Re-watching ‘Game of Thrones’ season 1 episode 9: Losing our heads
With the announcement that the eighth and final season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” will premiere in the United States on April 14—April 15 here in the Philippines—fans of the show described by some as “The Greatest TV show on Earth” have begun preparing for the experience. Perhaps the most popular form of preparation is to re-watch the show, some just from the start of the least season, season 7. But the true glory, detail and ambition of the show can only be gleaned from re-watching from the very beginning, season 1, episode 1, back in 2011. It’s almost impossible to imagine a world without “GOT.”
Here at Super, we wish to share our preparation with you by re-watching the show from the beginning through analyses of selected episodes. But beyond the recap, we will to detail all the Easter Eggs, little references and how all the little clues tie in to the great story that George R.R. Martin—and by extension, showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff—are telling. We will tie in every little thing in these episodes with the events that will happen much later.
Yes, we will turn everyone in Three-Eyed Ravens, able to see the events on Westeros from season 1 to season 7 all at once. We will share and savor the Maester-level intelligence. This is the best, and we believe, the only way to perfectly prepare for what might be the most anticipated season of TV.
So massive, SUPER SPOILER warnings on a level never seen before.
Let us continue.
Season 1, Episode 9: “Baelor”
Ned Stark is in prison in King’s Landing facing execution. He is visited by the spymaster Varys, who claims to be a friend and pleads with him to support Joffrey’s claim to the Iron Throne after the death of Robert Baratheon. Ned refuses, saying the rightful heir is Stannis Baratheon. Varys asks Ned if his daughters are worth this claim.
At The Twins, Robb’s army must cross the river but Lord Walder Frey refuses to let them cross. Catelyn leads a delegation, meeting a very embittered Frey and a powerless clan. Frey suggests a compromise.
At Castle Black, Ser Jeor Mormont hands his family sword, the Valyrian steel sword Longclaw, to Jon. Mormont explains the sword was meant for his son Jorah but this cannot happen as Jorah is disgraced, hence the Night Watch’s Lord Commander is giving it to Jon in gratitude for Jon and Ghost’s saving Mormont from a wight beyond the Wall. Mormont said he had sent Ser Alistair Thorne with the wight’s hand that Ghost had torn off to King’s Landing. Jon is congratulated by his fellow Night’s Watch. Sam tells Jon the raven has informed Maester Aemon of Robb’s going to war down south. Jon is stunned by the news, saying he should be there.
Back at the Twins, Walder Frey has allowed the Northmen to cross along with control of his men. The price: Robb and Arya must marry Frey’s children. Having no choice, Robb consents. The Stark army crosses.
Back at Castle Black, Aemon talks to Jon about choices and why love is not allowed for members of the Night’s Watch. “I may be a bastard but he is my father and Robb is my brother,” Jon cries. Bemused, Aemon explained the day he received a raven saying his family was dead. It is revealed that Aemon is a Targaryen and had refused the throne. “I will not tell you to stay or go,” Aemon tells him. “You must make that choice yourself and live with it the rest of your days, as I have.”
In the Dothraki sea, a terribly wounded Khal Drogo falls off his horse, a most dishonorable thing among Dothraki. “A Khal who cannot ride is no Khal.” Qotho tries to defy a pregnant Daenerys’ orders to set camp. She asks for the witch Mirri Maz Duur.
At the Lannister encampment, Tywin tracks the movements up north of the Stark bannermen near the Twins. Tyrion is told he and the wildlings will be in the vanguard. Bronn brings the prostitute Shae to Tyrion. Shae and Tyrion come to an agreement.
Drogo is very sick and delirious. Jorah arrives and says Drogo will clearly die that night. Jorah suggests they leave for the port because, once Drogo dies, the contenders for Khal will kill Daenerys’ baby. Mirri Maz Duur arrives. Threats are made. Daenerys says she will free the witch if she saves Drogo. The witch suggests an unholy spell with a price—forbidden “blood magic,” as only death can save a life–and Daenerys agrees. Drogo’s horse is sacrificed. Qotho’s attempt to put Drogo out of his misery ends in Jorah’s killing him. Daenerys is having her baby. When the midwives refuse to help because they say Daenerys is cursed, Jorah brings Daenerys back to the tent.
A drinking game on the eve of battle reveals that Tyrion used to be married to a woman named Tysha he had saved from rapists but Jaime had orchestrated the whole thing because Tysha was a prostitute Tywin then had his men do it with Tysha in front of Tyrion, paying a silver coin for each man.
In the morning Tyrion is rudely waken up as Bronn says Robb’s army is now only a mile away. In rallying the tribesmen of the Vale, Tyrion is trampled and knocked unconscious.
When Tyrion wakes up, Bronn tells him they’ve won. However, Tywin says there were only 2,000 Stark bannermen not 20,000.
It turned out the 18,000 Stark troops—and Robb—were ambushing the remaining Lannister forces, winning handily and capturing Jaime Lannister. Jaime demands one-on-one combat, a demand Robb smartly refuses. The North has won its first battle.
Arya has been wandering the dirty back alleys of King’s Landing incognito, thought to be a street urchin. The bells at the Sept of Baelor sound. Arya climbs up a statue to see what’s happening. Ned Stark, Hand of the King, is brought before the hostile crowd. On his way out, he espies Arya and worry fills his face. He passes by Yoren, recruiter of the Night’s Watch, and the two exchange meaningful looks.
Ned is marched up the steps, where he looks at Sansa, who is standing with the Baratheons. Sansa is smiling because she believes she has saved her father from execution. Littlefinger smiles, because he knows this is not true.
Ned addresses the crowd. “I am Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, Hand of the King. I come before you to confess my treason in the sight of gods and men.” He stops, looks at Sansa, who nods encouragingly. Ned continues: “I betrayed my faith and my king, and the trust of my friend Robert. I swore to protect and defend his children, but before his blood was cold, I plotted to murder his son and seize the throne for myself.”
The crowd cries, “traitor!” Ned is hit in the head by a fruit. Arya puts her hand on Needle.
“Let the High Septon and Baelor the Blessed bear witness to what I say. Joffrey Baratheon is the one true heir to the Iron Throne.” A smug Joffrey breaks out in a grin. “By the grace of all the gods, lord of the seven kingdoms and protector of the realm.”
Maester speaks about mercy and turns to Joffrey. “What is to be done with this traitor, your grace?” Joffrey says his mother Cersei seeks that Ned be allowed to join the Night’s Watch; Sansa seeks asks for mercy. “But they have the soft hearts of women. So long as I am your king, treason shall never go unpunished. Sir Ilyn, bring me his head!”
A horrified Sansa looks on and Cersei angrily reaches out to Joffrey. But it is too late. Joffrey wrests his arm free. Ned is made to kneel. Arya rushes through the crowd, but is stopped by Yoren, who tells Arya to look at him.
“Stop, daddy,” Sansa cries as Ned’s own sword Ice is unsheathed by the executioner. Neds looks around, and sees that Arya is no longer at the statue. He takes a long breath then lowers his head. Yoren holds Arya so she cannot see what’s happening. The sword falls. Ned is beheaded. Arya looks up to see birds flying away and closes her eyes.
This is the episode that made “GOT” what it is today. This is the episode that turned “GOT” into the greatest show in the world.
Until this episode, all big shows saved their big twist for the season finale. That’s what the “GOT” fans expected as well. Surprise! This established that every ninth episode—the penultimate episode per season—would be the important episode, not the ultimate, tenth episode. This is why everything from the Red Wedding to the Battle of the Bastards happen in episode 9. It is a landmark event that shows how much “GOT” defies TV convention. It remains one of the most shocking moments in TV history.
The credits reveal this week’s settings as: King’s Landing, The Twins, Winterfell, The Wall and Vaes Dothrak.
Ned is facing execution because of his belief that the truth and honor will win out, as well as a terribly misplaced trust in others. From the very first episode, Ned had been doing things base don what is right, what is true and what honor demands, despite the fact that virtually everyone around him does the opposite. The event that pushed Ned to this point was his discovery that the Baratheon children were not Robert’s but instead the incestuous prodigy of Jaime and Cersei. Ned had planned to tell Robert but Robert was killed in a hunting incident Cersei had planned. Ned has turned to Janos Slynt and Petyr Baelish with his plan to remove Joffrey from the throne, but Slynt and, most especially, Littlefinger betrayed him, leading to the death of the Stark soldiers and Ned being captured.
Varys is arranging a situation that Sansa knew about and Cersei recommended. Ned needed to admit to seizing the throne so he could be turned over to the Night’s Watch, losing his title and honor, but alive.
All this emphasizes the fact that honor and the truth do not win out in Westeros, something that shocked viewers and became an ongoing theme on the show for succeeding seasons.
It is crucial to explain here that Sansa played a part in this situation. Without telling her what he was planning, Ned told Sansa to prepare to leave the capital with Arya to return to Winterfell. But Sansa, in love with life at King’s Landing and dead set on marrying Joffrey to become queen, told Cersei about it. This enabled Cersei to know when Ned was planning to execute his plan, allowing Cersei to side-step him. Sansa does not realize she has been played and still harbored a belief that Joffrey was a good person, believing she had convinced Joffrey to save her father’s life. This is why Sansa is still smiling when Ned is brought out. Unlike her, Littlefinger is smiling because his big plan is working out, plus Littlefinger is the best example of schadenfreude on “GOT.”
In a contest of who is more loathsome, “GOT” presents Lord Walder Frey, played to perfection by David Bradley, familiar to most viewers as Argus Filch in the “Harry Potter” movies. His incestuous, amoral Frey demands concessions because he knows everyone else looks down on him. His hatred for how the Tullys have treated him has led to this standoff, something resolves by a deal Catelyn made that worked in the short term but, like Ned’s crusade, comes back to haunt the Starks precisely two seasons later. At this point, the Starks have every intention of fulfilling their promises to the Freys. But two seasons later, Robb will have met Talisa, and Arya is nowhere to be found. The Starks make the mistake of enjoying the Freys’ hospitality and Walder breaks the sacred oath, resulting in the Red Wedding and the massacre of the Starks. It is again the success of pragmatism and spite over honor and loyalty.
Loyalty does shine at Castle Black, where Jon Snow is enjoying just a bit of gratitude from Jeor Mormont. This is the important moment when Longclaw, the Mormont house’s Valyrian steel blade, is passed onto Jon. That sword would prove very useful to Jon when he starts battling the wights in the later seasons. Jeor understands what Jon has done in donning the black. To become Knight Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jeor had to renounce House Mormont and Bear Island. Jeor is actually one of the most admirable and honorable men on the show, which of course means he will meet a terrible fate. More than most, Mormont’s eventual death at the hands of his traitorous men beyond the Wall is a true repudiation of this kind of man in this world, a mirror event to Ned’s fate.
When Jon finds out what is about to happen to Ned and what Robb has started, he wants to go, Night’s Watch oath be damned. This shows that, despite Catelyn’s treatment of him, Jon considers himself a Stark and cannot stand by while his “brother” Robb is rallying the North to his side and his “father” is about to be executed.
This is why the conversation he has with Aemon cuts to the core. Jon realizes who Aemon is—realizing that, like him, like Jeor, Aemon made a choice to be true to his oath despite what has befalling his family. Jon is shaken by this and ultimately stays. Now we know that Jon is a Targaryen, the biggest reveal and bigger tragedy of this moment is that this is actually a conversation between great uncle and great grand-nephew. They are both Targaryens, but, up to the start of season 8, no one knows this. Aemon wil die without ever knowing this. This is the kind of secret relationships that D&D have loaded the show with.
Something completely crazy is happening with the Dothraki. The short-lived Qotho is the provider of exposition, allowing us to see that falling from your horse is a deathblow to any prospective or current Khal. It’s a horse tribe thing. It’s something that would possibly be true for, say, the people of Rohan. Dany doesn’t care and wants to save Drogo, making a deal with the witch.
This is another example of honor losing to spite. Dany has saved the witch yet again, expecting the witch to return the favor. But the witch has no plans of doing so. In fact, she has planted the seeds of her revenge. She doesn’t save Drogo so much as turn him into a zombie. She exults in giving Dany false hope, knowing full well Drogo’s ultimate fate will destroy Dany. She’s not done: the death that will replace the life isn’t the horse, it’s Dany’s child. That act will leave Dany barren. This is the set-up to, despite some doozies of bad places later, Dany’s worst experience. She will lose Drogo, lose her place as Khaleesi and lose her child—plus the ability to have any more children.
This should destroy Dany’s world. But this is Daenerys Targaryen we’re talking about here. So despite all this vengegul spell-casting by the witch, Dany will become the Mother of Dragons. By the way, the show has never explicitly proven that Dany is barren—that’s just the witch talking—so don’t be surprised if that proves to be false and it turns out Dany can bear a child (like Jon Snow’s).
What is massively underplayed here is the military part of this episode.
First, let us take a moment to acknowledge that Tyrion was amazing in bringing the tribesmen to the Lannisters, though this will be the last time the tribesmen will be important. It’s also, unfortunately, the last time we’ll hear those great “Half man! Half man!” cheers. Perhaps it is only fitting that Tyrion gets knocked out by his own forces. It’s also fitting that, off screen but very likely so, Bronn saves his life.
Robb makes a stunning sacrifice here: he sends 2,000 of his bannermen to death. Robb knows he is sending these men to be slaughtered by the overwhelming Lannister forces. It’s probably not something Ned would have done, but this is the young wolf lord we’re talking about. Tywin acts all cool about it, but he got played. And he got played because he underestimated Robb.
At this point, the show doesn’t have the capacity to do big battle scenes yet (that will change, hello Battle of the Bastards) so, as in the subsequent seasons, the battle happens off screen. We are clued in with the aftermath. So we see Tyrion’s tribesmen gutting the wounded Stark men. Then Robb emerges already triumphant.
The big score here is Jaime being captured alive. It’s a shame we don’t get to see how he was captured. Catelyn thinks she can trade Jaime for Sansa and Arya (not gonna happen). Jaime tries to pull off his patented one-on-one combat thing by challenging Robb, but pageantry has no place in this battlefield, and Robb wisely, and a little snarkily, refuses to bite. This brings Jaime to a low point, and, in actuality, starts his redemption, though it doesn’t take really until Brienne of Tarth shows up.
The best character bit is Tyrion’s. The drinking game reveals Tyrion’s horrific treatment at the hands of his father and sets the stage for Tyrion’s revenge when he kills Tywin by shooting a quarrel into him while Tywin is on his, uh, throne in season 4. This also reveals Tyrion’s romantic nature that still thrives even though he is often betrayed. This episode introduces the immensely popular Shae (Sibel Kekilli) who will basically be Tysha part 2. She represents Tyrion’s propensity for never learning, for his tendency to think the best of others only to be betrayed. In that, Tyrion is more like a Stark than a Lannister.
The execution of Ned is ironic because it is actually a family reunion as Ned and his daughters are all in the same place. Ned clearly stills hopes to survive, but accepts his fate. The only shaky moment he has is the worried look he gets after seeing Arya, but his meaningful glance at Yoren fixes that.
Yoren does two things here. He allows Ned to die knowing that Arya is protected. He also sends Arya, albeit in a roundabout, unintended fashion, off on the journey that will transform her into an assassin in Braavos.
The death of Ned Stark is the real death that sends “GOT” into the waiting winter. The death of John Arryn happened off screen. But Ned’s is here for everyone to see. It is the death of honor. It is also the death of naivete. Everyone—from Arya to Sansa—will learn from this. The Red Wedding will top off that process, but it began here. This is, in particular, the death of innocence in Arya, who will start her kill list and thirst for revenge. Sansa will learn the same thing, much, much later.
In another bit of “GOT” fighting convention, this is the last time Sean Bean—as we mentioned in the previous installment, then the biggest name on the show—will make a full appearance. The hero everyone thought they would be watching for seasons is gone.
It leaves us to wonder what will happen to the remaining Starks. With Catelyn’s death at the Red Wedding, it will leave the Stark children in terrible straits. They will also lose their big brother at that event. But then Arya, Sansa, Jon and Bran (sorry missing Rickon) will now truly begin their journeys to all parts of Westeros and beyond. This is the true beginning of “GOT.”
This is the best episode of the first season of the show, and it is the episode that made fans out of the world.
Best line: “Love is the death of duty.”—Maester Aemon to Jon Snow, explaining why the Night’s Watch does not take wives or father children.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.