This is one of those episodes that will go down in history as one of the most gamechanging things ever produced. And with good reason, it’s brutal.
Of course if you’ve read the books, it’s really no surprise. But as someone who came into Game of Thrones completely blind, I was absolutely dumbfounded to see Sean Bean’s character Ned Stark – a character who was front and center in all of the show’s promotional materials – killed off so mercilessly right before the season finale. It’s such a brave move from a writing perspective, and it alters the show’s landscape completely, essentially proving that no one is safe and any one could die at any point. That’s how you add a real sense of urgency and stakes to your show.
Ned’s death scene is especially gut-wrenching because it packs in so much emotion. He makes eye contact with Arya, and subtly alerts Yoren to care for her (he says one word “Baelor”, referring to the statue that Arya is perched on). It’s a small moment, but just before Ned is beheaded, he looks towards the statute and realizes that Arya gone. While this is an undoubtedly heartbreaking moment, it’s also a relief for Ned because he knows that she is safe and he can finally give in.
Baelor is also notable for introducing the Lord of Rivverrun, Walder Frey, played to unsettling perfection by David Bradley. With his numerous wives and hundreds of descendants, the character is just so uniquely despicable and perverted. In addition, his meeting with Catelyn Stark is packed with history and animosity, which really lends itself to the world-building the show has become so adept at. The story also takes a humorous turn as Catelyn ends up guaranteeing both Robb and Arya’s marriages to Frey’s children in exchange for their army’s safe passage. Uh oh.
The climactic fight between the Starks and Lannisters happens off-screen. Game of Thrones didn’t have an enormous budget right out of the gate, so the show sidesteps the entire shebang. Nevertheless it does so in a creative manner by knocking out Tyrion, and jumping to the moment he wakes up. In addition, it unleashes a heck of a twist with the reveal that Robb sent 2,000 forces to distract Tywin so he could kidnap Jaime Lannister. Now that’s a clever plan!
Also making her first appearance this week is Shae the prostitute. Sibel Kekilli is wonderful in the role, bouncing off Tyrion in the most amusing ways with sharp banter and a whole lot of charisma. Their three-way drinking game with Bronn is particularly memorable, but soon takes a dark turn as Tyrion reveals the horrifying plot orchestrated by his father to get him to lose his virginity to a whore (who was pretending to be a rape victim). It’s all so rutheless, and Peter Dinklage’s performance is exceptional across the board.
Elsewhere, Dany uses her brand new healer, Mirri Maz, to try and save Drogo from his infection using the dark arts. All hell effectively breaks loose as Jorah defends Dany and kills the rebellious Qotho, while Maz slices a horse (no more animal abuse please!) while Dany goes into labor. It’s all a bit too rushed and haphazard, but the forward momentum ensures things are never stale at least.
Bits & Beheadings
– Does Varys have a little crush on Ned? Because he visits him in the dungeon far too often.
– Greyjoy laughing at Robb being forced to marry Frey’s daughter is priceless.
– Lord Commander Jeor Mormont gives Jon a sword called Longclaw, made of Valyrian Steel. But even more interesting is that the sword was originally meant for his son Jorah (Dany’s confidante). Small world!
– Another unexpected twist: the blind man at the Night’s Watch, Maester Aemon, is actually a Targaryen and the uncle of the Mad King.
– It’s hilarious that Tyrion misses the entire battle. The Vale tribes chant “half man” and he gets knocked out, only to wake up while being dragged by Bronn across the war zone.
– Heartwarming moment as Catelyn cries at the sight of Robb after the battle. I love the Starks.
– I genuinely laughed out loud when Arya tried to trade a dead pigeon for food.
– Ned’s death is a turning point for King Joffrey, who turns on his mother and punishes Sansa by savagely ordering Ned’s death at the last minute. What a brat!
– The fact that Arya grabbed Needle and ran to save her father made me love her even more. What a brave soul.
– Perfect final moment with Arya staring up at the birds who fly away after the beheading. The harrowing look on her face is enough proof that she knows her dad’s gone and it’s so painfully depressing.
Kings & Quips
Ned: He’s just a boy.
Varys: Boys have been conquerors before.
Frey: I need lessons in courtesy from you, bastard? Your mother would still be a milkmaid if I hadn’t squirted you into her belly.
Frey: You see that? 15 she is. A little flower. And her honey’s all mine.
Catelyn: You will marry one of his daughters. Whichever you prefer. He has a number he thinks will be… suitable.
Robb: I see. Did you get a look at his daughters?
Catelyn: I did.
Catelyn: One was…
Bronn: I took her.
Tyrion: Took her? From whom?
Bronn: From, uh… Ser … what’s his name? I don’t know. Ginger cunt three tents down.
Qotho: When he dies, she is nothing.
Daenerys: “I have never been nothing. I am the blood of the dragon.”
Daenerys: I think you should wear your armor tonight, Ser.
Jorah: I think you’re right.
Tyrion: If I die, weep for me.
Shae: You’ll be dead. How will you know?
Bronn: Stay low.
Tyrion: Stay low?
Bronn: If you’re lucky, no one will notice you.
Tyrion: I was born lucky.
Arya: Could I have one? A lemon one … or any of them.
Owner: Three coppers.
Arya: How about a nice fat pigeon?
Owner: Piss off now. Go on.
Arya: Do you have any stale ones from yesterday? Or any burnt ones?
Impeccable performances and shocking developments make for one of the most unforgettable hours of television ever made. Almost perfect!