Backs against the wall...
Writers: David Benioff, DB Weiss
Director: Brian Kirk
The One Where: Brandon wakes up from his coma, Ned arrives in King’s Landing to take up his role as the Hand Of The King, and Jon Snow discovers how tough life at the Wall really is.
What Works: Using Ned and Jon Snow to introduce us to life at King’s Landing and The Wall respectively reveals just how different – and difficult – life will be for the Starks outside of Winterfell. Away from the family home, both the senior Stark and his bastard son look out of their depth, and both Sean Bean and Kit Harington give off an air of brooding frustration at their new situations.
Ned and Jaime Lannister’s conversation in front of the Iron Throne is a superbly written scene that showcases what Game Of Thrones has done so well thus far – getting across a lot of information in a short space of time without overwhelming the viewer. The tension between the two is palpable, and Ned’s disgust at the Kingslayer is barely concealed. He’s a hard man to love, that Lannister…
As the senior Stark accustoms himself to life at court, we quickly discover that all is not as it seems: the realm is in debt (most of it to the Lannisters), and the king is determined to throw a costly tournament for his uninterested Hand. Meanwhile Cersei’s chat with Joffrey (probably the most unlovable young actor on television thanks to a skin-crawling performance by Jack Gleeson) proves the young prince to be a hard-headed and potentially dangerous politician. Cersei’s line “everyone who isn’t us is an enemy” is more than a little disturbing. Those crazy incestuous Lannisters know how to unsettle a man, that’s for sure.
Across the sea, Daenerys’s growing confidence as Kaleesi is a satisfying development – she’s gone native, and is much more interesting as a result. Harry Lloyd is once again fantastic as the incredibly pompous Viserys, and you can feel his outrage at his sister’s new-found power.
Up at the wall, Jon has got his work cut out being accepted by the petty thieves and rapists that are now his brothers, but it’s Tyrion who makes the biggest impact. Peter Dinklage has undeniable presence, and he is the voice of authority when he saves Jon from being gutted by his new family. News of Wildlings moving south and stirrings of an unspoken dread behind the wall fill the scenes at the northern tip of the Seven Kingdoms with an air of trepidation; you can’t help but feel sorry for the misguided Jon, who thought he was joining a noble order. His burgeoning friendship with the Imp feels like it could become important at a later juncture, all the more so because he knows he can trust him – Tyrion was the only one to tell him the truth about where he was headed. The Imp’s journey was worthwhile anyway, as he got to take a whiz off the end of the world, an impressive achievement. The Wall is clearly going to become one of the most important locations in the show, and I can’t wait to see Jon laying the smack down up there; it’s a fantastic environment, full of menace and foreboding that is crying out for some epic battle scenes.
There’s plenty to take in over the course of this episode, but it’s gripping stuff, moving along as a brisk pace and never getting bogged down with too much exposition. The lingering shots of dragon eggs are food for thought, and Arya Stark’s sword fighting lessons are great fun. She’s going to be a right handful, that one...
What Doesn’t: Very little – it’s a tightly written episode that manages to get across a huge amount of information without ever feeling overly talky. It’s a tough job getting across the amount of information Martin has packed into his books, but so far Game Of Thrones is managing it.
Jon Snow: “You’re a true friend.”
Tyrion Lannister: “Don’t tell anyone, I have a reputation to maintain.”