Culture clash is the dominant theme of episode 2 of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and one’s ability to adapt to that culture clash goes a long way towards getting them out of this episode in one piece.
Ned Stark and his daughters Sansa (the one who wants to be Queen) and Arya (the tomboy) are adjusting to their new reality with varying success. Ned clearly doesn’t want to be the newest Hand of the King, doesn’t want to be traveling south to his new life, and doesn’t want to relive the old glories that King Robert seems so desperately to crave. Sansa and Arya brought their direwolves, and we see that the wolves have taken on the personalities of their human companions: Sansa’s wolf, Lady, behaves and acts proper-like, while Anya’s wolf, Nymeria, is quick to act and full of unchecked emotion.
The direwolves are the most interesting part of the episode, though the writers downplay their significance. Instead, the direwolves serve as a sort of spiritual rumble in the Game of Thrones’ belly.
Part guardian angel, part spirit of vengeance, the direwolves hover in the background of the show and then assert their presence at critical moments. When an assassin comes after the unconscious Bran, Bran’s direwolf leaps in from out of nowhere and kills the assassin. Seemingly nonplussed from his act, the wolf then jumps onto Bran’s bed, silently telling Bran’s mother that she can sit and fret and do whatever she likes, but the boy has always been under his protection and always will be.
Lady and Nymeria act in a similar fashion. When Prince Joffrey and his newly-promised Sansa go for a walk, the eldest Stark daughter orders Lady to stay behind, and the direwolf obeys. Joffrey and Sansa’s stroll leads them to the riverside where Arya and the butcher’s boy are play-fighting.
Joffrey is a right young bastard and decides to assert the authority of his position on the dueling kids, but he is, as the contemporary saying goes, cashing checks his ass can’t cash. When he verbally abuses the butcher’s boy, and then cuts him in the face with his sword, Arya steps in, causing Joffrey to knock her to the ground.
Joffrey draws his sword on the prone, defenseless girl. Except Joffrey learns the same lesson as Bran’s would-be assassin: the Stark children are never alone.
Nymeria leaps to Arya’s defense, but it’s a definitive example of winning the battle and losing the war. Joffrey runs to mommy. Arya convinces Nymeria to run away, which the direwolf does unwillingly. Arya is captured.
Joffrey has told everyone that Arya, the butcher’s boy, and Nymeria ganged up on him. The King has his wife screaming for blood on one side and Stark pleading for reason on the other. Robert is clearly much more comfortable drinking and whoring than he is being the heavy in the room. While he doesn’t like politics, however, he’s not ignorant of how to negotiate himself out of the situation.
At Queen Cersai’s insistence he orders the direwolf killed. It's clear that Robert just doesn’t want to be bothered by all of this; he had been willing to leave it at "children fight; it’s over” but it wasn’t over for his wife and Lady has to pay the price.
The Queen is pleased to score her some points in her personal battle with the Starks, but she’s confused by Ned’s insistence that he’ll be the one to kill Lady.
Stark killing Lady symbolizes all sorts of story elements: the viciousness of Cersai, the highly political nature of life in King’s Landing, Stark’s conflicted sense of honor and duty, Stark realizing that his acceptance of the new position has killed a part of himself, Stark bringing his children into a dangerous realm where he can’t always protect them, and forcing his daughters to become accustomed to their new life outside of Winterfell, outside of where their father is always the ultimate power.
Elsewhere the relationship deepens between Jon Snow and Tyrion. Jon is traveling to join the Night’s Watch and Tyrion is along to generally be a pain in Snow’s ass. Tyrion is interested continuing to force Ned’s bastard son into accepting himself as Ned’s bastard son.
The brief scenes between Tyrion and Jon are the best part of the episode because it brings together a member of each family who doesn’t fully belong with their respective families. Both Tyrion (because of his size) and Jon (because of his bastardness) are of their families but not wholly representative of their families, which gives them a space to interact without the full force of family pressure behind them. They have more freedom to be individuals.
Where the show ended with the downer of Stark killing Lady (which has a much greater narrative force than Bran’s awakening), it began with the bonus of seeing Tyrion take down Joffrey. We really don’t know much about him, but we see he’s a bit of a prig and it’s nice to see Tyrion slap him around and order him to go pay his respects to the Starks about Bran’s fall.
Then there’s Queen Cersai, who stops by to pay her respects to Catelyn, but embedded in her story of shared pain for losing a son of her own is the small detail that he was her "black-haired boy." Now, there’s nothing here to indicate that Catelyn had anything to do with her son’s death (though it is odd, I suppose, that Catelyn has never heard this story. You’d think the death of an infant Lannister would make the rounds of Westeros). But the simple way in which she refers to that son as black-haired while all she, Jamie, and Joffrey have blonde hair is telling, and reinforces their blondeness, if nothing else.
The one part that didn’t work for me was Catelyn’s discovery of a long strand of blonde hair in the room from which Bran fell. It’s not her discovery, but her insistence on going alone to the capitol that fell flat because it seems like she’s simply running after her husband. There’s no reason one of her sons couldn’t be sent, but this is a small complaint in another really strong episode.
Scenes with Danaerys don’t really add much to the episode except to break up the growing Stark/Lannister feud.
Lena Headey as Queen Cersai does an excellent job playing this evil woman. But her stock facial expression is one comprised of equal parts confusion, wickedness, and constipation. In nearly every scene she looks like she’d really rather be on the toilet. It’s a bit off-putting.
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