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'Game of Thrones' Season 1, Episode 8 Recap

by Maureen Ryan, posted Jun 6th 2011 1:30AM
['Game of Thrones' - 'The Pointy End']

'These people will do anything.' - Lysa Arryn

'And that is why we have to stop them! - Catelyn Stark


It's been a while since George R.R. Martin wrote for television. Though the author of the book series on which 'Game of Thrones' is based had a long career in the TV industry before going off to write novels full-time, fans may well have wondered whether he still had the skills to tell stories for the small screen.

There can be no question about that now. Top to bottom, this was the best episode of 'Game of Thrones' yet, and considering all the varied things it had to do, the fact that the episode flowed so smoothly and was so engrossing was even more impressive. In fact, use of the phrase "small screen" is inaccurate here, in that this was an epic, sweeping hour that never forgot to show us how big events trickled down to the least powerful characters.



That's a central feature of Martin's books: We get battles, feasts and the kind of grand set pieces and devious schemes that unfold in aristocratic settings, and there's no doubt that Martin loves devising and describing those kinds of Big Events. But when things get ugly in this world, they get very ugly indeed. And one of the distinctive things about his novels is that the focus rarely rests on those Big Event for long -- we usually see what happens when thing get ugly in a granular, unglamorous way, often among the small fry or lesser nobles.

You could view the fact that we didn't get a true battle scene in this episode as HBO's attempt to save a bit of gold (and if we don't get at least one kickass war sequence before the season ends, that'll be a letdown). But the more I think about it, the more I think Arya's accidental murder of the stable boy was the right kind of death for this episode. War has indeed begun, but most of the main characters (particularly the Starks) haven't yet had a chance to go up against their enemies in the field. And in any event, this episode was all about the unexpected costs of war. Arya's childhood ended in that stableyard, as she had to run away from the dead body of a boy she'd had to kill in order to survive. If asked, I'm sure she'd have given the same answer that Varys gave when talking to Ned: "I'd do it again." Mere survival, whether it's that of child or an experienced courtier, is rarely heroic.

That moment between Arya and the stable boy is of a piece with Robert's recollection of how those killed in battle soil themselves. You could even seen in Robb's tight, drawn face that he doesn't expect war to be about covering oneself in glory. It's about staying alive until the next day, and hoping against hope that you can tell Death "Not today."

All in all, I'm extremely impressed with how many moving parts were deployed smoothly and how the hour just flowed. I've been hard on the show's dialogue, but there wasn't a single line that bothered me, just as there wasn't a single moment that didn't ring true. And this hour was a true hour -- the running time was almost 60 minutes. The episode had time to breathe and give us the kind of grace notes (even a Rickon sighting! Gods!) that can make a show feel truly immersive.

There was a level of sureness and confidence on display in this script, and that makes a whole lot of sense, given that Martin invented this world and created these people. There was no tentativeness when it came to shaping and adapting the material for the small screen. There have been standout scenes in other episodes, and the show has certainly gained confidence and momentum as the season has progressed, but 'The Pointy End' was just on a different level. I loved it.

Part of the reason I'm happier with the show is because people aren't talking about events, they're living through them. The story has well and truly kicked into high gear. We got meaty developments or highly charged conversations in King's Landing, in Winterfell and beyond (with Robb's army), at the Eyrie, among the Dothraki and in the North. We got to meet excellent new characters like the Greatjon and Shagga (now there are two guys I'd like to see quaffing ale together). There was a zombie attack, for goodness' sake. And now that their characters and relationships are established, the actors can really dig into these scenes. The appetizers have been cleared away and the main course is finally here.

Another thing I've continually been hard on is Peter Dinklage's accent. Don't get me wrong, I still hope he works with a dialect coach between seasons, but I'm used to his overdone pronunciation by now, and I have to say, I greatly enjoyed his pitch meeting with Shagga, which rivaled anything 'Mad Men's' Don Draper ever came up with. The terrific capper to the Shagga story, though, was the moment in which Tyrion realized he hadn't quite bought his way out of his problem, as he's done countless times in the past. The only thing that could render Tyrion speechless was the idea of not just fighting, but fighting alongside a bunch of uncouth hill tribesmen who would happily use his bones for toothpicks. War makes for unlikely bedfellows, but color Tyrion thunderstruck at the thought of bearing arms with Shagga and company rather than making time with the local ladies.

It's a scary time for almost every character, but it's also an exciting time, in that power dynamics are shifting and those who've had a solid grip on power for a long time (the knights of the Vale, for example) may not have it for much longer. The Lannisters and their gold seem unassailable, but are they? That's part of the reason this story is exciting at this point -- various factions have formed, but none definitively have the upper hand at this stage. Everyone's chosen sides, but victory is far from assured (and what would victory look like, anyway? The Iron Throne is nobody's idea of a comfortable seat).

Across the sea, even though Daenerys is taken aback by the devastation wrought by the Dothrakis on a rampage, she also consolidates her hold on power. Khal Drogo backs her all the way, he makes that very clear by demonstrating the Dothraki retirement plan (the summary firing of Ser Barristan Selmy of the Kingsguard wasn't much nicer, but at least he got a retirement villa -- and he got to hang on to his tongue).

Yet the theme of the episode, one that tied together the events all over these far-flung territories, wasn't just the exercise of power, but the idea of mercy. The episode didn't let us forget that, but I'd rather an insistent theme than an overly vague one.

Part of the reason the episode worked so well is because it dwelled at length on questions that occupies much of Martin's fiction: What are the consequences of compassion and cruelty? What happens when you're nice to someone you don't have to be nice to -- do you set disastrous events in motion? And what happens when you're mean to someone you have power over -- again, does disaster result or is it possible to receive a chance to redeem yourself?

The notion of good deeds and bad deeds backfiring on people -- or ultimately saving them -- is a touchstone in Martin's fiction, and the unpredictability of how moral actions play out is one of his great strengths as a storyteller. As was the case with 'The Wire,' he doesn't sit in judgment of his characters, he merely presents the choices that they make and lets you ponder whether they were the right ones or not. He understands that the self-sacrifice and survival are not mutually exclusive, but, as the exchange between Lysa and Catelyn at the start of this review indicates, sometimes you do have to choose. But should you save yourself, or stick to a personal (or social) code of morality? As many characters have found, not always possible to do both. It's harder still to dispense mercy when those choices are in front of you.

Joffrey, Dany, Robb, Lysa, Varys and even Shagga were all in positions to help others or show mercy to people over whom they had power, but how will their choices play out? That's the question that will inform the last two hours of the season, and even though I know how the first book ends, the show has made me very interested see how these dramatic moments will play out on screen. Judging by 'The Pointy End,' it'll be exciting to see these knotty moral dilemmas come to life.

From here on out, I'll just supply a bullet point of moments and incidents I particularly enjoyed, and hope that the length of this post doesn't rival the length of Martin's first 'Song of Ice and Fire' book:

• Among many excellent small moments: Septa Mordane facing down the guards in the palace as Sansa retreated to the Starks' apartment. The grave look on her face was enough to stop murderous guards whose swords were spattered with blood, and it served as a reminder that retainers in aristocratic households put their lives on the lines by serving these families.

• One of the best things about the King's Landing scenes was the way in which we caught glimpses of the carnage going on; the shadows Arya saw on the landing of the stairs were, in many ways, more terrifying than seeing actual bloodshed.

• I can't say enough good things about the first scene of Arya and her dancing master, Syrio Forel. Simply terrific work by all the actors, and I very much lament the loss of the First Sword of Bravos. If there's one truly altruistic and noble person in this whole story, it's Syrio, whose combat skills were nothing short of amazing. The fight scene was staged and filmed masterfully by director Daniel Minahan.

• Another thing that I've harped on all season long: We haven't gotten to know the characters as well as we did in the novels. So perhaps the scenes with Robb would have landed more emphatically if we'd known him better. Having said that, Richard Madden did an excellent job in Robb's first big episode. He not only had to lead a huge group of men to war, he had to convince his elders that he was the man for the job, and the scenes of him facing down the Greatjon Umber were terrific.

• One sign that a television show is doing things right -- it can introduce a character in a coupel of scenes and you instantly love that guy. I'm speaking, of course, of the Greatjon. How can you not love a guy who has two fingers bitten off by the dog and is able to shrug it off as an unfortunate misunderstanding?

• Oh, Sansa. "I'll be a queen just like you," she told Cersei. The sad fact is, she would be a queen just like Cersei, given the chance -- at court, Sansa would realize she'd married a man who was entirely unsuitable for her and would end up consumed by plots and power maneuvers. In the end, she'd be as unhappy and bitter as Cersei is. Even though I've found Sansa to be generally annoying up until now, it was hard not to feel bad for the poor thing as she pleaded for mercy at the feet of the one bratty teenager least likely to understand the concept.

• "You wouldn't know him." Bronn gets the Roger Sterling Awesome Quip Award.

• I know I said I'd feel let down if we didn't get a big battle sequence before the season is over, but I'm not too worried about that. I think we'll get some spectacular bloodshed before the season ends.

• Hey 'Battlestar Galactica' fans, is it me, or is Tyrion the Gaius Baltar of 'Game of Thrones'? Both men are intelligent, canny, frequently selfish survivors who aren't averse to a roll in the hay with a hot lady. Echoing a line of Baltar's from 'BSG,' in this episode Tyrion said 'I like living.' And it's that love affair with life that is both men's most redeeming characteristic.

• Hey, a Rickon sighting! Alert the media!

• I can fully relate to the fans who have wished for more direwolf screen time in season 1. We haven't gotten a great sense of the psychic bond that links the wolves with the Stark children. In any case, the scene with Ghost alerting Jon to the presence of the zombie er, White Walker-touched former Night's Watch man was chilling and, again, very well staged.

• Just to bring up a hair complaint (because my reviews aren't complete without them): There was too much hair in Osha's face in her scene at the Godswood in Winterfell. We get it, she's a shaggy person from north of the Wall. But Natalia Tena's such a terrific actress that there's no reason to obscure her face with a Wall of hair.

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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Kristen Snyder

Enough talking heads, it's time for WAR!!!!! Check out this breakdown of episode 8 from Afterbuzz TV where they talk about whether Shay really loves Tyrion, the possible consequences of Rob's love affair, and whether dragons grow as fast as shadow babies??! http://youtu.be/NPXFHG1dhSE

May 21 2012 at 4:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Frank R

Can't Wait For Season 2

November 30 2011 at 1:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bob Afett

I just can't wait for this Sunday's episode, I still have so many questions, and I'm hoping we get to see a huge battle between the Starks and Lannisters. And finally getting to see a little bit of Kahl Drogo in action, it really got me worried about the invasion that is surely coming soon. These fight scenes and landscapes look amazing in high definition. If you guys have DISH Network don't miss this week on channel 300. And we only have 2 more episodes in this season is that correct?

June 10 2011 at 8:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chicago

What's that about Dany's future children? There were complaints about the wolves, then a ref to her children? And CGI! Dragon-headed children? Perish the thought. Now you've got me thinking in a direction unexpected! Thx for that one!

June 09 2011 at 5:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
olddarth

I waited for a bit to build up a backlog of episodes so I could watch one each consecutive night because of the reviews of the earlier episodes ie pacing issues, number of characters -some being better served than others. Watching mini-series style from days gone by if you will. Have watched the first four episodes so far.

It seems to be working because none of the issues being mentioned are twigging me. ie Dinklage's accent - I am too engrossed in what he is saying to be put off by how he is saying it.

So far this seems like a very strong adaptation of very dense book.

I will say that the casting overall has been very impressive, especially the children.

June 09 2011 at 10:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Studioplant

Hodor!

June 06 2011 at 4:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
XTCBIL

This is the type of article ALL RECAPS articles should aim to produce. Informational and though provoking. I was not familiar with Game of Thrones prior to this show but will definitely be reading the books this summer after this season wraps.

Keep up the awesome recaps Mo!! :)

June 06 2011 at 2:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Katja

This was an excellent episode! Start to finish fantastic, from Syrio's fight with the Lannisters to Sansa's promise her father would confess before the screen fades to black with that extremely foreboding soundtrack.

Maybe it's because GRRM wrote the episode but there was very little, if anything, that hit me as "wrong" compared to the book (apart from the dogginess of the wolves and that's not the writers' fault). Also, no boobs or "sexposition" which was a nice change.

Can't wait for next week now. The Old Weasel should be along and I'm really curious what the writers will make of him and his family.

June 06 2011 at 2:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
KathyB

Bothered me too that Ghost was reduced to a white dog. Fearsome large beasts, direwolves. I'm guessing it was a cost saving measure to have them just be played by dogs. Disappointing to say the least.

Otherwise, excellent episode. Love your insights, Mo. Arya may be my favorite character, although I enjoy Tyrion's mastery of living by his wits.

June 06 2011 at 11:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to KathyB's comment
KarenC

Ooooh... I just had a thought. I wonder if that just touch 'em trick works on dragons, too? If so, somebody needs to grab a White Walker and show him around the cellars at Kings Landing.

About the dire wolves: their transmutation into cute little doggies that do a lot of barking and whimpering is bugging me no end. If the wolves aren't particularly big or scary, and have no clearly demonstrated pyschic bond with the kids, a big chunk of the book's storyline is missing. I know trying to make a dog "act" is no easy thing, and that they'd have to CGI the dogs to make them bigger, and have the sound guys constantly editing out barks and adding big scary growls: but honestly, if they aren't up to THAT challenge, how on earth are they planning to portray
Daenerys's future....uhm... children?

June 06 2011 at 11:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to KarenC's comment
Omagus

SPOILER ALERT.

June 06 2011 at 11:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
George

The direwolves at this point are essentially puppies. I expect we'll see much larger versions in future episodes.

June 07 2011 at 4:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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