'Game of Thrones' recap: Joffrey, prince of smackability
Contrary to what various characters keep saying in "Game of Thrones," direwolves seem to make excellent pets, especially if creeps with blades are lurking about. Maybe they don't take instruction well -- Arya Stark has problems teaching hers to obey verbal commands -- but this week's episode repeatedly involves them defending their human companions, and even taking the fall for them.
In fact, wolves (and dogs) are all over this episode; it's what you might call a thematic focus. We even get to meet Prince Joffrey's lackey, "the Hound."
Where the first episode raced breathlessly from incident to incident and new character to new character, this one picks a handful of plot points, and hammers them in.
The story line that seems to be spinning its wheels involves Jon Snow joining the Night's Watch, for no clear reason. Jon's not terribly popular with Catelyn Stark, because he's not one of her kids, and anyway she's preoccupied with Bran's condition. Not only does Tyrion point out Jon's illegitimacy repeatedly, but Eddard dodges the subject of who exactly Jon's mother is with both him and King Bob in consecutive scenes. And then, just as in last week's episode, "a rider in the night" is credited with passing along a chunk of exposition to which the onscreen characters otherwise wouldn't have access. Do you suppose all the talk about Jon's mom might be ... foreshadowing something?
Speaking of foreshadowing, the amount of time the "Game of Thrones" camera is spending lingering lovingly over those dragon eggs Daenerys Targaryen got as a wedding present suggests that we're not supposed to miss their deep symbolic portent. The Targaryen Twosome's scenes are as close as this series gets to comic relief: Viserys is already acting like he runs the joint, and Daenerys gets schooled in the art of love by the only one of her new servant girls who doesn't sound like John Cleese in Monty Python's "Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook" sketch. The scene in which Daenerys demonstrates how to say "I want it that way" in Dothraki, then teaches Khal Drogo the more civilized cowgirl technique, is the quintessence of Orientalist camp. And then the ever-present Dothraki drum circle starts up again. Don't those guys know any Al Green?
The killer performance in this episode, though, comes from Jack Gleeson as the sadistic, entitled little twerp Joffrey Baratheon, the most smackable scion of power HBO has seen since Ziggy Sobotka on "The Wire." Tyrion Lannister slapping Joffrey repeatedly at the beginning of this episode is only a taste of what ought to be in store for him.
It's clear that most of the Lannisters and their kin have it in for the Starks, but their scheming pales before his sheer, horrifically whiny arrogance. With a single act of jerkhood, he manages to throw the entire House of Stark into disarray: Arya, Sansa, Eddard and the King are all ticked off at each other, and an innocent creature gets the chop. Well, two innocent creatures.
Of course, the set-up of "Game of Thrones" demands that we care more about the fate of the luckless Lady than about the fate of the butcher's boy, whose only crime was being the playmate of aristocracy, and whose corpse is waved away with a single brief shot. But the ruling class -- and even their pets -- always seem to matter more than the commoners. Psyched for that other show about a royal wedding?
Your challenge for the week, commenters, is to complete the following limerick:
The sex and violence tally:
Fatalities: Two, most notably a lupine throat removal -- not counting the other kind of lupine fatality
Bare breasts: Two, as Daenerys tries to figure out what there is to look at in her tent while she's otherwise occupied
-- Douglas Wolk
Photo: Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) prepares to give a master class in extreme dog training on "Game of Thrones." Credit: HBO