The fifth episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, titled “The Wolf and the Lion,” was the most action packed and gruesome of the first season so far. If we were to compare the series through five episodes to a Rube Goldberg machine – and why not – the first four episodes were the set up; and for the most part we’ve already been introduced to the individual gadgets (the exotic settings, and the characters). In this week’s episode the start button was pushed, and the machinations began to pay off dramatically: the pace quickened, threats flew in earnest and lots of blood was spilled.
In “The Wolf and the Lion” there was a decapitated horse, a heavy-weight duel between the Clegane brothers, the Imp imploded a bandit’s face, and we were also treated to a Stark/Lannister street-fight. For all the blood and sword-fights, however, the small council meeting about Dany’s pregnancy, and the one-on-one face-offs between Cersei and Robert, and Petyr Baelish and Varys, were also fraught with a captivating sort of danger and intensity.
The episode takes its title from the sigils of the Stark and Lannister houses who will soon be at each others’ throats, at least according to a shadowy conversation Arya overhears while hiding in a dragon skull. We presume this rather prophetic conversation was between Varys, the Eunuch spy-master, and Illyrio, the Zach Galifianakis lookalike and friend of the Targaryans. I suppose we now know where Jorah Mormont ran off to when he found out about Dany’s pregnancy.
To underscore the episode’s title, and perhaps to further elaborate on Theon Greyjoy’s rather confusing position within the Stark family, Maester Luwin shows Bran a map of Westeros and quizzes him on the political geography of the land. When he mentions the House of Greyjoy (to which Theon is heir), Theon brags of his people’s reputation for “archery, love-making and navigation” to which Luwin adds “and failed rebellions.” Theon’s curious political status (and skills at love-making, unfortunately) come up again in his scene with Winterfell’s most famous prostitute, Ros. Despite the violent, jealous undertone to this scene (I found it off-putting on my first viewing), it is actually kind of cute; and certainly Ros’s playful mockery of Greyjoy’s seriousness and his status as a sort of prisoner among the Starks was informative.
The scenes in the Vale and at The Eyrie – especially the Imp’s trillion-dollar view from his tortuously utilitarian “sky-cell” – were particularly fun. Like Bran, I was going over a map of Westeros this week (except mine was interactive and on the internet) and the variety of landscapes that make up the Seven Kingdom continues to be one of the most compelling features of the series.
More thoughts and notes:
- If you’ve been reading Dork Shelf’s Game of Thrones reviews on a regular basis, you may have been struck by the generally positive tone so far. Frankly, I love the show and am rooting for it to be successful. I’m generally not a huge fan of fantasy, but I sincerely hope that HBO’s ambition in bringing the genre to a serialized cable format is rewarded. Also, I have one “critical” comment to make about this week’s episode: I could do with some more White-Walker scenes.
- Jory’s death at the skillful hand of Jaime Lannister was pretty shocking. I reacted to the knife through the skull like I would to a goal in hockey game (by yelling “Ooooohhh!” at my TV). Still, you’ve got to feel for Jory, one minute he’s checking out the wares at the whore-house only to have the lewd thoughts in his head rather forcefully replaced by Lannister steel.
- From my perspective, Jaime Lannister came out pretty well in this episode. Obviously he’s a twerp, and the viewer won’t soon forgive him for his defenestration of young Bran Stark. But he’s a swashbuckling bad-ass in the street-fight scene. First of all, his goal is noble – he’s just trying to protect his family. Secondly, his fighting style is honourable and brutal, and his pre-duel shit-talk is sublime (at least compared to replacement level olde timey shit-talk). He also got style-points for the knock-out sword-hilt punch that he gives one of his cronies as a punishment for a cheap-shot on Ned Stark.
- We are introduced to Lysa – who according to the Imp “was always a bit touched,” but is now positively bonkers – and her young son Robert (clearly named after the King). Our first introduction to her, where she is breast-feeding her at-least 7 year old son, made my skin crawl. We haven’t seen Catelyn and Lysa have a private conversation yet, though – it seems odd to me that the letter Lysa supposedly sent Catelyn in the first episode of the series never came up. With the way this show has focused on the “flow of information” between characters, I wonder if this detail may prove important down the line.
- Littlefinger got a lot of screen time in the fifth episode, and was a lot of fun to watch. Sure he may blink slowly, but whether Aiden Gillen is calling out the homosexual brother of the King in public (uncool, but well-played), threatening Varys, or defending Jorah Mormont as a “slaver – not a traitor! Small difference to an honorable man I know,” I find him a lot of fun to watch.
- We also meet Loras Tyrell – the knight of the flowers, who is clearly a fan favorite and a talented fighter from a wealthy family. We’ve barely met him, and already he’s got a plot to usurp King Robert, and install his lover – the King’s brother Renly Baratheon – as lord of the realm. We’ll say this much for Loras – he seems like a formidable fellow, and he clearly gives one hell of a pep-talk.
- The King’s conversation with Cersei was loaded with fun content. Clearly their marriage is a pretty “hateful” one – to borrow their own words – but it’s rich in dramatic material. I wasn’t as interested in the conversation about the King’s first wife or the cruelties between them as I was in their discussion of Catelyn’s curiosity about power and total ignorance of strategy. This scene reveals Cersei as a truly dangerous character: one who knows more than she lets on and is likely conspiring to control the Seven Kingdoms…