Film and TV

Game Of Thrones: "Baelor"

If you haven't watched the latest Game of Thrones and don't want to know what happens, get the hell out of here. Though it would probably serve you right for reading recaps in the first place.

I really wasn't Iooking forward to this one.

The big WTF moment of the first book is legendary among fans of George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series, and for many of us it cemented our resolve to stick with the story until its inevitably bloody conclusion. Even so, for readers of the books, it loomed over the entire season, making it hard not to cringe at every misstep Ned made (and harder still not to spill the beans to the uninitiated).

And judging by reaction on Twitter and the web, few newbies to the story saw it coming, which is exactly how it should be. Ned Stark was our moral compass, the one good man in the bad Seven Kingdoms, and when this man of honor was off-handedly executed by Joffrey, it threw a number of conventional fantasy storytelling tropes out the window and dumped a bucket of ice water on our expectations.

What's more important is that director Alan Taylor captured the moment masterfully, giving us a penultimate episode that was the series' most powerful entry to date.

But lest we forget, some other things happend last night. For example, they added the Twins to the opening animation (I was hoping for Riverrun as well, maybe next week).

Varys visits Ned in the black cells and gives him some more personal backstory. He also pleads with him to confess his treason. Ned seems...unwilling. Even in the darkest dungeons of the Red Keep, he values honor above all else.

Robb, marching south to meet the Lannister army, is forced to treat with Lord Frey. Well, Catelyn does, at least. And she secures the crossing, at the mere cost of a few men, a betrothal for Arya, and a wife for Robb (whomever her prefers., so that's something) Ned's eldest son just learned a valuable lesson about the hidden cost of war.

David Bradley comes aboard as the "Late" Lord Walder Frey. If he looks familiar, it's because he also played Filch in all the Harry Potter movies, Nice to know he can actually speak. His performance is spot on, because Frey is a venal, perverse prick (eight times married, the joke is he's the only nobleman who can field an army out of his breeches). He secures his alliance with Robb only because it's the most politically expedient at the time.

We spend some time at the Wall this week as well. Lord Mormont gives Jon his sword of Valyrian steel, "Longclaw." It was meant for Jorah, and we all know how that ended. In any event, the Old Bear is obviously grooming Jon for greater things. Maester Aemon also tells Jon how love is the enemy of honor, ostensibly to prevent him from riding off to join Robb or try and free his father. The old man knows whereof he speaks...he's Aemon Targaryen, one-time heir to the Iron Throne.

His words echo through the rest of the episode. Everyone "must choose." Jon will have to make the choice between duty and family. Ned, who had chosen honor - to his detriment - and every turn thus far, finally sacrifices honor for the sake of his daugthers. Not that it matters.

Meanwhile, Khal Drogo lays dying from the wound he suffered las week and Jorah advises Dany to run like hell, as the rest of the khal will most likely kill her in the morning (Dread Pirate Roberts references are always hip). Desperate to save Drogo, Dany turns to the maegi, who says she can save him using "blood magic," which doesn't dound ominous at all. While Jorah fights one of the bloodriders, Dany goes into labor. With no other options (the midwives won't go near her), Jorah takes her into the tent where the witch is performing the ritual.

Tyrion learns he and the hill tribes will be in the vanguard of the coming attack. Luckily Bronn has procured him a new lady friend. Shae. She appears...capable. Later, while she, Tyrion and Bronn play a drinking game wherein he makes assumptions about their pasts and they drink if he's telling the truth. He gets nothing right about her, and regales them with the story of his brief marriage to what was revealed to be a whore procured by his brother. If you didn't sympathize with Tyrion before this week, you probably do now.

It turns out the Stark force massing near the Lannister camp is a diversion, and Robb's main army ambushes Jaime's men laying siege to Riverrun, capturing the Kingslayer in the process.

Finally, Ned is dragged before a jeering crowd at the Sept of Baelor to admit his "crimes." Seeing Sansa in attendance and also spying Arya in the crowd, Ned finally forsakes his honor and confesses to treason, naming Joffrey the true king. Joffrey, in defiance of the wishes of pretty much the entire council (the looks on Cersei's and Varys' faces were priceless), utters those fateful words, "Ser Ilyn, bring me his head."

It's an incredibly powerful scene. Arya, desperate to do something, makes her way to the front but is grabbed by Yoren and forced to avert her eyes. The final shot, of young Maisie Williams looking skyward as birds, disturbed by the beheading, take to the air, is as artful as it is heartbreaking.

So now the TV viewers know what those of us who've been following the books have for years: no one in the world of ASoIaF is safe, fate is capricious, and honor is of extremely limited utility.

Next week: Ned's death doesn't bode well for new POW Jaime Lannister.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar