Well, that was exciting.
What this is turning out to be – at least after two episodes – is one kick-ass soap opera with epic fantasy trappings and an “R” rating. It’s closer to Rome than Lord of the Rings so far, but we’re at the beginning of the beginning, so I realize it’s dangerous to make too many assumptions just yet.
There’s so much going on in this episode that it’s a bit dizzying – maybe too much going on, in all honestly. But it does manage to create a veritable freight train of dramatic tension as all the various plotlines play out. One thing that’s abundantly clear is that the Lannisters are one vile bunch of cocoanuts – even King Robert seems to know it on some level, but there’s no doubting that the Queen’s dwarf brother Tyrion knows on every level. Peter Dinklage really shows his chops this week – his scenes are all superb, especially his exchange with Ned’s bastard son Jon Snow. Snow is headed to “The Wall”, the great barrier in the North that protects the kingdom from boogeymen of all stripes – along with his Uncle Benji and, oddly, Tyrion. He professes a desire to “piss of the end of the world” but I suspect there’s more than that involved. Snow is a fascinating one, too – treated badly by his otherwise kind stepmother Cat, but clearly beloved by both his siblings and father. Tyrion sees the obvious karmic connection he has with Snow and seems to be cultivating a relationship that might pay dividends later.
Meanwhile, Bran is in a coma – much to the dismay of the Queen and her brother/lover, who very much want to see him quiet (as in dead) and stage a fire to get an assassin into his bedchambers to finish him off. But a defiant Cat and Bran’s dire wolf prevent the killing, and Cat – armed with the knowledge that Bran was pushed off the wall and suspecting who did it – rides off to catch up Ned and the King’s party, headed South. Tomboy Arya and her prissy sister Sansa get mixed up with the Queen’s vile teenaged son Joffrey, a cowardly popinjay if ever one existed, and it costs Sansa’s wolf, Lady, and the butcher’s son their lives. Two innocents gone, there – along with a measure of Ned’s respect for his friend the King, for not standing up for the truth in the face of his wife’s carping for revenge. We mustn’t forget about Danerys and her horse lord husband, Drago. In case the guys in the audience were getting bored we get some girl-girl interplay between she and her slave, as she seeks to learn how to please her husband. The show has just about everything else, so why not that as well?
With Bran waking up at the end of the episode, things are surely about to hit the fan next week. If the milk of Ned’s friendship with King Robert wasn’t already soured by this week’s events, surely Cat’s news will be the poison pill. The Lannisters are the obvious villains of the piece, but Ned’s duties to his kingdom – he’s clearly a man who takes them seriously – may compel him to support his king irrespective of what ugly truths he learns. Robert is about to be challenged from the South by the family he usurped twenty years earlier, and the “whitewalkers” and other supernatural uglies that appear to come along as part of winter’s return are about to assault from the North. Robert’s loyalties will be tested, too – we know already he doesn’t love his wife – it was Ned’s late sister he loved – and he’s clearly disgusted by Joffrey (the heir to the throne).
Again, this feels more like a soap opera – albeit a really, really good one – than an epic fantasy to me at this point. That doesn’t make me any less interested in what’s happening – the series has done a fine job establishing character and investing the audience in what’s happening on screen. It’s obvious already that there are no boundaries here – children and animals are fair game just like anyone else – and that makes a kind of thrilling atmosphere in which anything and everything might happen next.