Although I’ve been enjoying ‘Game of Thrones’ all along, this week’s may well be the show’s breakthrough episode. If we have any ‘Rome‘ fans out there, you no doubt remember that famous first-season episode where Lucius Vorenus was thrown into the gladiator arena. Oh yeah, you do. Because it was jaw-droppingly violent and bloody and totally badass. It took the show to a new level even beyond where it had already gone. That’s what we have here. This is one that people will remember.
Oh, and I should probably mention that the episode even features some splendid full-frontal nudity of both the male and female varieties. Sex and violence at their most raw and animalistic – what more could you possibly want from a TV series?
As ‘The Wolf and the Lion’ starts, King Robert puts on a show of wanting to joust, despite having watched what happened to poor Sir Hugh last week. “I want to hit somebody!” he insists. Even Ned can’t talk him out of it, but the realization that he’s too fat for his armor puts that issue to rest. In this conversation, we learn that Jon Arryn had made the match between Robert and Cersei, whom he convinced to marry as a political tactic.
A new pretty boy knight named Sir Loras enters the arena and is matched up against the giant ogre known as “the Mountain,” the same brute who killed Sir Hugh. Loras is nonchalant and cocky about the match. Ned’s daughter Sansa is certain that he’ll be slaughtered and can’t bring herself to watch.
However, Sir Loras actually knocks the Mountain right off his horse. Baelish explains that Hugh recognized that the Mountain’s mare was in heat and distracted, and used that to his advantage. The Mountain is pissed. He calls for his broadsword and, with one massive swing, cleaves the horse’s head right off! This is an absolute holy shit moment, if ever there were one.
The Mountain charges at Sir Loras and throws him to the ground. He would easily destroy the prissy knight, but his own brother (“the Hound”) steps in and intercedes. There’s clearly not much love in this family. They violently clash for a few moments until King Robert has enough and orders them to behave. The Hound immediately kneels in obedience. The Mountain storms off in a huff.
Meanwhile, Ned’s wife Catelyn holds Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) as a prisoner. They ride toward the kingdom known as the Eyrie, which is ruled by Catelyn’s sister Lysa, Jon Arryn’s widow. Tyrion insists that he had nothing to do with the attack on her son, and warns Catelyn that her sister has changed a great deal since they saw each other last, but Catelyn won’t hear any of it.
Catelyn’s entourage is attacked by a band of savage hill people, and several of her men are bloodily slain. Tyrion convinces her to untie him. (What justice would there be if he were killed on the way to his trial?) Rather than run off, he actually picks up a weapon and fights alongside her men until the hill people are finally beaten off. He even saves Catelyn’s life. She’s left confused by his actions. If he were really as sinister as she believed, wouldn’t it serve his interest that she die in the battle? What could it benefit him to save her, unless she has him all wrong? They ride the rest of the way with Tyrion left free of his ropes.
Back at King’s Landing, the conniving eunuch Lord Varys bluntly tells Ned that the king is a fool and that Jon Arryn had been poisoned. He suspects that Jon Arryn’s squire Hugh was the poisoner, which would explain why he was so quickly knighted and then immediately set up to be killed (thus silenced) in the joust. But if that’s the case, who paid him? Who was behind the deed?
Later, Ned’s youngest daughter Arya wanders down to the castle dungeon chasing after a cat. When she hears someone coming, she hides in a giant dragon skull to listen in on their conversation. Although she doesn’t know or recognize them, the men are Lord Varys and Illyrio Mopatis (the magister from Pentos who arranged the marriage between Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo in the first episode). They discuss the plot against the Stark family, which Varys knows way more about than he’d let on to Ned. One phrase in particular stands out: “The wolf and the lion will eat each other’s throats.” These are of course the family sigils of the Starks and Lannisters respectively.
After some shenanigans where Arya winds up outside the castle and must berate a pair of guards into letting her back in (a very funny recurring gag has Arya continually mistaken for a little boy), she runs to tell her father what she heard. Before he can really even process this, Ned is interrupted by “disturbing news from far away” about how his wife has kidnapped Tyrion. Naturally, if he’s hearing this now, the Lannisters already have.
Catelyn and crew arrive at the Eyrie, an impregnable castle built into a mountain. Catelyn can already tell that something is wrong by the rude and suspicious nature of the guards sent to intercept her. They do not welcome her very warmly. By the time she winds up in the main chamber in front of her sister, it’s quite clear that Lysa has gone mad since her husband’s death. No, that doesn’t quite convey it. She’s completely batshit, Col. Kurtz-style insane. For one thing, she’s got a 6-year-old kid still sucking on her tit right in front of everyone. This is the sort of crazy you don’t come back from. Catelyn tries to maintain her composure, but is quietly appalled.
Lysa is not happy at all that Catelyn has brought a Lannister into her kingdom. She has Tyrion thrown into the dungeon, a cell with only three walls that opens wide right off the side of the mountain. Her bratty son says, “I want to see the bad man fly!”
When Ned is summoned in front of the king, he assumes that it has to do with his wife’s actions. Instead, Robert has convened his council because he’s learned that Daenerys Targaryen is pregnant with Drogo’s baby. Lord Varys implies that this information came from Daenerys’ advisor, Jorah Mormont. Given Varys’ conversation with Illyrio earlier, it’s unclear at this point whether Jorah is really Varys’ spy or not.
In any case, the king is infuriated at this news. If Daenerys sires an heir and the Dothraki army invades the seven kingdoms (which is exactly what they’re planning to do), Robert fears an end to his reign. He orders Daenerys assassinated immediately. Ned will have nothing to do with the murder of a girl and child, and argues that Robert has gone too far. They feud angrily until Ned resigns his position as the Hand. “I thought you were a better man,” he says and walks out. Robert is enraged and swears that he and Ned are through.
As if there weren’t already enough scheming going on, we learn in this episode of another plot to overthrow the king, this one by his younger brother Renly, who has taken Sir Loras as his gay lover. Just how many people believe they can take this throne? The scene culminates with a (slightly off-camera) blowjob that’s surely intended to push some television boundaries, even for HBO. The lingering sound effects are a little much.
In a rare moment of quiet, the king and queen have a very frank conversation about the history of their marriage. She tells him that there was once a time when she felt something for him, and asks if there had ever been a chance that their marriage might have been something more than a political alliance. He bluntly tells her no. She expected no different.
Realizing that his family may no longer be safe since he’s not the Hand anymore, Ned begins packing to leave King’s Landing immediately. He’s distracted at this by Lord Baelish, who promises him that an hour’s delay will be worth his time. He brings Ned to his whorehouse and introduces him to a young girl who had birthed another bastard son from the king. Baelish informs Ned that the king has many more such bastards, and that Jon Arryn had been tracking them down before he died. That undoubtedly had something to do with his murder, but what?
As Ned steps out of the whorehouse, he finds Jaime Lannister and a band of thugs waiting for him. Jaime demands the return of his brother Tyrion. Ned claims responsibility for ordering that Tyrion be arrested. (Really, he’d only just heard about it.) Ned’s personal guards face off against Jaime’s men. The situation quickly escalates into a brutal battle. All of Ned’s guards are slain, including his right hand man Jory, who seemed as though he was going to be an important character. In an incredibly shocking moment, Jaime himself stabs Jory straight through the eye!
As Ned is on the ropes, one of Jaime’s men impales his leg with a spear. Jaime kills the man. No one was to touch Ned Stark except himself. He wants the pleasure of that death. In the meantime, he gives Ned an ultimatum to return his brother and then just rides off, leaving him kneeling there will a spear through the leg.
All in all, this is truly a fantastic episode, filled with plenty of intrigue and character development, then topped off with a healthy serving of bloody gruesome violence. It’s amazing just how much happens in one hour. (Look at the length of this recap!) Astoundingly, the promo for this Sunday promises to be the episode that “everyone talks about.” More than this one, really? I can hardly imagine what’s in store!