Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Game of Thrones Season One


Winter is Coming written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by Tim Van Patten

What’s it about: As with all of my reviews this will be far less of a written sequence of events and more a deconstruction of the episode as far as I experience it. If you are looking for a more descriptive depiction of the events in the television show (or the original novel) then check out HBOs own website or the Wikipedia page.

I came to this show with low expectations despite the fact that it had been universally praised by media critics, many of my friends who love the fantasy genre and even some that don’t. I’m not the biggest fan of the Lord of the Rings (I can appreciate Tolkein’s literary merits whilst at the same time finding his prose laborious, dawdling and uninvolving) and it tainted my view of the genre without really giving anything else a chance. When I first switched on Game of Thrones I was shocked at how good it was not just as a piece of television but as a work of imagination. I was expecting orcs and trolls and the like and instead a layered political landscape opened out for me, populated full of beautifully judged characters behaving in exciting and unpredictable ways. The fantasy elements are pretty much used to back up the drama of the piece rather than dominating proceedings. As soon as I finished the first and second series I did something that I said I would never do again and that is to pick up a fantasy epic and read it. It’s a startlingly faithful adaptation  (where I was expecting the TV show to have taken some liberties for reason of budget and taste) and an intelligently and engagingly written saga chopped up into easily manageable bite sized character chunks. It would be fair to say that Game of Thrones has completely revolutionised the fantasy genre in my eyes and I fully intend to read more once I have done devouring this sprawling masterpiece.

The Starks: Heading up the series is Sean Bean as Ned Stark, a brave and honourable man who is far more worthy than the political game he is thrust into. It’s a quietly charismatic performance by Bean who is very easy to warm to despite the fact that he is seen to take a mans head clean off his shoulders in this episode. You soon come to realise that the love that is shared between Ned and Catelyn is a rare sight on this show, a genuinely tender relationship built on mutual respect.

Equally as impressive is Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark although when I read the books afterwards I felt this was the character that they changed the emphasis of most. She’s introduced in the novel as quite a cold, matriarchal sort of woman whereas Fairley stresses the gentler aspects of the character and as a result as much more likable than perhaps she is in print. Jennifer Ehle is one of my favourite actresses and I would have to have seen her tackle a part as demanding as this but Fairley is a more than acceptable substitute, your eyes drawing to her when she shares the screen with other characters.

Despite the fact that it is Bran who is given prominence, of the Stark children it was Arya that made the most impact for me. A girl that wants to learn how to fight, who rejects ladylike pursuits and knows her own mind. Maisie Williams is quietly compelling in the role, one that will continue to grow as the season progresses. Sansa seeks the power and fame of being engaged to Joffrey. That is a decision she will soon come to regret.

The Lannisters: Why is it with these shows that the most loathsome characters are often the most compelling? They are so much more interesting than the heroes, I find. I could happily watch Cersei Lannister and her godawful son Joffrey until the cows come home whilst simultaneously wanting them both to be murdered for their duplicity and monstrousness. Lena Headley is quite a catch, fresh from the Sarah Connor Chronicles and impressing in a very different sort of role. Cersei manages to keep up her air of disdain throughout their visit to Winterfell. Pretence is a luxury that royalty can afford to do without. When Cersei sizes up Sansa as a possible Queen for her son I never got the sense that she was looking at her as a woman but merely as a pawn in her political machinations. From the first moment I set eyes on him I despised Joffrey and that hatred would only grow with every passing episode. The casting is top notch and I congratulate Jack Gleeson for tackling such a hissable role with such conviction.

My favourite character in both versions of this story is Tyrion Lannister. There is something utterly compelling about Peter Dinklage’s nuanced performance and I have a natural affinity with anybody who is ostracised through no fault of their own. He’s the sort that sees everything and makes the right allegiances to get by and can intelligently weave his way through a complex political situation. Of course he’s not aversed to whoring and drinking either but that just makes him feel more authentic. In this case charisma comes in small packages and Dinklage is a mesmerising presence on the show. Tyrion is especially sympathetic to similar underdogs; cripples, bastards and the mistreated. His conversation with Jon Snow is magnificently written and says everything you need to know about this character.

The King: He’s a great bulk of a man whose stature reveals his lust for worldly pleasures. There is an underlying threat to the King’s requests to his closest friend. He might be the picture of amiability but if he doesn’t get his way then heads will role. Power corrupts and this is one man who has been used to getting things his own way. You don’t realise it at this time but the King is pretty much all that is keeping the political situation in check. Its only in his removal from the series that everything starts to crumble (that’s too gentle a word…lets say shatter).

House Targaryen: Emilia Clarke astonishes as Danerys, the character that goes on the biggest journey in the first series. In order to be empowered as she is we are introduced to her as a mannequin, a blank slate, somebody who has been deliberately raised to express no autonomy. Clarke expresses a great deal of pain in every vacuous expression. Pairing her with Harry Lloyd’s pleasingly vile Viserys is delightful because there is a great deal of tension beneath the deafening silences that fill their scenes. From the off this looks like it is going to be a fascination relationship to explore. He undresses her without consent and caresses her milky breast with a little too much interest for her brother. Its very telling that Dany steps into boiling hot water to cleanse herself.

The Wall and Beyond: Considering it is the sequence that lures you into both the show and the book(s) I find it astonishing that the narrative shies away from the horrors beyond the wall as much as it does. There is definitely something in holding back from your audience to reward them later but I have never known any story to give you such a shocking teaser of what is to come and then ignore those events for the length of a bible. The otherworldly atmosphere captured in the forest dusted with snow is incredible, its beauty lulling you into a false sense of security to make the onslaught of violence impact all the more.

The Greyjoys: One of the aspects of the books that I felt wasn’t made very clear on screen was who Theon Greyjoy was and why he was present. That was one area of interest that was greatly enhanced by reading the book afterwards (there were lots of little moments that made a lot more sense but this was the biggest mystery solved for me in the first episode). I would definitely suggest experiencing both versions because there are separate rewards in doing so.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Never forget what you are because the rest of the world will not. Wear it with honour and it can never be used to hurt you.’

Bloodshed: One of the things I love about this show is how it pushes television as close to the edge of good taste as it can possibly go and then takes steps beyond. How some of the material waltzed past the censors is beyond me but I am pleased because there is so much generic television out there it is a genuine thrill when one comes along that pushes me into uncomfortable territory (I’m one of those weird people that likes that feeling of disquiet when you’re unsure whether you should be enjoying something that is graphically violent, sexual or otherwise). I was talking with Simon the other day about how strong the violence is on Game of Thrones, how it will raise a sword to the most engaging of characters once their usefulness has come to an end and how delightful it is to (and this is very rare) genuinely not know who is going to make it from one episode to the next who is going to make it. Within this world life is cheap and before the end of the series you will experience an exodus of main characters the likes of which you have never seen before. It never shies away from the reality of violence either. Shows like Buffy and the like (as fantastic as they are) flaunt comic book violence where a character will indulge in kung fu moves whilst simultaneously making a cup of tea and chatting with their friends. I jest of course but the violence is mostly very soft and doesn’t impact the lives of the characters beyond the episode it occurs in. The violence in Game of Thrones cuts very deep, blood runs down the screen to celebrate a characters passing and each member of the cast treats every fight like it could be their last. I love how graphic this show is when it comes to its violence (there is one scene in particular in the first year but I will come to that later) and how it pushes even my tolerance for gore.

Before the title sequence is finished we witness the mutilated corpses of a group of wildlings and if that wasn’t enough the Rangers get a first hand experience of what they went through. One holds up a head that is still dripping with warm blood. Oddly enough it wasn’t the violence that chilled me during this scene (its quite sanitised compared to some of the later sequences) but the image of the cold eyes of the little girl who stands amongst the dead like a statue. I know some people who don’t give a damn about human lives being spent but the sight of a deer with its guts spilled made them wither. The feast of dead flesh that is laid on for the wedding feast is enough to turn the strongest mans stomach.

Lust: ‘I would let his whole tribe fuck you, all 40,000 men and their horses too if that’s what it took…’ I was warned that there would be plenty of sex in this show and the reports were not exaggerated. Again I’m not aversed to a little nudity and throughout season one everybody’s tastes are pretty much catered for. One of my few complaints about Game of Thrones will come when I discuss the pointless need to add more pornography (because that’s pretty much what it is) to an already very physically active story. I may contradict myself too because some of the cast are so gorgeous that I was longing to see them in the buff! Incest makes a marked appearance in the books and while it is not instantly apparent evolves into a theme that those who commit it are punished in various ways. That the first episode would see one set of siblings engaging in violent, passionate sex and finds another brother teasingly cupping the breasts of his sister is astonishing. A Dothraki wedding ceremony is packed full of lurid images of women being brutally handled and treated as instruments of pleasure. In the book Danerys gives her consent for Drogo to force himself on her and yet interestingly the TV version omits that completely, as though trying to emphasise that this is a rape scene. Adapting a book that is egalitarian in its treatment of its graphic pleasures, altering the tone of a scene to make it deliberately provocative might not have been the best idea.

The Good: The directors name flashes up at the close of the title sequence as it would during a film – this is one time when the director deserves this kind of recognition. Each piece of the puzzle is like a mini movie in its own right. One of the great joys of Game of Thrones is the wealth of British acting talent on display. Considering this is a show funded and produced by the USA it was a brave choice to populate the show with a primarily English cast. I remember working my way through the first series and getting more excited as some of my favourite actors and actresses turned up to play their part. Its one of the most exciting casts of any show I have ever watched, an arsenal of talent. The title sequence is a work of beauty, offering a very helpful map of the land that the episode will be covering whilst at the same time showing the intricate detail that will be injected into it from every area of production. In an era where title sequences have been reduced to the name of the series flashing up on a screen with a quick musical sting something this beautifully crafted really stands out. Coupled with the stirring violin theme and you have a title sequence that is always a thrill to watch (I get genuinely excited whenever a new area of the map opens up!). Watch the scene between Ned and Catelyn under the tree, its pretty much entirely exposition but there is a wealth of useful information packed into that scene. The performances are so good and the visuals so striking you barely notice that you have had a bucket of information thrown over your head. There’s a great deal of intruige brewing already with the death of Lord Arryn at Lannister hands and Ned being manoeuvred into his role. Seeds are being sown for dramatic developments later in the season already. Dragon eggs make an appearance at the wedding and prove that Martin had his story well plotted out as they aren’t relevant again until the season finale. The location work on Dany and Drogo’s first night of pleasure is stunning, the dusky sunlight providing a picturesque backdrop to the dramatic events. The cliffhanger has a lasting impact because the audience is allowed to share in Bran’s horror. We are the POV of the ground as he comes hurtling towards us.

The Bad: The only character who didn’t do anything for me was Jamie Lannister. Its nothing to do with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau but the character never really seemed to come alive in either version and his role seems to diminish as if the writer seemed to acknowledge that too. 

The Shallow Bit: Not since the Winchesters of Supernatural fame have I seen a pair of brothers that are such a feast on the eye. Robb and Jon (or rather Richard Madden and Kit Harington) are very easy to watch and I’m pleased that they are depicted as being somewhat older than the books would suggest. Emilia Clarke is simply beautiful.

Connections: Just a fun little section where I will spot actors I have seen in other things. Richard Madden (Robb) had some eye opening scenes of gay love in the short lived Channel 4 series Sirens. Donald Sumpter turned in a gloriously melodramatic turn as the villainous Erasmus Darkening in The Sarah Jane Adventures. The same week I first saw Game of Thrones, Mark Addy (the King) was also starring as a lovable butcher in Sky One’s Trollied and two more different roles I defy you to find! Harry Lloyd made a real impression as Brother of Mine in Doctor Who’s The Family of Blood. He has a penchant for playing the villainous sort. This is a far more rewarding role for Jason Momoa than Ronan Dex from Stargate Atlantis. Susan Brown (Septa Mordane) made her presence felt in Torchwood: Children of Earth. I love the film V for Vendetta with a passion so its great to see Roger Allam take a role in Game of Thrones. 

Result: A stunning first chapter that dragged me kicking and screaming into a world that I had been quite resistant to explore. On a production level alone this is a work of beauty with some stunning location work, vivid action and extras filling the screen to bursting. Add in the wealth of acting talent, a memorable musical score and a script that manages to remain faithful to the book whilst telling pacy, involved story and you have all the ingredients for a standout series. There is an awful lot of ground covered here but it never felt like a lengthly introduction of the massive dramatis personae thanks to some strong direction and deft scripting. My favourite characters are Tyrion, Danerys and Arya with Cersei and Joffrey just behind (and pleasing to watch for very different reasons). Game of Thrones isn’t afraid to push strong scenes of intercourse and brutality in your face but it is all part of making this world feel real rather than trying to be gratuitous. This is not a censored world made safe for television but a raw, violent, sexy world where pain and pleasure are a heartbeat apart and every moments counts. What I love most of all is that despite the fact that this show is made to entertain it is primarily a piece of theatre where the actors count more than anybody. To be cast on Game of Thrones must be dream come true because it’s a chance to get your teeth into a demanding role where you have to hold your own against some terrifying acting talent and drain the script of its nuances. To their credit I don’t think a single role has been given to the wrong person and assembled cast is very impressive indeed. It means that the scares and thrills are there as back up but it’s the quieter moments of depth and reflection that really impact. I watched this first episode with mounting excitement. It was the show I had been waiting for for some time now, something that really engaged me. I was desperate to move on to episode two: 9/10

The Kingsroad written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by Tim Van Patten

What’s it about: Eddard Stark and his daughters accompany the king's entourage to King's Landing to occupy the post of Hand of the King, Tyrion joins Jon in his travel to the Wall, and the newly wed Daenerys goes with her husband's khalasar to the city of Vaes Dothrak. Meanwhile in Winterfell a grieving Catelyn Stark watches over her unconscious son Bran.

The Starks: Again I felt the novel and the TV adaptation diverged slightly to make Catelyn a far more sympathetic figure but that isn’t such a bad thing with so many villainous characters about. In the book Catelyn is portrayed as a wild thing at Bran’s bed side, losing her mind with paranoia and fear that her son will die. On screen Fairley portrays the desperation but insists on keeping the character on the right side of madness as Catelyn keeps a vigil at her sons bedside. I did appreciate the venom in her words to Jon Snow, the bastard son of her husband who she never grew to love. Just as Cersei’s admission of her dead infant helped to soften her otherwise cruel exterior, this serves to remind us that even the heroes in this series are cursed with flaws. There’s a tender scene between Jon and Arya where he gives her her own skinny sword, you can feel a connection between them because they are both outsiders in their own way (Jon through blood and Arya because she rejects the roles that are expected of her).

The Lannisters: The Starks might have been highlighted in the pilot as the driving force in this narrative but its with Lannisters that all the treasures are to be found. I especially enjoy the twisted relationship between the siblings Cersei, Jamie and Tyrion because there is clearly so much more going on beneath the surface of their pleasantries. More Joffrey means more moments where you love and loathe him in equal measure. He speaks powerful words when he is protected but when his life is threatened his true colours are revealed and whimpers away. It’s a joy to watch Tyrion slap him about a bit, it’s the sort of discipline that his mother should be providing. Tyrion is a smaller man than Joffrey but it is his conviction and his will that makes him so much more powerful. Awkward stares are exchanged around the breakfast table as the news arrives that Bran may live and Jamie’s role in his fall might be exposed. The difference between how Tyrion talks to children and how Cersei does is that he doesn’t treat them any different to adults (being brutally honest in their presence) and as such he commands their respect. It’s a lesson a lot of people could learn about treating kids. They are far sturdier than people give them credit. Its interesting that the script writers chose to add a scene where Cersei remembers her infant, giving the character a more sympathetic edge than she would otherwise have. It does help to be reminded that the villains are real people who suffer loses too. Tyrion is the only person who has been seen reading for pleasure whilst everybody else spends their leisure time in a more bawdy fashion. In every way this character is exceptional. How Joffrey goes from ‘ill gut you like a fish, you cunt!’ to ‘no please don’t…’ (or rather from bully to snivelling coward) in his spat with Arya tells you everything you need to know about this royal runt. The sad truth is Joffrey knows he’s pathetic but he’s been bred to think that he is something rather more special than that.

House Targaryen: Despite being de-flowered and welcomed wife, Daenerys is still lost in her thoughts and trapped in an impossible situation that she feels deeply uncomfortable in. She’s bruised from riding for so long and abused by her would-be King in bed. Viserys on the other hand is in his element, having bargained his sister for an army and remaining resolute in his conviction to stay with Drogo until he fulfils his side of the bargain. Even at this stage you can see the level of delusion the dragon is indulging in, his fantasies fed by Ser Jorah. Watching such a slimy toad lose himself in the vision that he is a powerful man is very satisfying to watch because the payback, no matter how long it takes, will really hurt. His ego will compound the indignity. Daenerys accepts her situation and tries to make it as comfortable as possible for both her and Drogo and asks to be taught how to please him rather than him simply pleasing himself. It’s a key moment for her, the point of no return. When she manages to make love to him rather than the other way around it is an astonishingly empowering moment.

The Greyjoys: Theon is seen to be blindly obedient and loyal to Robb, willing to defend his brothers life with his own. It’s a small moment and as usual at this stage Theon is a relatively minor character but given the powerful direction he is take into in the second season it’s a great moment to reflect how vast the developments are on this show. Given this declaration you would have no conception at this stage just how important this character would be when it comes to Bran’s fate in the second year.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘First lesson. Stick them with the pointy end.’

Bloodshed: Proving that a mothers love knows no bounds, Catelyn savagely fights off the Lannister assassin that wants her son dead. Her bleeding hands as she grasps at the knife is especially vivid, spilling her life to protect her childs. Speaking as an animal lover the murder of the direwolf at the climax was harrowing to endure.

Lust: ‘Thank the God for Bessie and her tits!’ – the King certainly has a way with describing the ladies! More scenes of Daenerys tearing up as she is roughly taken from behind by her husband. As uncomfortable as these scenes are I did like the focus on the dragons eggs as Drogo fills her with his seed, foreshadowing that these would eventually take the role of her offspring. For those of the girl on girl persuasion there is a great deal on offer in the form of Doreah teaching Daenerys how to make love to husband as an equal. In many ways this kind of sensual but not overtly sexual thrill is far more intoxicating, it leaves a great deal to the imagination. ‘Men want what they’ve never had…’  The music is especially strong in this scene.

The Good: Once again an impressive budget is immediately apparent, the first shot being filled with Dothraki riders stretching from one side of the landscape to the other. The lengthly scene between the King and Ned (looking for all the world like they are advertising a supermarkets on brand of ye olde fruits and veg sitting in a field surrounding by luxurious foods) might slacken the pace of the episode a tad but it is vital in connecting the plots that are taking place in the North and Across the Sea. To hear the King talk of the wishing to sending Daenerys a fatal wedding gift ties a thread between the two stories, making what felt like a sprawling narrative cohere. The direction of Bran’s attempted murder should be commended, especially the way the director positions Catelyn by the window so that when she moves aside the assassin is revealed. The babbling brook that was chosen to film the sequences where Joffrey proves what a right royal bastard he is is one of the most serenely beautiful locations the show would offer up. I could lie next to that river all day and listen to the water. How this scene spirals out of control so quickly is very dramatic with Joffrey turning from a charming suitor (or as charming as he can manage) to vicious coward in a moment. Wonderfully Arya’s direwolf leaps into the scene just as Joffrey’s is about to make a savage blow and takes a chunk of his hand off. Nobody deserved that fate more. Bran waking up is a much quieter cliffhanger than last week but given what we have learnt in this episode its one that offers more exciting consequences.

The Bad: The performances are so heartbreakingly good that this is almost a moot point but it was perhaps too early to ask the audience to invest in the fate of a character on his deathbed this early in the run. We really don’t know or care enough about the Stark’s at this point to be as involved with Bran’s future as much as the episode pushes.

The Shallow Bit: With his hangdog expression and feelings on his sleeve, Kit Harington brings a great deal of vulnerability to his portrayal of Jon Snow. He’s a very enticing presence.

Foreboding: ‘The next time we see each other we’ll talk about your mother,’ says Ned to Jon in the first instance of the cruel irony that this show revels in.

Result: A much slower, more reflective episode than the pilot but packed with correspondingly great scenes, The Kingsroad only falters in failing to deliver the visceral thrills of the series at its best. A few fleeting moments of action aside, this is made up entirely of dramatic exchanges that further explore the political landscape and reveal new shadings to established characters. Game of Thrones is such a densely populated show that even when it takes a pause to breathe there are all manner of subplots brewing and much of this episodes content is all about foreshadowing future dramatic developments. It’s the ladies that standout out the most with Cersei, Catelyn and Daenerys all featuring in key scenes that uncover fresh insights at the core of their characters. Joffrey’s prominence can only be a good thing too, if only so we have somebody that we can really hiss at on screen. I love a good bastard (and this show has many different varieties) and Joffrey proves to be the most unpleasant of them all. What the second episode proves is that the pilot was not a one hit wonder. These characters are genuinely thrilling to spend your time with and even during its quieter moments there is much of interest to keep you diverted: 8/10

Lord Snow written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by Brian Kirk

What’s it about: The plot follows Jon Snow's training at The Wall; Eddard's arrival at King's Landing, followed by Catelyn, looking for Bran's would-be murderer; Arya reveals her desire to learn sword fighting to her father; Joffrey is given a lesson in ruling the Kingdom by Cersei, and Robert longs for the glory of his past. Meanwhile, Daenerys learns she is pregnant.

The Starks: The tension between Ned and Jamie Lannister is palpable in a scene added for the TV adaptation, and yet there seems to be a grudging respect between the two of them (as fighting men) whilst they accept that they will always be sworn enemies because of past deeds. Septa Mordane points out that Arya would rather act like a beast than a lady and it is her growing independence and confidence that makes her such a standout amongst the Stark clan. Sometimes television shows score big by employing the services of child actors who have a natural affinity with the camera and Maisie Williams continues to impress in this vein. For such a young actress she can hold her own amongst some of the acting heavyweights of the modern age and that is no small claim. You don’t need to know what is coming in order to recognise that the parting of Ned and Catelyn is a vital moment since the director stresses its importance with some lingering reaction shots. At this stage it is impossible to guess why they will never see each other again but this definitely feels like a final goodbye.

The Lannisters: Cersei teaches Joffrey a valuable lesson in propaganda, that when you are the King you can invent the truth to put you in the best possible light. Joffrey doesn’t feel like a brave warrior and he doesn’t want to marry Sansa Stark. I get the impression he would be much happier if he had led he life of somebody unimportant but instead he is constantly thrust into the limelight where his flaws are exposed. Isn’t it wonderful that Tyrion takes a slash over the edge of the Wall? Probably just so he can say in the future that he has.

King’s Landing: Mark Addy remains a gargantuan inhabitant of this world (and I am not be facetious and talking about his weight), chewing up his dialogue and spitting it out with extra phlegm. You can see precisely how the North is held together by this man, nobody would dare oppose such a giant who rules with a iron fist. Its also increasingly obvious (and not just because of the obvious physical features) that there is no way that Joffrey could be his son.

It’s a joy to see the show add yet more winning characters to its cast and the move to King’s Landing is very fortunate in that respect. They are all so well cast and written its hard to know who makes the greatest impact here. I enjoy chameleonic characters like Varys who can change their entire personality depending on who they are talking to and there is always the impression that he is present even when he is nowhere to be seen, his ‘little birds’ spying on every word in the Capitol and reporting back to him. Conleth Hill was the perfect fit for this part, giving the slimy eunuch a disquieting, almost feminine air. With Ned he acts the toadying politician and with Catelyn a twittering mother. He employs masks to expert effect.

Aiden Gillen is a magnetic presence in any TV production and effortlessly takes on the part of Littlefinger, walking a fine line between villain and hero and warning Stark from the off not to trust him. Baelish is an ambiguous character, pulling strings like a master puppet player and his history (and apparent obsession) with Catelyn makes him one to watch. He wont surprise you with any grand melodramatic flourishes (indeed I’m not sure if he even raises his voice at any point during the series) but he can quietly turn on characters in a heartbeat if it will favour his aims. Given that she is the only woman he has ever loved (and yet was brought up as his sister) Catelyn’s condemnation of his actions and position are the only offences that you will ever see mark him.  He enjoys his reputation as being untrustworthy and agrees to protect Ned simply because he cannot refuse his wife anything.

Not forgetting Julian Glover who has turned up in practically every cult show worthy of note and always gives a commanding performance. I’m not used to seeing him play infirmed old men but there seems to be a burning intelligence behind Pycelle’s eyes. This is one character who has been around since the dawn of history and is willing to adjust to whatever administration holds power. I wouldn’t trust him for an instant. I love how he emphasises how frail and pathetic he is all the time so nobody suspects that he is actually far more capable than he looks.

Renly Boratheon exists in his brothers (the King) shadow but it looks like he quite likes it that way. He can indulge in nefarious activities on the quiet whilst his brother deals with the hassle of command.

House Targaryen: Astounding developments within the dragonsblood storyline already as Daenerys starts asserting herself more with her brother and he lashes out violently against this unusual behaviour. Viserys soon realises he has dropped himself into an even bigger mess than he was already in because now his sister has the strength of an entire army backing her up. Should she choose to turn against him (at the moment she is still too frightened of him to do so) he would be completely powerless to react. By bargaining away the only thing he ever had control of in this cruel world, Viserys is now completely impotent. Harry Lloyd is brave enough to take hold of this pathetic character and make him look as catastrophic as possible. Most actors wouldn’t want to be seen in such a wretched light but he really goes for it.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What’s the line? The King shits and the Hand wipes…
‘War was easier than daughters.’
‘Surrounded by Lannisters. Every time I close my eyes I see their blonde hair and their smug, satisfied faces.’

Lust: Jamie Lannister suddenly makes a big impression. Not by pushing little boys to their deaths or threatening to duel with Ned Stark but in a quietly intense moment with his sister and lover where he swears he will kill every man, woman and child before he is separated from her.

The Good: The immense sets at King’s Landing reveal that this is to be a central location in the series despite it only appearing fleetingly in the first two episodes. I especially like the throne room with its vast cloisters and stained glass. Every episode speaks of the approaching winter and the horror that will spread in its wake. I only hope it lives up to its reputation. Season one of Game of Thrones chronicles veteran actress Margaret John’s final work on screen before her death. Watch and admire her skill as Old Nan tells Bran chilling tales of old in a manner that might just set your teeth on edge. She’s an actress of the old school, somebody who can narrate a tale and make have exactly the same sort of impact as if we were experiencing it. A tragic loss to the profession. Going back and watching this series again knowing what is coming is a very rewarding experience because you can follow the threads of each narrative and know how each act will affect the next. Repeated viewing exposes Martin’s clean and intricate plotting. Catelyn, Littlefinger and Varys coming together is a pivotal moment because she discovers that Tyrion has been in possession of Baelish’s knife which will force her to act out against him. That will spiral into greater and more dramatic consequences down the line. The view from the top is the Wall is stunning, a winter wonderland of forest as far as the eye can see containing all manner of nasties within. Putting up a giant wall between the Wildlings and the rest of the population is a very engaging device because you have to question whether it was to keep something out or to keep something in. If like me you can never resist looking through a closed door (metaphorically speaking) then you must be desperate to explore the forest beyond the Wall and find out what monstrosities lie there. We learn there is barely enough resources to keep the Night’s Watch armed these days so if the wild things of the Night decide to attack there will be very little defence. What scant protection there is from the Night’s Watch would be blown away with a heavy sigh. There’s a fantastic undercurrent gaining momentum here that whilst our regulars get bogged down in their politics and wars something far more menacing is brewing on the other side of the Wall. If they would only stop squabbling with and hacking at each other and realise that a greater threat is waiting to emerge it might just be the one thing that unites them all. I could watch Syrio Forel teaching Arya to dance until the cows come home. There’s a very enjoyable chemistry and the scenes are invested with real energy and wit.

The Bad: Odd considering Tyrion and Jon Snow are two of my favourite characters but I found the sequences at the wall the least engaging of the episode. They do establish the setting well but it strangely for this show it felt like an awful lot of time was devoted to this location with very little development. Jon’s friendship with the Imp could have been handled in a far more economical manner. With this show there is always a silver lining; Jon Snow is still the cutest man on two legs, Tyrion remains as erudite as ever and I adore snowy locations such as this. Its not until the Wall introduces Samwell that I really fell for this strand of the story.

Connections: Aiden Gillen proved to be a formidable presence in my childhood as he took on the controversial role of Stuart in Queer as Folk. A real eye opener for me and my family, that one. I have real fondness for Julian Glover’s equally impressive appearances in Doctor Who as King Richard in The Crusade and Scaroth in City of Death. He has been thrilling audience for a great many years now and its marvellous to see him securing such a memorable role in this production. Owen Teale (Ser Alliser Thorne) is a fine Welsh actor who has gained prominence over the years. Once upon a time he played small, inconsequential parts (Maldak in Doctor Who’s Vengeance on Varos) and since I have seen him tackle comedy (The Thin Blue Line) and high drama (Torchwood).

Result: With the establishment of both the King’s Landing and the Wall, Lord Snow is a transitional episode that delights in introducing a whole host of engaging characters and adding much detail to the geography of this world. Whether we are crossing swords with Syrio Forel, questioning the motives of Lord Baelish, being spun a web of ambiguity by Varys or abused by the master of the Watch this episode manages to launch one character after another, each one perfectly pitched and cast. The show lurches from one storyline to the next expecting the audience to keep up but by plotting out the map of the world in more detail it is starting to feel like a more condensed, singular piece of work. It’s the second of three episodes that don’t contain any shocking twists in themselves but are providing exceptional build up for what is to come. Strangely enough it is the scenes that the episode is named after that make the least impact, the material featuring Jon Snow and Tyrion at the Wall taking an age to get no where particularly compelling. However compensation comes in the form of an increasingly confident Daenerys, Jamie Lannister finally capturing my attention and Arya taking centre stage amongst the Stark children. Interestingly we don’t even require a cliffhanger this week. If you aren’t beguiled by this show already then you don’t deserve to be enticed back next week: 8/10

Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things written by Bryan Cogman and directed by Brian Kirk

What’s it about: Most of the action takes place in the capital, King's Landing, where Lord Eddard Stark has just arrived to take up his position as Hand of the King. The Wall, home to the Nights Watch, and Eddard's home city of Winterfell in the north of the Kingdom also feature. Outside of Westeros in a land across the Narrow Sea the Dothraki arrive at the city of Vaes Dothrak.

The Starks: Robb is Lord of Winterfell whilst his father is away but he has no idea how permanent that position is going to be at this stage. Taking its cue from the horrors of British history (especially centring on Henry VIII), Sansa fears what will happened to her if she only provides Joffrey with baby girls. Whilst Ned is clever enough to realise that at King’s Landing he is surrounded by people who will do him harm its not until it is pointed out to be him by Littlefinger how seamlessly the spies blend into the background that he realises just how much his suspicions are true. Finally Arya tells her father that she is not going to be a painted dove on the arm of a Lord but a fighter with her own mind. To his credit he seems amused by the idea. Catelyn finally steps from the shadows and seeks vengeance for the treatment of her son and orders the arrest of Tyrion.

The Lannisters: Tyrion has a tender spot in his heart for cripples, bastards and broken things and he acts upon those feelings. That is why he is such a unusual character in this show. Much of what he does is for the benefit of others rather than for his own gain.

King’s Landing: Pycelle reveals how he has managed to survive several administrations in his scene with Ned, telling him precisely what he wants to hear when he wants to hear it. He’s a toadying lackey and no mistake but tempers it with just enough respect to get away with it.  

House Targaryen: Its fascinating to see how Daenerys and Viserys react very differently as they approach Vaes Dothrak, the former looking upon it as her new home whereas the latter sees nothing but dirt and savagery. It says a lot about where there characters are at this point and which of them will survive this ordeal. His scene in the bath is probably Viserys’ best scene in the series because whilst he still acts like a complete ass (its in his nature after all) he is allowed to show greater depth too. For a while it looks like there might even be some redemption for this character as he confides in a prostitute his secret history but then he goes and ruins it by reminding her of her place and ordering her to ride him whilst he looks on in disinterest. The title of this episode (despite the words coming from Tyrion’s mouth) seems most appropriate when directed at Viserys. When Viserys bursts into Daenerys’ tent and attacks her, reminding her of what she will suffer if she ‘wakes the dragon’ she finally finds the strength to hit back. Despite the fact that he is a total bastard you cannot help but feel sorry for such a pathetic little man, one who has convinced himself that he is meant of greater things. All he has done is manoeuvre his sister into a position of strength.

The Wall and Beyond: Its impossible not to fall for Samwell because he is such a pathetic sight, stumbling into view in his ill fitting uniform and belittled by the other men of the Night’s Watch. In a fight he falls to the floor like a great pudding and begs for the pain to end. And yet in a way he is the bravest man on this show because he is there to protect the Wall despite the fact that action and conflict are not in his nature. Samwell is being punished by his father for being who he is and the story of how he ended up at the wall is so heartless it is impossible not to feel for him. Jon has found his place at the Wall now and realises that the men who live there are his new family. Honourably he stands between Sam and the other men and ensures that he is protected. It’s a lynchpin relationship in the series.

The Greyjoys: Scenes for Theon are added to this episodes otherwise he would be completely obscured by the greater narrative. Alfie Allen is playing a long game, securing the odd scene in season one and waiting for his time to flourish in the sophomore year.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘My brother will never take back the seven Kingdoms. He couldn’t lead an army even if my husband gave him one. He’ll never take us home.’

Bloodshed: This was the episode where I realised that Game of Thrones would push the violence threshold to its very limit. During the jousting match Jon Arryn’s squire gets a shard of wood lodged in his throat and watch in painstaking detail as he bleeds to death. The camera fixes on his face for over twenty seconds as the life drains from his eyes and the blood pumps from his throat. Its horrible and I was daring myself to keep looking at the screen to see it through (I only lasted about ten seconds before I had to cover my eyes). This scenes says some very important about this show –that its not afraid to show that violence hurts. That’s something that has been tempered by the censors over the years and to see a man drowning in his own blood exposes a show that’s happy to make its audience uncomfortable.

The Good: We learn more about the ‘Mad King’ in this episode and it serves as a warning to the horrors that would befall King’s Landing should another lunatic ascend to the throne. With Ned Stark enquiring about the events leading up to Lord Arryn’s death with the beginnings of a conspiracy investigation emerging and an atmosphere that all manner of secrets could be spilled when you slice this beasts belly open. As he closes in on the truth that Gendry is the bastard son of the King and true heir to the throne should anything untoward happen to him, Stark fails to realise he is putting himself in exactly the same position as the former Hand. Whether the decision to give Alliser Thorne a speech that explains why he is so hard on the new recruits to prepare them for the cold and the horror that awaits them was because the character deserved more depth or just to give Owen Teale more screen time is a moot point. It’s a stirring monologue and beautifully delivered by the actor. This show is extremely good at providing riveting monologues such as this.

The Bad: There are frequent mentions about the history between Jorah Mormont and Ned Stark and it really feels like the season is building up to a reunion of the two characters and the settling of their scores. Its strange that it never seemed to transpire, as though it was thought up by George R.R. Martin but he never got around to bring these two narrative threads together until it is too late to do so.

The Shallow Bit: Gendry all oily and sweaty as he labours. Just saying.

Connections: Joe Dempsie (Gendry) made an immediate impression in E4’s teen drama Skins and his careers has only been on an upwards trajectory since then.

Result: Its at this stage, after three reasonably quiet episodes, that you might think that Game of Thrones is going to be a rather talky series that develops through scenes of theatre rather than action. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that (indeed it takes a lot of skill to keep an audiences attention with just words) but the truth of the matter is that Game of Thrones is more like one of my other favourites, DS9, in that it deals with its characters first and foremost and ensures that they are the lure into this series. At the same time the series gathers momentum and gets slowly more intense and action driven as we push towards the series finale. We’re almost at the halfway point of season one now and things about to get very dark and very exciting so this protracted breather of normality has been vital.  We’ve had just enough time to grow accustomed to the situation and learn plenty about the characters and their world before everything is shaken up for good. If some of the storylines seem to be progressing slowly (there isn’t enough of a Lannister presence this week for my liking) its more often to do with the fact that there is no space to give them all governance every week. Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things is primarily focussed on Ned’s investigation into Lord Arryn’s death and on that plotline it scores a big win. He doesn’t realise what a dangerous position he is manoeuvring himself into and the secrets he exposes are potentially damaging to the entire Kingdom. The scenes at the Wall gain some heart too with the introduction of Samwell and the fruition of his relationship with Jon Snow. This is rich stuff but I’m ready for the game changing developments now and given the final scene that is more than promised next week: 8/10

The Wolf and the Lion written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by Brian Kirk

What’s it about: The events of the episode primarily deal with Lord Eddard Stark's investigations into the death of the previous Hand. In the city of King's Landing, the Tourney of the Hand comes to an end while the various factions that plot for power are revealed to the viewer. This delicate balance is undone when news arrives that Tyrion Lannister has been arrested by Catelyn Tully.

The Starks: Its interesting to watch as Sansa is completely bewitched by life at King’s Landing, revelling in the Tourney and the honours that fall at her feet. It’s a lifestyle she will soon come to loathe with a passion so its fascinating at this stage to watch her making a rod for her own back by pursuing Joffrey and the lifestyle he commands so. Catelyn has to make a choice of whether to release Tyrion to protect her or potentially set him free. It turns out her instincts are correct as he saves her life almost immediately. Syrio instructs Arya to try and capture a cat because there is no slyer animal where you have to pit all of your wits against them. Overhearing a conversation between Varys and Illyrio plotting to bring down her father, Arya is suddenly in possession of news that could bring down the precarious amity that holds the Capitol together. Ned finally questions the King’s methods and makes a stand and it’s the beginning of the end for his story as his oldest friends throws curses his way. Suddenly the man he came to protect is against him along with all his lackeys. It’s a mixture of bad decisions on his wife’s part and not playing the game as the Hand should that brings Ned Stark to his knees at the end of this episode. When viewed for a second time it should be obvious how his story should come to an end. He’s far too honourable a character to survive in this arena.

King’s Landing: Robert Boratheon continues to be a delightful character, a man who will insult a mans lineage in the foulest of ways simply because he is too fat from indulges to fit into his armour. When Ned says that there isn’t a man in the Kingdom who would risk hurting the King he doesn’t know quite how right he is. This the character that is holding the fragile peace between the enemy families together and it is clear at this point that only with his removal will the series be able to progress into anarchy. Varys continues to have spies everywhere with the appearance of Illyrio (who was so instrumental in introducing Daenerys to the Dothraki) at King’s Landing revealing that he manipulated the dragonsblood storyline to his own advantage. He also predicts that Ned and Jamie Lannister will be at each others throats before long, the cunning old fox. The King wants to have Daenerys murdered before she can have Drogo’s child and the cursed dragon family have an army at their doorstep willing to fight to the death for them. The clash of principles between Ned and Robert here reveals why the former could never be King. He could never make the tough choices. There’s a wonderful scene between Cersei and the King where they discuss how their marriage of convenience holds the peace together and you can see whilst they don’t love each other the way a man and wife should they do respect the symbol they bring to the land. It’s a vital moment of sincerity between the two characters before everything changes. Cersei admits that she did feel something for Robert once but his love for Ned’s sister always stood in their way and over 17 years all that has grown between them is resentment. The performances are wonderful in this scene, absolutely riveting.

The Eyrie: Who cares that Kate Dickie doesn’t match the physical description of Lysa Arryn from the novel because she so perfectly embodies the essence of the character, paranoia and madness eating away at her soul. We are introduced to her in as vivid a way as possible, screaming accusations with a son far too old sucking at her breast, his face dribbling with milk. She’s deranged and Catelyn’s shocked reaction matches the audiences. Lysa sits like the spider in the middle of a web, cussing the Lannisters and poisoning her sons mind with her paranoid fantasies. ‘Mummy, I want to see the bad man fly!’

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What sort of imbecile arms and assassin with his own blade?’
‘The Wolf and the Lion will be at each others throats…we will be at war soon my friend.’
‘Do you think its honour that’s keeping the peace? Its fear! Fear and blood!’

Bloodshed: I don’t know quite where I was when I first watched this episode but I had completely forgotten that Clegane single handedly beheads his horse (or maybe I had blocked such an obscene sight from my memory) because it was distracted by Ser Gregor’s lusty mare. Action scenes are far more frequent in the latter half of the first year and the second season but when they do come along at this stage they really make their presence felt. Faces are slashed, throats pierced, skulls caved in with shields and blood is lavished across the screen. The Mountains of Moon are a dangerous place to travel and this attack by the barbarians is as savage an attack as we have seen yet on the show. Jory Cassel’s murder with Jamie stabbing a knife right through his head made my stomach leap for a second. Ned being stabbed in the calf is almost a cop out after such a death but it does mean he is now a prisoner of the Lannisters for future episodes. The show had promised a fight between Jamie and Ned since the first episode so its nice to see it delivered.

Lust: ‘I don’t want to pay for it’ ‘Then get yourself a wife.’ Theon Greyjoy gets to enjoy Ros from behind in a scene especially written to give Esme Bianco a larger role. Bizarrely he pulls away from her with a blatant shot of his flaccid penis which isn’t exactly conducive to successful intercourse. Perhaps that is why she prefers the hammering of a dwarf? Lord Baelish states that he is a purveyor of beauty and discretion when it comes to the services of his prostitutes and there is talk of paedophilia, necrophilia and a lust for amputees amongst the highest in the Land. ‘All desires are valid to a man with a full purse.’ Homosexual love rears its head as Renly Boratheon indulges in play with the Knight of the Flowers. To be honest the tender act of shaving the King’s brothers chest was intimate enough to suggest their closeness without Tyrell untying his medieval underwear and heading down into his lap.

The Good: Opening with several stunning shots of King’s Landing as seen from the countryside, this immediately feels like it is going to be something special. The Tourney scenes continue to be packed full of cheering extras and bawdy bloodlust. Bran provides a very handy overview of all the various families and lands in the series during his studies with Maester Luwin. You would do well to listen hard during this apparently throwaway scene because many of these names will become much more important in the second year. There’s a vital scene between Varys and Littlefinger that promotes them as the source of political rumours and the grand masters of schemes. It’s a two hander that is loaded with subtext, each knowing much about the other but teasingly revealing a little. I love moments like this because they are an actors dream, where you can take the dialogue and twist it to mean whatever you want. Things are complex at King’s Landing and these two puppeteers are at the heart of it all. The Eyrie is a formidable sight, a precarious mountainous ledge leading to dominating tower swathed in clouds. How awesome are those cells at the Eyrie that Tyrion gets tossed into? The fourth wall absent but open to a sheer drop that would mean certain death.

The Bad: I would have loved to have seen Septa Mordane blissed out on wine at the Tourney as described in the novel. I bet Susan Brown would have gone to town with that.

Connections: The only television I have seen Finn Jones in before this was as Jo Grant’s nephew in The Sarah Jane Adventures. To see him shift from running around ventilation shafts away from monsters to giving the King’s brother a blow job is quite an eye opener. Emun Elliot has been getting quite a lot of coverage of late, a charismatic actor who probably deserved a greater part in this series than that of Marillion. He enjoyed the lead role in Paradox, shared the limelight in BBC Three’s Threesome and proved particularly beguiling in BBC One’s The Paradise.

Result: The drama heightens as we spend most of The Wolf and the Lion in two locations, King’s Landing and the Eyrie, which allows for much greater clarity of storytelling. Plots thicken and develop and yet become clearer at the same time and the dialogue is of a very high standard throughout. There are a handful of gorgeous two hander scenes including the ongoing machinations of Varys and Littlefinger and the sincere conversation between the King and Queen. Ned’s storyline is racing forwards now as he backs himself into a corner in which the only option is to fight. The introduction of Lysa Arryn is a real eye opener too, a demented harridan who commands more strength than a woman of her mental deficiencies should. Add in two viciously graphic fights scenes and plenty of steamy flesh on flesh action and you have the first episode to include all the elements that made the pilot so exhilarating. There’s no chance of prevarication now – Tyrion’s life hangs in the balance, Ned is a prisoner of his own mistakes and war looms on the horizon. Compellingly good: 9/10

A Golden Crown written by Jane Espenson, David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by Daniel Minahan

What’s it about: The episode's plot depicts the deterioration of the political balance of the seven kingdoms, with Eddard Stark having to deal with the Lannister aggressions while King Robert is away on a hunt. On the Eyrie, the Imp is put on trial, and across the Narrow Sea, Viserys Targaryen is determined to force Khal Drogo to make him king.

The Starks: The King uses a mixture of authority and flattering to keep Ned Stark in Kings Landing and it’s a command that he should have ignored. Robb Stark rather makes a cardinal error in pointing out that he and Theon aren’t of the same blood and therefore he cannot make any decisions on behalf of House Stark. Its this kind of arrogance that will lead to the siege of Winterfell as depicted in the second season. Whilst she is a Wildling and should be discussed elsewhere in this review, I have come to expect Osha and Bran to be together considering later developments so I will begin the discussion of her character under the Stark banner. At this stage she is a threat to the boy and her pack surround him in the woods to steal, kill or possibly ransom him. Ned makes another mistake, using the King’s absence as an opportunity to publicly declare war on the Lannisters. There’s no way of knowing how this is going to end but one thing is certain by the air of foreboding, it is going to be bloody and vengeful. Sansa is entirely bewitched by the fawning Joffrey and his promises of wealth and power and it does you well to remember that her later entrapment is entirely down to her own greed. She had the choice to leave King’s Landing but she cannot see past her own lust for a royal position. Realising that Jamie is the real father of Robert’s child puts Ned in the firing line. The way his own investigations ensnare him has an uncomfortable feeling of inevitability.

The Lannisters: Tywin Lannister hasn’t even been seen yet and he is already a formidable figure, holding the Kingdom in his fist and punishing the people at his leisure. Such a powerful figure needs a actor with real gravity to bring him to life.

King’s Landing: After a moments pause for Ned to realise where he is the emotional fireworks ramifications explode between him, the King and Cersei Lannister. If the Queen and the ex King’s Hand had their way they would tear bloody shreds out of each others families but it’s the strongest indication yet that Robert Boratheon is holding the peace together, trying to get both sides to calm down and do as he says. As the peace is so precariously teetering on a knife’s edge, should anything happen to the King and I dread to think what the consequences would be. After their honest conversation in the last episode things are back where they were between King and Queen, her insulting his decision and him paying her back with a clout around the face. Honour doesn’t count for anything when the King is half a city in debt to the Lannisters thanks to his bawdy lifestyle. As a result Jamie can literally get away with murder because of the hold his father has on the Kingdom. The revelation that Joffrey is the product of brother and sister does not come as a complete surprise because the little monster is clearly the work of unnatural ends.

House Targaryen: Fascinatingly it seems to be the way that brother and sister treat the dragon eggs that decides who is worthy to keep them and enjoy the treasures within. Viserys treats them as property, as an acquisition and tries to steal them away in this episode. Daenerys on the other hand treats them reverently, as something to be feared and respected, painstakingly exposing them to heat to encourage their development. She doesn’t burn as she removes them from the flames, like her veins are pumping with liquid fire. Drogo watches on with such pride as his bride tears away the chunks of the horses heart and swallows them down whole. It’s a bizarre culture based on the visceral but you can see the affection that is developing between them in their eyes. The real difference between brother and sister is that he thinks that he should inspire respect by right and title whereas she knows that respect has to be earned. Viserys’ whinge about never having been treated with the same reverence as Daenerys after she ate the horses heart exposes that at its barest. Viserys doesn’t think you can rule without wealth, fear or love and the irony is that he has none of those things to offer. Jorah Mormont is becoming increasingly important by the episode, his loyalties shifting from brother to sister as they expose their worth. I will miss Harry Lloyd’s presence on this show but his characters death ultimately benefits the show by pushing this show into an intriguing new direction.

The Eyrie: Good psychopaths are very hard to come by because the temptation is to always play the role over the top and tip the tone into pantomime. Kate Dickie continues to impress because Lysa Arryn always looks like she is one step away from a nervous breakdown where she will order the execution of everybody in her employ. Tyrion is playing a very dangerous game by provoking her as he does and brings out the worst in her psychotic little brat of a son (who claps excitedly when Tyrion is faced with a long drop down from the summit of the Eyrie and squeals ‘make the bad man fly!’). In the face of mockery and possible exile, Bronn steps forward to fight on behalf of Tyrion and it looks like they are going to be a well matched pair. Both exceptional by their decisions and strength of character and both willing to go their own way. You can tell simply by his confidence of wearing no armour against his opponent in the fight for Tyrion’s freedom that Bronn is a confident man and already knows the outcome.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I shall wear this like a badge of honour’ ‘Wear it in silence or I shall armour you again.’
‘Cut his little cock off and stuff it in his mouth!’ – I’m sorry but that really made me chuckle!
‘If you’re with your trouble when fighting happens, more trouble for you.’

Bloodshed: I usually count how graphic a show is by how loudly I make a fake vomiting sound as the blood and gore splashes across the screen. Robb’s gift to the attacking Wildling’s (literally slicing a mans throat open for all to see what’s inside) was greeted by some pretty dramatic fake gagging. My heart reached out for Emilia Clarke who was forced to chow down on what appears to be an entire bloody heart (in truth a three pound gummi bear in disguise and probably the only thing that would make you even more nauseous than eating an actual heart). Some actors only like the camera to capture their best side (there are plenty of Hollywood heartthrobs and babes I could mention including the entire cast of Friends) which is why I have much more respect for performers like Clarke who are willing to appear positively revolting (sickly blood smeared around her face) despite her obvious good looks. It really looks like Daenerys is going to throw up the organ and it’s a triumph of both character and actress that it does not happen. I remember first watching this episode and being absolutely sure that there was no way that Viserys would be killed off even though the lengthly final scene seems to be heading that way. He’s a major character and his storyline has barely got off the ground. Right up until Drogo lifted the molten gold from the pot I thought that somebody was going to intervene. The resulting horror of his graphic scalding to death left me completely stunned and numb all over. I remember just staring at the screen for ages as the titles played trying to get my head around what had just happened. In dramatic terms this is a moment to cherish. But also in how far this show is willing to go to repulse it scores big too. And amazingly its not the only time the show would hit a dramatic zenith like this in the first season.

Lust: The flash of fanny, that’s all. Its quite refreshing for the sex to take a break actually.

The Good: A crow with three eyes haunts Bran in his dreams like a portent of doom. It’s a haunting image for sure but it’s a far more sanitised version of the dream as depicted in the book. Tyrion waking up to discover the vertiginous heights of the Eyrie greeting him was enough to make my stomach do somersaults. There’s an exquisite long shot of some of the best cells I have ever seen in any programme – there is literally no incentive in trying to escape! I hate to be disrespectful but watching a dwarf being beaten with a leather truncheon by a bald headed brute will never cease to be very funny. Indeed Peter Dinklage plays up in these scenes to get as many laughs as he can. On a purely aesthetic level a throne made out of swords is a such an eye catching construction, there really is no part of this show that hasn’t been designed to the hilt. I’d have been disappointed if somebody hadn’t been tossed to their death at the Vale. It was a good decision to include the sequence where Joffrey apologies to Sansa (which wasn’t in the book) because it makes his choice at the end of the penultimate episode cut all the deeper. It looks like there might be redemption for the character here and its enough to convince you that he will do the right thing when it comes to the crunch. The writers are cleverly setting up some of the best shocks of the season nice and early.

Result: ‘He was no dragon. Fire cannot kill a dragon.’ To see the name Jane Espenson emblazoned on an episode of Game of Thrones makes me tingle all over. She’s responsible for some of the very best Buffy episodes and her installment of this show sees Game of Thrones continues her Midas touch. More great scenes between Syrio and Arya, dramatic developments in the Targaryen storyline, an emerging hero who steps forth to protect Tyrion, crushing claustrophobia at King’s Landing as consequence of last weeks drama and more exposure for the psychotic ruler of the Eyrie and her damaged son. The treasures in A Golden Crown are manifold. The shocking, unforgettable death of Viserys is a masterstroke on two fronts. It was a work of genius for the book to kill off such a central character when he clearly had much more untapped potential because it leaves you with the uncomfortable impression that everybody is vulnerable in this story and nobody should be taken for granted. And it’s a victory for the television series to cull one of their number in such a violently graphic way as it nauseatingly shows how far they are willing to go to shock their audience. It’s the point where I went from liking this show to loving it. This is a return to the juggling of numerous plot threads but its masterfully done and with each one in a more dramatic state of progress than when I criticised the formula earlier in the season. There’s no plotline you don’t want to return to in a hurry because they are all in a transfixing stages of development and you realise with glee that this show is willing to evolve its narrative more in one season than most shows manage in a lifetime. Another gripping installment: 9/10

You Win or You Die written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by David Minahan

What’s it about: The episode furthers the story line of deterioration of the political balance of the Seven Kingdoms, with Eddard Stark revealing what he has discovered to Cersei Lannister while King Robert is still away on a hunt. The title of the episode is part of a quote from Cersei Lannister during the final confrontation with Eddard.

The Lannisters: At first I had to wonder why it took so long for Tywin Lannister to take an active role in the story but once Charles Dance is unveiled in the part the rewards manifest themselves for holding back the character for so long. His name has been spoken only in reverent whispers and guarded insults which has painted a vivid picture of a man who owns half of the kingdom financially and commands a formidable army of men. Secondly you have the steely charismatic performance by Dance proving another massive upswing in the quality of the cast giving the season a boost at the point where it could possibly start sagging. His first scene is unforgettable, Jamie for once cowed and deeply respectful as he discuss developments with his father who is mechanically ripping the skin off a stag to be roasted for supper. Dance attacks the animal like a pro, as though hacking wild animals is what he does for a living. Tywin knows that the longer Tyrion remains a prisoner of the Stark’s, the less their name commands respect even if he makes it clear that his dwarf son is the lowest of the low. He commands respect through his actions and reputation, not his words and he isn’t afraid to make unpopular decision that will thrown the Kingdom into turmoil. He’s an attention grabbing character, immediately standing out as a formidable presence and changing the pecking order of the characters we know. Cersei and Jamie have been cast in the role of villains but suddenly their motivations and behaviour start to make sense as we meet their mentor. How one character can add extra levels to those who we might have thought we knew inside out already shows how nuanced this cast is.

Cersei admits that marrying the King was the happiest of her life but that evening her excitement turned to disappointment when he crawled on top of her drunk, not even able to satisfy her. The fact that she was bonded to a man that she lost faith in from the outset makes her a far more sympathetic character, trapped in a marriage of convenience. She is a picture of arrogance when her husband dies, standing proud next to her son as he takes to the throne. Oh how she is going to come to regret that…

King’s Landing: Even on his deathbed, Robert cannot pretend that he has anything but contempt for his wife. Rather sweetly he thinks that a private chat with Ned and a signature on a piece of paper will be enough to protect his friend and ensure the continuing peace between the two feuding families. I think he forgets the kind of opportunists his Kingdom is made up of. Renly speaks treason against Stannis, suggesting that his brother is not fit to take Robert’s place but he is. This seed is planted now and will reap rewards in the second season.

House Targaryen: Robert’s attempts to have Daenerys killed have the adverse effect of turning her husbands blood into molten lava and swearing bloody vengeance on King’s Landing. It’s a rousing scene and one that promises great things for the future.

The Greyjoys: The irony of Theon criticising Osha for attacking a ‘little Lord’ is not lost on me when considering his actions in the second season. He proves himself to be an untrustworthy character, making advances on a woman who because of her actions cannot fight back.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘It’s the family name that lives on.’
‘When you play the game of thrones you win or you die. There is no middle ground.’
‘King Robert Boratheon. Murdered by a pig’ – live by the sword, die by the sword…
‘What you suggest is treason’ ‘Only if we lose…’
‘We only make peace with our enemies, my Lord. That’s why its called making peace.’
‘Is this meant to be your shield, Lord Stark? A piece of paper?’

Lust: Incest seems to be creeping into fiction more and more in recent years. Rather than condemning it as people would in the past, there seems to be a lust for the love that dare not speak its name. You only have to look at the amount on slash fiction that has amassed around the characters of Sam and Dean Winchester on Supernatural. Whilst I would never celebrate its murky ambiguity, Game of Thrones does seem to have found a niche in exploring the idea dramatically. Instead of throwing herself on Ned’s mercy when he reveals that he knows that she shares a bed with her brother, Cersei makes the stunning observation that they are more than just siblings because they shared a womb together. The inference seems to be that they were fate to be bonded together from their inception inside their mothers belly. That’s a fascinating notion and a way of looking at incest from a psychologically satisfying angle.

This is the episode where a friend was watching and his girlfriend walked and was convinced that he was watching pornography behind his back! I don’t have any trouble with there being a strong sexual element to Game of Thrones because the indulging of earthly pleasures is one of the things that keeps these characters real. However George R.R. Mann included plenty of bawdy intercourse to satisfy even the horniest of audience and so why the writers would choose to inject even more into what could have been a gripping exposition scene baffles me. The lesbian frolics taking place (which are as graphic as seeing one woman performing oral sex on another and then wanking her off until she climaxes) distract from what is an electrifying performance from Aiden Gillen and that will never do. Nothing they are doing is anywhere near as interesting as what he is saying. And I say that not just because I am a gay man – had this been two guys indulging in foreplay I would have been equally as perplexed as to its inclusion. It’s a rare misfire for a show that practically gets everything right. It’s the first time I have wanted to fast forward rather than watch a scene and that will never do.

The Good: Osha talks of the ‘the long night’ where unspeakable things come crawling out of the darkness. Its another reference to the approaching horror of winter that is set to wipe away all of the petty politicking and give every character something far more terrible to worry about. The sudden cut to the Wall after her warnings reminds the audience of precisely where this encroaching menace is coming from. I’ve discussed how Robert is single handedly holding the peace between the Lannisters and the Starks together and it was perhaps inevitable that he would be removed from the story because there are far more dramatic possibilities in doing so. It seems a shame to lose such a stimulating character but then Game of Thrones isn’t afraid to eliminate its cast even when those for the chop still have plenty of potential. And when the trade off is all out war between two great armies…well who am I to complain? The market scene is beautifully written to lull the audience into a false sense of security. The wine merchant is first embarrassed that he has tried to sell a cheap drink to such an important customer and than humbled into giving her his finest nectar. There’s no point where you suspect him of foul play. Mormont’s instincts are vital here as he realises that this is plot to poison Daenerys that stretches from across the Narrow Sea, reminded of Varys’ influence in this sector by the pardon offered by one of his ‘little birds.’ The merchant plays his part very well and I love the long, protracted pause where the audience waits to see if the drink was poisoned or not. The way he is encouraged to drink his own brew reminded me of a similar scene in the Doctor Who story The Aztecs and its just as gripping. The look in Daenerys’ eye when she commands the merchant to drink his own wares reveals her growing confidence. You’ve got to give Jason Momoa credit, he speaks the Dothraki language so passionately you would swear that it is a real dialect. To see Joffrey on the throne during the climax is worth watching this heavy expository episode for alone. Can you imagine anything more devastating for everybody involved?

The Bad: Once again it is the scenes at the Wall which hold up the action. Whilst Jon Snow’s journey is one of the most pivotal of the saga, these early steps feel far too protracted when the other storylines develop with gripping velocity.

Connections: If you want to see Charles Dance inject more magic into drama you would do well to check out the astonishingly good BBC adaptation of Bleak House in which he provides a truly menacing Mr Tulkinghorn.

Result: The weakest episode of the season but still above average and of such a quality that other shows would weep to think that this would be their lowest ebb. Just as the plotlines felt like they were converging in a fluid and dramatic fashion, You Win or You Die feels like it is deliberately delaying the climactic fight that most of the characters admit is now on the horizon. The scenes at the Wall are particularly tedious and there is some sexual titillation that feels horribly out of place, especially odd since this is a show that normally celebrates insatiable appetites so agreeably. The best scenes are as usual those taking place at King’s Landing with tragic circumstances removing Robert Boratheon from the action and fracturing the precarious peace that is holding the Kingdom together. We need people to stop talking about war (Littlefinger and Drogo promote the idea of two separate conflicts) and to actually get on with it. Regardless of these complaints the direction and performances are polished as ever, the dialogue in particular stands out and there’s a fabulous scene at the marketplace that completely took my breath away. If that wasn’t reason enough to give this episode a turn about the room then the introduction of the magnificent Charles Dance should be all the excuse you need. He is an electrifying presence and he makes an already redoubtable cast even more intimidating. Too much talk and not enough action but the emphasis on the characters and their nuances is one of the things that makes this show stand out so I’m not complaining too much. The shit is about to hit the fan so keep watching: 7/10

The Pointy End written by George R.R. Mann and directed by Ramin Djawadi

What’s it about: The plot covers the aftermath of Eddard Stark's capture. While the Lannisters seek to capture his daughters, his son and heir, Robb, raises an army in the North. Meanwhile, Daenerys witnesses a Dothraki raid on a peaceful village and Jon Snow faces a new threat at the Wall. The episode's title refers to the sword fighting lesson that Jon gave to Arya, before their farewell: "Stick them with the pointy end."

The Starks: Kudos to Arya for standing up to the Lannister men when they try and pretend that her father has sent for her. She has been taught well by Syrio and been given the gift of confidence (whereas before it was just bravado) and stands tall next to her dance partner. Contrasting her with Sansa is fascinating, that one should go on to fight and live life on the run and another should submit and live the life of a victim. Interesting that they should make Arya less of a murderer as depicted in the book with her killing of the sable boy being more of an accident. Its finally time for Robb Stark to emerge from the shadows and fight for his fathers name. I love that Maester Luwin should be discouraging such acts of treasons but just smiles proudly at him when he realises his intent. Robb Stark visits Bran before he leaves in a particularly sensitive scene. Its clear now how this family has wound up being the victims of the first season, they are the anomalous characters on this show because they are motivated by honour and decency. The tender reunion between Catelyn and Robb only confirms this and I feared that none of this family were going to survive the season simply because of their congeniality. This is a show that favour its monsters. The deepening relationship between Bran and Osha is worth  your attention because despite their initial conflict (she tried to open his throat) she will soon be his only protector in a harsh world. She seems to not only accept her fate but embrace it. I’ve always said that characters need a good motive to do what they do but resting the weight of his father’s life on Robb as he heads off to confront Tywin’s forces might not have been Catelyn’s finest moment. Imagine the disappointment if he fails.

The Lannisters: Currently Cersei is drunk on the power that Robert’s death and Ned’s arrest has handed her. She attempts to use Sansa as a political tool to discredit her father. If even his own daughters disgrace him it exposes his dishonour to the whole kingdom. Tyrion thinks he can talk his way out anything and when a barbarian tribe surrounds him in the forest he sets out to prove it, promising them an important position in his fathers army and wealth. Given his past form you unreservedly believe that he will keep his word. Given their individual performances, I was foaming at the mouth to get the chance to see Charles Dance and Peter Dinklage in a scene together. It does not disappoint. Everybody assumes that because Joffrey is on the throne that Cersei is the current ruler of King’s Landing. Everybody underestimates the ambition and the insanity of the new King. Given his shock decision in the next episode for Joffrey to give consul to Sansa when she begs for her fathers life can be seen as nothing other than sadistic. He wants her to supplicate for his favour with no intention of granting her wishes. What a total bastard.

King’s Landing: Varys is such an unusual character insofar as he maintains a public image of indifference, of being rather feckless and without an allegiance. And yet privately he reveals himself to be a sympathetic man, looking after Ned Stark in chains and offering him hope with news of his daughters. I’m not saying that Varys can be trusted (his hand in the attempted murder of Daenerys in the last episode) but he is certainly mutli-faceted with only further adds to his attraction. Varys is the only person who tells Ned the truth – that he is a dead man walking and it is only time. Brilliantly, Pycelle sees precisely which way the wind is blowing and puts all of his energies into muddying Ned’s name and praising King Joffrey. He’s such a fabulous old toad you’ve got to love him. This is how he has persevered for so long.

House Targaryen: Although she is proven to have the heart of a Dothraki, Daenerys cannot deny her true feelings and the raping and pillaging of communities is an affront to her eyes. Making the decision to intervene will ultimately lead to her husband being taken from her.

The Wall and Beyond: Suddenly and so dramatically I almost suffered whiplash, Jon Snow’s storyline gains incredible focus and grips my interest. He’s had news of his father’s arrest and his sisters capture and is desperate to go and help them but it is forbidden for him to leave the Nights Watch under any circumstances. Even more impressive is the sudden twist into horror movie territory as one of the dead rangers returns to life and attacks him. Its impressively filmed and given plenty of time to generate real tension – this scene wouldn’t look out of place in a contemporary horror movie.

The Eyrie: Its probably the closest we’ve ever come to marrying Lysa Arryn and sanity and yet she is still clearly battier than a belfry with an infestation. Her little shit of a son continues to delight. He’s so used to getting his own way that starts undoing her blouse in order to suckle on her milk, hungry for more of the poison that lactates in her body.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What do we say to the God of Death?’ ‘Not today.’
‘Why is it no one ever trusts the eunuch?’
‘Have no fear Lady Stark we’ll shove our swords up Tywin Lannister’s dung hole!’ – you’ve got to love Clive Mantle’s delightful turn as Umber!
‘Kind of you to go to war for me.’

Bloodshed: In what must be one of the sickest moments in the entire first series Drogo not only slices open the throat of one of his subordinates but rips the bleeding maw open to make his point. He holds up his bloody tongue almost as badge of honour. It would seem gratuitous if everything about the Dothraki hadn’t been portrayed as violent. This is probably a parlour game amongst friends for these people. Almost threatening to top that is Umber’s loss of two of his fingers, similarly delightful because he laughs off the incident and treats it as a lesson for daring to question Robb Stark. 
Lust: A character called Shagga talks of cutting off somebody’s manhood. I couldn’t help but snigger.

The Good: The shit has well and truly hit the fan and the violence and madness that has been promised for some time is thrown in the audiences face in the first few seconds of The Pointy End. Imagine if this was the first episode you ever caught of Game of Thrones…you would be desperate to back track and see what you have missed out on! What a shame to lose Septa Mordane so early in the series as she was a character I really enjoyed (particularly for Susan Brown’s stellar performance) but how wonderful that she gets to go out with such dignity, facing up to the approaching Lannister men with a proud look on her face since she has protected her ward. She looks as though she is happy to go, having done good work all of her life. Syrio is another gorgeous character that seems to be culled but it does occur to me that if that is the case with both characters they are off screen deaths. For a show that is so upfront with its violence it is unusual for them to shy away like this. Perhaps they didn’t die after all. There are more portents of doom visualised in the form of black crows. Fiction has taught me to distrust these creatures. Men touched by White Walkers return from the dead…I envisage many kisses to The Walking Dead in later seasons and it cannot come a moment too soon. Fire is the only thing that kills them which could lead to some very impressive set pieces that the toasting of Jon’s attacker was simply a taster. Whether it is a visual effect or genuine tents erected en masse, the shots of the two armies converged in the bitter cold are beautifully realised and gives the impression of a bigger budget than some movies.

Result: With a dramatic intensity that is evident from the very first scene, The Pointy End is a stimulating hour of drama brought to the screen by the author of the original story. Robert is dead the entire political landscape has changed as a result and we are witness to two armies preparing for war. There’s a sense of anticipation in the air that is almost unbearable to watch and we swing between the two camps and watch as every character chooses a side. Its an episode of astonishing two hander scenes; Robb saying a tender goodbye to Bran and reunion with his mother, Varys proving once again that he is full of surprises as he visits Ned Stark in prison, Tyrion returns to his father on the eve of battle and Catelyn condemns her batty sister for refusing to make a move against the Lannisters. This is an actors show through and through and everybody is being given a chance to show their art. The budget does not let the side down either with some stunning action sequences (featuring one of the most graphic set pieces of the season yet) and a realistic construction of the two forces. I love that the episode ends not on a cliffhanger but a moment of unease, Game of Thrones doesn’t need to entice viewers back with a moment of jeopardy anymore (although it is still capable of pulling that of with great aplomb) because it has already proven to be a breakaway hit. In the structure of its episodes (fading away to black here as Sans promises to get her father to confess as a traitor) there is a confidence in its abilities. The scariest part is that this show has even hit its peak yet: 9/10

Baelor written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by Alan Taylor

What’s it about: The plot depicts Eddard Stark, imprisoned and accused of high treason, struggling with the decision whether to falsely confess to save his daughters. His wife Catelyn negotiates with Lord Walder Frey for the use of a strategic river crossing and his son Robb fights his first battle in the war against the Lannisters. Meanwhile, Jon Snow discovers a secret about Maester Aemon, and Daenerys stands up to Qotho and challenges Dothraki traditions to care for Khal Drogo.

The Starks: All Ned hears are hints and whispers told to him in secret by Varys (although to be fair everything he informs him is the truth), a man that he doesn’t trust an inch. He could be feeding him any old nonsense. He would rather die a man of honour than live in the service of a pallid little swot like Joffrey. Those words will come back to haunt him very soon. Catelyn is a woman of means and marches into the Twins where no man dares to tread and bargains away her sons marital future to allow them to cross and face the Lannisters. Robb’s reaction to discovering he is to be wed to one of Fray’s hideous daughters really made me chuckle. That’s just what you need to hear when you are about to head into battle…that the reward for risking your life for your fathers honour is to be lumbered with an awkward Plain Jane. Richard Madden’s speech to his men at the climax is particularly rousing. Its easy to see why the producers wanted him to have a larger role in the second year. Before he is killed, Ned gets to see that Arya is alive and well. Its some small compensation for a man who is about to draw his last breath. The fact that he debases himself before that little shit Joffrey and hands him his honour and he still gets executed proves that there is no hope for the principled on this show. It breaks every convention of television as I understand it. Brilliantly.

The Lannisters: Placing Tyrion and his barbarian horde in the vanguard of the army tells you everything you need to know about how much Tywin Lannister cares for his son. We’re introduced to Shae for the first time, the exotic prostitute acquired for Tyrion to enjoy his final evening before the battle commences. Like everything to do with Tyrion this relationship doesn’t develop in the way that you would expect. Shae isn’t treated as a mere sex object to titillate but as a person with feelings to share his time with. Their relationship will continue to develop long into the second season and beyond and proves to be unexpectedly rich and rewarding. The moments of warmth between Tyrion, Bronn and Shae are treasurable because such sentiment is rare on this show and its nice to see (for once) that the honourable characters are given a moment of relief. I would have been mightily upset had any of these character not made it to the end credits. The drinking game that Tyrion suggests allows us to learn a great deal about all three characters, especially that in the right circumstances they have real honesty and integrity. I believe it is Tyrion’s humility when telling his story about the first woman he ever slept with which encouraged Shae to fall in love him. 

House Targaryen: Making Drogo weak only serves to make Daenerys stronger and she speaks to the Khal’s men with ferocious authority. Its interesting that the two men that would have fought so violently over Daenerys (Drogo and Robert Boratheon) both come to ignoble ends when their status deserved something more rousing. Danerys thought herself safe because of her position and condition but Mormont spells out that as soon as Drogo dies her protection vanishes and the fighting begins as the rivalry for a new Khal begins. This seems to be the episode where everybody makes the wrong choices and whilst I applaud Dany for employing the services of Mirri Maz Duur it is clear from the uneasy tone of the scene that it is a decision she will learn to lament. Blood raining down on her face, forbidding screams sounding from the Khal’s tent and the song of the dead being sung…what has she become in order to save the man she loves?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Your mother would still be a milk maid if I hadn’t squirted you into her belly!’ is quite one of the vilest lines of dialogue I have ever heard and so naturally deserves plaudits.
‘The dead will dance here tonight.’
‘Stay low’ ‘Stay low?’ – all the funnier because it took me a second or two to figure out Tyrion’s response!

Bloodshed: I’m soon to show the series to my husband and I can just envision his reaction to the amount of animal butchery the show demonstrates. For some reason he has absolutely no problem with watching mass slaughter on television (although I would point out that he doesn’t actively seek out like a crazy person) but if somebody so much as looks at a dog or a cat in the same way and his grumpy face is there to stay for the duration. I can only imagine what he will say when the horse is slaughtered as violently as it here. I never had any doubt in Mormont’s ability and whilst the fight is choreographed to give Qotho the upper hand I had no doubt who would be face down in the dirt by the end.

Lust: More midget sex, if you like that sort of thing.

The Good: Gorgeous, sun kissed location work introduces us to the Twins, Ireland’s rugged beauty at its finest. David Bradley can often be found playing vicious, vile old gits and that’s because its something that he does so well. As with so many of the characters in this show, it is immaculate casting (I cannot imagine any other person in this role) and he can be seen chewing up the scenery, finding it a bit grisly and spitting it out again. ‘Fifteen she is…a little flower, and the honey’s all mine!’ This show continues to astonish in its ability to rivet you to the screen throughout dialogue scenes the length of a bible. The first fifteen minutes are taken up almost entirely by two lengthy dialogue sequences (Varys/Stark and Catelyn/Frey) but what they are discussing is the entire future of the landscape of this show. Mia Soteriou makes an instant impression as the unearthly witch Mirri Maz Duur who has knowledge of the black arts that could possibly save Drogo’s life. Whilst she is a prisoner, mistreated and abused she still manages to convey a sense of confidence and cunning. Robb sneaking up on the Lannister army is probably the worst thing he could have done ultimately. There is no time for them to get pre-battle nerves, its straight into the fighting with gusto. Tyrion being trampled on by the barbarians as they advance forward itching to fight made me howl with laughter. Bless him. Had we cut away from the fight completely it would have been desperately disappointing and so the staging of the aftermath is vital. It’s a brutal image of a war lost with bloodied corpses filling the fields. The futility of it all drives home when you see loss of life on such a scale. Robb proves to be a master tactician, sending only 2000 men (or should that be martyrs?) to fight and using the rest of his resources to wound Tywin Lannister in a way that really hurts. Kidnapping his son. Tywin said in his very first scene that it is the Lannister name that needs protecting above all else and whilst they may have one a victory (or sorts), they have lost face. That’s something that requires a firm response if they are going to continue to hold King’s Landing in a grip of fear. The staging of the final scene of the episode and the direction in general is breathtaking, far beyond what you normally see on television in terms of styling and scope (it feels as though it has slipped from a movie). Everything about this scene has been set up to make the audience believe that Ned will survive. Sansa has already been seen begging for her fathers life, Joffrey has shown brief moments of kindness towards her before, his death is the last thing that Cersei wants with Robb Stark now in possession of her brother and lover and the simple fact that Sean Bean has been our point of view character since the beginning of the series means that we really can’t do without him. There was no way in hell that they would ever cut off his head. Until they do. Now I believe that they are capable of absolutely anything on Game of Thrones. George R.R. Martin is a genius. A breathtaking moment of television of the sort that only comes around once in a blue moon. Its especially wonderful because its Joffrey’s foremost rebellion and the first sign that Cersei has lost complete control of the little gimp.

Connections: David Bradley played the marvellously sinister Argus Filch in Harry Potter and more recently another slime ball in the Doctor Who episode Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.

Result: The series has been building to a battle for the past couple of weeks and the early scenes in Baelor seem to promise its execution before the curtain falls. What happens instead (and I’m certain it was a budgetary necessity but it actually works in the shows favour because of it) is that we get all the excitement of the build up of the battle and none of the disappointment when the show cannot pull off the Lord of the Rings style battle scenes we might be expecting. Its like a Christmas present, the anticipation of opening it is always far more exciting than after you have torn away the wrapper. At the same time the writers understand that they need some kind of a climax that will satisfy the audience and they time the death of Ned Stark to perfection. To say I was gobsmacked when the end credits kicked in would be an understatement. I was so convinced that they would never in a million years kill of such a major character (and acting wise probably the shows biggest draw) that I rewound the last minute or so to watch it again to make sure what my eyes were telling me were true. I haven’t had this much fun with a TV show in many, many years. The developments across the Narrow Sea also had me gripped with the ignominious death of another character reinforced by a horrifying decision on Danerys’ part. The show has been dipping its toes in supernatural waters over the past few weeks and now it plunges head first and delivers some genuine scares. The character interaction is at its best, production values soar (even when economising by keeping the battle off screen) and the dialogue has never been more cutting. The best episode of the season although that isn’t a slight on any of the other installments. They are all of a supreme quality too but they just don’t have the ending this one has: 10/10

Fire & Blood written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by Alan Taylor

What’s it about: The title of the episode is the motto of House Targaryen, and alludes to the aftermath of the previous episode's climactic events. The episode's action revolves around the Starks' reactions to Eddard Stark's death: Sansa is taken hostage, Arya flees in disguise, Robb and Catelyn lead an army against the Lannisters, and Jon Snow struggles with his divided loyalty. Across the narrow sea, Daenerys must deal with the blood magic that has robbed her of her husband, her son and her army.

The Starks: Arya is so lucky that Yoren spotted her in the crowd otherwise who knows what she would have done in response to her fathers death. He thinks on his feet, insists on telling everybody who is listening that she is a boy and steals her away from the scene. How can you feel anything but sorrow as Bran receives the news that he will never see his father alive again. Catelyn marches through the Stark army like woman possessed after discovering the news about her husband and given her past form (accusing Tyrion of a crime that he didn’t commit, bringing the situation between the Lannisters and the Starks to a head) I dreaded to think how she might react to this latest shock. Once she reaches the woods she can barely hold herself up she is so overcome with grief. Catelyn makes a promise to kill them all once they have ensured that Arya and Sansa are safe. Robb’s response is the most violent, hacking away at tree until it is stunted bark. In many ways the emotional reaction to Ned’s death is even more powerful than the act was itself. Sansa is the Stark child closest to the drama of losing her father and in a moment of bravery (or possibly stupidity) she approaches Joffrey (who is treating her appallingly) to thrown him from the battlements in reply to his actions. She’s seen her father killed and is now living as an outcast and posing as a boy. Arya has been forced to grow up fast. So its rather wonderful when she threatens to cut open another fat boy like a pig when he tries to steal from and abuse her. I can’t wait to see where this newfound independence is going to take her.

The Lannisters: ‘As soon as you’ve had your blood I’ll put a son in you…’ Joffrey is drunk on power, taking his frustrations out on his subjects and ignoring his mothers consul. His been manipulated into a position of power and now he is exploiting that to excuse for his many failings as a young man. I love the way he takes his crown off before retiring for the day, as a blacksmith might his overalls as he leaves the work behind and heads off for some play. A good King never takes the crown and certainly never takes the role for granted. Taking Sansa to see the arranged heads of her friends and family resting atop spikes around the palace and revelling in her horror is one of the most loathsome things I have ever seen any character do on television. He gets other men to strike his future wife because he doesn’t have the guts to do it himself. Joffrey is truly irredeemable, in a league of his own when it comes to a villain that you love to hate. When he doesn’t get his own way he raises his voice like a petulant child and when his life is in danger he cowers like frightened babe in the woods.  Tyrion cuts to the chase as succinctly as usual, smashing a cup on the floor and telling his fathers men that is what Joffrey has done to any chance of peace now he has had Lord Stark’s head removed. He’s proven his bravery to his father and is given the opportunity to head to King’s Landing and rule, teaching Joffrey a lesson in humility and irritating the hell out of Cersei. Of all the developments that promise much from the second season this is the one that excites me the most.

King’s Landing: Pycelle once again proves himself to be a festering toad who will change his allegiances depending on how the wind blows. How he can describe Joffrey as having the potential to be a great leader with a sound military mind proves that all on its own! His little bone cracking dance sees a man who isn’t quite as frail as he would like others to believe. With so much going on I love that we can pause in the middle of the conclusion of the series for a scene where Littlefinger and Varys compliment each other on their survival and political dexterity.

House Targaryen: Danerys learns a valuable about just how much of difference she can really make. By helping Mirri Maz Duur she has lost both her husband and her child, both of which the witch Doctor wanted vengeance against. The most agonising act that a lover can do is to let the person they love go and Danerys has to undo the chilling spell that the witch Doctor has put on Drogo by smothering him with a pillow. Emilia Clarke, always excellent, is particularly noteworthy here. At the conclusion it honestly feels like Danerys is planning to commit suicide when she plans to walk into the flames set alight to turn her husband into ashes. But not before she has exacted a little retribution, forcing Mirri Maz Duur to scream in agony as the flames consume her. In hindsight the outcome of this sequence and the cliffhanging ending of the series is obvious. We’ve been told that Dany has dragonsblood running through her body and what is a little heat to a dragon? But that doesn’t stop the scene being a riveting first time experience and a appetite whetting place to end the first year of this incredible show.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If the Gods are real and so very just then why is the world so full of injustice?’ ‘Because of men like you.’

Bloodshed: Marillion is the latest victim of Joffrey’s reign of terror, having his tongue cut out for composing a song in poor taste about the King’s supposed father. Will nothing stop this psychotic child in the throes of tyranny? He actually makes the man chosen between his fingers or his tongue compounding the horror.

The Good: Almost as if to revel in the controversy of killing off Ned Stark, the director opens the next episode with a slow pan along the sword that took his head still slick and dripping with sticking blood. Djawadi’s camera swoops down into Winterfell with a heavy heart, to mirror the flight of the raven that is bring news home of Lord Stark’s death. One of the joys of employing child actors (or more importantly, good child actors) is that if the show is successful then we get to experience their growth as a actor across several years. I suspect that is exactly what is going to happen with Art Parkinson as Rikon Stark. Its interesting to think that 2000 people were killed in the last episode and yet it is the death of Lord Eddard that is on everyone’s lips. It reminds me of how some killings are sensationalised when others go completely unnoticed. I’m not saying that those deaths shouldn’t be mourned but it always surprises me where the emphasis lies. It’s a real moment of triumph when Theon, Umber and all the others rally to show their support for Robb and declare him the ‘King of the North.’ More astonishing music courtesy of Ramin Djawadi, particularly his triumphant score as the men of the Nights Watch head out and during the dramatic funeral sequence. How the witch Doctors hysterical curses turn to screams as she burns to death is horrifyingly done. Danerys, naked save for the hatched dragons that drape across her body, is an enduring image to climax the season on. In a show full of them, this is a real effects triumph. The dragons look absolutely real.

The Bad: As I may have mentioned before it is the sequences at the Wall that feel oddly out of place. They are so disconnected from the main action and so feel peculiarly immaterial and unlike the other consecutive narratives Jon’s is the only one which has lacked the dramatic progression of the others. There’s a great deal of work to be done to make this location and its characters more relevant in the next season. So it comes as a massive relief to see these characters preparing to leave the Wall and go on their own journey. For once I’m happy to see where their expedition is going to take them.

Result: ‘Winter is Coming!’ How do you follow an episode like Baelor without feeling inadequate and anti-climactic? By not pretending otherwise, that’s how! The joy of Fire & Blood is that (in typical unconventional Game of Thrones style) it doesn’t serve as a season finale in the slightest (in every respect that was the last episode) but instead serves as a stepping stone between the first and second seasons. Rather than bringing things to a stand still, this end sees the continuation of developments of all the plots and characters and simply pauses at the climax ready for them all to be picked up again as soon as the next season begins. In terms of comparison I haven’t seen this sort of thing done this well since DS9’s Call to Arms and in terms of ending on a quiet note after a rivetingly climactic penultimate episode I am reminded of Buffy season four (Primeval/Restless). A funereal atmosphere hangs over this episode as characters come to terms with the dramatic events that have taken place and because of that it is easily the most overtly emotive episode of the season. The first half chronicles the reaction to the death of Lord Eddard and the latter the result of Drogo’s passing and yet my personal favourite moment came in the middle of the episode where a grieving Catelyn Stark visits Jamie Lannister. Game of Thrones once again proves itself to be an actors show and this lengthly scene where two enemies discuss how the events this have matured really stands out. Its been an incredible debut year for Game of Thrones and a near flawless exercise in telling an epic saga on television. It hasn’t played by the rules and has stood out because of it and has assembled one of the finest ever cast. I love it (could you tell?) and I hope that my enthusiastic witterings convince some of you to give it a go because if you, like me, aren’t a fan of the genre and have avoided it because of that you really are missing out on something special: 9/10


Anonymous said...

how do feel about jamie lannister now after a few seasons? i read the books way back when i told people that were new TV fans that he was my favorite character during that first season, they would all look at me like i was nuts.


Unknown said...

I've never seen this show . I can only say it's not for the faint of heart or the Disney Channel from what I've read

Unknown said...

Any chance you'd consider going back and doing other seasons?