There's a war coming, Ned. Don't know when. Don't know who will be fighting. But it's coming.
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Tim Van Patten
If there is one lesson to be learned by watching Game of Thrones, it's that we should never ever latch too tightly onto a set character or a set group of characters. Just after we were introduced to the lovely Stark family in "Winter is Coming", the Starks have to go their separate ways. Ned begins his journey to King's Landing to serve as the new Hand of the King to Robert Baratheon, being accompanied by his daughters Sansa and Arya. Catelyn begins a secret journey to King's Landing after finding a long strand of blonde hair in the tower where Jaime and Cersei Lannister had sex, intensifying her suspicions that the Lannisters may be involved with what happened to Bran. Speaking of Bran, turns out he will survive his nasty fall from the tower, but unfortunately, he's been stuck in a coma for over a month. Meanwhile, Jon Snow prepares for his journey to the Wall, where he will become a sworn brother of the Night's Watch.
This is an episode filled with goodbyes, yet it's hard to feel sad if you're watching the show for the first time ever, because we haven't spent a lot of time with these characters and have no clue that "Winter is Coming" is the one and only time in the entire series that the whole Stark family will be together in one place. Still though, D&D give us a good enough glimpse into the relationships between several characters, as well as progressing the relationships between characters that will be spending much more time together throughout the rest of the first season.
Here is my chance to have my first real, in-depth discussion of Jon Snow, the bastard son of Ned Stark. Jon has a wide range of conversations in this episode, beginning with giving Arya a sword as a present. Jon smiles as Arya complains about having to fold her clothes and that she does not care for the thread and needles that the other girls use to make clothes. This leads to Arya naming the sword "Needle" with Jon instructing Arya to, "stick them with the pointy end." Clearly, Jon finds Arya's tomboy-ish personality to be charming, trusting that she will use the sword wisely. But this sugar-sweet farewell between Jon and Arya is followed up by a caustic encounter between Jon and Catelyn, when Jon comes to say goodbye to Bran. Catelyn, always having felt resentment towards Jon, orders him to leave. Then comes a conversation that falls somewhere in the middle of sweet and caustic, though it leans more towards sweet. Tyrion Lannister accompanies Jon on his journey to the Wall, hoping to see "the edge of the world." The conversation in the woods between Tyrion and Jon is a continuation of what the two discuss in "Winter is Coming": the two are abnormal in the eyes of their families, with Tyrion explaining that he must read a lot of books in order to strengthen his mind, knowing his brain must be his weapon, as he will never be a miraculous swordsman on the battlefield. There is a true dynamic between Tyrion and Jon that we, unfortunately, don't get to see very much of. These two have already been met with a lot of resentment, and it makes all the sense in the world for the two to be friends, not enemies. So in summary, over the span of just 56 minutes, The Kingsroad shows us a neat mixture of reactions towards Jon Snow, and how he begins to learn to embrace his bastard identity and never let anyone use it against him. It works much the same way for Tyrion, whose identity as a dwarf highly affects how others look at him.
Over in Essos, not too much is going on in at the moment with the Targaryen siblings and the Dothraki tribe. The most significant thing we can take away is that Daenerys' confidence begins to grow, as she consults the help of one of her handmaidens, who teaches her how to do better in bed with Khal Drogo. Daenerys got thrown right into the fire last time, being sold off by her brother and looking as if she is in agony while being intimate with Drogo, so this is pretty special to see her start to make the most of her current predicament. Growing closer with her new husband is the beginning of Daenerys shedding her meek skin.
The other major development in The Kingsroad is the scuffle that happens between the Stark girls and Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), which serves to further divide House Stark and House Lannister. Sansa expresses her desire to be with Joffrey, in the hopes that the two will one day get married and have a family together. Unfortunately, no one else in Westeros has the courage to tell Sansa that Joffrey is a spoiled little brat who takes sadistic pleasure in hurting others. That's exactly what he shows us when Sansa and Joffrey run into Arya sparring with a butcher's boy out by a river. Joffrey challenges the boy to a duel and starts to cut his cheek, leading to Arya knocking Joffrey's sword away and Arya's direwolf Nymeria making a snack out of Joffrey's wrist. Any and all moments of Joffrey getting hurt should be savored slowly and delicately, and The Kingsroad actually gives us a double dosage of Joffrey pain when Tyrion slaps him several times when he refuses to go pay respects to the Starks for Bran's injury. A meeting is held later on to discuss the incident and who, if anyone, should be punished. Joffrey lies to everyone, claiming that Sansa and Arya ganged up on him. Joffrey can't get the last laugh in this incident, can he? Oh yes he can, says Game of Thrones. Joffrey's mother Cersei goes along with her son's lie, and requests that Sansa's direwolf Lady be killed, as Arya forced Nymeria to run away. Ned Stark takes it upon himself to execute the direwolf, and oh, does it hurt my ears to hear the cry of pain from an innocent, dog-like animal getting killed, especially because it was not at fault with anything that just happened.
It's a bit much at this point to say that there is a "rivalry" between House Stark and House Lannister, but through two episodes, House Stark has been dealt major blows at the hands of House Lannister. First, you've got Jaime Lannister pushing Bran out of the window, and now the Lannisters force Ned Stark to kill the animal that is the sigil of House Stark. Right now, this is shaping up to be a simple battle of good versus evil, but George R.R. Martin wants to show us, in one way or another, that good and evil does not accurately depict how things are in the real world, so it should not be expected for this to shape up to be a mere triumph of good versus evil. The world of Westeros has its heroes and its villains, but Westeros is a world where no one will hold your hand and comfort you, no matter if you're the noblest man or the most demented sadist.
In conclusion, The Kingsroad is a satisfying episode of television that continues to set up some hefty events to come later on in the series, most evident in Robert Baratheon suggesting that a war is coming. The episode also gives us more meaty character development that will carry over into the episodes yet to come, particularly with Jon Snow, Tyrion, Daenerys, and the relationship between Sansa and Joffrey. This early in the game, a "progression" episode is something of a necessity, even if we're still getting used to the continents of Westeros and Essos and all of the crazy people in them.
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