Here be dragons.
"Fire and Blood," the season finale to the first season of HBO's Game of Thrones, dealt overwhelmingly with the fallout resulting from "King" Joffrey's execution of Ned Stark (in what can charitably described as a shortsighted political move), but ended with another memorable event even fewer probably saw coming: the hatching of Daenerys Targaryen's dragon eggs. To put it mildly, this will likely have significant geopolitical ramifications for the Seven Kingdoms.
Plus, holy shit: dragons!
If I have any complaint about the season ender, it's that it took HBO four minutes of True Blood and Entourage promos (seriously, who still watches Entourage?) to get to the finale, and after that another two minutes of recaps. I'm spoiled: I want a full freaking hour, dammit.
But never mind that. "Fire and Blood" picks right up where last week left off. Yoren (the Black Brother charged with finding recruits for the Wall) drags Asya away from the Sept, calling her "boy" and chopping her hair off to complete the impromptu disguise. He's taking her and some 20 rapers, murderers, and cast-offs (and Gendry, Robert's blacksmith bastard), to the Wall. It's a good plan, provided "Arry," as she's now known, can hold her own. After watching her deal with a couple would-be Needle thieves, I feel pretty confident.
It doesn't take long for news of Ned's death to reach Winterfell. Bran gets advance notice, courtesy of his three-eyed dream crow. Rickon also has a vision of Ned's ghost, in the crypt, and is hanging out down there with his rather angry wolf ("Shaggydog"...I'm sure he won't grow to regret naming him that). The finale didn't stray much from the season's pattern of paying abbreviated attention to the youngest Starks, and sure enough, that's the last we see of them.
Further south, Catelyn and Robb take the news...poorly, as might be expected. Catelyn counsels patience, at least until they get Sansa and Arya back, then Robb's free to kill all the Lannisters he wants. And he may get his chance soon, for while discussing which Baratheon brother's claim to the throne the Northmen should throw their support behind - Renly or the as-yet unseen Stannis - the Greatjon instead wonders why they can't rule themselves, proclaiming Robb the King in the North. The others quickly follow suit.
Catelyn pays the captive Jaime Lannister a visit. He confesses to shoving Bran out the window, but if she was hoping for contrition, she comes away disappointed.
At Lannister HQ, Tyrion points out what no one else seems willing to admit: that Robb is winning the war, and Joffrey pissed away their only chance for peace when he killed Ned. Father Tywin tasks Tyrion with going to Kings Landing to take over as Hand of the King and rule, as damage control against Joffrey and Cersei. The look on Peter Dinklage's face when daddy starts kissing his ass is priceless. He knows Tywin's first choice for Hand is in chains courtesy of Robb Stark, which makes his decision to disobey dad's last directive - not to take Shae to court - if not a wise one, at least understandable.
There's also a brief farce as Jon momentarily attempts to abandon the Night's Watch and join Robb, until Sam and Grenn and the others remind him of his vows. Lord Mormont knows of his near-desertion, of course, and puts things in perspective: "When dead men - and worse - come hunting for us in the night, do you think it matters who sits on the Iron Throne?" He's not just speaking rhetorically, and the last we see of Jon and Mormont is them marching with the rest of the Watch beyond of the Wall to find out what happened to Benjen Stark, and why the wildlings are deserting their villages.
Joffrey is quite the little psychopath, in case that wasn't apparent already. First he absently orders Ser Ilyn to cut out the tongue of a singer that displeases him, then he takes Sansa on a scenic tour of the heads mounted on pikes outside the throne room (Ned's included), and has one of his Kingsguard smack her around. She contemplates knocking the little prick off the wall, but the Hound stops her.
Cersei, meanwhile, has taken up with Lancel (Robert's former squire). Her taste in relatives remains consistent, though I suppose we should be happy she hasn't cast an eye on her son at this point. Truth be told, she's having misgivings about the monster she's raised.
Across the Narrow Sea, Dany wakes to the bad news that her son was stillborn and "monstrous." The maegi shows her Drogo, who is somewhat less vibrant than anticipated. He's "alive" in only the lowest common denominator sense possible, and it seems the maegi has had the last laugh, exacting what she felt was proper revenge on the man who burned her temple and brutalized her people.
Zombie Drogo doesn't live up to the hype, and Dany smothers him with pillow, then alleviates her grief by tying the maegi to his funeral pyre, listening to her screams before entering the flames herself. She also puts the dragon eggs in there. Now why would she possibly do that?
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And it just wouldn't be a complete episode without an appearance from Ros, Westeros' favorite whore/sympathetic ear. What is it about her that makes every dude in the Seven Kingdoms spill their guts (this time it's Maester Pycelle, talking about kings)? Does she lactate sodium pentathol? At least this scene is almost played for laughs.
As befits a season finale, "Fire and Blood" was an episode of open endings, and fine ones at that: the Watch venturing beyond the Wall, Arya/Arry leaving Kings Landing anonymously, Robb rising to cries of "the King in the North!", and Danaereys, emerging from Drogo's funeral pyre with three new dragons (hopefully next season they'll polish up the CGI)
At the very least, series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have remained faithful to George R.R. Martin's source material while at the same time capably distilling the gargantuan narrative for newbies. At this point, there's no way of knowing if HBO will continue to foot the bill for the - at least - ten seasons that will be required to tell the whole story. I hope they will, because it's a mistake to think the story died with Ned. The song of ice and fire is just beginning.
See you in spring, 2012.