Here be dragons
Writer: David Benioff and DB Weiss
Director: Alan Taylor
The One Where: The Starks react to Ned’s death, the Night’s Watch head out beyond the wall and Daenerys deals with losses of her own.
Verdict: After the battles and beheadings of last week, this tenth and final episode was always going to deal with repercussions, both short and long term, for next season. Opening with a gruesome shot of Ned Stark’s sword covered in his own claret, it’s clear that the game has changed, and not just for the Starks.
Bumping off Sean Bean’s honourable Ned works as the catalyst to all sorts of Westerosi madness, while confirming something we’ve all known since Jaime nudged Bran out of that window back in the first episode: this is serious business, nobody is safe, and in the Game Of Thrones, you win or you die. One of the most compelling aspects of Martin’s world is that there are no givens. No character is safe, and motivations are often muddy at best. Throughout the series, we’ve seen supposedly honourable characters do some pretty awful stuff, while monsters act contrary to what we might expect of them.
Take Daenerys: at the top of the season, she was a meek, childish girl, basically sold off into a life of slavery by her power-hungry brother. By the time we reach the end of this episode, her life has turned around completely: she’s known love (her relationship with Drogo evolved into a sweet, tender pairing), loss and has killed when she needed to. It’s testament to Emilia Clarke that Dany’s transition from tearful younger sister to ball-breaking leader of men and mother of dragons has been as credible and emotional as has. Her incredibly affecting final moments with Drogo were heart wrenching, and that she delivered half her lines in an entirely made-up language only makes her performance all the more impressive.
The reveal of the dragons, the big talking point of the episode and potentially the most important development of the entire A Song Of Ice And Fire sequence, given Dany’s ambitions to re-claim the Iron Throne, was handled brilliantly. Tense and atmospheric, moving and beautifully shot, Drogo’s funeral pyre was the perfect place for Dany to take control of her own fate. Her re-birth in the ashes of her sun and stars, cradling the three baby dragons that she miraculously hatched, would have been an easy scene to fumble, but in the end it was perfectly poised. Of course, it helped that the dragons looked ace. With the same dark-hued shine as the eggs from which they hatched and singing the songs of dragons as much as their skinny little necks would allow, if all the dragon effects can look this good going forward, then we’re in for a flaming treat.
There was plenty more to this episode than baby dragons, though. All of Ned’s children had to get to grips with their new lives. Arya was given a bloody awful haircut and bundled off to the wall with the rest of Yoren’s recruits for the Night’s Watch, while Sansa was left trapped at King’s Landing. You can’t help but feel for Sansa, her darling Joffrey turning out to be a pint-sized dictator in waiting whose idea of a date is taking his girl up to see her father’s head on a spike. If only Sansa had been a bit quicker, she could have had Joff’s snivelling face over the edge of that balcony. Oh well…
Robb’s reaction to the death of his father was, to be honest, a little pathetic, slashing away at a tree with his sword, although it did demonstrate how young the eldest Stark still is. Catelyn showed the sort of steel that we’ve already seen her bare once or twice, and when she held her son and promised they’d kill all their enemies, well, I wouldn’t have argued with her. The scene where the Greatjon, joined by the rest of the Stark bannermen, proclaimed Robb King In The North perhaps lacked a bit of grandeur, but it nevertheless made it clear that the war isn’t going to be over quickly.
Jon Snow, about as far away from a kingship as possible, faced his own dilemma, and only returned to the Wall thanks to his mates. Their recital of the Night’s Watch oath was pretty cheesy, but Mormont’s decision to ride out beyond the Wall in force more than made up for it. I can’t wait to see the black brothers strutting their stuff way up north.
Taking of stuff-strutting, how’s about when Tyrion hits King’s Landing? You get the feeling he’ll be more than a match for Littlefinger, Varys and Pycelle (whose bizarre stretching routine served a twisted purpose – even an old Maester plays a role in front of whores and the court), and it was strangely sweet to see Tywin acknowledge his younger son as more than the fool he’d always taken him for.
It’s been a hell of a first season, a genuinely exciting piece of television that has kept long-tem George RR Martin fans happy and added a significant number to the fold. Top notch production values, superb casting and tight scripting that has made a complex story totally accessible - HBO deserves some sort of medal for what they’ve achieved. The only problem now is that it’s going to be a long old wait until season two.
Best Line: “I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, of the blood of old Valyria. I am the dragon’s daughter, and I swear to you that those who would harm you will die screaming.”