Game of Thrones 1.09: "Baelor"

A column article, Shot For Shot by: The TV Squad
The Game of Thrones saga continues with "Baelor," the penultimate episode of Season 1. Don't you dare read down if you haven't kept up with the show because the spoilers in this squad episode are major and appear in the first sentence of our review You were warned.

Paul: So did you hear about people saying they're quitting Game of Thrones after Ned's beheading? It's pretty hilarious.

Danny: The fallout my favorite part of the episode. People shouldn't have gotten attached to Ned once they saw that he was being played by Sean Bean. That guy has never made it through an entire film alive. If he doesn't straight up betray the team, he just gets offed.

Paul: Exactly. Especially when there are swords involved. My favorite was in Black Death where he -- SPOILER ALERT! ...rips off his shirt and is covered in Plague Boils!!! I think he might have been drawn and quartered then, but I don't remember.

Danny: Surely you heard about the incident the other night where some dude straight-up stabbed him outside a bar. And he just walked back in and ordered another drink.

Paul: After he stood up to the guy for talking smack about Bean's ex-Playboy Playmate girlfriend who's like 30 years younger than he is.

Danny: Clearly he's traded his on-screen mortality for real-life invulnerability.

Paul: He is the manliest man in Manville.

Danny: Too much man for Game of Thrones, I guess. But maybe this is the one that breaks the cycle.

Paul: Hell, sure they cut his head off this week. That doesn't mean he won't be back kicking ass next week. It'll take more than a beheading to stop Sean Bean!

Danny: But I must say, for a brief moment I thought that Arya was going to swoop in and save her dad. Then I realized Game of Thrones is NOT that kind of show.

Paul: I was kind of hoping for a scene of her sticking Needle under Joffrey's chin and doing something awesome. But this some real, hard-ass shit. For a fantasy.

Danny: Which I think is why the negative fan reaction makes a lot of sense. It's weird not to have a stalwart sword-wielding male lead.

Paul: I guess, but I really can't fathom the mindset where Ned is the only interesting character to a viewer. I mean, for fuck's sake, we've got Robb leading an army, we've got Tyrion leading a group of crazy Vikings, we've got Arya running around twisting the heads of of pigeons, etc.

Danny: Exactly. At this point all the characters have surpassed him in terms of being interesting, but, for what I imagine are base genre viewers, it's discomforting NOT to have him. This strikes me as Martin (and the showrunners by virtue of leaving that plot point in), refusing to hold our hands with genre tropes. There's a wealth of characters to fill the vacuum of Ned's absence.

Paul: Ned was dead the moment he accepted the job as Hand. Ned's dead, baby.

Danny: How little we've seen of him in the past few episodes is proof that we don't really need him.

Paul: Agreed. Hell, I only just realized that the head of the Night's Watch is the father of Ser Jorah over in Dothraki Land!

Danny: I don't know if that ever came up before, but that was a great reveal.

Paul: There's so much depth of character work and pure narrative on display here, it's amazing. That's one of those moments where if I was paying attention to the characters' names on IMDB, then maybe it wouldn't have come as such a surprise. But I have trouble remembering real people's names, so...

Danny: Yeah, discussing these episodes is teaching me to keep track of these characters' names. Speaking of Ser Jorah, we got to see him beat up that mouthy Dothraki in this episode, and it was awesome.

Paul: It was! And we got our first glimpse of magic in this world. White Walkers notwithstanding.

Danny: He always talked the talk, but to me his primary reason for existing was to walk up and explain Dothraki culture. When he finally messes up a dude, it's really pleasing and effective. I guess in the world of Game of Thrones, the magic people are backwards cult figures?

Paul: The way his character is playing out really puts the spotlight on just what honor means in relation to individual character. I mean, he sold poachers into slavery, sure. But he seems pretty awesome in every other respect. And I'm curious now about how his father ended up in the Night's Watch if he's so noble and honorable.

Danny: Maybe to make up for Jorah's treachery?

Paul: I don't know. Jorah was banished and shamed the family, sure, but when you take the Black you give up family, so it doesn't seem like the sort of thing that would get pushed onto family members of criminals. Unless he took the Black to spare Jorah, I guess. See? I'll miss Ned, but come on! There are so many good characters here, this could run for years and years.

Danny: Turns out Ned was the one with the least going on.

Paul: All he had was his honor and his sense of duty.

Danny: Bo-riiiing

Paul: And it killed him and ruined his family.

Danny: It's right up there with Bronn tossing that night out of the castle in the sky. How little chivalrous knightly honor matters in Martin's world.

Paul: Exactly! Those people are living a fantasy. Ideals are fine in theory, but in practice they'll get you killed.

Danny: I'm not a huge fantasy guy (I like Lord of the Rings), but it's a genre that strikes me as existing in a basic good/evil dichotomy, where the virtuous come out winning in the end. So the way those ideas are thrust into a world that feels like our world with all its gray morality and bad guys coming out on top -- that really appeals to me.

Paul: That's what I'm liking so much about this story. I can't stand that standard fantasy good/evil dialectic. It's simplistic and moralistic and only serves to distract readers/viewers from the world around them. I don't even like LOTR really, since it's all black and white morality (with a hint of racism tossed in for flavor).

Danny: It's the template for the genre, pretty much, isn't it?

Paul: Distraction and escape leads to disposable media. I don't see any reason to support it. That same dialectic is what undermines Camelot when everything is said and done. It could be good, but it's too mired in the mythology of Good King Arthur to really say anything interesting. I like the show, but it's like a cartoon. Game of Thrones has really won me over completely. Sorry. I drink and I rant.

Danny: Game of Thrones makes everything look like a cartoon now. It pretty much won me over in the first episode -- not just when the kid gets thrown out of the tower, but the way there was so much to keep track of. It's like continuity-heavy comic books were preparing me for this. I felt like I wasn't being talked down to, but invited to keep up.

Paul: Yeah, when Bran fell, I was hooked. The huge cast was a plus, but I admit, it's a bit intimidating to me. But intimidating in a good way. This isn't passive entertainment.

Danny: It's dense, but rewarding.

Paul: Yes! Rewarding in a way that most shows just don't have the guts to aim for. But enough about the show in the abstract, what about this episode? Did anything jump out and surprise you?

Danny: I was surprised that, with all the fighting, my favorite scene was Tyrion and Bronn playing a drinking game with an enigmatic ye olde hooker.

Paul: That was a nice scene. I like how even amongst all the violence and doom, we still get moments like this for the revelation of character. I hope she'll be around for a while.

Danny: It really shows off how great the writing on this show is. It isn't just Traffic with tunics and broadswords. It's also really thoughtfully written And it was great to finally get a prostitute who isn't just an expository punching bag. She's really well-sketched, and super-intriguing.

Paul: For a genre that's stereotyped as Big Guys with Swords Saving Damsels, this show has a lot of strong ladies.

Danny: That scene where they just drink and we get Tyrion's backstory is so good that I didn't even care that he sleeps through the entire battle, essentially. That was the only way Tyrion was surviving that battle, by accidentally passing out.

Paul: I admit, I laughed out loud when Tyrion was hit in the face with the war hammer. It was also a nice way to get through the battle without spending all the money on a huge combat scene. Economical and enjoyable. This show has to be monstrously expensive to produce, so I don't want to see it go the way of Rome. Or Deadwood.

Danny: Game of Thrones surely has more hype than Rome, doesn't it?

Paul: I'm sure. But the costs of those shows really pushed them into cancellation. Here we're getting 10 episode seasons instead of 12, so I hope that's enough to make it viable for a while.

Danny: Oh, totally. I was wondering how they'd handle big battles like that. I guess we'll find out later. The aftermath of the battle was pretty convincing, though.

Paul: The Hill-Folk beating the crap out of corpses and the wounded was worth the price of admission. I will flat-out admit that I underestimated the Vikings. I'm glad to see them still around. Doing horrible things.

Danny: They were like the rednecks at the end of Night of the Living Dead, just runnin' around, hootin' and hollerin' at the zombies.

Paul: Ha! Yes!

Danny: I figured the Vikings would do pretty well for themselves. This show's like Fantasy Darwinism. My second favorite part of this episode involves the lord that Mrs. Stark has to sweet talk into letting Rob's army through.

Paul: Yeah, the creepy guy from Harry Potter being all lecherous and shit was a little unnerving. Especially the bit about his 16-year-old wife taking his "honey." Ugh.

Danny: The scene after she meets with the lord is hilarious, by the way. "One is..."

Paul: I guess it was worth it though, to see Jamie Lannister in chains. YES!

Danny: Yeah, that was beautiful. Especially when Jamie offers to fight hand-to-hand and Rob knows he won't win, so eff that.

Paul: I can't help but think that Ned would have taken him up on that. So maybe Robb gots a little something going on.

Danny: He sends thousands of men to die to mislead the Lannisters and refuses to fight in honorable combat. It's so easy to imagine Ned attempting to do virtuous things in these situations and it leading to his downfall. Sorry angry fans -- Ned would have died in every single scenario.

Paul: Seriously. Ned had no way out. Although on the noble and virtuous side of things, it's nice to see Ned's bastard getting his due and taking the place of the ignoble son. Of course, the Night's Watch is living outside of reality, really, where that sort of thing can still be rewarded. The more I think about it, the more this show is just a slap in the face to the stereotypical fantasy fan/passive TV audience. In a good way.

Danny: It really is a litmus test for its audience, especially this episode.

Paul: I'm a little more torn up about Drogo than Ned.

Danny: Drogo is a far more intriguing character, though I feel like he's cut from a similar stereotypical cloth. It's easy to imagine Drogo dying and Daenerys taking his place, but I also feel like Dothraki culture won't allow that. But it's equally easy to imagine them pulling another Ned, easing us into the show with genre tropes only to pull the rug out from under us.

Paul: Yeah. I have no clue where that story is going now. It just seems like they wouldn't have played up the whole prophecy angle to just drop it when (if) Drogo dies. I mean, we knew Ned was right fucked from the moment he said Yes to Robert, but Dany's story has been building and building. Something interesting and game-changing should be in the cards there.

Danny: Yeah, I feel like there's more to the "Is Drogo getting whipped" subplot, especially now that Daenerys has allowed some witchcraft to go down -- especially witchcraft that involves horse violence. How attached are the Horse People to their horses?

Paul: That attachment is what makes the magic powerful, I'd imagine. I feel incredibly nerdy just typing that sentence, by the way. But yeah, I just don't know anymore. Drogo could die and I wouldn't be surprised. I'll be surprised by what happens to Dany and the Baby Dragon. Just like I was surprised by Ned actually giving in and compromising his honor for nothing.

Danny: We keep anticipating and predicting what happens in future episodes, and it's always exciting to be wrong with this show.

Paul: One of the things I look for in a story, is the writer/creator's ability to keep me guessing. It's difficult to really pull one over on me. I mean, ingesting media like this is something I've done since I was old enough to read, so when a story can keep surprising me, I value that.

Paul: Especially when the surprises don't just come out of left field on a whim (Lost, I'm looking at you!), but are built on character and plot. With each episode of Game of Thrones, I'm more and more reminded of The Wire and the way it layered and structured its storytelling. And I've seen nothing as good as The Wire, ever. This is close.

Danny: Unlike Lost, there's no puzzle or game here (despite what the title may imply), but here it inspires trying to guess what they'll do next with these characters. All it needs is people drunkenly riding horses and scenes composed entirely of curse words. Then it'll be a true contender.

Paul: "Fuck." "Fuuuuck." "FUCK."




Community Discussion