In King's Landing, 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. Osha, when asked by Luwin why she came south of the Wall, answers that she was running; something ancient, powerful and evil is reawakening in the far north...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. Near Vaes Dothrak, 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 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.
At King's Landing, 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.
Near Vaes Dothrak, 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; he embraces her tenderly, which makes Jorah the Andal feel uncomfortable. Drogo rewards Jorah for his actions with the pick of his horses. 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."
Jorah: ...I saw a man last nine miles once.
The final scene takes place in King's Landing, where Ned is 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, 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. Ned goes for his sword, cane be damned... only to find Littlefinger is already behind him, with a knife to his 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).
- Adaptational Attractiveness: Littlefinger says that Ned was an "even more impressive specimen" than his brother. In the novels, Brandon Stark was more handsome and attractive than his younger brother, and Catelyn was disappointed at having to settle for Ned until she got to know him better.
- 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 kicks the bucket.
- Armor-Piercing Question: Renly asks Eddard if he still believes that a good warrior is a good ruler.
- Astonishingly Appropriate Interruption: "She loves him I'm afraid. And why shouldn't she, he's just so..." (whores fake an orgasm). "Good. Get cleaned up."
- Badass Creed: The Night's Watch oath. Not just a statement of purpose, it provides some backbone to any Watchman who may be wavering.Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.
- 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).
- Beneath the Mask: Littlefinger shows he's not a Sarcastic Devotee dedicated to his lost love, but a Manipulative Bastard intent on seizing power for his own sake.
- Blah Blah Blah: King Robert just says "titles, titles, you know how it goes" instead of listing his royal titles.
- Breaking Speech: Tywin manages to breed one with a Rousing Speech and uses the offspring on Jaime.
- Butt-Monkey: Theon engages in Snark-to-Snark Combat with Osha and Maester Luwin. He loses.
- Call-Back: In the first episode, Jaime recounts a childhood event with Cersei by mimicking their father saying, "Lannisters don't act like fools." Sure enough, one of Tywin's first lines towards Jaime is, "Lannisters don't act like fools."
- Cincinnatus: Both during Robert's Rebellion and after Robert's death, Ned Stark turned down the opportunity to seize power for himself.
- Cruel Mercy: Littlefinger with regards to Catelyn. "In the end, she wouldn't even let him kill me."
- Dare to Be Badass: Tywin urges his son to stop being a glorified bodyguard and "be the man you were always meant to be."
- David vs. Goliath: "I'd read all the stories. The little guy always defeats the big guy in the end." Unfortunately Reality Ensues and Littlefinger lost. He has no intention of playing by those rules now.
- Disproportionate Retribution:
- 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.
- Lord Tywin goes to war because his least favorite son has been kidnapped by another House. He does however explain the Pragmatic Villainy behind this act — no-one will be afraid of the Lannisters if any of them can be detained at will.
- 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. Youre not fooling them, they just paid you. They know what you are. They know its 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. Hes winning you over in spite of yourself. Youre starting to like this. He wants to believe you. Hes enjoyed his cock since he was old enough to play with it, why shouldn't you? He knows hes better than other men. Hes always known it, deep down inside, now he has proof. Hes so good, hes 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 that a fatal mistake is made.
- Do Wrong, Right: Tywin is glad that his son didn't kill Ned (because it would have meant war with King Robert) but still expresses disappointment that Jaime didn't kill someone he intended to because of a mistaken sense of fair play.
- Dramatically Missing the Point: Jon Snow is furious when he's made Mormont's steward instead of a Ranger, until Samwell points out why.
- 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.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Joffrey looks genuinely distraught as Robert is dying. He gets over it quickly though.
- False Reassurance: Ned gives this to a dying King Robert, changing his will from "Joffrey" to "rightful heir," and promising to "uphold his memory" instead of raising his son properly as Robert asked.
- Fanservice: Littlefinger has an important character-building scene in the middle of making Ros and another prostitute practice on each other.
- Five-Second Foreshadowing: Cersei exchanges a Meaningful Look with Slynt just before his Gold Cloaks turn on the Stark men.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Jorah looks quite uncomfortable when he sees Drogo embracing and kissing Daenerys.
- Greater-Scope Villain: Invoked by Osha in regards to why she and her companions were so far south of the Wall.
- Heel Realisation: King Robert admits on his deathbed that he's been a lousy king and a worse father. His Last Request is that Eddard Stark take over the realm and raise his son properly. He also gives up his campaign of revenge against the Targaryens, telling Ned he was right to oppose the assassination of Daenerys.
- Hunting "Accident": Robert is killed by a boar right at the time when his death is most convenient for Cersei.
- Hypocritical Humor: Theon Greyjoy tries to lord it over Osha because she's a prisoner, only for Maester Luwin to point out the same description could equally apply to him, as he's essentially a hostage to keep his father in line.
- I Choose to Stay: Although he has the pardon allowing him to return to the Seven Kingdoms, Jorah Mormont stays with Daenerys and stops the assassination attempt on her.
- The Immodest Orgasm: Littlefinger considers this Bad "Bad Acting", and urges his whores to take a more subtle approach.
- 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.
- Irrevocable Order: King Robert cancels the assassination order against Daenerys on his deathbed, but Varys points out that it may already be too late.
- Just Between You and Me: Alone in the godswood with no witnesses other than Ned Stark, Cersei proudly boasts of her Villainous Incest.
- Kill Them All: King Joffrey rants this when Ned tries to arrest him.
- Kingmaker Scenario: Ned is urged to ally himself with either Renly or the Lannisters. He rejects both offers.
- 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.
- Lantern Jaw of Justice: Littlefinger states that Ned's brother had "a jaw like an anvil." Appropriate look for a heroic character.
- 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.
- Mama Bear: Dany has the poisoner who tries to sell her the wine tied to her horse and forced to run naked behind it until he drops.
- Meaningful Echo: 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 line is, "Lannisters don't act like fools."
- Multiple-Choice Past: Pyp wasn't sent to the Wall for stealing cheese for his starving sister, but for rejecting a high lord's sexual advances.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!:
- Drogo has no intention of crossing the Narrow Sea and invading Westeros until Daenerys is nearly killed by Robert's assassin.
- Ned warns Cersei of his intentions in advance, and rejects several pragmatic yet dishonorable solutions to the succession. This gets him captured and all his men killed.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Ned gives Cersei the opportunity to flee the capital before exposing her incest, so as to protect her children, but this just gives her the chance to seize power.
- 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 Robert or Joffrey.
- Papa Bear: Drogo swears to conquer Westeros to destroy those who tried to kill his wife and unborn son.
- Paper Destruction of Anger: Before King Robert dies, he dictates his will to his Hand, Lord Eddard Stark. Widowed queen Cersei rips it in pieces in front of the whole court and tosses it on the ground. She then orders Ned arrested.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: In the novels Varys' "little birds" couldn't speak as he'd had their tongues removed to prevent idle talk. Here it's simpler for the boy to just tell Jorah what's in the scroll he hands him.
- Quit Your Whining: When Jon says it isn't fair that he wasn't made a Ranger, Pip loses his temper and tells Jon how he rejected the sexual advances of a high lord, who then gave Pip a Sadistic Choice of the Wall or having his hands cut off on a false charge of theft. Sam points out that being Joer Mormont's steward means that the Old Bear is grooming him for command, by following him around and taking note of everything he does.
- Rape, Pillage, and Burn: When Khal Drago declares he will invade the Seven Kingdoms for his wife and unborn son he declares they will burn the land, rape the women while taking their children from them, tear down their stone homes and kill anyone who stands in their way.
- 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.
- Rule of Threes: Three solutions to the Succession Crisis are presented to Ned Stark.
- 1) The Coup: Catch Cersei off guard by seizing Prince Joffrey as a hostage before the King dies, then support the popular Renly over his unpopular elder brother Stannis.
- 2) We Can Rule Together: Reconcile with the Lannisters, marry Sansa to Joffrey and use his knowledge of the latter's illegitimacy to become the real power behind the Iron Throne.
- 3) Cincinnatus: Wait till the King dies, bribe the Gold Cloaks so Ned's forces will outnumber the Queen's, then arrest her and the children and declare Stannis king.
- 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.
- Silk Hiding Steel: Think that fragile-looking girl is going to Save the Villain? Nope, she's going to drag him behind her own horse.
- Single-Target Sexuality: Roz invites Littlefinger to join their orgy. He rejects the idea, saying he's saving himself for someone else (Catelyn).
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!Littlefinger: When the Queen proclaims one King and the Hand proclaims another, whose peace do the Gold Cloaks protect? Who do they follow? The man who pays them.
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Queen Cersei just tears up King Robert's paper appointing Ned as Protector of the Realm. "We have a new king now."
- Sympathy for the Hero: Jaime's reaction to Ned's letter, knowing that it amounts to Ned biting off more than he can chew.Jaime: Poor Ned Stark. Brave man, terrible judgement.
- Taking You with Me: Robert is gutted by the boar he slew. In return he commands that the boar be eaten at his funeral.
- Tampering with Food and Drink: A merchant tries to sell a cask of poisoned wine to Daenerys. Fortunately Jorah is suspicious and insists he drink it first. The merchant flees, but is quickly caught.
- This Is Unforgivable!: Ned refuses to make peace with the people who tried to murder Bran. Cersei was furious that her betrothed loved a woman long dead rather than herself.
- This Means War!: Khal Drago didn't care about the Iron Throne and the Seven Kingdoms at first, but after his wife is almost poisoned he declares to his men that they will cross the Narrow Sea and invade Westeros, and his unborn son will sit upon "The Iron Chair."
- Thousand-Year Reign: Lord Tywin says the events of the coming months will either cement a Lannister/Baratheon dynasty on the Iron Throne that could last a thousand years, or they could collapse into nothing like the Targaryens (who made it to 300 years themselves).
- Title Drop: Both the episode and the series in the same sentence! Episode "You Win or You Die" of Game of Thrones. Cersei Lannister to Ned Stark: "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground."
- We Can Rule Together: Littlefinger's proposed solution — Ned makes peace with the Lannisters and uses Joffrey as a Puppet King while ruling as Regent with Littlefinger as Evil Chancellor.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Watch the badass Kingslayer turn into a little boy in the face of Lord Tywin's scorn.
- Wham Episode: Even advertised as "the episode everyone will be talking about" and MASSIVELY changed the status quo. 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. Everything is changed in Westeros after this episode.
- Wham Line: "I did warn you not to trust me." Littlefinger betrays Ned and holds a knife to his throat, despite his promises to Catelyn Stark.
- 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.
- Whip It Good: Rakharo captures the wineseller as he's fleeing, using his whip.
- Would Not Hurt A Child: What proves to be Ned's downfall. He gives Cersei a chance to flee with her children, but her Evil Plan to kill the king is already in motion. Then he rejects Renly's idea of seizing her children as hostages.
- Written by the WinnersEddard: What you suggest is treason.Littlefinger: Only if we lose.
- Wrong Name Outburst: Cersei was quite happy with her Arranged Marriage when Robert was the young manly conqueror of the Seven Kingdoms, until he called her Lyanna in their marriage bed.Cersei: Your sister was a corpse and I was a living girl and he loved her more than me.