And now we return to "Jail Cell Chat" with Ned Stark and Varys, coming to you direct from the Red Keep in King's Landing. This week's topic: peace, honor, and love; how do we prioritize? Ok, ok, I'll stop being silly. Varys does go to visit sadly (and wrongfully!) imprisoned Ned, to tell him that Sansa has plead for his life to be sparred, if he will confess his crimes, a suggestion Ned isn't too keen on. Varys is nothing if not persistent. He tells Ned that when he was still a real boy he was raised by a troupe of actors, and the ultimate lesson was that everyone has a part to play. Ned's part is to serve the realm. According to Varys, even though Robb is marching south with an army (news to Ned), Cersei is worried about Stannis, a merciless battle veteran, therefore Cersei would rather have a tame wolf than a dead one, so in exchange for his confession, Ned will be allowed to take the Black. Ned isn't swayed; Stannis is Robert's true heir and Ned isn't in any mood to pretend otherwise. See, Varys might have been raised an actor, but Ned was raised a soldier, and as such "learned how to die a long time ago." Undaunted, Varys plays his ace; Ned may value his honor more than his own life, but what about Sansa's? At The Twins, Theon is playing target practice with ravens, shooting down all communication trying to escape the Frey compound. After reading Lord Frey's birthday wishes for his grandniece, Robb, Catelyn, Theon and the bannermen talk strategy. The Northerners need to cross the Trident, The Twins is the only crossing, the Frey's have held The Twin for over six hundred years, so either Robb can waste his arms forcing Walder Frey to let him pass or someone can try to go talk to him. Since she's known him from childhood, Catelyn offers to go play let's-make-a-deal with the Late Lord Frey. Inside the dank and crowded hall of Lord Frey (on the other side of the Trident) Catelyn receives a frosty welcome from Lord Walder, who is reminded of the courtesies by his heir and then (one of his many) bastards. Catelyn might have rather just skipped them; she couldn't quite contain her revulsion when Lord Walder slobbered all over her hand. Having performed his socially prescribed assault, Lord Frey dismisses his frighteningly enormous brood. Lord Frey expresses his exasperation to Catelyn that her father didn’t attend the last couple of weddings he had, and isn’t mollified by Catelyn’s insistence that her father has been ill. Lord Frey resents what he perceives as years of the Tullys looking down on the Freys, dismissive of any esteem offered, because what he really needs is marriages to get his progeny out of his house. Lord Frey points out to Catelyn that he while he made vows of alliegence to Lord Tully, he made similar vows to the King, so from one perspective Robb is nothing more than the leader of traitors. But then Lord Walder undercuts any legitimate ideological debate he could be having by asking Catelyn why he should give a shit about any of it. Up north at The Wall, the refuge of unwanted children (hint hint Lord Walder), Mormont asks Jon how long until his hand is healed because he’ll need both hands to wield the sword Mormont is giving him as thanks for saving his life from zombies. Mormont is giving Jon his family’s sword, which his son had the good grace to leave behind when he ran for his life from Westeros, but he’s replaced the bear’s head on the pommel with a wolf’s head. Ignoring Jon’s protests that he cannot take the sword, Mormont warns Jon that “it is a man’s sword, it will take a man to wield it” meaning men don’t have petty bitch-fights with their sworn-Brothers, a message Jon gets clearly, so he offers to apologize to Thorne. The Lord Commander has save Jon the trouble of making peace, he’s sent Thorne to King’s Landing with the zombie hand, to make the situation real for lil’ King Joffery. Sent to fetch the Lord Commander’s supper, Jon goes to the dinning hall, a journey punctuated by pats on the back and good-jobs from his Brothers, and concluding with his friends loudly chanting their desire to see the sword. But because there is some horrible cosmic rule that Jon isn’t allowed to be remotely happy for more than 5 minutes, Jon notices that Sam looks troubled. With absolutely no pressure at all Jon gets Sam to relate the contents of raven Sam read to Maester Aemon earlier: Robb has headed south with his bannermen. Sober again, Jon’s loyalty to his brother comes to the forefront: “I should be with him.” Catelyn returns to the Northerners camp, bringing news of her negotiations. Lord Frey will let them cross the Twins, and will pledge his men to Robb’s cause. In exchange Robb will take one of his son’s as a squire, Arya will marry one of his sons (or maybe grandsons) when they are both of age, and Robb will marry one of his daughters, when the fighting’s done. Robb is apprehensive about the price to be paid for Lord Frey’s assistance, especially hearing that beauty doesn’t seem to be a family trait. Resigned that if he wants the help he will end up with an ugly wife, Robb agrees, since after all, Ned taught him that you make the sacrifice asked of you in order to do what must be done. And the Northerners cross the Trident, on their way to meet the Lannisters. Internally contemplating if he should do the same, Jon is asked by Maester Aemon to help feed the ravens, in order to give Jon something to occupy him while Maester Aemon asks him some personal questions. Jon has no response for the Maester’s question of why the men of the Night’s Watch take no wives and father no children, but it is simply so that they will not love, for “love is the death of duty.” Maester Aemon tells Jon that each man will be tested in his life, asked to choose between they two demands upon his heart, and that Jon’s conflicted soul is not special. Before Jon can get too far into his martyrdom, for he might be a bastard but it is his father in jail and his brother in peril, Maester Aemon relates his own family history: his nephew, grandnephew and great grand nephew all killed so that Robert might be king. Dany isn’t the last dragon; her grandfather’s brother has been assigned to Castle Black, and remained there, despite the destruction of his house. Refraining from giving Jon his opinion on what he should do, he simply tells Jon that he must make a choice and he must live with the consequences for the rest of his life. Across the Narrow Sea, Khal Drogo is suffering the consequences of his wound, and in a state of delirium, falls from his horse. Trying to ward of the death predictions of Angry-Blood-Rider, Dany commands that they make camp and the healing woman be brought to her. At the Lannister camp it’s dinnertime. Tyrion sits down to the information that the Northerners are only a day away and that he will be in the vanguard leading his tribesmen. Tyrion argues that the wild men might not be the best choice to represent the army, as they are rather prone to infighting and mindless destruction, but Tywin replies that the behavior of soldiers is the responsibility of their commander. Giving it another go, Tyrion asserts that his father can find a way to kill him that wouldn’t hurt the Lannister cause, bait to which Tywin will not rise. So Tyrion rises, from the table, having lost his appetite. In his tent he finds Bronn and a lovely young woman, a camp follower Bronn commandeered from a few tents down. Tyrion makes the pretty woman, who gives the name Shae, an offer: to be his companion in exchange for protection and money. Shae, apparently a smart one, agrees. Enthusiastically. After all, it could be Tyrion’s last night on earth. It looks like it will be Drogo’s last night on earth. When Jorah sees him he begs Dany to abandon her husband and ride with him towards the nearest city so they can grab a boat. Dany assures Jorah that she won’t let Drogo die, and it’s irrelevant since she is carrying his heir. Jorah corrects her cultural ignorance, informing her that Dothraki honor strength, and when Drogo dies there will be fighting, the winner will be Khal, and he will kill Dany’s baby. Angry-Blood-Rider and the healing woman arrive, neither too happy about Drogo’s state. Angry-Blood-Rider removes himself, with some helpful encouragement from Jorah, instead of killing Dany and the healing woman. At Dany’s suggestion, Jorah leaves to put his armor on. Dany commands the healing woman to save Drogo. The healing woman offers Dany a spell, blood magic, but there will be a price for “only death pays for life.” Dany assumes it will be her life, but is relieved when the witch asks for Drogo’s horse. The witch banishes everyone from the tent, slaughters the horse on top of Drogo, the blood of which splatters on Dany as well, and then tells Dany to leave, that no one may enter once she starts singing. Outside, Angry-Blood-Rider pushes Dany to the ground and tries to get past Jorah to enter the tent. Fully armed and a bit pissed, Jorah dispatches Angry-Blood-Rider without too much trouble. Rushing to Dany’s side, he discovers that Dany has gone into labor, but none of the Dothraki women will help her. Considering his only option the witch, whose been overheard to say she has helped deliver babies, Jorah gathers Dany into his arms and takes her into the tent. (The tent when a witch is trying to prevent her almost dead husband from dying by using blood magic.) In Tyrion’s tent, he and Shae are playing a game of fire-chicken, and he’s loosing. Tyrion wants to play a game that he’s good at, so it’s Truth-or-Drink-with-Tyrion: he will make a statement about Bronn (and then Shae) and if it’s true, they must drink. In round Bronn the details of his sordid life come to light: his mother, as well as his father, beat him; the first person he killed was a woman and he was less than 12; typical sellsword type stuff. Shae insists that Tyrion is wrong that her father ran out on her family and that her mother was also a whore. Turning the tables, Bronn announces that Tyrion used to be married, and Shae insists on the story. At 16 Tyrion was riding with Jaime and they came upon a girl being chased by men intending to rape her. Jaime pursued the men, Tyrion took the girl, Tysha, to an inn, fed her, and they ended up in bed together. He fell in love with her, and the next day they married. Two weeks later Tywin found out, had Jaime admit to Tyrion that Tysha was a whore and he’d arranged the whole scenario so that Tyrion would no longer be a virgin. To punish Tyrion, Tywin gave Tysha to each of his guards and made Tyrion watch. Shae is unmoved by Tyrion’s revelation, claiming he should have known she was a whore, as no woman whose almost been raped then willingly has sex a couple hours later, and Tyrion’s defense that he was young, stupid and in love sways her not at all, for in her opinion he is still young and stupid. At dawn Bronn awakens Tryion with news that he’s missing the war: Robb’s army marched through the night and will be there within the hour. Armed, Tyrion assembles his tribesmen, preparing them for battle by telling them that this will be the beginning of their dominion over the Vale. His speech maybe makes them a bit too eager; in their haste the tribesmen flood over Tryion and one of them hits him in the face with a hammer, knocking him out cold. Tyrion awakes to find the battle over, won by the Lannisters, but only against 2,000 of Robb’s 20,000 men, and Robb not among them. Of on a hill Catelyn waits expectantly, finally letting out a sigh of relief when rider emerge from the woods, led by Robb. The Northerners have been victorious, and captured Jaime Lannister. Catelyn demands the return of her daughters, but Jaime isn’t obliging. Theon strongly suggest they kill Jaime, but Robb sees more value in his life than his death. Jaime offers Robb a chance to end the war: their single combat. Robb isn’t fooled, and tells Jaime to his face that single combat between them would inevitably end in Jaime’s favor. So, it’s to irons and a cell for “the pretty man.” Watching his prisoner led away, Robb is overcome by the 2,000 men this victory cost him. Undaunted, he reminds his men that their single victory has neither freed Ned, nor return Sansa and Arya, and certainly has not repelled those who’ve subjugated the North. Unflinching, Robb reminds his men that “this war is far from over.” Arya does not flinch when catching a pigeon on the streets of King’s Landing, but the baker she tries to bargain with isn’t interested in her prize. Noticing all the people heading in the same direction, Arya asks a passing boy what’s going on. He gleefully informs her that the Hand of the King is being taken to the Sept of Baelor. Arya hurries to the square and climb the statue of Baelor the Blessed, just in time to see her father led out to the very crowded platform. King, Queen, Council, Sansa, King’s Guard and all have gathered to hear Ned’s confession, but he only sees Arya, and as he passes Yoren in the crowd, whispers to him “Baelor,” all he can do to attempt to protect his younger daughter. In front of the crowd, with a reassuring nod from Sansa, Ned “confesses” that though Robert was his friend, he attempted to kill Joffery and take the crown for himself. He assents that Joffery is the rightful king and that he is sorry for his crime. Pleased, Joffery tells the mob that while Cersei and Sansa have argued for Ned to be punished in exile on the Wall, that was their soft women-hearts talking, and that as long as he is king, treason shall be punished. Joffery commands Ser Illyan to behead Lord Stark. Just as she’s about to leap to her father’s defense, Yoren grabs Arya, yelling at her not to look. Despite the pandemonium around him, the screams of Sansa, the avid protests of Cersei and Varys, the unsheathing of his own broadsword, the world goes quiet around Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell. With a last look toward the statue of Baelor, a last fumbling hope that her absence there might mean that at least one of his daughters has been spared the sight of his death and be saved from further torment at the hands of the Lannisters, Ned puts down his head. Ice falls, the crows fly.
And I cried.
Like a baby.
Love versus duty. This has been (one of) the central debate(s) our poor little characters have been having all along. These forces have been pulling at each other, and in some cases weakening the fabric of society, since we entered Westeros, but upon this theme this episode was especially beautiful. Each storyline explored a different aspect of this existential difficulty in such a way that the episode itself served to present a unified human person. Taken individually the particular struggles of the individual players deepened our understanding of them and propelled along their plotlines, exactly what an episode of a show should do. Taken collectively, we saw the full range of experience that every person has throughout his/her life. For most of us, the choice between love and duty, between the people and passions that enrich our soul and the (often sacrificial) actions towards a good higher than ourselves, will seldom be a matter of broad societal import, of life and death. Our lives, generally of less noticeable import, are made up of smaller quandaries, but we find in here a reflection of them all the same. In those times that we are asked by a friend for an honest opinion, when we have to prioritize our time to fit in both work and play, when we must balance the needs of loved ones for time and attention with our desire for success in our purpose within the greater world, in the moments that we recognize that the price for what is right might be paid by one we care for, there will be occasions when we are overwhelmed by seeming isolation in our plight (like Jon), when we cannot let the world see how terribly we have failed (like Jaime), when we continually make the wrong choice (like Catelyn), when believe we understand the full impact of our choices (like Dany), when we do understand that no matter the outcome our struggle is ongoing (like Robb), when we comprehend just how circumscribed our own lives, and therefore our choices, are (like Tyrion), and when there is no choice that will bring about a good outcome (like Ned). The course of our lives will be shaped by those choices, as the course of Westeros is shaped.
The TV Girl