Stars: Mark Addy, Alfie Allen, Sean Bean, Emilia Clarke, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Fairley, Aiden Gillen, Jack Gleeson, Iain Glen, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Richard Madden, Rory McCann, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Jason Momoa, John Bradley
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, based on George R.R. Martin’s novel “A Song of Ice and Fire”
Director: Dan Minahan
Network: HBO, Sundays @ 9 PM
Airdate: May 29, 2011
By the end of the GAME OF THRONES episode “You Win or You Die,” the viewer’s head is spinning, trying to figure out what’s going to happen. It looks likely that all hell will break loose, or rather, that even more hell will break loose, since by the finale, a good many infernal machinations have already been unleashed.
Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), back at his family homestead, gets a tongue-lashing from his father Tywin (Charles Dance), the richest man in the Seven Kingdoms. Tywin wants Jaime to be something more than a bodyguard in order to ensure the family legacy.
At the Wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) prepares to take his vows as a lifelong member of the Night’s Watch, but is furious when he learns that he’s been designated as a Steward rather than a Ranger. His friend Samwell (John Bradley) – who is perfectly happy to be a Steward – points out that Jon has been chosen as the steward to the Commander of the Watch. It seems likely Jon is to be groomed for command and Jon takes the news with better grace, though he and the others are worried by the return of Jon’s uncle’s riderless horse.
In the capital city of King’s Landing, Ned Stark (Sean Bean), Hand of the King, confronts Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) with his knowledge that her children are actually by her brother Jaime and not by her husband King Robert (Mark Addy). Ned advises to Cersei to take her children and leave while Robert is still out hunting. However, Robert gets drunk while out on the hunt – it’s implied that Cersei may have had the wine drugged – and is gored by a boar. Brought back to the castle to die, Robert has his best friend Ned (who refrains from telling Robert about Cersei and the children under the circumstances) write out Robert’s will, leaving Ned as regent until Prince Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) comes of age to rule on the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. On his deathbed, Robert decides that Ned was right about not having Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) assassinated and tells Ned to call off the assassins.
Across the narrow sea, though, Daenerys is nearly poisoned by a merchant before her advisor, Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), foils the plot and fingers the assassin. Until now, Daenerys’ husband Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) didn’t care about crossing the Narrow Sea or taking the Iron Throne. Now, filled with vengeance, he swears he will invade and claim the throne for his and Daenerys’ unborn child.
Back in King’s Landing, Ned sends a secret message to Robert’s next-oldest brother, who Ned judges to be the rightful heir (as Joffrey isn’t actually Robert’s son). Joffrey has proclaimed himself king directly upon Robert’s death. Ned uses Petyr Baelish (Aiden Gillen), who still carries a torch for Ned’s wife, to round up a small army to confront Queen Cersei’s guards. There is a battle in the throne room, but it turns out that Baelish has betrayed Ned and puts a knife to Ned’s throat.
It’s a relief to know that novelist George R.R. Martin and show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss know what happens next, because the possibilities swirl before us at a dizzying pace. So many players are in motion now that it’s hard to imagine how they’ll all come together – bloodily, no doubt, but will any of the now-conflicting sides become allies, or will it just culminate in one enormous multi-sided clash? This speculation doesn’t even take into account the threat posed by the monstrous White Walkers from beyond the wall (evidently awakened from a long slumber) or the prospect of the return of dragons. The show is the antithesis of predictable.
With all these big story pieces slotting into place, there are still wonderful character moments. Although we cannot help but respect Ned’s integrity, we still feel some sympathy for Cersei as she recounts her understandable disillusionment with Robert. It’s also intriguing to watch the plotting of both Jorah and Baelish. We know what’s driving Baelish, but Jorah is a bit more mysterious, though the side he’s backing seems the most likely to prevail in combat.
It’s a shame not to have Peter Dinklage’s terrific Tyrion Lannister in the episode, but it’s impossible to see how “You Win or You Die” could sustain any more substance. Characters may die, but the audience definitely wins.
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CLICK HERE for AX’s interview with GAME OF THRONES star PETER DINKLAGE