Monday, May 30, 2011

Game of Thrones 7 "You Win or You Die" (Review)

Spoilers ahoy!

"You Win or You Die" seems a straightforward idea, especially when discussing something called the Game of Thrones.  Doesn't it?  Wrong.  Because win or lose, you die.  What you do before all that, you have to decide whether you've won anything or not.  Or what you want to win.

On the one hand there seems to be a huge amount of power play going on in this, as in every episode of the HBO series based on Martin's fantasy epic.  Almost immediately this comes through as we meet Tywin Lannister, Lord of Castlery Rock, father of Jaime, Tyrion and Cercei.  He proceeds to do what many characters do in this and other episodes--try and make a point about how the world works.  Family and power, such is his message boiled down to basics.  Jaime has been a fool to attack Ned Stark.  A bigger fool not to do him in.  Stark himself has been a fool, not least for daring to take a Lannister--any Lannister--prisoner.

Appropriately enough, Tywin is butchering an animal with his bare hands while espousing all this.

Ned Stark meanwhile tells the Queen what he knows--that none of the King's children are his own, but rather the fruit of incest between Jaime and Cersei.  He's also figured out they tried to kill his son.  In an act that does seem terribly naive, he gives the Queen a chance to flee with her children.  Her reply contains more sentiment as well as ruthlessness than her father--the closeness she feels with Jaime, who shared a womb with her, and that Stark was a fool for not taking the throne himself in the war that toppled King Aerys.

Osha meanwhile (the Wyldling woman now a servant at Winterfell) gets caught up in a conversation with Theon, heir to the Iron Islands and hostage/guest of the Starks since boyhood.  She doesn't see things at all the way he does, and it disturbs him just a bit.  In her eyes, he is from The South (i.e. south of the Wall) and not a Lord because his father is still Lord.  She's also not afraid.  As she tells the Maester, she's used to men who would eat "that boy" and use his bones to pick their teeth.  Despite this she is frightened.  Very much.  Of what comes with the Long Winter.  This things have been gone for thousands of years, she's told.  Not gone--sleeping, she replies.  And now, they've woken up...

It goes on.  Littlefinger instructs a pair of his whores about how to deceive/please their customers (one just arrived from the North), not taking part but watching and talking, revealing much.  As a child he loved a high born young lady, and she loved him in her way.  So he says.  But her intended beat him a duel, which taught the young man he will never win "their" way...

Evocative that.

King Robert, meanwhile, has been fatally wounded while hunting boar.  He knows he's dying.  Can smell it in the wound.  Expresses regret he spent so little time with his son, Prince Joffrey (the Vile--editorial comment).  And he names Ned Stark as Regent, agreeing with him to cancel the order to kill Princess Danaerys.  Not that that is really possible now.  But--and here Ned makes another error--he hears no news of his children's real parentage.

The would be assassin of the Princess/Khaleesi fails, because someone we learn works for the Spider (the head of Westeros' spies) thwarts the plan.  Nothing is as it seems.  Meanwhile Danaerys slowly coaxes her beloved Khal Drogo to consider the conquest of the Seven Kingdoms.  He listens to his beloved wife (and it is very nice to see how much these two have bonded) but only up to a point.  After all, re remains Dothraki!

At the Wall, Jon Snow's uncle's horse returns riderless.  Soon after, Jon Snow is fully accepted into the Nightwatch, but to everyone's surprise is chosen from among the Stewards, not the Rangers!  He takes it badly, but gets yet another lesson in how he's being way too lordly and egocentric.  Sam sees the truth of it, that Jon is being groomed by the Lord Commander, who asked for him personally.  On top of this is what just might be something prophetic, when Sam says simply "I always wanted to be a wizard."

Magic is coming back, have you noticed?  The White Walkers walk.  There is talk of Dragons.

Back in King's Landing, King Robert's brother Renly tries to talk some sense into Ned Stark.  He knows Cersei will never sit by quietly and allow Stark to be Regent.  They need to strike now, before it is too late.  Stark's mind is more on who should be King, which in his mind is eldest Barantheon brother, Stannis.  Renly asks pointedly "Do you still think good soldiers make good kings?"

These questions keep coming up.  What helps make Martin's work so interesting is that he never provides a definitive answer.  Honestly, is there a single person we've met yet who looks like they should sit on the Iron Throne?

All this disturbs Stark, but he doesn't see any path other than the straight and narrow.  Littlefinger also has a plan, one that sounds ruthless if workable (although by now only someone quite naive in the audience quite believes anything the man says).

In the wake of the failed assassination attempt, Khal Drogo pledges to his wife "Moon of my Life" to give to their son the Iron Throne.  So that seemingly naive bit of advice from Ned Stark, to leave her alone, proved wise after all.

On the other hand, tactically he's completely outmatched back at King's Landing.  The Queen and her son the new King care nothing of King Robert's written instructions once he is dead...

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