I’ve been anticipating/dreading this episode since this series was first announced. If you haven’t seen the episode, stop reading now and come back after you have.
If you have seen it, well… I’m not exactly sure how to start this recap/review, so I’ll just state the facts. Ned Stark is dead, beheaded as a traitor on the teenaged whim of an arrogant king. He tried to do what was right in the viper’s nest of King’s Landing; he had some chances along the way to make things turn out differently (like not revealing his plans to Cersei, or backing Renly and accepting the help of his soldiers) but his inflexible honor made all that impossible. When he finally bent his moral code of conduct (for the sake of his children’s safety) and “confessed to his crimes” on the steps of Baelor’s Sept, it was too late. Ned, you brave, noble fool. You will be missed.
The execution scene was brilliantly done. I love how Ned’s viewpoint focusing in on Arya as she crouched by the statue, and I love how he looked for her again right before the sword came down and couldn’t find her. The total chaos immediately after Joffrey ordered Ned’s death (the screaming crowd, the panicked, surprised Queen and other advisors, Sansa’s wailing) was a brilliant contrast to the sudden fade-out of sound, when all that could be heard was Ned’s slow breathing, and then Arya’s breath afterwards. It was such an emotionally affecting scene that I nearly had tears in my eyes at the end. And I’ve got to say that Massie Williams as Arya continues to be one of the best things about this show. The scene showed off the perfect mix of her character’s headstrong impulsiveness, along with the natural fear, terror, and helplessness any child might feel in that situation. The way she clung to Yoren, after she had finally given up struggling to see, was heartbreaking.
We still have one episode left, and now the kingdom will have to deal with the consequences of Joffrey’s impulsiveness. Any hope of swapping Ned for Jamie vanished the second Ned’s head left his neck; there will almost certainly be a full-blown civil war now. There will be a lot to pack into the last episode, but I can’t wait to see the conclusion.
A few more thoughts:
* The scene between Jon and Maester Aemon (who apparently is a Targaryen as well, and had to sit at the wall and hear about the destruction of his house during Robert’s rebellion) was brilliant. For a moment, the old man became a Dragon again, as he reminded Jon of the conflicts between love and duty.
* Tyrion, Bronn, and Shae had some great chemistry in their little drinking game scene on the eve of the battle. Tyrion’s tale of his ill-fated marriage to a whore (disguised as a commoner) was very sad, and shows how badly he yearns for an actual, human connection. Instead, he’s looked down upon because of his size, and drowns out the pain with sarcasm, wine, and paid women.
* I’ll admit that I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get any battle scenes. It would have been nice… However, it doesn’t bother me that much, since the rest of the episode was just so uniformly great. Those scenes are expensive to shoot, and the budget was probably better spent elsewhere. But maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll get something in the next season.
* Speaking of battle, the duel between Jorah and one of Drogo’s bodyguards was pretty cool. Looks like armor won out over speed this time around.
* It was interesting to see how tenuous Dany’s position among the Dothraki is. As Jorah said, the Dothraki follow only strength, and once Drogo is gone, she and her baby will mean nothing to them. Dany still managed to impose her will on the horde, though tenuously and perhaps not for long. It’s also pretty clear that her decision to order the healer to use blood magic to heal Drogo was a mistake. The shapes and sounds coming from that tent were horrific.
* Finally, it’s interesting that HBO made Sean Bean the face of their marketing efforts for this show. For anyone who hadn’t read the books, it’s clear he was pitched as the main character of the show. I’ve already read some comments and forum posts from non-readers who are really upset, and claim they’ll bail on the show because Bean’s no longer involved. Any thoughts on this? Was killing such a sympathetic, recognizable character this early on something that our American TV audience won’t stand for?