Now that we're halfway into the Game of Thrones season, the action has really become meaty (much like the roast venison that graces King Robert's table). In Sunday's episode, everyone gets in on the killing (even The Imp!) and there's so much intrigue to be had, the action actually stayed in Westeros the entire time. To balance out the multiple deaths and brutality, we got a whimsical helping of grotesquery thanks to original scenes written specifically for the HBO series. Shall we delve into "The Wolf and the Lion"?
TVGuide.com's Hanh Nguyen is an avid scripted-TV watcher, a horror-avoider and someone who's read George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series, on which HBO's Game of Thrones is based. Her co-worker, Rich Juzwiak, rarely watches scripted TV, is a gorehound and became alerted to Martin's existence just recently, as he started researching this new swords-and-sandals (well, boots) series. He knows nothing of these sorcerers (if that is indeed what they are), while Hanh is something of an expert (read: fantasy/sci fi nerd). Each week, he'll try to make sense of this crazy new show by enlisting Hanh's expertise. It may turn out to be a test of tolerance: in this case, the Games begin after the TV is off.
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Rich: Best episode yet!
Hanh: Yes, but what did you like in particular? I kept thinking you'd be into all the fighting and gore, but then all the weirdness at the Eyrie was pretty awesome as well.
Rich: It was action-packed, and yes, the dagger through the eye was impressive. It was a pretty bold shot of it, too — it didn't shrink away from the gore by just offering a flash of it, as this show has done often up to this point. I also love all the fetish-show stuff. A post-toddler-age child breastfeeding? Homoerotic shaving? More of that, please!
Hanh: I know! Both of those scenes brought the show to another level and differentiated it from the books. It felt very Baron Munchausen to me. I was sure Loras would cut Renly (Gethin Anthony) waaaaay before he actually did. Great suspense.
Rich: Is Renly gay in the book?
Hanh: Not that I know of! That was a surprise to me, although there have been hints he might be in the books. I don't want to spoil too much, but at one point, he does head up the Rainbow Guard. There's definitely been speculation about Renly and Loras' sexuality. I wonder how the books' fans will react.
Rich: Explain the Baron Munchausen thing because I haven't seen that movie, actually. I do know that it's farcical.
Hanh: In a way, it also felt like one of my favorite dystopian films of all time — Brazil. I'm actually referring more to the Eyrie scenes. Much of this series has felt realistic, but everything at the Eyrie is just so over the top, almost circus-like, fitting with Baron Munchausen's proclivity for telling tall tales. It's overdone and dramatic in a way that's ridiculous — you can see on Catelyn's (Michelle Fairley) face how weirded out she is.
Rich: She's freaked out by a lot. Bringing Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) to Lysa (Kate Dickie) really didn't go as expected.
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Hanh: How'd you like that prison? In the book the cells are also exposed to the open cliff, but I think it was more exposed and the floor is sloped down toward the cliff.
Rich: So it was a struggle just to stay on. Using the punishment of nature and physics to your advantage is torture. Ingenious torture!
Hanh: I like how this kid Robin Arryn (Lino Facioli) and Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) show just how bad the children can be.
Rich: Problem Child: The Dark Ages. Tagline: All ages are dark ages when you're a problem child!
Hanh: Here's the funny thing also: It was a good episode without going overseas for the Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) story line.
Rich: Yes! Although, that brings me to my first question for you, the expert: Why would it be so bad for King Robert (Mark Addy) for Daenerys to actually to have her child? I didn't really get what he's worried about changing. Everyone's freaking out, but it seems to me that the wheels for war are already in motion, regardless.
Hanh: If Daenerys has a boy, then King Robert is afraid that her warlord husband Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) will then be moved to want to gain the Iron Throne back for her. So he'd bring his warriors overseas. After all, that's sort of the agreement that he has with Viserys (Harry Lloyd) — your sister for my wife, I help you get Iron Throne back. And I guess it also shows that the Targaryen line continues. Mo' Targaryens, mo' problems! King Robert is kind of consumed by hatred of all Targaryens.
Rich: I thought that Drogo was already moved to gain the throne back for her, boy or no boy. Baby or no baby, even.
Hanh: I definitely think it's a lineage issue, which is why the emphasis on the boy. I don't know if his trying to get the throne back hinges on a child, but maybe it just feels more official that way in this world where marriages and thus offspring are matters of state. If he has an heir, then he'll be moved to conquer more urgently, perhaps?
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Rich: Watching Bran's (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) lesson reminded me how much exposition is still happening on this show: His lesson was our lesson.
Hanh: What I thought was hilarious was how he said the Lannister motto was, "A Lannister always pays his debts."
Rich: What I thought was funny is the way he interpreted the House Tully's words ("Family, Duty, Honor"): Family comes first. The Sopranos reference was not unintentional.
Hanh: Oddly enough, the sigils and mottos aren't as explicitly explained contextually in the books like they are here on the show. Most of those things I had to read in the glossary in the back of the book. Bran is one pretty, but bitter child. I think it'd be hard to be a kid in the Dark Ages where physicality is all you really have to offer. My mind would be wasted!
Rich: And that would be a shame. The show only occasionally touches on it, but the concept of "childhood" didn't really exist back then as an acknowledged separate stage of development. Kids were just undergrown adults.
Hanh: Yeah, if you read the books, it really hits home since Dany is only 13 when she marries. It's horrifying.
Rich: I guess it'd be to scandalous to really portray that on TV.
Hanh: Yes, that would be too unsettling for our modern palate. Plus, the logistics of shooting it would be difficult.
Rich: Totally. We all saw the fuss raised over Skins!
Hanh: Dany would kick all of the Skins kids' asses!
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Rich: I really think Arya (Maisie Williams) is a feminist character. She's so assertive of her femaleness, especially now that everyone's mistaking her for a guy.
Hanh: She is! She has not changed much from the book at all.
Rich: It almost feels like it'd be easier to pass, given the structure of that society. Like she should be taking being mistaken for a man as a compliment, but she heroically rejects it.
Hanh: Very true, and considering what kind of life she wants, who knows? She was better than Bran at all the things he was supposed to learn.
Rich: Yes. She's just unfailingly likeable.
Hanh: And her sister Sansa (Sophie Turner) — unfairly unlikeable?
Rich: Definitely, but also, I understand her submission, both in the context of her world and in the context of this story that is being told. She's the counterpoint to Arya's assertiveness. She helps explain the magnitude of Arya's breaking out of the box.
Hanh: I can't seem to find anything redeeming in her, despite the fact that she's pretty much conforming to the idea of a model child for the era.
Rich: Her attitude is very stank. And she isn't particularly sassy with it. She'd never be cast on a reality show!
Hanh: Stank, not Stark? :D
Rich: Haha, yes. Stanksa Stank.
Hanh: Right! At least give us some lip! Tyrion and Catelyn have an interesting relationship. Did you expect him to bludgeon that dude in the head with his shield? Quite brutal.
Rich: I didn't, and I loved it. Anyone can slice with a sword, but it takes a particular type of sadist to bludgeon to death with a dull object. And they do have an interesting relationship. I think it's great.
Hanh: She's become his defender in a way. Her sister is the monster. Catelyn was really naive when she captured him. It got Jory (Jamie Sives) killed!
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Rich: When we see the whore with the kid, was that the King's or Jon Arryn's?
Hanh: I think it's implied that it's King Robert's kid. I'm trying to remember if it was actually ever said. But it has black hair, like King Robert (before he went greyish).
Rich: That was implied, but then I remembered that Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) was supposed to take Ned (Sean Bean) to the last person who talked to Jon Arryn.
Hanh: Do you remember that blacksmith's apprentice? Another one of King Robert's by-blows. Jon Arryn had been making the rounds of Robert's various bastards before dying, and Ned can't figure out why. It's a mystery! He's like Poirot, but without the accent or insight. He's actually very un-Poirot-like. Ned is kind of floundering. He is so out of his element. I'm glad he got to pick up a sword at the end of the episode though. But of course that Lannister guard had to be all sneaky and dishonorable.
Rich: Yes, although at least he wasn't stupid enough to kill him.
Hanh: Right. Ned still has some standing with the king. It seems now Ned doesn't have any allies left at King's Landing.
Rich: Indeed. He is the Lord of Somewhere Very Far Away. Speaking of, did you have a favorite quote from this episode?
Hanh: What's yours?
Rich: "Your mother was a whore with a fat ass."
Hanh: Haha! Yes! I thought Littlefinger and Varys' (Conleth Hill) discussion about Littlefinger's brothel business was illuminating: "I'm a purveyor of beauty and discretion ... all desires are valid to a man with a full purse" or something like that.
Rich: I took that down, too. I find myself still gravitating to the earthly offerings of the show. Manipulative slow music as Ned discusses Bran's paralysis! Giant dragon skulls! Full-frontal male nudity!
Hanh: As you should be. These are definitely more of the show's contributions. Even just Jory lingering in the doorway to look at that topless whore ... at least he had a moment of pleasure before dagger in the eye! I quite like how saucy the show has become.
Rich: Me too. It's feeling less dry. It's kind of opening itself up. When Jaime (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) showed up to confront Ned, I was with it completely. I didn't have to dissect why it was happening or why it was exciting. It just was, at long last.
Did you think this was the best episode to date? Book fans, did you find the revelation of Renly's sexuality surprising or a verification of your suspicions?