Episode 9 - Baelor
6 March 2012
Synopsis: Catelyn negotiates safe passage for her army across the Trident. Drogo's wound becomes infected and Dany's position is under threat as a result. She calls on the healer she rescued to save his life just as she goes into labour. Ned admits to treason to save the lives of his daughters but is executed anyway. Bronn brings Tyrion a prostitute to be his new companion. Tyrion tries to guess her origins but she gives nothing away. Robb Stark leads a daring charge on the Lannister army and captures Jaime.
The Good: The execution of Ned Stark was a really good moment for the show. To kill off both your main character and the most famous actor in the cast is a sure sign that both the story and the adaption are going to go to rewarding places.
Purely in plot terms it was a strong moment too. The question is asked early (by Varys) and repeated (by Aemon) about whether a man can be asked to choose between love and honour. Ned Stark believed so strongly in honour that it got him locked up in jail. But when his daughters lives are in danger he chooses their safety over the truth. The betrayal of his trust by Joffrey is a terrific bit of writing. Yes on the one hand it makes the Lannisters more clearly the bad guys and the Stark's more clearly the good. However it was also the right thing to do if you were Cersei and Joffrey. They can't release Ned while his son marches to war. They also can't have it being whispered in the streets that perhaps Joffrey shouldn't be sitting on the throne. So they both get the admission of guilt from Ned and they cut his head off. Logical, ruthless, brilliant.
I also liked the succession problems across the Narrow Sea. Once more the show makes good use of medieval realities. One infected wound is enough to fell the great Kahl. And like their Mongol inspiration the death of one leader will most likely bring civil war and death to Dany. So again the logical thing to do from her point of view is keep Drogo alive by any means necessary. Dragon blood and White Walkers aside this is the first time we have seen magic used directly as part of the plot. It will be interesting to see what Horse-zombie Drogo is like.
Another medieval nod was of course Jorah Mormont defeating one of the Horse Lords in single combat thanks to his armour. The key to the Dothraki (or Mongol) threat was always when mounted on a horse, not once they were on the ground.
Yet another medieval reality and another scene I liked was Catelyn having to marry off her children to secure passage across the river. In a world where life was often short it was hugely importance to marry off your children and get them breeding as soon as possible. It was one of the most important parts of diplomacy for centuries. It also gives you a sense of the sacrifice which Robb is making in order to put the world right again. If he were to win and defeat the Lannisters life won't be the same for anyone. The fake attack to capture Jaime was clever and showed a cold streak in Robb if he knew that most of the two thousand he took with him would just be canon fodder.
With Ned dead Tyrion becomes ever more clearly our central figure and we got to see a lot more of him here. I enjoyed the drinking games a lot and the story of his first love was suitably horrific. The way he told the story was terrifically written to expose us to the insecurities he felt growing up, particularly when it came to how women perceived him. The treatment he then received from his Father was so unkind that it clearly helped shape his thick skinned arrogance as his way of not letting the world push him around anymore. Bronn has even thicker skin and once more threatened to steal the scene by just not giving a crap about anything. The new companion who I think introduced herself as "She" got a lot of attention so I expect her origins are equally tragic.
Finally we have Jon Snow up on the wall still wrestling with the question of honour versus family. In a world where everyone seems to lack honour he is beginning to stand out as a man of virtue.
The Bad: The position of Tyrion in the story led to some interesting discrepancies here. Although I really enjoyed all the drinking game stuff it did feel a bit out of place while everyone around them was preparing for war. There was a sort of "Episode 3" feeling about learning Tyrion's origins. Along with the introduction of the new woman it all felt out of place for the penultimate episode of the season.
The next day we got the comedy moment of Tyrion being knocked out by his own army and trampled in the mud. That would have been fine expect the very next scene we had to take in the idea that Robb had just sacrificed thousands of lives to capture Jaime. It wasn't just that we jumped from comedy to drama so quickly, it's also that Tyrion is a Lannister. He is the character most viewers know and like best yet his victories would come at the expense of the "good guys."
I'm not saying you can't mix comedy with drama. Nor am I saying one side should be good and one bad. Absolutely not. Good drama needs light relief and the best drama knows where the grey areas are. But both those facts affected the pacing of this particular episode. That may be an inevitable fact of a show following so many different characters and plot threads at once. My job is just to point out where the flaws are, no matter how understandable they might be.
The Unknown: So where is "She" from? What has happened to Drogo and will he be the same? One reader asked me if Joffrey knows if he is the product of incest. I don't know but I assume not. It's a question worth asking, though if you have read the books please don't tell me! The discovery that Aemon is actually a Targaryen was pretty interesting. Does that mean no one knew of his relation to the mad King or that men of the Nightswatch are considered untouchable? No one has asked why the Starks aren't looking to link up with the Baratheons even though Varys points out what a threat Stannis is.
Best Moment: The story of what Jaime and Tywin did to Tyrion to help him lose his virginity was very sad. Although he didn't say it you got a sense of the emotions behind the two men. Jaime probably did it to genuinely help his brother out and not necessarily realizing the heartbreak that would follow. Even Tywin probably thought there was merit in teaching Tyrion the way a Lannister is supposed to behave.
But of course in Tywin there is a greater streak of loathing and cruelty. Jaime would doubtless have slept with many a girl and thought nothing for her feelings. Tywin forced Tyrion to understand his relation to women of lower status in the harshest and most ruthless way possible. You get the impression that Tywin hates the fact that he could have created an abnormal son as if it somehow implies something about him.
The characterisation of all three men came through well in that story, a sign of very good writing.
Conclusion: This was another strong episode, though it makes me fear the finale will be a bit rushed. It's a shame Game of Thrones won't get longer to tell its story. It has got more compelling as it has gone on.
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