Once again we are in the black cells beneath the Red Keep, where Eddard Stark rots in the dark. Varys visits with more news, particularly of Sansa's pleas for his life. Ned asks if he can free him, and Varys admits that he can, but won't. He's playing the long game; what he wants is peace, and he asks Lord Stark to bend the knee because it will best serve The Needs of the Many. He believes Ned will be allowed to take the black and join the Night's Watch. Ned is dismissive of the offer: "You think my life is some precious thing to me? That I would trade my honor for a few years of..." Varys walks away, pitying: "And what of your daughter's life, my lord? Is that a precious thing to you?"Outside The Twins, ancestral seat of House Frey, Theon is putting his skills as the archer to good use, felling any messenger ravens. Robb frets over the situation: Storming the Castle would take too long, he cannot meet Lord Frey within for fear of being taken hostage, and he cannot send other men to do his work for him. Catelyn, plainly no man, goes in his stead. Lord Walder Frey is just as prickly and lecherous as we've been led to believe, and he sees no point in aiding any of the other Houses, all of whom look down on him and his. "Stark, Tully, Lannister, Baratheon... Give me one good reason why I should waste a single thought on any of you." (Not that the Walder Frey himself really helps the issue. Have we mentioned he's on his eighth wife? Have we mentioned she's 15 and he's 90?)Up at the Wall, Lord Commander Mormont checks in with Jon Snow. Jon's hand is healing from its burns, which means it's time for Mormont to give Jon his reward: Longclaw, a Cool Sword made of Valyrian steel which Mormonts have carried for five centuries. Even better, it's a hand-and-a-half sword, sometimes known as a "bastard sword." Its last bearer was Mormont's son Jorah, who at least had the decency to leave it behind when he fled across the narrow sea. Mormont hands over another gift: Alliser Thorne has been sent to King's Landing, bringing Othor's severed hand as proof that things are going wildly awry beyond the Wall. However, Jon's excitement is dampened by the news of Robb's march south. "I should be there," are the first words out of his mouth. "I should be with him."Catelyn returns just after sundown; she has found one good reason why House Frey should ally itself with the Starks, and has won Robb his crossing, as well as Lord Frey's levies. In return, Robb: takes on one of Frey's sons, Olyvar, as a squire; trades Arya's hand in Arranged Marriage to another son, also named Walder; and trades his own hand in Arranged Marriage to one of Lord Frey's daughters.
"I loved a maid as fair as summer, with sunlight in her hair..."
The next morning, Tyrion is roused by the sound of warhorns. It turns out that the Starks stole a march and are arraying for battle. He summons his clansmen and gives a Rousing Speech that gets them all charged up... and charging. Tyrion is carried along by the press until a clansman's mallet swings out of nowhere and knocks him out. And when he wakes up, the battle is over! (No, seriously. We're giggling too.) The after-action report indicates that the battle was largely a slaughter; the "twenty thousand men" reported by Robb's friend the scout turned out to be only two thousand, with no Stark leaders or lords in sight. The Lannisters are left victorious, but wondering where Robb took the other eighteen thousand.The answer: the Whispering Wood, just outside of Riverrun. Again, this battle isn't shown, but it wasn't shown in the book either, so fans were less put out. The battle was a well-orchestrated ambush, resulting in the Kingslayer's capture. It's a great victory, but Robb is not happy about the two thousand men he sent to their deaths and his father is still captive. "This war is far from over," Robb declares.Finally, we find ourselves in King's Landing, a place we haven't been since the start of the episode. Arya is hunting pigeons to trade for food—successfully, one must add—but is distracted when the bells begin to ring at the Great Sept of Baelor (the Westerosi equivalent of the Vatican). Kingslanders tell her that the Hand of the King is being brought out to confess his crimes. Arya makes haste, eventually perching on the statue of Baelor the Blessed himself.Ned is brought out into bright sunlight, King Joffrey and his court awaiting him, a thousand people screaming abuse at him. The only friendly faces are Sansa, on the dais; Arya, whom he sees on her perch; and Yoren, that recruiter from the Night's Watch. "Baelor," Ned says to him, "Baelor!," and Yoren turns to see the girl on the statue.Eddard Stark is brought up to the dais and is called upon to confess his treasons. Will this Trope Exemplar of Honor Before Reason, choose his honor or his family? Every Man Has His Price; is Ned's love? He Will Not Tell a Lie, but will he go against his own nature to save those he loves?He chooses his family. He proclaims his crimes and treason in the sight of gods and men, suffering yells and thrown stones. "Let the High Septon and Baelor the Blessed bear witness to what I say: Joffrey Baratheon is the one true heir to the Iron Throne."Joffrey steps forward, smugly triumphant. "My mother wishes me to let Lord Eddard join the Night's Watch. Stripped of all titles and powers, he would serve the realm in permanent exile. And my lady Sansa has begged mercy for her father." He smiles at Sansa, and Sansa smiles back."But they have the soft hearts of women," Joffrey continues. "So long as I am your king, treason shall never go unpunished. Ser Ilyn, bring me his head!"Then it's chaos on the steps of the Sept of Baelor. Everyone on the dais, from Cersei to Varys, yells for Joffrey to change his mind. The only exceptions are Littlefinger, who stands aloof, and Lord Janos Slynt and Ser Ilyn Payne, who hasten to obey His Majesty's orders. Joffrey shakes off the protesters, a smug little grin on his face. Arya stares down at the crowd, appalled at the sight of all these people cheering at the idea of her father's death. She jumps down from the statue and starts hustling towards the dais, one hand on Needle. The crowd is jostling, yelling, heedless. (Audiences are hardly calmer.) Slynt forces Ned to his knees whilst Payne advances, donning the black hood of his office. Arya is intercepted by Yoren, who tells her to not look and blocks her view with his body.Ned is conscious of his own breathing; the jeers of the crowd and Sansa's hysterics are a background din. He looks up at the statue of Baelor and sees that Arya is gone; she at least will be spared the sight of the following horror. He bends his head, exposing his neck, startlingly pale and vulnerable. The sword—his own sword, Ice, the Valyrian steel BFS of House Stark, the one he beheaded the deserter with nine episodes ago—clangs and sings as Payne pulls it free of its scabbard. Eddard Stark mumbles a prayer as it arcs down.There is a swish and a squelch. Then the only noise is a flock of pigeons, and Arya's breathing as she screws her eyes shut and presses her face into Yoren's chest.
Tropes employed in this episode include: