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A Game of Thrones | Episode 9: ‘Baelor’ review

June 13

game of thrones

And thus passes the glory and goodness that was Ned Stark from this world.

We’ve come to the episode that readers of the book have been dreading, and the one that irrevocably yanks the carpet out from under non-readers feet.  Yes, this is the kind of story that can do away with a “main” character as ruthlessly and thoughtlessly as this.   I hate to tell you this, but Ned is only the first of many. There is not a single character that’s safe, and it’s safe to say George RR Martin takes a perverse delight in smearing out the good, the kind, and the noble.   I still remember when I hit this point in the book and had been utterly confident Ned would take the black, reunite with Jon, and somehow be the key to Westeros’ salvation.

Unfortunately, “A Song of Ice and Fire” isn’t that kind of story.  I’m not even sure what kind of story it will be when all is penned and done, but I know it’s not going to be a happy one.

But that’s the book, and we’re discussing the show, which didn’t dare to stray from this deadly and depressing chapter.  There was only one tiny deviation that I could see, and that was Ned spying Arya clutching the tower, a bit of hard comfort as he faced his doom.   As he sold the only thing he ever valued – his name and reputation – Ned became more human than he’s been all season, bowing his head for that great and terrible emotion: Love.

The show has emphasized the horror of love in a way I only dimly glimpsed in Martin’s series.   Martin relishes making his characters suffer, and yet only now do I realize it’s usually because they’ve left their heart exposed.  Catelyn rashly acted out of love for Bran.  Robb marched on the south out of love for his father.  Cersei and Jaime, as despicable as they are, act out of love for one another and Cersei suggests that if Robert had just loved her, all would have been well. Littlefinger, by his own admission, does everything out of love for Catelyn. Sansa sold out her family for her love of Joffrey, such as it is. Robert’s love for Ned’s sister led him to victory all those ages ago, and undid any kingly ability he may have had.  Tyrion has become a bitter, broken jester because of love. And under that stolid exterior, Ned may have been the biggest romantic of all. He did everything out of love – a love for Robert, a love for his family, and a deep and abiding love in the goodness of his world.

Love is also what has led Daenerys to throw herself on the mercy of some dark and terrible magic.  Khal Drogo lies dying. Instead of saving herself, she has risked her position, her safety, and her child in order to reclaim his life.  Her life teeters on a knife’s edge, a far cry from the triumphant night Drogo promised to march on Westeros for her.

If it hadn’t been for Tyrion, this might have been unwatchable.  He may have been run roughshod by Tysha, but he can still deliver a string of wit that’s sorely needed in an emotional and physical bloodbath like “Thrones.”  Every moment we spent with him was a relief, wasn’t it?

Such character work has, thankfully, been the show’s strong suit.  When it began, I was concerned that we’d get to the last gasp of episodes and not care a bit for Ned, Daenerys, Tyrion, or any of their ilk.   I’m happy those fears proved unfounded, and as I watch the reactions pour across my social media, it’s clear that it succeeded whether the viewer knew the source or not.

However, the show has continued to fail in two key areas: Action and scope.  I had assumed that bets and budgets were being hedged because of the two big battles that loomed at the end of the book.    HBO gets lucky in the one – Tyrion suffers a wound early on and misses it – but the Battle of the Whispering Wood is an event that ripples for a good two books after this.  Characters who were there never stop referring to it.  The kingdom talks about it.  It’s a shining moment for the Starks. It’s a bit of bitter comfort for them and the reader. Ned may have been being dragged to execution, but the Starks were chopping bits out of the Lannisters, so ha ha, sometimes the good guys do win.

And then we get to The Episode and…wow, really?  We’ve skimped on the tourney, Khal’s khalsar, King’s Landing, Cersei’s dresses, Jon’s battle with a wight, and so on, so the characters could stand around and tell us what the battle was like? I understand the limitations of television, but even “The Tudors,”  “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” and “Camelot” have pulled off some battle sequences.   The show has been admirable in its restraint of CG extras, but now would have been the time to use them, at least in glimpses, particularly since the battle is told through non-participant eyes. (Catelyn’s) which would have helped them cheat the stunts and scope quite a bit.

This leads me genuinely concerned for further seasons, since it’s all clashing armor, burning ships, and leveled towns from here on in.  (That’s not a spoiler. Robb told you!) I suppose we can only hope that ratings will boost the budget considerably, and that the creative team has become aware of their limitations, and brings in some help that will enable them to stretch every penny.  William Shakespeare may have gotten away with “That was some battle!” but even he described men sword-fighting off the stage … and he wasn’t dealing with a story that sprawls the way this one does, or one that made “Hamlet” look cheerful in comparison.  Audiences are going to get bored and tune out if every week brings death, but no cathartic destruction.    We already know that love is doomed in this world. Can’t we at least have violence?

  1. Expect a bit more action scenes next season since they actually know they have an audience and can have the budget, but look at Rome, which was excellent but they had to cut short for budget issues.

    Though George did say on Not a Blog he has had to figure out how to rewrite his episode for Season 2 because his idea of a battle is too expensive to do on TV.

    Don’t start wishing the series into oblivion with hopes and wishes of more CGI and epics battles.

  2. “This leads me genuinely concerned for further seasons, since it’s all clashing armor, burning ships, and leveled towns from here on in. (That’s not a spoiler. Robb told you!)”………………………

    That is a spoiler! Thanks very little….

    And also I do think I have seen enough “Swords and Sandals” fight scenes to last me for years. There is limited, precious time for this wonderful show and I don’t need chunks of it used up with dire wolves and seige weaponry. I get it… there are battles and some sides win and some sides lose… It is most important with this plethora of characters to show their development outside of constant battles…

  3. Your mentioning of characters referring to the Battle of Whispering Winds for books AFTERWARDS is another HUGE spoiler… I am very upset I read this bloody review!

  4. Dude, Robb Stark captured Jamie Lannister. It was Robb Stark’s first battle, and he beat the KINGSLAYER!! I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to tell you that this was an important event that will be talked about later.

  5. Robb said “This war is not yet over.”

    If you’ve truly seen a lot of “swords and sandals” fight scenes, you’d know war doesn’t exactly lead to sunshine and daisies. If there are two armies on the march, and towns in between, those towns will probably suffer.

    If you think that this series isn’t going to deal with the ugliest depths of war, you haven’t been paying attention.

  6. How is this a spoiler? I didn’t say which characters. Robb Stark said “This war isn’t over.” He won. Jaime Lannister was captured. It’s the first battle in what promises to be a long and bloody conflict. And these characters love to talk about long and bloody conflicts, and who killed whom, even if it happened three centuries ago.

    These are things you can easily deduce from the series itself.

  7. This is the most spoiler-ridden, non-intentional spoiler review I’ve ever read. I had to be really careful what I actually read… you shouldn’t do any foreshadowing your reviews, it’s really amateur and potentially series ruining for people.

  8. There is absolutely nothing spoiled in this recap that was not spelled out in the episode, or discussed in episodes previous.

    If you have watched this show honestly believing that all is going to be wrapped up in a tidy and peaceful bow by Episode 10, then you haven’t been paying attention.

    I haven’t spoiled what happens in the slightest. I didn’t name characters, cities, battles, victories, or losses. You’d see more if you picked up one of the books and glanced on the back flap.

  9. Spoilers? Really… I hope you guys just forgot your tag… Im pretty sure Kevin did…

    >but the Battle of the Whispering Wood is an event that
    >ripples for a good two books after this. Characters who
    >were there (Robb, Catelyn, and Jaime in particular) never
    >stop referring to it. The kingdom talks about it.

    What can you possibly have spoiled by this? That those three are still alive? Are they still alive by book 3? Or only through book 2? Or maybe some of them make it through some of book 2, and others make it through book 3. Or maybe there are flashbacks to before they are dead? Or maybe they have themselves referred to by OTHERS about that event? Seriously, there’s like 18 different directions to read that… sheesh…

  10. After reading most of these responses I’m honestly surprised someone hasn’t claimed Ned’s dying is a spoiler. “We didn’t actually SEE his head get severed.Someone might have stepped in for all I know! Spoiler alert OMGZ Srsly!!!”
    I haven’t read the books and none of these reviews have left me feeling spoiled (spoilt?) so far.

    But jeez,Elisabeth, tone down that bloodlust,huh? Don’t you know that what this show really needs is more of that whore? I mean it’s been two whole episodes and we have no idea what’s going on in her life. What if she’s contracted an STD?! I bet there are some awesome potions or spells for curing genital warts that likely involve a nude,female assistant convulsing around for some reason.Character development! 😉

  11. I am not likely to continue watching this series. I have been an avid fan, but taking out Ned Stark, hero, honorable, keeper of the law being exponged leaves no one and nothing in that role.
    There has to be some balance, and in the world, there is. Hard to find sometimes, but true.
    In any case, there were a trillion ways to save Ned at the last minute or at least indicate that that was possible. Losing him entirely and abrubtly is unforgiveable and I’ve lost my enthusiasm for the story.

  12. I really like the show I wish they made a movie with it instead of an episode .
    You guys killed my favorite character I hope his kids revenge his death and kill every single one of them.

  13. So you’re suggesting that they alter one of the main plot points of the books, and fundamentally change the entire course of the story, just because it’s upsetting? Guess what – it’s supposed it be upsetting.

    The real world has balance? Really? All evidence will tell you that in the real world, it’s the people with power – Evil, corrupt, treacherous people – who win. It’s not cynical or pessimistic, it’s reality. This isn’t a story that revolves around glorious victories and uplifting fanfares where the good guys beat the bad guys and the sun comes out and shines all the clearer.

    It’s about betrayal. Murder. War. Death. That’s what Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire revolves around. Yes, it’s depressing. Life is depressing. Don’t blame the show and the story if you personally just can’t handle it.

  14. You’re the sort of person that causes most television to be crap.

    Oh, yeah, it was *possible* to save Ned. But then it wouldn’t be the same story anymore, a story in which good people die. It would be a different story, an inferior story, and a less real story. It wouldn’t be Game of Thrones anymore.

    If you just want a story where the good guys survive no matter how many odds are stacked against them, you have a hundred other shows on TV that this is what happens, always, predictably.

    Learn to appreciate the something unique that *this* show is offering you.

  15. I’m going to step in with Kathleen here and say that this could easily be an off-putting turn for people who tuned in to this show not knowing what the series was. Thanks to veteran reader comments like Elisabeth makes above, I knew going in that people die so Ned dying wasn’t a shock per se. But for the average viewer who doesn’t know the story, or the series, or the fandom, who hasn’t been told ad nauseum “don’t get too attached to anyone because they all die”…why the hell shouldn’t this be shocking and a put-off? I don’t think the realities of treachery and violence in the world which the show HAS given us necessarily lead to the conclusion that all is lost cynical bleak life sucks and everyone who’s even passably good dies. Which seems to be what every vet reader of this series happily expounds upon it being. I’m not sure why such a depressing view of the world is so appealing. I can enjoy it as a break from something relentlessly happy, but let me go back to Shakespeare: he wrote in three styles, the comedy, the tragedy, and the history. In one it’s all lightness, in one it’s all darkness, and then you have the histories in between where some die and some do not and some who fall are heroes but others who do are villains. If this is a tragedy intead, I fail to see how that’s actually more “realistic.”

    /rant over

  16. Hm…I think I wouldn’t mind if many of the battles are told in the aftermath. It can be an equally effective way to impart the grimness of war, perhaps better than a bunch of swords through faces can. Save that for swords through important faces. 🙂

  17. I will never ceased to be amazed by people who complain about the vaguest, most vanilla comments as spoilers.


    Spoilers are specific events, details, pieces of information that will significantly change your expectations for the story.

    saying that there is going to be war.. is not a spoiler. it’s just not.

  18. the actual numbers of characters that die is probably greatly misrepresented to you.

    no one is safe but.. ya know not EVERYONE dies.

  19. def one of the draws to this story is that you will actually be continually surprised and more invested than you may have ever been before.

    you can’t sit there and tell yourself “it’s ok no matter what happens my fav character will win”.

  20. It is sad to see all the “fans” who have read the books say they are done with with this series just because a main character is killed. Sure it is a great actor, Sean Bean, but you have to understand what the series is about and that is not the generation of yore, but the intrigue and darkness of the next generation.

    And ultimately ask yourself this if you don’t want to watch it anymore… if the writers/producers/director had strayed that much from the original story and not killed Ned, wouldn’t that be MUCH worse? Sure you could choose to save them but I think they would lose far more viewers that read the books and some that did not when they find out how far they strayed from the true gritty story.

    Its an acclaimed series for a reason people, it doesn’t always have to be unicorns and glitter to be compelling!

  21. hahaha sadly rachel you are the only one putting it in those qualified terms. so i’m basically assuming everyone dies but the horatio-analog until proven otherwise. curious to see who that turns out to be though, for sure. 🙂

  22. There has been no major spoilers in this review, don’t be so ridiculous. And to turn off simply because Ned Stark is dead is even more ridiculous. I suspect people are just saying this in shock at what has happened and will be back soon. What are they supposed to do? Completely alter a major part of the original thereby alienating all of the people who have already read through the books? Don’t be daft.
    IF you keep watching you will realize that part of the joy of Martins books are that he is not afraid to kill off characters and so you can never quite predict what is going to happen. Still nobody knows now how the series of books is going to end, it could go anywhere! Thats a positive in my book. I’m sick of predictable plotlines on TV.

  23. You have to know that Sean Bean knew that he would only be in one season. It wasn’ a surprise. So if he was fine with taking the role and doing an incredible job with it, the fans of his should accept it for what he did. He helped you get into the show, now watch how it unfolds. Did you stop watching the Lord of the Rings when he died as well?

    I started reading these books years ago and I tried to get everyone I talked to about reading to get into them. There was this one guy who started them and then stopped because he didn’t want to read “some crap full of incest.” People are turned off for various reasons, but like many say, this is why this story is so engaging. It’s not a happy-go-lucky fairy tale world.

  24. To everyone put off by Neds death: At least watch the last episode in this season and see if that changes your mind. There are several reasons why the book – and the show – doesn’t end with Neds death but sometime after.

  25. I think the fact that people are so “turned off” by Ned’s death is actually a good sign. They loved him. That’s what you were supposed to do. It was foreshadowed right at the beginning of the series though. The Starks find the dead mother dire wolf (Eddard) and dead stag (Robert Baratheon). …and they find a dire wolf for each of the Stark children + Snow. It’s their story.

    You don’t really know Robb, Bran, and Rickon yet. You know Snow, Arya, and Sansa a little bit. The fact that you met them right before this horrible thing happened to their family, and saw them all go from easy comfort in Winterfell to turmoil strengthens your association with them.

    Did everyone turn off Star Wars when Obi-Wan Kenobi died? He died for a very similar reason. His place in the story was to steward in the next generation, just like Eddard.

  26. Spoiler Alert

    I bet the budget will be bigger for next season but I also see a huge drop off in viewers after this season. I had not read the books but was planning on it, until this episode. While it shocked the hell out of me, all I could think of is how dumb it was.

    3 large or could have been large characters. Robert, while I understand his death was necessary as his death could lead to so many chain reactions involving Eddard, his family, but also Cersei, Khal, Khaleesi. However, Eddards death will mean the slow demise of this show to me. The central character? Why? Will Khal die next? 3 heads of households, possibly dead, leaving a few A characters and mostly B characters. Considering from this show we barely know Roberts brothers, if KHal dies then who will lead them across the sea, and basically Snow up at the Black Wall is of little concern if he leaves (he can’t lead an army, at least yet in a land all about titles and family lineage).

    So whats left? I read all up on the storyline and I must say BOOOOO. I don’t need happy endings but knowing what happens to the starks, I feel like this was a masterpiece in the making that is now something I could careless about reading. And other reviews have written, Eddards death is not the only main characters, but if you keep killing main characters all you are left with are a bunch of B characters trying to keep an A story going.

    Sorry, I wish HBO took the first 8 episodes and then took this in their own direction. Think of it this way, Eddard lives, the north approaches Kings Landing only to find Khals army getting ready to cross the sea, and the beings beyond the wall making their presence really known. Do they fight Lannisters? They can’t join with them, despite Eddards honor to the realm, fully knowing that Jaime had something to do with Brans near death and now handicap and still holding Sansa in their grasps. Who do they fight, Lannisters? Khal? Northeners? There is way more there then where this is going.

    I tell you when all is said and done knowing the outcome of these characters, I say BOOOOO. For now I get Tyrion (as the character he is)to keep me entertained for a while, but knowing what his character looks like down the road is depressing.

    Want a how dumb moment? Littlefinger did what he did because he loves Catelyn and wants to F over lord Stark, so being the sneaky character he is, in front of a hall of people who will easily sell him out, i.e. Cersei, he betrays Stark. His whole being has been the guy working things behind the scene and now he is the guy doing the actions in public, DUMMMMMBBBBBB writing, character personality portrayal.

  27. No, people didn’t turn off when Kenobi died, because Kenobi wasn’t your lead in main character, that was Luke. Kenobi was only a guide and while an important character (that had the ability to influence after death) his death did not remove the main central character in the movie, it wasn’t about Kenobi, it was about Luke.

  28. I lost interest after this episode. Not just because an engaged character was removed but because the story doesn’t hold water and the characters are betraying their personalities.

    Stark, out of love of his friend, the King, doesn’t tell him that the Queen admitted to him that their kids are not his, but then in court tells this to everyone knowing it was treason. Why? Out of love of the realm you the honest man commit treason? There is no DNA testing in this world, Cersei could have said “ummmm, because he does’t have dark hair he is not the Kings son? Go get the scientist for a DNA test, oh wait, this is a medieval world that doesn’t exist, guards kill him”.

    Or littlefinger the man behind the scene running things becomes the bold figure in public.

    Or Cersei, the woman with a huge secret is fine with Eddard being banished to the Wall. A man, Eddard, who basically runs the North and can command a huge army, you are going to send him to a place where he can command respect surrounded by soldiers?

    Khal the mighty horse lord allowing a witch tend to his wounds? Every king has the kings surgeon, are we to believe that the horsemen are so on the outskirts that they have a market but no doctors or medicinemen?

    Some things make stories better like Khaleesi’s brother finally getting his crown of gold, except is was melted gold and it killed him. His character was whiny, annoying and pathetic which is what got him killed, but it led to better things without losing the character personality. You also can understand the meek Khaleesi who was basically a slave to her brother tasting power for once and liking it, becoming a strong central character.

    So from a perspective of someone who didn’t read the books but read some character bios, this story has become poorly written. I feel like the writer wrote this out of spite of traditional writing and just wants to kill characters. Knowing about the majority of characters and their fates, am I really wrong?

  29. I think people fail to realize that the real story here is not about the characters… yes they are vital to the plot… but the real story is in fact of “ICE and FIRE”… And the fact that winter is coming and the folks in westeros are so busy with their little game of thrones they can’t really see the main threat that will consume the world should Westoros fall… and that the only ones left to defend the realm of men is a ragged band of the brotherhood of the night’s watch! That’s why every character is dispensable because their purpose is to serve as POVs to an even greater battle!

  30. Maybe you should write a book. GRRM wrote a few and they seem to sell a couple of copies, “awful” plot lines and all

  31. Yes, forutnately you are completely wrong 🙂 Sometimes there is a thin line between poorly written and a work of a genius.

    It might be that readers and non-readers experience the series differently, and thus I might be too involved in the plotlines that melt the books together. But there is a reason to everything in Thrones – and a logic also. Take the case of Ned taking the black. Would that have worked for the queen? Of course. We new from the very first episode that if you betray the wall, your life is forefeit. Ned wielded the sword himself.
    Instead he was executed – how do you think the North will like that?

    There is a reason to everything. Everybody was thinking: Oh shit, the Starks march south, the white walkers are rising, the Lannisters have taken the throne and now an army of horsemen will cross the ocean only to create havoc.

    That would be the predictable outcome. And the boring one. At this point in the book, what I thought most about, was the characters that haven’t been brought into play yet …

    So no, this is not poorly written – it is an intense jugling with characters and plotlines of which most will make sense in the end. But that is a discussion for tomorrow 😉

  32. Dumb, huh? Well then, this isn’t the show for you. You only invested in 3 characters out of a huge cast, and want the story to end happily, which is missing the point on how everything up to now has only been the set up. The REAL story begins now, and new characters get pushed to the fore that otherwise would have remained overshadowed.

    And if Littlefinger is betraying Lord Stark in front of Cersei, that means he did it FOR Cersei! In one fell swoop he just proved his loyalty to the crown, probably got richly rewarded, and has maintained his grip on power. What’s dumb about that?

    Sounds like you just wanted the story to go your way. It’s ok, though, the story continues and is awesome! But it’s up to you whether you stick around for them.

  33. You are only looking at all of the points you listed at a superficial level.

    1. Ned didn’t tell Robert that his children were illegitimate because he was giving Cersei a chance to escape. Very soon after that Robert is killed and leaves Ned as Protector of the Realm. A position that he believes will be honoured. But he is not stupid. He only confronts Cercei when he believes he has the City Guard at his command. In all this he did what was right and just.

    2. What Littlefinger did was back who he considered to be the winner. The Lannisters are rich and powerful. Now he can continue working towards his ultimate goal which hasn’t been seen yet.

    3. With Ned at the wall rather than dead she has a bargaining chip to use against Robb ie “We spared your father out of kindness so you owe us”. Since Joffre defied her and had him killed there is now no way that Robb will bend the knee. He would have been at the wall for life with no way to influence anything (even if he found a way, the Wall is a dangerous place and I’m sure an accident could have been arranged).

    4. Drogo only let the witch heal him because Dany insisted. Dany has a trusting nature and has made a mistake. Mistakes happen and we wish they hadn’t. But this whole ordeal only makes Dany tougher and more determined.

    Trust me when I say that Martin has a reason for everything even if we might not like how things turn out.

    PS. To all of you saying that Ned was the main character… he wasn’t. There is no main character. Every single character has a part to play and their importance to the larger plot increase and decrease over time. For instance a character that seems to be of no consequence may turn out to be a catalyst for something major and those who seem important may find themselves powerless at the critical moment.

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