“Tell me something, Varys. Who do you truly serve?”
“The realm, my lord. Someone must.”
The eighth episode of “Game Of Thrones, ” cleverly titled “The Pointy End,” is perhaps the pivotal sixty minutes in this first breathtaking season. All of the scheming, machinations and actions taken in the prior seven episodes have now, finally, come to a head. The realm has irreversibly set itself aflame — and now, it is not just winter that is coming, but war, inevitable and unstoppable. It was one of the most powerful of the episodes so far, and most importantly, it is a showcase for the strength of the story, the skill of its actors and an impressive dedication to the production.
The above exchange, between an imprisoned Ned Stark and Varys, The Spider, is perhaps the most telling line in the show to date. Varys, who is a wheedling, unpleasant and untrustworthy creature, demonstrated more honesty in those few minutes than most of the characters in this whole saga — Varys was always one of my favorite characters in the books, and Conleth Hill has breathed life into him. It touched off a series of sequences demonstrating that each of these powers, all intent on the destruction of the others, all serve a different goal, but few of them actually serve the realm itself. It’s one of the most foreboding of lines, as if to say that these forces have set the kingdoms on a path not to peace, but to destruction.
Pride and a hunger for power is what motivates Cersei and her depolorable son Joffrey in King’s Landing, and it’s on full display after they seize control of the castle. Forcing the noble Barristan Selmy out of office, and feeding like leeches off of the pleading of Sansa (who finally managed to acquit herself, as Sophie Turner was able to show a range that extended beyond “petulant twat.”), we can see just what an venal, petty, and deadly lot that particular group of Lannisters can be. I have to admit, it took a few episodes but Lena Headey is beginning to grow into the character nicely.
Vengeance is what drives Robb, as he gathers the forces loyal to Winterfell, desperate to save his father. Richard Madden’s Robb Stark has also finally begun to flex some acting muscle, capturing the essence of a boy forced into more than manhood, but into leadership. The forces that Robb must lead are a brutal, hard-living lot of soldiers and warriors, and Robb’s confrontations with the Greatjon Umber show that despite the forced circumstances, he may well be ready to lead the host to war.
On the other side of the war, desperation forces Tyrion’s hand, as his brilliant talent for manipulation gains him a group of unlikely allies — Shagga and the Hill Tribes, a brutish group of savages that he cleverly persuades to serve his cause, even though, once presented to his father Tywin, it may well be his undoing. It was wonderful to see Dinklage again, and his appearance once again did not disappoint. The dialogue between him, Bronn and the Tribesman was note-perfect Tyrion — sarcastic, caustic, edged with a risky brand of genius. Similarly, his “… and feed it to the goats, yes,” was just right, nailing his resignation and wit, even in the face of overwhelming threats. It may well be that the only match for Tyrion’s wits is Tywin himself, as Charles Dance hits all the notes of regal, sneering, sharp-eyed menace without missing a step.
As for Vas Dothrak, the scale and scope of the army of Khal Drogo still fails to instill the proper amount of awe. In the novels, it’s a vast swarm of horses and blades, a sprawling, howling fury of death and blood that storms the lands. Even without having read the books, it’s hard to imagine that viewers find the horse lords to be too threatening. For sure, the scenes of the individuals are imposing, particularly the fearsome Jason Momoa as Drogo (does it give us some small hope for Conan? Maybe?). Yet the army of the Dothraki continues to simply seem… unimpressive. That said, Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys continues to grow splendidly into a true queen, despite her diminutive stature and fragile beauty. Most important, perhaps, is that she’s one of the few characters in this vicious world that appears capable of mercy, even in the face of overwhelming machismo and violence. Oh, and Drogo’s fight with Mago? Nasty, nasty stuff. But it showcased the savagery of the Dothraki, even if the larger shots of their people fail to do so.
Also? I’d like to thank HBO for pulling its punches with the scene of Daenerys’ mercy. The books place far more emphasis on the plague of rape that the war spreads, and frankly, I’m OK without having to see it firsthand.
Perhaps the most critical development, the piece that’s being overlooked by all of these players, is that of the Wall, where Jon Snow, Sam and the others have their first taste of the otherworldly dangers that the realm may be threatened by. Compounded by Osha’s ominous warnings to Bran in Winterfell, we’re finally learning that there are even greater dangers afoot than this burgeoning war, even if we’re not quite sure what that is.
Of course, I can’t let this end without mentioning my second-favorite character in both the books and the show, little Arya Stark. She didn’t have much to do, but what she had shone. No death struck me more than that of Syrio, fighting to provide her with an opportunity for escape, and no moment was more of a gut punch than Arya, wandering the halls with a wooden sword as the clash of swords and the screams of the dying surrounded her. “Game Of Thrones” is notoriously unkind to children, and Arya’s fate is one that likely left viewers feeling desperately anxious… especially after seeing her kill the stablehand and flee to parts unknown. And that’s what we face from here on out — great unknowns, as the war begins to overtake the world.