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'Game of Thrones' Season 1, Episode 5 Recap

by Maureen Ryan, posted May 15th 2011 10:00PM
['Game of Thrones' - 'The Wolf and the Lion']

This week's episode is, in my humble opinion, hands down the best episode of 'Game of Thrones' so far. It not only features a couple of great scenes -- moments that were flat-out brilliantly written and acted -- but it was generally compelling and involving from beginning to end.

One of the reasons this episode worked so well? Though 'The Wolf and the Lion' spent a little time elsewhere, the hour focused tightly on two locations and what was going on there.

More importantly, there was a new level of nuance, sophistication and excitement in the King's Landing scenes, which had often been plodding in the past. Finally, events there began to move forward in dangerous ways and things are beginning to look very dark for the Starks.

Flow and narrative drive have been problematic on this show, but here, they weren't an issue. The fact that we had four episodes that only worked intermittently before we got to one that worked all the way through demonstrated why being uber-faithful to the novel is something of a problem. There are many pages of setup before things really begin to move in a major way in the 800-page 'Game of Thrones' novel, and let me be clear -- the complicated characters and their fraught relationships make reading every one of those pages worthwhile.

But what we got in the first four episodes was a faithful rendition of all the setup of the novel, without nearly as much of the novel's atmosphere, psychological complexity and context. On the show, people haven't always seemed all that compelling because a good deal of the time their dialogue was oriented toward giving us information about their world, not about their attitudes or emotional states. The focus on facts, histories and events sometimes made the people seem less interesting on a personal or psychological level.

And, as I've said repeatedly, ideally each episode should work on its own, not simply as part of a larger whole. Every episode needs to have its own beginning, middle and end and to have a narrative through line for at least a few individual characters. This week, we got all that, thank the gods.

In the second half of the first season and in the show's second season, I hope we get many more scenes like the one between Cersei and Robert. It felt vital, real and alive. It was psychologically complex, unpredictable and even darkly amusing. This was the show I've wanted since I first heard HBO was developing a 'GoT' series. I've watched that conversation several times now and I enjoy it more every time.

Once again, a terrific scene -- a necessary scene -- depicted an encounter that wasn't in the book. I've begun to think of these scenes as "connective tissue," i.e., vital material that connects the major organs of the drama. These scenes tend to have some of the show's best writing, and as a result, they often feature the best acting. The actors know they've been given choice material these scenes, and they raise their games accordingly.

There was a liveliness and an emotional honesty in that conversation between Robert and Cersei -- two people who have waged a form of war on each other for 17 years but who called a temporary truce in order to talk truthfully, possibly for the first time ever. Cersei was even witty ("I'm sorry your marriage to Ned Stark didn't work out"; What's holding the fractious kingdom together? "Our marriage.").

In short, the scene took two characters we thought we knew and shed new light on them and on their relationship. It also gave us a deeper understanding of Robert's feelings about his dead lover and about Cersei's feelings toward her husband, but it did so in subtle ways that were dramatically effective. The point of the scene was to reveal their thoughts and emotions, and getting new information was a byproduct of that. Too many other 'GoT' scenes have gotten that formula backward.

The scene between Littlefinger and Varys was also an enormous treat for any number of reasons. Conleth Hill and Aiden Gillen played the hell out of it, and seeing them do battle (with words, not swords) was extremely rewarding. Both courtiers were needling each other and testing each other, to see where the other one's loyalties and weaknesses lay (and if they could trick the other person into giving up some intelligence, all the better).

The game for the throne of Westeros has begun in earnest, and they know they could lose their lives if they don't play these crucial rounds well. But that doesn't mean they can have a sense of humor about it (Hill's delivery of that line about his, well, testicles is one of my favorite moments of the entire series so far).

The Small Council scene was good as well. In fact, it may well be the crux of the entire season (or series), given that it highlights two very different moral codes. Ned Stark is a man who is prepared to go to any length and take any action, within certain limits. But he's come to a place where everything is relative, and any action, no matter how craven and heartless, can be forgiven as unfortunate but necessary. To borrow Littlefinger's phrase, all moral justifications are available to a man with a full purse.

But just as Arya told her dad, "That's not me" last week (when he mentioned her unlikely future as a noble wife and mother), this isn't Ned. This isn't what he signed up for. He's not one to change his morals based on what's expedient for him or the realm. For better or for worse, he is what he is.

Sean Bean brilliantly played the moment in which Ned realized that his friend was no longer the man he once knew. Robert was never the smartest strategist; he's happiest on the battlefield (or in bed with someone other than his wife). He was never cut out to rule, and it instantly became clear to Ned that Robert had been completely corrupted by the seemingly sensible, rational men around that table. Who Robert used to be had been usurped by the man those courtiers needed their king to be.

But killing a pregnant teenager is not "wiser" or "kinder" to Ned, and the fact that none of them can see why he thinks it's a bad idea is the reason he needs to get out of King's Landing. Whether or not you agree with Ned's assessment of the situation, it's clear that the capital is not the place for him. That effort wrap up his affairs and get out, however, doesn't go so well. Ned ends up wounded, having been skewered to the pointy end of a weapon wielded by one of the Lannister guards. Jon Arryn could have told him that's what happens when you start questioning the status quo.

What's strange is that, even though Ned knows he's being used for mysterious purposes by both Varys and Littlefinger, he still goes with the latter to meet one more of Robert's mistresses. In that matter and in the matter of Sir Hugh, Ned knows he's close to figuring something out -- something important. Like his daughter, he's stubborn and can't quite let go of things that piques his curiosity, even when he probably should have cut his losses and his ties to the court some time ago. What's less clear is what Littlefinger is using Ned for, but clearly the treasurer has some ulterior motive.

Power corrupts, as it has corrupted the Small Council and King Robert. Power also can drive some weak minds absolutely insane. The Mad King apparently lived up to his moniker, and Viserys clearly inherited some of that same insanity.

But this episode's star Batty Aristocrat is Lysa Arryn. As is the case with Viserys, Lysa's not exactly a nuanced character, but at least it didn't take long for the show to demonstrate just how out of whack things are at the Eyrie. The whole sequence in the throne room was highly melodramatic, but effectively so, Michelle Fairley did a great job of showing how shocked Catelyn was by the state of her sister and her spoiled son.

I can only hope that the next five episodes are every bit as dramatically and visually satisfying as this one was. Fingers crossed.

A final hail of bullets (or arrows):

• Rory McCann has had few lines as the Hound, but he's got terrific presence and his fight with his brother was an exciting moment.

• I'm glad the show dealt in a forthright manner with the love affair between Loras Tyrell (the Knight of Flowers, who rode against the Mountain) and Renly Baratheon. Like the best scenes in the show, it effectively served a number of purposes: It filled in some gaps regarding the various power struggles and factions within the seven kingdoms, and it offered us new insight into these characters, who share not only a secret love affair but a political agenda. It also confirmed that Sansa really, really does not know how to pick boyfriends.

• There really was a ton of exciting conflict in this episode, some of it in tense conversations, some of it in action scenes. The scene of Catelyn's party being attacked was depicted with verve, and in general, all the Vale/Eyrie scenes had terrific visuals. The throne room at the Eyrie may be the show's most fantastic (in all senses of the word) interior space.

• If I have one beef with the episode, it's that all the Greyjoy exposition is, again, rather obvious and clunky. I'm not faulting Alfie Allen, who plays Theon Greyjoy, I'm faulting the fact that the scenes that have introduced his family history, as well has his scene with Roz, aren't particularly nuanced or interesting. It's a case of the show piling on exposition with a trowel and expecting it to go down smoothly. Alas, when it comes to this part of the story (and some others), it does not.

• Maisie Williams hasn't put a foot wrong in this show, and her scene with the guards was great, as was her angry interjection later in the episode: "I'm a girl!"

Here are a few housekeeping notes. Please keep in mind that every commenter will be held to the standards set forth below.

• On this site, we observe the Lurkers Rule: The environment here should be so accepting, so calm and so non-screechy that the most timid lurker should feel it's safe to express his or her opinion. If you have a problem with any comment on this site, hit the "report this comment" button or email me at maureen.ryan@teamaol.com.

• If you express yourself in a hostile, repetitive or unpleasant fashion, or if your starting point is that 'Game of Thrones' is not something that should be subjected to thoughtful, rational discussions of its positive and negative aspects, this is not the site for you. If you can't be civil and respect other commenters, your comments will be deleted.

• Please, please don't mention any spoilers about what happens in subsequent episodes. No talking about what happens in the books beyond the story lines we saw here.

• If you're new to the world of 'Game of Thrones,' do check out the fan sites Westeros, Winter is Coming and Tower of the Hand. They've got active message boards and a ton of interviews and intel, and if you want to get deeper into this world, you can't go wrong with those sites. HBO's got an extensive Viewer's Guide here. And of course, if you want to check out our features and interviews with the 'GoT' brain trust, including Martin and executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, we've got loads of stories here.

'Game of Thrones' airs 9PM ET Sundays on HBO.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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Chicago

The scene with Robert and Cersei was a great and probably one of the best, so far! For whatever reason, I didnot think that Robert was sincere in his answer to Cresei that there was 'never a moment'. I didnot buy it! And in turn, Cresei's reply that she did not 'feel anything', equally untrue. Had Robert's answer been positive, than hers would have been as well. That's what she wanted, the reason she asked the question in the first place! But as I've seen thus far from these two, it appears to be a game of 'one upmanship' with them. The lack of honesty between these two has appeared to be the deathnell for this marriage! She would drop her brother on the spot if Robert were to show just the slightest interest. Wow, I didnot wince even slightly upon writing that opinion. Now, I'm really worried!

May 28 2011 at 9:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Isaiah Bradford III

Absolutely fantastic recap! We're about a week behind with shows, having just watched ep 5. But I agree 100% with your assessment of the show thus far. I think people who have stuck around this far, have gotten a good look at all of the individual characters and their nuanced and complex relationships. This episode really just got everything, everything right. The conversations you highlighted were the ones I agree with that were just awesome. Cersei and Robert, Visery and Littlefinger and Lorell and Renly were just amazing to listen to. My wife even commented about the scene with Cersei and Robert, "Wait...what were they saying? Where they saying they pretty much hate each other?" Yes, honey, yes they did. We're one episode back but will be caught up before the new one on Sunday (is it on with the holiday?).

I'm so happy that this show is really gelling and coming together. I've enjoyed this series of books very much and I'm glad that Martin and HBO didn't compromise the intergrity of the material by dumbing it down. Thank you!

May 26 2011 at 3:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Todd Smart

The actress playing Arya Start has been amazing. Overall I think the casting in this series has been fantastic. But I've come to expect that from HBO

May 17 2011 at 7:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Todd Smart

The actress playing Arya Stark is simply amazing.

May 17 2011 at 7:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Richard Clemens

I just started reading the third book "A Storm of Swords" and the scene between Renly and Loras threw me. I feel like I missed this implied relationship somewhere. Although there has always been signs of their sexuality, Loras being the Knight of Flowers and Renly having his Rainbow Guard. It also explains why Renly did not consummate his marriage as well. But still the scene was pretty shocking to me.

May 17 2011 at 10:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Marko Zec

Aaah now I see what you meant in your previous reviews, but I still find ep 4 almost as good as ep 5. Granted, Varys-Littlefinger scene and Cersei-Robert's hearth-to-hearth was something else and I think that people who have not read any of the books will get hooked by just these two scenes, they were THAT good IMO, but I still think all those previous episodes were made in a certain way for a reason and that they were slow and sometimes awkward because the amount of info which the producers and directors HAD to convey to us was staggering. And they did it! I watched ep 5 with two of my friends who are both GoT virgins ( i.e. never read the book ) and I was really glad that they were able to follow the plot without almost any input from me. The only two times I had to jump in was the dungeon scene when they asked me who was the other person with Varys and when they asked during the erm Theon scene if that woman was Roz ( which is troubling since she seems to be the only working prostitute in the North LOL). So I would say that they managed to do a proper job even though all that exposition in the previous episodes was somewhat tiresome. I would like to know what do you think about Ned/Varys scene. I mean we have two ppl here ( Littlefinger and now Varys) all ever-so-helpful towards Ned but who are clearly pursuing their own agendas ( as seen in the throne room scene). Do you think that viewers would be more inclined to trust Varys or Littlefinger? I am very surprised how good Varys turned out to be portrayed. I was somewhat disappointed when I first saw the actor but the more I watch his performance the more I'm convinced they nailed the role with him. I can't wait to see more, I am now properly hooked! :)
Also, as always it would seem, yours was a nice and balanced review and I think you will be getting more readers from Europe cause my friends are all excited about what the critics, readers and all the rest of the world think about their new favourite show, and one of them actually recommended to me to read your review after following the link from WiC page. XD

May 16 2011 at 2:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
KarenC

I agree with you that this episode was the best so far; much lighter on the historical exposition, much heavier on the action. I do have a few nitpicks, though. As a fan of the books the show is based on, I'm finding myself more and more bothered by the minor plot changes made necessary by the "cram it all into 10 episodes" format of the TV adaptation. Small things, I guess, in the grand scheme; but they could have given the show a little extra richness. In the books, it seems to me that Jaime's prowess and pride as a swordsman was more emphasized, The Knight of Flowers was more "male-model gorgeous", Renly was more charming and charismatic, Cersei a lot more scary. Overall, I'm crazy about the show, and I appreciate the things they get right, and the wonderful acting - I guess my complaint just falls into the "10 episodes is not enough to do it justice" camp.

May 16 2011 at 10:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to KarenC's comment
SinisterInfant

I've been re-reading Game of Thrones as the episodes comes out. I think your comments about the characters is certainly true in context to all of the books in the series, but as to the first book there is little development of Jaimie or Cersi as the characters they will become later on in the series. Jaimie is more or less gone from the series after this. Cersi is gonna get scary though.....should be around episode 7 at the pace they are going.

May 17 2011 at 2:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
HF

Great review! I agree that this was the best "Game of Thrones" episode yet.
But I disagree with your basic assuption about narration in a television series:
"And, as I've said repeatedly, ideally each episode should work on its own, not simply as part of a larger whole. Every episode needs to have its own beginning, middle and end and to have a narrative through line for at least a few individual characters."
This standard is absurd in my opinion and would in fact be counterproductive as regards a relatively new trend of quality productions. Almost all (!) the best television programmes - most of them from the past 15 years or so - do not care much about closure or central characters/themes/plots/arcs in individual episodes. For example, "Deadwood", "Treme", "Rome", even "The Sopranos" don't care much about it. "The Wire", as everybody knows, doesn't care at all.
Televisions series had to eschew traditional serialisation in order to become something worthwhile in terms of narration and development. This is why most (not all, to be sure) great television productions were made after 1990. A series cannot compellingly and believably tell a story if it adheres to the standard you use to criticise "Game of Thrones".

May 16 2011 at 9:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to HF's comment
Daniel Sigal

I think this is a really interesting debate, how do you judge serialized television nowadays? Is it fair to judge it on an episode by episode basis or can shows like this only be fairly judged after an entire season? or an entire series? People can come out on either side, but I think it deserves more than a "this standard is absurd" comment. I love serialized television, but I still think a successful show should have episodes that themselves are a satisfying episode of television, but also fit within a larger story. Rome, Deadwood and the Sopranos all did this, and did it well. Treme is a bad example for you, because it has its own share of serious narrative problems which are holding it back. The Wire less so, but that was just a special show. I LOVE these books and I am enjoying the heck out of this series, but I recognize that some of these early episodes have fallen short of packing that desired punch when viewed as an hour of television alone.

May 16 2011 at 11:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Daniel Sigal's comment
sinisterinfant

After six episodes I think I finally am really enjoying the show. Cersi is the standout for me. The one character that has the most to hate about her keeps having scenes that almost make me feel sorry for her yet still I know what's she's done is so despicable.
The changes they made to the Ned/Jaimie fight is brilliant. Another opportunity that could have been wasted if they had blindly followed the book. Instead we get a much clearer view of the complexity of Jaimie who's not so mindless and honor less as his previous actions might have lead us to believe.
I couldn't agree more about the new scene featuring Cersi and Robert. Connective tissue is a great description of that scene.
The shocking visuals of this episode never seemed to stop. Robert Arryn's eating habits, how you deal with an unruly horse, the fate of Jory. All good stuff.
I'm interested to see what long time fans will think of the portrayal of Renly's relationship with the knight of flowers. Certainly not something explicitly shown in the books though heavily implied.

For the first rime since the series started I literally can't wait for more...luckily I don't have to thanks to HBOGo. :)

May 16 2011 at 8:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joseph Finn

No disagreements about anything, but an addition; somehow, what missing wall dungeon room Tyrion was tossed into was the visual of the night. After all, that foor liked it was slanting ever so slightly...

May 15 2011 at 11:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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