Episode Title: "Baelor"
Writers: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Director: Alan Taylor
Previously on "Game of Thrones":
In the aftermath of Robert's death and the ascension of King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark (Sean Bean) was imprisoned as a traitor after being manipulated by Lord Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen). As word spread across the kingdom, Ned's son Robb (Richard Madden) called upon the lords loyal to his father to march upon King's Landing and confront the armies of Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance). At the wall, Ned's bastard son, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) was taunted about Ned's status as a traitor and provoked into attacking Ser Allister (Owen Teale). But Jon regained favor in the Night's Watch when he defended Commander Mormont (James Cosmo) from one of the White Walkers.
Across the Narrow Sea, Daeneryes Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) flexed her power as the Queen of the Dothraki when she attempted to save some captured women from being raped. When one of the Dothraki lieutenants was enraged by Daeneryes' actions, her husband, Khol Drogo (Jason Momoa) slew the man… but allowed himself to receive a nasty cut on his chest in the process. Back at King's Landing, Ned's daughter, Sansa (Sophie Turner) begged for her father's life in the King's throne room. Joffrey seemed touched by her words and said that he would spare Ned's life if he confessed his crimes and publicly declared Joffrey the king.
In the dungeon of King's Landing, Lord Varys aka The Spider (Conleth Hill) visits Ned once again and tells him how Sansa begged for his life. The Spider offers a deal from the Queen: Ned's life and permanent exile on the Wall in return for his full and public confession. Ned scoffs at the offer, but he reconsiders when the Spider points out that Sansa's life will be in danger if he doesn't comply. At the Wall, Mormont gives Jon an ornate sword originally meant for his son, Ser Jorah (Iain Glen), While his fellow NIght's Watch revel in holding Jon's new sword, his friend Sam (John Bradley) tells him that his brother Robb has gone off to war in order to free their father.
While pondering whether to forsake his vows and join his family at war, Jon speaks with Maester Aemon (Peter Vaughan) and he learns that the older man faced the same dilemma as a member of the Targaryen family. At the fortified bridges known as The Twins, Robb's mother, Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) offers to negotiate directly with Lord Frey (David Bradley), an ornery old man married to a young girl and with an abundance of children. She eventually negotiates passage for Robb's army through the Twins in exchange for Robb accepting Frey's son as his squire and for Robb and Arya to marry Frey's children.
Across the Narrow Sea, Khol Drogo's wound has festered, leaving him near death. As Drogo's lieutenants begin defying Daenerys, she calls upon the captive witch, Mirri Maz Duur (Mia Soteriou) to save her husband. At the witch's command, Daenerys has Drogo's horse brought to the tent and slaughtered as part of a forbidden blood spell to save him. Outside the tent, one of Drogo's men pushes Daenerys to the ground, leading to a duel with Ser Jorah. Although Jorah emerges victorious, Daenerys goes into early labor and he is forced to carry her inside the tent to save her and her child.
At the Lannister battle camp, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is forced to fight on the front lines with the Hill Tribes as insurance that his father will keep his word to them. But before the battle, Bronn (Jerome Flynn) secures Tyrion a new lover, Shae (Sibel Kekilli); who proves spirited and very sharp. She even gets Tyrion to admit that he was once married, in part to a deception laid out by his brother… which was cruelly laid out by his father. The next day, Tyrion gives an inspiring speech to the Hill Tribes… and then he promptly gets trampled and knocked unconscious as they run off to fight. Bronn finds him after the battle and tells him that their forces wiped out Robb's much smaller army. But Tywin realizes that he's been deceived.
At that very moment, the bulk of Robb's forces emerge victorious over Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster Waldau) and his army, with Jamie himself as their captive. Robb's battle companion, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is relatively unmoved by the deaths of the men sent against Tywin, but Robb seems to feel them acutely. Robb then reminds his allies that the war isn't over and they haven't saved his father or sisters yet. In King's Landing, Arya (Maisie Williams) attempts to find food as a beggar when she hears that her father is being brought to the Sept of Baelor. Following the crowd, Arya sees her father in chains as he gives a false confession of his crimes and declares Joffrey the king. Ned also notes that Sansa is nearby and he even spots Arya in the crowd.
After Ned's declaration, the Queen and the small council appear to be willing to send Ned to the Wall and spare his life… but Joffrey orders Ned to be executed immediately. One of Ned's friends in the crowd grabs Arya and prevents her from seeing Ned's beheading. But there is no rescue for Ned and the former Hand of the King is dead.
Well… I know the most important thing that everyone wants talk about after that episode. Wasn't it cool to see the Twins added to the opening credits?! I really like the way that sequence changes every few episodes.
in all seriousness, the death of Ned Stark is a ballsy move. Because Ned's been the main hero and Sean Bean was clearly the star of this show. As I understand it, Ned's death took place the same way in the original novel. But that hasn't stopped some viewers of the TV series to howl that they won't watch the show anymore because Ned is dead.
Not that I believe anyone who would say that, but I have to ask: would anything have been gained by going so drastically against George R.R. Martin's original story? How much of the rest of the series would have to be reworked just to allow Ned to have a continuing role in the story? And then the fans of the novel would have been shouting that the TV series wasn't being faithful to the books.
The closest comparison I can make for it is if Boromir had lived in "Lord of the Rings." Sean Bean was great in both roles, but in "LOTR" his death served a purpose and pushed the other characters in different directions. I haven't read all the way through "Game of Thrones" yet, but I'm sure that the same is true for Ned Stark's demise. If anything, this has to force Robb Stark to become the hero of the series. And the last few episodes have actually been pretty effective in turning Robb from a minor player into a major presence on the show.
Before we move on from Ned, I want to reiterate that Sean Bean was terrific in the role. Ned's last scene was also very powerfully acted and directed, with one of the series' most epic moments to date. Death has become such an overused drama device on TV and in films that most onscreen deaths don't affect us anymore. Not so for Ned Stark. Even when it was clear what was coming, I actually held my breath while watching that scene. Honestly, my one disappointment was that Ned confessed to all of those crimes that he didn't actually do. I was hoping that he'd give the Lannisters one last f*** you as he faced his demise. But his desire to save Sansa was understandable.
With Sean Bean gone, I would argue that Peter Dinklage should receive top billing in the opening credits. The only case against that is that Tyrion isn't driving the action the way that Ned Stark was. But he remains the most interesting character on the show. The scene in which Tyrion recalled the first love of his life was extremely effective considering it was all relayed without any visual flashback. The writers behind this series do seem to understand that less is more when it comes to backstory. They simply allowed the information to come forth in a compelling manner. I think it might have also been Dinklage's most serious scene on the show to date and I'd bet it's going on his Emmy reel.
Of course, we also got a hilarious sequence in which Tyrion is nearly trampled to death after inciting the Hill Tribes to chant "Half Man!" That should be the new "Leroy Jenkins."
The one thing that really bothered me about this episode was that it felt like we were cheated out of seeing two epic battles. And please… no one should jump in and say "but they're on a TV budget!" This show has a much larger budget than most TV series. At the very least we should get one or two mind-blowing battle sequences per season.
That said, "Game of Thrones" remains an immensely satisfying experience week after week. It's going to be hard to let this one go after next week's season finale.
Crave Online Rating: 9.5 out of 10.