How to skin a deer; how not to assassinate a queen; and how it’s possible to be both entirely right and totally stupid: welcome to Episode 7.
This episode opens with a sea of red tents ““ the Lannisters have 60,000 soldiers and they’re not afraid to use them. We’re introduced to the Lannister patriarch, Tywin, as he skins a deer and alternately criticises, goads and encourages his son (the deer-skinning will go in our notebooks under “symbolism” and “foreshadowing,” class!). Tywin thinks Jaime was stupid to have attacked Ned in the street, but should have killed him when he had the chance: Jaime objects, but not well. Tywin isn’t concerned so much about Tyrion’s arrest (he’s “the lowest of the low” in the family) but about the damage to the Lannisters’ reputation if they don’t take revenge: to him, family name is everything, and the only form of immortality. Tywin wants Jaime to take half their army to Catelyn’s family’s lands (not a friendly visit, we can presume); and then, after that, take the kingship. Jaime doesn’t look particularly happy about any of it.
At Winterfell, we see the surviving wilding, Osha, working in the castle and cornered by Theon, who seems determined to teach her about life among “civilised people” by belittling and sexually harassing her (Theon’s not doing a great job of talking up the Iron Islands, is he?). Osha is holding her own, though, and when he gets round to demanding sexual favours in return for releasing her chains, Maester Luwin happens along, which leads to a verbal smackdown I am contractually obliged to quote in full:
Maester Luwin: Theon Greyjoy! The lady is our guest.
Theon: I thought she was our prisoner.
Maester Luwin: Are the two mutually exclusive, in your experience?
Maester Luwin then asks Osha why she was south of the wall in the first place ““ she was heading as far south as possible, because of the creatures that hunt in the winter: Luwin scoffs, but Osha is deadly serious.
“They wasn’t gone, old man, they was sleeping, and they ain’t sleeping no more”
Jon and Sam are on guard on the Wall ““ Sam muses about missing girls, but Jon has his eye on a lone horse returning at full speed to the Wall: it’s Benjen’s horse, but there’s no sign of Benjen. Jon is concerned, but no one seems inclined to investigate, as the new recruits prepare to take their vows. Jon wants to make his vow as his uncle did, at the weirwood where the old gods are worshipped, and Sam decided to go with him. First, however, they are to be assigned to their posts: Jon is considered certain to be a Ranger, though he graciously assures Sam there’s honour in being a Steward, too. He gets a terrible shock to his ego when he is assigned to the Stewards, instead: he’s to be the personal servant of the Lord Commander. He storms off and threatens to leave the Watch (the lesson Tyrion tried to teach him about class and privilege clearly hasn’t sunk in fully yet), but Sam calms him, telling him that as Mormont’s personal servant he’ll be groomed for leadership, and he and Sam go and take their vows together. There’s hugs all round, until Jon’s direwolf emerges from the woods with a severed arm in his mouth…
In Vaes Dothrak, Dany is trying her best to persuade Drogo to invade Westeros, glorifying the king ““ or queen, hmmm ““ who sits on the Iron Throne. Drogo is not convinced.
“A king does not need a throne to sit upon – only a horse”
Walking through the market with her servants later, she tries to enlist Jorah’s help to persuade him, saying she’s the rightful heir. But Jorah reminds her that her ancestor Aegon invaded to become king because he could, not because he was entitled to, before going off to collect a letter: Varys has sent him what he’s waited years for – a royal pardon and thus a license to return to Westeros. While he’s absorbing this, Dany is being offered some free wine by a merchant. Jorah forces the merchant to drink the wine he’s offering Dany, but the man tries to run ““ the wine was poisoned. Jorah warns Dany that King Robert will never stop trying to kill her (even though… oh well). Drogo arrives and offers Jorah his choice of horses for saving Dany’s life: and then vows to give his son a gift, too: the Seven Kingdoms.
Where the Night’s Watch’s oath was chilling, Drogo’s vow is all fire and blood: he will tear down the stone houses, rape everyone, torch everything, and get Westeros for his son. Dany seems delighted; it doesn’t seem to have occurred to her yet how successful an invasion it would be if all Drogo intends to do is destroy. I smell a culture clash coming up. The khalasar then leaves Vaes Dothrak, with the would-be assassin tied, naked, to Dany’s horse.
And in King’s Landing, the showdown begins: Ned summons Cersei, tells her he knows her secret, knows Bran saw her and Jaime together, and tells her to leave the city with her children and get as far away as possible before Robert returns from hunting. She is defiant: she tells him she and Jaime belong together, that Robert was an idiot who was still in love with Ned’s dead sister, and warns him he should have taken the throne when he had the chance, years ago, because ...say it with me now… in the game of thrones, you win or you die.
Meanwhile, in the brothel, Littlefinger auditions two new workers: naked Ros and an another, un-named naked woman, telling them they have to learn to convince every customer that he’s the best.
“I learned that I’ll never win….I’m not going to fight them, I’m going to fuck them.”
In case we’ve forgotten it’s a HBO show, there’s a lot of orgasms and finger-fucking going on while fully-clothed and celibate Littlefinger expounds on his twisted love for Catelyn and what his defeat by Ned’s brother years ago taught him about his place in the hierarchy.
Renly arrives back to the castle in crisis: Robert has been gored by a boar and is dying. At Robert’s bedside, Joffrey seems distraught, and Robert apologises to him for failing at fatherhood (the irony, it drips off the screen). Robert knows he’s dying: he wants a magnificent funeral, and for the boar that killed him to be roasted at the feast. He also wants to make a will, and Ned writes it in private: Robert names Ned Lord Protector until Joffrey is of age ““ but Ned, unusually for him, cunningly alters the will so that it doesn’t name Joffrey. Robert also doesn’t want Dany dead any more, though when Ned tells Varys to undo the arrangements, he’s told it’s too late. Varys manages also to let Ned know that it was Lancel Lannister who kept Robert well-supplied with wine on the hunt…
Renly offers Ned 100 men-at-arms to take Joffrey into their custody, as “he who holds the king holds the kingdom,” but Ned refuses: the kingdom must go to Stannis Baratheon (the as-yet-unseen older brother with “the personality of a lobster”). Renly does not agree: Stannis would be a terrible king, like Robert was, and the longer Ned delays, the more time Cersei has to prepare.
Back in his study, Ned dispatches a letter to Stannis just before Littlefinger arrrives. Littlefinger doesn’t seem at all surprised by the news that the Baratheon children are really Jaime’s, and advises Ned to support Joffrey’s kingship, with the proviso that he can be easily overturned, if he becomes troublesome, by revealing his real parentage.
“We only make peace with our enemies, my lord, that’s why it’s called making peace.” – Littlefinger
Ned is adamant: the kingdom must go to Stannis, but Littlefinger makes it clear that by choosing to support Stannis’s claim, Ned is choosing war. Ned then asks for Littlefinger’s help, for Catelyn’s sake: he needs the city watch to take control of the castle, and Littlefinger controls the city watch because he pays them.
Though he’s taken by surprise when Robert actually dies, Ned still thinks he has the trump card, and walks with Varys and Littlefinger ““ Renly having left the city with Loras and his men-at-arms ““ to the throne room, where Cersei demands he swear an oath of loyalty to King Joffrey. In reply, he reveals Robert’s will naming him Lord Protector ““ which Cersei calmly rips to shreds. Ned calls on the city guard to arrest her, but to his surprise he ends up surrounded, with Littlefinger’s knife at his throat. Littlefinger pays the city guard, and Littlefinger is always on the winning side ““ which right now, is Cersei’s.
There’s so much in this episode that doing everything justice is impossible, but I’ll try to pick out a few threads:-
Honour: Ned was “so good” and too stubborn to deviate from the honour code. He warned Cersei what he was going to do; he refuses to take Renly’s and Littlefinger’s advice; and he doesn’t tell Robert what he knows, even though Robert still had the power to help him. Also, he well knows Littlefinger has a thing for Catelyn and yet thinks Littlefinger won’t take the first chance he can to get rid of him. For his efforts, he now has his own meme…. and something tells me his daughters are about to learn about being both a guest and a prisoner like their foster-brother Theon.
Information: Does Catelyn know anything about Ned’s situation – even before Littlefinger’s betrayal of him? Have Lysa and Catelyn told anyone that Tyrion is free? Are the Lannisters working at cross-purposes? While Cersei is consolidating her position in King’s Landing with Joffrey as king, her father is planning revenge on Catelyn and plotting to put Jaime in power. Are they aware of each other’s actions, and if not, does this pit Cersei against her father and his 60,000 men? (Incidently, what is he going to do with the half of the army that he’s not giving to Jaime?). We do see Ned sending a message to Stannis, so assuming that henchman henched, Stannis is going to appear soon enough.
Gender roles: there’s been constant reference throughout the series to the difference between men and boys, and it’s brought up repeatedly here: by Tywin, Osha, Littlefinger, Robert, and the men of the Night’s Watch…though it’s not really clear what being a “man” actually means. Robert, for example, would probably include having sex with prostitutes on his criteria; Littlefinger would agree, but that’s presumably not what the Night’s Watch would endorse. Violence – referenced by Tywin, Osha, and Robert – is another thing that makes a man a man: something Theon would agree with, even though Osha regards him as a boy. Ned contrasts Renly unfavourably with his battle-hardened older brothers – but Renly is more savvy than either of them, and might make a better king.
Sex on screen: I’ll be honest, I found the scene with Ros and Anonymous Woman in the brothel very uncomfortable: it felt gratuitous. In some ways, it was a functional scene: it shows us that Ros arrived in King’s Landing, and more importantly allows Littlefinger to regale us with his backstory, his twisted loyalty to Catelyn, and his motivations… but having two women perform naked for him while doing so felt a little too much. It also seemed odd for Littlefinger to be telling Ros his innermost thoughts for no apparent reason – does he do this with all his employees? He did withhold Catelyn’s name, but gave Ros enough details to put the story together if she knew enough about the circumstances of Catelyn and Ned’s marriage – which, coming from a brothel near Winterfell, she probably does.
Feel free to argue and speculate with me in the comments.