In the previouslies, a lot of very bad things happen: Syrio doesn’t flee; reanimated dead men attack Lord Mormont; Ned enjoys the hospitality of King’s Landing’s dungeon; Robb refuses an invitation to the same party; Tyrion makes a bunch of shaggy and violent friends; Drogo is wounded; Jaime is sent off to fight at Riverrun; Robb needs to cross the river.
Also, lots of other things happened, which you can read about in recaps of “Winter is Coming,” “The Kingsroad,” “Lord Snow,” “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things,” “The Wolf and the Lion,” “A Golden Crown,” “You Win or You Die,” and “The Pointy End.”
The wonderful credits show a new location - the Twins, which lie across a big river en route from Winterfell to King’s landing.
We open with a scene of utter darkness, moral, psychological and actual. A torch finally flares up, and we see Ned, looking a bit the worse for wear and long confinement. Varys has brought him something to drink. For once, Varys drops the creepy-crawly obsequious human spider routine and talks to Ned like a mensch. He tells Ned that before his mutilation he traveled with a troupe of actors. “Every man has a role to play ...”
Ned asks whether Varys can free him, and Varys, whose role is definitely not “hero” (or “suicidal”) says that he could if he wanted to, but he won’t. An exasperated Ned asks Varys what he wants in that case and Varys tells him that he wants peace. “I want you to serve the realm,” he tells Ned, raising his voice in a convincing show of sincerity. If Ned agrees to confess his treason, the Queen will let him go and join the Night’s Watch. She knows he’s an honorable man who will keep the stern vows of that order, and this way Ned has a chance at life.
Ned says that Varys has misjudged him and refuses to take the out that Cersei is offering him. “You think my life is some precious thing to me, that I will trade my honor for a few more years of it.”
But it’s not only Ned’s life that’s at stake, as Varys reminds him. “What of your daughter’s life?” he asks as he leaves Ned to the darkness.
A raven flies of one of the stone towers of the Twins, only to be brought down with an arrow. Robb Stark’s men are shooting down all the ravens sent out by the Freys as they wait for the Freys to let them cross the river, because they don’t want Lord Walder Frey to let the Lannisters know where Robb is. (I hope the Freys didn’t pay extra for delivery confirmation.) The raven was carrying a invitation to Lord Walder Frey’s granddaughter’s birthday festivities. Now I’m imagining a bouncy castle and balloon direwolves.
The Starks have a problem: they could fight their way across the river crossing, which is guarded by fortified castles at either end, but they don’t have the time to do so, because Tywin Lannister is advancing from the South and Ned Stark is still in prison. Negotiation seems to be the only option for a speedy crossing.
Catelyn volunteers to negotiate with the Freys, because Lord Walder has known her since she was a girl and he won’t harm her. (I do have to point out that Littlefinger knew her since she was a girl too, and that didn’t stop him from harming her husband.)
Lord Walder turns out to be a charming old man, and by charming I mean that he’s totally disgusting and Catelyn heroically suppresses a shudder when he slobbers on her hand in the guise of paying her courtesy.
Catelyn asks to speak to him alone and he dismisses his enormous troupe of offspring and grandchildren, as well as his latest fifteen year old bride. When they’re alone, Lord Walder complains that Catelyn’s family, the Tullys, have consistently insulted him by never coming to his numerous weddings or letting their children marry his.
“I need to get rid of sons and daughters. See how they pile up?”
Catelyn again heroically suppresses a shudder at the thought of having this man as a father-in-law and refrains from pointing out that if he maybe stopped getting married, he could stop piling up children.
She tries to plead that Lord Frey should let her son cross the river because Lord Frey swore oaths of fealty to her father, Lord Tully. Lord Frey points out, correctly, that he also swore oaths of fealty to the King, and Robb is, at the moment, in rebellion against the King.
“Stark, Tully, Lannister, Baratheon - give me one good reason why I should waste a single thought on any of them.”
Clearly, he drives a hard bargain.
Up at the Wall, Lord Commander Mormont gifts Jon with his Valyrian steel sword as a reward for saving his commander’s life. (While he’s at it, I wish Lord Mormont would throw in a few Valyrian fur earmuffs for Jon and the other boys!) It seems that this sword has been in the Mormont family for many generations, but Jorah Mormont didn’t get it from his daddy because he has, as we know, been a very, very bad boy. I don’t know whether it’s clear to someone who hasn’t read the books, but this is a HUGE gift from Lord Mormont. It’s like he’s giving Jon the family art collection, wine cellar, vintage cars, and Rolexes all at once. In short, he couldn’t make it clearer that he considers Jon his heir.
Lord Mormont pours himself a little ale from a suprisingly cheerful yellow jug that someone must have sneaked in from the Wildling Pottery Barn outlet and tells Jon that he’s sent Ser Alliser Thorne down to King’s Landing with orders to lay the hand that Ghost retrieved in front of King Joffrey’s throne.
As we shall see, Joffrey has other Hands to worry about, but the general idea from Lord Mormont’s end is that this separates Jon and Ser Alliser and gives them both time to cool off after the fracas of the previous episode.
Jon enters the mess with Lord Mormont’s sword to the pleased (in most cases) and disgruntled (in a couple of cases) envy of his fellow Night’s Watchmen. Apparently everyone at Castle Black knew Jon was getting that sword except for Jon himself.
Sam sits by himself at one of the mess tables, looking glum and not joining in the general “whoooo, sword!” celebrations. He has a terrible poker face because Jon susses out that something’s wrong in about two seconds. Sam caves in and tells Jon that there’s been a message that Robb is marching south to King’s Landing.
“I should be with him,” Jon says, remembering the brother he grew up with and forgetting the oaths he swore to the new brothers he’s found at Castle Black.
Back at the Twins, Catelyn gallops back to Robb’s camp. At first, it seems that the deal she struck with Lord Walder isn’t quite as bad as we’d feared. One of his sons will squire for Robb (and Robb will eventually knight him); one of his sons will marry Arya (oh boy, that’s going to go over well) and last, but most importantly, Robb will marry one of the Frey girls. Apparently, Lord Walder is getting his revenge for every last perceived and real marital slight the Tully’s have ever dealt him. In return, Lord Walder will let Robb cross the river, and even send a bunch of his men to fight for Robb, reserving a few hundred to guard the river crossing.
Theon starts laughing at the thought of Robb having to marry one of the unprepossessing Frey girls, and Catelyn starts to say that one of them was presentable. Theon laughs some more, but Robb says Lord Frey has a deal, because he can cross the river now.
There’s a long shot of Robb’s army crossing the bridge between the two castles.
At the Wall, Maester Aemon is chopping meat for the ravens. I guess the Night’s Watch is really shorthanded, because I’m not sure it’s a great idea to have a blind man playing with a cleaver.
He has summoned Jon, perhaps to make sure that all his fingers are still attached after the raven-feeding.
It turns out that he wants to talk to Jon while they feed the ravens. He asks Jon if he’s ever wondered why men of the Night’s Watch swear to take no wife or father no children, and then he answers his own question.
“Love is the death of duty,” he tells Jon. “What is honor compared to a woman’s love? What is duty against the feel of a newborn son in your arms ... or the memory of a brother’s smile?”
He tells Jon that its easy to do your duty when your loyalties are not put to the test, but Jon is being tested now.
Jon, secure in the teenager’s belief that no one has ever known the pain that he is undergoing, scoffs at Aemon, telling him that he doesn’t understand, and that’s when Aemon reveals that he’s a Targaryen, who gave up the throne to his younger brother, Danaerys’s grandfather, and that he was already an old man when he learned that his nephew’s family had all been slaughtered.
The exception, Aemon’s grand-niece Daenerys, is riding with the khalasar in a barren and rocky landscape. Drogo, slumped over his horse, rides ahead of her, barely staying on his horse until finally he falls. His bloodriders (who are like bodyguards and blood-brothers rolled into one) perceive this as a very bad sign, and to cover, Dany orders that the khalasar will make camp in this spot.
One of the bloodriders, Qotho, tells her that she doesn’t command him.
“Khal Drogo will hear why you defied me,” Dany tells him, but her threat carries a lot less weight with Drogo lying limp on the ground.
At the Lannister encampment, Tywin and his generals are enjoying a lavish repast. His travelling camp is more luxurious than Winterfell—it’s such a clear visual of how rich the Lannisters actually are.
Tyrion joins them and finally gets his hands on the wine Tywin denied him in the previous episode, but his father spoils his appetite by telling Tyrion that he and his mountain men will be leading the vanguard of Tywin’s army.
Tyrion returns to his tent where he finds Bronn and a new lady friend whom Bronn commandeered from some other general’s tent. The new lady friend, Shae, is played by Sibel Kekilli (a German actress of Turkish descent, who was in the amazing film Against the Wall)
Tyrion informs Bronn about Tywin’s plans for them, and Bronn decides that he needs to find a lady friend of his own in what may be his last night alive. After Bronn leaves, Tyrion essentially signs Shae up to be his wife/squire, telling her that she’ll pour his wine, laugh at his jokes and rub his legs if they’re sore, in addition to the more standard prostitute services.
Back amongst the Dothraki, it’s clear that Drogo is dying. Jorah pulls the poultice from Drogo’s shoulder and surveys the nasty mess underneath. He tells Daenerys that Drogo will die that night. Daenerys refuses to accept this truth and Jorah tells her that even a queen can’t command death. He urges Daenerys to flee with him that night, but she won’t leave the home she has made for herself or the man who helped her make it.
She is startled at the thought that any of the Dothraki would do her harm. (You know, if I choked down a raw horse’s heart and got the ecstatic reception that she did, I probably would feel the same way.) Jorah reminds her that the Dothraki don’t believe in hereditary monarchies; as soon as Drogo dies, the grown men will fight to see who will be the next khal and woe to Dany’s and Drogo’s child, who won’t be allowed to grow up and possibly take his father’s place.
Daenerys sends for Mirri Maaz Duur and when Qotho demurs, she tells him that these are her orders. Qotho tells her that she should pray that the Dothraki don’t hurt her too; she let the witch put her hands on the Khal. Danaery’s power depends solely on Drogo’s life; without him she is nothing.
“I have never been nothing,” Dany tells him. “I am the blood of the dragon.”
“The dragons are all dead, Khaleesi,” Qotho says.
Danaerys tells Jorah to wear his armor this evening, finally realizing that a peaceful succession is no more likely among the Dothraki than it is in Westeros.
Mirri Maaz Duur tells Danaerys that Drogo is dying, and that all she can do for him now is to ease his passing.
Daenerys promises that if Mirri Maaz Duur can save Drogo, she will be freed. Mirri Maaz Duur admits that there is a spell. “Some would say death is cleaner,” she warns Danaerys, but the khaleesi doesn’t heed her. She only wants Drogo, alive, and she tells Mirri Maaz Duur to do what she must.
This is blood magic, Mirri Maaz Duur tells her. “Only death pays for life.”
Dany thinks that it is her life that will pay for Drogo’s but the maegi assures her that Drogo’s stallion will suffice. Where are Gregor Clegane’s horse execution skills when they’re needed?
Rakharo begs Daenerys not to have the maegi do the spell. “It is forbidden,” he tells the khaleesi. The other Dothraki also look askance at the impending animal cruelty and necromancy. Nevertheless, Daenerys still commands enough respect that they bring the horse to the tent where Drogo is dying.
Mirri Maaz Duur tells Daenerys that once the singing starts, no one should enter the tent. “The dead will dance here tonight.” Well, that sounds like fun! Will there be an open bar?
The maegi gentles the terrified horse and then slits its throat. Blood sprays out, all over Drogo and Danaerys; ”blood" magic isn’t just a metaphor. The stained khaleesi exits the tent as Mirri Maaz Duur starts her eerie chanting.
The Dothraki have gathered, though they keep their distance from the scary chanting, and Jorah, now in full armor, asks Daenerys “What have you done?”
Finally, Qotho, who’s braver than the rest of the Dothraki in the face of sorcery walks toward the tent to interrupt the spell. Daenerys grabs his arm and he pushes her away. She falls to the ground, moaning, and Jorah steps forward to stop Qotho. For a couple of seconds, it looks like the Dothraki’s speed will wear down the knight weighted down by his steel plate, but then Qotho’s arakh sticks in Jorah’s armor and Jorah kills him.
Danaerys, living up to every televisual cliche ever, has apparently immediately gone into labor, even though Qotho didn’t actually push her that hard. (Either that or the blood magic is doing its bloody thing and that’s why the timing of her labor is so terrible.) Irri runs off to fetch the midwives to help deliver the baby, but Rakahro says they’re all scared of Mirri Maaz Duur’s magic and they won’t come. He remembers that the maegi knows how to deliver babies, and Jorah scoops a now-unconscious Dany up in his arms and carries her towards the Undead Dance Party going on in the tent. Uh oh!
Speaking of tents and strange rituals, Bronn, Tyrion and Shae are hanging out in Tyrion’s lavish tent while Shae plays some game with Tyrion’s arm and candle wax. Bronn proposes a different game involving knives, and Tyrion is none to keen on that either. Instead, he proposes a version of Truth or Dare, in which he will guess secrets from people’s lives and if he’s right, they’ll take a drink. If he’s wrong, he’ll drink. In other words, a win-win situation.
Eventually, Tyrion admits that he was married before, and tells the story of how when he was sixteen, he and Jaime came across a young girl fleeing two men who had tried to rape her. Tyrion took the girl, Tysha, to an inn and fed her while Jaime hunted down the rapists, and in gratitude for her rescue and three chickens to eat, she went to bed with him. Tyrion was so caught up in a haze of first love and losing his virginity that he married her, and they were happy for a fortnight until he confessed his actions to his father. Tywin made Jaime confess that the whole situation was a setup so Jaime could help his brother lose his virginity. Tywin decided to punish Tysha for her presumption by having his guardsmen enjoy her favor, with a silver coin for each man who raped her.
At the end of this horrifying tale, Bronn tells Tyrion that he would have killed anyone who did that to him. Shae, however, says that Tyrion should have known all along that Tysha was a whore, because no woman who was almost raped would go to bed with another man two hours later.
Well, that was cheerful. At the end of the scene, Shae decides it’s time for her to kiss Tyrion and Bronn discreetly exits.
The next morning, Tyrion and Shae are asleep on the floor of Tyrion’s tent when Bronn enters and tells Tyrion that the battle has started.
“If I die weep for me,” Tyrion commands Shae.
“You will be dead. How will you know?” Shae retorts.
I like Shae already. She’s like a female version of Bronn, self-serving but open about it, unlike all the hypocritically self-serving people we’ve met so far.
Tyrion, in full armor, gives a rousing speech to his mountain men, who trample all over him in their enthusiasm to get to the battle. We see none of the action until Tyrion wakes up, to an upside view of battered corpses and riderless horses. Bronn is busy wiping a lot of blood off his sword, and Tyrion realizes that he’s not dead yet.
Tyrion is still trying to clear his head when Lord Tywin rides up, and comments that Tyrion seems to have survived, clearly contrary to his intentions. (I have to say that Charles Dance is so immensely impressive that he manages to not look silly in that ridiculous Lannister helmet.)
Tywin admits that his scouts were wrong; Robb Stark sent 2000 men against him, not 20,000.
Tyrion asks what happened to Robb, and Tywin tells him that Robb “wasn’t here.”
“Where was he?” Tyrion asks.
“With his other 18,000 men,” Tywin says.
Catelyn and Rodrick sit their horses watching a battle that we can’t see. Eventually, Robb and some of his other 18,000 men come riding out of the woods. Catelyn cries tears of joy, watching her son ride unscathed out of the battle. Something finally went the right way for the Starks.
Robb’s men dump a bound figure in the mud at Catelyn’s feet. Robb’s men have captured the Kingslayer himself, Jaime Lannister.
“Lady Stark,” he tells her, “I would give you my sword. I seem to have lost it.”
Theon urges Robb to kill Jaime and sent his head to Tywin’s father, but Robb says that Jaime is more use to the Starks alive than dead.
Catelyn orders that Jaime be taken away and clapped in irons, but before Jaime is hauled off, he offers to fight in single combat with Robb “swords, lances, teeth, nails,” to decide the war. If he wins, the Lannisters win the war. If Robb wins, the Starks win the war.
Robb refuses Jaime’s offer, recognizing that if they do it Jaime’s way, the Lannisters will win. “We’re not doing it your way.”
“Come on, pretty man,” Lord Umber says to Jaime as he hauls him off.
Robb mourns the fact that he sent 2000 men to die in his feint against Tywin, and though Theon consoles him that the bards will sing song for their sacrifice. Robb says the dead will hear no songs.
Already more of a realist than his father, Robb reminds his armies that their job isn’t done yet:
“One victory does not make us conquerors. Did we free my father? Did we rescue my sisters from the queen? Did we free the North from those who want us on our knees?”
In King’s Landing, Arya is catching pigeons, in the hopes of trading them to a baker for something to eat. She’s startled when everyone starts running past her towards the Sept of Baelor and asks where they’re all going. The baker tells her that today is when the Hand of the King confesses his treason.
Arya races to the square, which is packed full of people, and climbs to the statue of Baelor. An exhausted Ned is dragged out into the sunlight, and miraculously, he sees Arya against the statue. He’s dragged through the mocking crowd, and brushes up against Yoren, the man from the Night’s Watch who told him that Catelyn had captured Tyrion four episodes ago and who mistook Arya for Ned’s son.
“Baelor,” Ned says to Yoren, hoping against hope that Yoren will understand what Ned wants him to do.
Ned climbs up to where Littlefinger, Sansa, Cersei, Varys and Joffrey are waiting for him. Sansa is smiling, happy that she’s managed to rescue her father. Littlefinger sneers as Ned steps forward to confess to the treason he never committed, because somehow he has to save his daughter’s life.
“I plotted to murder [Robert’s] son,” Ned says, having learned his scripted lines well. He swallows and goes on confessing his treason and out of the crowd, someone throws a rock at Ned. Arya puts her hand on Needle as the Hound steadies Ned.
Ned goes on to proclaim Joffrey the one true heir to the Seven Kingdoms. Sansa looks around, hoping that the crowd will stop baying for Ned’s blood. Grand Maester Pycelle says that the gods are just, but beloved Baelor taught us that they can be merciful. He asks King Joffrey what is to be done with the “traitor.” Joffrey says that his mother wishes him to let Lord Eddard join the Night’s watch and Sansa has begged mercy for her father, but that they have the soft hearts of women. Much to everyone’s shock, Joffrey announces: “So long as I am your king, treason shall never go unpunished” and calls for the headsman as Sansa screams, “stop!”
Cersei argues with Joffrey, and even Varys runs up to remonstrate that this was not what they had all agreed to. Arya runs through the crowd, Needle in hand as the headsman dons his hood. Yoren grabs Arya and tells her not to look, holding her against his chest so she won’t see what happens to her father. Sansa keeps screaming, as powerless as she was when Lady was sacrificed.
The noise of the crowd and Sansa’s screams fade away as Ned looks out at the crowd and bares his neck for the headsman’s sword. Behind him, Sansa still screams, and even Cersei can’t watch, looking away. Arya is held tight to Yoren’s chest, gazing up through her tears as a flight of pigeons takes wing and my heart breaks for her and her sister and poor doomed Ned Stark.
Regina Thorne is an avid reader of just about everything, an aspiring writer, a lover of old movies and current tv shows, and a hopeless romantic.