Threaten? As in, I'm going to open your lord from balls to brains and see what Starks are made of?
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Brian Kirk
Believe it or not, but we are already at the halfway mark of season 1 of Game of Thrones, and oh boy, is this the episode that I think will truly get you hooked on the show, if you haven't lost interest but aren't quite won over yet. After four episodes that were heavy with world-building and set-up, we get an episode that shows flashes of just how intense and exciting that this show can (and will) be. "The Wolf and the Lion" contains, what I like to call, the first true action/fight sequence of the show while ramping up the pacing and dialing back a bit on the Westerosi politics. The Wall and Essos story lines take a break in this episode, so no Jon Snow, Samwell Tarly, or Targaryens to be found here.
Instead, we get an episode that is entirely focused on the matters at hand in King's Landing, as well as what's next for Tyrion Lannister after he was taken prisoner by Catelyn Stark at the end of last episode. Catelyn, Tyrion, and their entourage begin a trip east to the Vale, where Catelyn's sister Lysa Arryn (Kate Dickie) lives. On their way, the entourage is attacked by a group of barbarians, a fight that ends with Tyrion saving Catelyn's life by killing a barbarian with a shield (I never knew medieval shields could be so deadly). Poor Tyrion tries to plead his case to Catelyn and later to Lysa Arryn about how he was not at all responsible for the attempt on Bran's life. But nope; no one wants to listen to him, only this time it's because he's a Lannister and not because he's a dwarf. When we do meet Lysa Arryn, D&D show us instantly what a vile and mentally unstable woman that she is, sitting on her throne and breast-feeding her eight-year old son (Lino Facioli), which is indeed as disgusting as it sounds. Tyrion ends up being locked away in a "sky-cell", a dungeon where, instead of bars to keep the prisoner from escaping, there is an open wall and slanted floors that lead right down to the cliffs below.
I know I will start to sound like a broken record when I keep saying that Tyrion gets no love from anybody in Westeros. George R.R. Martin and D&D continue to find new and clever ways to emphasize the prejudice that Tyrion faces, no matter where he goes, even at the hands of a "good" character like Catelyn Stark. Normally, Tyrion's status as a Lannister is what saves his ass from being harmed or even killed, but this time around, his status as a Lannister is useless to him. In fact, it could very much mark the end of him. The change-up of prejudice here is a neat way to contribute to Tyrion's character arc, as well as keep the plotline of Bran's attempted murder moving along.
By the way, how is Bran doing? Well, not surprisingly, he's feeling mopey about knowing he will never walk again, but he is feeling especially upset about his mother left him while he was still in a coma. Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter) tries to encourage Bran by telling him of how he can still try to learn archery on horseback, though Bran doesn't get too worked up about that idea. Right now, it's tough to guess what exactly Bran is going to contribute going forward, but this leads me to something that happened in "Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things" that I feel bad about not bringing up in my review of that episode. Bran has a dream in which he is walking through Winterfell and encounters a raven. He follows the raven down into the crypts, and upon closer inspection, Bran sees that the raven has three eyes. I won't get into any more details, but if something as bizarre as a three-eyed raven shows up in a dream, it is planting the seeds for something bigger and better down the road for Bran.
So everything happening in the Vale and in Winterfell are sort of on the back burner for this episode, but it's all good stuff nonetheless. Now we get to the real juicy meat of this episode: Ned Stark's continued investigation of Jon Arryn's death. We first see the last of the jousting tournament, with the "Knight of Flowers", Ser Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) , face off against Ser Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane (Conan Stevens). Tyrell wins the joust, but things get even more bloody in a hurry, as an enraged Gregor Clegane decapitates his horse, and then comes charging after Ser Loras. This leads to Ser Gregor's brother, Sandor "The Hound" Clegane (Rory McCann), intervening and swinging swords with his brother for a bit, until King Robert demands for everyone to stop. Though the jousting tournament has next to nothing that affects what happens throughout the rest of this episode, the little bit of action that we see drives the episode's quicker pacing and shows a stronger dedication to being more violent, because someone's blood is going to eventually spill.
We get quite a lot of Lord Varys in this episode, first when we see him tell Ned that Jon Arryn was killed because he started asking questions. Then we see Varys have a long conversation with Petyr Baelish about...eh, things. I want to say that the conversation between Varys and Littlefinger is the best "talking" moment of the whole episode, but there just doesn't seem to be a whole lot of structure to their conversation, so it doesn't build to much of anything right then and there and it grows kind of boring rather quickly. Normally, these two are quite interesting to listen to, but D&D just don't make them work all that well together here.
Don't worry, if Varys and Littlefinger left you bored, the episode gives you a heavy jolt of excitement with everything else that goes on. While chasing cats, Arya overhears a conversation about someone trying to plot against the throne, which she shares with Ned later on. Ned also learns of his wife taking Tyrion as her prisoner, but Ned gets sidetracked when he is summoned by King Robert to talk with the Small Council about the news that Daenerys Targaryen is pregnant. Robert orders for Daenerys, her brother, and the unborn child to be assassinated, but Ned refuses to obey the order, believing Robert's personal hatred for Targaryens is clouding his judgement and that such an assassination would make Robert no better than the Mad King. An enraged Robert refuses to change his mind, making Ned resign his position as Hand of the King.
How unfortunate. The one true, no-doubt-about-it friendship that we've seen thus far in Game of Thrones between Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon has been cracked. Not for one second did we believe that Ned or Robert would turn their backs on one another, as we have come to learn that these two truly trust one another with their lives, through all of the wars and conflicts that they had faced before. But one way or another, Game of Thrones finds a way to create a ridge between them, because that's what happens to everyone and everything good in Westeros.
So Ned Stark starts packing up to leave King's Landing and head home for Winterfell with his daughters, but not before Petyr Baelish comes and tells Ned that if he waits long enough, he can come and speak to the last person that spoke with Jon Arryn before his untimely death. The person turns out to be a prostitute, who is the mother to one of Robert's illegitimate children. But just when Ned and his men try to leave, they are ambushed by Jaime Lannister who is demanding answers for his brother's imprisonment. We then get ourselves a showdown (albeit, a brief one) between the head of House Stark and the Kingslayer from House Lannister, and what a wonderful display of editing, choreography, and physical acting it is. Sean Bean clearly shows his experience from playing Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau looks like a natural using a sword. Neither Ned nor Jaime can gain a clear advantage, the fight only ending when one of Jaime's guards stabs Ned in the leg with a spear. Jaime demands for his brother's return, fleeing the scene and leaving the injured Ned to fall over and pass out.
The wolf and the lion are now at each other's throats, and you can bet that things are only going to get worse between House Stark and House Lannister. Game of Thrones elevates things to the next level with "The Wolf and the Lion", cranking up the action and making an almost complete transition out of its set-up stage. It is easily the best episode so far, with the final fight scene between Ned and Jaime bound to leave you wanting more. The overall story is now moving at a faster pace, and more exciting moments are soon to follow. We'll still get our monologues and drawn-out conversations here and there, but now with the various conflicts escalating, rest assured that there will be more swords swinging and less words spoken.
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