Jun 13 2011 11:05am

Game of Thrones episode review: “Baelor”

Game of Thrones episode review of

This week on Game of Thrones, Tyrion invents a drinking game, Robb Stark goes up against Jaime Lannister in a Battle of the Prettiest Soldiers, and holy shit what the fuck just happened are you fucking kidding me. Major episode spoilers ahead.

It’s somewhat disingenuous to sum up events like that, since of course, having read A Game of Thrones, I knew exactly what was coming. I remember, though, how shocked I was, and I remember thinking, once I’d calmed down a bit: this is a game-changer, right here. But more on that later.

Varys has come to see Ned in the dungeons, and to tell him that Sansa has pled for his life. “She knows a tame wolf is more use to them than a dead one,” he says in his slimy way. Varys delivers the offer: if Ned is willing to confess to treason and proclaim Joffrey the rightful king, he’ll be allowed to take the black and join Jon and Benjen on the Wall.

Robb and his army need to pass the Twins, which belong to Lord Walder Frey, who isn’t famous for being tractable. Catelyn volunteers to be the one who goes to negotiate with him, since he’s known her since she was a girl. He’s not especially pleased to see her even so, and kvetches (after yelling at his many children and groping his young new wife) that her father didn’t attend his last few weddings, or help him marry off any of his children. You can see the wheels in Cat’s head turning even as her eyes are rolling.

Sure enough, she comes out shortly after with the conditions of the crossing: his young son Olyvar will become Robb’s squire. Arya will marry another of his sons. “And?” Robb asks nervously. And Robb will marry one of Walder’s daughters, whichever he prefers. “He has a number he thinks will be... suitable,” Catelyn tries to reassure Robb. We get the impression that Robb and Walder Frey might have different ideas of “suitable,” but Robb agrees.

On the Wall, we’re learning about the families the men of the Night Watch have left behind, which makes some news Jon receives even more poignant. First, Lord Commander Mormont gives Jon a sword that was made for his son, Jorah. (Yes, that Jorah.) Then Aemon mulls on the choice between honor and love, because he knows Jon’s heard that Robb is marching south, and thinks he should be with him. Aemon wonders what Jon thinks Ned, the most honorable man in Westeros, would do when faced with that choice. “He would do what was right,” Jon insists stubbornly.

Aemon tells him about when his family was destroyed, even the children murdered in their beds, and he wished he could have done something. You can see realization slowly dwelling on Jon’s face: this is Aemon Targaryen, and Mad King Aerys was his grandnephew. In the end, Aemon doesn’t forbid Jon to leave, despite his vow. Jon has to make the choice himself, “and live with it for the rest of your days,” Aemon says. “As I have.”

Across the Narrow Sea, Drogo’s wounds have gotten worse to the point where he can no longer ride his horse. Dany has to deal with some somewhat less than enlightened opinions among the bloodriders: “A Khal who cannot ride is no Khal,” one of them tells her, and they won’t listen to any woman. She convinces them to camp through sheer Targaryenness, but as soon as Jorah gets a look at the wound, he tells her Drogo is going to die that night, and she should flee to Asshai. No one will care about her son’s claim among the Dothraki, where they rule by strength, not by blood.

Desperate, Dany summons Mirri Maz Duur and asks her if there is some magic that will save him. There is a way, Mirri admits, but it won’t come free: “Only death pays for life.” Dany wonders if it is her own death the maegi means, but Mirri tells them to bring Drogo’s horse and neatly dodges the question. Everyone has to leave the tent, even Dany, and must not enter for the whole night.

The bloodriders are appalled that Dany’s enlisted the help of a witch. One is about to stalk right into the tent until Jorah, wearing his just-in-case armor, challenges him. He defeats him, but bigger problems are waiting for them: Dany’s gone into labor. None of the women will tend her because of the witch. Jorah, wearing the best “How the hell did I end up in this position?” face ever, carries her into the tent, from which no one will emerge until next week.

This is a grim episode, but it’s not without its moments of humor, mostly (of course) courtesy of Tyrion. Bronn has procured a whore named Shae for Tyrion, having taken her from someone a few tents down. “And he didn’t have anything to say about it?” Tyrion wonders. “He said something,” Bronn says rather earnestly. Later on, Tyrion, Shae, and Bronn camp out in Tyrion’s tent playing drinking games, and I’m pretty sure Tyrion just invented Never Have I Ever here. I loved this scene.

We also learn about Tyrion’s sad romantic past: he and Jaime rescued an orphan named Tysha, and Tyrion married her. It’s a rare glimpse into the vulnerability underneath Tyrion’s shield of sarcasm and arrogance. When he was with Tysha, he admits, “I forgot how afraid I was around girls, how I was always waiting for them to laugh at me, look away embarrassed, or ask me about my tall, handsome brother.” Not long after, Jaime told him Tysha was a prostitute hired by their father, and Tyrion has never forgiven Tywin.

The next morning they go into battle against Robb’s army. Tyrion gets knocked out almost immediately, and wakes up when the fighting is all over and his tribesmen are thoroughly killing off any survivors. (Did I hear a Wilhelm scream in the background?) They won, but there were only 2,000 men against them, not the 20,000 they’d been expecting. Tyrion wonders where Robb was, and Tywin tells him bitterly, “With his other 18,000 men.”

And working hard, because when we see Robb shortly after, he’s captured Jaime Lannister. Jaime wants to settle this all with a duel between him and Robb, and they pout prettily at each other. Fortunately, Robb’s too smart for that; “If we did it your way, Kingslayer,” he says with a smirk, “you’d win. We’re not doing it your way.”

By this point of the episode, I was glancing at my clock nervously, counting down the minutes to what I knew had to happen. I’ll be honest: even though I knew what to expect, my stomach was clenching up and my eyes were tearing up. The last few minutes of this episode may be one of my favorite sequences of the show so far, despite... well.

Arya’s chasing pigeons in King’s Landing when everyone starts rushing towards the Sept of Baelor. Some passing boys tell her they’re taking the Hand there. She climbs up on a statue to get a better view, and Ned sees her; he runs into Yoren in the crowd and sends him after her. The crowd is clawing at him, yelling insults, and someone throws a rock at his head. Poor innocent Sansa, dressed up for the occasion, is smiling as they bring Ned forward.

Earlier in the episode, Aemon and Jon discussed the conflicts between honor and family. Though Jon said Ned would always do the right thing, here we see him putting his family’s safety first. It turns out to be his last act, and as such, it’s appropriate. To ensure, he thinks, his safety and that of his children, he confesses to treason. He pulls out all the stops, too: “Before [Robert’s] blood was cold, I plotted to murder his son and seize the throne for myself,” he says, and he declares Joffrey the true king. Grand Maester Pycelle makes a nice little speech about the gods being just but merciful.

But “just but merciful” is not a phrase anyone will apply to King Joffrey Baratheon’s reign. With a smug expression, he tells the crowd what his mother and Sansa asked him to do. “But they have the soft hearts of women,” he concludes. “Ser Ilyn, bring me his head.”

Sansa freaks out. The crowd cheers. Cersei is clearly asking Joffrey, “What the fuck, dude?” Yoren grabs for Arya and tells her not to look. For a moment, it’s chaos everywhere, and then we’re in Ned’s head as all the sounds fade to a whisper. He looks out over the crowd that’s calling for his blood. He searches for Arya, but can’t find her. Ser Ilyn pulls out his blade, and swings it.

And everyone falls silent.


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.

1. emilyg
I haven't read the books yet (planning to start after the last episode next week), and amazingly I didn't get spoiled for the end of this episode. I was SHOCKED. and traumatized! and I'm still crying about it. oh my god, grrm, why.
2. mochabean
And the Twins in the credits! Yay! Another really strong episode, and I had the same feelings of dread and sadness as we approached the end -- even knowing what was going to happen. This episode also sets up two major events in book three, which makes me hope that we will get a season three (and my feelings of dread will be about 10x greater then). I was looking forward to Walder Frey, and the brooding malevolence of the the Twins did not dissapoint. But the birds flying away as Arya closes her eyes -- heartbreaking.
Theresa DeLucci
3. theresa_delucci
I read Game of Thrones over Christmas break for the first time and reading it while knowing Sean Bean was cast as Ned... yeah, pretty much knew how that was gonna end. But it was no less shocking or compelling or heartbreaking.

I thought it was a nice change that Ned got to glimpse Arya before he died. Throw us a bone here, please. It was just so sad. Even knowing what was coming couldn't lessen it. And I feel so relieved I can talk about it now. My poor friends and family who never read the book and loved Ned so much. How I think eveyone, the first time coming to this story, whether in book or film, really thought Ned was going to go to the Wall to fight ice zombies like a badass with his cool bastard son next season. It's fucking crushing. P.S. Yoren is awesome.

How did people feel about skipping the battle scenes? Seemed a rather Rome-esque thing to do. I know it's a budget thing and pacing as well. But it was also kind of confusing. I thought Robb was heading into battle when he rode up to Catelyn. But there was Jaime.

As for the other Lannister men, I heard this episode was the only one HBO submitted for the Emmy's. Peter Dinklage was fantastic here, when he talked about his wife. Give him the Emmy now. And for as cruel as Tywin is, Tyrion never mentioned what was probably the worst, most disgusting, part of the whole Tysha episode in the book. (Tyrion was forced to go last.)

I loved the scene between Jon and Aemon as well. TV-Jon's lines aren't noticeably different from the book, but why is Jon coming across as less awesome than Robb? It must be the actors. I love Robb way more than I did in the books. Which makes me even more upset about the Frey negotiation. Freys! /shakes fist
Richard Dickson
4. DailyRich
"As for the other Lannister men, I heard this episode was the only one HBO submitted for the Emmy's."

If that's true, it's a damn shame, because Mark Addy really deserves some recognition for his performance as Robert. He was my biggest question mark coming into the series and he totally blew me away.
Ellen B. Wright
5. ellenw
emilyg@1: It's shocking, and traumatizing! I'm somewhat removed from Ned's death now, since I first read the books years ago, but it was still upsetting to watch. I hope you'll still continue to read/watch, though.

mochabean@2: I've been enjoying all along noting the spots where they set up later events, and this was one where I was banging my head against the wall. I really hope we get a season 3. And then I will really hate watching it.

theresa_delucci@3: I agree about Jon and Robb; I like Jon less than I did in the books and Robb more (though I still tend to think, every time I look at him, "Robb Stark, you are such an idiot"). I wonder if it's partly because Robb doesn't get POV chapters in the book, so we're actually getting a bit more insight into his character here.

I read the books long before there was any talk of a TV show, but I remember how I felt when they cast Sean Bean: like maybe they were actually going to do this thing right. After all, he has a long and honorable history of dying to kick off the action (The Fellowship of the Ring, Equilibrium, Goldeneye...).
6. Smaug's Li'l Brother Puff
Emily @1: "oh my god, grrm, why."

As James Hibberd at* points out, for the same reason Obi-Wan Kenobi and Professor Dumbledore had to die. Because the story is about the kids.

*If anyone is missing the recaps, get over there as soon as you're done here. They're affectionate and respectful, but laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Ben Frey
7. BenPatient
@3: Actually, in the book, that particular battle scene (where Jamie is captured) is done just the same way, from Cat's POV, after the battle. The battle itself is recounted in bits and pieces through various POVs and internal dialogues later on, some of it not even being revealed until Jamie starts getting a POV himself in later books. I think they will probably wuss out on most of the battles, but really, most of the "big" fighting in GOT happens off-stage. Primarily because our POV characters aren't involved in a lot of direct fighting (with some major exceptions, of course).
8. carolynh
I read the book years ago, and I don't think I've ever been so shocked by a book as I was about what happens to Ned. And even knowing that it was coming, well, it just made the entire episode and the series, really, so effing sad. Ned was always my favorite character, better than Tyrion, better than book Jon (and I totally agree that book Jon seems more interesting than movie Jon), better than any of the others.

After this point in the book I felt totally at sea. I reread this awful scene a couple of times. Had I missed something? Was there an "out" that I didn't see before? I thought Ned was the main character. Who really was the guy to root for? I couldn't figure it out. I still miss Ned.

The movie did a superb job with this scene. I loved the moment when Ned got to see Arya and Sansa both. They did it right. It's still an awful, awful moment.
Chris Lough
9. TorChris
I love LOVE this episode solely for letting the world at large experience one of my favorite moments in all of science fiction/fantasy.

This was one of my favorite episodes, too, in regards to the TV showrunners highlighting larger themes that tie together the parallel storylines. The concept of honor has been at the forefront of this entire series and here we see it tested in every character featured in this episode.

I found it particularly stirring to see Ned's two oldest boys, Jon and Robb, struggle to utilize the Stark code of honor in their own situations. Jon in his decision of what to uphold: his obligation to his family or his oath to the Night's Watch, and Robb in his war.

I thought it was particularly keen of them to have Jaime challenge Robb to a duel and have the latter turn it down immediately. Robb's version of Stark honor is a good deal more pragmatic than his father's, owing undoubtedly to the influence of Catelyn, who exercises that same approach with Walder Frey. Robb, and the actor portraying him, really stepped into the limelight here.

Robb's choice had a heartbreaking resonance with Ned's confession, too. Here, Ned finally seems to grasp some of that pragmatic outlook and... it dooms him utterly. Because of Joffrey's complete lack of ANY sort of honor. Tyrion's explanation of Tysha resonates here, as well. We always knew Joffrey was the result of terrible and neglectful parents, but through Tyrion's story about Tywin we get the full picture of just how sadistic and self-serving this family has always been.

It was wonderful to see the showrunners really seize on the series theme here to frame Ned's death, instead of just plugging in scenes by the numbers. Definitely one of the best episodes of this season.
Justin Golenbock
10. jgolenbo
@3: @7's right, we don't see that battle so much as its aftermath through Cat's POV, but I agree...I was hoping the show would at least give us a taste of a huge, Braveheart-esque battle set piece. Maybe next season!!

@3/5: I think part of it is the role Jon has been written to play so far, i.e. moody adolescent, while his half-brother gets to play adult Ned Stark-lite. I loved Jon's character in book 1 for the way he bonds with Sam and the other non-noble NW youngsters, and a lot that has been condensed for the show. That said, I like the actor in the role and I'm especially looking forward to his character growth in season 2 once they expedition north.
11. sofrina
i was just wondering how much events would have changed if arya had possessed a bow instead of sword at the execution.
Rob Munnelly
12. RobMRobM
Wonderful episode. Baelor scene was truly remarkable.

Only caveats - Tyrion, Bronn Shae scene went on a bit long, they changed the name of Arya's fiancee, they skipped a generation in Aemon's family description, and, most importantly, there was a huge freaking spoiler in the previews for next week. Arrgghhhh!
Jamie Watkins
13. Treesinger
The show left out one of the best Tyrion scenes though. I so wanted to see Tyrion ramming the horse with the spike on his helmut!
14. brentodd
Longclaw was not forged for Jorah Mormont - it is the Mormont family sword (as Ice is to the Starks), which makes it all the more eventful that he gave the sword to Jon... a kind of "son I wish I'd had" kind of thing.

Also - it wasn't Tywin that hired Tysha for Tyrion - it was all Jaime's idea. Tywin just put an end to it (in the most sadistic way imaginable) when he found out.
Rob Munnelly
15. RobMRobM
Double post. Sorry. (Darned posting system).

It's funny to see newbie websites (like TWP Completely Unspoiled Speculation) assuming that Shae is Dothraki, given her mysterious foreign accent and refusal to identify her place of birth.
16. vsthorvs
Great episode, though they sidestepped the issue of Tyrion having possibly raped Tysha as well. Shae seems like a much more complex character than she was in the books.

I personally loved the way Rome handled battles, and will be fine if Game of Thrones handles it the same way. GRRM pretty much wrote them from that way. We only see the buildup to battles and the aftermath.

My only dissapointment was in Tywin's armor. In the book, he was described as having shining magnificent armor that I would have loved to see in the show.
Justin Golenbock
17. jgolenbo
@16 my pet peeve: not Tywin's armor, his hairline! In the books one of Tywin's first characterizations is how he never goes "halfway," and as a physical example, he has a shaved head because he got rid of all his hair the second he started to bald. As a bald man who goes halfway PLENTY in life, I wanted them to get that detail right!
18. Dair
@17, I also seem to remember that he was to have some epic sideburns. When we were first introduced to Tywin in the series, I didn't immediately recognize him due to the discrepancy.

Having read the series about two or three and a half times, I was still stunned by the closer. Very happy with the series so far.
David Platt
19. The Not So Dark One
I remember reading the Baelor scene for the first time and having a cold rush run through my whole body - for me, up till that point, Ned had been the main character I had identified with. It changed the whole genre for me, made other stories not seem as real. My wife, encouraged by enjoying the TV series finally agreed to read the book, her first fantasy read, ( I have been trying to get her into reading 'my kind' of books for years). I think the show did the beheading scene very very well, and she was still shocked at the outcome - believing even until the sword came down that someone would intervene.
For me - I feel it would have been even more shocking if she had read it first, I think maybe it managed to convey better how this was not the expected outcome.
Overall though I think its a win win situation as both the books and the show are amazing
20. Cork
@14 - No one hired Tysha. Tywin made Jaime lie to Tyrion so he could break up their marriage without Tyrion making a scene. No Lannister could be allowed to wed a lowborn crofter's daughter. Not even half of one.

The revelation of that lie leads to Tyrion's final act in book 3 in which we are compelled to wonder exactly where it is that whores go.
Rikka Cordin
21. Rikka
Robb Stark goes up against Jaime Lannister in a Battle of the Prettiest Soldiers

And wins, handily. Gentlemen may prefer blondes but ladies love the (dark) redheads. And accents. Mmmm, accents.

Also. I would like Shae if she weren't supposed to be playing Shae. But, unfortuneately, she is and she just doesn't feel right, she's not playful enough and doesn't seem very entertained by Tyrion.

HBO really pulled through magnificently with Ned's beheading though. The last shot with Arya clinging to Yoren.... heart-breaking. Which makes up for two scenes I felt lacked emotional punch, Mormont's gifting of Longclaw and Maester Aemon's life story. I think at least part of that is because watchers really don't have the whole mythic history, from a world-building perspective, and the ubiquitous prevalence of the knowledge of what happened to the Targaryens, hammered into their brains. At least not to the same extent as the readers.

Hoping next episode is when Dany becomes unburnt because that will kick ASS.
22. dav
Peter Dinklage is still killing it as Tyrion, but the characterization of Bronn in the show has taken it to another level. I did always kind of like him in the books, but Jerome Flynn (who?) has easily made him one of my four favorites (along with Jon Snow and Jorah). I've continued to be surprised by what each specific actor has brought to their roles and how they have broadened what I already thought were extremely deep characters.
Sydo Zandstra
23. Fiddler
I finally got to watch this episode today, and I found it awesome. Still haven't seen the last episode yet though :(

The scene at Baelor with Ned made me go cold, even if I knew what was coming. Joffrey really seems to be like Draco Malfoy times 10... I loved the touch with Ned spotting Arya on the statue and asking Yoren to save her, and him being resolved when he sees she is no longer on the statue. IIRC, this wasn't in the book. It highlights his decision to lie about his betrayal in order to save his daughters though.

Speaking of Harry Potter, I noted the actor playing The Late Lord Frey,
David Bradley, is also playing Argus Filch in the HP movies. I love him there, and I love him even more in GoT. Another Fine Casting...

The Twins were well pictured too. In the books, I always considered them near to each other with a rather short bridge between them. But the Trident is a Big River after all. I wouldn't want to be leading the army that has to fight their way through that crossing. I also wouldn't be surprised if the Freys had the mechanics ready to demolish the bridge easily, if one of the Castles should fall after a siege, and goodbye and all luck to you, besieging bastards... ;-) (It's what I would do there)

TV-Dany is growing on me. Although I still find the 'light of my life' talk disturbing, the acting is becoming better, IMO. I find TV-Dany more interesting than Book-Dany, whose chapters I usually skim on rereads...

And a powerful talk between Aemon and Jon. Aemon said he was blessed with age and being blind when he had to make his choice between Honour and Family, but from the performance here, I don't doubt that Younger Aemon with eyesight would have made the same choice.

But shame on you, Jon Snow. A Valyrian blade is not a thing to give to your friends to play with for a while. Some of them might get cut... ;-)
24. paranoyd
FYI, the sword they used to behead Ned was his own sword, Ice, AFAIK.
Sydo Zandstra
25. Fiddler
Yes, that was Ice. Ilyn Payne gets to keep it for a while...
26. serious77
@ Theresa and Ellen (3 and 5) - In regards to Robb vs Jon... I think the reason Robb seems to shine more than Jon is because Jon's story doesn't really kick in until book 2. I think that next season we will see Jon become more relevant to the show and transition in to fill the void that Ned left.
27. Mouette
@14: Wasn't Jaime's idea either, because Tysha wasn't a whore. Tywin invented that whole cruelty to get rid of Tyrion's embarrassingly common wife, and made Jaime swear to act like it was the truth. Which just makes Tywin even more chilling.
28. Mouette
Got to thinking in this episode that the Starks could bring the entire Lannister military force to a stumbling halt if they just bought up all the red dye in Westeros.

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