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Game of Thrones

HBO

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Episode 10 - Fire and Blood

6 March 2012

Credit HBO

Synopsis: Dany's child is stillborn and Drogo is a vegetable. She smothers him to death and builds a funeral pyre for him and the Dragons eggs. She then climbs on herself and emerges unscathed with three baby dragons wrapped around her. Joffrey begins his reign with plenty of torture and then forces Sansa to look at her father's head on a pike. Robb Stark is acclaimed King of the North as the men of Winterfell decide that they won't fight for a Baratheon but for themselves instead. Yoren dresses Arya as a boy and shoves her in with the new recruits for the Nights Watch as they head north. Tywin sends Tyrion to be the King's Hand to stop Joffrey from doing more foolish things. Jon Snow decides to ride away and find Robb but Sam and the others stop him and persuade him to return to the Wall. Jeor then leads the men of the Watch north of the Wall to find out what is going on.  

The Good: Yet another strong episode to round out what turned out to be an impressive opening season for Game of Thrones. Owing to that name change I had never quite taken in the significance of the books being called A Song of Ice and Fire. But as the season closes its now fairly clear that there is only one creature who could fight a White Walker and that's a Dragon. So we open the season with a Walker returning from icy hibernation and we end it with a Dragon being born in flames. It all feels very fitting and suitably epic.

Ten episodes does feel at least two too few to adequately tell this epic tale but I give the producers a lot of credit for the way they have condensed the story so far. Dany and Drogo's story was probably the most reduced as she went from terrified teenage bride to indomitable Queen in no time. However the emotions were very clear as she begged Drogo to return from his living coma and rescue her. I loved the story of the Healer who Dany rescued. I commented at the time that Dany wouldn't be able to save that many from the marauding Dothraki and that perhaps it was merely a sop to her conscience. Here that woman paid her back royally, throwing her good deeds in her face and pointing out that it was cold comfort after being raped and seeing her community slaughtered en masse. Again it showed the show isn't pussy-footing around the realities of the epic conflicts it is portraying. The emergence of Dany as a semi-divine Queen will presumably re-summon some Dothraki loyalty as she decides what to do with her new "offspring."

At the opposite end of the world I was somewhat surprised by Jon Snow's decision to abandon the Wall in favour of his family. He too suffered a foreshortening throughout season one. He and Sam became best pals in only a few scenes and similarly he turned Grenn and Pypar from bullies to brothers equally quickly. Yet there was something touching about these scared young men reciting their oaths to convince Jon not to leave. It's partly thanks to his goodness that they have all come to adapt to their new roles in life. So this was a very sweet demonstration of their loyalty to him and to the Watch. Again the writing was good in showing that Jeor knew all about Jon's nocturnal activities and instead of yelling at him just asked him to accept the importance of their task. After reminding Jon of the zombie bodies attacking them he asks "Do you think your brother's war is more important than ours?" Clearly not and it's a great hook for season two that he then leads the men of the Watch out of the gates toward the Walkers who opened this season with such terror.

I also liked the twist in the civil war where the men of the North hail Robb Stark as their King and argue that they would rather rule themselves than pick which Baratheon to serve. Thanks to some carefully placed scenes we already knew that those in the North worship different Gods to the Southerners. We also have a basic understanding of the civil strife which led to the union of the Seven Kingdoms though that is made explicit here when it is said "It was the Dragons we bowed to." Doubtless this split of resources will make things harder once a greater threat arrives but in the meantime it might allow for a more peaceful end to the civil war.

That is something that Tywin Lannister understands as he finally comes to see some value in his one remaining free son. Tyrion refuses to give his father the satisfaction of too much gratitude which seemed entirely fitting. He says "I always thought you were a stunted fool. Perhaps I was wrong" and Tyrion never forgets who he is by replying "Half wrong." He also had the line of the episode when he talks to Shae about his father and says "He's always been a cunt!" That shockingly refreshing use of language in a show filled with deference continues to mark him out as a special character. It will doubtless be a lot of fun watching him deal with his sister, Joffrey and particularly Little Finger and Varys.

Their terrific banter was a nice little scene to remind you of how they both survived regime change with their status and head in tact. We also got a surprising glimpse into the life of doddery old Pycelle who is apparently not as old as he makes out. That little glimpse of him exercising and then putting on a shambling gait was a very nice nod to the adapting behaviours of those smart enough to survive.

I liked the fact that someone at camp Stark finally discussed an alliance with the Baratheon's. I also liked that Catelyn and Jaime's conversation was clearly filmed in actual cold weather. The endless clouds of breath coming off both added authenticity.

The Bad: I don't have a problem with Joffrey being an arse-hole. I don't even have a problem with him being cruel by nature. However the presentation of him here felt clichéd. I don't think there was anything especially wrong with his cruel bullying of Sansa and the musician but I would like to see more of why he is the way he is. I think it could be clearer if he is just inherently unpleasant or if he actually understands his own illegitimacy and is afraid of those who see it too.

The shortened nature of the season continues to affect the flow of the narrative. The long speech Pycelle gave to Roz about the King's he had served seemed such an odd scene for a season finale.

The Unknown: When we heard the description of Dany's baby as scaled with wings I thought they were implying she had given birth to an actual dragon. But apparently it was just a baby deformed by death to allow Drogo's body to function again. Cersei is apparently shagging another of her relatives which is...um interesting. I wouldn't have known he was a cousin of hers unless I read it elsewhere so I'm not sure if we are supposed to think about that or not. Had the Dothraki abandoned Dany and Drogo? It seemed like the camp was deserted. It seemed odd that they hadn't killed everyone as that seems to be their modus operandi. I suppose if they saw the dead baby and comatose Drogo they may have decided it wasn't worth it. The one fully grown bastard son of Robert is now travelling with Arya, which I imagine we should keep an eye on.

Best Moment: I found the reciting of the oath of the Nights Watch pretty touching but seeing Dany emerge from the fire with baby Dragons was pretty cool too.

Conclusion: It's been a good first season. It should go without saying that the show is beautifully filmed and the shots of Dany's camp up on a ridge were as spectacular as the circular pyre she later lit. The writing has been strong and the acting very solid.

The show doesn't stand shoulder to shoulder with the best dramas on TV because its characters are so bound to the roles they play within the ensemble. Although the emotions were better portrayed as the season went on there were times when it was difficult to care too much about the characters as I would have liked. Jon Snow and Dany were both divorced from their families in a foreign land and adapting to a new life. Yet we never saw enough of them for me to really empathise and be fully sucked in.

On the other hand the vast ensemble has communicated well the sense that Westeros is a land undergoing a monumental phase in its history. The show's greatest strength has always been the sense that beyond the frontiers lurks a menace that will force men to put aside their petty differences and fight together. On that front the setup for season two is excellent and I very much look forward to it.

('DiggThis)

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