Game of Thrones – 9

I always assume readers of a blog review expect spoilers, so I don’t give it much thought. But this is a slightly different case. If you haven’t seen the episode and plan to, don’t read this review yet. Because boy, there’s gonna be a hell of a spoiler in it.

This is an instance where I’m glad I started the books after the TV series, because the sheer impact of the ending of this episode – one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever seen on television – would have been lost on me if I’d known it was coming. I should have realized long ago that there were no sacred cows (and certainly no sacred horses – this show is really rough on equines) in GoT. But knowing that intellectually wasn’t the same as being prepared emotionally as a viewer for just how far George R.R. Martin is willing to take that rule. I may be surprised by what happens in future episodes, but after the death of Eddard Stark I sure as hell won’t be shocked.

I was already incredibly depressed by the goings on here. I knew as soon as Varys dropped the line about the worth of his daughters lives to him, Ned would eventually cave and dishonor himself by admitting loyalty to Joffrey and confessing his crimes. Coming as it did right after Ned’s memorable

“You think my life is some precious thing to me? That I would trade my life for a few years? …I grew up with soldiers. I learned how to die a long time ago.”

That was a doubly tragic prospect. For all the anger I felt as Ned for letting his honor drive him to stupid decisions, I couldn’t help but feel genuine respect for his steadfast nature – and what a diamond in the rough he was. Ned never asked to be plucked away from Winterfell and tossed into the pit of vipers that is King’s Landing – but he accepted, out of loyalty to his friend and duty he felt to the realm. The fact that he was hopelessly out of place wasn’t his fault – he was who he was.

The final indignity, of course, is that Martin is so ruthless that Ned didn’t even get to die with his honor intact. No, he dishonored himself and spoke lies before Baelor and his two daughters, swearing false loyalty to a false king and admitting crimes he never committed. His daughters were forced to see him dishonor himself, and to watch him die – though at least fate allowed him to spot Arya in the crowd a lucky encounter with one of his surviving guardsmen allowed him to save her.

One can really see in GoT the difference between flawed and pure, flat-out evil. Tyrion and Robert, for example, are flawed men – weak of character in many ways, slaves to their baser appetites and guilty of a score of the sins of the morally weak. But Joffrey is pure evil – vile, vindictive, an inbred adolescent psychotic loosed on the world by his cretinous mother. Ceresi is no slouch in the evil department herself, having orchestrated all the events leading up to the farce of Ned’s confession – but even she was taken aback that Joffrey would renege on the deal Varys had worked out to send Ned to The Wall for the rest of his days.

That everything else in the episode should have been overshadowed by those terrible events was hardly surprising, but there was an awful lot going on and much of it gripping and terribly important. Tyrion remains the most interesting character for me – and one, I suspect, who will turn on his father in the end. Fitting that Tywin was introduced in the act of gutting a carcass, because the depth of his ruthlessness in becoming clearer all the time. But his attempt to get Tyrion killed in battle failed, as the little man was knocked unconscious by one of his own half-wild soldiers before the battle even began. His reflective night of debauchery with Bronn and his new lady friend was one of the most interesting scenes of the series so far, and a chance for Tyrion to finally tell the tale of his brief marriage – a tale that sheds great light on Tywin’s character, and why Tyrion ended up the caustic, acid man he is.

No one escapes the stain of darkness in this world, it seems. Robb proves himself more capable of subterfuge than his father (surely he got that from Catelyn) in devising a successful plan to capture Jaime Lannister – but only at the cost of 2000 of his men. Their death will haunt him forever, and he takes no comfort in Theon Greyjoy (who is proving himself a young man with an insatiable lust for violence) telling him that their honor will be recalled in songs. “They won’t hear them”, he tells Theon – in contrast to Tyrion’s assertion that he’ll hear his woman’s songs to him if he dies in battle.

On the remote reaches of the story, North and East, events are fast flowing as well. Jon receives a lesson in the hard choices honor forces on men – from old Master Aemon, who turns out to be none other than Aemon Targeryn, brother of the Mad King. He tells a different side to the story of Robert’s ascension to the throne, and the choice it forced on him. So the most important men at The Wall are the brother of the Mad King, the father of the traitor and double-agent Jorah Mormont, and the bastard son of the executed King’s Hand. Gives you an idea of the sort of place it is. And in the East, Khal Drogo is dying from the wound he received – a wound his blood riders think was caused to fester by the witch Danerys believes is the only one who can cure it, with forbidden blood magic. A death by sickness carries no weight with the Dothraki, who already scheme to depose Danerys and eliminate her son after Drogo is dead. As the witch performs her forbidden ritual, Danerys goes into labor as Jorah defends her from Drogo’s would-be successors.

The momentum of this series is like a freight train, building from a relatively modest start to a the juggernaut it is now. That nine-month wait between seasons is going to feel as long as a Westeros winter. But as great as I’m sure this show is going to continue to be, it’ll be hard to top the demise of Ned Stark for sheer shock value – and weight of tragedy. RIP, Eddard – you were a good man, and you met a good man’s fate.



  1. A

    ''I may be surprised by what happens in future episodes, but after the death of Eddard Stark I sure as hell won't be shocked.''

    famous last words? 😛

    A very well written summery, and your impressions seem to match mine. I don't know what to say about this episode, as I forgot that anything else had happened aside from the ending …

  2. 0

    This isn't your fault, but that warning message really backfired. I never read GoT posts in full before seeing the episode, but I often end up skimming the first line. So I knew was that something huge was going to happen and couldn't help but speculate what it was. I was actually thinking that Drogo would die, but as soon as realized that the last scene would focus on Ned I kind of gathered what was coming – Ned's confession wouldn't really be surprising in this series and Joffrey has the personality for it. Plus, after the "crown for a king" scene I've kind of been expecting "wham" endings from time to time.

    As to Tyrion, I got my brother hooked on this a few weeks after it started airing, but he had trouble remembering names, so when I asked his opinion of Tyrion I had to explain I was talking about the dwarf. The reply? "Oh, he's like the best character in the show." I have to say the sentiment is mutual – I found he simultaneously charismatic but also flawed enough to be really interesting. I also think that fighting abilities aside, he's one of the characters best equipped for the situation at hand – not prone to bloodlust but also cynical enough not to get caught in stupid traps. Although I suppose he father could still get the better of him.

    Anyway, yeah, its going to be a long nine months between seasons. This is turning out to be one of those works that makes me reconsider what I want to achieve with my own fantasy writing projects, which as a writer (even a procrastinating amateur one) strikes me as about the highest respect I can give. I also think it proves the worth, provided you have the money to do them properly, of the mini-series format for adapting large fantasy novels. They've spent as much runtime adapting one novel as the LotR movies did for three, and I think it's been a huge benefit.

  3. Sorry!

    What Tyrion has, in addition to his keen intellect, is detachment. Not so much as he thinks (witness his kindness to both Jon and Bran, and you got a taste of his capacity for love with his marriage tale) but more than most here. He's sufficiently cynical to see through any trap, and while he's loyal primarily to himself, he's proved that unlike Littlefinger and Varys he has some sense of right and wrong. He's a fascinating guy, and it doesn't hurt that Peter Dinklage is a tremendous actor.

    Speaking of Littlefinger, does anyone else have the feeling he's going to make a move on Sansa (no novel spoilers, please!)? He's probably burned his bridges with Cat now, but he's already commented that Sansa looks so much like a young version of her mother.

  4. A

    Great post. Minor mistake in your post as Aemon is not the Mad King's brother but his uncle, thus making him Danerys' Granduncle.

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