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Game Of Thrones 1.07 "You Win Or You Die" review

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Writers: David Benioff, DB Weiss
Director: Daniel Minahan

The One Where: Robert has a hunting accident, Danaerys narrowly avoids poisoning and Jon takes his vows at the wall.

Verdict: Summoned to King’s Landing by Ned Stark, it was about time we met the father of the Lannister clan, and Charles Dance does not disappoint as Tywin. It would have been enough to have him simply chatting to his eldest son at his army’s camp, but to have him skinning a stag while doing so was a stroke of genius. On the one hand, it shows daddy Lannister to be an unflinching, hands-on type of leader, happy to get his hands dirty and far from queasy in the sight of blood. On the other, it’s a handy visual metaphor for his family’s machinations at King’s Landing, where the Baratheon stag is being stripped of its hide and used to smuggle the Lannisters into power. That Tywin is able to skilfully take apart the carcass while casually assigning 30,000 troops to Jaime to take back the Imp and giving his son a rousing pep talk in the process sets up his character perfectly. He’s dangerous, capable and a master manipulator – someone Ned would do well to learn a lesson from.

In fact, Ned could do with schooling in intrigue from many others aside from Tywin Lannister. Anyone, in fact – a ten year old would know to play their cards closer to their chest than Lord Eddard Stark. Instead of using the information he has gathered on Joffrey’s incestuous heritage wisely, he almost immediately tells Cersei, giving her a chance to address the situation. It’s the same rashness that saw him essentially kick-start a war in the last episode, and seems incredibly naive for someone who has ruled in the north for as long as he has. It’s no surprise that he finds himself completely out-manoeuvred by both the queen and Petyr Baelish by the end of the episode.

Littlefinger expounds greatly on his art and unveils some of his long-term plan (which seems to boil down to world domination, with a side of well-bred rumpy pumpy) to a pair of his ladies of easy fortune in a scene featuring more tits than a bird watcher’s notebook. We also get to meet Theon Greyjoy’s favourite scarlet woman again, as Littlefinger teaches Ros the – ahem – ins and outs of her trade. It’s a revealing scene in more ways that one, with Littlefinger’s methodology and schemes laid out for all to see, alongside lots of wobbly flesh.

It’s sad to see Robert brought low by a boar, but Mark Addy makes sure the king is himself to the end. He knows his mind, he’s more than aware of his own drunken stupidity, and even manages a joke. We’ll miss you, old boy. Shame you let that Lannister lad get you a touch too tiddled…

With the king out of the way, the crows are circling, and everyone with half a claim is jumping at the chance to make the iron throne their own. Ned missed an opportunity to force matters and make Renly king, claiming Stannis has the real claim, and in dealing with the Baratheon brothers completely missed Joffrey’s ascension to power. Whoops. Seeing the sneering boy king on the throne was chilling, his impulsive reaction to Ned’s rejection of his claim indicative of a rash temper and lack of judgement that should make for some interesting if uncomfortable TV.

Across the sea, the Danaerys narrowly avoids supping on a poisoned chalice, while Ser Jorah learns he has been pardoned back in the Seven Kingdoms. He’s in contact with Varys, so the Seven only know where his loyalties lie now. Whatever is going on in his head, he still has his wits about him enough to save the Khaleesi. Speaking of which, there’s a genuinely heartfelt scene between the Targaryen princess and Khal Drogo that signifies just how far their relationship has come. As Dany braids her husband’s hair, they converse in Dothraki, talking about the future, their son, and it’s the first time that you get a sense of them as a real, loving couple, as well as a formidable duo. Even Khal Drogo’s slightly mental dance as he rouses his Khalasar to cross the sea and take the Seven Kingdoms doesn’t take away from the fact that the Dothraki suddenly feel like a fully rounded race instead of grunting barbarians. I can’t wait to see them crack the tin openers out if and when they face armoured knights in Westeros.

Up at the Wall, Jon and Sam take their oath and become black brothers, a moment that underlines the severity of their lives from now on. No women, no family, no history – all that awaits them is whatever lies behind the wall. Sam shows a peculiar type of bravery by standing up in front of his black brothers and heading to the heart tree beyond the wall with Jon. He’s clearly not as craven as he makes himself out to be, even when Ghost casually drops a severed hand at Jon’s feet.

There was a real sense throughout the episode that things are being set up for an almighty showdown, and it’s coming soon. The Lannisters are ready for war, the long-forgotten dangers north of the wall are stirring, and Ned is in deep, deep trouble. No sign of Tyrion, Catelyn or any of the Stark kids this week, which is a real shame, but there wasn’t space for any of them in a packed hour of political to-ing and fro-ing. The fuse has been lit, and it’s only a matter of time before the fireworks begin in earnest.

Best line:

Littlefinger (to Ned Stark): “We only make peace with our enemies, my lord. That’s why it’s called making peace.”

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