A lion doesn't concern himself with the opinion of a sheep
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Daniel Minahan
If, by some chance, you were ever wondering where the title, "Game of Thrones" comes from, well, here you go: during a conversation with Ned Stark in this episode, Cersei Lannister tells him, "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die" which pretty much sums up how politics and control of the Realm works in Westeros. At this point, the Realm is looking incredibly fragile, and war seems inevitable. Ned Stark has discovered that Joffrey is not Robert's son, having looked at the history of House Baratheon and realizing that Joffrey has golden blonde hair, but Robert, his brothers, and all of his ancestors have black hair. Ned further deduces that Cersei is an incestuous relationship with her brother Jaime, a secret that Cersei doesn't even attempt to hide when Ned brings it up during their talk.
Up until now, not much of note has happened with Cersei Lannister, other than Bran discovering her and Jaime having sex in the pilot episode. I promise you though, she is one of the most wicked and astute characters in the entire show: she is always at least two steps ahead of her enemies and will use any and all underhanded tactics necessary to get what she wants. Her conversation with Ned should make us very fearful of what she might try to do to both Ned and his family, because Cersei fears virtually no one, and if she's aware that her incestuous relationship with Jaime is about to become public knowledge, well then, *gulp*, pray for the Starks and anyone else who dares to oppose the Lannisters.
"You Win or You Die" actually begins by introducing us to the one member of House Lannister that we have not physically seen yet, even though we'e heard his name several times: Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance). Make no mistake about it: Tywin is the man of the House (I'm sorry. It was a bad pun that just had to be made), and is pretty much the most feared man in all of Westeros. Jaime has arrived at his camp to discuss Tyrion's imprisonment, to which Tywin responds by telling Jaime to attack the Riverrun, the seat of House Tully, which is the childhood home of Catelyn Stark. During his conversation with Tywin, he is skinning a stag, and if you haven't caught on, the stag is the sigil of House Baratheon, so....foreshadowing alert! In addition to foreshadowing, this skinning of a stag is a really neat way of introducing Tywin's character, we will come to learn that he is a lion who is cold and merciless, hunting his prey and killing without hesitation. Be prepared for a lot more talk of Tywin Lannister down the road.
Alright, where to next? Well, since it's been absent for two episodes, let's check back in with how things are going at the Wall. Benjen Stark's horse returns, but with no Benjen Stark riding it, worrying Jon that something happened to his uncle. Things only get worse for Jon when he finds out that he is being assigned as a steward, basically the equivalent of a maid. Jon is furious, fully convinced that his expert swordsmanship would make him a surefire candidate for ranger. Jon suspects that Ser Alliser Thorne was involved in the decision-making, and Ser Alliser Thorne doesn't event attempt to look innocent, giving Jon a smug look when Jon is announced as a steward. Right now, Jon and Theon Greyjoy are finding themselves in similar situations: getting almost nothing but grief and with few to no friends to turn to. Jon is powerless to do anything about the decisions being made around him, so we'll just have to wait and see how things turn out from here. Thankfully, Jon ends the episode on a happy note when he and Samwell take their vows near a heart tree. Oh wait, no he doesn't: his direwolf Ghost brings him a dismembered hand. Tough luck, Snow.
Meanwhile in Essos, things have quieted down a little now that Viserys is gone. Daenerys and the Dothraki go strolling through a marketplace, but the enjoyment doesn't last long when Jorah saves Daenerys from an assassination attempt, stopping a wine merchant from poisoning her. When Khal Drogo finds out and learns that the man was an assassin ordered by King Robert, an enraged Drogo declares that the Dothraki will cross the Narrow Sea, invade the Seven Kingdoms, and take the Iron Throne. Drogo gives a passionate speech that Jason Momoa delivers effectively in the Dothraki tongue, and with the many Dothraki chants and the look of approval from Daenerys, D&D are able to spice up the Essos/Dothraki plot line again, just when it seemed like things were starting to calm down a little.
The only place that is calm (okay, mostly calm) in "You Win or You Die" is Winterfell, where we see Theon harass the newly captured wildling woman Osha. Osha becomes the next in line of people giving Theon Greyjoy grief about his loyalty to House Stark. Osha really twists the knife by questioning Theon on why he deserves to be called 'Lord', to which Theon struggles to give a reasonable answer. After Theon is dismissed by Maester Luwin, Luwin asks Osha why her and the other wildlings are coming south. Although she does not directly mention the White Walkers, the vague terms she uses is enough for Maester Luwin to understand what she is talking about. It doesn't matter that she is a wildling; Osha is currently the wisest person in Winterfell, because she knows where the greatest threat lies. The greatest threat is not in the south on the Iron Throne in King's Landing. The greatest threat is not any of the Dothraki in Essos. The greatest threat is not Tywin Lannister nor anyone remotely close to him. The greatest threat is in the wintry lands of the north, and almost everyone is ignoring it.
The episode ends with things going so wrong so fast in King's Landing. King Robert returns from his hunting trip, but uh oh! He suffered a fatal wound at the hands of a boar, and is now lying on his deathbed. Robert has Ned write a will that makes Ned the Lord Regent and Protector of the Realm until Joffrey is of age, though Ned never tells Robert the secret of how Joffrey is not his real son. The decision on the part of George R.R. Martin in his first A Song of Ice and Fire books and likewise in this episode to not show Robert being injured may seem a bit anticlimactic, but I think it fits with how Robert has been portrayed throughout the show; we know he was once a great warrior who could crush his enemies in battle, but despite all of the stories and hardy quips, we never actually see Robert engage in any acts of war or other kind of fight, so why change that now, even if this is the last time we'll ever see him?
Ned writes a letter to the rightful heir: Robert's brother Stannis Baratheon, informing him of what has happened, but during this time, the Lannisters act quickly and Joffrey orders his own coronation. Ned tells Petyr Baelish to round up the City Watch and heads to the throne room to confront Cersei, Joffrey, and their men-at-arms. In what is truly the first dick move on the part of Cersei Lannister, she rips up Ned's will, and orders for him to be taken prisoner. Ned tries to prevent any killing, but the City Watch betrays Ned and starts to kill his own men. Then in a total bitch move, Petyr Baelish draws a knife on Ned, telling him he did warn Ned about not trusting him. Gaahh! So much hatred for so many characters in such a short span of time! By the way, I've been putting this off until now: Littlefinger is a total slimeball, and kudos to you if you were skeptical of him from the get-go.
So yeah, it is not looking good right now for Ned. Betrayal is a common tactic in Game of Thrones, and the betrayals we get near the end of "You Win or You Die" put the King's Landing plot in a intriguing state as we come down to our final three episodes of season one. The plot lines in Essos and at the Wall also end on exciting notes, assuring us that there will be plenty more violence and chaos coming soon, just when we we've gotten a fair share of both already. The only weak point of this episode is something I somehow have avoided talking about until now: a bizarre scene in which Littlefinger is talking about his childhood to the prostitute Ros (Esme Bianco) and another girl she is having a sexual encounter with. This scene coined the term, "sexposition", and is a prime example of how Game of Thrones
tries to make some of its long and drawn-out monologues more interesting by having sex and nudity right there to keep your attention (because y'know, tits and asses are the only thing capable of holding someone's attention longer than two minutes!).
I've let this review go on far too long so I'll wrap it up here: "You Win or You Die" makes for some interesting plot turns and is the episode that I think will really make you start hating the characters you're supposed to hate. King's Landing is easily the most chaotic location at the moment, but D&D manage to create new intrigue in the other, not-as-chaotic locations, while layering on more character development and keeping things moving at a reasonable pace. At this point, the show will almost never give you another chance to relax and catch your breath. That's what happens you play the game of thrones.
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