This review may contain spoilers.
Assembling for war in response to Catelyn Stark's (Michelle Fairley) arrest of Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), the Lannister army prepares to march against the Tully homeland. As a result, Westeros teeters on a dangerous precipice.
Of course Jaime Lannister's (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) impulsive actions are a key catalyst for this disintegration of Westeros' tenuous stability. He pushed Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) from a window and later proceeded to nearly cripple Lord Ned Stark (Sean Bean) too.
In the episode's opening scene Jaime endures a reprimand from his demanding father Tywin (Charles Dance), who desires to keep his family's dynasty intact despite his son's reckless attack on Ned. Tywin's introduction is memorable as he discusses his family's legacy while skinning a stag. He is a proud, stony man who would gladly see Westeros collapse into chaos rather than find his family's legacy tarnished. Dance is fantastic at bringing his character's stern demeanor to life. And, interestingly, much of what he says makes sense. He is no simple villain.
As Jamie is instructed by Tywin to march off with an army to attack Catelyn's homeland, his sister Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) meets with Ned in a scene that finally reveals some of the cards that are at play in the series. Cersei is unmoved by Ned's intention to reveal that her children were fathered by her brother, Jamie. In fact, she shows a steely disposition that is a clear warning that any conflict with her will come with a cost. By the end of the scene Cersei clearly outmatches Ned. It's easy to see Tywin's influence on her as King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) had recently noted.
Meanwhile, far to the north at the great ice wall, the Sworn Brotherhood of the Night's Watch holds a graduation ceremony that sees Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) assigned to steward duty. This assignment appears like a punishment at first to Jon, but Sam points out that the commander of the Night's Watch is obviously grooming Jon for a leadership role. And later, in what was supposed to be a festive moment as they finally take their vows, trouble appears to be brewing when Jon's direwolf returns from the woods with a severed hand.
A nightmarish threat is stirring in the far north, yet the kingdom's royals are far too preoccupied to notice. The discovery of the body part appears to finally link Jon's story with the grim opening scene of the series.
Dangers mount across the Narrow Sea too. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) survives an assassination attempt ordered by King Robert that sends her husband Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) into a rage as he promises to retaliate by invading Westeros. King Robert's obsession with the death of the Targaryens appears to start a war rather than prevent one.
Unknown to Daenerys and Drogo, however, Robert is injured in a hunting accident and dies a short time later. The king leaves Ned in charge. Following the nasty confrontation between Ned and Cersei, the fate of Westeros is in serious jeopardy at this point.
Seeking to use his position as acting king, Ned confronts Cersei at court and discovers the hard way that having a code of honor in the game of thrones is actually a costly liability.
Points Of Interest
1. Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) makes his first move to secure the throne, offering to back Ned in the process. It seems like an outstanding opportunity to head off a power grab by Cersei, yet Ned passes on this chance in the name of honor. By the episode's conclusion, this blunder is almost nauseating to contemplate.
2. In another scene that hints of the supernatural threat growing north of the wall, Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter) at Winterfell questions the wildling prisoner Osha (Natalia Tena) about where she and her party were fleeing to. Her reply of "as far south as south goes" speaks volumes about the coming trouble for the ragtag Night's Watch, who also lose Benjen Stark (Joseph Mawle) in this episode.
3. Daenerys finally finds Drogo willing to invade Westeros! Unfortunately, with the growing chaos there and the still unknown threat from the icy north brewing, such a move now carries an unexpected level of risk.
The closing scene was a doozy. It featured a delicious level of expectation and tension. Can the Stark family catch a break? Bran is crippled, Catylyn's arrest of Tyrion turned sour, Sansa is in love with a monster of a prince and now Ned -- with his leg badly injured thanks to Jamie -- has a knife to his neck in a betrayal Littlefinger had hinted at from the beginning! Ned's deep sense of honor continues to lead to disaster.
Another great moment was Jamie's interaction with his father. Coster-Waldau's portrayal of the Kingslayer is outstanding. Appearing as a simple monster at the end of the pilot episode, Jamie has quickly become an intriguing character as he grapples with his notoriety, the expectations of his family and his own potential as a future leader of the Lannister's prestigious legacy.
Finally, following the assassination attempt by King Robert, Daenerys and Drogo share a rousing moment. Momoa receives a chance to cut loose as his character delivers a fiery invasion speech, and you can't help but to root for this heartfelt gift to Daenerys.
What Didn't Work
It may have been just me, but concentrating on what Littlefinger was saying during his training session with Ros (Esmé Bianco) was a real challenge!
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. "You Win or You Die" was written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. It was directed by Daniel Minahan.
"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
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