The Starks have trouble making friends, and Dany makes a big discovery

By James Hibberd
May 02, 2011 at 01:57 AM EDT
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“The third episode was the best one yet!” says my friend.

“It was my least favorite of the first six,” I reply.

And we both gave the same reason: “There’s tons of character development.”

How you felt about the third hour likely hinges on whether you like scenes where folks just hang out and drink and get to know each other. There were no deaths, no wolves and no sex this week — let alone death from sex with wolves, which is practically what we expect from the always shocking Thrones (For the curious, I’d rank the first six episodes in this order: six, five, two, four, one, three).

Let’s go: Lord Ned Stark arrives in Kings Landing, looking grimy and annoyed. He’s met by a minion who says King Robert’s other advisers are waiting for him, then gives Stark’s leather-daddy outfit a once-over and suggests, “If you’d like to change into something more appropriate…”

And Ned just dead-stares him, as if thinking: What TV show do you think I’m on? Change into what? Westeros business casual? A suit from Men’s Wearhouse? (“The king’s council will love the way you look, I guarantee it.”) Besides, fantasy characters rarely change  clothes, it’s an unwritten a rule. Farm boy Luke Skywalker wore his bathrobe all the way to the Death Star.

Ned goes to the Throne Room and we get our first good look at … The World’s Most Uncomfortable Office Chair! This is the deal in the Seven Kingdoms. Everybody wants to be king, but if you get the gig you have sit on the Iron Throne, a chair made of 1,000 swords of conquered enemies that were fused together and are still sharp, like a bus stop seat designed by the City of Santa Monica to keep homeless people from sleeping on it.

According to the books, the idea behind this masochistic piece of furniture was that “no king should sit comfortably on the throne,” and there’s sure as hell little chance of that. You have to stay very still and remain very alert during long court sessions, so it’s not a good gig for those with ADD. And gods forbid you stumble getting into it, you could end up impaled on your own chair, how embarrassing would that be? On the plus side, the Iron Throne is potentially excellent for your posture and makes an intimidating statement for any executive. Imagine your boss calls you into his office and he’s sitting behind his desk in that freaking’ thing.

So Ned runs into The Kingslayer, Jaime Lannister, and they have a tense conversation about Aerys “Mad King” Targaryen. There’s a lot of chatter about the Mad King in the TV version of Thrones and I’m surprised producers put so much in. For those who had trouble piecing together the references, here’s the ultra-short version: Aerys was the last ruler of the Targaryen dynasty and fathered Dany and Viserys. Jamie was a member of his Kingsguard. Aerys went nuts and did a bunch of really horrible things, including roasting Ned Stark’s father alive inside his armor. Jaime assassinated him — an act both heroic and a betrayal of his oath.

Jaime locks eyes with Ned and says…

NEXT: Cersei assures Joffrey he can be a horrible ruler AND a terrible husband!

“If I stabbed the Mad King in the belly instead of the back, would you admire me more?” asks Jaime.

“You served him well,” Ned says, “when serving was safe.”

Seriously, you two, just fight or make out already.

Ned then meets with the King’s other advisers. They are…

Hey, it’s the mayor from The Wire! Yes. Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish: He’s the treasurer and used to have a big-time crush on Ned Stark’s wife. You’re told next week why he has that nickname, and the reason is far more polite than whatever you’re probably thinking.

Varys, aka “The Spider”: A bald eunuch and master of intelligence. He has spies all over the city that he calls his “little birds.”

Renly Baratheon: The King’s sensible, mild mannered younger brother. He’s sort of like Niles to Robert’s Frasier. He also, thankfully, one character in this show who doesn’t have a nickname for us to remember. “Winter may be be coming, but the same cannot be said for my brother,” Renly tells Ned and, hey, way to get snappy with the Stark motto.

We learn the crown is 6 million in debt to those incestuous, scheming wittle wuff-killing Lannisters and the advisers pressure Ned to borrow even more money for a flashy tournament. All of a sudden, this fantasy TV show sounds awfully familiar. Like Ned is actually a grouchy senate minority leader who’s telling President Obama’s staff that he refuses to raise the national debt limit to accommodate a budget expansion. Which makes the Lannisters … what? China? Which means Littlefinger is … Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner? And does that mean Catelyn is Sarah Palin? She can see The Wall from her house!

If these silly fantasy kingdom leaders were nearly as smart as our political leaders over the last three decades, they’d know the best solution to this problem is to just keep borrowing heavily while printing more money. That tactic never catches up with a country! (Ahem).

Ned concludes the meeting by angrily snapping at the group, successfully continuing his streak of being rude to every person he’s met so far at King’s Landing.

Cut to: Cersei teaching young Prince Joffrey how to lie about his encounter with Arya’s direwolf — as if he needs her help. “The truth will be what you make it,” she assures.

Cersei tells him he should do something nice for Sansa, that “the occasional kindness will spare you all sorts of trouble down the road.” Joffrey is annoyed. Why do people keep ordering him to be polite to others? He’s the prince, dammit, they should be nice to him.

Cersei adds that he must marry Sansa, who had the audacity to see him cry, but, don’t worry, Joffrey can cheat on her as much as he wants.

“You are my darling boy and the world will be exactly as you want it to be,” she says, and Joffrey looks like he’s imagining a future for Westeros that involves lots of leather uniforms and marching and bowing.

NEXT: Arya gets stabby; HBO meets its booby requirement

Asked how he’d handle the Northerners if he were king, Joffrey reveals his strategy: He’ll consolidate the armed forces of Westeros into one central army under his control, tax the hell out of everybody, “crush” any rebellion and quite possibly kill the younglings in the Jedi Temple.

“Everybody who isn’t us is an enemy,” Cersei says, just screwing her kid up even more.

Meanwhile, everybody’s favorite adorable psychotic Arya is stabbing the breakfast table with a big knife and pretending its Joffrey’s smirking smirky smirk face. Later, Ned goes to her room, where he finds his daughter trading her kitchen knife for an even bigger blade — her sword Needle. Now I started this post by saying I found some of the chatty scenes in this episode a bit dull, but this scene was brilliant. All the child actors in Thrones are very good, and Maisie Williams just owns this role, especially in this episode. (Factoid: Williams is right handed yet plays Arya left handed, just to be true to the books).

Ned helps explain, somewhat, Sansa’s infuriating betrayal last week. “Sansa was dragged before the King and Queen and asked to call the Prince a liar,” Ned says. “She must take his side, even when he’s wrong.”

“But how can you let her marry someone like that?” Ayra asks — and isn’t that a devastating question?

“We’ve come to a dangerous place,” Ned says, “we cannot fight a war amongst ourselves.”

Back at Winterfell, Bran is awake. Now when it comes to memorable events from your life, you would think watching the queen of Westeros being humped by her infamous brother, who then shoves you out the window to plummet several stories to the ground, that something like that would really stick out in your mind. But Bran doesn’t remember anything about what happened.

So he lays in bed, while being entertained by an old crone, who’s doing her best to scare the everliving s–t out of him with stories about White Walkers, babies being smothered and “packs of pale spiders, big as hounds.” She stops her reign of terror the instant Bran’s oldest brother Robb comes in the room, which is really why you need a nanny cam.

King’s Landing: Catelyn attempts to sneak into the city, but she’s recognized immediately and brought to Littlefinger at his whorehouse. She angrily accuses Littlefinger of treating her like a “Back Alley Sally,” which sounds like the title of a movie you can find for $10.99 on Pay Per View. Littlefinger apologizes for the location, while topless prostitutes wander uninvited into the room (this had no story point, but showed us just enough skin to give HBO an excuse to “warn” viewers there’s nudity this week during its content disclaimer). The prostitutes are also apparently unable to understand spoken language because Littlefinger has to do this complicated hissy snapping gesture at them until they scurry away.

Catelyn shows Varys and Littlefinger the dagger the assassin used to try and murder Bran. Littlefinger says he once owned this very same weapon but lost it to — duh-nuh-nah — Tyrion after Littlefinger bet on Jaime Lannister during a jousting tournament. So did the imp try to have Bran killed?

Littlefinger fetches Ned Stark, who thinks Catelyn is back at Winterfell. Once Ned realizes Littlefinger is taking him to a whorehouse to supposedly see his wife, he slams him up against the wall and starts choking him…

NEXT: Dany discovers she’s going to have a little pony

“You’re a funny man, a very funny man,” Stark says to Littlefinger and, I dunno, something about how he’s saying it makes me think he doesn’t really find him funny at all. Catelyn’s head pops out the window like she’s on Sesame Street and she says, hello, I really am in a whorehouse. “I’ll try to keep you alive for her sake,” Littlefinger tells Ned, who swears to find more proof of the Lannister’s treachery and take it to King Robert.

Now we zoom north, to Jon Snow… in training for the Night’s Watch at the dreary, broken down Castle Black. His instructor calls him “Lord Snow,” which is also the title of this episode. The name is meant to be sarcastic. Snow is not a lord, and given his surname, it’s like saying, “Hey, President Bastard!”

Like his father, Snow is pretty terrible at making friends, beating the hell out of everybody. When they gang up on him later, Tyrion uses his superior wit to rescue Snow from getting pummeled, but reminds him the other recruits didn’t have his privileged upbringing where they were taught how to fight by a master at arms. Snow also learns a raven has arrived with a note telling him Bran is awake (ravens are used to send letters in Westeros, but they take a long time to arrive and you don’t always get the message — it’s sort of like using Hotmail).

Next a brief moment with Jaime and Cersei, where she gives him grief for this giant mess with Bran. “The boy won’t talk,” he says. “If he does, I’ll kill him. Him, Ned Stark, the king, the whole bloody lot of them until you and I are the only people left in this world.” And here’s how twisted Cersei is: Saying that comforts her.

Now we come to the show-stopping moment of the episode, and not in a good way: Growling King Robert swapping war stories. He’s talking to, it looks like, Steve Martin. You all know I love the show. But this scene felt like a DVD extra and there’s little introduced here that isn’t re-introduced later. Let’s FF to Dany.

The Khalessi, having gained confidence from learning a second sex position last week, commands the Dothraki horde to stop so she can wander off into the wilderness and… do something. Is she looking for a bathroom? Wanting to lay down among the bamboo and play like she’s Jack Shepard in Lost?

Her brother storms over, infuriated that she gave a command to the army — and him along with it. “I don’t take orders from savages or their sluts!” he says, brandishing a sword. Dany is rescued by the Dothraki Indiana Jones, who lashes a bullwhip around Viserys’ neck. Dany has to beg the warrior not to kill her brother, which just downright perplexes the Dothraki — why do you want to keep this jerk alive, exactly? Viserys is told he now has to walk along with the slaves instead of riding a horse. The balance of power has shifted. (Say it with me now:) It is known.

Later, a handmaiden reaches over and feels up Dany’s right breast and pronounces her pregnant– the Dothraki version of an EPT kit (sure, it seems really crude and primitive, but can we really make an argument that peeing on a stick is more civilized?).

“It’s a blessing from the Great Stallion,” the slave tells Dany about her pregnancy, and I think she’s referring to some kind of god, but I wouldn’t rule out her referring to Drogo. We get yet another liiinnngering shot of those dragon’s eggs as we join Dany and Drogo in bed. She goes out on a limb and tells the Khal it’s a boy.

NEXT: Jon rides an elevator; Arya meets her Dan-cing Master

At Castle Black, we meet up with Jon Snow. Let’s run this down this whole Night’s Watch deal: You’re freezing all the time. Everything is gray. You have to go camping in the woods with scary demons running around chopping people’s heads off. The group is all men, and sex is forbidden. I like Jon Snow, but have a tough time appreciating his career decision. The only cool thing about being in this group is you can enjoy what’s likely the only theme park ride in the whole country: The Wall’s elevator.

Snow rides to the top and we finally get a grand aerial view of the wild terrible land north of The Wall that we’ve heard so much about. And we see …. Huh. Not exactly Mordor, is it? More like Vail. Seriously, if the Nights Watch can build an elevator, they could construct a few chair lifts and sell some tickets. The elders whine to Tyrion that they need more recruits, but they would have plenty of money to hire more staff if they just monetized their natural resources.

Later, Tyrion goes up to the top of The Wall too and checks “pee off The Wall” from his bucket list. Tyrion and Snow, who’ve come to have some mutual respect for each other, a rare thawing of tension between Stark and Lannister, say goodbye.

One last scene, and it ends the episode on a high note: Arya is introduced to her expert sword instructor — her dramatic new “Dan-cing Master!” He says he will teach Arya “The Water Dance,” which really worried me for a moment because I confused it for The River Dance, but it’s totally different and involves trying to stab people. As they spar, Ned watches, and their wooden swords began to sound like steel and he fears what’s to come.

So what did you think, my little Littlefingers and Back Alley Sallys? Did you leave Episode 3 feeling more connected to the characters and invested in the drama? Sound off, and let’s once again keep the comment board 100% spoiler free, it gets harder each week, I know, but you can do it! Also, be sure to check the Inside TV blog on Tuesday, where I’ll post the latest Thrones ratings (I’m curious if the number dropped after Ned killed the direwolf, aren’t you?), follow me on Twitter here, Facebook here and the recaps for Episode 1 are here and Ep 2 here. Thanks for reading!

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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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