I’m rewatching Game of Thrones Season 1 in anticipation of Season 2 beginning April 1 2012. This is the fifth post in this series and covers the episode "The Wolf and the Lion". 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:

  1. "Winter is Coming"
  2. "The Kingsroad"
  3. "Lord Snow"
  4. "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things"

The episode begins with a gorgeous opening shot of King’s Landing followed by a few cuts of Ned making his way out to the tourney grounds. The visual effects on the series are fantastic and they get to really shine with location establishing shots like this one. It does seem strange to establish the tourney grounds location now over when we first went there in the preceding episode but it serves so well as an opening to the episode that I think I can forget that.

Barristan and Eddard

Ser Barristan Selmy and Lord Eddard Stark discuss the death of Ser Hugh.

It is nice to see Eddard talking to someone he respects in Barristan after so much time spent among the machinations of the small council in the previous two episodes. I think this is a fringe benefit of taking Barristan out of the small council meetings. I found it an interesting detail that they have a squire on hand to give Barristan his helm and cloak as he exits the tent; Barristan’s silent nod to his squire is a contrast to the way Robert torments Lancel. The design of some of the things in Robert’s tent fascinates me – his crown seems to rest on a helm with antlers protruding above it which we never see him wear. Presumably it is there because he is planning to joust until Eddard talks him out of it. I wonder what Robert keeps in the elaborate bureau next to the stand. Congratulations set design!

Robert and Lancel

King Robert Baratheon is dismayed to find he no longer fits his armor.

Robert and Eddard’s relationship is also grounded in respect and Eddard’s ability to speak truthfully to Robert about participating in the joust is a nice way of conveying that again. The running joke of Robert’s expanding waist line could have seemed repetitive but I think it is played from a new angle here and still informs us of his character.

Sandor, Gregor & Loras 1x05

Sandor, Ser Gregor and Ser Loras at the tournament.

I’m once again on sigil watch during the tourney scenes this time around. Some new banners are present on day 2 including House Frey, House Marbrand, House Bolton and House Crakehall. Returning are the banners of House Stark, Baratheon, Lannister, Florent, Tyrell, Swann, Swyft, Bracken, Blackwood Hornwood, Lefford, Royce, Redwyne and Caron. I like that the shields have been changed to reflect the current tilt being between a Clegane and a Tyrell too.

I think the staging of the joust scene is pretty well done and certainly gets your heart pumping. Animal lovers have more to be upset about with Gregor brutally killing his horse for falling victim to Loras’ ploy. I love the choreography of the fight between Sandor and Gregor Clegane. The last swing of Gregor’s sword that Sandor so neatly kneels under when Robert orders a halt is a great moment. I was wondering about the Kingsguard afterwards. There are five of them at the tourney and Gregor walks past two of them. One is a little short compared to his sworn brother (everyone is short compared to Gregor) – perhaps a nod to Preston Greenfield or maybe just a fluke of the extra being a shorter man. It is a shame that Conan Steven’s won’t be reprising his role in the second season, particularly after he apparently campaigned to get it going so far as to audition for Drogo to get his face in front of the producers despite not thinking he had a chance for that role. His physical enormity and grim presence will be difficult to match. Joffrey’s boyish excitement at the outbreak of real fighting is a nice beat in the scene too. Rory McCann might not have got as much material as you might expect as Sandor in this season but he makes what he is given go a long way. I love his dismissive “I am no Ser” to Loras as he is proclaimed champion.

In the hills

Tyrion Lannister and his escorts in the hills of the Vale.

The episode moves directly from the tourney to the fight against the Hill Tribes in the Vale of Arryn. This quick succession of action sequences help to establish firmly that we are moving out of the set-up phase of the season. I still remember Jerome Flynn as much for Soldier Soldier as I do for his lamentable singing career so it is no surprise that he impresses in the stunt work of this scene. What is shocking is the brutality of Tyrion’s kill. Bronn and Tyrion get to bond over a shared sense of humor regarding needing a woman after battle and the impregnability of the Eyrie.

Tyrion, Cat and Vardis at the Eyrie

Tyrion and Catelyn in the Eyrie's High Hall.

The high seat of the Eyrie is another great set. I’m surprised they did such a spectacular job on it considering its limited utility going forward – I suppose the long view is that it will be returned to eventually but it does not reappear in the second book. The twisted weirwood throne and the dusty murals of the walls help to suggest Lysa’s instability and complement Kate Dickie’s excellent performance as the troubled regent of the Vale. Her creepy doting relationship with Robin is quite unique in television and helps to shift our sympathies firmly to Tyrion in the situation. The sky cell is another triumph for both the set design and visual effects teams working on the series – the cell and its trickle of water married with the dizzying drop created by the effects team instantly convey Tyrion’s peril.

Bran and Luwin

Bran and Maester Luwin discuss geography.

Bran’s Westeros geography lesson is a nice little marriage of character development and exposition. It reminds us of Bran’s understandable anger about his injuries, sets up Theon as a skilled archer and furthers the tension between Luwin and Theon. Theon’s liason with Ros also gives further insight into his pride in his roots and the bitterness of his captivity. Establishing Theon now with scenes like these and his banter with Tyrion in the preceding episode build a strong foundation for his expanded role in the second season. I feel at this point in the season the show has done enough to delineate him as a character in his own right, distinct from Jon and Robb and overcoming his limited exposure in the pilot.

Varys and Illyrio

Varys secretly meets Illyrio under the Red Keep.

Varys’ open appeal to Eddard is played as suspicious but he actually seems to be genuine in retrospect. The cut from this meeting to the scene of Arya discovering Varys and Illyrio in the dungeons is a little strange. Usually another scene would be put between the two to establish time for Varys’ movements. He has a run here going from the Tower of the Hand to the dungeon’s to the Throne Room. Perhaps his speedy movements are meant to show us his knowledge of the secret passages of King’s Landing. The verbal sparring between Varys and Littlefinger is a fantastic invention for the series. I like the wordplay between the two of them in this scene.

Another great added scene comes later in the episode. The state of the union discussion between Robert and Cersei is a wonderful insight into their loveless marriage. Their honesty with one another about Eddard and the Dothraki creates a genuine moment of humor. This window opening makes it really seem that they are having the subsequent discussion about Lyanna for the first time. Their conversation is terribly sad and very effective at illustrating the deep emotional scars both characters carry.

Loras and Renly

Ser Loras urges Renly to consider his place in the line of succession.

Slightly less well done is the scene between Renly and Loras. I think the reference to the gore of the melee is a mistake - it breaks the television rule of show us don’t tell us and conflicts with the decision to scale back the tourney sequences to jousting alone. When those jousting scenes are so well done and have featured some horrifically gory moments why have Loras reference something that we haven’t seen? Having Hugh’s fatal neck wound being sewn up by the Silent Sisters at the beginning of the episode makes it seem a missed opportunity to mention an unseen event here. Conversely I think it is a great idea for the show to establish Renly and Loras’ relationship so clearly and a good usage of stepping outside the POV constraints of the book. The books have time and access to inner monologues so they can imply their relationship. The show is better off taking the show us don’t tell us approach. Renly’s fear of blood is perhaps a step too far in weakening his character to give him an arc of overcoming that fear. I think it is smart to have Loras influence Renly into being more self confident but I think the angle taken was heavy handed.

Arya gets a chance to show her feisty side when negotiating her way back into the Red Keep. It struck me as somewhat sad that this is one of the last times she can use her name and status as a defence. I think it is a smart bit of storytelling to have her meet Yoren and be mistaken for a boy now seeding his idea to disguise her as a recruit later. Also a good idea is giving Desmond’s lines from the book about keeping Eddard safe to Jory. Amalgamating the guard characters under Jory’s name is overall a smart move – establishing one character firmly over having several one line co-starring roles.

File:Small Council meeting.png

Eddard overestimates the importance of his history with Robert in the small council meeting having overcome his earlier obstinance about the joust. Making a stand on this issue knowing the vulnerable position of his family following the abduction of Tyrion is a strange play and does paint Eddard as the honourable fool that Robert tells him he is. It seems more foolish that he allows Littlefinger to delay his plans to flee the capital. I wonder why Eddard isn’t more annoyed and suspicious later when Littlefinger reveals how much he really knew about Robert’s bastards. I think the beat of Jory being distracted by Littlefinger’s whore is funny but is probably an instance where the show could have dialled back the nudity without affecting the story. I suppose a lighter moment before their confrontation outside the brothel is not necessarily a bad idea but I’d rather see nudity used a bit more purposefully such as the earlier scene with Ros and Theon.

Eddard Jaime Confrontation

Jaime confronts Eddard outside Littlefinger's brothel

The episode’s closing fight sequence completes a trio of strong action sequences within the episode. Jory’s swift death is horrific but also a clever bit of staging that reflects his opponent’s character – specifically Jaime’s mixture of arrogance and skill in dispatching him so quickly. The duel between Eddard and Jaime manages to fulfil the anticipation generated by their earlier confrontations while still defying convention in the way it is ended. Jaime striking his own man for interfering and then leaving Eddard lying wounded speaks volumes about the character’s arrogance, fearlessness and personal code.

This episode is the first to really tighten its focus and exclude major ongoing storylines like Daenerys in the East and Jon at the wall. I think it works very well for the individual episode and giving more running time to the A storyline allows it room to breathe and incorporate some strong action sequences. It is difficult to balance story progression on multiple fronts with focus on a single major arc in each episode. Maintaining the viewer’s connection across the ensemble when major characters disappear for whole episodes at a time is a real challenge for the adaptation where the serialised nature of the connection to the viewer makes absences more keenly felt. It feels like a turning point in the series where payoffs are starting to arise from the pieces put in place earlier which makes it hugely enjoyable. I think this is my favourite episode since the premiere despite the absence of much loved characters.