HBO was kind enough to allow people who registered for their HBOGO.COM service to watch this seventh episode of Game of Thrones a full week before it aired. I wasn’t planning on watching it ahead of time, but since I already was signed up I decided to just go ahead and watch it. I must say that this latest episode continues to build on what has been a very strong first season for the tv adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s popular and critically-acclaimed medieval fantasy novel series of “A Song of Ice and Fire”.
The last episode was a major turning point for some of the characters in this series. “A Golden Crown” saw Daenerys Targaryen finally become her own woman in the face of her older siblings buffonery and childish tantrums. Behavior which finally got him the “golden crown” he deserved from Khal Drogo (and one which Daenerys seems to approve of). Tyrion Lannister using his wit and cunning mind to get himself extricated from the craziness that was Lysa Arryn and her court in the Eyrie of the Vale. The episode also brings together all the clues and evidence Ned Stark had been gathering about the death of the previous Hand of the King.
One would think that nothing could top all the pivotal events of episode six’s “A Golden Crown”, but this seventh episode surely tops that one with some building on the revelations of the previous episode. It’s really a major testament to showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss at how they’re able to not just stay true to the source material but also condense some of the minor threads of subplots and backstory into an hour episode that’s thrilling, engaging and not pandering to it’s audience.
This episode was aptly titled, “You Win Or You Die” as the fight for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms finally begins. We see the introduction of the Lannister patriarch who has loomed over the series as some unseen Sword of Damocles who holds King Robert’s tenuous hold on his kingdom. It was a treat to see veteran British actor Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister and see him playing the character as a no-nonsense, pragmatic but ruthless leader of his House. His brief time in this episode told us all we needed to know about Tywin. He’s so unlike his three children and this fact has become such a burden to him that he’s willing to take whatever virtue from the one child he sees as his most capable heir in Jamie that he’s willing to forgo all the faults. The scene of him butchering and dressing the stag while talking down (and propping up) Jamie for his foolishness with challenging Ned in episode five was very prophetic.
The episode also sees the return of Jon Snow and his part of the series’ story as he finally gets formally inducted into the Night’s Watch with Sam and the rest of the new recruits. What should’ve been a momentous occasion has been tempered by the sudden news of his uncle Benjen’s disappearance north of the Wall. It also shows Jon at his most petulant. What he saw as punishment from the Night’s Watch trainer and resident asshole in Ser Allister when he gets assigned as the Commander’s squire and steward was seen by his friend Sam as Jon being groomed for future command. For those who have been quite tough on chubby and cowardly Samwell should really have second thoughts about just how useless he is. He is surely becoming the voice of reason and logic to Jon’s more impetuous and “act now, think later” mentality. We also see the return of one of the direwolves as Jon’s (aptly named Ghost) brings him a gruesome gift once he has taken his vows.
The third major event in this episode before we get to it’s climactic finish brings us back to Vaes Dothrak and to Daenerys and Khal Drogo. With Viserys now out of the picture we see Daenerys begin to assert herself on Khal Drogo. While her brother’s dreams of becoming the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms have been dashed with a golden, metallic clang her own ambitions have not. She now sees herself as the true Dragon and still wishes to have the Iron Throne for her unborn son, Rhaego. While Khal Drogo still doesn’t see such things as important for him and his people an event in a marketplace which puts his khaleesi and son in danger finally convinces him of the danger the Seven Kingdoms poses.
This all leads us to the beginning of the “game of thrones”. Ned now fully knows why his predecessor was killed as the secret of Joffrey “Bieber” Baratheon’s lineage becomes quite clear. While more crafty and politically adept individuals would keep the secret from Cersei this is Ned Stark we’re talking about and he confronts his Queen with the news. To say that Cersei wasn’t flustered would be an understatement. This episode showed Lena Headey in full control of the Cersei character as we see her play the role with more iron and spine than what was shown in the novel.
“You Win Or You Die” finally sees an ignominious end to King Robert and his whoring and drinking. What was suppose to be a boar-hunt to help alleviate the stress he has been getting from both the Lannisters and the Starks finally gets him gored by the very boar he’s trying to hunt (though there’s suspicion that his inattentiveness during the hunt may have had some help). Mark Addy does a great job as Robert on his deathbed as he confesses his failings not just as a ruler but as a husband and as a father to the Seven Kingdoms, Cersei and Joffrey respectively. He appoints Ned to become the Regent of the Kingdoms until Joffrey is of age and does so officially with a sealed document.
One would think this final and dying declaration from a dying ruler would be enough to give Ned the power he requires to put the kingdom into order from the coming chaos but that would be selling all the characters with something to gain short. Robert’s not even cold when his younger brother Renly approaches Ned about plans to seize the throne from Cersei, but Ned being the honorable type refuses. Whatever ally he might’ve had to help him leaves the city as he confronts Cersei and Joffrey about the plans of succession. This is where the episode finally explodes into the conflict that’s been building since the very episode.
Some might say that this episode seems quite full of subplots and story threads and might not devote enough time for each. In fact, I was surprised at how much the writers were able to cram into this episode and still make each storyline have the time to make their events important to the series as a whole. While the episode ends with the the “game of thrones” in full swing in King’s Landing, the episode could also mean that things in the Wall and north of it has finally sunk into Jon and his fellow recruits as being truly serious. He and his new brothers must win or die. It’s as simple as that. Even Daenerys’ situation across the Narrow Sea fits the episode title well. With her now the bearer of the Targaryen line and her husband the leader of a powerful army she must also win or die.
Everyone in this episode seems to know the rules of the game their playing except the one person who seemed to be the one who had the most to win or lose. This episode showed Ned at his most intractable and honorable self, but it also showed just how much ill-prepared he is to fight in a battlefield where he doesn’t know who to trust and the very people who he shouldn’t trust might be his only allies. The final scene of the episode really highlight’s this dilemma for Ned and was such a great cliffhanger for the final three episodes to come before the series end’s it’s first season.
For fans of the books this episode shouldn’t disappoint and for new fans it should excite and really pull them in deeper into the world of Martin’s creation. Next week should continue the events we’re left to process as this latest episode ended. Will war finally break out between the two major houses of Lannister and Stark? Will Drogo finally bring his Dothraki horde into the Seven Kingdoms to gift his wife the Iron Throne she covets? What agenda does Littlefinger have and will it be the downfall of one of the houses?
There’s so much to be answered but seeing how this series just seems to get better with each successive episode I don’t doubt that episode eight will drop the ball and disappoint us with the answer (or will more questions arise) to those very questions.