Right off the bat, we can all agree this is one of the most cringing, stressful episodes of television ever created, right? This episode is the beginning of the end of Ned Stark and the near destruction of the Starks as a whole. Everyone plays hard games here and the winners focus on their legacies over their honor.
As we have been doing on these recaps, let's start as far north as we can and work our way down. Jon is ready to party cause it's Night's Watch graduation day! Go Crows! Caw caw, am I right! Castle Black rules, White Walker High drools. Before Jon and his black brothers say their magic words, though, they get told what they'll be doing for the rest of their lives. Some go on to fight as rangers. Some get to fix stuff as builders. Jon and Sam get chosen as stewards, meaning they get clean up poop and stuff! Jon's kinda pissed because at the least he should be training people to fight, but Sam tells him that the Commander wanted him personally so, duh, he's training Jon to lead this rabble of murderers and rapists. What an honor! The show did leave out a small bit here where book Sam does not graduate and Jon works to get him appointed to the stewards cause he can read and write, saying that every man has worth beyond fighting. It's a little bit of character development for Jon, proving to the leaders of the Night's Watch that he sees the value in men, and little is lost by its exclusion. Worth noting, though, in case anyone was wondering why Sam graduates but still sucks at most things.
At Winterfell, we get a mostly forgotten scene between Theon and the wildling lady. Theon, sans his buddy Ros, is looking for some action and the wildling ain't having it. He reminds her that he's a lord, and she reminds him that she doesn't care what that means. The scene seems kinda shoved in here but is included so we don't forget these two are around. Next season they have a lot to do, so we need to remember them.
After the mention of Ros and her effect on Theon, you'd think I'd jump right to her sexposition scene in King's Landing, but I'm not. Not yet. Forgive me as we jump across the Narrow Sea to Dany and Drogo. After the death of her brother, Dany's feeling really chill enough to be cool with Drogo not wanting to take back the Seven Kingdoms for her. They get out a little, go to the market instead. Jorah shows his allegiance, outing a wine merchant trying to kill Dany per King Robert's instructions. Drogo, kinda mad that someone would try to kill his pregnant wife, decides, you know what? Fuck those castle living sons of bitches and that poison water, we're gonna murder everyone in Westeros. Everyone is really pumped as he bros out in front of a fire at the pep rally. Looks like the Dothraki Broncos are gonna be playing an away game soon.
Before we get into King's Landing, we have one scene outside the walls somewhere with Jamie Lannister and his papa lion, Tywin. Dude. Charles Danse kills this character as hard as he probably killed that stag he's field stripping for the whole of this scene. Tywin also delivers what is probably the thesis of the episode, the counterpoint to what we will talk about next. At the end of the day, all that matters is legacy. The house name will survive. Not the people, not the honorable actions, just the house. Tywin firmly believes in this and carries out the biggest symbolic act since that stag killed the direwolf in the first episode.
Now, here's where I defend the sexposition scene as we land at King's Landing. Is it over the top? Yup. Is it exploitative? Sure, no doubt. Does it show an opportunity for more tits and ass? You bet the girl's ass what gets played with and non. But it contains a pretty great villain speech (the "I'm not going to fight them, I'm going to fuck them" line is kinda gold) that lays out his entire motivation for what he does later in the episode as well as (as I mention above) provides a counterpoint to Tywin's "la familia" argument. If you hate what Cersei and Joffrey do, this scene shows how petty and slight their motivations are. They are in it for the glory, the privilege, the power that comes from here and now. Littlefinger is in it for the long haul and has been playing the game of thrones for decades. Everyone else is stumbling around, groping like an inexperienced sexual partner. I would argue that while pushed a little too far, Littlefinger's speech here gives the thesis for the show and all the events that have and will happen. His self reliance on tearing down the current system, killing of not only the throne but the "strong" characters, goes against the house system. He plays the game not as part of a team, a house, but on his own with his own symbol and meaning. Whereas the Lannisters and the Starks are packs fighting each other, he is the lone, cold creature coming to wreck them in ways they never imagined. Like Tywin, he is ruthless, but unique papa lion Littlefinger is not interested in the fall out.
And then there's Ned. Oh, poor stupid honorable Ned. What should I say here? When Robert comes back wounded and dying, Ned does everything wrong. He warns his enemies, does not embrace good counsel, lays all his information out to the wrong people, and puts his trust in Littlefinger. People say his honor gets him killed, and they are right on but forget that he also trusts. Remember that Cat is the one that vouched for Littlefinger. His wife took the measure of the man and Ned followed her. Without his own men, without his own money, he walks right into a literal lion's den and is taken. Seven years later, after reading the book twice, I still feel the hope that maybe things will be different this time. Ned will listen to, well, anyone but Littlefinger.
Legacy. That's the word here. Jon being set up as a leader. Theon forgotten by his familial house. Dany and Drogo's child threatened by outsiders. Tywin and Cersei laying traps so their family will live further, catching poor Ned. Littlefinger burning the whole thing down. We see how people fight to keep going a chaotic and shifting alliance of blood and desire that is legacy.