Oh, what a fine mess you’ve left us with, Mr. Martin.
Although this was the conclusion of Season One (and Book One) it many ways, “Fire and Blood” felt more like a premiere for Season Two. At the very least it was a setup episode, the real dramatic crescendo coming at end of last week’s episode with the beheading of Ned Stark.
With the “false main character” troll having been executed to perfection on the unsuspecting audience, the final episode seemed like an opportunity to touch base with everybody one last time before the long layoff. I’m not sure if that’s how it played at the end of the book, but other than Danerys (and we’ll get to her in a minute) no one really had a full story play out this week. There was a strange monologue from Maester Pyrcell, semi-lucidly sharing his impressions of Kings to his whore. There was an odd scene between Littlefinger and Varys in the throne room, consisting mostly of insults and veiled threats. These were entertaining enough, but seemed too obviously to have been placed there for the audience’s benefit.
As stated, the real meat of the episode was dedicated to moving the pieces in place for next season. Joffrey is an increasingly psychotic little prick, and Ceresi seems to have taken up with a boy-toy cousin. Sansa is still to be wed to Joffrey, and had certainly lost any illusions she once has about his character. Arya in under the protection of Yoren of the Night’s Watch, posing as a boy and heading North with his caravan of rapists and thieves (and Robert’s bastard, the smith’s apprentice Gendry) headed for the wall. Jaime is prisoner of Robb’s army, bloodied but unbowed. He admits to having pushed Bran from the window, and the Stark’s bannermen seem to have decided they’d like to have a Kingdom of the North under Robb’s leadership rather than throw their lot in with either of Robert’s brothers. And Bran and Rickon have just received news of Eddard’s death, having dreamed of it the night before.
Slightly meatier are the events of Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister’s tales. Jon has attempted to flee The Wall upon hearing of his father’s death, only to be brought back by Sam and his new brothers. Commander Mormont doesn’t care – he needs Jon at his side as he plans to go beyond the wall, to face down whatever threats are building there and to find Benjen, alive or dead. As for Tyrion he’s to be the King’s Hand, of all things – Tywin finally having realized that if one son got the brawn (and the looks) the other got the brains. He plans to take Shea with him despite Tywin’s orders not to, and I look forward to seeing him fulfill his father’s order to keep Joffrey in line. With Jaime captured and two Baratheon armies massing separately against him, old man Tywin has seen his fortunes turn badly against him. And as Tyrion points out, any hope for peace with Robb and Catelyn ended when his idiot grandson put Ned’s head on a stake.
Finally, the headline story this week is Danerys. Her witch woman has pulled a fast one on her – Drogo is alive, but a vegetable – and the price the magic demanded to give him hollow life was not the stallion’s life, but her unborn son’s. The scenes with the sorceress slave are some of the best in the episode – and Danerys has only herself to blame, if you ask me. Having seen what “life” means for her Sun & Stars, she mercifully kills him – then ties the sorceress to his funeral pyre and climbs on with the dragon eggs as Jorah looks on in horror. But fire cannot burn a dragon, and when morning comes Danerys is alive and well – her clothes burned off, and three baby dragons crawling all over her. Uh oh.
All in all, I would say the first season of this adaptation was a rousing success. It took a few weeks to get from a very good political soap opera to something truly magical, but when it got there it stayed there. Episodes 4-9 were some of the best television you’ll see, and the death of Ned Stark one of the greatest TV shockers in recent years. So many of these characters stand out as exceptional, even the relatively minor ones like Syrio Forel and Bronn the Sellsword – thanks in no small part to the brilliant performances by the cast. For me, Tyrion stood out – Peter Dinklage’s portrayal was spot-on, as he found all the depths of courage and compassion hidden inside this acerbic, bitter man. Tyrion was the one face I most looked forward to seeing every week, but all the various arcs weaved together well – it’s certainly a challenge to have such a huge cast and make all them feel integral and alive, even when you might go for two episodes without seeing them.
As we get ready for S2 I think it’s a fair bet that the fantastical elements are going to come to the fore. Between what’s coming from beyond the wall and what Danerys has unleashed in the East, the biggest dangers in this world are no longer going to be warring families and ill-suited Kings. Winter is coming, and it isn’t going to be pleasant for Westeros – but I suspect it’s going to be a whole lot of fun to watch.