Even just four episodes in, ‘Game of Thrones’ has done a pretty remarkable job of building an entirely convincing fantasy world. I have no doubt that most of that can be credited to author George R.R. Martin, whose books in the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series are all massive tomes loaded with reams of intricate detail. Even so, despite the fact that the TV series must by necessity be streamlined and compressed, you can really feel the weight of thousands of years of (completely fictional) history bearing down on the characters. That’s no easy feat.
This past Sunday’s episode, called ‘Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things’, was all about… well, it was all about daddy issues, and everybody’s got some. No, that’s not the most original theme in the world, but it’s handled well and it works.
We start in Winterfell, where Ned Stark’s young son Bran has a dream that he can walk again, but sadly wakes up still crippled. He doesn’t want to see or talk to anyone. As far as he’s concerned, his life is over and he will never live up to the expectations anyone had for him. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) arrives in town on his way back to King’s Landing. He knows a thing or two about being a disappointment to his father, and sympathizes. Tyrion designs a special saddle for Bran that will allow the boy to ride a horse again. Although suspicious of his motives, both Bran and elder brother Robb (who’s been left in charge of the kingdom while his parents are away) are pleasantly surprised by the gift.
Back north at the Wall, Ned’s bastard son Jon Snow takes under his wing a new recruit to the Night’s Watch, a fat and cowardly sack of flesh named Sam, who only joined because his own father quite seriously threatened to murder him if he didn’t man up and do something with his life. Sam is affable enough, but resistant to training and generally useless. Jon Snow feels sorry for him. The leaders of the Night’s Watch think Snow is a fool for pandering to this slob, who will be a huge liability in any real battle situation. They’re probably right.
Sam and Snow trade stories about the women they haven’t slept with. It seems that Jon Snow is still a virgin, but not for lack of opportunity. He can’t bring himself to sleep with a woman for fear of making more bastard children doomed to live the same life he has. Also, he’s probably gay, but I have a feeling it will take a while to get to that revelation.
Over in King’s Landing, Ned’s daughter Sansa is still pissed at her father (and at fiancé Prince Joffrey) about the slaughter of her pet wolf. Ned has other things to worry about, however. He’s been put in charge of the utterly pointless festival celebrating his appointment as the king’s Hand, but wants nothing to do with it. The other members of the king’s council insist that the festival and the jousting tournament at the center of it are good for the kingdom’s economy and will bring in a lot of income. Ned says that he’s certain it will put money in someone’s pockets, all right.
Without letting on that he’s doing it, Ned also tries to investigate his predecessor Jon Arryn’s death, which was officially ruled natural causes but he believes to have been murder. He finds that Jon Arryn had been researching a book of genealogy before he died, and spending a lot of time at the blacksmith for some reason. When Ned pays the place a visit himself, he quickly figures out that the armorer’s apprentice is King Robert’s bastard son (but apparently has no idea). Jon Arryn obviously must have put this together as well. Did that knowledge get him killed?
Lord Baelish (aka “Littlefinger”) warns Ned that he isn’t being as discrete in his snooping as he may think. The city is filled with spies watching every move that everybody makes. Ned thanks Baelish for the tip and apologizes for not trusting him earlier, to which Baelish replies with a wink: “Distrusting me was the wisest thing you’ve done since you’ve climbed off your horse.”
Another piece in this puzzle is Sir Hugh, formerly Jon Arryn’s squire who was quickly knighted after his master’s death. There’s got to be something to that story. He’s a cocky sort and refuses to talk to Ned’s underling. He’ll only speak to the Hand himself. Unfortunately, before that can happen, he’s brutally killed in the jousting tournament after being ridiculously mismatched against a knight twice his size. Said huge knight just happens to be the cruel older brother of the “Hound” (the Lannisters’ lackey with scars covering half his face). Rumor has it (if Baelish is to be believed) that the older brother gave the Hound those scars in the first place. If the Hound is the meek one in the family, you can bet big brother is bad news.
On the other side of the Narrow Sea, Viserys has apparently not learned his lesson after being humiliated the previous episode. When he thinks that sister Daenerys sent her whore slave to ply him for information (which she probably did), he smacks his sister around again and puts on a lot of bluster about being “the Last Dragon,” whatever that means. (I presume he’s not just bragging about being the star of a cheesy ’80s kung-fu flick?) This time, Daenerys doesn’t need a servant to rescue her. She fights back all on her own and once again puts her petulant brother in his place. Later, she confers with her advisor Jorah Mormont about whether Viserys is really suited for the throne. The girl is finally starting to develop some ambitions of her own.
The episode ends with Ned’s wife Catelyn en route back to Winterfell from King’s Landing. She happens to cross paths at an inn with Tyrion Lannister, heading in precisely the opposite direction. Tyrion puts on a good show of being friendly to her (and may even be sincere?), but Catelyn believes him to be responsible for her son’s injuries and the attempt on her own life. She delivers a rousing speech to rally the locals to her side and has Tyrion arrested. Playing her hand this early, when Tyrion’s involvement isn’t even certain yet, is a very risky and perhaps misguided move on Catelyn’s part. She isn’t the schemer that any of the Lannisters are (or that her husband is learning to be). From the preview for the next episode, it looks like this may just blow up in her face.