A review of tonight's "Game of Thrones" coming up just as soon as I name a few dragons for you...
"What's my name?" -Jon Snow
Ned Stark spends much of "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things" investigating the death of his predecessor, Jon Arryn, and in the process stumbles across a young man who would seem to be the illegitimate offspring of King Robert. And once again, questions of lineage - who was born the right way to the right parents, who is being raised by others, and what blood does and doesn't entitle you to - dominate the proceedings.
We spend even more time up north with Jon Snow than we did in the episode last week that bore his name, seeing him continue to struggle to carve a place for himself in this cold, cruel world. He befriends fat, cowardly, incompetent Sam, and uses his white direwolf(*) to make sure the other recruits go easy on Sam. And he confesses to Sam that the mystery of his birth, and the identity of his mother, has not only made him a social outcast, but has made it impossible for him to enjoy some of the simple carnal pleasures available to the other men of the Night's Watch.
(*) Thus far, no episode hasn't been dramatically improved by the appearance of a direwolf. They are awesome - and still growing, apparently.
Ned discovers at least one bastard son of the king, and we see through Jaime Lannister's eyes (in a rare moment of sympathy for the golden boy) just how prodigious the king's appetite is for women other than his wife, implying that the blacksmith could be one of many. And across the sea, Viserys goes on about being the heir to the dragons who brought his family into power, but Jorah Mormont is skeptical - and when Dany tears into her bullying pimp of a brother ("The next time you raise a hand to me will be the last time you have hands!"), it seems that if any Targaryen sibling has the blood of dragons running through their veins, it's Dany.(**)
(**) Some of you, readers and not, have commented that Dany's evolution from miserable child bride to bold, proud Khaleesi has seemed abrupt on the show. And certainly, there's a degree of shorthand going on here compared to the books, even as the show uses Dany's pregnancy and the length of various characters journeys to demonstrate just how much time has passed. But I think Emilia Clarke is really selling this. Dany literally striking back against her brother was a fantastic moment, every bit as badass as Jon Snow's persuasive use of his direwolf.
The Targaryen row isn't the only reminder that siblings raised in the same house can turn out very differently. We've already seen The Hound, Joffrey's badly-scarred bodyguard, and here we meet his brother Gregor, aka The Mountain, who not only brutally dispatches Ser Hugh (a potentially important piece of the puzzle about how Jon Arryn died), but is revealed to be the one who gave his brother that gruesome face.
Even Tyrion Lannister - whose quote about why he designs a special saddle for Bran provides this episode its title - isn't of a piece with his siblings. But where Jaime is responsible for throwing Bran out the window, and presumably for arranging his assassination, it's Tyrion who winds up in hot water when he has the bad timing to wander into the same tavern as Catelyn, her entourage and a whole bunch of random bar-goers who all have good reason to be loyal to Catelyn and help her in her quest to bring Tyrion to justice. It's Michelle Fairley's only scene of the episode, and she completely owns it, making Catelyn's gathering of new allies every bit as gripping as Dany hitting Viserys, or some of the climaxes of earlier episodes.
"Game of Thrones" is so far 4-for-4 with terrific closing scenes (even if last week's was a bit more low-key than all the others), and the stuff leading up to those closings have been pretty strong, too.
Some other thoughts:
• While the TV writers have for the most part done a good job of explaining who everyone is when we need to know, I definitely would have been lost on the subject of Theon Greyjoy (the young man, roughly Robb Stark's age, who sees Tyrion off from Winterfell) were it not for some extra-curricular browsing of Wikipedia and HBO.com. Until his conversation with Tyrion, I had just assumed he was one of the five Stark children (the youngest Stark son has appeared so fleetingly that I didn't even realize he existed until after the fact). Given how much this episode dwelled on children being raised by non-parents, I wish the show had found a way to better explain Theon's circumstance, and sooner.
• Last week's episode was fairly low on gore, but the death of Ser Hugh, with the blood spurting for what seemed like forever, more than made up for that.
• Aiden Gillen seems to be enjoying himself playing Littlefinger almost as much as Littlefinger enjoys playing the various members of the Stark family. It's never clear how sincere any of what he does is, and how much is motivated by his need to amuse himself, or whether it's a bit of each. He could have thrown a scare into Sansa just for the fun of it, or he might have taken pity on a naive, ignorant girl and offered her a piece of useful information.
• Ned talks a lot about how "winter is coming," and here we get our first indication of the different meaning of that phrase in Westeros - where winter can last 10 years or more - versus our world.
• And speaking of long winters, the frustrated instructor's speech to Jon and his friends about the dangers that come in winter sounded an awful lot like an homage to Robert Shaw's legendary speech about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in "Jaws." Go watch it; I'll wait.
• Though we're not meant to be on Cersei's side (outside of maybe feeling bad that her husband cheats on her so frequently and openly), that's an interesting conversation she has with Ned where she calls him out for being a follower and not a leader. George R.R. Martin and I talked about this a bit in our pre-season interview, and his contention is that while Ned may be one of the better men on the show, being a good man doesn't automatically make for a good leader.
Finally, let me remind you once again that we are NOT going to discuss anything from the books that hasn't already come up on the show - not just plot details, but character motivations, backgrounds, anything. We - whether you've read the books or, like me, haven't - are going to talk about this show as a TV show. After the mess that followed episode 2, everybody was very good and circumspect with episode 3, finding lots to discuss without constantly dropping oblique hints to stuff that happens three books from now. Let's keep up that sense of restraint, please. Any comment that fails to do this will be deleted.
With that in mind, what did everybody else think?
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