and it turns out that he's an English stage actor making his screen debut on this series. I really think he's going to be a star coming out of this series. Part of it is the writing, but Jon is just really compelling even though he's been stuck on the Wall for most of the series. Jon's last scene this week suggests that the threat of The White Walkers is getting closer to the Wall. And we actually haven't seen the Walkers since the prologue in episode one, so I'm curious as to how they'll finally make their presence known.
Regarding the Daenerys storyline, I was largely ignoring Ser Jorah until he was revealed as Robert's spy. It's intriguing that Jorah put Daenerys' life over his desire to go home. My initial impression of Jorah was that he was infatuated with Daenerys. But I'm not as sure about that any more. However, Khal Drogo's feelings aren't ambiguous. Jason Momoa really brought some fire to his conquest speech in front of Daenerys and the rest of his people. The only problem is that the speech lost some its power because we had to rely on the subtitles to tell us what he said.
But that's a minor complaint about an episode that was so good, I barely noticed that my favorite character, Tyrion didn't even appear. And with the next episode filmed from a script by George R.R. Martin himself, I think that "Game of Thrones" is only going to get better from here.
Crave Online Rating: 9 out of 10.