For those of you who’ve been wondering when this show would start to pick up, when things would start to get nasty and violent, I give you “The Wolf And The Lion.” Episode five is where all of the machinations and scheming begins to come to a head, where all of the paths that our now-beloved characters have been set on, be it by choice, fate or plot, begin to be made clear. Their lives are now, finally, changed forever and the events that have been set in motion make us realize that the game truly is afoot.
Despite being one of the faster-paced episodes (which is saying something, since each week has left me pretty breathless), there’s a phenomenal amount of information that was passed along this week. New characters, such as Catelyn’s batty sister Lysa Arryn and Ser Loras Tyrell, known as “The Knight Of Flowers,” are introduced to add yet more layers of complexity to an already labyrinthine tangle of storylines. It’s also easily the most bloody and violent episode — the finale of the jousting tourney was a horror show, to put it kindly. Gregor Clegane is shown to not just be a terrifying brute, but also a likely psychotic who beheads his own horse when it fails him, and then tries to kill his own brother. The battle of Gregor and Sandor was pretty gripping stuff, a grinding, brutish clash between two armored giants. When Robert finally calls it off, it led to one of the best moments of the episode — Sandor, The Hound, ducking his brothers swipe and immediately dropping to a knee, sword plunged downward in supplication, all in one amazingly fluid motion. It’s a matter of seconds, but go back and watch it — it’s impressive.
As always, though, I find that some of my favorite vignettes are those quiet scenes with only two characters verbally sparring, and “The Wolf And The Lion” did not disappoint. Whether it was the scheming of Robert’s brother Renly and his lover Loras, the odd yet fascinating reminiscing between Cersei and Robert, or Ned and Ser Barristan Selmy recounting their days as respected adversaries, or the best of all, the silently seething, venomous repartee between Littlefinger and The Spider, the episode was replete with all the juicy, slickly written dialogue you could ask for.
But of course, fate is cruelest to Ned Stark and Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion finds himself in the clutches of Catelyn Stark, who despite his best cajolings, still believes him to be responsible for the assassination attempt on Bran. Things go from bad to worse for him as they take refuge at the home of Catelyn’s sister, the widowed Lysa, once married to the now-dead former Hand Jon Arryn. And I’ll say this — when it comes to faithfulness to the book, I wondered if HBO would pull their punch when it came to Lysa. They did not, and she is every inch as shrill, unstable and creepily maternal as she should be. Lysa’s onset of madness results in Tyrion being thrown into a sky cell, one of the more intense moments of the show. The depiction of the Vale and it’s terrifying, dizzying heights was gorgeously rendered — not perfectly, perhaps, but the art and form of the castle and its surroundings was remarkable and truly captured the scope of this lonely, grim abode.
As for poor Ned Stark, things went poorly to say the least. We now understand what happens when you know too much, and while the fight with Jaime Lannister (who continues to be brilliantly depicted) was intense and pretty well-done, when Ned is ultimately cut down, the mood of the show plummets into darkness. Rightfully so — it spells dark days for the Stark and Lannisters both, one must guess, as the Imp and the Hand are now both in grim straits.
“The Wolf And The Lion” began what felt like the culmination of events set in motion over the last four episodes. Its pace was breakneck and there was a ton that I didn’t even mention, most that I liked — the appearance of Bronn the sellsword who has a brief, clever conversation with Tyrion after the brutal raid that they survive. The small council meeting that Robert presides over, where Ned truly realizes that the friend he once had in the King is no more. Ned’s resignation as Hand felt so swift and had a sense of finality to it that it could only foreshadow the darker turn of events at the show’s conclusion. Theon Greyjoy continues to be a sinister delight. And as in the book, the death of Jory Cassel was truly sad.
There were missteps, though not many. The scene with Bran and Maester Luwin was boring and in some ways pointless. It was meant to show Bran’s childishness and how he misses his mother, but instead it just felt like a window into an otherwise dull moment. The two good things that came out of it were learning about some of the house mottos, or words, and the brief moment with Greyjoy. Otherwise, it felt like time wasted. And while I enjoyed the scene with Loras and Renly from a dialogue perspective (caution: book comparison alert!), their relationship is at best alluded to in the novels, and to bring it out so overtly and suddenly seemed to take some of the subtlety away.
Yet despite the minor quibbles, the episode was another success overall. The writing continues to blister and crackle, with few wasted words or moments (other than the scene with Bran). Every action, every scene, every shot serves a critical purpose — it’s as if you don’t want to leave the room or even blink for fear of missing something. The episode was thick with moments of brutality and bloodshed, from the slaying of horse to the slaying of poor Jory Cassel. Yet interspersed with all of that blood was an episode that took the story into the next phase of its evolution. The dense, worldmaking buildup of the last few episodes has finally received its payoff, and it was well worth it. There are five episodes remaining in this first season, and while I dread the end of that tenth episode, I’m finding myself more and more excited to see how they storm through the final five.