Recap / Game Of Thrones S1E9 "Baelor"

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.

Robb: "Did you get a look at his daughters?"
(Theon snickers)
Catelyn: "I did."
Robb: "...And?"
Catelyn: "One was..." (she trails off.)

As Robb's forces cross the Green Fork, Jon is sent to Maester Aemon to help him feed the Watch's ravens. Aemon asks Jon what he thinks Ned Stark would do if asked to choose between honor and the lives of his family; Jon answers that "He would do whatever was right, no matter what," which doesn't really help us figure out what Ned is going to do now that this dilemma has been posed him. Aemon tells him that most would choose family. This is why, he explains, the Night's Watch forswear lands, family, wives, children—so that they can remain True Neutral and mind the realm as a whole. Of course, every man is tested eventually, and Aemon understands his pain. After all, he has faced news of slaughter before. His younger brother Aegon sat the Iron Throne, as did Aegon's son after him—Aerys, the Second of his name, called "The Mad King." Today he is an old blind maester in service at Castle Black, but once Aemon was a Targaryen. "I will not tell you to stay or go. You must make that choice yourself, and live with it for the rest of your days. As I have..."

Across the narrow sea, Daenerys grows great with both child and worry. Khal Drogo has been slumping in his saddle, and even as she watches he topples entirely. Even with his clothes on, it is clear that the wound in his breast is festering. She commands the khalasar to make camp for the day, and that Mirri Maz Duur be brought to her; but even at these few commands Drogo's bloodrider Qotho balks. From the books... 

Tyrion joins his father's strategy-cum-dinner party just in time to hear that the Lannister army is about to fall upon the Starks. In between gripes over the wildlings' perceived efficacy in battle, Lord Tywin mentions that they (and thus Tyrion) will be placed in the vanguard. The wildlings are ferocious enough, but Tyrion highlights their discipline problems—which is the last thing you want on the front lines. Now aware that this is probably his last night on this earth, Tyrion retires to his tent. Fortunately, Bronn has some solace for him: he's found Tyrion a camp follower named Shae. She's pretty, certainly, but she also has the sass to keep up with him in conversation. Soon they're smooching. And since they're happily occupied for the nonce, we'll leave them and go bother someone else.

Khal Drogo is mumbling in his feverish sleep, calling for his horse; Daenerys attends him, but there is little and less she can do. Ser Jorah's assessment is that Drogo will not live out the night, and he advises her to flee at once, but Dany refuses to leave her sun and stars. Jorah explains why she has had so much trouble bending the khalasar to her will: the Dothraki only respect strength; her authority derives from her husband, and the riders' fear of same. Once he dies, Dany and her son will be killed. Mormont's assessment is reinforced by Qotho, who has progressed to open defiance of his khaleesi.

Finally, the godswife arrives. She announces that the khal is indeed beyond her healing arts... though not beyond supernatural ones. "There is a spell. Some would say death is cleaner." Even worse, the spell is Blood Magic: "Only death pays for life." Drogo's horse has its throat slit, the blood splashing down over the khal's body. Mirri Maz Duur then banishes Daenerys as well: "Once I begin to sing, no one must enter the tent. The dead will dance here tonight." As Daenerys leaves, eerie wails begin to echo from within, though it may be that Daenerys is the only one who can hear them. Qotho, furious at the spilled blood on her face, begins to enter, but is prevented by Ser Jorah, now armed and armored; the two duel furiously. Jorah wins, settling the "Armor Is Useless" debate once and for all, but Dany was tossed aside during the madness, and her labor has begun. She is helpless to protest as Mormont carries her inside the tent.

We return to the other tent we vacated so hastily, to find Tyrion, Shae and Bronn playing drinking games. Tyrion gets mutated form of "Never have I ever" going in which one player guesses a true-or-false statement about the other, and the loser drinks. Tyrion Sherlock Scans his way through Bronn's past, but is completely flummoxed by Shae's. The most interesting dollop of Back Story, though, is that Tyrion himself used to be married. (It's long, so here's a folder if you wanna skip it, but trust us: you'll be glad we've archived this as the show progresses.)

    "I loved a maid as fair as summer, with sunlight in her hair..." 
Tyrion: "I was sixteen. My brother Jaime and I were riding when we heard a scream. She ran out onto the road, clothes half torn off and with two men on her heels. Jaime scared away the men easily enough while I wrapped her in my cloak. She was too scared to send off on her own, so while Jaime hunted down the rapers, I took her to the nearest inn and fed her. Her name was Tysha. She was a wheelwright's orphan. And she was hungry. Together we finished off three chickens and a flagon of wine. Impossible as it seems, there was a time when I was unaccustomed to wine. I forgot how afraid I was around girls, how I was always waiting for them to laugh at me, or look away embarrased, or ask me about my tall handsome brother. I forgot about everything but Tysha. And somehow I found myself in her bed."
Bronn: "For three chickens? I should hope so!"
Tyrion: "I didn't last long, I didn't know what the hell I was doing. But she was good to me. She kissed me afterwards... sang me a song... And by morning I was deep enough in love to ask her for her hand. A few lies, a few gold coins, one drunken septon, and there you have it, man and wife. For a fortnight, anyway, until the septon sobered up and told my father."
Bronn: "Well, I imagine that was the end of all that..."
Tyrion: "Not quite. First my father had Jaime tell me the truth. The girl was a whore, you see. Jaime had arranged the whole thing. The road, the rapers... All of it. He thought it was time I had a woman. After my brother confessed, my father brought in my wife and gave her to his guards. He paid her well: silver for each man. How many whores command that kind of price? He brought me into the barracks and made me watch. By the end, she had so much silver that the coins were slipping through her fingers and rolling onto the floor."
Tyrion: "Really? I was sixteen, drunk and in love."

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 agoclangs 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:

  • Abusive Parents: Tyrion correctly guesses that Bronn's father beat him as a child. Bronn's response is that his mother hit harder.
  • Adaptational Wimp: In the novels Tyrion doesn't do too badly in his first battle, even capturing a knight. Here he spends the entire battle unconscious after being Own Goaled by his own men.
  • Anyone Can Die: Lord Eddard Stark.
  • Arranged Marriage: In order to let the Stark army pass through the Twins and for House Frey to join Robb's rebellion, Catelyn agrees to marry Arya and Robb to two of Lord Walder's children.
  • Batman Gambit: The 20,000 northerners that Lord Tywin was told were coming for him were only a Red Shirt Army of 2,000 men sent to distract the Lannister army from Robb's true target: Ser Jaime.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: A minor example, but you can feel the anger and contempt in Maester Aemon's voice as he describes the destruction of his house, House Targaryen.
  • Central Theme: Several characters (Jon, Ned and Maester Aemon) struggle to decide whether honor is more important than love, duty more important than family.
  • The Clan: House Frey
  • Combat by Champion: After being taken hostage by the Stark army, Jaime Lannister proposes one to Robb Stark to end the war. Robb, knowing he stands no chance against the Kingslayer, refuses.
  • Cool Sword: Longclaw, the sword of House Mormont.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Robb's main force of 18,000 ambushes and utterly destroys Jaime's force of 30,000. The battle ends with Jaime's humiliating capture.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Ned Stark. It seems a lot of the show's marketing was done to set this up. Judging by the outcry amongst non-reader fans, up to and including threats to stop watching, it worked.
  • Downer Ending: For the Ned Stark arc, to say the least.
  • Dirty Old Man: Lord Walder Frey
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Qotho, the most Jerkass of Drogo's bloodriders, is disgusted with Daenerys's willingness to use blood magic to cheat the natural order.
  • Failed a Spot Check: At the execution, only Ned sees Arya standing on the statue of Baelor outright. Yoren does see her once Ned tells him where to look. Varys, the Hound, Pycelle, Meryn Trant, Joffrey, Cercei, Sansa, Littlefinger and Janos Slynt all fail to notice the most conspicuous person in the crowd.
    • To be fair, Sansa wouldn't say anything if she saw her, and the others have varying loyalties.
    • Arya also is wearing her Street Urchin clothes, which Yoren is familiar with (having seen her wearing them in "The Wolf and the Lion") but not the others.
  • Failed Attempt at Drama: Tyrion's attempt at a Rousing Speech works fine until the mountain clans charge over him, knocking him unconscious and trampling him into the mud.
    Bronn: You're a shit warrior.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Once he sees that Arya has disappeared from the crowd and won't see anything, Ned closes his eyes and quietly embraces his impending death.
  • False Confession: Varys tries to convince Ned to give one, to save his life and the lives of his daughters. He does, though it doesn't save him.
  • Forced to Watch
  • Foreshadowing: Tyrion's ability to see through people doesn't work on Shae.
    • Varys tells Ned that he could free him from the black cells but he won't. At the end of season 4 he frees Tyrion.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Ned's face as he accepts his fate.
  • Heroic Breakdown: Sansa appears to be going into a full-scale one in the final scene.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Theon tries to convince Robb that the two thousand men he used as a decoy force was this. Robb is less than comfortable with it.
  • Honor Before Reason:
    • Averted by Robb, who turns down a single combat with Jaime Lannister on the grounds that he'd lose. Badly.
    • Ned. Ultimately subverted in the end, when he lies to try and save his daughters from the Lannisters. Unfortunately Joffrey has him executed anyway.
  • Hope Spot:
    • For Ned. Joffrey seems ready to go with mercy, and then...
    • For the entire kingdom. Ned was the Only Sane Man here, the single person who could have possibly stopped this snowball of violence before things went worse. He can't exactly do that without his head.
  • If I Do Not Return: Tyrion asks Shae to weep for him if he's killed in today's battle. She responds that he wouldn't know if she did so.
  • I Kiss Your Hand: Lord Walder Frey greets Catelyn with one. As fitting for a Dirty Old Man, the kiss is very sloppy and disgusting.
  • Last Minute Reprieve: Ned is offered the chance to join the Night's Watch instead of being executed for treason. Subverted. Joffrey kills him anyway.
  • I Have Your Son: Jaime Lannister is taken hostage by the Starks.
  • Instant Messenger Raven: Averted; the Stark forces shoot down several ravens sent by the Freys, for fear they'd carry news alerting their enemies to their position. Later, news of Jaime's capture is sent, but still hasn't arrived by the end of the episode, and is certainly far too late to make a difference.
  • Mathematician's Answer
    (Bronn drinks)
    Shae: What brought you up there?
    Bronn: Work.
    • Also:
    Tyrion: What kind of accent is that?
    Shae: Foreign.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": Sansa, Cersei, Pycelle and Varys when Joffrey orders to kill Ned. Littlefinger remains unfazed.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Shae.
  • Neck Snap: Arya kills a pigeon this way.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Varys, in an attempt to stop the Lannister-Stark war, tries to persuade Ned to confess treason to save his life and the lives of his daughters. However, Joffrey has him executed anyway, eliminating any chance for peace.
  • No Sell: Tyrion's Living Lie Detector and Sherlock Scan skills don't work at all on Shae (that or she's lying).
  • Off with His Head!: Ned Stark's fate.
  • Oh Crap!: Everyone's reaction to Joffrey having Ned executed.
  • Pre-Climax Climax: Tyrion tells Shae to screw him like it's his last day on Earth, which may well be the case. On hearing why (they're going to be in the vanguard) Bronn quickly rushes off to find a woman as well.
  • Puppet King: Joffrey seems to be a puppet of a ruler, generally following along behind the Queen Regent. Subverted when he goes off-script at a critical moment and in front of several thousand people.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Queen Cersei has a moment when she heavily objects to Ned's execution, because that means war with the North.
  • Pregnant Badass: Daenerys, who simply refuses to leave Drogo and gives orders to some angry Dothraki even if she's powerless without her husband.
  • Rousing Speech: Tyrion attempts to give one to the hill tribesmen before their battle. None of them really understand, so they're content to just use "HALFMAN!" as a Battle Chant.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Ned Stark becomes one here.
  • Sexy Shirt Switch: Shae is wearing Tyrion's gold-embroided leather vest during the Drinking Game.
  • Smug Smiler: Theon Greyjoy and the Greatjon take evident amusement in Robb Stark having to marry one of the Freys.
  • Sherlock Scan: Subverted; Tyrion boasts of his skill at judging people, yet is unable to unwrap Shae's Mysterious Past.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Ned finally understands that there are things more important than honor. He pleads guilty to treason to save the realm from upheaval. He is executed anyway and the war that he is trying to stop begins.
  • Stock Scream: The Wilhelm Scream is heard while the tribesmen are killing the wounded.
  • Tap on the Head: Tyrion gets knocked out inadvertently by a charging tribesman. He wakes up after the battle with no ill effects.
  • Theme Naming: From the books... 
  • The Uriah Gambit: Tyrion believes that Tywin placed him in the vanguard in an attempt to get him killed, and confronts his father about this. Tywin neither confirms nor denies it, though given his reaction to Tyrion's return in the last episode...
  • Wham Episode: The single biggest shocker until The Rains of Castamere topped it in season 3.
  • Wham Line:
    Joffrey: "So long as I am your king, treason shall never go unpunished. Ser Ilyn, bring me his head!"