This review may contain spoilers.
The perils of Westeros' game of thrones carry tragic ramifications this week as the conflict between the Lannisters and Starks escalates to dizzying heights.
Ned Stark's (Sean Bean) rigid sense of honor and mercy have already produced a nightmarish dilemma. With his daughters at risk and his young son marching an army south to engage the Lannisters in battle, Ned is forced to endorse Joffrey's (Jack Gleeson) claim that he is the new king of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Although Ned will have to join the Sworn Brotherhood of the Night's Watch and forfeit his place as Warden of the North, he hopes the act will derail the war and ensure his family's safety.
The endorsement is a serious blemish for his honor, but Ned may have finally learned that honor and mercy must be balanced with a measure of common sense. However, it's a lesson learned far too late.
Unfortunately this is Westeros; life is hard and grim developments seem to be an inevitability. Ned's proclamation of Joffrey's right to the throne appears like his best option, yet as the episode ends, Joffrey has his own diabolical plan, which seems to horrify all those around him, including his mother Queen Cersei (Lena Headey).
Ned's fate is a sobering moment. This series has little interest in coddling its audience.
As Ned experiences Joffrey's reckless sense of justice, Robb (Richard Madden) sweeps south with his northmen. He enjoys success on the battlefield and scores a valuable prisoner -- Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)! But before this victory is made possible, Robb pays a price. He promises to wed one of the daughters of Lord Walder Frey (David Bradley), whose twin castles control a vital bridge across the Trident river that is critical to the northmen's chance at surprising the Lannister army. The Freys are disliked by many; so Robb's marriage promise is far from a joyful moment.
Meanwhile, at the great ice wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is forced to choose between his commitment to the Night's Watch and his desire to join Robb on the battlefield. In an attempt to guide Snow's decision, Maester Aemon (Peter Vaughan) reveals a secret: His last name is Targaryen and he faced a dilemma similar to Snow's when his family lost the throne.
Hard choices plague Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) too. Just when it seemed things were going her way, she experiences another heartbreaking setback as her husband Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) grows gravely ill from his recent injuries. In a desperate move to save him, she orders a witch doctor to cast a spell to save him before his tribe turns on her and seeks a new leader. Judging by the sinister sounds coming from Drogo's tent as the spell is cast, Daenerys seems to have made a serious mistake!
Points Of Interest
1. Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), clad in his armor, faces down a Dothraki warrior and quickly proves the value of his "iron dress." A Dothraki invasion of Westeros suddenly looks a bit less threatening.
2. The Starks finally serve Jamie some humiliation this episode. His capture will undoubtedly produce some delightful verbal showdowns as the series progresses. The Lannisters have suffered a serious setback here, especially when factoring in Joffrey's rash actions in King's Landing.
3. During the opening moments of the episode, Varys "the Spider" (Conleth Hill) pleas with Ned to submit to Joffrey's right to the throne. The mystery behind Varys is tantalizing, and Hill's sly portrayal of him is brilliant.
The final scene is a true shocker. The fact that Ned's daughters are there to view it only makes it more gut-wrenching. "Game of Thrones" grows more absorbing with each passing episode.
"Baelor" has a captivating mix of character development, tension, surprises and sweeping scale. This series continues to look great too. Cinematography, acting and the score unite to create an impressive package that is surely ripe for a rain of golden trophies this award season.
Executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who penned this episode, deserve a lot of credit. Their writing has been superb, and the fact that they have pulled no punches is refreshing.
Peter Dinklage enjoys another chance to shine this episode as his character Tyrion Lannister shares a tragic story from his past to his new companion Shae (Sibel Kekilli) and his "sellsword" Bronn (Jerome Flynn). It's moments like this that position Dinklage for a much deserved award. His character's charm and humor as he reluctantly prepares for battle is a delight to watch.
What Didn't Work
Although this was a fantastic episode, a few scenes involving the Lannister and Stark armies clashing in battle -- especially Tyrion's clansmen -- would have been welcome.
In fact, Tyrion's participation during the battle is scaled back in this episode compared to George R.R. Martin's novel. Apparently Tyrion failed to fight alongside his men? At any rate, the scene is a minor disappointment.
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. "Baelor" was written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. It was directed by Alan Taylor.
"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
See our episode reviews for "Winter is Coming," "The Kingsroad," "Lord Snow," "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things," "The Wolf and the Lion," "A Golden Crown," "You Win or You Die" and "The Pointy End."
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