When Game of Thrones Broke All the Rules
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
There are certain things that happen within a television show or any narrative period that simply are not generally supposed to happen. Killing off your protagonist at the end of the first trip so to speak is one of them. Shows often build up a character before offing them, but rarely does that happen with primary protagonists, the characters to whom we share the deepest bond. And yet, within the world of Thrones, the beheading of Lord Eddard Stark makes perfect sense. It’s a cruel world that is run by a political game and the only ones who will survive it are the ones who are willing to play it. Bless Ned’s heart. We loved him so much, but his pure nobility was not one for the world in which he lived. As I’ve noted before, many will leave the episode with their ideas of nobility and hope crushed, but that is not what the narrative strives for in any way. Thrones is about intelligence and cleverness surviving above everything else. You may not be evil or even cruel, but if you aren’t willing to even play the game, you won’t survive it.
There’s a palpable sense of condemnation throughout the episode itself and not just to Ned by Joffrey’s mouth. Tywin condemns Tyrion to die by placing him in the vanguard, a disastrous move for the Imp considering what the role of the vanguard has been historically. Robb condemns 2,000 Stark men to horrible deaths on the battlefield for the off chance that he would be able to successfully capture Jamie at his siege of Riverrun. Catelyn condemns her children into irreversible ties with the despicable Freys. Maester Ameon in a way condemned himself to the Wall, where he made a choice to stick to his duty even when his family was thrown out of power in the most violent way possible. Daenerys’s mercy condemns Drogo to death. Ned condemns his own legacy to save his children. And Joffrey condemns the entire Seven Kingdoms to war with his order to have Ned Stark’s head chopped off just so he could look tough.
Tyrion’s past receives welcome exposition in his conversation with Bronn and Shae in the tent. Peter Dinklage kills it in this scene, evocative of Thrones’ overwhelming tendency to eschew flashbacks and give the material to its more than capable actors. Dinklage’s voice is imbued with the perfect moment of catharsis when he reveals his very first love in a woman named Tysha. He had married her and then Jamie at Tywin’s hand confessed that Tysha was a prostitute. In the cruelest thing that could have resulted from this, Tywin then forced Tyrion to watch as all of the Lannister guards had sex with her. To add insult to injury, Tywin had paid each guard with a silver coin that they in turn paid Tysha. As the battle approaches, Tyrion leaves the tent dressed in armor, but is trampled by his own hill tribe members. As he awakens, the Lannisters have won an easy victory against 2,000 Stark men, not the 20,000 that had been reported.
Catelyn arrives to negotiate with the Freys at the Twins to ensure the Starks getting passage across the river crossing to engage the Lannisters in battle. David Bradley plays Lord Walder Frey to absolute perfection, his nasty, gnarly fingers the absolute stuff of nightmare. He’s a nasty piece of work that understands how powerful his position is. Catelyn agrees to have a Frey as Robb’s squire and have Robb and Arya married to Freys. Robb reluctantly agrees, although no one can truly imagine Arya being too happy about being married to a Frey, or anyone else for that matter.
Robb’s strategy of dividing his men was a brilliant one, but he is fully aware of him sending two thousand men to their deaths. His deadly ploy works and Jamie Lannister arrives into Stark hands, the pride lion in the Lannister family. Jamie challenges Robb to a duel but he’s far too smart for that. But while Robb is resilient in front of a tantalizing challenge, Jon’s emotions are in an incredible flux. Sam tells him about the war and immediately he’s seized by a desire to join his brother on the battlefield. Maester Aemon understands his dilemma, revealing his own past as a Targaryen and warning Jon that he has to choose between his duty and his family and that neither choice will make life easier for him.
Khal Drogo is condemned by a scratch and it’s a terribly ironic way to kill off such an incredibly powerful character. Jason Mamoa’s a beast of a man and to see him fall so far due to such a small scratch is emotionally wrecking. He falls off his horse, a sure sign amongst the Dothraki of weakness. Ser Jorah, as troubled as anyone by this ominous development, notes how the power struggle after Drogo’s seemingly imminent death would result in the deaths of both her and her child. Daenerys’s desperation at seeing her husband, the father of her child, and the leader of her invasion army in this condition makes her request Mirri to perform blood magic. Mirri agrees, killing Drogo’s horse in a bout of blood magic. The shots of the tent and the ominous sounds and screams are the first inklings of real magic in the series, the fear on everyone’s visages selling the moment perfectly. Qotho tries to interfere but is quickly dispatched by Jorah, but not before he throws Daenerys to the ground and induces her labor. None of the Dothraki midwives would help Daenerys out of fear and Jorah carries her into the tent, the shrieking and shaking of the tent contrasting ominously with the calm, quiet sky around it.
Varys visits Ned in the dungeon and informs him of the deal Sansa hasd manage to struck. Initially hesitant, Varys implores him to think of his children. Ned reluctantly agrees and he’s led out to the Sept of Baelor. Alan Taylor’s direction is simply masterful in this sequence and he seemingly with ease lays out the entire geography before the shit hits the fan. Ned confesses to treason as he’s accosted by the crowd, a terrifyingly tragic sight. And then Joffrey announces how Cersei and Sansa wanted softer sentences because they “had the hearts of women.” “Ser Ilyn, bring me his head.” Sansa begins to shriek at the top of her voice as a stunned Cersei tries to talk Joffrey down. Joffrey doesn’t relent and quickly he looks around the crowd until his eyes meet Arya’s. Yoren quickly pulls Arya down and keeps her close. She closes her eyes in absolute terror as a heartbroken Ned feels the silver sword swishing through the air before the frigid blade made contact with his neck. And we’re all sobbing uncontrollably. Rest in peace, Ned Stark. You were, for all of your faults, far too good for this world.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Sibel Kekilli kills it as Shae and I wish the writing in later seasons was as strong as her performance.
+Bronn leaving the tent as Tyrion and Shae begin to have sex.
+Conleth Hill has been a true superstar this season.
+I want to see a show where Sean Bean doesn’t die. This was painful to watch as thrillingly as it was executed (pun intended).
+I will miss Sean Bean’s incredible performance and bringing a character to life that could have easily been portrayed as being completely one-note.
Written By: David Benioff and D. B. Weiss
Director: Alan Taylor
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