A Dissertation of Ice & Fire – Episodes #9 & #10
Having been out of the country last week, it appears I missed all the drama from the backlash of the 9th episode of Game of Thrones‘ incredible first season. I always knew that it would be like that from the moment I saw the casting of a high profile actor like Sean Bean as Eddard. But more on “No Head Ned” later. This final Dissertation of Ice & Fire of the season will cover episodes 9 & 10 as a two-hour finale, since that is how I viewed them upon my return.
With Ned still in the dungeons and refusing to confess to treachery he did not commit, Varys finally gets through that thick, honorable skin of his by making him realize that Sansa’s life may well depend on it.
Back with Robb and his bannermen, we meet Walder Frey for the first time, played to brilliance by Argus Filch of Harry Potter fame. I really didn’t think we’d see two Potter alums on this show, but it works. Frey is just as vile and disgusting on screen as he was in the books, for sure. In the end, to be able to cross the bridge, Catelyn makes a deal with Walder to marry Arya and Robb off to his kids, uniting their families. Now, remember this because it is beyond super important a couple of books away. Robb agrees, reluctantly, and heads to ambush “The Kingslayer,” Jaime.
On The Wall, Lord Mormont gives the family sword (which was meant for Jorah, before he was disgraced), Longclaw, to Jon in thanks for saving his life from the Wight. But after Jon finds out that Robb is marching to war, he debates breaking his vows of the Night’s Watch and fleeing to join him. As he is whining about how no one understands the situation, Maester Aemon tells him a little of his backstory including how he had to sit at The Wall and hear of his entire family being slain without being able to go aide them. By the way, Aemon is a Targaryen, and even declined an opportunity to sit on the Iron Throne. Just like that, Jon is put in his place.
Across the Narrow Sea, Drogo is not doing so well. His wound has festered and he falls from his horse. Qotho starts lobbying for position saying that Drogo is not truly The Khal if he cannot ride. Dany insists that he only needs rest, but Ser Jorah states that he will die by nightfall after examining the wound. Dany calls for Mirri Maz Durr to help and she agrees that blood magic could save Drogo, but it is a life for a life. She chooses his horse and in yet another scene that likely got animal rights activists out of control, she slices the horse’s neck and begins the ritual after stating that no one must enter the tent while she performs the act.
After stepping outside, Qotho decides it is time to take the reins as the new Khal, but Jorah warns him not to enter the tent and draws his sword. Qotho accepts the challenge and is eventually beaten by Jorah after his sword sticks in his armor, making their debate over a breastplate earlier this season all the more meaningful. Dany then goes into labor and Jorah foolishly takes her inside the tent, which leads to her losing the baby. Life for a life, remember? But Drogo does live through the ritual. He is, however, nothing more than a vegetable. Dany confronts the witch and it turns out Mirri Maz Durr poisoned the wound as vengeance for the Khal raping and pillaging her people. Needless to say, the Khaleesi is destroyed.
Now we have probably my biggest problem with this entire first season as far as casting goes. Tyrion returns to his tent after a war council with his father and Bronn presents him with a whore named Shae. The problem I have with this casting is not her appearance or even her awful accent. No, it is the portrayal of her character. Shae ends up being quite important you see, but her attitude of a strong, independent woman is WAY off. She acted more like a spiteful wife than a prostitute. I would call it a nit pick, but it is actually quite a confusing alteration.
I did like, however, the Westeros version of Truth or Dare that the two played with Bronn in which we get stories from Tyrion, and even some from Bronn (he’s been North of The Wall? That wasn’t even in the book). It will please some of those still whining about the “sexposition” way of telling exposition from a couple episodes back. Tyrion is awoken the next morning by Bronn who tells him that the war has started and reached them. Tyrion reluctantly readies for battle and even gives a pep talk to his men as they head towards the fight. But he is knocked out and trampled by the much larger warriors and misses the skirmish. Quite a change from the book, as Tyrion did fight in the front lines and somehow survived. But, with the limited budget the show has, I wasn’t surprised to see it done this way. And if they had to cut a battle out, I’d rather it be this one than the Battle of The Blackwater from book two. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen.
The tactic Robb set up worked as he is then shown leaving a battle in the ambush he set up for Jaime, who is now his prisoner. Jaime tries to get Robb to fight him in single combat to decide the war but Robb is having none of it. Catelyn then questions Jaime about why he flung Bran out the window but he is more cocky than ever and even proclaims that there “are no men like me…there is just me.”
The episode ends with Arya spying Ned “confessing” to his treachery in front of all of King’s Landing. Then, in the most dickish move ever, King Joffrey declares that even though Sansa and Cersei have requested Eddard be able to serve out his days on The Wall, he says that they are the hearts of “soft women” and that treachery will never be accepted under his rule. He commands Ser Ilyn to bring him Eddard’s head. Yoren grabs Arya in the crowd and tells her not to look, but to look at him instead. You keep waiting for someone to intervene and it never happens. The episode ends with Ned’s own sword, Ice, slicing through his neck.
This is another one of those things that even though I knew it was coming, to see a beloved character killed off in such a fashion was still emotional. I remember reading the book for the first time and actually dropping the book to my knees and proclaiming George R. R. Martin a cruel bastard for doing this. But it was only moments later that I knew I was reading something special. Talk about a risky move to kill off your central character before the end of the first book. Wow.
And going back and reading some of the tweets that happened after the episode ended, it appears newcomers to the series were just as shocked. Many were proclaiming that they were done with the show and that HBO should be held accountable for this… it was something. But it appeared to be just talk, as the finale hit a series high in ratings the next week. I was rather surprised myself when I heard of them casting a seasoned actor like Sean Bean to play a one season role. Even more when I saw that he was on the cover of all of the marketing. But props to HBO for having the testicular fortitude to do something like that. Just another thing that makes it the greatest channel on the tube.
The finale opens showing Ned’s blood dripping off of Ice and his dismembered head out of focus in the background. Thus, ending any theories from Thrones virgins that he may not have really died. And, believe me, I’ve heard some crazy ones. Make it easier on yourself and just accept it — Ned is dead. If you needed further proof, Joffrey comes to tell Sansa that she is going nowhere and he still intends to marry her and “put a baby in” her as soon as she bleeds. Such a charming little boy. But he tells her to take a walk with him and he forces her to look at Ned’s head on a spike, as well as Septa Mordane’s. After a small bit of verbal sparring in which Sansa delivers a terrific line at the little shit, he has Arys Oakheart rough her up a little. She starts moving towards Joff with the notion of pushing him off the castle wall before The Hound stops her and cleans the blood from her face. They have a short interaction that is way past due from the source. Let us hope we have more of the Hound and Sansa storyline next season because it is much greater than what we’ve seen thus far.
Meanwhile, Yoren takes Arya out of the city and cuts her hair short to disguise her as a boy and tells her that they are headed North. She is bullied at first by a fat kid (his name is Hot Pie and he’ll be memorable real soon) before she draws Needle and tells him that she has already killed a fat boy and loves to kill fat boys. He retreats only to run into Gendry, King Robert’s bastard that we haven’t seen since the early episodes of the season. Apparently he was cut loose by the blacksmith and he too will be headed North with Arya, who is now going by Arry to disguise herself as a boy. As the party is departing the town, longtime fans of the novels got a glimpse of Jaqen H’Ghar hooded and cloaked in a caged wagon. Remember that name.
In Winterfell, we finally get a resolution to the three-eyed crow dream that Bran has had all season. He tells Osha of the dream and how it leads him to the crypt and that is where he will find his father. She takes him down to the crypt to show him that Ned isn’t there and it was just a dream only to find that Rickon (and Shaggy Dog!) is already there because he had the same dream. When they return to the courtyard we see that Maester Luwin has just received a Raven with the news of Ned’s death.
In a scene that was one of the best in the book, Robb and his bannerman debate if they should unite behind Renly or Stannis Baratheon for the crown. Greatjon Umber declares them both worthless and says that Robb is the only King he would serve. The rest of the camp declared The Young Wolf the King of The North and set up his story for the second season. It’s a good one.
In a move that shocked many a viewer, Cersei is shown reading the letter that Jaime has been captured. But this wasn’t the shocking part at all. Her cousin, Lancel, is revealed as having slept with her, too. That Cersei sure is all about keeping it in the family, huh? Meanwhile Tywin has also received the news of Jaime’s capture and is quite torn up about it. Tyrion points out that with Joff having Ned killed, they lost any leverage or chance of a treaty in the war and they are in big trouble. Tywin decides to sends Tyrion to King’s Landing to be the new Hand of The King in his stead. A move as shocking to Tyrion as to the viewers. The sparring between Tywin and Tyrion is some of my favorite in the entire series going forward and I am really looking forward to seeing that come to life next year on screen with two great actors nailing their roles so well.
On The Wall, we see Sam trying to stop Jon from deserting to go join Robb in the war, but Jon will not listen. But Sam doesn’t give up as he gets Grenn and Pyp to help him bring Jon back by declaring that they are his brothers now and reciting the vows they took. One he decides to return, Lord Mormont tells him that he knows what happened and that he needs Jon as he plans to journey North of The Wall in great numbers and find Benjen Stark, alive or dead.
This leaves everyone with a purpose and/or destination for the next season except for The Dothraki. Just like the book, this was saved for last. We see that Dany is tending to her pretty much dead husband with great sorrow. And in something that makes this series so powerful, she ends the great Khal’s life by smothering him with a pillow to end his suffering and hers. Just like that, the unbeatable warrior dies because of a simple flesh wound. For his funeral pyre, Dany has her hand maidens place the dragon eggs with Drogo and orders Mirri Maz Duur tied to the stake as well to burn for her crimes against her. Jorah tries to stop Dany, but she insists on walking into the pyre as well after it is lit. But she doesn’t burn. Not even close. The season ends with a very naked, but unscarred, Daenerys Targaryen standing up to reveal three baby dragons crawling on her. In the final scene we see the red one perched on her shoulder letting out a small roar as we fade to black.
I will admit that I was worried about this final scene all season. If those dragons looked phony, it would kill a truly powerful moment that shifted the power in this “game” to Dany’s side greatly. Kings in the past have conquered with one dragon and she has three. But even as the ending has surprised quite a few newcomers, you can’t have a fantasy series without dragons, right? And they looked spectacular. Onward to season two! But first, my Bests of both episodes.
Best Overall Performance – Sean Bean as Eddard Stark
In his final moments in this epic saga, Bean did his usual and was spectacular. Not only has this guy become typecast for medieval roles, but for some reason he always seems to die early in them as well. But his work as Lord Eddard this season was nothing short of phenomenal. And he acted out his final scenes with believability and grace. Take a curtain call, my friend. You earned it and you will be missed.
Best Quote – Richard Madden as Robb Stark
The Young Wolf seems to have taken over for King Robert as King of the one-liners. This time, he serves one up to “The Kingslayer” after Jaime challenges him to one-on-one combat to decide the war by answering, “If we did it your way Kingslayer, you’d win… but we’re not doing it your way.” Can you see now why Robb is one of my favorite characters in this saga?
Best Visual – Ned’s Execution
Another scene that seems as if it were ripped from my imagination. Everything here from the cinematography to the statue of Baelor was astonishing. And the final moments where everything falls to silence but Eddard’s breathing was powerful to the eye as well as some of the other senses.
Best Overall Performance – Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen
Honestly, it should have taken her this long to win this category. Emilia Clarke has absolutely nailed this role and made any naysayers eat crow. This episode was no different as we see her character’s strength come full circle and take her place as the biggest player in The Game of Thrones.
Best Quote – Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen & Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark
Another win for Dany as she tells Mirri Maz Duur, “I will. But it is not your screams I want… only your life,” in reply to the witch telling her that she would not hear her screams as she is burned alive. Also, Sansa gave a great one to King Joffrey when he tells her that he will bring her Robb’s head to add to his collection after he ends the rebellion. Sansa replies, “Or maybe he will bring me your head.” Wishful thinking, huh?
Best Visual – Funeral Pyre & Dragons
How could it be anything other than this? The pyre was huge and amazing and only the baby dragons could top it. Like I said, I was worried about them looking too cheesy. But it was summer blockbuster quality CGI. And that final scene was, for lack of a better word, epic.
And just like that, the first season blazed by. To a fanboy such as myself, I was incredibly pleased with how every thing turned out. Many props to Benioff and Weiss for bringing this series to like and keeping it such a faithful adaptation. Let us hope it stays that way going forward.
As far as the Dissertation of Ice & Fire goes, I will probably do another one when some vital roles are cast like Stannis, Melisandre, Davos and Brienne and then a preview one when we get closer to next April’s premiere. Until then, we’ll have to be satisfied with the twenty second teaser we got at season’s end. Check it out below and thanks for reading all season. Get ready by buying the first book if you haven’t or reading book two if you can’t wait. I cannot encourage non-readers of the series to do so enough. You won’t regret it… except for the sleep you will likely lose.