For those who've read the books, there's been some understandable speculation as to how they're planning to cram the entire narrative into 10 measly hour-long episodes. I mean sure, it's HBO, so an hour's worth of programming is literally an hour's worth, but George R.R. Martin's tale of intrigue and incest is so convoluted the only way to get the whole story out there from this point would be to cram as much exposition into the remaining episodes as possible.
And that's just what they did with last night's installment. Much was revealed, so let's dive right in. Bastards.
In Winterfell, Bran Stark wakes from a dream about a three-eyed raven to the news that guests have arrived. He's not too keen to receive them, but Theon convinces him to make an appearance. Bran's wolf doesn't take very kindly to Theon's presence, which is something we'll sock away for later.
One of the guests is none other than Tyrion, returning from the Wall and receiving a chilly (heh) reception from Lord Robb at Winterfell. In spite of that, he gives Bran plans for a special saddle that will allow him to ride a horse. Robb's belated gratitude isn't enough to convince Tyrion to stay, and it's as he's leaving that he runs into Theon, and where we finally learn the latter's story: Theon's father Balon Greyjoy rose up in rebellion against Robert and was put down by, among others, Ned Stark. Theon is a hostage/ward of the Starks in order to keep his father in line after a failed rebellion.
There's also a new man on the Wall named Samwell Tarly, and he's a lousy fighter. Worse, he's a coward. Jon defends him, which only heightens the tension between him and Ser Thorne. Later, we find out Sam's father gave him a choice on his 18th birthday: Take the black or suffer an "accident" on a hunt. Fat cravens make poor heirs, you see.
Jon is able to convince the others to take it easy on Sam, even certain...recalcitrant brothers, with the help of his own direwolf (Hello, Ghost. Nice to finally meet you). Finally, the two share a bonding moment over their respective virginity until Ser Thorne shows up and reminds them winter is coming, only without saying the actual words "winter" or "is" or "coming."
Across the Narrow Sea, Drogo's riders have reached Vaes Dothrak (City of the Horselords), and Viserys is getting pissier. He gets a little more screen time this week, giving a high level overview of dragon history to a girl in a bathtub (these Dothraki like their tubs). Jorah reveals he sold slaves to make his wife happy, for as well as that turned out.
It's nice to see Danaerys growing a spine, especially when she tells her brother he'd be wise not to raise his hand against her again. She's finally coming around to the point of view of Ser Jorah and 2 million-and-change viewers every week: Viserys' chances of taking back Westeros are pretty much nonexistent, even if he could convince the Dothraki to cross the ocean (they're superstitiously fearful of any water they can't drink, which conveniently explains why this Mongol-type horde has never pestered the Seven Kingdoms before).
Back in King's Landing, Ned questions Grand Maester Pycelle about Jon Arryn's death, and learns the former Hand was inquiring after a book on the lineages of great houses and kings. Oh, and his last words were "The seed is strong." Ned suspects poison, but Pycelle demurs, reminding Ned poison is the weapon of women, cravens, and eunuchs.
Eunuchs like Councillor Varys maybe?
There's also a nice exchange between Ned and Arya, who insists she has no plans to marry and have children. For those who know the books, Arya is just one of several female characters chafing against their destinies, and it's nice to see this trend upheld in the series.
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Finally, Petyr Baelish gives Ned some advice: ask after Jon Arryn's squire - Ser Hugh - and go talk to an armorer, where a certain apprentice lives. A certain apprentice who happens to be King Robert's bastard son. Ned sends Jory to deliver a message to the king, but the king is "indisposed." The scene gives Jaime his weekly opportunity to be snotty to someone, however.
Ned never gets a chance to talk to Ser Hugh, however. He's killed while jousting during the Hand's Tourney by Gregor Clegane, older brother to the Hound (Prince Joffrey's bodyguard), though to hear Baelish tell it, big bro is responsible for those nasty burn scars on the Hound's face.
Finally, Tyrion crosses paths with Catelyn and Ser Rodrik at an inn. In a deft move, she singles out her allies and then commands them to bring Tyrion to Winterfell to face justice for trying to kill Bran. Aaaaaaaand scene.
Next week: Intrigue and swordplay at King's Landing, and Tyrion looks to turn the tables on his captors.