If you had asked me one thing I did not expect to see or hear in a Game of Thrones adaptation (film or television), I would have said “Well, oral sex, would be one….” The first episode opened with a bit of gratuitous slurping, and I suspect it’s no accident we’ve punctuated the very middle of the season with a dash more. It makes me wonder if they’ll go for a hat trick in the finale. (Shall we take bets on who will be pleasuring whom?) If you were to ask me to name two things, I probably would have said “Well, manscaping and a Winterfell prostitute who has access to good waxing services.”
Let’s focus on that for a minute longer, actually. Men must shave with really crude knives, but the red-haired prostitute achieved something decidedly 21st century in the furthest reach of the kingdom. Nice!
This was such a full episode that I don’t even know where to begin. (Thus, I have to focus on inane things like grooming and oral sex – I apologize in advance, this is going to be a lousy recap.) So much blood, disaster, horror, sex, and betrayal, all of which benefitted greatly from a tighter focus. The show wisely choose to focus on three locations (Winterfell, the Eyrie, and King’s Landing) instead of trying desperately to fit them all in, which made everything resonate, and themes tie together in surprising ways. As each set of characters becomes more specifically placed and plotted, it’s clear each episode can really contain two or three of their “threads.” I hope they continue in this pattern, especially for Daenerys’ sake, as she needs a good portion of an episode to shine.
Again, I can’t stress enough how nice it is to have the show slow down. More is happening, but it’s occurring at a pace we can appreciate and gasp at in the right moments. I was worried at the start that we wouldn’t care about our characters as we raced to keep up with them, but the show is finally hitting the groove of the book. We’re in love with Ned, Arya, and Tyrion, just as we should be. We’re as exasperated and disgusted with Robert at the perfect point. We’re scared of everyone else.
“Lion” gave us good reason to be scared, too. The show has been pretty circumspect about being too violent or gory, which has probably begun to disappoint a few who tuned in for medieval splatter. “Lion” made up for it in one go. It’s hard to say which moment might be etched in the eyelids longer – The Mountain beheading his own horse (my vote), poor Jorys getting a dagger in the eye, or the gut-em-and-leave-em attack of the wildlings on Tyrion or Catelyn?
Robert’s speech about the corruption of peacetime played out beautifully in action, as whispers and suspicions exploded in savage rage, driven by boredom and unchecked by civility. After so much talk and suspicious eyeballing, it was sort of a palatable relief to have some clanging swords, and I think this was felt by the characters, too. Ned needs an enemy he can fight. Jaime is tired of standing around. Sandor Clegane has been waiting to take on his brother for years. (Finally, this fan favorite shines. Every sword blow rang like he knew he’d been denied all his due dialogue.) It’s a short burst before the real storm, and lest you think I’m spoiling anything, that realization flickered across poor Ned’s eyes right before he passed out from bloodloss. (Was he thinking “Winter is coming”? I bet he was.)
Despite the clashing and grunting (in so many fields…), I’m not sure anyone had a sweatier subplot than Tyrion. Peter Dinklage has delighted in the Imp’s cockiness, which made his look of helpless terror in the Eyrie that much more affecting. He can cut down a man half his size verbally and physically (good shield trick!) but he’s also a broken thing, stuck riding along with Ser Roderick and Catelyn and into captivity out of a lack of physical options. It’s clear what Sandor, Jaime, or even Ned could do in such a bind, but Tyrion? He can only stand there. (Fingers crossed we see Dinklage rewarded with an Emmy nod, if not a win itself. He deserves it.)
Thrones being Thrones and on HBO, we also were given a rather tangible lesson that sex was as dangerous as swords and unbalanced sisters. This episode was all about the dangers of the flesh, kicking off with the image of chivalry and purity – Sir Lors and his rose – and ended with a dash of infantile sexuality as little Robert Arryn sucked on his demented mother’s breast. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss took a perverse pleasure in denying us – as George R.R. Martin did before them – any vision of true, honest, or pure love. Men and women are both for sale in this world, and I’m not speaking only of Petyr Baelish’s prostitutes, who were trotted out like sides of beef, but of Robert, Cersei, Sir Loras, and Renly Baratheon. Sir Loras’ red rose was just as much a transaction as that between Theon Greyjoy and his redhead, and possibly more perverse because of its dishonesty.
Fans will undoubtedly have something to say about Benioff and Weiss’ decision to out Loras and Renly, a subject much hinted and whispered at, but never openly decided in Martin’s books. We also have seen a decidedly different Sir Loras, who was a vague, pretty, and dreamy figure in the books, but who has been recast as a bit of a political plotter. It sets up an interesting deviation – is Loras’ gifted tongue any more honest than his red roses? – but adds another twisted web in a series that’s already full of spiders.
And, oh, what a tangle Robert and Cersei be. They had a frank, festering, and yet pitiable discussion, with Cersei becoming something that was almost human. She stuck up for Ned and lamented lost chances. Of course, audiences know what Robert does not, but it was surprisingly moving. It wasn’t too off-script (Cersei reveals a similar sorrow, though far more bitterly, and to another character) but it was definitely a moment that will leave the Cersei-haters scoffing, much as Jaime’s softening did last week. Benioff and Weiss have definitely taken the tack that the Lannisters aren’t wholly bad, but were shaped that way by wealth, circumstance, and the ghosts of the past. Martin certainly tries to suggest the same, but was thwarted by his own glee in their cruelty, and I’m curious if Weiss and Benioff can keep up this subtle shading as more nastiness unfolds.
I mentioned spiders, didn’t I? We saw a lot of The Spider this week, and the show made a point of drawing him out, and highlighting him as the one character who can’t be bought or destroyed with sex. He truly is a Watcher in the weirdest and most sinister of definitions, the most free, and the most self-interested, and possibly the most dangerous. I continue to be confused and intrigued by what role he plays in the show and the series as a whole.
With so much scheming and sordid sex, it’s sad that the one moment of true love was a lie – Ned taking blame for Tyrion’s capture in order to protect Catelyn. You could expect him to do nothing less, of course, but in this world of treachery and deceit where not even brothers or sisters can be trusted, it stands out as pretty poignant, doesn’t it?
The only flaws in this episode remain the nagging ones I had last week. I maintain they’re discreetly writing Sansa out of the narrative because of poor casting. Sophie Turner is lovely, but she seems unable to sell excitement, happiness, or fear past “The Kingsroad.” I hope to be proven wrong, but it’s hard not to contrast her with Maisie Williams, who is owning Arya from head to toe, and holding her own in action, humor, fear and humor. Again, I’d love to be proved wrong, but the tourney was Sansa’s moment to shine in this strange new world, and she just didn’t come off as anything but a benchwarmer.
I’m also impatient to see Bran’s story take off. I’m watching this with two non-readers, and it’s disheartening to hear them dismiss him as a sulky, pointless character. It’s hard for me to condemn the producers for emphasizing how broken and dispirited Bran is, but this episode might have been a good one to put him on horseback. Time seems off in the various storylines – I may have misheard, but I think Ned’s been in King’s Landing a month, which seems to clash with other timing? – but it might have been good to “speed up” this section and give Bran a little something to do. The conversation (minus the lessons – I wish they’d come in episode 1 somehow, as it seems like they could have come in handier for the newcomers) about Catelyn’s absence could have been the same. Plus, we could have seen Rickon, and the direwolves. If you’d asked me the one thing I certain I would see lots of in Game of Thrones, it would have been the direwolves…!