“I grew up with soldiers… I learned how to die a long time ago”.
No prizes for guessing who said that. But before we get to him, let’s visit the Wall. Jon receives a present from Lord Commander Mormont for saving him from the zombie in the last episode: a snazzy sword of Valyrian steel, the Mormont family heirloom (which Jorah was considerate enough to leave behind before he was exiled). Jon tries to give it back, but Mormont insists, and Jon heads to the kitchens where excited Night’s Watchmen clamour for a go. Jon is a happy camper, not just because of the sword but also because meanie trainer Alliser Thorne has been sent to King’s Landing with the disembodied zombie hand and is thus not likely to wreck Jon’s buzz anytime soon. That role falls to Sam, who tells Jon that Robb is at the head of an army marching south to war, and Jon faces yet another test of his oath: stay, or go and help his brother?
Maester Aemon summons him: Jon thinks it’s for another lecture on the conflict between love and duty – something he’s wrestling with and doesn’t want to hear about – but Aemon brings him up short with his own revelation. Aemon has been in Jon’s position, only he was older: Maester Aemon is Aemon Targarygen, the great-uncle of Mad King Aerys (and thus Dany’s great-great-uncle). Aemon chose to stay with the Night’s Watch and his family lost their war, but will Jon choose his old family or his new one? And will it make a difference to the war either way?
“We all do our duty when there’s no cost to it….I will not tell you to stay or go. You must make that choice yourself. And live with it for the rest of your days – as I have” – Aemon
Speaking of the war: the Northern army needs to cross the Trident, but the Freys hold the crossing. The Freys are technically subordinate to the Tullys, but no-one expects Lord Frey to roll over for them, and Theon can’t keep shooting down their messenger ravens forever. Robb wants to go and negotiate, but Catelyn offers herself instead, and we get a glimpse inside the Twins, the Frey’s stronghold (did you spot it in the opening sequence?). Lord Frey, old, lecherous, and surrounded by a thunderous mass of children and miscellaneous descendants of various ages, plays tough with Catelyn. He feels her family has not treated him with the respect he deserves, plus she’s asking him to betray his oaths to the crown, and he’ll make Catelyn pay. As the sun is setting, she returns to the commanders with his terms.
Lord Frey will allow them to cross and give them troops as long as his son Ollivar becomes Robb’s personal squire; Arya is to marry a Frey offspringlet (seven hells!); and Robb is to marry one of the Frey daughters after the war. Neither Robb nor Catelyn are pleased at this prospect, but Robb takes one for the team and agrees. Theon is highly amused.
Meanwhile, the Lannisters are discussing tactics around a well-stocked table. Tywin has decided to place Tyrion and the mountain men at the front of his attacking force:
“Surely there are ways to have me killed that would be less detrimental to the war effort?” ““ Tyrion
Tyrion retreats to his tent, where Bronn has found someone to take his mind off the imminent prospect of probable death in battle: Shae, a tall, dark, and handsome foreign prostitute. Tyrion details his terms, Shae agrees, and they later share some wine and a few laughs with Bronn. Tyrion prides himself on his cleverness, but he can’t figure Shae out. Bronn mentions something he’s heard about Tyrion – he used to be married. With a bit of persuasion, Tyrion tells the story:
As a teenager, he and Jaime saved a young girl, Tysha, from being raped, and Tyrion fell in love with her in the time it takes to eat three roast chickens and drink some wine. After they spent the night together, he found a septon to marry them, and they lived happily for a few weeks until Tywin finds out. Tywin then made Jaime tell Tyrion that it was all a set-up, that Tysha was paid, and made Tyrion watch as she is gang-raped by his soldiers.
Who wants to nominate Tywin for father of the decade? Bronn says he would have killed Tywin, but Shae is less sympathetic: Tyrion should have known Tysha was a prostitute.
Next morning, Tyrion and Shae are rudely awakened by Bronn: Robb’s army has made an unexpected move, and the battle is on. Tyrion asks Shae to cry for him if he dies, but she doesn’t seem too enthused, while Bronn offers some advice for Tyrion’s first battle:
Bronn: Stay low.
Tyrion: Stay low?
Bronn: If you’re lucky, no one will notice you.
Tyrion: I was born lucky.
He heads off and stirs up the mountain men but barely gets 10 feet before he’s knocked out by one of their hammers. He wakes up after the battle: a victory, but barely worth the fight; it was only two thousand Northerners.
On the other side, Catelyn waits for Robb to return, and he does, having captured Jaime Lannister (I’ll be honest, I nearly cried right along with her when Robb rode up with all his limbs intact and no blood visible). Jaime took down 10 men before he was captured and is still sprightly enough to offer Robb single combat. Robb doesn’t take the bait and warns his forces that they haven’t won yet: he sacrificed two thousand men to get Jaime, and they still haven’t freed Ned, got Sansa and Arya back, or liberated the North:
“If we do it your way, Kingslayer, you’d win. We’re not doing it your way” – Robb
Way over in Essos, Dany is finally looking plausibly pregnant, but Drogo isn’t looking at all well. He is feverish and falls off his horse, which sparks the first mutterings of mutiny from his bloodriders. Dany squeezes the sponge of authority for all it’s worth and makes the khalasar set up camp and get Mirri Maz Duur in to treat Drogo’s wound, but both she and Jorah know that it’s too late. The wound he received in last week’s leadership spat is massively infected, and Drogo is dying. Jorah urges her to leave; without Drogo, Dany has no position in the khalasar, and their baby will be a loose end that the next Khal will want to tidy up. Dany, romantically but cluelessly, insists she is staying with Drogo and begs Mirri to cure him. Mirri tells her that there is one spell, but it is blood magic and requires paying for life with death. Mirri has Drogo’s horse brought in and cuts its throat over Drogo’s twiching body, then orders everyone to leave the tent. No one must be there while she works the spell. Dany staggers outside, covered in blood, and gets thrown to the ground when she tries to stop Drogo’s second-in-command from entering the tent.
Jorah steps in, and after a brief fight, makes a convincing case for armour and a broadsword against a scimitar and no armour. The second-in-command is dead, but the fall has somehow thrown Dany into early labour. None of the Dothraki midwives will attend her, so Jorah picks her up and carries her back to Mirri in the tent…
And now, finally, to King’s Landing. The episode opened with Ned Stark, breathing in the darkness, as Varys comes to visit him again. Varys tells him Cersei is willling to let him go to the Wall if he confesses. Ned is scornful and not afraid to die, but as Varys asks, is he afraid for his children? Sansa has pleaded for his life and Robb is marching south at the head of an army to free him. Varys could free him but won’t because that isn’t part of the role he’s playing. Varys wants peace and doesn’t care who keeps it – so what will Ned do now?
Later, Arya puts her dancing lessons to good use, catching pigeons in the city, but isn’t having much luck trading them for actual food. The bells of Baelor’s Sept begin to ring: Ned is being brought out in front of the people to confess to treason. From the platform, he sees Arya watching from the plinth of Baelor’s statue and manages to tell the Night’s Watchman from a few episodes ago, Yoren, by muttering “Baelor” to him as he’s dragged through the crowd.
Sansa, proud that she’s managed to both save her father’s life and make a Moebius croissant out of her hair, is looking radiant on the platform and nods encouragingly as Ned begins his false confession. We can tell it’s killing him, but he finishes, and we wait for Joffrey’s decision. Everyone, including Cersei and Sansa, expects Joffrey to show mercy, but he’s anxious to make his mark, and disdaining “the weak hearts of women,” he sentences Ned to death. Arya draws her sword and fights through the crowd, only to be grabbed by Yoren; Sansa is screaming and restrained by the kingsguard; and Ned… Ned just breathes quietly and evenly until the sword comes down on his neck.
Non-book readers – did you see it coming? How many tissues did you need?
Is Drogo next – and what would that mean for Dany? (Even if she knew, the fact that she’s not the only Targaryen in the village any more is not much help right now). And what in seven hells is going to happen next week, the final episode of the series?
Further reading and viewing: a brief discussion of sexual violence in the series; SeÃ¡n Bean reflects on his character; io9 discusses the buying and selling of women in the series; and, if you think you can handle it, next week’s preview.