Season 1, Episode 5, "The Wolf and the Lion," original HBO airdate: May 15, 2011
This week's episode of Game of Thrones contained so much badassery, I don't know where to begin. "The Wolf and the Lion," Episode 5, represents a tonal shift for the series from "pretty good fantasy series" to breathless wheezing from the amount of awesomeness on display. To paraphrase the none-too-good-with-words miscreants who cruise Flea Bottom (the slums of King's Landing), "$#*! just got real."
From the opening scene to the stabby ending, "The Wolf and the Lion" (the wolf being the Starks, the lion being the Lannisters) benefited from a lot of hard work that went into the previous four episodes. After four hours of groundwork (which was done splendidly), characters and storylines are now free to take on their own life. We're getting more in-depth second-looks at the players, which means we've reached the ever-important stage that transforms them into living, breathing entities who we're spend our Sunday nights with. And now that we're getting into the show's groove, we're spending less time trying to remember who's who and more time engaging with the story. And right now we're fully engaged in...
Jaime and Ned's encounter outside Lord "Littlefinger" Baelish's whorehouse. After who knows how long, Jaime finally found reason to lock swords with Ned Stark: Catelyn has taken his brother Tyrion as prisoner. And with Ned quitting his position as Hand of the King, there's little to protect him except his personal guard and whatever steel is at his hip. Come to think of it, his personal guard didn't do much good last night, did he? Jory, we were just getting to know you, and then Jaime planted his dagger right through your eye and out the back of your head. Go ahead and feel sorry for the guy, but at least one of his last memories was the siight of the glorious ta-tas on one of Littlefinger's whores.
Jory's death once again leaves Ned Stark alone. Ned is a unique character in Westeros, in that he's the only one out there who knows the meaning of honor. While everyone else in the kingdom regularly engages in blind vengeance, treachery, and self-preservation, Ned is a bastion of good intentions and doing what's right. This is a hard character to pull off; not only can the "type" seem too good to be true, but it tends to be one-dimensional and boring. There's something different about Ned, though, and it works. Maybe it's that bit of struggle so perfectly conveyed by Sean Bean's eyes, or Ned's constant bewilderment over how business works (murdering children?) in King's Landing. Regardless, Ned comes out of everything looking very much like a White Knight. But how long can he champion honor before he must change his ways? Or, more likely, before his ways are changed for him?
We leave "The Wolf and the Lion" with Ned finally bending the knee, not in servitude of the king, but because he's got a pike through his leg. Hurt and with no protection in a city where he's considered a traitor, what's to become of Ned? So far Bran has been crippled and Ned has been gravely injured; in case you can't tell, nothing is off limits when it comes to characters in this series.
Game of Thrones is already proving that it can shock viewers like the best of them (it's currently challenging HBO's True Blood for the title), and three moments stand out from last night. First: full-frontal male nudity, courtesy of Theon (Alfie Allen). I guess when your sister is pop-star Lilly Allen, you have to really stand out to be noticed. Second: Ser Loras and Renly Baratheon's hair-removal scene. This might be the first time I've heard male-on-male fellatio. To imply it is considered scandalous enough; to have the sounds blasting through 5.1 Dolby surround sound is on another level. Third: Cat's crazy—and I mean CRAZY, like Tyra Banks crazy—sister Lysa breastfeeding her too-old-to-be-breastfed son Robin. The debate rages on regarding whether that was a prosthetic "stunt boob"; if it wasn't, child actor Lino Facioli just became the coolest kid in his group of friends. A lot of paperwork and lawyers went into that scene.
Another important scene: What did Arya overhear in the dungeons? Varys and Ilyrio, the man who helped Viserys marry Dany to Khal Drogo, were discussing how much Ned knows. Ilyrio seems interested in keeping whatever secret Ned is close to discovering a secret—and thus wants to kill him. Varys came to Ned's defense, yet he's scheming with the man who is responsible for an impending flood of Dothraki on Westeros shores. Who is in the right here, and who is to be trusted? We don't have those answers yet, but I suspect that Varys is just staying ahead of the game and looking out for himself. It just goes to show that everyone has their hand in the cookie jar.
Discussion points for those who've read the books (spoiler free!):
Some of those who have read the books are wondering whether Ser Loras (the Knight of Flowers) and Renly's homosexual relationship was added to the show, but it didn't take a keen eye to know that these two were fabulous in the book. He's the Knight of Flowers; if your gaydar didn't explode when you read that, it's time to upgrade. It's also plainly obvious in book 2, if you've gotten that far.
That chest-shaving scene was one of many that've been added to the show even though they weren't the books. The quality of these added scenes tends to be hit-or-miss. Some, like the one with Theon and the whore, don't appear to be more than setups for future stories, so they feel tacked on. But some of the TV-only bits are fantastic. Watching Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) and Varys (Conleth Hill) verbally joust in the throne room was a treat, because both actors brought the goods; these two characters are some of the show's best, because their intentions are unknown and we're only gleaning what's poking up from the surface. Witnessing Cersei and Robert discuss the mess that is their marriage and having a laugh over it was also a high point. It not only gave us some insight into their relationship, but into how royal marriages in that time were often shams, with real love taking a backseat to putting on a good face. Most of these additional scenes aren't fodder—they're a testament to the universe and characters that author George R.R. Martin has created, as well as to producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss' understanding of that vision.
Notes from Westeros:
... I'm a big fan of the way the show's fighting scenes are staying true to the times. The battle between The Hound and The Mountain featured two men in full plate; hence, the sword strokes were slow and awkward. But in the mountains and with Ned and Jaime, the movement was faster, as most of the men were clad in leather armor.
... Maisie Williams deserves all the praise she's been getting for her portrayal of Arya Stark, but don't overlook Isaac Hempstead-Wright as Bran. The lesson with Maester Luwin that turned into a rant about his mom was very well acted—he didn't come off as a brat, but instead as a smart kid who was emotionally wounded.
... There was no Dany, Viserys, Khal Drogo, or Jon Snow in this episode, yet it still was the best episode yet.
... I'll never get sick of watching Robert terrorize Lancel. Someone please spin off a series featuring those two.
... Who else thinks Jaime is the most badass of the bunch?
... Tyrion's "what the heck am I witnessing" face when Lysa was spouting mad theories and breastfeeding Robin was classic. I'm officially joining the Peter Dinklage Deserves an Emmy support group.
Heard around Westeros:
... Renly: "Robert's rather tasteless about it. Every time he talks about killing her, I swear the table rises six inches."
... Littlefinger: "When you find yourself in bed with an ugly woman, it's best to close your eyes and get it over with. Cut her throat, be done with it."
... Bronn: "You need a woman. Nothing like a woman after a fight."