This review may contain spoilers.
Struck by the profound realization that her brother will never claim the crown of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) finds her entire upbringing called into question.
In one of the highlights of Episode 4, Daenerys is forced into a violent confrontation with Viserys (Harry Lloyd) that fully reveals his deep insecurities and unhinged mental state. Could he truly be Westeros' next great king? Absolutely not. Viserys is broken, a pale shadow of his family's famous ancestors. In fact, he may very well be a mirror of his father the Mad King, whose hopelessly erratic actions often brought ruin to those around him.
As Daenerys struggles to come to terms with her new reality, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) continues to seek his place in the world too. His newest friend at the wall is Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), who was forced into the Sworn Brotherhood of the Night's Watch by a disapproving father. Lacking fighting skills, Tarly seems destined for a short life at the wall, but Snow steps in to take him under his wing.
Meanwhile, Lord Ned Stark (Sean Bean) starts his investigation into the death of the former Hand of the King. It's not long before the trail of clues leads to one of King Robert Baratheon's (Mark Addy) dirty secrets.
Points Of Interest
1. Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and Ned's verbal sparring during a private meeting spikes tensions. Showing her mettle, Cersei displays a calm, calculating disposition that seems as sharp as Ned's greatsword. King Robert warned about a coming war. Now it seems his prediction is inevitable, especially after the closing scene involving Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage). Fairley and Dinklage undoubtedly will have some juicy moments ahead as they clash over the tragic fate of Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright).
2. Standing about as a sentry on top of the ice wall has to be one of the low points of life in the Night's Watch. Unrelenting winds, precarious footing next to an unnerving fall, limited visibility and countless days of the same … desertion and facing Ned's greatsword suddenly doesn't seem half bad.
3. Just when you thought the producers had dumped Snow's direwolf from the series, the albino pup finally makes its first significant appearance, teeth and all. Nice!
4. The backstory of Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) receives a little meat in this episode as Tyrion reflects on the Greyjoy's rebellion while preparing to depart Winterfell. Theon's position as a Stark hostage reveals another slice of the complicated political dynamics that plague Westeros. Everyone wants power.
Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) stands up to her father's idealistic vision of her future; she dreams of swords while he imagines a prestigious marriage. Ned's gentle reaction to her wishes was priceless. Bean is doing a remarkable job with his role and gives Ned another layer of likability that contrasts well with his steely demeanor.
Lloyd is also blossoming in his role. He plays Viserys' descent into folly with remarkable prowess, and he elevates his character well beyond the pages of George R.R. Martin's novel with each passing episode.
Tyrion finds another chance to shine during his return visit to Winterfell. His presentation of a saddle design for cripples to Bran and the genuine concern he shows for the boy is an interesting development when compared to Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei's appalling actions during the pilot episode. At this point the Lannisters seem destined for a disastrous conflict.
Jaime -- despite his act against Bran -- continues to be a likable and complex character. In most shows he would wear a black hat, but thankfully Martin's tale is more interested in shades of gray. Credit goes to Coster-Waldau too for balancing Jaime's conflicted personality. And his line “I doubt it” regarding Theon will surely bring smiles to those who have read Martin's novels.
What Didn't Work
This episode moved slowly, with action taking a back seat to a lot of discussion. An expanded jousting scene with a few rousing tilts would have made a nice counterbalance.
However, like Martin's novel, this section of the story is a necessary calm before the storm -- a storm that begins next week. And, all in all, "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things" was another solid episode for a series that should only get better as these characters sink deeper into Westeros' deadly game of thrones.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
"Game of Thrones" stars Sean Bean, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Michelle Fairley, Jason Momoa, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Harry Lloyd. "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things" was written by Bryan Cogman. It was directed by Brian Kirk.
"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
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