Summary of the Episode
The main host of characters are now beginning to splinter off into separate journies. Ned Stark, accompanied with his two daughters Sansa and Arya, travel with the King Robert Baratheon and company back to King’s Landing. But the venier of the royal family slowly unravels as the journey south continues.
In Winterfell, Catelyn discovers the conspiracy that left Bran in a comma. After an attack by an assassin and a quick investigation everything seems to be coming up Lannister. Afraid to deliver the message by raven, she begins to make travel plans to see Ned in secret.
Meanwhile across the Narrow Sea Danny and the Dothraki continue their journey to…. wherever it is that they are going. The show does not make this extremely clear, instead it spends this travel time focusing on Danny and her need to adapt to her new surroundings. This is primarily focused on sex with Khal Drogo.
Just as episode 1 was all about getting to know the characters and getting them together, this episode is continuing to know the characters and breaking them down to smaller interactions. And this is accomplished in the narrative through travel which forces characters to interact with one another where they otherwise would not.
This dynamic of characters interacting is arguably one of the best parts of early Game of Thrones seasons (and arguably its largest failures later on). And out of all the characters Jon Snow has the most of them this episode and some of the best in the show. Two notable interactions are Snow’s interaction with Bran, more appropriately Caitlin, and his conversation with Jamie Lannister. Tyrion and Jon’s relationship will be discussed in later episodes when it becomes relevant again.
In the Catelyn/Jon/Bran interaction there is talk of the future that creates a thin veil over the past experience between these characters. In the books it is clear since Catelyn is a POV character for her dislike of Jon Snow because it is his bastard son that lives with the rest of the family in Winterfell. This is referenced in the episode after the scene but props to Michelle Fairley to really make the hatred work subtly.
Jon’s interaction with Jamie Lannister is a conversation about the future tethered to the past. Jamie is battle hardened but has this experienced naivete about war. Quick to point out how green Jon Snow is but also not disturbed enough to consider the consequences of battles that he seems to have fought. At the same time, Jon is inexperienced but is wise beyond his years, unwilling to dive into a conflict without reason.
This naive view is a tragedy throughout the early part of this season. The youth of this world, having lived through roughly two decades of relative calm in the realm, are now facing situations in which war seems to be the best option. In the scene where Caitlin reveals her theory on what is going on both Robb and Theon the youngest of the circle remark that this could be war. Both of the elder statesmen in the mix voice the refrain of even using such language.
On the opposite end of this spectrum is Robert Baratheon, the man so obsessed with his successful rebellion that he continues to hunt down the tyrants ancestors abroad. When it is revealed who Jon’s actual mother is the scene of Robert and Ned talking in the field makes it crystal clear why Ned did not even trust his wife with the information that he knew.
But in the context of this world Robert’s want of destroying the remaining Targaryens makes sense. Robert openly admits later that he is not a good king. His kingdom is facing extreme debt, there are clearly a lot of interkingdom rivalries flaring up, and Robert is not particularly use to nuance so why not go after the old boogie man that got you to where you were anyways?
(NOTE: If this seems extremely familiar in a political context you are probably just thinking about it too hard.)
Even in the final dispute of this episode Robert remains a bystander to the justice that is being delivered. Where the King in a medieval system should be the final word, Robert remains unclear on the punishments. In his neglect to reflect on the decision to make he is allowing tensions to simmer. All to avoid the blowback from the decision he makes.
Speaking of the Joffrey fight with Arya, this is where a lot of the fantasy tropes of good triumphing over evil begin to become undone. In that scene Sansa is the stand in for all of our selfish innocence about the world. In fact, when Arya fights back against Joffrey for nearly killing the Butcher’s boy her remarks are “You are spoiling everything.”. The rose-colored glasses have yet to fall off for Sansa just like many viewers who may still be watching this expecting last minute saves and good guys overcoming evil.
Finally, in terms of the Dothraki, this episode subtly shows a lot of nuance within the Dothraki that people and even the show eventually abandon. When we are first introduced to them the audience is meant to take subliminal cues from other forms of media and history. They are nomadic horseman a rough historical representation of people from the Asian Steppes such as the Huns and the Mongols. Aggressive and savage nomads with little care for the lives of those they conquered let alone anyone in there own society.
But here the images of nomadic warriors galloping on horseback are replaced with groups of people making a slow ride through the grasslands. Whenever camp is set up there are scenes of people tending to food, preparing clothes, or even just talking amongst themselves.
Danny’s handmaidens even represent the strange and misunderstood aspects of the Dothraki. Her handmaidens appear to be slaves but from different areas of Essos. They all greatly variate in skin tones, accents, and even belief structures. (For it is known.) The Dothraki society if not multinational is clearly open to integration in a world that seems to lack a lot of it.
Next time: Lord Snow