At the end of the fourth episode of Game of Thrones I felt like the feeling out process was over and that the fifth would be the one in which characters finally started playing their cards and coming into direct conflict with one another; and boy was that true. This episode felt so much different than the previous four in the series. Fewer characters get face time, the focus is narrowed, and the war between the Starks and the Lannisters steps up to take center stage. The pacing has been pushed forward, there are fewer scenes of pondering and pontificating, and the violence has been amped up to gross levels. Awesomely gross levels, but gross levels nonetheless. With this episode it feels like the writers are taking a step back from explaining themselves so much, and from this point on the viewers are going to have to hold on and keep up. Most of the people who I talk to about this series have said that they really love it, but there have been a few holdouts that think it’s a little too sleepy. If you’re one of those bored naysayers, and this episode didn’t manage to wake you up, then I suggest you cut your losses and find yourself another series to watch. For the rest of us… did you see The Mountain cut off that horses head?!
Most of the scenes in this episode take place in King’s Landing, but the prominent ones that don’t are those that follow the traveling pair of Catelyn Stark and her prisoner Tyrion Lannister. Their first bit of action comes when, on the way to visiting Catelyn’s sister Lysa, Stark and her companions are attacked by raiders. Tyrion uses the opportunity to convince Catelyn to untie him so that he can defend himself. Probably the second most badass moment in the episode (second only to when The Mountain chopped off that frigging horse’s head with a frigging broad sword), comes when he defends Catelyn by knocking one of the raiders to the ground and going all Irreversible on his head with the pointy end of a shield. It was a moment of brutality that Tyrion didn’t exactly appear capable of to this point, and it added some intrigue to Catelyn and his relationship by making her owe him one, despite the fact that he ends the episode still her prisoner.
That’s not the only bit we get of Tyrion and Catelyn’s travels, however. We also make it all the way to Lysa’s mountaintop castle The Eyrie and end up meeting her and her son, who is still breast-feeding at around age six. Lysa is clearly mad and appears to have no intentions of leaving her “impregnable” castle anytime soon. And, for his part, the boy seems to be just as creepy as his mother, almost casually requesting that he watch Tyrion fly off the edge of the castle’s ridiculously high balconies. The boy is coddled and entitled and permanently attached to the side of his mother. It seems that creepiness doesn’t exist solely in the Lannister family; Cate’s sister gives Cersei and Jamie’s incest taboo a real run for its money. One can only wonder what the future holds for the tiniest of Lannisters now that he is locked in her unique and terrifying version of a dungeon.
Back at King’s Landing things are really heating up in the three-way chaffing of personalities between King Robert, Queen Cersei, and Ned Stark. We get a follow up to last week’s tournament battle in which The Mountain, Gregor Clegane, killed a young squire by putting a lance through his throat. This week finds The Mountain coming up against The Knight of Flowers, Loras Tyrell, and despite the fact that he has been presented as quite the unstoppable force thus far, the diminutive Knight of Flowers is able to easily unseat The Mountain and win the match. In a moment of rage Gregor then takes his horse’s head clean off for no reason and begins to attack Loras with his sword amidst the dead animal and showers of blood. This unmitigated attack gives Gregor’s brother The Hound a chance to step in, and soon sibling rivalry turns into a sword fight. With what we know about the origins of The Hound’s scars, it seems to be clear that a more serious battle of brothers is being hinted at for later in the series. We also get a bit of information about the squire that Gregor killed last episode; not only was he a servant of Jon Arryn, he was actually quite close to the man and might very well have been privy to his secrets. Does this mean that The Mountain was in the Lannister’s pockets and killed him on purpose? And if so, will we soon see The Hound take sides with the Starks? One man who doesn’t seem to have a dog in the fight is The Knight of Flowers. We get another, very intimate, scene between him and King Robert’s younger brother Renly where he goes about convincing Renly that he would be a much more suitable heir to the throne than any of Robert’s children. While I remember the two characters having a suspiciously close relationship in the books, this blatantly homosexual tryst caught me a bit off guard and made Loras a more manipulative character than I remember him being in the source material. It’s looking like the TV show is taking steps to ramp up the drama even further than Martin did in his novels.
Ned, meanwhile, is continuing his investigation into Jon Arryn’s death. Among his finds this episode are yet another illegitimate child that the King has fathered, and also whispers that there are forces out there who would do Robert harm. However, before he can alert Robert to any of these developments or do damage control about the fact that word is reaching the castle of Catelyn’s arrest of Tyrion Lannister, he is thrown into a meeting with the King and his council concerning the child growing in Daenerys Targaryen’s belly. Robert wants to have the Targaryens killed before the child can be born, but Ned finds the move cowardly. Petyr Baelish’s advice to Ned on the matter is that, “When you find yourself in bed with an ugly woman, best close your eyes and get it over with.” Despite the fact that he never struck me much in the books, Baelish is fast becoming one of my favorite characters. Credit has to be given to Aidan Gillen for his amazing work bringing him to life. After a few minutes of arguing, tension escalates between Robert and Ned to the point of yelling, and before anymore can be said between the two old friends Ned is dismissed of his position as King’s Hand and storms out of the meeting room. As he leaves the image of the Iron Throne lurks ominously in the background. Despite the fact that the Targaryens don’t appear at all in this episode, their presence is very much still felt in Westeros. They seem to be lurking over everything just as much as that creepy throne.
Even though there was a lot of crazy violence going on, my favorite scene this week was a dialogue one that comes late between Robert and Cersei. Despite Ned’s assertion that Robert’s plan is cowardly, he actually makes a studied defense of why he can’t allow the Targaryens to live. His armies could never meet the Dothraki in an open battlefield and win, and if he hides in his castle they will be free to rape and pillage the common people, many of whom see him as a usurper to the throne already. In a strangely sober moment Robert opines that there is no real King’s Army in Westeros, but instead, “We have as many armies as there are men with gold in their purse.” When it comes down to it, Robert’s kingdom is too fractured to withstand a usurper. As is, the only thing that’s holding it together is his fragile marriage to Cersei, which brings peace between the powerful families of Baratheon and Lannister. And, of that marriage, he straightly tells Cersei it never had any chance of working. Which, in a rare moment of visible emotion, causes her to storm out of the room. In one episode the King’s break with both his wife and his Hand has been made complete.
The episode ends, quite dramatically, with Jaime Lannister learning both the news that Ned is no longer the King’s Hand, as well as the news that his wife has taken Tyrion hostage. What comes next is the boldest move yet made in this series, and one that will have huge repercussions for what happens from this point on. Also, there’s some pretty cool sword fighting. Begun, the war between the Starks and the Lannisters has. And given his dismissal of both his wife and his best friend, it’s looking like the King may take neither one of their sides. Add in Renly’s new thirst for power and the threat of the dragons growing overseas, and by the time things get out on the battlefield it may just be every man for himself. If there is no man who will be widely respected in the role of King, and Westeros is really as full of greedy backstabbers as Robert thinks, then who would win an all out war between each of the Seven Kingdoms? I’ll end this recap with more wisdom from my new favorite guy Petyr Baelish, “All desires are valid to a man with a full purse.”