Episode 7 - You Win or You Die
6 March 2012
Game of Thrones - 107 - You Win or You Die
Synopsis: News reaches Ned that Robert was wounded by a boar while hunting. Robert makes Ned Regent until Joffrey comes of age. Renly suggests to Ned that he become King to prevent Cersei getting rid of them but Ned won't listen. Littlefinger advises Ned to pay the City Watch to ensure they back him in the coming struggle. Meanwhile Jon Snow and the rest of the new intake are sworn in as men of the Nights Watch. Jon is assigned to be the Personal Steward to the Lord Commander just as his Uncle goes missing north of the Wall. Across the sea Jorah Mormont gives up the chance to return home and instead chooses to foil the assassination attempt on Dany. So outraged by this attack on his wife Khal Drogo vows to conquer the Seven Kingdoms and put their son on the throne.
The Good: So at last the action comes fully to life and I have to say this was much stronger. That's not to say that we didn't need six episodes to build up the significance of this moment but suddenly the show feels much more vital with King Robert dead.
The great strength of the narrative is in building up a sense that no one understands the true danger of the situation. At the centre of the storm Ned doesn't see that war between Houses Baratheon and Lannister will be bad for everyone (especially him). A civil war will cost so many their lives but worse than that it will leave the Seven Kingdoms deeply vulnerable to Khal Drogo and his horde. Of course what the shirtless Khal doesn't know is that Winter is coming and with it the potential for the White Walkers to penetrate the Wall and run rampant once more. That sense of impending doom is really well built throughout this episode.
Ned is a strong central character because his greatest asset his also his greatest liability. He cannot look past what should be the right thing to do. All he can see is the correct line of succession, regardless of the trouble it will bring or the merits of the actual candidates. Both Littlefinger and Renly argue that a wise King is what is needed rather than simply the man who is technically next in line. But Ned just won't countenance crossing his own moral code. Thanks in part to his confessional scene with Roz (the prostitute) we know that Littlefinger has long hated Ned for marrying Catelyn and so his betrayal was no surprise. However it was smartly written and made for an excellent cliffhanger. I especially liked that he had already outlined what he thought was the most sensible plan to Ned (make a deal with the Lannisters) and therefore just carried out what he had suggested. As the King's Treasurer he knows that the Lannisters have all the money and so that is where he wants to be.
Up at the wall we got more satisfactory development of Jon's situation. We are once more reminded of the injustice of life on the Wall both by the monastic-like vows the men take and by Pyp's story of how he came to be there. I still think Samwell is too obvious a sidekick but he does point out that although Jon's role as Steward seems demeaning it likely suggests he is being groomed to take over one day.
Across the sea we got a really enjoyable scene as Jorah foils the assassination attempt on Dany. It was one of those scenes where I imagine most viewers could see what was coming but it still played out nicely. I give a lot of credit to the assassin who never gave a real hint that he was guilty until the final moment when he tried to run away. It was a tense and enjoyable scene and of course it served the great irony of the episode. If the assassination attempt had never been made then Khal Drogo might have been content to stay on his side of the Narrow Sea but now he is determined to protect his wife and child by taking the Seven Kingdoms by force. The story of Khal and Dany has been rushed but I liked how everything came together here. We may only know them in broad brushstrokes but the effect remains the same: they are coming for the Iron Throne and they are a force to be reckoned with.
I liked Tywin Lannister a lot in his first appearance on screen. He seemed hard and decisive and knew how the Game of Thrones is really played. By being so stern and ruthless he also made Jaime look more honourable by comparison and gave us some sympathy for the pressures that he is feeling.
I also liked two moments in this that hinted at a grittier tone. I know we have genitals flying about so no one will mistake this for a children's show, but with the Stark children there is a hint of that. Here however we have Khal Drogo promising to rape the women of the Seven Kingdoms right in front of his wife. That is probably how a Mongol Khan would have talked back in the day and it's good to establish that this is not a nice guy. He may love his wife and child but he is a warlord and there is nothing good coming from him to the people across the sea. Similarly back in Winterfell the entitled Theon Greyjoy implies rape with the female prisoner that he took last episode. Perhaps sexual favour would be more accurate for what he was suggesting but abusing his power is what he was up to. Again it was a reminder of what life would actually be like in a medieval world and it helps the Stark children stand out by virtue of their honour.
The Bad: The revelation that Cersei and Jaime had been together didn't seem to have the shocking impact that it should have. Even if you accept incest as a part of the culture it still should have been shocking for the deceit that was carried out on the King. Yet when Ned tells Cersei that he knows the truth and later reveals it to Littlefinger the sense of what a big deal this is was lost. I still think the show isn't taking full advantage of these character dynamics. The great strength of the show is in the wider picture but that doesn't tend to win as many fans as having characters that people love.
We had another of those inorganic moments when Littlefinger decides to share his longing for Catelyn (without mentioning names) to Roz and her partner while they are simulating sex. We've seen so many of these soliloquy soft porn scenes now that they are feeling clichÃ©d. It also made him seem a bit stupid for revealing so much to two of his whores, especially considering Roz is from Winterfell and might figure out who he was talking about. I did like his psychology of prostitution though, the man knows his business.
The Unknown: Was that Uncle Benjin's hand which the Direwolf brought back? If so who killed him? Is Littlefinger exacting revenge on Ned Stark at this point or simply picking the horse he thinks most likely to win? How big is House Baratheon and how would they fare in a war with the Lannisters? Is Jorah Mormont solely motivated by love for Dany and if so does he realize how hopeless that pursuit is?
Best Moment: The final scene was tense and exciting giving you the sense that next episode really would be must-see.
Conclusion: This was really strong and kicks the narrative into a higher gear.
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