No Direwolf Was Harmed in the Making of this Episode
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The second episode of Game of Thrones is a bit slower-paced, even though the focus largely is still focused on the noble Starks of the North. The characterizations offered in the premiere are given time to become sharper here and the characters become richer as a result, even if the story propels a bit more agedly. Thrones’s early episodes are not as thematically united as some of the later ones, but The Kingsroad in many ways is about characters realizing the limitations of power and how they can circumvent that power and twist it to serve their own purposes. Survival otherwise is impossible. Daenerys’s intelligence and willingness to survive come to the forefront. Jon and Arya’s relationship reaches a bittersweet parting. Joffrey becomes an even bigger douche than he already was. Tyrion becomes even better by slapping Joffrey (a hilarious composition of that beautiful moment set to the Thrones soundtrack theme is listed above). Ned reveals Jon Snow’s mother, although his hesitation to meet Robert’s eyes in that scene suggest something else. An assassin tries to kill Bran and we get badass Catelyn and dire wolf Summer becoming a better bodyguard than anyone could possible hope for.
In Essos, Jorah reveals the true reason he was banished from Westeros. Frustrated by his dire circumstances, he delved into the slave trade to support himself and that earned him a one-way ticket out of Westeros (something he evidently wishes to change). What Thrones has been quite successful at is adding shades of immense gray into characters to prevent us from outright loving or hating them for their two-dimensional natures. Slavery is one of the absolute worst crimes a human being could commit and the way the story forces us to come to terms with our own perceptions and biases in accordance to the character is quite impressive. Daenerys is quickly coming to terms with her own power, realizing that she has the chance to turn her circumstance from one of victim into one of strength. She learns from Doreah how Drogo can be pleased, using her sexuality to gain power just as Cersei would teach Sansa to do in the seminal hour Blackwater.
Bran has survived his terrible fall, courtesy of his dire wolf Summer. Tyrion informs his less-than-happy siblings of the news with a smile, noting that Joffrey would go and pay his respects as would be expected of a future king. Naturally the brat refuses but a few slaps from Tyrion put him in his place. The temptations to see Joffrey die are strong enough already even though we have to wait until Season 4 to see them play out. The bonds between the dire wolves and the Stark children are established solidly here and in the upcoming scene with the assassination, evidence of the show’s incredible ability to establish solid characterizations within a few moments alone. The attempted assassination sequence was superbly put together, from the ominous music to Tim Van Patten’s direction and use of lighting. Catelyn Stark isn’t having any of it, attacking the assassin head on and slicing the knife into her own hands. You. Do. Not. Attack. A. Child. In. Front. Of. It’s. Mother. Just as the assassin begins to gain the upper hand, out comes Summer and rips his throat out. Satisfied with his meal, he settles down right next to Bran in warrior guard pose. I. WANT. A. DIREWOLF.
The Kingsroad also has a prevailing sense of dread and despair in its departures that works wonders, surprising considering that we’ve been with these characters for only two episodes. Eddard leaves for King’s Landing with Arya and Sansa despite all of Catelyn’s objections. “I have no choice,” he says in a somber fashion. “That’s when men always say when honor calls,” she responds bitterly, and she has a point. In his departure, Eddard does make a decision. He makes a decision to uphold his honor and vows to the king over the duty to his family. The attack on Bran isn’t likely to soothe Catelyn’s fears as she and her secret council of Robb, Maester Luwin, Theon, and Ser Rodrik Cassel arrive at the conclusion that the Lannisters are responsible for the attack. Jon gives Arya a sword in an absolutely beautiful moment, teaching her a couple of pointers (pun intended) before departing. He says a tender good-bye to Bran before leaving under Catelyn’s furious, shaking eyes. The trio of Jon, Benjen, and Tyrion depart somberly into the snow, Tyrion planning to piss off the edge of the world just because he could.
At the edge of the wall, Tyrion certainly manages to accomplish his goal. “Nobility,” Tyrion scoffs. It’s hilarious to him that anyone would have a thought regarding nobility when it came to living in that world (or this one, for that matter). The nobility of the Night’s Watch has gone over the damned ice wall and it has descended from an honorable institution that defended Westeros to a frigid penal colony. Tyrion’s wrong of course about the White Walkers not being a threat, but considering the circumstances it’s hard to fault him for thinking so. But he makes a large point that Game of Thrones is inherently about. There’s no such thing as nobility. There’s dirt and then there’s just a little bit less. The sooner you accept that, the better off you’ll be.
At a lovely picnic spot, Robert and Ned have a meal as they concern themselves with the marital alliance between what remains of the Targaryen Dynasty and the powerful Dothraki Horde. Robert is terrified of the very concept of a Dothraki army crossing the sea and ransacking Westeros, which admittedly is a pretty valid concern. Robert isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed nor has he ever been and frankly there isn’t much hope for that improving in the future. But he is at least wise enough to understand that despite him being firmly established on the Iron Throne, there’s plenty of people who would want him off the Iron Throne and would support the Targaryens the very moment they set foot on the continent. “The Dothraki don’t cross the sea,” Ned notes seriously, but he recognizes the political undertones of Robert’s note. Even if the Dothraki aren’t going to cross the sea, Robert’s reign is still tenuous.
Speaking of tenuous relations, Arya and Mycah are dueling. Joffrey enters the picture, is disarmed by Arya, and Nymeria bites his wrist. Naturally this explodes into a massive conundrum where Joffrey lies, Robert chastises him for being disarmed by a girl, Sansa supports Joffrey, Arya yells, and Cersei acts like an evil moron. She wants punishment, damn it, and Sansa’s dire wolf Lady gets the knife as Nymeria had ran away. It’s a superb sequence that ends in one of the most unsettling images in the history of the series – Ned comforting Lady right before the knife is in and out. You just hear her small cry of pain while the camera focuses on Ned’s shaken face.
The Kingsroad can be collectively combined with the first four episodes of the series as the sort of introduction episodes before the sublime fifth hour arrives. What remains incredibly impressive about the series is how immersive it becomes in such a short time. In retrospect they have to pull this off, considering they have only ten episodes a season, but that doesn’t diminish their achievements. The second hour leaves plenty of tantalizing threads for the future. Cersei and Rodrik will travel in secret to the capital to warn Ned about the Lannisters and Mycah was run down by the Hound because Joffrey wanted it so (that’ll come back to haunt many people). Perhaps most tantalizingly, as Lady is killed at the Crossroads Inn, up North Bran wakes from his coma at the exact same moment. Don’t expect that to be answered anytime soon, but it’s a powerful final shot before the screen cuts to black.
Title: The Kingsroad
Written By: David Benioff and D. B. Weiss
Director: Tim Van Patten