Last week’s episode of Game of Thrones got my attention by having Gregor Clegane cut off a horse’s head, and this week’s had me staring slack jawed as Daenerys Targaryen ate a raw, bloody horse heart while all of the Dothraki surrounded and cheered. I’ve never seen so much horse brutality in all of my life, but at least Game of Thrones has made it count. Clegane’s casual decapitation of his steed really hammered home how dangerous and evil he was at his core. And Dany’s choking down of a bloody heart this week showed how strong and determined she can be when backed against a wall. She needs the Dothraki to be loyal to her, so she does whatever it takes to earn their respect; even if it’s taking part in a horrific, bloody ritual. Her brother Viserys, by contrast, feels that respect is owed him due to his royal bloodline. Where Dany digs down and finds strength when faced with adversity, Viserys pouts, yells, and makes an ass of himself when he doesn’t get what he wants. It has been said that due to his weakness, Viserys’ older brother Rhaegar was the last dragon. Daenerys might soon prove that train of thought wrong.
The transition of Daenerys from naïve, bullied, young girl to powerful Dothraki Queen has been pretty rushed over the course of this series. We’re just six episodes in and she hardly resembles the girl she did in the first episode at all; but Emilia Clarke’s portrayal of the character has helped me swallow what they’re feeding me much easier than I might have if the role was put in a different actress’ hands. So far she’s only shown off one really good trick, but it’s been used to great effect; that trick being Clarke’s ability to project a gamut of ever changing emotions through facial manipulation. Whether it be during a particularly rough bedroom session with her giant new husband or during a ritual where she has to eat an animal’s heart, Clarke is able to go from revulsion, to determination, to triumph all over the span of a few moments and all without saying a word. When you can experience a character evolving in such a visual way it makes the large leap taken seem not so large after all. Viserys, for his part, can’t seem to change or grow at all. He’s stuck in his ways, demanding that everyone else change to meet his needs. Such stubbornness finally catches up to him when he pushes Khal Drogo a step too far in this episode’s climactic scene. What happens to the would-be king when he upsets a Dothraki Lord is too good to give away in a recap, but suffice to say it was crazier than Gregor Clegane cutting off a horse’s head and Ned Stark getting stabbed in the leg combined. With each episode Game of Thrones continues to raise the stakes, and some of the characters are really starting get it in the rear.
Last episode took a step back from the show’s multiple locations, multiple characters format to focus mostly on what was happening at King’s Landing. While we slip back into that jumping around style the show had established previously here, a large part of this episode’s focus is still on the escalating war between the Starks and the Lannisters. This episode finds King Robert slightly sobered up and trying to act a bit more like a leader. After last week’s climactic showdown between Ned and Jaime, Robert has decided to step in and get his house in order. Consequently he has demanded that Ned take back the position of King’s Hand. Despite his recent outbursts, Robert knows that his Kingdom cannot stand without the cooperation of the Starks and the Lannisters. But even with his newfound self-awareness about the direness of his situation, Robert is still Robert. So he not only slaps Cersei in a moment of rage, he also takes off on a hunting trip when there’s important work to be done and leaves Ned to run the Kingdom in his stead. Robert seems to have underestimated how bull headed and vengeful Ned can be.
Up through this episode we’ve gotten a handful of tender moments between Ned and his precocious young daughter Arya. They’ve seemed to share the qualities of being good-natured and laid back. But with this episode we start to see some qualities that Ned shares with his uptight daughter Sansa. Despite the fact that he is a cowardly, evil little shit, Sansa is too in love with the idea of being a princess to not remain loyal to Joffrey. Similarly, Ned is so in love with his own idea of being noble and just that he isn’t capable of making prudent political decisions. Instead of downplaying Catelyn’s capture of the Imp, he takes credit for it. When he hears that Tywin Lannister’s hired gun Gregor Clegane has been tormenting villagers, he sends a hundred men to capture Clegane and he orders Tywin to come to King’s Landing and face his crimes. If Ned wanted anything other than mutually assured destruction he would be using his reinstated power as the King’s Hand to try and smooth things over with the Lannister clan. But he’s too wounded and proud, so to war we will go. Despite the fact that he is our defacto protagonist, Ned Stark isn’t perfect, and his black and white worldview is looking to be the cause of a lot of pain and torment in the future. We have yet to meet the head of House Lannister, but if his children are Cersei, Jaime, and Tyrion, then it’s not hard to imagine he will be more than a handful once he makes his presence felt at King’s Landing. As we’re reminded several times in this episode, nobody has more gold than the Lannisters. And in the world of Westeros, he who has the most gold has the biggest army. By not sticking around and taking care of things himself, Robert Baratheon might have guaranteed that when he returns from his hunting trip it will be to a Kingdom in chaos.
Even though Daenerys eats a heart, Drogo makes Viserys his bitch, and Ned makes a bunch of cocky decrees, if there is one character that really gets a chance to shine in this episode it’s Tyrion Lannister. He starts the episode as a prisoner in the Eyrie’s cliffside dungeons and ends it walking out of the castle a free man. He has boasted before that despite his lack of size, his intellect makes him just as dangerous as any other Lannister. Here he shows that to be true. Peter Dinklage is great this episode, going from pathetic and begging to cocky and manipulative, and making it all believable and fun to watch. First he takes advantage of his simpleton guard’s greed in order to get himself out of his cell. Then he takes advantage of Lysa’s insanity and young Robin’s bloodlust in order to set up a duel for his freedom. The desperate Catelyn Stark must have been dying inside while watching all of this go down, but as each step of Tyrion’s plan succeeds you can see the vanity and virility coloring his cheeks more and more. Clearly bringing the imp here to the Eyrie was the worst thing that Catelyn could have done. Not only has she fanned the flames of war between the Lannisters and the Starks, she doesn’t even manage to hold on to her prisoner. This episode leaves Catelyn holding no cards and Tyrion heading back out on the road, and this time with a resourceful new compatriot in Bronn, the goon for hire who won Tyrion’s freedom by fighting dirty and quipping clever. With Tyrion’s deep pockets and Bronn’s seeming willingness to do anything for money, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
There’s still no sign of Jon Snow or the men on The Wall to be seen this episode, but we do check back in with the kids at Winterfell. Tension is growing between Robert Stark and Theon Greyjoy, as Greyjoy doesn’t feel like Robert is handling the duties of being the man of the house while the parents are away well enough. Robert tells the adopted Greyjoy that he shouldn’t worry about it, because it’s not his house anyway. That calls back to a conversation Tyrion had with Theon in a previous episode where he, in typical manipulative fashion, let Greyjoy know that he should be ashamed for being the Stark’s kept boy. Clearly a divide is being set up between Greyjoy and the Stark family, and way more blatantly and earlier in the story than it ever did in the books. I’ll be interested to see if the show’s writers have bigger plans for Greyjoy than even Martin did.
Another reason we go back to Winterfell seems to be to reintroduce some of the show’s supernatural elements. When we first visit Winterfell, it’s from a fade out on Daenerys heating up one of her dragon eggs in a fire and somehow managing not to burn her hands. That transitions us right into one of Bran’s dreams about the three-eyed crow. Then, later on, Bran is accosted by a group of wildlings who bring up the white walkers that we saw in the first episode. The political games of men have been raging in King’s Landing for the last few episodes, but in episode six we are reminded that stranger dangers are lurking on the outskirts of the realm. Dragons overseas, all seeing birds to the north, and ice zombies beyond the wall; by the time the Starks and the Lannisters are done with each other will there be anybody left to handle these growing concerns?