Episode 4 ‘Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things’ rewieval

One of the takeaways from Episode 4 were a couple of reminders that there are fantastical elements at work, even if they are at the periphery. Across the Narrow Sea, Viserys still labors under the delusion that he’s important. He tries to impress Love Slave Doreah with his dragon tales, and we learn that he may or may not have delusions of grandeur. You see, when Viserys’ Targaryen ancestors conquered Westeros, they had a little help. From dragons. Which they rode. The Targaryens also kept the skulls of dead dragons, and used them to decorate the inside of their castle. Now, the question is, is Viserys just telling Doreah about all this dragon stuff to get her all hot and bothered? Or is there some truth to it? (Also, if you caught Viserys’ shoutout to Dragonslayer, give yourself a +10 Sword of Invisibility!) We also learn a little more about the epic winters that Westerosians face, thanks to Thorne’s creepy tale of an ill-fated Night’s Watch mission north of The Wall, during the last winter. And winter brings White Walkers with it.

Our growing cast of characters – we meet a couple of new ones this week – doesn’t have the time for such talk. Dragons? Winter? Zombies? Alliteration? Feh. They’re too busy worrying about their own necks, which can be a tricky thing in a world where alliances can turn on a dime. Case in point: House Greyjoy, who tried to rebel against King Robert early in his rule. This is explained to us by Tyrion, who explains it to Theon as well. We’ve seen Theon sulking around in at least two of the previous episodes, and now we know why. The Greyjoys were defeated, and Ned Stark took Theon – heir to House Greyjoy – as his hostage/ward. Tyrion is passing through Winterfell on his way to King’s Landing; he gives Bran an unexpected gift, the plans for a special saddle that will allow him to ride a horse instead of a Hodor. Hodor? Hodor. Hodor is the big guy whose job it is to carry Bran around. Hodor’s pretty much the only one in the episode who doesn’t launch into an expository monologue, because all he says is Hodor. (I see a Game of Thrones Drinking Game coming on. Hodor!)

The Night’s Watch gets a new recruit, in the form of Samwell Tarly. Poor Sam. Not only is he not Sean Astin, he’s been sent to The Wall by his father, who gave him a choice: take the Night’s Watch oath, or go on a hunting trip with Dad and accidentally be killed. Sam is pretty bloody worthless, but Jon Snow feels sorry for him – daddy issues – and takes him under his wing. And if you’re a GoT purist and have been wondering where Jon’s direwolf Ghost went, he pops his head in tonight to scare the bejesus out of one of Sam’s tormentors. Jon is becoming quite the leader of men; this might not be the best thing, however, as we learn that the recruits will soon be getting their Night’s Watch assignments, and that doesn’t bode well for mouthy bastards, both literal and figurative.

Speaking of bastards, after watching the scene where a somewhat humiliated Jaime is forced to stand guard outside King Robert’s bedroom while Robert has a shag with at least three women, is anyone surprised that Robert’s got at least one bastard of his own? (None of these guys has heard of lambskin, apparently.) Ned suspects as much – he’s looking into the suspicious circumstances of Jon Arryn’s death, and learns that Arryn and his squire Hugh were poking around King’s Landing, looking for something – or  someone – shortly before Jon died. Ned learns that they were particularly interested in a certain blacksmith, and guess what – the smith’s apprentice is Robert’s bastard son. Given what we know about the Lannisters, if I were that guy, I’d be making tracks for The Wall. And if I were Ned, I’d step up my game – in a great scene, Littlefinger takes a stroll with Ned and casually points out who is spying for whom. (I’m gonna pause here and say that even if you’re on the fence about the show, the performances have mostly been great, and everyone brought their A-game tonight; Sean Bean’s really good at showing just how pissed/pertified Ned is over the whole situation, and Aiden Gillen – who plays Littlefinger – brings a great combination of charm and smarm.) More and more, we get the sense that Ned’s in over his head. This brings added poignancy to his scene with Arya; she’s really liking Syrio’s tutelage, and has no desire to be some noble’s incubator. Sure, Ned’s just letting her have her fun, but the Starks have enemies – like, say, the Queen – and Arya may well have to use Needle’s pointy end for reals.

But let’s forget all about the plots and counterplots and just have a nice time enjoying the tournament, shall we? Yes, nothing like sport to take our mind off of our worries. And this tourney promises to be something special, as we are introduced to Sandor’s (the Hound, guy with the burned face) big brother, Gregor. Big, as in “The Mountain Who Rides”. Gregor is the Charles Barkley of the Westeros jousting circuit; well, he’s probably less of a role model than Chuck, as he’s the guy who gave Sandor those burns, shoving his younger brother’s face into a fire after he caught him playing with his toy knights. Gregor’s first opponent is Ser Hugh of The Vale. It doesn’t take long for Gregor to unhorse Hugh, but damn, it does take a long, arterial-spurty time for Ser Hugh to die. Say, wasn’t Ser Hugh Jon Arryn’s squire, who might possibly know something about the mysterious circumstances behind Arryn’s death? And now he’s dead. Huh.

The last scene shows why I think this episode worked, and why the series is hitting its stride. Rodrik Cassel, his glorious BeardchopsTM, and Catelyn are returning to Winterfell; while enjoying a nice MLT (mutton, lettuce, and tomato sandwich – the mutton is really lean, the tomatoes are so perky, love that) at an inn, who should barge in but Tyrion and his men. Tyrion, of course, immediately recognizes Cat. And Cat immediately recognizes that at least four guys in the bar are soldiers serving lords that have sworn fealty to House Tully and House Stark – she’s a Lady, all right, and she rattles off the names of those respective Houses, letting both Tyrion and us know exactly what’s up. The episode featured a lot of characters talking a lot of backstory, necessary to give us an idea of the scope of the conflicts at play (Starks v. Lannisters, King Robert v. Targaryens) and pushing along a major theme of the show: that the past is prologue. For exactly one second we’re not sure if Cat’s gambit is going to pay off. Then swords are drawn and pointed, and Tyrion’s facing the business end. It doesn’t bode well for him. Come to think of it, arresting the Stark-hatin’ Queen’s brother on suspicion of murder? Doesn’t bode well for Cat, either.

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