All aboard the Hype Train! In preparation of Season 8 of Game of Thrones, Kelly is doing a rewatch for the greater good to refresh our memories, catch the things we might have forgotten, pick up the things we might have missed, and maybe make predictions! Hold onto your fur rugs from Ikea and AWAY WE GO.
Rules of this series: We’re deep diving into these episodes and I’m watching them on a per-episode base because I like digesting the episodes. Spoilers lie ahead. As much as I can, I am going to try and keep things episode/season specific. It’s out of respect to the narrative as well as the later seasons. Onwards!
Season 1, Episode 9: Baelor
I will admit, much of the reason why I didn’t watch this show from the get-go is because I saw the poster of Sean Bean on the Iron Throne and thought, “That’s silly. He’s going to die.” No point in watching something when I already know what’s going to happen. But I take that back. I take it aaaaaaall back.
Baelor, the ninth episode in this fantastic season, is a direct reference to Baelor Targaryen who built the Great Sept of- wait for it- Baelor and the center of the Faith of the Seven, like a big cathedral. Baelor was known for being extremely devoted to the Faith and so did the following:
- Married his sister but refused to consummate the marriage and so had no heirs
- Tried to birth dragons by praying over the eggs
- Banished prostitutes from King’s Landing
- Locked up hi wife and sisters, because he thought they were tempters of the flesh
- Made a 6-year-old (8 in the books) the High Septon because he claimed to have spoken to a bird
Also, he disbanded the original Faith Militant, which is weird since it seems like he’d be all for that, and uh, starved himself to death because… he saw food as an indulgence and therefore a sin… whatever. Why there is a statue of this dude is beyond me. Can’t trust people who don’t like food.
Where to begin? I’ll get right into the important stuff at King’s Landing, which ends the episode, and then we’ll work back from the beginning so you can pop off where ever you want. Generally, Episode 9 is the BIG episode of the season and where the big stuff happens- which is nice as the season finales give you some processing moments and set ups for the upcoming season. So much stuff usually happens that the breathing room in Episode 10 is very welcome.
Down in the dungeons, Varys brings news of Robb’s call to arms, as well as Sansa’s plea in the throne room. Ned still refuses to support any heir other than Stannis and Varys kind of loses it and says he wants Ned to serve the Realm- if Ned confesses, he can still serve, there is no forthcoming war, people won’t die, and so on… but Ned’s sticking to his guns.
Outside, Arya’s looking very much like the little boy the City Watch and Yoren accused her of being two episodes earlier, which is all hinting at her taking on her second identity. Crowds start flocking to the Sept of Baelor, where the Hand is being publicly shamed for treason against the new king.
And so begins the Scene of the Episode: for all the rumors of Varys telling Ned people still love him, it sure doesn’t seem like it. Arya climbs up the leg of Baelor so she can see Ned being led out in chains and Ned spots her, telling Yoren where she is. Ned also sees Sansa, on the dais with Cersei and Joff. At the very last minute, Ned chooses his family over his honor, falsely confessing that he had been after the throne, etc., etc., in the hopes that his daughters will be spared. Even though Ned says Joff is the true king and Cersei has given directions Ned be spared, Joff goes on a power trip and calls for his head. Arya jumps down from Baelor- not sure what she was planning on doing here but her hand is on Needle- while Sansa is trapped on the dais. Varys, Cersei, and even Pycelle try to reason with Joff as Littefinger eventually makes his way over to the Small Council. Kneeling at the block, Ned resigns himself to death as all the sound goes away and the rest of the episode is pretty much silent.
As if sentencing wasn’t bad enough, Ilyn Payne, the King’s Justice or royal executioner, grabs the Stark heirloom Ice to execue Ned. Yoren catches Arya and pleads with her to look away. Just as Ilyn Payne swings the sword, it cuts to Arya looking up and opening her eyes and seeing a flock of birds fly away. The episode ends with Arya closing her eyes again. This is one of the most dedicated translations of the book, which is told from Arya’s point of view. It’s noted how there is a sighing sound, as if the crowd collective lets out a breath, and she can feel the moment that Ned dies. The scene is excellently done as the tension and panic is accurately felt, but there’s also a sense of tranquility that comes with Ned accepting what is about to happen.
I always like to note this flock of birds, as I can loosely connect it to the Three-Eyed Raven. I’ve been suspicious every time there is a focused shot of a bird in the series, as it seems out of the ordinary, but entirely within the TER’s/Bran’s warging abilities- how else would they know all the history of the world? Only further confirmed by Season 7, when Bran warged over the army of the dead.
Back to Baelor though- how can you kill off your main character of a television show and expect people to hang around? And generally- people want to know what happens after? Ned’s role in the entire series is now left empty- who is going to save this and how? It’s one of the most talked about scenes and the one that put GOT on the map. But what GOT did so slowly and so craftily is using that main character to forge relationships and develop the others. Ned’s warmer scenes with Arya play heavily into why we feel so connected with her character and why she has one of the more popular arcs. Cersei’s and Jaime’s scenes with Ned expose so much of who they are and their motives. It’s a series that generally does so well introducing new characters, they are used to change up the dynamics and offer new perspective on what we thought we knew about more familiar ones. As a beloved character, one we felt connected with, and then one that was snatched away with such injustice- we want to see how Ned will be redeemed and immediately feel aligned with his family members, and the characters they choose to align themselves with, and so on and so on.
And that’s another thing that GOT manages so well- the effect of a death on the rest of the show, using it to significantly change the course of action and have it hanging over the entire series for several episodes to follow. While there are some more gratuitous ones for the lower tiered characters, the majority of deaths on this show make you feel a whole lot. Sometimes it’s a real satisfaction (I can’t think of anyone upset by Viserys’ death)- but when a character is well loved or has experienced real suffering, it’s felt in more ways than one and it should be. I’ve always hated shows that offer deaths of major characters (both good and bad) without any real thought behind them- The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy are both guilty of this, while also presenting more appropriate ones- and either the ending of the character needs to be fitting or later resolved in a manner that feels right. It’s a hard thing to conceive and develop, but the emotional tax and payoff is well worth it- it’s what keeps audiences coming back.
I’m also one of those believers that when characters die, they should stay dead. There’s a bit of a disconnection people have, myself included, with Westworld, and I think a lot of this comes with knowing that if a character dies, we’ll 95% see them again as a host or a flashback. The first time we saw it, it was a bit of a twist, but it’s hard to feel emotionally invested in a show that doesn’t really suffer loss. I admit I also watch Arrow, and yeah, it’s hard to compare a CW show with HBO in more ways that one (funding, demographic, amount of episodes, etc.)- but I bring this up because the principle cast of Arrow hasn’t suffered a loss since Season 2 and the show is notorious for bringing back old members to pop up in later seasons for what could be considered throwaway episodes. As a result, the characters don’t evolve as individuals and the dynamics don’t really get to change. GOT is the complete opposite of this- deaths affect characters and can either propel them forward or cause them to regress. The losses play directly into the sequence of events and change the course of motion. It’s made television really consider how characters can be used.
I can’t think of another television death prior to Ned Stark’s that rippled throughout a show as much- perhaps Buffy Season 5 (you know the one)- but to have gone for at least six seasons that have all hinged on this one moment is really amazing. Good on you, GOT.
Here’s the rest of the episode if you still want it:
Outside the Twins, Robb’s not taking any chances for Walder Frey to pick sides with the Lannisters, so he has Theon shooting down any ravens in and out of the two castles. Cat says there’s no way Walder Frey would ever hurt her since she’s known him since she was a girl, is a Tully, and the Lady of a Great House. Someone, possibly my man Greatjon, drops, “Unless there was a profit in it,” and the shot lingers on Cat a little longer than it should… and… just something in my eye.
Inside one of the castles, so begins the many ramblings of Walder Frey, who gets to have the most graphic and creepiest dialogue in the entire show. Some history of Walder Frey: he is a 90 year old man with 30 trueborn children all named with a variation of Wald-, an unknown number of illegitimate children, and has been married eight times, most recently to a fifteen year old whose “honey pot” is all his. Yech. He’s also known as “the Late Lord Frey” a Nickname given by Cat’s father, Hoster Tully, as he showed up late to several battles. Most importantly, both Jon Arryn and Hoster Tully both denied any marriage of their relatives to any Freys as it was thought that the Freys would use this to conquer a Great House. Generally, the Freys are not trusted despite being the second most powerful house in the Riverlands and are suspected to turn on any house if there was something to gain.
Expertly played by David Bradley on the show, who also played Argus Filch in the Harry Potter series, Walder Frey is delightfully unlikeable and almost like that crazy, racist uncle you hate but can’t wait to have over for Thanksgiving because you know shit’s going down. Walder has no problem saying to Cat’s face that he’d choose Joffrey’s side over Hoster’s as he has loyalty to both the Crown and his liege lord, and ultimately- who does the liege lord serve? And if he had any sense, he’d give both Cat and Robb right over to the Tullys for gold.
A fun little moment added by Bradley to this scene is that while he’s talking to Cat, he turns around and lifts his cape to warm his bum at the fire. I’m assuming all the actors had great fun or had a hard time not breaking character when filming with Bradley. I love little details like this that make the scene more colorful and more telling of the characters and it’s absolutely in line with how Walder would sniff at a conversation with a Tully, even if it was a lady of a Great House.
Cat’s able to come to an agreement with Walder: he’ll let the Stark camp cross, but Robb has to take on a Frey son as a squire and eventually, give him knighthood. Sure, no big deal- Robb can always use an extra hand. Arya must marry one of his sons when they come of age, and Robb’s like, that’s fine; Arya would have been married anyway, right? But then Cat says, “Oh and uh… You have to marry a Frey girl. But you get to choose her so…” and the first question Robb asks is if any of them are pretty. REALLY, ROBB? You’re about to go to WAR and THIS is what you care about? Also, the answer is no. None of them are pretty and perhaps one is passable. That’s what you get.
The next shot is the Stark party riding across the Twins and I’m noting this because they’re still not playing the Winterfell theme and instead, play a variation of the show’s theme with more militaristic percussion. Still surprised. I think using the show’s theme in Season 1 whenever it plays, has a purpose as whoever is on screen is established as a protagonist and viewers are naturally more inclined to align themselves when they hear the title theme. Then after Season 1, each character/plot is weaned off of this by integrating its own motif. Subtle, but brilliant.
Up at the Wall, Jon is rewarded with Longclaw, the Valyrian steel sword which is a House Mormont heirloom and originally meant for Jorah pre-slave trading business. Jeor says Jorah had enough sense to leave it behind because he realized he had brought shame to the house- and then I think about Sam having to forfeit his title and poor Randall Tarly who just wanted a kid to play catch with. That’s right. Poor Randall. Perspective, man. Anyway, Jon heads back to his bunk but parades around Castle Black a bit, giving out high fives and getting back pats- he’s a popular guy and well-liked as long as Alliser Thorne is on a mission to spread wight awareness anywhere South of the Wall.
Sam tells Jon the Robb has called all the bannerman, and because he can’t simply just do the wrong right things, tattles on himself for gossiping about raven correspondence. Aemon senses immediately that Jon’s heart is still with his family and now his mind is as well. He tells Jon that he, too, was once faced with a difficult decision and heard about his nephew getting killed, and then the nephew’s son, as well as his children- and Jon, thinking he’s read this in a book somewhere, asks him who he is- and Aemon is revealed to be the last known living Targaryens in Westeros and at one time, was heir to the throne but turned it down in favor of getting his hands dirty to serve the Realm. He was somewhat dismissed from Robert’s Rebellion in being a Maester and a member of the Night’s Watch as he upheld his pledges to not hold any titles, lands, or bear no children- essentially, just not a threat or a contender for the throne. This is the first of many times Jon has to take Principles of Pledges 101.
Over the Narrow Sea, Drogo’s wound is infected and he falls off his horse- not a good sign for the Khal and a very bad sign for Dany, and both are bound to be abandoned by the Dothraki if Drogo can no longer demonstrate strength. Dany asks Mirri if she knows anything else that might be able to save him and Mirri volunteers to do some black magic, starting by killing Drogo’s spirit animal- his own horse. Dany, just… why? This was a definite sign that Drogo wasn’t going to make it. And even if the magic did work, what’s he supposed to ride off on? And if you really considered yourself a Dothraki queen, there’s no way you’d let your Khal’s perfectly healthy horse be slaughtered. Dany’s still quite a young character here and is so desperate for any way to bring Drogo back to strength. This is one of those moments that also should have taught Dany to counsel and trust those around her in really… dire situations… which… she still refuses to do in future seasons… it’s fine.
Mirri sends Dany outside the tent and tells her no one must enter while she is performing the spell and of course, everyone is huddled around the tent begging her not to do this. Dany falls on her pregnant stomach in the scuffle and Jorah immediately carries her into the tent- which he wasn’t supposed to do.
Over at Camp Lannister, Tywin is half-complaining about Robb while also somewhat admiring his boldness in moving south against him with 20,000 men. As an easy excuse to have Tyrion killed in battle and preserve his Lannister soldiers, Tywin puts the tribesmen in the vanguard- essentially the first men and hopefully the only men that will need to get killed in battle. Dejected and upset by his father’s seeming loathing for him, Tyrion buries himself in the comforts of Shae, a prostitute Bronn pretty much kidnapped from another soldier in the Lannister camp. Tyrion tells Shae she’ll belong to him and no one else and to “fuck [him] like it’s my last night in this world.” In return, Tyrion promises her security and more gold than she could spend.
In a drinking game with Bronn and Shae, Tyrion reveals he was previously married to Tysha, a woman he and Jaime had saved from a raping. He took Tysha to an inn, fed her, fell in love, and were married by a drunk septon; later, a furious Tywin revealed that Tysha was a prostitute Jaime hired so Tyrion could “become a man” because virginity is everything when it comes to maturity. To punish Tyrion for his ignorance and willingness to humiliate his family, Tywin paid Tysha one silver for every Lannister soldier she had sex with- in front of Tyrion. I’m not sure of how big silver coins are in Westeros, but estimate how many quarters you can hold in your hand and maybe you’ll get a good idea. That’s how furious Tywin was with Tyrion and that’s how much Tyrion hates Tywin. This is a good masking scene for Shae and it was a bit of an advantage for Shae to meet Tyrion right after Tywin basically tells him that Tyrion’s safety isn’t a concern for him. In both scenes, she’s with Tyrion as he’s feeling at his lowest and most vulnerable in the first season and it’s easy to provide the affection and validity he seeks. It’s quite easy to make Tyrion feel loved. My opinion on Shae changes- but I don’t think she feels any affection for Tyrion at all in her first episode, further exemplified in her response to Tyrion when he asks her to weep for his death, “You’ll be dead. How will you know?”
At the battle with the Starks, Tyrion gets trampled by his own men and misses the whole battle. Turns out Robb lied about sending 20,000 men to Tywin and only sent 2,000, taking the other 18,000 west to the Riverlands to face Jaime- and capturing him in the process. Jaime offers to fight Robb one-on-one and Robb, like Littlefinger admitted in his sexposition scene, says he’s aware he’s not as good of a swordsman and he’d be a fool to take him up on the offer. Robb also needs Jaime as a bargaining chip- he has nothing to gain by killing Jaime and it wouldn’t give them any means to progress. Mature move by Robb!
I can’t remember for the life of me how the next episode begins post-Ned’s death, but I do remember some really heartbreaking moments. Up next, the season finale: 1.10 Fire and Blood.