“Baelor,” the ninth episode of “Game Of Thrones,” is the episode that I’ve been dreading from the very beginning of this series. Not because I worried that it wouldn’t be good — in fact, it was brilliant. But because I knew that it would come. Those of us that have been cursed by Martin’s novels have all been expecting this moment, with a mix of anticipation and dismay. Because it was at this moment, despite all of the violence and bloodlust and tragedy that passed in the previous episodes, that we truly realize that there can be no happy endings. That the path that lies ahead for these characters that we’ve grown to love is a path that can, at any moment, lead to a cliff and will end in tragedy.
Of course, I speak of the fate of Ned Stark. It was beautifully filmed, and conveyed every nuance and sense of terror and awfulness that it should have. Even knowing how it would end, I found myself foolishly hoping for an eleventh hour rescue, some desperate act that would spring Ned free. Instead, we’re left with twin terrors — the sight of perhaps the noblest man in the kingdom falling victim to such a terrible fate, and the knowledge that his daughters were there to watch. It was everything it should be, but all of it was grim and horrible.
It was an episode laden with horror, though. The plight of Daenerys and Drogo grows more dire, and the realization that Drogo’s condition is worsening forces Daenerys to take desperate measures. The show developed their relationship with deftness and poignancy, and the evolution from Daenerys as sacrificial prize, sobbing on her wedding night, to young queen, to a truly beloved wife, has been remarkable to observe. Emilia Clarke has proven herself to be one of the more capable actresses in the show, and it should be fascinating to see how their journey continues.
As for Robb and the bannermen of Winterfell? His growth into not just a leader, but a warlord, has been equally admirable. Gone is the uncertain teenager, and for better or worse, a man forced to make hard decisions remains. Having Catelyn there as an observer makes that transformation all the more powerful and affecting, and Michelle Fairley continues to develop the character into an able player in this game. It’s interesting how, over time, even the most unlikable of characters — Fairley’s Catelyn, Lena Headey’s Cersei, Sophie Turner’s Sansa, Richard Madden’s Robb and even Kit Harrington’s Jon Snow — have all emerged as capable, if not excellent portrayals. They may have started out weakly, but they’ve grown stronger. Sophie Turner, in particular, continues to show better range than before, and her comforting looks at her father, coupled with her hopeful little half-smile at the detestable Joffrey (my God has Jack Gleeson owned that thankless part), made her final shrieks of confusion and fear all the more stirring.
If there were favorite scenes to be had that wasn’t steeped in tragedy, it was unsurprisingly the ones that featured Tyrion. I’m almost getting tired of burying Dinklage in praise, but what the hell — he was fantastic once again, bouncing effortlessly between insouciant Imp, helpless tool, and determined, intelligent game player. Yet a healthy amount of praise should be directed towards the writers, for creating a brand new scene that was actually one of the best of the show. While I missed hearing Shae’s best line from the novel (“my name is Shae, and men call me… often”), her introduction was a winning combination of sultry and seductive, but also intelligent and damned interesting. The drinking game between her, Tyrion and Bronn was an excellent way to learn some of their respective histories, including Tyrion’s nightmarish tale of love and romance. The writers of the series have drafted some solid new scenes (absent the “Rose The Expository Whore” scenes, which at times grow tiresome), and this was perhaps the best.
But that scene was the lone source of bittersweet joy in this episode. It was sixty minutes of grim, determined buildup, culminating in a moment that likely stunned many viewers. There aren’t many well-known actors in “Game Of Thrones,” and they just beheaded arguably one of the biggest names (poor Sean Bean — destined for tragic, yet noble deaths. RIP, Boromir). “Baelor” was another episode full of excellent moments, and is one of the few episodes that I have no criticism of. Jon Snow learning about Maester Aemon and the bequeathing of Longclaw were, if anything, moments I wish could have been longer, but that’s hardly a negative. It was an episode filled with blood and tragedy, and I haven’t even been able to address all of the excellent parts (Mormont! Kicking ass!). But of course, there is terrible news, my friends.
There’s only one episode left.