If last week’s drama was all centered around the Starks, this time it’s Dany’s turn. And wow, does she do a good season finale.
But we’ll get to her later: there are still a lot of Starks and Lannisters to cover.
The episode opens a few seconds after the last one ended: Ilyn Payne’s sword is dripping Ned’s blood, his head is held up over the crowd, Sansa faints, and Arya is held tightly by Yoren, who drags her off to an alleyway, calling her “Boy” all the way. When Arya remembers herself enough to say, “I’m not a boy!” Yoren tells her she’s not a smart boy, and roughly chops off her hair. She is to join the Night’s Watch recruits and go north with them, disguised as a boy called Arry. Her disguise doesn’t stop some of the other boy recruits testing her, but she still has Needle and a lot of nerve, and holds her own with assistance from another recruit – Gendry, the blacksmith’s apprentice (and eldest illegitimate son of King Robert). I wonder who was behind getting him out of King’s Landing? My bet would be on Littlefinger…
In snowy Winterfell, Bran had the raven dream again – but this time with Ned appearing in the crypt. Osha – unusually for someone who believes in the Old Gods – is sure it’s just a dream, but reluctantly she takes him down to the crypt, where they are set upon by Rickon’s direwolf, Shaggydog. Rickon is hiding in the alcove where Bran saw Ned in his dream – because he wants to be with Ned. He too saw Ned in the crypt in his dreams. Back in daylight, Osha tries to soothe Bran, but when Maester Luwin appears holding a letter, they both seem to know it brings news of Ned’s death.
And on to the next remnant of the scattered Starks. Catelyn goes to the woods to be alone and sob her heart out, and hears Robb doing the same – if by that I mean trying to chop down a tree with his sword. His face when he looks at his mother was just heartbreaking… and Catelyn’s attempts to soothe him emphasise that they may not be that much difference between her and Cersei after all:
Robb: I’ll kill them all. Every one of them. I’ll kill them all!
Catelyn: They have your sisters. We have to get the girls back. And then we will kill them all.
Later that night, Robb and his bannermen discuss strategy. They won the last battle, but the war is just beginning, and with the noblemen of Westeros increasingly fragmented, their allegiances aren’t clear. Allying with King Joffrey and the Lannisters is of course out of the question, but so is joining with Renly, as Robb won’t endorse skipping the inheritance due to the eldest brother – but he doesn’t propose allying with Stannis, either. Finally, Greatjon Umber proposes something else – a return to the North as a separate kingdom, with Robb as its king. Everyone else worships the wrong gods, apparently, and the men of the North only joined the seven kingdoms because they couldn’t defend against the Targaryen dragons: but there are no dragons any more (dun dun DUN). A second lord (Irish accent, hurray!) agrees, and then Theon also offers Robb his allegiance, as his foster brother. Robb is the new king in the North – but how will Joffrey take losing one of his seven kingdoms?
Catelyn then goes to visit Jaime, tied to some stakes in the Stark camp. He’s dirty and bloodstained, but still brazen, and propositions her until she whacks him across the face with a stone. She wants to kill him, but has too much sense to, though he seems not to care either way, and even directs her where to hit for maximum effect. He admits to pushing Bran out of the tower to kill him, but won’t tell her why. She says he’ll go to hell, but he still doesn’t seem to care too much about that either:
Jaime: If your gods are real, and if they’re just, why is the world so full of injustice?
Catelyn: Because of men like you.
Jaime: There are no men like me. Only me.
(Turns out Jaime is an atheist! Someone call Richard Dawkins!)
The Stark who is not a Stark, Jon Snow, has made the choice he was dithering over in the last episode: he is going to leave the Watch to join with Robb. Sam tries to stop him, because you know, that whole “death for desertion” thing, but Jon practically rides over him, and Sam goes sprawling in the mud. Jon seems to be making his escape, but soon riders with torches are following him: Jon speeds up, but a branch gets in the way for his pursuers: it’s Sam, Pyp, and Grenn, who despite failing to catch up with Jon, bring him back to the fold with an impromptu recitation of the Night’s Watch oath (I got chills again! Damn, that’s a good oath).
The next morning, Jon is back as if nothing had happened, serving breakfast to the Lord Commander. Jon practically falls over with shock when Mormont alludes to his attempted escape, but Mormont is not concerned. He tells Jon that if it’s war he wants, they’ll soon have one on their doorstep; the wildings are organising themselves into an army, and Mormont is leading a force of Watchmen out beyond the wall to find Benjen and to find out what is really going on up there. Jon goes with him.
Mormont: Honor made you leave, and honor brought you back.
Jon: My friends brought me back.
Mormont: I never said it was your honor.
The last Stark, Sansa, is stuck in King’s Landing, watching Joffrey mete out justice to a singer who was caught singing very disparaging things about Cersei in a tavern. Joffrey applauds the man, then offers him the choice of losing his hands or his tongue. Tongueless Ilyn Payne takes out a knife and a pair of pincers (how handy!) while Joffrey invites Sansa to walk with him – he has something to show her. Along the way he speculates on how soon it’ll be until he can “put a son in her” (I practically levitated with disgust. ICK). His surprise turns out to be Ned’s head on a spike, along with those of his guard and Septa Mordane’s. Cringing away at first, Sansa hardens up in the face of Joffrey’s continuing cruelty, and even gets in a jab of her own:
Joffrey: I’m going to give you a present. After I raise my armies and kill your traitor brother, I’ll give you his head as well.
Sansa: Or maybe he’ll give me yours.
For that piece of cheek, she gets slapped, hard, by one of the Kingsguard. She takes a step towards Joffrey, on the narrow walkway – to throw him down? Throw herself down? Both? – but the Hound offers her a handkerchief to wipe her bloody mouth, and the moment is gone. He tells her to keep it – she’ll be needing it again.
Elsewhere in the Red Keep, Cersei has just received a letter – news of Jaime’s capture, we presume? – and she’s not happy. Her naked cousin Lancel utterly fails to pick up on this, and is only excited that there’s a war on – like “when you were young.” This gem does nothing to help Cersei’s mood, and she orders him back to bed. Why she is sleeping with him isn’t very clear – it’s been strongly implied that she ordered or encouraged Lancel to serve Robert the wine that led to his death, but surely she wouldn’t have had to sleep with him to get him to obey? She certainly doesn’t seem to like him very much. Although, we can safely say she definitely has a type: must be blond. Also, a blood relative.
In the Lannister war camp, they have also just found out about Jaime’s capture and Tywin is Not Happy. Lancel’s father Kevan suggests trying to negotiate a peace settlement with Rob, but Tyrion is disparaging: Joffrey’s decision to execute Ned means a peace between them and the Starks is impossible. Tywin orders everyone out, and to Tyrion’s surprise, pours him wine – and tells him he’s to go to King’s Landing to act as Hand in Tywin’s place while Tywin and his army camp out at Harrenhal (we haven’t seen here yet, but it will be a feature next season). Tywin has had enough of Joffrey thinking he’s in charge, and wants both Joffrey and Cersei to toe the Lannister line (the one he is drawing, naturally); he also wants to keep an eye on potential traitors like Pycelle, Littlefinger, and Varys. Tyrion seems pleased and baffled by this sudden attention and acknowledgement from the man who’s always despised him, but there is a catch: Tywin forbids him from taking Shae with him to the city. Tyrion decides to take her anyway…
Speaking of the potential traitors, we also have an extended scene with Pycelle and Ros. Ros is highly bored by him (he seems to be a regular client) and he rabbits on about Mad King Aerys and Joffrey’s potential as king until Ros gets dressed and leaves. Left alone, Pycelle seems to be a lot more energetic than he usually seems, and deliberately hunches over before he leaves the room. I wasn’t sure of the point of this scene, though: is Pycelle trying to get at Littlefinger through Ros, somehow? Are the writers just showing us that Pycelle is devious? Given he’d survived so long in King’s Landing, I would have thought that was obvious. And speaking of possibly pointless scenes and Littlefinger, he and Varys had another encounter in the throne room: they trade verbal jabs and express their mutual admiration for each other with a subtext which may require a microscope to see.
Varys: A man great ambition and no morals – I wouldn’t bet against you.
Littlefinger: And what would you do, my friend, if you found yourself sitting up there?
Varys: I must be one of the few men in this city who doesn’t want to be king.
Littlefinger: You must be one of the few men in this city who isn’t a man.
Varys: Oh, you can do better than that.
Not that I’m complaining, I’d be happy to watch these two spar all day, but we already know they’re both devious, and in Littlefinger’s case, very ambitious. The subtle implication at the end that neither of them gives a shit about Joffrey is something I’d already assumed.
And finally, on to the woman of the moment: Dany. She wakes up unpregnant in her tent and asks Jorah for her son – but the baby never lived, and according to Mirri Maz Duur, was a monstrous thing with wings and scales and infested with worms. The death required for Drogo’s life wasn’t the horse, it was Dany’s baby. (Though, practically speaking, would her premature baby really have survived in those circumstances?) And the life she bought wasn’t all that great: Drogo is alive, but in a kind of waking coma, unresponsive to anyone. He is not a Khal any more, and so most of the khalasar have left: only a few slaves, Rakharo, and Dany’s handmaid Irri seem to have stayed.
Dany rounds on Mirri for deceiving and betraying her: Dany thinks she bought Mirri’s loyalty when she “saved” her from rape, but Mirri doesn’t see it that way: she had already been raped three times; her temple was destroyed, and people she had dedicated her life to healing were murdered. Mirri didn’t want saving: without her people and her temple, she does not want to live. At least she saved the world from Dany’s son, and now he will not become a marauder like his father. (I loved Mirri here. She is mean, but she’s right, and she has a steely kind of fuck-you calm.)
Alone and grieving, Dany tries to revive Drogo, but nothing works. Realising he is as good as dead anyway, she smothers him with a pillow and has a funeral pyre built for him. She frees the remaining slaves, has Mirri tied to the pyre and the fire lit. As Mirri screams, Dany takes the dragon eggs she got as a wedding present, and wearing her wedding dress, walks into the fire.
When dawn breaks the next morning, there is nothing left of the pyre but ashes – and a naked Dany, covered in soot, holding three newly-hatched dragons (sorry, Greatjon Umber!). Jorah and Rhakharo drop to their knees and swear allegiance to her as Khaleesi in her own right. This makes her the first female character to lead as herself, not because of her connection to husband/father/son.
Whew. For an episode which at times just felt like the preview for Season 2, there is a lot packed into it. The politics are getting ever more complex, with the various factions (Starks, northmen, Tullys, Freys, and perhaps Greyjoys?; Lannisters; Renly and the Tyrells; Stannis; the Night’s Watch; the Lords of the Vale; and of course Varys and Littlefinger on their own sides as usual) all lining up for “The Clash of Kings.” Is Arya going to get back to Winterfell? Will Tyrion be able to control both Cersei and Joffrey?
The fantasy element is also well and truly here: what kind of power do Bran and Rickon have, with their dreams? What are the White Walkers, anyway? And even though I knew it was coming, Dany standing in the ashes with her three baby dragons was a jaw-dropping moment – but are they a better asset for a takeover of Westeros than 40,000 Dothraki?
Will you be watching Season 2? It starts filming in Belfast at the end of July: should I try to sneak on to the set? Votes please!