In case you've ever wondered, when a bunch of dudes get together, we totally reminisce about our favorite memories of killing people. The rot at the center of the landscape of "Game of Thrones," this week's episode spells out, is decrepit King Robert Baratheon, who's far less interested in protecting his kingdom against whatever's beyond the Wall than in reminiscing about the skulls he crushed to get the throne.
He loves having a "kingslayer" at his drunken beck and call too: as we finally get more than a few hints of the series' baroque backstory, it's laid out for us that Robert rose to power after Jaime Lannister stabbed "the mad king" Aerys Targaryen in the back, in his own throne room. Or so the story goes.
A lot of this episode, in fact, is about royalty's ability to define consensus reality -- and the limits of that ability. "Someday you'll sit on the throne, and the truth will be what you make it," Cersei Lannister tells her horrible little brat Joffrey; the Dothraki hordes freeze when Daenerys -- who's getting very into the idea of being "not a queen, a Khalisi" -- tells them to freeze, but they nearly garrotte Viserys for throwing his weight around like the king he hasn't officially become yet.
All that royal power is contingent, though, on the ability to breed more royalty. Once Daenerys' hair-braider gives her a furtive grope and informs her that she's got a "blessing from the Great Stallion" in the oven, both she and Khal Drogo are thrilled: They're going to have a little dynasty! (So what if it's neither rabbit season nor duck season
? An expectant lady gets cravings.) And Joffrey doesn't particularly seem to resemble Robert, does he? Why, you'd almost think he was the hell-spawn of incestuous union
Speaking of illegitimacy, as frustrated as Jon Snow can be, we get to see his superpowers this time. For one thing, he knows kung fu
, or the swordfighting equivalent. (The color palette of the scenes at the Wall is rather "
-ish.) For another, he's got access to a functional elevator -- the contraption that carries him up the Wall works better than the one at my old storage space. Best of all, he seems to have earned the fondness of Tyrion Lannister, who spends the entire episode impishly dropping Wildean epigrams
. ("If you're going to be a cripple," he enunciates plummily, "it's better to be a rich cripple.")
But does Tyrion actually have it in for the Starks? Depends if you believe our vaguely sinister new character, Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish. Littlefinger is supposed to be hopelessly in love with Catelyn Stark, although you might not know it without the script's cues: Aiden Gillen plays him as a reserved poker-face who's mostly just amused by his own schemes.
Arya Stark, in the meantime, is coming into her own as a would-be future-king-slayer--the first time we see her this week, she's stabbing her dinner to practice for Joffrey. But her loving daddy realizes that she needs to learn more about using her new sword than "stick 'em with the pointy end," so in the episode's final sequence, we get to meet Syrio Forel (Miltos Yerolemou), who in his TV incarnation is a bushy-haired fellow with an outrageous Slavic accent. (This episode pushes the "assumptions we're supposed to make about characters from their accents" button even harder than the first two: Bran's nurse, for instance, seems to have been plucked out of the old-Irish-washerwoman bin at Central Casting.)
And then, as "South Park" put it
, "with every shot show a little improvement/To show it all would take too long/And that's called a montage
!" If you thought it was a bad idea to mess with Arya at the 58-minute mark of the episode, it becomes an increasingly worse idea over the final 60 seconds or so, as the training montage progresses and the sounds of wooden training swords become the clank of metal.
Your new Drinking Game of Thrones, by the way, is to take a drink whenever somebody mentions the impending approach of winter, and two drinks whenever somebody says "winter is coming" in exactly those words. By that standard, this episode would leave the king even more sozzled than usual.
The sex and violence tally:
Fatalities: Only in King Robert's tender memories of bludgeoning boys to death with a hammer.
Bare breasts: Two, courtesy of one of the "back-alley Sallys" in Littlefinger's house of ill-repute.
Photo: Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) gets a stabbing lesson from Syrio Forel (Miltos Yerolemou) on "Game of Thrones." Credit: HBO.