Episode 4: Westeros is harsh to knights and Night's Watch alike as Dany stands up to her brother and Ned Stark discovers a secret

By James Hibberd
May 09, 2011 at 02:00 AM EDT
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He has risen! Bran is walking again — on his legs! Perhaps the past few episodes were just a bad dream. Perhaps the Starks are still together back at Winterfell, practicing their archery and beheading deserters and wearing rock star pelts like the good ‘ol days. Then Bran spies a crow with three eyes and, wait a minute, even in Westeros those don’t exist. Bran awakes next to his direwolf, and we’re back in this ever-tightening noose of a plot that is the first season of Game of Thrones.

Welcome back. Thrones is once again stuffed with character moments, but also spices things up with snarling wolves, bathtub nookie, fighting and jousting, all winding up to next week when … well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Back to the story:

“Little lord’s been dreaming again,” says Bran’s creepy nanny, as if the North was full of activities for disabled children that he was stubbornly refusing to participate in.

In walks Theon Greyjoy. This guy’s been skulking around the first three episodes and here’s his deal: Greyjoy is one of the Great Houses — like the Starks and Lannisters — and it rules over the Iron Islands (which are about as fun as they sound). Theon is heir to his House, but instead has to serve as a ward to the Starks since the Iron Islands rebelled against the king some years back and were soundly trounced. Theon and the Starks get along as well as can be expected considering Theon is a glorified hostage.

Theon summons Hodor, who’s huge, strong and slow-witted. He can only say one word, his name (and thankfully it’s not Timmy). Hodor carries Bran into the Great Hall where they’re joined by a visiting Tyrion, while Robb lords over the room with his direwolf. Note we’re already getting two more wolves than last week, which is a good sign.

“I’m not a cripple,” Bran says.

“Then I’m not a dwarf,” gently counters Tyrion, who you’ll recall loves to bluntly accept things as they are. “My father will rejoice to hear it.”

Tyrion gives the Starks a sketch that reveals his Leonardo Di Vinci side. It appears to either be a custom horse saddle or deadly attack robot, and Robb is confused as to why anybody would try to do anything nice for the Hand of the King’s sweet injured 10 year old (cruelty, particularly toward the weak, and how characters deal with it, is a bit of a theme this week).

“I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples, bastards and other broken things,” explains Tyrion.

NEXT: This little piggy went to The Wall; Bathing The Dragon

Up north at Castle Black, which if you squint looks sort of like a really crappy annex of Hogwarts, the Night’s Watch have a new recruit, yet another “broken thing” in the words of Tyrion, subject to the cruelties of the world: The overweight Samwell Tarley, who’s signed up for a brutal Westeros version of The Biggest Loser. Sadly for him, Master-at-arms Ser Alliser Thorne makes Jillian Michaels look like a sissy. He orders his recruits, who all look like they’re wearing cut-up trash cans as armor, to spar with Sam. The new recruit reacts, let’s face it, about the same as 98 percent of us would in the same situation — he’s knocked immediately to the ground, then gets beaten while he whines helplessly.

Noble Jon Snow takes pity on Sam. This annoys Thorne, who attempts to punish Snow by ordering the recruits to play the popular party game of Get Past the Bastard. Snow irks the instructor further by winning and protecting “lady piggy.” C’mon Snow, if Thorne cannot senselessly beat up his recruits how are they ever going to learn to get beaten up by their enemies? Sam confesses he’s a coward, which is pretty much the worst thing you can say about yourself in Westeros (one suspects “I slept with my sister” doesn’t even make the Top 10).

The other recruits aren’t thrilled with Snow’s humanity. “People saw us talking to him!” protests one, who can’t say three words without a pint of spit flying from his mouth. “They’ll think we’re cowards too!”

Across the Narrow Sea: The horse train arrives at the Dothraki homeland, and — hey, have you ever noticed that Drogo is wearing a corset? “This is my army, Khal Drogo is marching the wrong way with my army,” complains Viserys, who’s managed to remain totally ignorant about who’s in charge despite nobody listening to him for weeks.

Now we come to what has become my favorite scene in this episode: Viserys taking a bath and talking about his childhood and dragons with a pleasure slave. It’s great example of making exposition entertaining. We learn about dragons, a bit about the Iron Throne, and Viserys’ childhood, all wrapped together in a tense, erotic and funny exchange. Here we see that behind his abusiveness, Viserys is a little boy who grew up with both enormous expectations placed on him, and having equally enormous expectations for his future.

“Brave men didn’t kill dragons, brave men rode them,” he says, as his recitation of dragon names awakens his own, er, dragon.

A beat with Sansa and her Septa (a nun/tutor), where she reveals one of her biggest fears: Not giving Prince Joffrey an heir by having only girls. If that happens, Sansa says,  everybody will hate her. “Nobody could ever hate you,” the Septa assures, and millions of HBO viewers shout: “I do!” We also learn that Sansa has channeled her rebuffed longing for Joffrey’s love into anger at her father. Dr. Freud would treat Sansa for free.

NEXT: King Robert in a jam; Ned checks out a book

Another quick beat: Ned Stark and the king’s sly council talking about the upcoming tournament, which has resulted in an influx of visitors to King’s Landing. We learn there’s already been a  “tavern riot, a brothel fire, three stabbings and a drunken horse race,” which sounds like a typical Saturday night on Austin’s Sixth Street. The council touts the advantages of hosting the Seven Kingdoms version of a Super Bowl using a rather curious economic index: “Every inn in the city is full and the whores are walking bowlegged.”

After the meeting, we meet elderly councilor Grand Maester Pycelle, whose name along with wearing a massive metal chain makes him look like the world’s oldest hip-hop artist. Maesters are actually scholars and scientists and each link in their chains represent one educational subject they’ve studied — like Boy Scouts badges, except the badges collectively must weigh like 30 pounds and you have to drag them around for the rest of your life. It’s almost as bad as a having a consolidated student loan.

Ned learns that before he died, the former Hand of the King was reading a book describing the lineages of the Seven Kingdoms, “a ponderous tome,” complains the Maester, and you know if Grand Maester P complains its dull, it must be truly boring indeed. The Maester also reveals Arryn’s cryptic last words: “The seed is strong.” Hmm … are you thinking what I’m thinking? That Jon Arryn overdosed on fennel?

Back on The Wall: Jon Snow has been saddled with Sam as a his watch partner. Sam warns him he doesn’t see very well, and confesses he’s terrified of heights, horses, snow, large walls and the color black. Sam explains that his father gave him for his 18th birthday present a choice of joining the Night’s Watch or being killed in a hunting accident. Bonding moment since Jon the Bastard can relate to not being accepted by his family.

King’s Landing: Littlefinger takes a stroll with Ned and hints that Arryn’s squire was promoted to knighthood just after his death. He also points out spies everywhere, which hopefully makes Ned more paranoid/cautious. Ned says that maybe he’s misjudged Littlefinger.

“Distrusting me is the wisest thing you’ve done since you’ve climbed off your horse,” Littlefinger says, and … heeey, hold on. He’s saying you shouldn’t trust him. But Littlefinger is the one giving Ned the advice. So if you’re supposed to distrust Littlefinger, that means you shouldn’t trust him when he tells you not to trust him and therefore you should trust him! Wait…

Either way, Ned ignores Littlefinger’s advice to keep his investigation on the down low and openly visits a blacksmith to get a gander at a young man that he realizes is King Robert’s bastard son. Apparently Arryn asked the boy what his mom looked like…

Meanwhile, Ned’s captain of the guard, Jory, has a testy moment with Jaime Lannister while waiting for the king outside his chambers. King Robert is busy fooling around with four women. When the door opens we hear just one line from the king — “I bet you smell of blackberry jam!” — and we can only imagine what sort of preserv–sions are going on inside. “He likes to do this while I’m on duty,” seethes Jaime, “makes me listen while he insults my sister.”

NEXT, THE BIG FINISH: Why Jon is celibate; Dany fights The Dragon

Back at Castle Black: Jon orders the recruits to not hurt Sam in the training yard. One lad refuses, and that night he wakes up to a pants-wetting sight — Jon’s direwolf, Ghost — finally! — all crimson-eyed, growling in his face, like some super scary hazing at summer camp. Sam is assured of not getting any beatings … or learning pretty much anything about how to defend himself.

We later learn some members of the Night’s Watch are routinely breaking their celibacy vow at a nearby brothel, and Jon reveals he’s a virgin. He hasn’t taken advantage of the whore-filled opportunities  in Westeros since he doesn’t want to create any more bastards like himself. They’re interrupted by that master of leadership and inspiration, Ser Alliser Thorne, who takes this opportunity to declare to Jon and Sam that he’s a freakin’ cannibal. During a previous winter a group from the Night’s Watch had to eat their horses and then each other to stay alive for months. Great, if people see Jon and Sam talking to this guy, they’ll think they’re cannibals too.

“If you took your gloves off to find your c–k to take a piss, you’d lose a finger to the frost,” Throne says, which makes you wonder how they managed to do that then exactly.

Across the Narrow Sea: Classy and diplomatic Viserys gets an invitation to dine with Dany and freaks out. He can’t fight any of the Dothraki so he takes it out on his favorite target, forgetting she’s now a Dothraki too. “You are a horse lord slut and you’ve awoken the dragon!” he yells and slaps her. She racks his face with a belt — finally standing up for herself. “The next time you raise a hand to me will be the last time you have hands,” she declares to Viserys’ utter shock and our cheers. Later, Dany has a realization: “My brother will never take back the Seven Kingdoms. He couldn’t lead an army if my husband gave him one.”

Down south: King Robert, having finished his Smuckers foursome, presides over the jousting tournament. Littlefinger sits beside Sansa and there’s something about this scene that makes you want to tell Sansa not talk to this guy, and definitely not sit on his lap. We also meet the gigantic Ser Gregor Clegane, and, of course he’s got a nickname: “The Mountain,” which is at least easy to remember.

The Mountain jousts the former Hand of the King’s suspiciously promoted squire. The young knight takes a rather large splinter in his neck and unwittingly treats the crowd to a gory impression of the Bellagio fountains. Sansa is horrified. Littlefinger ratchets up her discomfort by telling her the story of The Mountain and his brother, Joffrey’s bodyguard The Hound. When they were kids The Mountain caught his little brother playing with a toy and burned half his face off as punishment. Littlefinger concludes the chat with the standard warning given by all pervy pimps: Shh, don’t tell anybody what I told you, it’s our secret. (And for readers of the book: Yes, the Tournament continues next week, there’s another key scene from it, the one I suspect you want to see).

On the Kingsroad: Catelyn is trying to have a drink in peace while once again traveling incognito. But dammit, she can’t go anywhere without being spotted, that little hoodie just isn’t doing the trick. Tyrion outs her to the awed tavern drinkers. She turns the tables by summoning the allegiances of the local rabble, and by the power Winterfell she commands them to take Tyrion captive for plotting to kill Bran. Suddenly Tyrion has like 50 swords pointed in his direction, which seems a tad like overkill for getting him to do what you want, but it makes for a nice closing shot.

Grabbing Tyrion may seem like a swell idea, but you remember how tense things got between Starks and Lannisters after their kids got into a fight. What do you think is going to happen when word spreads that Catelyn has taken Tyrion prisoner?

What say you? Did this week’s games of Get Past the Bastard and Capture the Imp entertain? Well hold onto your hoodies. Next week’s hour seems to be the favorite of those who have seen the first five episodes. It’s seriously great and has a confrontation that I promise you will not want to miss. Check Inside TV for the ratings Tuesday, follow on Twitter here, and check out the widget to the right for links to my previous recaps. See you next week, and in the words of Hodor: “Hodor.”

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HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.
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