May 30 2011 11:01am

Game of Thrones episode review: “You Win or You Die”

This week on Game of Thrones, Dany learns about the evils of alcohol, Ned is the most naive person in the Seven Kingdoms, and Robert loses the game of thrones. Episode spoilers ahead.

Sometimes, as I’m watching Game of Thrones, I like to imagine a conversation going on at GoT HQ that sounds something like this:

“We have some information that needs getting across. We’ve got to have two characters talk to each other about stuff.”

“But this is HBO. The characters can’t just talk. We’ve got to put either a sex scene or something gross in the background.”

“How about a chest-shaving scene? A corpse’s neck being sewn up?”

“No, no, we already used those two. How about a dead deer being skinned?”

“Perfect! And then we’ll have two whores perform oral sex on each other while another character monologues.”


I’ll admit that Tywin skinning the deer is actually kind of badass, and I did laugh about it, which is more than I can say about the Littlefinger-monologuing scene. (An aside: I get that everyone likes the actress who plays Ros, but does she really need this much of a storyline? She’s now slept with half the male characters on the show and traveled as far as anyone. If she has a POV in A Dance with Dragons, I’m filing a complaint.) Now those of you who weren’t already acquainted with him have gotten to see how much influence Papa Lannister had on the three paragons he raised. Tywin must be one of the last major characters to be introduced this season, and Charles Dance is pitch-perfect as he chews Jaime out for having any honor at all. What a strange concept to a Lannister! Also, he knows his way around a carving knife, apparently.

Jaime’s ears must be burning, because back in King’s Landing, Cersei and Ned are finally discussing “the truth Jon Arryn died for” out in the open. Ned knows that none of Cersei’s children are Robert’s. Cersei pulls the “the Targaryens practiced incest for generations, and none of them went mad or anything” card, which is less convincing than it could be. I love this little exchange between the two people whose goals are, at the moment, the most directly in conflict. Ned’s just disgusted, but Cersei clearly has a twisted sort of respect for Ned. “You should have taken the realm for yourself,” she tells him. Ned shoots back that turning down the throne wasn’t a mistake. “Oh, but it was,” she says. “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

Speaking of which, Robert’s been gouged by a boar on the hunt. “Too much wine, missed my thrust!” he jokes as Ned comes in. (I bet Cersei’s thinking, “I’ve heard that before.”) He also tells Joffrey he wishes he’d been more of a father to him, which is... ironically appropriate. Then he throws everyone out so Ned can take dictation: Robert wants to appoint him Protector of the Realm until Joffrey comes of age. He’s under no illusions about his chances of survival. Ned does perhaps the only sneaky thing he’s done in his entire life, and writes “my rightful heir” instead.

Outside, Varys and Ser Barristan are discussing the fact that it was Lancel, the king’s own squire, who gave him enough wine to put him off his game. Ned, hearing this, is struck with a realization, but for once manages to keep a dangerous thought to himself. Instead he merely tells Varys that Robert decided to call off their “arrangements” about Dany. Varys replies regretfully that it’s too late, and she’s likely dead already.

Of course, she’s not; in fact, Dany is so much not dead that she’s... braiding Drogo’s hair as she lectures him on geography. Hey, it’s exposition without sex or grossness! Drogo is skeptical that the Seven Kingdoms even exist, let alone that they should invade them, and Dany is unable to convince him otherwise.

Later, she goes to the market with Jorah, who has sneaky spy business to conduct, so he sends her off on her own. A wine-seller offers her a sample of his wares and, when he finds out who she is, declares that he has an even better wine to give her. An even better poisoned wine, of course, which Jorah sniffs out just in time; he insists that the wine-seller drink himself, and the man runs instead. He doesn’t run very far.

If Dany had planned this exchange, it couldn’t have worked better in her favor. As soon as Drogo is assured that Dany is safe, he decides this whole invasion thing has gotten a lot more appealing. He will give his son “the iron chair that his mother’s father sat upon.”

We have only a brief glimpse of what’s going on in Winterfell, and what’s going on is that Theon is an asshole and Natalia Tena is awesome. GRRM has commented on the fact that Osha is supposed to be much older, but Natalia Tena blew everyone away in her audition, and even her brief appearance in this episode has convinced me that that was a great choice. I can’t wait to see more of her later on.

Note to citizens of Westeros: never, ever tell anyone “we’ll talk about it when I get back.” First Robert dies after telling Ned they’ll talk after the hunt, and now Benjen’s gone missing after telling Jon they’d talk after his return. Sam and Jon are stationed on the Wall and see a horse without a rider approach, which Jon recognizes as Benjen’s. Worse yet, when they make their vows to the Night Watch, Jon is made a steward. Maester Aemon informs him that Lord Commander Mormont requested him specifically, but Jon thinks it’s just Ser Allister’s revenge. Sam tries to convince him otherwise—that they’re grooming Jon for command. Somewhat calmed, Jon confides to Sam that he’s always wanted to be a ranger. Sam confides in return that he always wanted to be a wizard. This is not the first hint that if Sam were in our world, he’d be playing a lot of D&D.

The two of them swear their vows under a weirwood north of the Wall: “Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death.” They’re welcomed as brothers of the Night Watch, and then Ghost appears (seriously, appears, since we haven’t seen him for quite a while), carrying a human hand.

Back in King’s Landing, Renly has apparently taken Loras’s words to heart: he wants Ned to strike against the Lannisters and put him on the throne, not Stannis. Ned replies that Stannis has led men into battle, so he’s fit to be king. Renly says with heat, “So was Robert. Do you still think good soldiers make good kings?” Littlefinger is in agreement with Renly that Stannis shouldn’t be king, though his proposed solution is somewhat different: leave Joffrey on the throne but keep him tame. If he gets out of control they can take care of Stannis, reveal the truth about Joffrey’s parentage, and put Renly on the throne. “What you suggest is treason,” Ned says, appalled. “Only if we lose,” Littlefinger points out. But Ned is determined to stick to his original plan, and with much discomfort, asks Littlefinger to ensure that the city guard will back him, which Littlefinger promises. Hey, everyone: remember what Littlefinger said to Ned about trusting him?

“King Joffrey” summons Ned to the throne room and demands an oath of fealty, the first Ned’s heard of Robert’s actual death. Joffrey on the Iron Throne is one of the most disturbing images this series has given us, and that’s saying something. Ned has Ser Barristan read Robert’s letter, which Cersei then asks for—and tears to pieces. “Is this meant to be your shield, Lord Stark?” she asks with amusement. “A piece of paper?”

Ned orders the city guard to capture the Lannister men, but instead they kill all of Ned’s. Littlefinger puts a knife to Ned’s throat and refreshes our memory: “I did warn you not to trust me.” People who are surprised: Ned. People who are not surprised: the rest of us.


Share your thoughts below, but please be warned that book spoilers may be discussed. For a true spoiler-free zone, please visit Leigh Butler’s ASoIaF read. (Though the TV show has now outpaced the novel chapters in the Read.)

Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9pm ET/PT on HBO.

Ellen B. Wright lives in New York, where she works in publishing and takes an excessive number of pictures.

Cassandra Cookson
1. cass
This was a great episode watching all the storylines come together, but I have to ask if Ned is this dumb in the books. I was really frustrated with his inability to figure out what is really going on. Why on earth would he confront Cersei directly? Why not get his daughters out of there?

Powerful last scene, though.

Doug Epp
2. dougthe

Re: 'We'll talk about it when I get back'
In the second episode, Ned says to Jon, "We'll talk about your mother the next time we meet". My girlfriend's immediate comment: "one of them is going to die, isn't he?" Famous last words, indeed.
William Fettes
3. Wolfmage
Love it how the producers manage to convey Drogo's wrath as Dany's triumph, even with the lingering offensiveness of Drogo saying he'll rape all the women of the Seven Kingdoms. We're kinda cheering, but we're not entirely comfortable with this - hence Dany's not-quite smile.. Again, a completely realistic depiction of Dothraki conquest and sexual morality - entirely faithful to the books - but just don't tell that to the Mills and Boon crowd!

I'll defend the Littlefinger sex scene. It was certainly long and gratuitous but so what? My wife was laughing during it, and seemed to take no offence - which tells me it's more fuss about nothing. Does everyone watch with their parents? The point of the scene seemed to me to be Littlefinger's metaphor about play-acting as fucking as politics -- with some bonus background on his origin story. If anything, it was the metaphor rather than the sex that was a little heavy handed -- but apparently many people missed this so there you go.

Loved the introduction of Tywin. He has such a presence right from the start; you can immediately tell he has all the formidable qualities of his children combined into one ruthless body. The conversation really added some depth to Jaime too. Excellent job.
4. Dirtycelt
@ 1: Ned's not dumb...he's just honorable to a fault. I'm loving the series, but I'm finding the added scenes to be a bit hit or miss. The introduction of Lord Tywin Lannister was a masterful stroke as was the fact he was butchering a stag, the sigil of House Baratheon. However Littlefinger's exposition set to his lecturing two whores on how to go about their business was a little over the top. Which is a bit sad considering that Lord Baelish is such a masterful and subtle player of the game of thrones. I understand the need to explain what's going on to those who haven't read the books....but HBO could have a bit more respect for the intelligence of its viewers. A little bit of mystery never hurt anyone...
Mo -
5. Astus
I'm only repeating grievances but what the heck, the LF/whores scene was awkward as heck. I appreciate the metaphors that can be drawn out of it and how it works if you just look beyond what is really happening and all that kind of stuff but it just went on too long and got too indulgent. It's definitely not a scene I think I could really watch comfortably with anyone. There are those who disagree and I respect that but it just didn't work for me.

I'm not a fan of LF spilling everything or at least being all 'Magnificent Bastard' in the scene (or rather the series) as it seems heavy handed to me. I'm not one of the more attentive readers so the whole betrayal came surprised me a bit in the books but it's painted a lot more obviously in the series as many first time viewers weren't surprised. I don't know if that says more about how absent mindedly I was reading the books or if the TV series is being too obvious, haha.

Loved the Tywin intro. While I envisioned him as being less hands-on (at least in that respect), it worked. The whole interaction with Jaime was natural and worked well. Can't wait to see more of him.

I did get shivers seeing Joff on the throne. Ugh. This is gonna be something.
Sara H
6. LadyBelaine
Cass @ 1

"... but I have to ask if Ned is this dumb in the books. I was really frustratedwith his inability to figure out what is really going on. Why on earthwould he confront Cersei directly? Why not get his daughters out ofthere?"

They sorta compressed a few things here and left out a scene that gave Cersei the head's up and blindsided Ned, and I think it makes perfect sense but it was utterly toxic, among readers, to (who supposed to be a sympathetic) character's reputation.

I'll hold off there, because it *might* be addressed next episode.
7. Megaduck
"If Dany had planned this exchange, it couldn’t have worked better in her favor."

The one thing that annoyed me about this ep is that they took out the fact that Varys planned this exchange. Loosing it removes some of his sneakyness.
Cassandra Cookson
8. cass
LadyBelaine@ 6

That's exactly it--it is frustrating to see the other characters run rings around the fellow who's supposed to be the protagonist at this point. I get that honor is his weakness, but he still needs to be able to protect his house. I'm following Leigh's read of the series, so I'll perhaps get a better sense of the maneuverings when she gets to those chapters.

On another note, I thought it was a shame the series lost Jennifer Elhe as Catlyn--her take on the character might have made her more into a passionate object of desire. I wasn't really buying Littlefinger's continued interest in her.
9. JRL
Am I the only one who can't tell whether this reviewer's snark is meant to be funny, or if it is meant to mock Game of Thrones as excessively silly?
Sydo Zandstra
10. Fiddler
I agree with those who said in earlier posts, that Tywin Lannister's introduction was masterful. Skinning a stag, while talking about how the Lannister name should prevail, and defending Tyrion in the process ('he may be an irritating dwarf, but he is an irritating Lannister dwarf' ) Great.

I fully second Ellen about how great Natalia Tena is doing as Osha. It's a small role, but that doesn't change much IMO. He'll never realize, but I think Theon actually got saved by Master Luwin's interference. :D

Littlefinger is on the roll here, at being Littlefinger. He's despicable, but I must admit to admiring his political savvy.

One last thing about the casting. While it seems decided that Peter Dinklage is awesome as Tyrion (which he is), I'd like to say that Lena Headey is awesome at playing Cersei. In my opinion, she stands out, which is funny because I didn't really care about her in the early books...
Herb Schaltegger
11. LameLefty
Re the review: Ned has done at least one other major sneaky thing in his life - Exhibit "A", currently a whiny angst-filled teenager on the Wall, Jon Snow.
Sydo Zandstra
12. Fiddler
@LameLefty: there are theories (convincing ones) stating that Jon's mother was Lyanna Stark, and Ned not being his father ;)
13. ryamano
@ Fiddler: It'd still count as sneaky. He still lied to everyone about who his father was.
Sydo Zandstra
14. Fiddler
@ryamano: Lyanna's last words to Ned: "Promise me, Ned"

Ned really is a tragic person... Although, in this case I would probably do the same...

But I'm not sure if this discussion should be held here. Might spoil things. I'll check the forums from here...
15. Cat of the Canals
It's not so much that Ned is holding the idiot ball -- though he is -- it's that for some reason, despite all Littlefinger's warnings, Ned still expects everyone else to be as honorable and straightforward as he is. When Janos Slynt (the commander of the City Watch) said "We stand behind you, Lord Stark," my immediate reacton was "Uh, those EXACT WORDS aren't precisely reassuring..."

Natalie Tena and Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister) were AMAZING, and I'm looking forward to more scenes with them. Lena Headey is instilling a lot more pathos than I expected for a character that I despised in the book - I'm very much looking forward to what the episodes (and hopefully seasons) ahead will bring.
tatiana deCarillion
16. decarillion
Charles Dance (Lord Tywin) and Owen Teale (Ser Alliser Thorne) always play such delicious 'bad' guys, especially Teale. (If you watch a lot of UK series', he'll be familiar; if you've watched Torchwood, remember him as the baddie in that cannibal episode. /shiver)

That said, I'm not thrilled with the casting for Samwell Tarly. He's being played too assertively, as compared to the book. You also don't get the sense of how much he has to go through at the Wall because they are skipping over much of the detail (time contraint issues, I'm sure). I hope it doesn't prevent viewers from seeing the changes that the character makes, over time.

It's going to be a LONG year, waiting on season two, isn't it? :(
Theresa DeLucci
17. theresa_delucci
Littlefinger is no Al Swearengen, I'll say that much. That man could turn a BJ into a catalyst for a Shakespearean monologue. (And I did watch this episode with my parents, but they were saying goodnight to guests during that scene, thankfully.) It was stupid. I don't want to say I expect that kind of scene from Spartacus and not from GoT, but, yeah, I kinda do. That sex scene was surely thrown in just for the female romance-loving crowd, I'm sure.

Some quotes from watching with my parents, made funnier if you read the books:

At episode's start. "That Littlefinger guy. I don't know if I trust him, but I think I like him."

"Drogo's pissed. I like him a lot! Are they gonna come across the sea this season?"

After Littlefinger betrays Ned. "What?! But I liked him!... Does this all get resolved by the season finale?"

It's so hard to not say anything. But it's fun.
18. SouthernFlame
@fiddler: I just started reading book 3 and I've felt for a long time that Jon is really Lyanna's son. Also in his comment to Jon "You don't have my name but you have my blood". I've also wondered if he is also Robert's son as well.
19. Carolyn H
Adding one more to the list of things that presage Bad News:
Ned saying to Arya, "We'll talk about this later." You just gotta know that's a bad sign.

Ned does seem considerably more dense in this production than I remember him being in the books. I guess that's mostly caused by the compression of activity, but it feels more noticeable to me here than in the books. In the books, I simply felt Ned was "honorable to a fault" as someone else mentioned. I thought he knew that machinations were going on around him but that he chose to behave differently.
William Fettes
20. Wolfmage
decarillion @ 16

I really can’t agree about Samwell. I think they are striking the right balance between showing his effeminate qualities alongside his more winning qualities like his intelligence and loyalty. Stuff like his poorly timed request to hear Pip sing, him missing girl-giggles and his confession that he never spoke to girls, and his struggle to get up from his knees before the heart tree keeps it all very grounded in the kind of innocence and craven vulnerability of book Sam without risking him becoming too pathetic a figure on-screen.

Any concern that they've somehow bypassed his craven nature such that he now has nowhere to go as the unlikely hero I think is misplaced. I would agree that he's probably more likeable than Sam is at this stage in the book, but mainly because we get an overall impression rather than every bump along the way. It's exactly the same with Jon's journey -- though the abridged version of emo Jon is much less annoying than book Jon-- we're still left with the same understanding of Jon.
21. Luke Jackson
I'm assuming that the laws of genetics after incest operate a bit differently in this world than in our own?
22. Ser Pounce-A-Lot
I continue to be heavily disappointed with this adaptation of GoT. I'm an avid reader of the books and I can say that the only characters I'm enjoying in this adaptation are Arya & Samwell.

Now, the Littlefinger/Prostitutes scene.....Argh. WTF. This is the danger of putting something on HBO. Putting in sex purely for the sake of objectification/gratuitousness rather than plot or character development. I understand that the show needed to be on HBO for the violence and sex in the books, but the trouble with HBO+stereotypical straight male creators is that they are gonna chuck in sex just for the sake of it and I wouldn't even have so much of an objection to that if it didn't objectify women for the 3 millionth time. And when they do throw in something different like the Renly/Loras scene, conveniently you don't see anything and it is also a very stereotypical & feminized gay love scene (and characters. Seriously, what the heck have they done to Renly?).

So very frustrating.
William Fettes
23. Wolfmage
I think worrying about 10 minutes of objectifying nudity in a whorehouse is kind of missing the forest for the trees. If you're going to show it anywhere, sex, nudity and sexual training rightly belong in a whorehouse. Indeed, you could make the argument that not showing them there would be purposefully artificial.

Also, when the entire Martin universe is one big saturated pile of misogyny, with lots of perversely graphic sexual content, this must be considered one rather tame entry on the scale of feminist umbrage. Moreover, the scene is robbed of every ounce of genuine titillation by Littlefinger’s creepy instruction and entirely detached monologue, so it's pretty clear to me that this idea that the producers are going for cheap thrills is false. The scene was about the how to wear a mask and go slowly so that a man believes they are special even though you both know you are being paid to screw. Not exactly a subtle metaphor for what happens, but effective enough.
24. Cat of the Canals
Agreed about the Littlefinger monologue scene being ridiculously gratuitous. However, regarding Renly, the suggestions of his orientation were pretty clear in the books (though mostly subtext and less overt). GoT is just bringing them into the open far earlier, to lay foundation for future characterization.
25. Pate the Pig Boy
Wow, I must be the only one who thought the Littlefinger/whore scene was brilliant. Yes, it was titallating, yes, it was gratuitous. But if you listened to what Petyr was saying, you got a great preview for the ending of the episode.

The "man" knows he has just bought you. He knows you have no real feelings for him. He knows this is your job and you do it all day long for other men. But to really win him over, convince him that he's changing you. In his arms, you melt and feel more than just a whore's duty, but real respect, and lust and love.

And what does Littlefinger do? Convince Ned that, even though it's dishonorable and "bought", Littlefingers "true love", i.e., support, is his. Petyr played Ned just like he taught his whores to play their johns. I thought it was a pretty brilliant bit of exposition, myself.
26. Ser Pounce-A-Lot
Oh, I wasn't complaining that Renly/Loras were a gay couple - I think that was pretty obvious in the books. Apologies for my inarticulation. I was rather complaining that they turned Renly into a stereotypical feminine gay man when in the books he is anything but.

Also, agree about the misogyny. Martin's books are very misogynist but I'm finding the series even more so (although, oddly enough they have done a better job with Cersei, as in the books Martin uses that terrible woman wanting to be a man trope) .
27. Nurse Laurie
Well, I am glad that I'm not the only one who was kinda offended by the sex scene in the whore house. I understand why they did it, but it was way to long... I kinda wish that they had done a "prequel" in the first of the series, explaining the "Mad King", kingslayer, how robert got the throne, etc. The narrative part of the books explain it to a point, but I spend most of the episode explaining things to my husband who has not read the books. Yes, there are things on "On Demand", but not quite enough. That said, I think they have done a pretty great job. My only complaint is that they don't really show enough of Rob, and what they have so far has been that he is very pensive. I also don't like how they are portraying Renly. I still can't find the "references" about his "gayness" and I am reading the books for the thrid time. If anyone can post the page numbers.... I am looking forward to more!!
William Fettes
28. Wolfmage
Nurse Laurie@ 27

There's a pretty comprehensive discussion of Renly & Ser Loras at The Tower of the Hand site.

When you read it all together, Renly’s homosexuality seems pretty much beyond doubt. And, if that wasn’t enough, I’m fairly sure GRRM has explicitly confirmed it somewhere.

As for the tv version of the character, I don’t think he’s been portrayed as a gay stereotype. There have obviously been changes though. For example, some of his best lines have been given to others. He is arguably less handsome and definitely smaller in stature. And he now begins the series with a small aversion to blood -- but it’s not something that is very diminutive like fainting at the smallest amount.

Is that really enough to ruin the character? I personally don’t think so. I think making the relationship with Ser Loras more explicit is good idea when you’re not restricted to the viewpoint as it helps make Renly’s offer to Ned and the events of the next books more logical. We now understand that Renly has aspirations for Kingship, stemming from his distaste of Robert’s rule, his frank appraisal of Stannis’ limitations and Ser Loras’ boosterism, and we know he has the backing of House Tyrell.

Is having a preference for hairless really such a stereotype? And if so, shouldn’t the victim of that stereotype actually be Ser Loras’ character, not Renly? On the show Renly is only shown somewhat bemusedly accommodating the preferences of his lover. Not sure how that is meant to be degrading to him – anymore than shaving for a girlfriend who dislikes itchy beards would be. I could be missing some gay culture meme about hairless little boys, but it seemed innocuous enough to me.
29. AO
I've seen a fair number of people commenting that they missed Renly & Loras in the books, or didn't pick up on it for awhile. I respect that, I'm sure that all of us missed some things the first (and second, etc.) time around.

I started wondering when I saw the Rainbow Guard (which caused me to think of the Rainbow Flag IRL) in proximity to a knight who took the Flower as his symbol. Neither factor meant that they had to be gay, but the combination was enough for me to pay closer attention in case they might be. The subsequent conversations and hints definitely confirmed it.
30. AO
As for the Littlefinger scene, I think that it might have worked much better if it had taken place with the Gold Cloaks instead. I would guess that some non-book viewers still have no idea what Gold Cloaks really are, and a conversation that combined Littlefinger's past with a better explanation of their role within the city could have been very effective, both in setting up the end of this Episode and for those future Episodes & Seasons in which their presence is a greater factor.

I didn't hate the scene that we got, but I think that they missed out on one that would have been better for both the show, and for those viewers who were put off by the subject matter (or the extent to which the subject was explored).
31. vsthorvs
I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. I enjoyed Tywin skinning the stag, although it seems well not out of character (very much in character actually) but out of position. Tywin is a rich rich lord, above doing that. Still it was really fun to see and a perfect introduction to Tywin's character. The whore scene was a great metaphor, my only problem being that I wouldn't think that Littlefinger would suddenly go on about his plans to a bunch of whores. But I thought the scene worked. As for Ned. Yes, he is an idiot. All of the Starks are, that's why they lose the Game of Thrones. Ned had a chance to do real good, but he was too weak and stupid to do what needed to be done.
Lauren Tombari
32. alfie949
I thought Tywin skinning the stag was very appropriate, because it made a great metaphor of him as the Lion.
Ellen B. Wright
33. ellenw
Megaduck @7: Well, we did get Varys saying that plans were already set into motion, even if the specifics weren't detailed. I think he's coming off as plenty sneaky.

cass @8: I think Michelle Fairley's doing a fine job, but I agree, I very much would have liked to see what Jennifer Ehle could do with the role.

JRL @9: Rest assured, I don't think the series is silly at all and I'm enjoying it very much! (Well, maybe the Littlefinger scene was a bit silly.)

Fiddler @10: Agree with all your casting comments. I'm loving Lena Headey as Cersei, a character for whom I had little use in the books. (On the other hand, I like Theon less than I did in the books -- Alfie Allen is doing almost too good of a job at making him despicable.)

Wolfmage @28: Here's the article where I've seen GRRM confirm that Renly and Loras are gay:
34. Tenesmus
My wife's comment on the first scene with Tywin was, "Why didn't he pay someone to do that?" I told her that from now on,whenever there is an animal in a scene, it is a representation of something else. In this case Robert is about to be gutted, so we get a metaphorical gutting of a real stag as foreshadowing.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
35. tnh
Spoilers, Fiddler, spoilers.

JRL @9: Not to worry. It's just snark. She takes the story seriously.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
36. tnh
Luke Jackson @21, I don't want to get into the whole history of the eugenics movement and its popularization of bad science. Short version: incest with near relatives has the potential for expressing damaging recessives, but repeated inbreeding within a limited gene pool over time is a better bet to produce really colorful effects like the Hapsburg jaw. (Also, almost everything you've ever heard about inbreeding among Appalachian upland communities is false.)

Wolfmage @23, good point. That scene deconstructed cheap titillation.

I acknowledge the possibility that there are viewers who are titillated by deconstruction, but my imagination has only gotten as far as having them chastely contemplating a framed photo of Terry Eagleton in the privacy of their own homes, and it's not going any farther.
David Platt
37. The Not So Dark One
The whore house scene, whilst a little gratuitous, was probably necessary as we needed to get more of an understanding for Littlefinger's motivation and where else would someone like Littlefinger speak so freely, and to who else?

My biggest problem with the episode is that as they leave the tunnel under the wall to say their vows Ghost runs ahead, barking. One of the biggest things about Ghost is that he's silent. It's not like barking adds anything to the scene - why have it in?
38. sofrina
i think you're going to have to take what you can get with the wolves on film. there isn't time to get into the wolves' issues and i'm sure they can't hold up production just to get the animals to do things exactly right. as one who hasn't read the books, a wolf barking is not an issue.
Marcus W
39. toryx
I'm one of those who found the whorehouse "instruction" scene to be pretty unnecessary.

But it's not about the metaphor (weak as it struck me) or too much nudity but it felt like they were trying to fit a rectangular shape into a square hole. It just didn't quite fit. Not to mention that having Littlefinger go and expose the deepest, darkest aspect of his soul to a couple of whores while they're receiving lessons from him makes about as much sense as Robert interrupting the tourney for the Hand so he can stand up in the middle of the crowd and explain that the reason he is such a whoremonger is that he didn't get enough love as a child.

I really wish I could have watched the episode with someone who hasn't read the books and didn't necessarily know what was going to happen when Ned found himself betrayed. I'd have liked to have seen the reaction.

I agree wholeheartedly about Natalie Tena. She did a fabulous job in that scene.

And this was the first time I actually liked Emilia Clarke. She was wonderful in the scene with the wineseller.
40. joe heron
Littlefinger's Whorehouse Exposition: I liked it and thought the way they handled it was appropriate. In books we have the luxury of internal dialog, unfortunately this is TV where there needs to be ears for such lenghty dialog (unless its been establish with a narration but it hasnt). Considering the place, whores makes the most sense since Littlefinger's trade is secrets, and for the most part whores are backgrounds objects. I guess it can be a John too, but that'll be weird.

and yes, although i do not like seeing same sex scenes, i do enjoy seeing Esme Bianco.
41. JohnFrost
I'm actually kind of surprised to see such a negative reaction to the whore scene. Is this country still so hung up on sex that one little softcore scene is causing such an issue? There is tons of gratuitous violence in this series--blood and guts and all sorts of nastiness that I'm not too fond of seeing--and I don't hear anyone complaining about that?

Even if that scene had no metaphorical value and was for pure titillation, so what? Sex, in my opinion, is a lot less "dirty" than violence.
Marcus W
42. toryx
I'm not complaining about the sex itself. I'm fully in favor of nudity and sex scenes and same sex scenes, particularly if they can add something to the storyline (as Renly and Loras' scene did).

I just think it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever for Littlefinger to confide in whores. That's counterintuitive and doesn't fit his character at all. If there's anyone in all the realm who is going to be put in the position to gossip and share private information, it's a woman who spends a lot of time in bed with a variety of men. Littlefinger might as well have walked into a common room and shouted out his most private thoughts.

I also thought that the distraction of all the gasps and moans and nudity from Littlefinger's internal dialogue made external detracted from what he was saying. I remember the moans far better than his monologue, even though that was one of the actor's more powerful scenes.
43. JasonD
@39 toryx: " I really wish I could have watched the episode with someone who hasn't read the books and didn't necessarily know what was going to happen when Ned found himself betrayed. I'd have liked to have seen the reaction."

I'm watching with my girlfriend who has never read the books before. Her exact reaction to Littlefinger holding the knife to Ned's throat: "That son of a bitch!" And I giggled. ^_^
45. Mouette
I'll put my hand up as someone who doesn't care for the blood/guts/nudity. I know, yes, as others have said, that the series had to be on HBO - it a rough, dark, harsh world. I know that it has to *be* there, because all of those more graphic elements are a big part of the story. But there's a difference between letting the elements be there, and beating us over the head with them. I'm squeamish about blood and have to hide from the screen a few times every episode. Though oddly I wasn't bothered by Tywin and the deer... it's people gushing blood that I have trouble watching. And hearing. Squick.

And while the tons of female nudity doesn't bother me, per se... sometimes a girl gets tired of seeing so many breasts. My take on it is more meh, is this really necessary. Whether guts or sex, my thought is always what exactly does it add to the story or the telling? Sometimes, it does - Dany's first scene, nakedly descending to her bath... I found that fairly powerful. Her face was carefully blank, but the nudity conveyed vulnerability, just how little power she has over anything in her life right now, how at the moment she's just a young girl being sold for her body and bloodlines. And yet subtly, too, it foretold Dany's power, that she was the true heir - the maids all exclaimed that the water was too hot, but heat doesn't burn the Dragon. I liked that touch, since at first you the water's high heat is meant to show Dany's numbness... but upon later realizations, it's much more than that. So that's one example of where nudity *does* add to the story without feeling gratuitous, but many, many, many more examples are nowhere near as developmental.

Re: Littlefinger, and the earlier comment "That sex scene was surely thrown in just for the female romance-loving crowd, I'm sure."

Seriously? Cause I'm almost 999% sure that the girl-on-girl sex scene is thrown in for the male viewers who enjoy the idea of girl-on-girl, as it has nothing to do with 'romance'. Unless you meant "the crowd who loves female on female sex", not "the crowd of women who love romance" - the wording can be taken either way.

There are metaphors in the scene - a little heavy-handed, but yes, they're there. And I do like how Littlefinger uses it, the idea of teaching whores to whore as a stand-in for politics. Just yes, doesn't seem as Littlefinger-sneaky as I'd expect. Varys and Littlefinger are much more blatant about their scheming on-screen so far, even coming to a thinly-veiled confrontation about it, when in the books everything is much, much more subtle. But I also agree that with so *much* going on, so many characters and motivations, everything has to be a little more blatant for the story to make sense.

Heartily disagree with 'Ned's weak and dumb'. He knows that he's in a pit of snakes. Choosing to not be a snake himself is not weak. There are things he should have done, of course. Never accept the Hand appointment in the first place, never take his daughters along, send his daughters home as soon as he realized how dangerous King's Landing would be, not accept his wife's trust of Littlefinger and rely on it... but he acted as well as he could in the circumstances he was trying to deal with. It's an unfortunate truth that often the men most capable of ruling are the ones you'd least want in power (i.e., Tywin Lannister). Honorable, honest men like Ned Stark, while you might want them in power for their just and fair natures, are way over their heads in the Game.
Michael Maxwell
46. pike747
Two very good scenes IMO.

The one with Jaimie and Tyvin Lannister as well as the one with Cersei and Ned.

Lena Headley as Cersei equals great casting. Knows a thing or two about playing an obsessed mother.

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