Sword fights! Sky cells! Intense arguments! 'Thrones' heats up for Episode 5

By James Hibberd
May 16, 2011 at 03:17 AM EDT
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Clack-clack-clack-clack-clack….

That’s the Game of Thrones roller coaster climbing the hill for the past four episodes, ratcheting up the intrigue, danger and suspense. Tonight, we crested the rise and started the downward plunge which is going to take us through the rest of the first season. Is your lap bar locked? Is your head is firmly against the cushion? Are you holding on to your hat and sunglasses? Because you, my friend, are about to go on a wild ride.

No Jon Snow this week. No Dany either. And just a brief moment with Bran. There’s so much going on at King’s Landing and with Tyrion, we had a full boat just dealing with those two plots. I cannot wait to talk about the big Jaime vs. Ned battle, that bizarre moment when Tyrion meets Catelyn’s sister, the Sky Cells, Ned’s fight with King Robert, and I might even have a shadowcat for you, but we must take things in order:

We start innocuously enough, with Ned growing suspicious about the jousting accident that claimed the life of Jon Arryn’s ex-squire. That’s followed by a bit with King Robert all angry in his tent. It seems Robert cannot fit his armor around his belly because he’s eight months pregnant. Ned once again demonstrates that he’s not afraid to tell the king the blunt truth, both about his weight and that competing in a jousting tournament is pointless since everybody would just let him win anyway.

“Too Fat For My Armor,” the king repeats, and it sounds like a reality TV weight loss competition show on a  Westeros cable network. The king sends out his hapless squire (a Lannister, but a dumb one), to get the “breastplate stretcher” just to mess with him.

Back to the tournament: That sadist, Ser Gregor “The Mountain” (his nickname is short for “The Mountain That Rides”) is set to compete again — killing his last jousting opponent apparently counts as a win. He opens that little stove window in his helmet to show us his grumpy face, while Sansa is enchanted by his opponent, Ser Loras (Nickname: “Knight of the Flowers”), who presents her with a rose while exchanging looks with the King’s brother. Sansa has such a talent for picking out emotionally unavailable men.

Will Ser Gregor claim another victim?

No! Gregor is unhorsed by Ser Loras — who craftily rode a mare in heat, causing Gregor’s stallion to freak out. But Gregor is a sore loser. He grabs his sword and decapitates his horse with one bloody stroke (I remember reading that in the book thinking: “I’ve never seen that before, but there is no way, for either budget or content reasons, it will make it into the HBO version” — wrong!). Then Gregor goes after Loras himself. Suddenly, Sandor, a.k.a. The Hound, jumps down from the stands and gets tapped in to face off against his own brother, like some medieval version of WWE Raw. The crowd is transfixed: This is way better than jousting.

NEXT: Imp attack!

They trade blows until King Robert orders them to stop. In a neatly choreographed move, The Hound immediately takes to his knee as Gregor’s sword sweeps over where his head was just a moment before — utterly exposing himself to follow his king’s command. Gregor stomps away.

On the road we meet up with Catelyn, who’s proven herself quite the pick-up artist: She walked into a bar last week, is now taking home a whole bunch of rough men and a dwarf. Except, surprise, she’s not going home to Winterfell, but instead sneaking Tyrion to her sister, Lysa (Jon Arryn’s widow, who rules over a place called The Eyrie). Tyrion, more than most, can appreciate Catelyn’s deception — now everybody will look for him in the wrong place. In fact, Tyrion takes her tactic and immediately uses it against her, noting loudly, so all the swordsmen can hear, that his father will a big reward for his return, and dropping his family’s unofficial slogan, “a Lannister always pays his debts” (which must be helpful when applying for loans). Tyrion staunchly denies he plotted to kill Bran, and insists he won’t run away because the hills are full of hill tribes and something called shadowcats–

Speak of the devil, here are some hill tribe fighters now! The resulting battle, though, is staged a bit clunky and disjointed. Tyrion convinces Catelyn to untie him, he grabs a shield and manages to take down a fighter just by poking his tummy.

One of the men Catelyn picked up at the tavern, a mercenary named Bronn, tells Tyrion afterward, “You need a woman. Nothing like a woman after a fight.”

“I’m willing if she is,” says Tyrion nodding at Catelyn, and he probably is too, but you suspect Catelyn would gladly kill him just for thinking it.

Back at Winterfell: Bran — and, unfortunately, the viewers — get a lecture on the official phrases adopted by all the major house in Westeros. Bran is annoyed that his mom isn’t there, which annoys us because we spent two episodes watching her sit beside him while he was asleep. Clearly the Blair Witch dolls she made did not comfort him, and he wants her back.

Brothel scene! Brothels are to Thrones what the Bada Bing strip club was to The Sorpanos, always a fun backdrop for any exposition. Now we get Theon Greyjoy enjoying the usual sex position of Westeros, since he’s not as educated as Dany. We also see our first manly member on Thrones, and it’s a realistically perky one at that. Go equality.

Theon insecurely tries to insult Tyrion and his sassy prostitute Roz, prompting her to break one of the oldest rules of the oldest profession by praising another customer, telling us more than we needed to know about The Imp’s prowess with his fingers and tongue. Unsure why men on Thrones keep going to prostitutes, this is the second week in a row where they just ended up being mad about something. The last time it was Viserys remembering those dragon skulls back at King’s Landing and guess what we see next?

NEXT: Ned Stark gets written up for insubordination

At King’s Landing: Arya is terrorizing the local feline population down in the dungeons and finds a giant dragon skull. Again, the props department on Thrones did a swell job, the skull looks both crazily familiar and foreign in the right measures. The young Stark girl hides inside the dragon’s gaping jaw, and overhears Varys and Magister Illyrio (he was that robe-wearing guy from across the Narrow Sea who introduced Dany and Viscerys to Drogo in the first episode). I half suspect these two knew Arya was listening and are just messing with her:

“The Wolf and The Lion will be at each others throats, we will be at war soon.”

“We’re not ready. If one hand can die why not a second.”

“This hand is not the other.”

“Delay you say? Move fast, I reply. This is no longer a game for two players.”

“It never was.”

Speak cryptically much?

Arya runs to a gate with bars wide enough for her to squeeze through and instead decides to take some labyrinthine secret exit to the beach. She finds the guards, who are not the only people in this episode to mistake her for a boy (the first time I saw this I wasn’t quite buying that characters would keep getting Arya’s gender wrong, then a non-Thrones fan at work sent me an image file of Arya they labeled “game_of_thrones_boy” so, all right then). The guards then proceed to act really unprofessional:

“You want your father?” one asks. “He’s laying on the floor of some tavern getting pissed on by his friends.”

So rude. What if that were actually true? How would she feel then?

At a council meeting, King Robert learns Dany is pregnant. And we learn Dany’s trusted companion, the disgraced stubble-knight Ser Jorah, has been playing both sides by slipping this information to the king.

“I want them dead, mother and child both,” Robert says, and we’re horrified, but then he adds, “and that fool Viscerys as well,” and we think, well, at least something good would come out of it.

“You’ll dishonor yourself forever if you do this,” warns Ned.

All the council, except Ned, agree the Targaryens need to be killed to prevent them from using the Dothraki army to mount an invasion of Westeros. Even old Grand Maester P wants her gone, saying it’s “wiser, kinder even.” Or, as Littlefinger piggishly puts it, “When you find yourself in bed with an ugly woman, best close your eyes get it over with.” Like they do with you, Littlefinger?

“The Robert I grew up with didn’t tremble at the shadow of an unborn child,” Ned says brazenly.

What I like about this debate is that it’s not clear that Ned is right. In fact, I think he’s wrong, if not morally than at the very least tactically. As Ned himself explained to Arya, the world is a harsh place and Winter is Coming. Many thousands would die if the Seven Kingdoms were invaded. Plus, by attacking and downright insulting the king, Ned endangers his own position when he just found out that his wife abducted Tyrion Lannister, which you know is going to cause a mess — he needs Robert on his side. Most importantly: Ned has his own children to think about and, ultimately, the king will do whatever he wants anyway. So harming his relationship King Robert to merely protest, but not actually stop, the assassination of strangers is a moral luxury Ned cannot afford right now. But that’s Ned.

Ned Stark resigns as Hand of the King. He readies to gather his daughters and leave King’s Landing. But Littlefinger has an offer: Want to see the person Jon Arryn spoke to right before he died? And you know Ned cannot refuse…

NEXT: The breast is yet to come

Tyrion and Catelyn arrive at Pandora The Eyrie. It’s a compound set up so high up such a steep, narrow trail that its said to be impossible for an opposing force to conquer. Also, just try getting a pizza delivered. Catelyn brings Tyrion before her sister Lysa and … and…

Here’s what we see: There is Catelyn’s sister sitting in, it looks like, Treebeard. We see her son, the seven-year-old lord Robin, beside her. We see her exposed right breast. And we see all of these things — Robin, the breast, Lysa — are … connected. He’s he’s, yes, his mouth is wet, oh god, no, what?

Even Tyrion, who prides himself on never being surprised by human nature, has an expression like his brain’s circuits are utterly maxed out trying to process what’s going on here. It’s like when you go to a friend-of-a-friend’s house for the first time, and the owner is doing something bizarre, like strolling around buck naked, or has their kids locked in suspended cages, or has hamsters in their hair, and everybody else there is pretending like this is totally normal and you want to look around and say, “Hey, does everybody see this s–t?”

The little lord pulls himself away from the boobsickle. “Mommy, I want to see the bad man fly!”

You don’t know what that means (yet). But you know it can’t be good.

Lysa introduces Tyrion to the jailer, Mord, who throws him into a cell. Most readers of the book really wanted to see HBO bring to life The Wall, or Winterfell, or the Iron Throne. I wanted to see the Sky Cells. Love the idea of a three-sided cell —  you can leave any time you want if you just step off the edge and fall to your death. Must keep the cost of running a prison cheap, too. Also, notice: There is no toilet. Let’s pause for a moment to consider the options this leaves you with. One suspects prisoners who last longest in the Sky Cells are the ones who either don’t mind their cell getting really nasty, or have excellent balance.

A quick detour: Were you wondering if there are gay couples in Westeros? Why yes. Here Ser Loras is shown with his lover, the king’s brother, Renly. Some readers of the books will be surprised by this, since the relationship wasn’t anywhere near this obvious in the novel, but author George R.R. Martin says he intended them to be gay and there were hints in the text. “All I ever hear is how I’m not tough enough,” Renly complains while the Knight of the Flowers shaves his chest.

Back with King Robert and Cersei: Quite possibly the best dialog-driven scene we’ve had so far. There’s so many good lines in this part, and it’s so well acted, I don’t even know where to start. It’s a peek behind the curtain of an adversarial relationship that also happens to be the most important in the realm, holding the kingdom together between the most powerful man (King Robert) and the richest family (the Lannisters). The Wall at Castle Black is nothing compared to the giant frozen blockade that these two have constructed between each other.

“Was it ever possible for us?” Cersei asks.

“No,” says Robert. “Does that make you feel better or worse”

“It doesn’t make me feel anything,” she says.

At Littlefinger’s brothel, Ned finds yet another of King Robert’s bastards. Have you figured out what the secret is yet? (Or think you have?). Seems Ned hasn’t put it together. He walks outside and — uh-oh…

Jaime Lannister rides up. His soldiers surround the “small pack of wolves” — Ned, the captain of his guard, Jory, and a few other men. Jaime asks Ned what’s happened to his brother Tyrion.

NEXT: Fight! Fight! Fight!

“He was taken at my command,” Ned lies.

Once again, noble but … man… if there was ever a time to plead ignorance, it’s this — it’s not like Catelyn is facing the deadliest blade in King’s Landing, and Ned can help her more alive than being slaughtered in the street.

Ned warns Jaime if he kills him, Tyrion dies. Jaime agrees — and orders his troops to kill Ned’s men instead.

Thunk! Thunk! Ned’s men go down, as polite Jory — who you’ll recall told Jaime just last week that he almost lost an eye in a previous battle — gets a deadly dagger right in his eye from Jaime.

And now: The moment we’ve been waiting for.

Ned and Jaime fight. And unlike the previous hillstribe attack scene, this is very well staged. Not to say something lamely obvious, but you really get the sense that these guys are swinging big heavy knives at each other rather than just elegantly sparring like in most movies. Jaime looks like he’s having a blast, until they lock swords and Jaime is surprised how tough Ned is. Jaime starts to seem just a bit worried when–

One of Jaime’s men sneaks up behind Ned and puts a spear through the back of his leg!

Ned falls to the ground, severely wounded. Did you gasp?

And now we come to my favorite moment of the episode.

Jaime, exasperated, reverses his grip on his sword, walks over all purposeful, and punches out his own man who stabbed Ned. Because THAT offended Jaime. Not pushing a child out a window, not assassinating the Mad King, not betraying King Robert, not murdering Ned Stark’s men, not having an incestuous affair with his sister — all that is swell. But when one of his own guys tries to give him an unfair advantage and interferes with his duel … that’s over the line. Love that. If Jaime were another villain, on another show, it would seem inconsistent. But you totally buy that’s what Jaime would do.

“My brother, Stark,” Jaime says, all rock star on his white horse. “I want him back.”

Boom. Now that was a great episode, right? If between the scene with Cersei and the King, and the fight with Ned and Jaime, if you didn’t find something to like this hour, then you’re not watching TV for the right reasons. And I’m here to tell you, next week is better. For those who missed Dany and the Dothraki’s (which sounds like a terrible 1970s glam band), Episode 6 has some of the best stuff yet with that storyline. Also, be sure to check the Inside TV blog tonight for an interview with Thrones producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss talking about Episode 5 (and why they’re ignoring your comments), and on Tuesday I’ll post the latest Thrones ratings. Follow me on Twitter here.

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Also, let’s continue not revealing spoilers — though, yeah, speculating about what’s going on with Ned’s investigation is fair game. Here’s reader JJ posting an observation on the boards: “Not everyone watching the series have read the book. Some people will say their theories and it might be right or it might be way off. You insinuating that those theories are spoilers might make those theories actual spoilers. So ironically, people screaming spoilers are the ones giving spoilers.” He just blew your mind, huh?

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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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