Holy crap. Let me repeat that to let it sink in: Ho-lee Crap. As if the titular game of thrones in ‘Game of Thrones’ didn’t already have enormously high stakes (what with numerous factions vying for control of an entire continent), this week’s episode raised those stakes considerably by… well, I’m not going to spoil that on the main page. You’ll have to read on after the break for the spoilerific recap.
The show’s previous episode was one of the few this season that didn’t end with a shocking plot twist. I don’t consider that a disappointment. Not every episode needs one, and if you do it too often, it becomes a gimmick. Nonetheless, this week’s episode (called ‘Baelor’) delivers a whopper of a shock at the end, the biggest one yet by far. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
The episode starts with another conversation between Ned and Varys in Ned’s dungeon cell. Ned refuses to give in to Cersei’s demands that he confess his alleged crimes and pledge fealty to Joffrey. His honor is more important than his life. Varys reminds him that more than his own life is at stake. So are his daughters’.
Ned’s son Robb marches his army of 20,000 men en route to battle with the Lannisters. To get there, he needs to cross a bridge called “the Twins” (so named for the castles on each side) ruled by Lord Walder Frey, a cranky old man who doesn’t seem particularly bound by the oath of loyalty he swore to the Stark family. Catelyn manages to negotiate for the army’s crossing by pledging to marry Arya to one of Walder’s sons and Robb to one of his daughters. (Apparently, he has one who isn’t completely hideous.) Robb reluctantly agrees.
Up north at the Wall, Jon Snow is BMOC again after having dispatched the White Walker. Lord Commander Jeor Mormont gives him his family sword, the one originally intended for his disgraced son Jorah. When he hears word of his half-brother Robb marching to war, Snow’s immediate instinct is to go join him. Blind Maester Aemon reminds him that his responsibility now is to the Night’s Watch, not to his family. The reason that the men of the Watch must swear a vow of chastity is because, “Love is the death of duty.” Aemon also reveals that he is in fact a Targaryen, the grand uncle of Viserys and Daenerys.
Speaking of Daenerys, things aren’t looking so good for her in the Dothraki camp. As feared, Drogo’s chest wound has gotten infected. He’s sickly and near death. If he dies, Dany’s position as Khaleesi will be meaningless without an heir. Already, members of the tribe are jockeying for position to take over. Jorah has to defend her by killing Drogo’s #2 man Qotho in a duel, and is injured in the process.
Against the wishes of Jorah, Dany won’t flee. She refuses to leave Drogo and, in desperation, orders the Wilding witch to use dangerous “blood magic” to cure him. This involves the witch slicing open the throat of Drogo’s horse, which spews blood all over him. As the witch orders everyone out of the tent, horrible otherworldly screams can be heard from inside.
While this is happening, Dany also goes into labor (prematurely?). None of the Dothraki midwives will help her, so the Wilding witch will have to deliver the baby as well.
Out at the Lannister camp, Tyrion has Bronn secure him a new whore to take his mind off the fact that he’s being sent to the front lines of the war. Bronn brings him a mysterious woman named Shae who will not reveal much about herself. In a drinking game, she gets Tyrion to tell the tragic story of his marriage, which he learned was a sham orchestrated by his father.
The next morning, Tyrion dutifully gives a speech to rally his Hill People forces to battle, and is promptly knocked out cold when one of the brutes thoughtlessly walks right into him with a giant hammer swinging at his side. Tyrion misses the whole battle. He awakens afterward to learn that the Lannisters won. However, they fought only 2,000 Stark soldiers, not the 20,000 expected.
The other 18,000 men were with Robb Stark, who sacrificed the 2,000 in order to misdirect Tywin and launch a sneak attack on Jaime, who is captured alive. Jaime challenges Robb to a duel to end the whole war then and there, but Robb is not foolish enough to take him up on it. “This war is far from over,” he declares.
And then we come to the shocking climax. Arya wanders the streets of King’s Landing like a beggar, until drawn by a crowd to see her father’s public trial. In order to spare his daughters, Ned swallows his pride and “confesses” his treason, then declares Joffrey the one true king, exactly as Cersei wanted. In return, Cersei has instructed Joffrey to pardon Ned and command him to serve out the rest of his life in the Night’s Watch. This will serve the dual purpose of appeasing the Starks and ending the war, while also humiliating them and affirming Joffrey’s rule.
It’s a very clever strategy, until little shit Joffrey decides to assert himself as a tough guy, and orders Ned executed anyway. As Cersei yells at her son and both of Ned’s daughters look on in horror, the executioner chops off Ned’s head.
Yes, the show really just killed off its biggest star and lead character. And this wasn’t even the season finale. Holy crap. I can only imagine what’s in store for the next episode.
The only thing I felt was underdeveloped in this episode was the nature of “Baelor” itself, which is confusing and not properly explained. A little research afterwards informs me that Baelor is the name of one of the gods that people of Westeros worship, and it’s from the leg of his statue that Arya watches her father’s trial and execution. I think a few extra lines of dialogue would have gone a long way toward clearing that up within the episode.