When I describe to people what it’s like to watch Game of Thrones, I explain that it’s like running off the side of a steep hill – you start at the top, but then your stomach drops and it just goes down from there. Game of Thrones is brutal, pulls no punches, and will wreck you emotionally. It constantly challenges you as a viewer (and reader) and messes with your expectations. It’s an iconic piece of grimdark fantasy for a reason. But I realized after rewatching (and reading) this part that the slope is gentle at the beginning, and here, at episode 7, is where you start the plummet.
It was incredibly frustrating to see Ned, honorable and loyal Ned, continue to be stubborn and make decisions based on well-intentioned ignorance. He’s clearly at a disadvantage, having already lost members of his house in an earlier fight with Jaime and other Lannister men, and despite being surrounded by other members of the small council who clearly have more political savvy and have given him advice and other courses of action, he ignores them. And he ignores them because his honorable ways tell him that Joffrey cannot be king because he is not really Robert’s son.
The next in line to rule would be Robert’s younger brother, Stannis, who, as Renly points out, is another warrior, and that doesn’t necessarily mean he would make a good king. Littlefinger of all people gives Ned a warning that backing Joffrey would be better for the realm, which if that isn’t saying something about what kind of man Stannis is, I don’t know what could. And despite that, Ned holds true to the fact that Stannis is the rightful heir, regardless of whether or not he would be good for the people. That’s just how loyal of a man he is.
Ned feels guilty over the little white lie he leaves in Robert’s will, believing that will be enough to force Cersei and her children to give up the throne once he reveals the truth, and then Cersei tears it up – because that is what loyalty and honor are worth in King’s Landing. Nothing at all, really. What matters is how many men you have to fight at your side, and of course, as Littlefinger explains, the man who pays them. Renly, having been denied by Ned before Robert’s death, has fled King’s Landing and Ned very quickly runs out of allies. He is captured by the Lannisters, his men are slain, and they move to capture his daughters to serve as hostages. And this isn’t the first time we see Ned make poor decisions out of an unbreakable loyalty to the realm and his king. You can understand why he does it, and to any sane person, loyalty and honor are good qualities to have. It’s only natural to root for him. But I’ll be damned if it isn’t frustrating to read.
I mentioned in the last part that I love all the extra scenes we get that flesh out other characters and things that happen “off-screen” in the books, though I will say the scene in Littlefinger’s brothel was too much for me. Littlefinger is an interesting character, but having read the books, the show plays up the sexual content to a ridiculous degree, and I definitely think this was a scene that was added to service the heterosexual men watching the show, and not necessarily to serve the plot.
I will say that I am glad they cut out Jon’s meddling (again) in Samwell’s fate at the Wall. In the books, he goes to Aemon to hopefully convince him to use Sam as one of his stewards, thus allowing him to take his vows and become a proper member of the Night’s Watch. As one of the Brothers, he’ll be protected from people like Rast and others who will inevitably make their way to the wall. It’s mentioned a few times that the Night’s Watch is where you get what you earn, but so far it has seemed like Jon doing a lot of work in the background to get Sam the position he is now in which makes that statement ring a little hollow. Especially since that is what drew Jon to join them in the first place. So I’m glad they cut that out. Getting back at Rast for bullying Sam was one thing, but petitioning on behalf of him to the other members of the Watch was a step too far for me, even if I understood why he did it.
And of course, we have another new scene with the brilliant Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister, which was one I really enjoyed. Tywin is such an interesting character that we really only hear about in passing in the book, at least thus far, so it’s pretty neat that we get to meet him and get that glimpse into his philosophy. His idea of the family name being the thing that outlives them all, that it matters more than the individual people that comprise it is just an unusual but fascinating world view to consider. Also, he’s skinning what looks to be a stag, which was some very clever symbolism.
It was pleasantly ironic that Robert’s attempts to kill Daenerys are what prompt her husband Drogo to finally do as she wishes and decide to conquer the Seven Kingdoms. The bitter irony of a self-fulfilling prophecy is always fun to see!
I don’t know that I am mentally prepared as we continue to roll down this hill full tilt, but we’re almost at the end. Of book one, anyway!
What did you think of episode 7 – You Win or You Die? What do you think of the changes from the book? What were some of your favourite scenes from this installment? Let me know in the comments!