In a tent set up at the edges of the Riverlands, Jaime Lannister is talking with his father, Lord Tywin Lannister, as the latter skins and butchers a recent kill. Tywin is methodical and precise and seems to possess little humor. Jaime reads him the proclamation demanding Tywin be returned to King’s Landing to face charges related to the attack on Ned Stark by his bannerman Ser Gregor (the Mountain) Clegane. If Tywin fails to return, he will be named an enemy of the crown.
Tywin tells his son that he was stupid to attack Ned Stark. Jaime explained the reason – Catelyn Stark took his brother Tyrion. So why isn’t Ned Stark dead? Jaime explains how his bannerman had interfered and wounded Ned and finishing him off then wouldn’t have been clean. Tywin is disgusted. But he will give Jaime half his army, some 30,000 men, to go to the Riverlands (Catelyn Stark’s childhood home) and remind them that “Lannisters always pay their debts.”
Jaime comments that he didn’t realize Tywin put such a great value on Tyrion’s life. Tywin scoffs, “He’s a Lannister. He might be the lowest of the Lannisters, but he’s one of us. And every day that he remains a prisoner, the less our name commands respect.” It’s not that he cares about Tyrion’s life as his son, but for the message that letting him remain a captive would send about the power and position of the Lannisters. And all that matters to him is that the Lannister name live on.
But Tywin is not done spreading the fatherly love. He lets his eldest son know what a disappointment he has been. He was blessed many times over with gifts and yet he has squandered them. He’s served as a “glorified bodyguard to two kings, one a madman, the other a drunk.” The future of the Lannisters rests on what happens in the next few months. They can establish a dynasty that will live for a thousand years or collapse into nothing like the Targaryens did. Hmm, interesting he should mention them. Wasn’t Viserys talking about his importance to the Targaryen dynasty in the previous episode?
Back at King’s Landing, Queen Cersei comes to talk with Ned. She tries to encourage him to leave and go back home. Ned tells her that he knows the truth that Jon Arryn died for, the truth about her and Jaime. She doesn’t deny it and said the Targaryens have done the same thing to keep the bloodlines pure. More importantly, she and Jaime have a very special bond. Ned accuses her of trying to kill Bran because he saw them together and she doesn’t deny that either.
But what she does deny is that she never loved Robert and never wished things could be different. She worshiped him, back when he was the handsome young fighter. But he was in love with another, Ned’s sister Lyanna, and there wasn’t room in their marriage for both Lyanna’s corpse and Cersei (she’s speaking figuratively here, but you get the idea).
Ned gives Cersei the chance to get out of King’s Landing safely. He tells her that she and her children should leave the capital before Robert comes back from the hunt. But Cersei has some advice for Ned. She tells Ned that he should have taken the Iron Throne when he had the chance. Right after King’s Landing fell, Jaime was seated on the throne. He stood up and Ned could have taken his place and been King. This was a mistake, because “when you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
Ros and another girl are at Littlefinger’s brothel, interviewing for a job. He gives them pointers at how whoring is done in the capital. Ros asks if Littlefinger wants to join them but he says he’s saving himself for another. Someone who he’s loved most of his life and who loved him too.
In the series’ first example of sexposition, they use the distraction of the girls making out to allow Littlefinger to go into a detailed exposition on his backstory. He starts to tell them the story of his unrequited love for Catelyn Stark. “I was her little confidant, her plaything.” But she told him about the man she wanted to marry, a Northerner with a jaw like an anvil, so Littlefinger challenged him to a duel. Littlefinger was outmatched. “In the end, she wouldn’t even let him kill me.” But the man, who we know was Ned’s older brother, gave Littlefinger a scar to remember him by. In the end, she didn’t even marry him, he was killed before the wedding. She ended up with his younger brother.
So what lesson did Littlefinger take away? That he’d never win, playing their game with their rules. He’s going to fuck them. That’s how he is going to get what he wants, which is everything.
Theon Greyjoy is talking to Osha, the wildling that was captured after a failed ambush on Bran. He tells her that where he comes from, she wouldn’t have it so easy. He describes how they would slowly kill her for doing the same thing if she were on the Iron Islands. He tries to insult her and put her in her place, but she manages to hold her own. As he gets a little too familiar with her, Maester Luwin breaks it up. But Osha tells Luwin not to worry, she can protect herself.
Luwin asks why she and her fellow wildlings came down this way, and she explained that their plan was to get as “south as south” goes. There are things that sleep during the day and hunt at night – the white walkers. He tells her they’ve been gone for thousands of years, but she says they weren’t gone. They were sleeping.
Jon and Sam are chilling on top of the Wall, talking about girls, when they see a horse coming their way from the north. It is Benjen Stark’s horse and it has no rider.
Back at King’s Landing, Renly rushes up to Ned with shocking news. King Robert has been critically wounded in the hunt, attacked by a boar. Ned finds Robert lying in bed and talking to Joffrey. Cersei, Luwin, Lord Commander Barristan (of the Kingsguard), and Renly are there as well. Joffrey looks devastated and Robert tries to make peace with him, apologizing for being a terrible father. Robert asks everyone but Ned to leave. Cersei tries to object, but she’s sent away.
Robert knows he’s dying and doesn’t have much time. He asks Ned to write down his wishes and deliver the letter to the council upon his death. Ned will take the place of the king until his son Joffrey comes of age. Knowing now that Joffrey is not Robert’s son, Ned takes creative license and changes the language to “my rightful heir.” Robert signs it and is satisfied that he finally did something right. He also agrees with Ned to take the hit off of Daenerys Targaryen.
Ned leaves and goes to talk to Barristan Selmy who is blaming himself for not stopping Robert. But Robert was too drunk to listen. Varys, standing nearby, asks not-so-innocuously, who plied Robert with all that wine. It was his squire, Lancel Lannister – the queen’s cousin. Ned tries to salvage at least the Targaryen girl’s life, asking Varys to stop the plot before it’s carried out, but he tells Ned she’s likely dead already.
Dany and Drogo discuss her desire to reclaim the Iron Throne. He doesn’t want his men crossing the sea and doesn’t want to talk about getting ships or invading lands across the water just for a throne. He thinks all a man needs to rule is a horse, not a throne. Dany, Jorah and some of her handmaidens go to a local bazaar. There, Jorah goes off on his own to see if there are any letters for him. A young boy tells him there is a message from the Spider (Varys) – a royal pardon allowing Jorah to return to the Seven Kingdoms.
A wine merchant is selling his goods. When Dany comes over, he offers her a very special cask all her own. The very best wine he has. Jorah is suspicious. Is he suspicious because Varys has suddenly freed him from his position as spy? Or is it the way the man reacts to hearing that Dany is the Targaryen heir? Regardless, he interrupts and toys with the wine merchant for a bit until his suspicions are confirmed and demands that the man taste his wine first. The man panics and runs, but Rakharo ropes him like a steer and takes him down.
At Castle Black, it’s time for the assignment of duties. First, Lord Mormont gives a rousing speech about how, no matter who you were before you came here, you are now a brother of the Night’s Watch. You fight for the realm and all the people in it. Once you take the Black, there’s no going back. The penalty for desertion is death. Those who believe in the old gods, like Jon, can take their vows tonight near the weirwood north of the Wall, like Benjen did. Sam asks if he can join Jon. He was raised with the Seven, not the old gods, but when he becomes a member of the Night’s Watch, he is leaving his old house and joining a new one.
Sam is assigned to be a steward, assisting Maester Aemon in the library. Everyone expects Jon will be a ranger, but when the jobs are all handed out, Jon ends up a steward for Lord Commander Mormont. He’s angry because he doesn’t want to be a servant, he wanted to ride out and find his missing uncle. Sam tries to talk sense to Jon, explaining that working with and for the Lord Commander is actually a great opportunity.
Renly approaches Ned with a proposition. He knows that his brother appointed Ned protector of the realm after his death. He also knows that Cersei will not stand by and let that happen. So he offers Ned an army to help him fight the Lannisters by taking Joffrey into custody and away from the queen immediately. “By the time Robert dies it will be too late for the both of us.”
Ned is troubled. What about Stannis, Renly’s older brother? Again, Renly tries to warn him. There is no time to worry about lines of succession, there is a narrow window that must be seized. As he points out, succession didn’t matter when Ned and Robert were unseating the Mad King, why is it an issue now. Oh snap.
What’s best for the kingdoms? What’s best for the people we rule? These are the ultimate questions facing everyone in the Game of Thrones. Who would make the best king (or queen). How do you determine what is best for the realm? Ned is faced with making a split second decision that might affect the future of all of Westeros, how do you make that decision? What do you base it on?
Renly proclaims himself as the rightful king. He commands respect and loyalty. It should fall to him and not Stannis. Ned is furious. Stannis is his idea of a future king – a commander who has led men into war; he destroyed the Greyjoy fleet ending Balon’s Rebellion. But Renly challenges him. Robert was a great commander as well but has been a lousy king. Does Ned still believe great soldiers make great kings?
Ned has decided. “I will not dishonor Robert’s last hours by shedding blood in his halls and dragging frightened children from their beds.”
Ned writes a letter to be delivered to Stannis Baratheon in Dragonstone directly. Littlefinger comes in and bows to his “lord protector.” Sarcasm, bitterness, what is in his voice? Ned gets down to business. Robert has no true heir, his children are actually Jaime Lannister’s bastards. Hard to read Littlefinger’s face – is this a surprise to him? He recognizes immediately that when Robert dies, Stannis is next in line. Littlefinger thinks there’s an out, but Ned has already dug in his heels on this.
Littlefinger’s idea is that Ned side with Joffrey and proclaim him the true heir. This is Ned’s chance to seize power. He can make peace with the Lannisters, return Tyrion, wed Sansa to Joffrey, and take charge of the realm himself. If Joffrey looks like he’ll be a problem, Ned can reveal the truth then. They will have ample time (and men and money) to defeat Stannis. And if Joffrey has to be revealed a bastard, then Renly can take the throne. Interesting that Littlefinger, like Loras Tyrell, both think Renly should be king.
Ned won’t hear of it. He won’t side with the family who tried to kill his son. So Ned will side with Stannis’ claim to the throne and there will be a war. Littlefinger asks why he was summoned if not for his advice. Ned reminds Littlefinger that he promised Catelyn that he would help Ned. Ned knows the queen has hundreds of guards, enough to defeat his. Ned needs the City Watch, the gold cloaks, to side with him. But Littlefinger asks Ned, rhetorically, who will the gold cloaks choose protect when the Hand of the King says one thing and the Queen another. “The man who pays them.”
It’s time for Jon and Sam to take their vows to become official men of the Night’s Watch. Their celebration is cut short when Jon’s direwolf Ghost trots in carrying a dismembered human hand.
Dany and Jorah are talking about the fate of the failed wine assassin. She was surprised that King Robert would come after her, and Jorah tells her it won’t be the last time. She is the last of the Targaryens and her child will carry on the dynasty, supported by 40,000 soldiers. Khal Drogo comes in and is relieved to see Dany unhurt. He thanks Jorah for saving her life and gives him his choice of any horse. He has a gift for his unborn son as well – the iron throne.
King Robert’s attempt to get rid of Dany (and the Targaryens) has backfired in a huge way. Drogo had no intention of leading an army into the seven kingdoms, he was happy staying on the safe side of the Narrow Sea. But now he will avenge his wife and their child and help them get what is theirs. He is pumped and ready to rain terror and as he works his men into a frenzy Dany has never been so turned on.
Robert is king no more. King Joffrey has summoned Ned Stark to the throne room. As he approaches, Littlefinger and Varys are there. Littlefinger promises Ned that the City Watch is on his side, but Lord Renly has left the city taking Ser Loras Tyrell and some 50 retainers with him.
As Ned approaches the throne room, he is met by Janos Slynt, the commander of the City Watch who tells him, “We stand behind you, Lord Stark.” Ned walks up to find Joffrey seated on the Iron Throne, his mother Cersei seated at his right hand, and members of the Kingsguard protecting him. Joffrey orders the council to make all necessary arrangements to have him crowned immediately. He is demanding oaths of loyalty from the council (Varys bows, Littlefinger looks to his right, and Ned stares straight ahead).
Ned asks Ser Barristan Selmy to read the letter he has from the late king regarding succession and he does. Cersei demands to see the letter. She takes the letter and tears it in pieces, asking if Ned intended to use it as his shield. Barristan seems shocked that the queen would ignore the king’s order, but she says we have a new king now and that is more significant to her than a little piece of paper.
Cersei gives Ned one choice, one chance. Bend the knee, pledge fealty to Joffrey, and spend the rest of his days in quiet retirement up north. But Ned is a man of honor and he will not betray his friend Robert or the realm, so he refuses. He announces that Joffrey has no claim to the throne and Cersei says that he condemns himself with his words. She orders Barristan to take Ned into custody. Barristan approaches; Ned tells his men to hold off from attacking Barristan, and when a standoff appears likely, Cersei tests the range of her power. Joffrey has seen enough; he yells “Kill him!” The Mountain goes for his sword.
But Ned has his own supporters. He instructs Janos to take the queen and her court into custody. The men of the City Watch are ready to fight. But Ned wants no bloodshed. He wants to take the throne away from Cersei (and Joffrey) without resorting to violence. He’s been drinking too much milk of the poppy.
Cersei looks over at Janos, and you suddenly realize who he’s actually fighting for. He shouts, “Now!” and his men of the City Watch attack Ned’s smaller group of supporters. Littlefinger grabs Ned and puts a dagger to his throat. “I did warn you not to trust me.”
What the hell just happened? Ned had a letter from the King authorizing him to take over as protector of the realm until his heir came of age. He has proof that Joffrey is not the rightful heir. He had an agreement from Littlefinger and he had the City Watch. But he didn’t have the money the Lannisters have nor did he have the “dishonor” to do what it takes, the willingness to shed a little blood when it’s called for. He could have revealed the truth before Robert died. He could have negotiated an agreement with Renly to let him sit the throne. He could have had Cersei and her children rounded up and slaughtered. But he chose the honorable path and now he has a knife to his throat and his men are dead.
Tywin (to Jaime): The lion doesn’t concern himself with the opinion of the sheep.
Theon: You’ve never heard of the Iron Islands?
Osha: Trust me. You’ve never heard of where I come from neither.
Sam: I always wanted to be a wizard.
Ned: What you suggest is treason.
Littlefinger: Only if we lose.
Littlefinger: We only make peace with our enemies, my lord. That’s why it’s called “making peace.”