I’m rewatching Game of Thrones Season 1 in anticipation of Season 2 beginning April 1 2012. This is the ninth post in this series and covers the episode "Baelor". 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:
- "Winter is Coming"
- "The Kingsroad"
- "Lord Snow"
- "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things"
- "The Wolf and the Lion"
- "A Golden Crown"
- "You Win or You Die"
- "The Pointy End"
This is the series most talked about episode for its closing scene It follows the grand tradition of HBO shows killing a major character in their penultimate episode before winding down somewhat in the season finale (see The Wire and The Sopranos). I am going to try to focus on the rest of it this time through and see how it plays aside from that one spectacular climactic moment.
The opening clearly sets up where we are headed with Eddard reflecting on his life and its end. Varys reveals a little more of himself, telling Eddard about his background as an actor and claiming that he see his role in court as another part. It is another great scene for Conleth Hill as he tries multiple avenues to convince Eddard to work towards a piece, eventually sowing the seed of confessing to protect his daughters.
The Twins are another fantastic location well realised by the effects team and the shooting down of a raven is a lovely establishing sequence which sets up the distrust Catelyn has for Walder Frey. David Bradley is an excellent actor and captures Lord Frey’s disinterest in the opinions of others, the chip on his shoulder and his innate repulsiveness. Capturing the atmosphere of The Twins and skipping the negotiation’s outcome is fine storytelling and makes for a nice revelation scene when Catelyn returns.
Mormont’s gestures of faith in Jon (sending Thorne south along with gifting him Longclaw) are quite touching. Cosmo plays the father figure well and manages to imbue a slight reticence on Jeor’s part which I like to think speaks to his regrets about Jorah. I think the timing is very much deliberate and that the sword is a play to remind Jon of his commitment to the Night’s Watch but that Jeor’s feelings are genuine. He is the second father figure Jon finds within the watch after his missing Uncle Benjen. Aemon’s lesson to Jon about the cost of honor and the difficult choices it presents allows Peter Vayghan to truly shine. The reveal of his lineage is welcome but I feel the history is a little complicated. I suppose the writers are to be commended for putting faith in their audience.
Daenerys assimilation into the Dothraki culture starts to show cracks as Drogo weakens and falls from his horse. I am glad they began developing Qotho a little more in the preceding episode as he objected to Mirri Maz Duur treating Drogo. It sets up his role here as the voice of the majority of the khalasar – those that follow Drogo’s strength but will not follow Daenerys without him. She regresses in the face of losing everything she has gained through the marriage, taking refuge in denial. She retains enough strength to stand up to Qotho but falls prey to Duur’s false promises. Interesting to see that along with Rakharo there are other Dothraki who defend her in the face of most of the khalasar turning on her; perhaps we do have more than one bodyguard for her.
I think the adaptation requires a leap of faith with Robb’s feint at Tywin Lannister’s force. We hear Kevan reporting that his army is moving South of the Twins with the Freys but we do not get any indication of how the scouts were fooled into believing 2,000 men were 20,000. I think it would have helped to have Robb give orders to a departing bannerman to harass the Lannister outriders as the Blackfish does in the book(no casting required direct the order at one of the featured extras after he receives Frey’s terms). Bronn does later say that the Northmen stole a night’s march on them but this comes long after the report of the scouts. Positioning Tyrion in the vanguard is an important character moment and makes clear Tywin’s distaste for his youngest son. I think it makes more of an anticlimax out of the non-battle that follows though.
The Dinklage / Flynn pairing gets more comedy with the introduction of Shae and Bronn’s explanation of how he obtained her. I have read some criticism of Sibel Kekilli’s castring as Shae but I think she is fine. The writers are sensible to make Shae more of a match for Tyrion’s wit and it goes someway to explaining why he falls for her perhaps more than he intended to. The drinking game is a fun way to introduce some back story for our new companions (although very little of it relates to Shae beyond excluding Tyrion’s guesses). I am glad the show established the Tysha back story here. It is essential to understanding Tyrion’s interactions with love generally and Shae specifically. Tyrion gets an increased focus throughout the second half of the season and this episode gives him a series of extended scenes. This sets him up nicely for an increased role in the forthcoming second season.
Avoiding showing the action of the Battle of the Whispering Wood puts a nice focus on Catelyn but left me feeling doubly shortchanged after missing the Battle of the Green Fork from Tyrion’s perspective. The absence of battles here is a disappointment but understandable on a television budget. The characters are ultimately more important than the spectacle but it would be nice to have both. It makes me glad that they are focusing on delivering the Battle of the Blackwater. My Empire magazine came today and has a nice feature with director Neil Marshall that I have not seen duplicated elsewhere unlike much of the second season press. Robb’s downbeat speech to his men helps to shift the tone before the final scene.
Eddard’s demise is heartbreaking every time. Having him confess makes him broken before his death. Seeing the crowd so against him is hard to bear. It is a well staged tragedy and Bean nails it. I’d not noticed before that both Cersei and Varys do try to talk Joffrey out of it after he has made the announcement but are unsuccessful, which is a nice touch.
Overall this is a fine standalone episode. I am struck by how little Eddard features aand his plot serves as a bookend to the episode as a whole which has Tyrion receiving the most screen time and fits in significant plots for Daenerys and Catelyn too. It is an excellent bit of television that ends with a truly memorable scene.