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'Game Of Thrones' - Fire And Blood

Series concludes exceptional season with a gripping finale

This review may contain spoilers.

"Game of Thrones" concludes its first season with another gripping episode as a king is crowned in the north and the age of dragons is rekindled.

Last week, the series proved it has little interest in pulling punches. Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) seemed poised to earn a glorious victory in Westeros' game of thrones, but in a shocking twist it's Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) who derails her power grab by recklessly ordering the execution of Ned Stark (Sean Bean).

Leave it to Joffrey -- who now appears more deranged than Mad King Aerys Targaryen -- to make a bad situation worse. Ned loses his head, and as a result, a long, devastating war is inescapable.

With the Lannister army partially defeated by Robb Stark's (Richard Madden) northmen, and with the armies of the Baratheon brothers stirring in the south, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) is forced to make some hard calls. His captured son, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), is foremost on his mind as he orders a retreat and dispatches Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) to King's Landing to serve as the acting Hand of the King.

Tyrion's appointment is a good example of Tywin's strategic mind at work. Tywin recognizes that Joffrey and Cersei are doing more harm than good, and Tyrion's arrival in King's Landing will likely bring a measure of stability to the crown. Perhaps a bit of sanity too.

Tywin will be no push over for Robb.

Meanwhile, Robb's bannermen have also lost all faith in the crown. They name Robb as their new king. This act effectively separates the Starks from the crown and forms a new kingdom. Westeros is officially more of a mess than when the series began.

As the game of thrones rages in the south, the Sworn Brotherhood of the Night's Watch faces far greater concerns. In fact, all the armies of Westeros should be marching north to reinforce the Night's Watch, yet the realm's leaders have failed to pause long enough to absorb the serious threats building north of the wall.

Jon Snow (Kit Harington) -- whose impulse was initially to desert the Night's Watch and help Robb -- now fully embraces his position in the brotherhood and joins its commander Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo) as he leads an army north to confront the wildlings and the mysterious White Walkers.

Finally, across the Narrow Sea, the series finale concludes with a stunner as Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) struggles with the tragic loss of her husband and the failed birth of her son. Stepping into Khal Drogo's (Jason Momoa) pyre in an apparent suicide attempt, she is consumed by flames alongside her three dragon eggs. The next morning, a disheartened Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) is awestruck to discover that she is still alive, unburned and with three baby dragons, which cling to her naked body like children.

Daenerys, in a fashion, has given birth after all.

Points Of Interest

1. Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) finally escapes the madness of King's Landing thanks to the intervention of Yoren (Francis Magee) of the Night's Watch. The fact that she meets up with King Robert Baratheon's bastard son, Gendry Waters (Joe Dempsie), makes for a potentially interesting twist. Now Arya and her Night's Watch caravan will have to navigate a kingdom wracked by war to get home.

2. It was a cool moment when the supposed bad guy of the series, Tywin, noted that the death of Ned and the escalation of the war was "madness and stupidity." Go Joffery!

3. Almost everyone involved with the king's court appears to play the game of thrones; now it's Grand Maester Pycelle's (Julian Glover) turn to reveal a bit of his game after a scene with Ros (Esmé Bianco) that shows he is not as frail and absentminded as he seems. However, like Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen) and Varys "the Spider" (Conleth Hill), his endgame remains lost in feints and shadows.

What Worked

Like the majority of Season 1, there isn't much that doesn't work in this episode. Overall, HBO has delivered a wonderful adaption of a remarkable novel. The cast has been impressive, and the music, directing and writing have quickly elevated this series into the upper tier of television's best offerings.

A highlight of this episode was Sansa Stark's (Sophie Turner) scene with Joffrey. Forcing her to look at her dad's severed head on a pike, Joffrey seems to bask in satisfaction, yet when he insists that Robb's head will be next, she simply replies, "Or maybe he'll give me yours." It's a watershed moment for her character, especially after she almost gave the bratty king a shove off the castle wall.

Another rousing moment was the reveal of Daenerys' three baby dragons. As the music swelled, you could almost imagine her return to the Seven Kingdoms and the resulting mayhem. Westeros has so many competing threats bearing down on it that it seems destined to be razed to the ground!

And seeing the Night's Watch set out north of the wall for a preemptive strike to head off one of these threats was a stirring development.

What Didn't Work

Season 1 was just too short. As I've noted before in past reviews, 10 episodes doesn't cut it. When contrasted with George R.R. Martin's book, some scenes just rocketed past far too quickly. Adding another three episodes to future seasons -- the books only grow in size, after all -- would be a welcome move.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

"Game of Thrones" stars Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Michelle Fairley, Jason Momoa, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Harry Lloyd. "Fire and Blood" was written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. It was directed by Alan Taylor.

See our Season 1 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," "The Pointy End" and "Baelor."

About the Author

Bryant L. Griffin is managing editor for Airlock Alpha, 1701News and Rabid Doll, and a writer for the entire GenreNexus network. He works at a major-metro newspaper and served as a journalist in the U.S. Army. In 2002, he joined Nexus Media Group Inc., contributing to many early design concepts before shifting his focus back to writing. Bryant hails from Tampa, Fla.
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