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Crossroads: The Milk of Mother's Kindness on Game of Thrones

"Some doors close forever. Others open in most unexpected places." - Varys

When it is wise to commit a horrific act in the name of the greater good? Does one life matter more than that of millions? Can you cross a moral line in order to keep a larger peace? Such questions of moral relativism hovered over this week's fantastic episode of Game of Thrones ("The Wolf and the Lion"), written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by Brian Kirk, which presented both King Robert and Ned Stark with a weighty dilemma: do they act to keep the peace and murder a pregnant girl?

Is Daenerys' existence alone enough the shatter the tenuous union of the Seven Kingdoms? By employing an assassin, would they avert a larger war down the road? Should she and her brother have been murdered as children? By allowing them to survive, did they curse themselves to a potential Dothraki invasion from across the Narrow Sea? And if Robert gets his way and Dany is slain by some sellsword, would they be any better than the hired blade who crept into Bran's room while he slept?

These are dark questions from a dark time, issues of moral boundaries that most dare not cross. But uneasy is the head that wears the crown and King Robert is growing more and more uneasy with the passing days. He previously brought up the notion of ending Daenerys when she wed Khal Drogo, but now she had a son and an an even stronger hold on the Dothraki warlord and her brother has earned himself an army that could choke even the crowned stag.

Robert is in full blown paranoia mode this week, lashing out at everyone around him: poor Lancel Lannister, his slight page whom he sends out in search of a "breastplate-stretcher"; Ned Stark himself, who refuses to give into this cowardly plot to murder a girl rather than realize that the Dothraki will never cross the Narrow Sea. We've seen that Ned is only too willing to tell the emperor that he has no new clothes, that he's fat and can't fit into his armor and that his scheming is plain wrong, willing to throw down the symbol of his office rather than follow his king's commands. (Robert's words echo in Ned's mind and my own: You think honor is keeping the peace? It's fear! Fear and blood!")

Of course, Ned also learns this week that there's a price to pay for not toeing the line, but even more so for asking questions in the wrong places, the very thing that got his predecessor Jon Arryn killed after 17 years of service. "The seed is strong," we're told. Ned has heard Jon Arryn's last words and Lysa repeats them back to Catelyn when her sister arrives in the Eyrie. But those final words refer not to his sickly son Robin, still sucking at his mother's breast. (Easily the creepiest scene in the first six episodes of Game of Thrones, and I count in that Gregor Clegane's beheading of his own mare and the depilatory scene this week as well between Renly and Ser Loras. UPDATE: To clarify, it's the hair-removal that's a bit icky, not the people doing it.)

In retracing Jon's last steps, Ned sets himself on a path to destruction. Arya, attempting to catch a cat in the dungeons of the Red Keep, stumbles upon the gigantic skulls of the fallen dragons and overhears the Spider, Lord Varys, and Illyrio Mopatis conspiring. (She also discovers a way out of the Red Keep. Where there's a way out, there's also a way in.) While she doesn't quite understand what the two men are talking about, their intent is clear: the wolf is fighting the lion and the stag. The Starks are up against House Baratheon and House Lannister, thanks to Catelyn's imprisonment of the Imp and Ned's refusal to bow down to Robert. And the threat of the Dothraki--the savage--is made clear here as well, as is the fact that the king's knowledge of the goings-on with Khal Drogo and Daenerys are coming directly from Ser Jorah Mormont. (So that's why he rode out as soon as he heard Dany was with child...)

Does Ned believe his daughter? Does he see himself in danger? He should. While cats know to run when there's danger, wolves don't always follow suit... and Ned is more intrigued by what Littlefinger is dangling in front of his eyes: yet another bastard of King Robert and yet another piece of the puzzle. A whore has given birth to a daughter who has the King's black hair. "The seed is strong."

Ned doesn't get much time to puzzle out the importance of what he's seen, as he's confronted by Ser Jaime and a dozen or so Lannister men outside one of Littlefinger's brothels. Not surprisingly, Jaime is a little upset about his brother being taken prisoner by the Starks and orders Ned seized as his men killed. Poor Jory gets a knife through the eye by Jaime and he and Ned square off before one of the Lannister men puts a spear in his leg. (Never, ever trust a Lannister to play fair.)

Catelyn may have made a grave error in seizing Tyrion Lannister and taking him to the Eyrie. While it's been five years since she last saw Lysa, it's clear that Catelyn's sister has changed greatly, even more so since the death of her husband and that she and her son have a very, uh, unnatural relationship. Sick? You bet. Twisted. Uh-huh. One for the psychoanalytical textbooks? Yep. But Tyrion has a point: why would he give a hired assassin a knife that could be traced right back to him? And he does save Lady Catelyn's life rather than run off when they're attacked by the mountain people on the way to the Vale. Hmm...

But I will say that while Lysa is as mad as a hatter, the one person I did feel badly for--just a little bit--this week was Cersei Lannister, particularly in the scene with her husband as they discuss the fact that the one thing that has kept the kingdom together over the last 17 years has been their loveless marriage and that she did, once, have feelings for him. Feelings that weren't returned, as he's remained in love with the long-dead Lyanna Stark for the last 17 years. Hell, he doesn't even lie when Cersei asks him if they ever had a chance of happiness.

Is it better that he was honest? Or would a lie here have been the kinder thing? While there is no mistake that Cersei is as venal and mercenary as they come, this was a rare moment of vulnerability behind the golden tresses, her heart laid bare on a silver platter... before Robert crushes in with his bare hands. An act of hubris perhaps with consequences down the line?

We'll have to wait and see, but the players are moving into their positions as the latest machinations get underway, as even Loras whispers into his lover's ear that perhaps Renly would make a more suitable king that either his brothers or his nephews. Everyone, it seems, is out for power in Westeros. What they should realize is that, no matter how much a knight's armor might shine in the light, all that glitters isn't gold...

Next week on Game of Thrones ("A Golden Crown"), reinstated as the Hand, Ned sits for the King while Robert is on a hunt, and issues a decree that could have long-term consequences throughout the Seven Kingdoms; at the Eyrie, Tyrion confesses to his “crimes,” and demands that Lysa give him a trial by combat; Joffrey apologizes to Sansa; Viserys receives his final payment for Daenerys from Drogo.


Unknown said…
Love your recaps and reviews!

Slight correction: Sandor Clegane didn't behead his horse. His brother Gregor did. "...and I count in that Sandor Clegane's beheading of his own mare ..."
Anonymous said…
Yes, Sandor Clegane is "The Hound" - the scarred bodyguard of Prince Joffrey, who saves Loras after the joust.

Gregor Clegane is his monstrous brother, known as "The Mountain"

Gregor is the one who beheaded his own stallion in a fit of rage after it was distracted by the other knight's mare.

Two very different characters!
Rinoa-sama said…
It bothered me a bit that you called "creepy" the scene between Renly and Loras. Because they are gay? Personally I found this scene the sexiest scene not only in this show but in all the shows I've ever seen. I could'nt even pay attention to their conversation...
But please, creep as a horse decapitation or a grown child breastfeding? I don't think so.
dindbar said…
I'm actually taking this comment of "the seed is strong" to mean that all of the king's children are Cersei & Jaime's kids.
Estelindis said…
@Rinoa-sama: I assumed the shaving scene was described as "creepy" because of the tension of the blade gliding over skin for most of the conversation. As soon as that shaving started, you're just waiting to see if/when Loras cuts Renly! It was a brilliant way of heightening suspense and increasing viewer interest - otherwise, the two might've just been standing around talking, which I don't think is as effective.

Of course, if the reviewer was referring to the characters' homosexuality, that's a different story. (The only thing I could have done without in that scene was the slurping noise - pretty unsubtle - and I also disliked that noise in Tyrion's brothel scene with Ros in the first episode, so it's not tied to sexual orientation.)
Anonymous said…
Actually, Gregor Clegane beheaded his STALLION, a male horse, because the Knight of Flowers' horse was a mare in season.

And "the seed is strong" refers to the fact that all of Robert Baratheon's bastards resemble him, while his "legitimate" children all favor Jamie Lannister.

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