Morning breaks over a camped army, where Jaime Lannister gloats over the raven sent by the Hand of the King last episode. His father, Lord Tywin Lannister, is having none of it. He gives Jaime the kind of verbal bitch-slapping that no one in this series has ever given to anyone
, much less the Kingslayer, all the while skinning a Stag (SYMBOLISM!!
). "Stop being a Slave to PR
," he says, "and teach Catelyn Stark that kidnapping Lannisters is a bad idea. The family name is all that matters." Jaime, who shares Tyrion's quality of having a glib answer for anyone, is speechless in the face of his father. That should tell you something about Tywin Lannister
Eddard Stark meets with Cersei Lannister in a secluded courtyard of the Red Keep. For a change, no one offers to seduce her, nor her to seduce anyone. Instead, Ned asks her about the Twincest
he has deduced from the color of Joffrey's hair. Cersei confirms it without shame. Ned tells her to flee the city before Robert returns from his hunt, and Cersei warns him to watch his step as well: "When you play the Game of Thrones
, you win or you die
. There is no middle ground."
Next comes a "sexposition" scene where Littlefinger watches his new hire Ros perform and delivers a major dollop of motivation while he's at it, including when he dueled Brandon Stark (Ned's older brother) for Catelyn's hand. This is reproduced below, so we'll skip over it
, much as a fair number of fans wished they could have
, and instead go to Winterfell, where Osha is now a servant and Theon teases her about her bondage before Maester Luwin reminds him of his own chains. Finally, we complete our northward migration at the Wall, where Jon and Samwell happen to be on watch when Benjen Stark's horse returns from his ranging. ...His horse, but no Benjen.
Now it's back to King's Landing! Eddard finds out that Robert has returned from the hunt when Renly runs up with bloody hands and a panicked expression. In the king's chambers, Robert is saying a good-bye to Joffrey and apologizing for being a Disappeared Dad
all these years. Hmm, this bodes well. When Ned shows up and peels the bedsheet back, it's pretty much as it seems. Robert confesses that it's entirely his fault: "Too much wine, missed my thrust." He makes plans for the funeral feast and then dismisses the others so that he can dictate his will. He names Ned Lord Regent and Protector of the Realm "until my son Joffrey comes of age." Ned, unwilling to tell his dying friend the truth, substitutes this with "my rightful heir," intending that the throne should pass to Stannis. Robert also rescinds his kill order on Daenerys.
Outside, the members of the small council fret over what will happen next. It's Varys who has the amusing question of who made sure Robert was sufficiently sloshed. It was Lancel "More Wine Your Grace?" Lannister, of course. Ned passes on Robert's request to remove the "Kill Daenerys Targaryen" order from the action queue, but Varys reports that it's probably too late.
If the next scene is any indication, it's not. Dany is combing out her husband's Rapunzel Hair
and seems quite the opposite of corpselike; in fact, she's trying (in mostly-fluent Dothraki) to convince him to invade the Seven Kingdoms. Khal Drogo is largely unimpressed, and Jorah the Andal is of similar mind as they walk to the market. Jorah takes his leave to seek out news from Westeros, and he gets some: one of the Spider's "little birds," who hands him a royal decree lifting his exile. Meanwhile, Daenerys stops to shop with a wine merchant selling vintages from the Seven Kingdoms. When he finds out who she is, he offers her one of his best wines from the Arbor... but Jorah Mormont, swooping in from nowhere, demands the cask be broached. The wineseller, growing increasingly frazzled, follows Jorah's orders and pours a cup. Jorah makes him taste it first. The wineseller runs... but not very far.
Up at the Wall, a graduating class of recruits are promoted to sworn Brothers of the Night's Watch. While most of them swear their oaths in the sept, Jon chooses to take his vows before a heart tree, which can only be found on the other side of the Wall, and Sam asks to go with him. The recruits are then assigned to the various departments of the Watch—Builders, Stewards and Rangers. Sam, of course, will be a steward under Maester Aemon; Jon, an excellent rider and swordsman and nephew to the current First Ranger, expects to be named to a ranger as well, but is furious to find he's been named a steward, and will squire for Lord Commander Jeor Mormont. He throws a tantrum, convinced Ser Alliser Thorne has managed to wreak some petty revenge, before Sam points out that he will be attending The Old Bear in official matters and will be involved in everything. In the book Sam further points out that his own father, Randyll Tarly, required him to do the same until he got himself an heir more to his liking, lending credence to his conclusion: "He wants to groom you for command
!" Jon, though still desirous of the office of ranger, decides to sweat it out and see where his path takes him.
As Ned hobbles through the halls of the Red Keep, Renly accosts him, offering him a hundred swords with which to separate Joffrey from his mother: "He who holds the king holds the kingdom." He also proclaims that he himself is best suited to be king, dismissing his older brother Stannis with a wave: "Yes, he's a good soldier, everyone knows that. So was Robert. Tell me something: do you still believe that good soldiers make good kings?" Ned, clinging to Honor Before Reason
, turns Renly down flat. He writes a letter to Stannis explaining his intentions to turn the throne over to him, and then entertains an audience with Littlefinger. Baelish advises that Ned make peace with the Lannisters, ingratiate himself with Joffrey, and play the long game. But one look at the Valyrian steel dagger, the one Lannisters sent to open his son's throat, is all it takes to for Ned to make his decision. "So it will be Stannis, and war?" Littlefinger says. "So why did
you call me here? Not for my wisdom, clearly." The answer is that Ned needs the City Watch, and Littlefinger spends some time chortling over Ned's inability to actually say the word. But that's what's called for, and that's why Ned called him.
At the Wall, Jon and Sam set off to the weirwood where they will say their vows, several rangers and Ghost in their company. After they say their vows and are welcomed by their new family, Ghost emerges from the white gloom with a grisly token. It's someone's hand.
Daenerys and Ser Jorah have the poisoner tied up for Khal Drogo's inspection. To the khal's credit, his first concern is for his wife, whom he embraces tenderly; after that, it is to reward Jorah the Andal for his leal service. Drogo then pledges a gift to his unborn son, the Stallion who will Mount the World: "the iron chair his mother's father sat upon." His khalasar sets out the next day. To quote the book: "The wineseller hurried behind them, naked, on foot, chained at throat and wrists. His chains were fastened to the halter of Dany's silver. As she rode, he ran after her, barefoot and stumbling. No harm would come to him . . . so long as he kept up."
(Dany: "And when he falls?"
The final scene is Ned being summoned by "King" Joffrey to the throne room to swear fealty to the new monarch. Littlefinger meets him outside, confirming that he has the gold cloaks, as does Janos Slynt, Lord Commander of the City Watch, but Varys mentions that Renly has fled the city, the Knight of Flowers alongside him. Ned tries to defuse the throne room situation by handing over Robert's will, indicating Ned's own stewardship of the realm, but Cersei simply rips it up. "We have a new king now." When the situation comes to swords, Ned summons his new City Watch, who take their spears... and turn on the Stark contingent, slaughtering Ned's remaining guardsmen. The episode ends with Littlefinger holding Ned's own dagger, the Valyrian steel one, to Ned's throat. "I did warn you not to trust me
Tropes seen in this episode include:
- Absentee Actor: Richard Madden (Robb), Isaac Hempstead-Wright (Bran. Yes, Not Important to This Episode Camp has an adaptive horseback-riding program), Michelle Fairley (Catelyn), Sophie Turner (Sansa), Maisie Williams (Arya), and Peter Dinklage (Tyrion).
- Animal Motifs: Tywin Lannister has his first appearance butchering a stag. Doubles as Rule of Symbolism: The sigil of House Baratheon is a stag; it is implied that Robert's death-by-boar in this episode is heavily helped along by his Lannister squire.
- Anyone Can Die: King Robert Baratheon.
- Bastard Bastard: Ned confronts Cersei with the evidence he gathered last episode, and she admits Joffrey is actually Jaime's, not Robert's. No one tells it to Joffrey (and he and Robert still apparently believe they are related when Robert dies).
- Berserk Button: If you try to lay a finger on Daenerys and her unborn child, Drogo will come to conquer your country, kill your men, rape your women, enslave your children, tear down your stone houses, and drag your broken gods back to Vaes Dothrak.
- Breaking Speech: Tywin manages to breed one with a Rousing Speech and uses the offspring on Jaime.
- Call Back: When Jaime and Cersei are talking in the first episode, one of the things Jaime does is mimic his father by saying "Lannisters don't act like fools." Cut to this episode when Tywin's first lines are "Lannisters don't act like fools".
- Cruel Mercy: Littlefinger with regards to Catelyn. "In the end, she wouldn't even let him kill me."
- David Versus Goliath: "I'd read all the stories. The little guy always defeats the big guy in the end." Unfortunately, Littlefinger lost out to the betrothed of the woman he loved, and he realises he's got to play things his way.
- Does This Remind You Of Anything?: Inverted. The lesbian sex scene in Littlefinger's brothel is straight-up erotic on the surface, but if you listen just to his instructions, it becomes a narration and microcosm of Littlefinger and Ned's relationship, right up until Littlefinger's betrayal of Ned at the end of the episode reveals that he was a whore all along.
Littlefinger: Slowly. You’re not fooling them, they just paid you. They know what you are. They know it’s all just an act. Your job is to make them forget what they know. And that takes time. You need to … ease into it. Well, go ahead. Ease into it. He’s winning you over in spite of yourself. You’re starting to like this. He wants to believe you. He’s enjoyed his cock since he was old enough to play with it, why shouldn't you? He knows he’s better than other men. He’s always known it, deep down inside, now he has proof. He’s so good, he’s reaching something deep inside of you that no one even knew was there. Overcoming your very nature.
- The Dog Bites Back: After being treated like crap by Robert in his every appearance, Lancel gets him drunk enough before going up against a boar for a fatal mistake to be made.
- Establishing Character Moment: The first appearance of Tywin Lannister in the series is of him calmly giving Jaime the lovechild of a Breaking Speech and Rousing Speech as he butchers his own dinner rather than having a servant do it for him.
- Fanservice: Littlefinger has an important character building scene in the middle of making Ros and another prostitute practice on each other.
- Foreshadowing: Everything Renly said in his last appearance will get played out next season, and we'll get to see whether he was right or not about any of it.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Nearly every Stark guardsman that enters the throne room with Ned by the end of the episode, due to the false allegiance of the Goldcloaks.
- Kneel Before Zod: Cersei tells Ned that if he kneels, they'll spare his life and he'll be allowed to retire back to "that grey waste you call a home". Cruel as Ned will not only not kneel because his honor prevents him, but physically can't because of his leg wound.
- Large Ham: After being rather low-key for most of the series, Drogo gives an epically hamtastic Rousing Speech in which he declares that he will conquer Westeros for his wife and son.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Drogo had no intention of crossing the Narrow Sea and invading Westeros until Daenerys is nearly killed by Robert's assassin.
- Only Sane Man: Renly views himself as this after Ned rejects his plan. At the very least, he's a far more sensible person than his brothers or Joffrey.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Khal Drogo swears one with the stars as witness.
- Rousing Speech:
- Khal Drogo gives one after Robert's assassin tries to kill Dany.
- Tywin's "We could establish a dynasty that will last a thousand years" speech does qualify.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After Robert's death, Renly flees King's Landing because Ned won't commit to making the first move against Cersei's forces.
- Succession Crisis: The last scene is almost certainly the beginning of one.
- Sympathy for the Hero: Jaime's reaction to Ned's letter, knowing that it amounts to Ned biting off more than he can chew.
"Poor Ned Stark. Brave man, terrible judgement."
- Title Drop: Both the episode and the series in the same sentence! "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground."
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Watch the Bad Ass Kingslayer turn into a little boy in the face of Lord Tywin's scorn.
: [while skinning a stag]
Attacking [Ned Stark] was stupid. Lannisters don't act like fools. [Beat. Jaime goes to open his mouth, but thinks better of it]
You going to say something clever? Go on, say something clever.
- Wham Episode: Even advertised as "the episode everyone will be talking about" and MASSIVELY ramped up the HSQ. Count 'em:
- In the first few minutes, the Lannister army has started moving to attack the Tullys' ancestral home
- Robert Baratheon had a Hunting Accident and is now on his death bed courtesy of Cersei and Lancel Lannister.
- Benjen Stark may have been killed by the White Walkers.
- Despite Ned's best efforts, Cersei gets Joffrey on the throne the instant of Robert's death.
- Robert rescinds the order for Daenerys' assassination, but he's too late; the attempt fails, and Khal Drogo declares war on the Seven Kingdoms.
- Ned rejects Renly and Littlefinger's plans to resolve the Succession Crisis and asks them to back him in putting Stannis on the throne. Renly bails out along with Loras Tyrell and their retainers, leaving Littlefinger, Varys, and the City Watch (bribed by Littlefinger) to handle the situation. They get to the throne room... only for everyone present to turn on Ned. The episode ends with Ned's guards dead and Littlefinger's knife at Ned's throat.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Littlefinger calls Ned Stark on his hypocrisy — he won't consider a dishonorable means of resolving the Succession Crisis, but still wants Littlefinger to bribe the Gold Cloaks to come over to his side.