“You Win Or You Die,” the seventh episode of HBO’s “Game Of Thrones,” sees the consequences of this “game” continue to reach their bloody fruition. If there’s a theme for this week, betrayal is certainly one of the top contenders, as we begin to learn that not only enemies coming at our beloved characters from all sides, but also that no one can truly be trusted. Of course, the episode suffered from one major piece — no Tyrion, which was tough to bear. The Imp has become such a powerful and anticipated player that his omission from any episode is glaring. But there was enough other poisonous (both literal and figurative) plotting to get our blood up.
It wasn’t all betrayal and distrust, though. On the Wall, Jon Snow’s life is picking up, though not always for the better. The appearance of the riderless horse of Benjen Stark bodes ill for the future, to be certain. Samwell Tarly continues to be almost perfectly portrayed by John Bradley, which almost makes up for the inconsistent performance of Kit Harrington’s Snow. Part of it may well be the writing, and part of it is Harrington, who has an unfortunate tendency to play Jon as less frustrated, inexperienced and impatient, and more as childish and churlish. Yet the moment where the roles are given out to the new recruits was still effective, and helped by the well-intentioned interjections of Sam and Pip.
But of course, the most critical part of the episode, if not the series itself, is the death of King Robert of Baratheon. Once again, there is a scene between Ned and Robert, and once again it’s beautifully done. Robert’s regret at the man he’s become, and his utter faith in Ned, are on full display as he lies in bed at death’s door. There’s a sense of poignancy to his realization that Ned is the only man he can trust to run the kingdom and help raise his son — and that by doing so, he will make Ned’s life a living hell. Yet it’s his final noble act after a life of brash, ignoble decisions. Ned, ever the loyal servant and devoted friend, accepts the charge, but fails to heed the warning signs. Ned breaks my heart a little bit every week — an honorable man surrounded by devious schemers, who refuses to understand that honor will only do so much, and this his trust is frequently misplaced. And of course it is proven so — he trusts Cersei to heed his warnings, and he trusts Littlefinger to back him up as he confronts her. All of which makes Cersei’s power play and Littlefinger’s betrayal so brutally frustrating, as Ned is taken prisoner in the chamber of the Iron Throne.
This entire sequence of events was masterfully done, from Cersei’s cold fury and disdain for Ned, to Littelfinger’s obsequious promises and treacherous acts, to Ned’s failure to heed the signs, even though they came from almost everyone — Robert, Renly, even Littlefinger himself all tried, in one way or another, to show Ned that his actions were destined for failure. Cersei has finally begun to grow on me, and she’s moved from petulant bitchiness to lofty, deadly lioness — however warped and psychotic Cersei is, her actions and her vicious plays are all in the interest of protecting herself and her family. Littlefinger’s wicked and completely amoral deviousness were on full display — although the scene in his brothel was an odd one. I’m certainly not opposed to female nudity, yet his narration against the backdrop of two whores pleasuring each other was one of the rare moments when the show felt like it stumbled. It was out of sync and felt a bit too forced. I appreciate the Greek chorus-like aspect of Rose — she exists purely to create expository opportunities, and I like that — but it was one of the first times that a scene felt a little too tawdry.
Yet despite Cersei and Littlefinger’s manuvering, the throne is far from secure, for in Vaes Dothrak, the plan put into effect by Robert before his death backfires disasterously. Instead of an assassin taking the life of Daenerys, the assassin is caught and Drogo is galvanized to take his horsemen and cross the sea. Drogo’s intentions are based out of love, but his role in the game promises to be one of death and destruction, as he vows to tear through the Seven Kingdoms in for his bride and his son, the Stallion That Mounts The World. His proclamations among his men, witnessed by Daenerys and Mormont and the pathetic would-be assassin, was surprisingly well-done. Drogo has had little to do in the show, before last week’s “crowning” of Viserys. But here he is shown to be a dark force of nature, a terrible and fearsome warlord:
“I will give him the Seven Kingdoms… I will take my Khalasar west to where the world ends, and ride the wooden horses across the black salt water, as no Khal has done before. I will kill the men in iron suits, and tear down their stone houses. I will rape their women, take their children as slaves, and bring their broken gods back to Vaes Dothrak.”
It would appear that winter isn’t all that’s coming.