I’m rewatching Game of Thrones Season 1 in anticipation of Season 2 beginning April 1 2012. This is the fourth post in this series and focuses on the episode "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things". As before spoilers for the whole of season 1 and the book A Game of Thrones will follow so please don’t continue if you haven’t watched the whole first season. I will avoid spoilers from later in the book series though so if you are only watching the show have no fear that I will spoil events still to come in the adaptation.
The earlier posts are:
We open with a dream sequence, the first for the show. A three eyed crow calls Bran into the crypts below Winterfell. While not as elaborate as the book equivalents this is a nod to Bran’s frequent dreams and I am glad they were set up early in the season given that he has a prophetic dream in the season finale.
This sequence also introduces us to Old Nan and Hodor. Old Nan’s stories are a great way of allowing history lessons and maintaining the tension of the prologue by referencing the White Walkers. It is a shame the excellent Margaret John passed away last year. Hodor is a welcome bit of comic relief in Bran’s relatively static and depressing storyline.
Tyrion’s frosty reception in Winterfell again swings our sympathy his way. The episode title appears relatively early on in this one and sets up the focus of the episode. I noticed this time through that Summer dislikes Theon and growls at him when he enters Bran’s room. However, Grey Wind is not bothered by Tyrion – nice to see the audience are not the only ones who love this Lannister. The added scene between Tyrion and Theon is welcome. I think it is the first time the uninitiated viewer will really question who Theon is. I think establishing Theon’s relationship to House Stark and the backstory of the Greyjoy rebellion in this early episode will pan out well and helps to inform our understanding of Theon.
The establishing crane shot of the training yard at Castle Black is amazing and really gives a sense of the scale of the location. Great set design establishes a real sense of the place. The staging of the training sequence is also well done and helps to establish Jon’s prowess. I am a big fan of the Sam character in the show. John Bradley’s performance enlivens the character and adds even more humor. His introduction manages to be both brutal and funny at the same time. He also brings more depth out of the rest of the supporting cast, in his first scene helping to establish both the simplicity of Grenn and the more cerebral Pyp. I can only marvel at Bradley’s ability to balance the sadness and fear Sam feels with the humor derived from his cowardice and timidity. It is not hard to see why Sam so quickly wins over Jon and why Jon strive to protect him. The latter half of this story allows us to see Jon developing as a leader while escalating his rivalry with Thorne. Although our sympathies lie with Jon, Thorne has a good point about the recruits needing hard training that sustains some of the tension created by the prologue. His chilling tale of cannibalism beyond the wall is also a nice bit of set-up for the second season, establishing Mance Rayder for the first time.
More credit to set design this time with the assistance of the visual effects team. I would not have realised until listening to the commentary that the Vaes Dothrak exteriors were filmed in Northern Ireland rather than Malta. I find it fascinating in retrospect that Jorah’s belief in Robert Baratheon’s lack of tactical sense is set up here to be proved wrong in a later episode (his discussion with Cersei in “A Golden Crown”). Jorah is a man of contradictions. We have established in the preceding episode that he may not be entirely loyal to Daenerys when he rides off for Qohor upon learning of her pregnancy but he seems devoted and enamoured with her when we see them together. He is a skilled warrior who has won the respect of the warlike Dothraki but he is not the tactician that he believes he is. Here we learn more of his outcast status and the stain on his apparent honour that came from his involvement in slavery. Iain Glenn is great in the role and manages to shade in these contradictory qualities. I do think it is a shame that we see him back with the Khalasar so soon after his departure with no sense of the time that has passed. The journey to Vaes Dothrak is a great distance and I would not have felt it was too much exposition if Viserys had told us just how long Drogo has been marching the wrong way with his army. I mentioned in an earlier review that I think the series sometimes struggles to convey how much time has passed for the characters and this episode maintains that trend.
Jorah’s exile status has always fit well with the Targaryens but it seems to have more relevance in the outcasts portion of this episode. The transition from Jorah revealing his crimes to Viserys talking about his family history with Doreah is a strong one. I like the added scene with Doreah. I think it makes sense that Viserys would want to make use of her skills for his own pleasure as well as allowing her to help Daenerys to ingratiate herself with Drogo. As with establishing the history of the Greyjoy rebellion and the fact that Bran has strange dreams it is essential that the show discuss the existence and significant history of dragons early in the season. Allowing the discussion between Viserys and Doreah to cover this topic is a smart choice. It allows us to see a softer side of Viserys but the sour end note maintains his sense of entitlement and lays bare more of his emotional wounds. It does add another very awkward sex scene to a show that has already featured several with Daenerys and one of incest so I can understand that the scene is offputting for some viewers. Showing flawed characters committing sexual and emotional violence is disconcerting in the moment. For me developing a world where we know such things take place heightens my connection to the story by making it seem more real and this pays dividends in terms of my investment and overall enjoyment of the story.
Viserys inability to overcome his emotional difficulties is well contrasted with the growing assuredness of Daenerys. Daenerys transition from the meek bride of the pilot through the nervous leader needing protection in “The Kingsroad” to standing up for herself in this episode is a great moment that the show has really laid the groundwork for. Emilia Clarke’s ability to delineate the stages of that emotional journey is laudable. The later scene of her quietly discussing the desires of the common people and the lack of merit Viserys has as a ruler helps to reinforce the shift in her feelings about her brother.
It is another smart transition to go from Viserys’ desperation to reclaim the thronein the bathtub scene to Sansa and Mordane in the throne room itself. Sansa’s petulance is underlined by the sad history of her relatives dying in the space. I think establishing the wrongs perpetrated against her household in the throne room in the past is a neat bit of foreshadowing for the suffering that she and Eddard will experience there as the season progresses. Well done Sophie Turner for capturing both the innate self obsession and anxiety of being a teenager and the greater fear that her character is experiencing. Sansa is harder to like than Arya. Maisie Williams is fantastic in conveying the joy Arya is getting from her lessons with Syrio and the character’s willingness to buck the role her gender has imposed upon her is hugely endearing to a modern audience. Sansa gets her introduction to Littlefinger in this episode too. It is a shame that Rory McCann did not get to deliver the hound’s back story himself, as the character does in the books. Having seen his audition tape this week I am sure he would have nailed the scene. That said there are some positives to giving that bit of history to Littlefinger. Not least of which is the creation of the awkward relationship that he develops with Sansa. In the long-term I think having Sansa be familiar with Littlefinger is a positive and may outweigh letting the Hound tell her about his scars himeself. I love the heraldry on display at the tourney grounds. I think I can pick out the sigils of the great houses Baratheon, Stark, Lannister, Arryn, Tully, Tyrell and Martell and the vassal houses Clegane, Blackwood, Bracken, Swann, Mormont, Caron, Bolton, Hornwood, Umber, Whent, Lefford, Florent, Redwyne, Royce and Swyft. The excellent displays of heraldry here are sadly not replicated in the final scene of the episode.
I love the small council scenes for the chance to see so many characters with strong personalities interacting in one place. I find it interesting that Eddard is ready to commit funds to the City Watch despite knowing of the debt that the crown already faces. I suppose disorder in and of itself is a drain on resources and clamping down on the problem might prove economical in the medium term. Weakening his household guard to aid the City Watch is a controversial choice – as Hand could he not order men from each of the present noble houses be supplied to the City Watch for the duration of the tournament? Renly comes off as somewhat harsh in his eagerness to replace Slynt but I suppose he has had too much to do with the man as the Master of Laws to still respect him. Eddard’s distaste for Varys, Pycelle and Littlefinger is palpable. I like that Pycelle stands up for himself in his own faux doddering way when Eddard questions why Jon Arryn would come to him for advice. Julian Glover looked like the General Veers I remember from Star Wars: The Empire Strike Back when he straightened his back briefly in that instance. I think Pycelle and Varys are both set up as soft decoys in the death of Jon Arryn here with Pycelle’s heavy handed accusation and that is all to the good of prolonging the mystery that drives the plot forward in the early stages of this season.
Littlefinger’s tutelage of Eddard in the avoidance of spies and the leads that he provides serve to keep Eddard’s investigation going without giving him too much information. I am fascinated by Gillen’s Littlefinger and wonder how much of the truth about Jon Arryn’s discoveries and death he knows at this point. I suspect he already knows about Cersei’s incestuous relationship but I don’t think he can name Arryn’s murderer yet. However, I doubt that his suspicion of Ser Hugh is genuine and is just another crumb of information he can leave to help lure Eddard into trusting him. The blind end of this avenue of investigation does seem something of a waste of time in retrospect but is straight from the source material and is cleverly woven with other story threads like introducing Ser Gregor Clegane and giving some more characterisation to Jory Cassel. The frustration of his efforts on Eddard’s behalf are also part of the framework of tragedy that underpins both of their stories. The addition of the scene between Jory and Jaime is particularly deft. It expands our knowledge about the Greyjoy Rebellion and gives us insight into Jaime’s bitterness along with another taste of his arrogance. The other avenue also provides us with a welcome character introduction – Joe Dempsie is excellent as Gendry. I know him from his work in Skins and the downtrodden Gendry showcases different abilities to his role in that show. I think Sean Bean manages to convey Eddard’s realisation about Gendry’s parentage really well in the moment but I am glad they kept the expository line to Jory about Gendry being Robert’s bastard. The shows complexity is sometimes its enemy and there is nothing wrong with making essential information clear to the first pass viewer. The added scene between Eddard and Cersei that concludes his arc through the episode is a nice bit of tension building and creates the expectation that Eddard will triumph over Cersei.
The episode ends with the arrest of Tyrion in the Inn at the Crossroads. This is a great choice for an episode ending and the way Catelyn commands the loyalty of strangers makes it feel like a triumphant moment despite the dire consequences and my appreciation for Tyrion. As I mentioned earlier I think it is a shame that the sigil’s Catelyn refers to are not visible in the scene (although the House Whent knight does have a shield with the bat of Harrenhal at his feet). Ending with this dramatic moment rounds off the episode nicely. Overall I think this one does a good job of balancing exposition and characterisation with the action of the joust and the training scenes in the North. It is a success in tying together the disparate strands around the theme suggested by the title and works well as an individual episode while still doing a great deal of heavy lifting for the series going forward.