*This post contains mild spoilers for A Song of Ice and Fire. Please be careful if you are spoiler-sensitive.*
Tonight’s episode, “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things,” almost felt like an appendix to the last three weeks. Just as the appendices in each ASOIAF book give us useful information about the histories of the noble houses, Episode 4 was full of backstory that enriches the events and characters we’ve seen the last three weeks.
Tyrion Lannister stops by Winterfell on his way back from the Wall to give Bran the design for a special saddle that will enable him to ride without the use of his legs. After exchanging less-than-friendly words with Robb, the Imp engages in a verbal sparring match with Theon Greyjoy. Theon’s role in the Winterfell community has been unexplained until now, but we finally find out he’s essentially a hostage, taken as a child from his father, Balon Greyjoy, after a failed rebellion in the Iron Islands. We learn that Theon’s uncles burned the Lannister fleet off the coast of Lannisport. We further learn Jory and Jaime fought side by side at Pyke when Balon tried to rebel against the crown. Jaime mentions Theon, Jory says he’s a good boy, and Jaime says he doubts it. This is interesting for those of who have read the books. New viewers, who haven’t seen enough to judge Theon, will need to wait a bit longer to see whether Jory or Jaime is right. But at least they know who he is now.
Petyr Baelish is walking with Ned through the castle grounds as random servants prepare the land for the tourney. Littlefinger tells Ned about Ser Hugh of the Vale, Jon Arryn’s former squire, knighted quickly after the old Hand’s death. When Ned says he plans to speak to Ser Hugh, Littlefinger insists Ned send someone else. He points out a child, an old man and a septa – informants for Varys, Cersei and Littlefinger respectively. Now we can maybe work out how Littlefinger knew about Cat’s arrival to King’s Landing or how Varys knew about the knife. Anyone who’s anyone is being watching in King’s Landing.
Jon Arryn was being watched too, because Littlefinger knows that he visited a blacksmith’s shop several times before his death. Ned heads out to the shop with Jory (in the book, under the pretense of commissioning armor; in the show, they don’t explain how Ned hides his intentions) and meets Gendry, a strong young man with black hair, light blue eyes, a blonde mother and a father he never knew. Ned realizes these puzzle pieces all fit neatly together to form a picture of King Robert’s bastard son.
Littlefinger shares secrets with another Stark at the Hand’s Tournament, a tourney held in honor of Ned’s new job, much to the Hand’s dismay. This time, it is Sansa who’s on the receiving end of Littlefinger’s intrigue. When Gregor Clegane, known as The Mountain that Rides, kills Ser Hugh with a tourney lance to the throat, Littlefinger explains that Gregor is the older brother of the Hound, Sandor Clegane. He then tells an already nervous Sansa that Gregor, as a child, was the one who caused Sandor’s burns, all because his younger brother dared to play with one of his toys.
North at the Wall, Jon Snow continues down his path of honor and good will. He’s helping Grenn learn a new move during training when Samwell Tarly arrives to the yard. Sam is fat and nervous, he shuffles and speaks meekly. Ser Alliser Thorne seems to smell the awkward boy’s fear, and commands the other boys to beat Sam even after he has fallen and yielded. Jon Snow steps in, defeats three boys at one time, and immediately wins Sam’s thanks and respect. We later see Jon and Sam scrubbing the dining room in Castle Black, where they begin talking about women. After Sam professes his virginity, Jon confirms the same: To Sam’s disbelief, Lord Snow has never been with a woman. Jon explains that he had the chance once- with a prostitute- but couldn’t bring himself to do the deed out of a fear that he could bring another Snow into the world. Knowing what life is like as a bastard, Jon was unwilling to thrust that fate unto someone else. I expect hundreds of young girls are currently uploading photos and gifs of JS to tumblr this exact instant.
We learn a bit about Sam as well. Although Sam injects a fair amount of humor into the Castle Black environment, his story is rather sad. The fat and cowardly Sam earned the enmity of his father, who told his son to take the black or suffer a not-so-accidental hunting incident. Sam chose the black over death, so it’s possible he’s not as cowardly as he may think.
The boys are interrupted by Thorne, who gives us a reason to actually not hate him. He talks about a six-month ranging during the last winter – a long trek through snow and cold and darkness that was supposed to counter the plans of Mance Rayder (King-Beyond-the-Wall). Ser Alliser says it was easy enough to eat the horses after they died of cold and hunger. But then the brothers started dying, and mealtime got a bit less fulfilling. Now that we know something about Ser Alliser’s past, we can understand why he is so hardened and difficult on new recruits. Then he makes a jape about eating Sam and things just get uncomfortable again.
Across the Narrow Sea, the Dothraki are still on their way to their solitary stationary city, Vaes Dothrak. Doreah, Dany’s handmaiden, is in the tub with Viserys. She says she desires nothing more than to see a dragon, and Viserys goes off into a dreamworld full of Targaryen memories. He tells Doreah how he’s never seen a live dragon, as they all died off several hundred years before his birth. But he explains that the Targaryens used to ride them, and kept their skulls in the Red Keep. Viserys demonstrates good knowledge of these creatures and names several of them, including Meraxes, Vhaghar and Belarion the Dread, the three dragons which forged the Seven Kingdoms and, in a more literal way, the Iron Throne. However, when Doreah doesn’t say exactly the right thing, Viserys slips out of his memories and right back into the present, and from a nostalgic mood to one of insolence and mean spirit.
Dany and Jorah Mormont discuss Viserys in a later scene. Dany confesses she understands that Viserys will never take them home. Jorah explains that Viserys is not the last dragon; that title belonged to her brother Rhaegar. We now have the conflicting views about Rhaegar that we know so well from the texts. Robert Baratheon deems him a terrible person, responsible for his betrothed’s death, while other citizens of Westeros see him as the worthy heir and last paragon of the Targaryen dynasty. We learn a little more about Jorah as well. He sold slaves because he couldn’t afford his wife, who has since replaced him with someone else.
The episode ends with Catelyn Stark and Ser Rodrik sharing a meal in the Inn at the Crossroads. When Tyrion Lannister comes in, Cat draws on her role as a Tully to solicit the service of several fellow patrons to seize Tyrion Lannister for his believed role as the source of the assassin sent to kill Bran. We know a little about the Tullys, and we know Cat’s sister was Jon Arryn’s wife, but now we see more of the extent of their power. Whents, Brackens and Freys all point blades at Tyrion’s throat under Lady Tully Stark’s command.
There wasn’t a lot of action in this episode. But the backstory was fantastic and most importantly, well-laced throughout the plot. The revelation of different bits of history was for the most part organic, popping up in relation to the characters’ current circumstances.
The only problem I had with this episode was the fact that Littlefinger told Sansa the Hound’s story. In the novel, Sandor himself tells Sansa when he escorts her from a tourney feast to her room late at night. The scene unnerves Sansa, but it also plants the seed of sympathy in her heart for the Hound. I assume the writers used Littlefinger’s presence as a way to introduce Gregor, save time, and make the Mountain seem like a giant douche right off the bat. But when someone’s as terrible as Ser Clegane, you have so much to choose from: Could Littlefinger not have told the story about how the Mountain raped Princess Elia and murdered her children? The Hound’s story is just that: the HOUND’S STORY. He should have told it. Sansa’s promise to not tell anyone is meaningless when told to Littlefinger. When she promises the same to Sandor in the books, her fear and sincerity are palpable.
The acting was once again above and beyond fantastic. I think Kit Harington stole the show this week. I’m a first-class Jon Snow fangirl, and my love for him has never been stronger than after tonight. Kit has brought depth, warmth, humor and honor to Jon, and I couldn’t ask for more. His work tonight has solidified Jon Snow as hero material, and I can already see our Lord Snow on his path to becoming an actual Lord – LC, that is.
Harry Lloyd also continued to impress. Insanity is often done in an over-the-top fashion, but his scene in the tub actually felt very clinical. I felt as though a psychologist watching the show could actually diagnose Viserys based on tonight’s episodes.
And now, I’m going to take a paragraph break to just fangirl out about several things. First, GHOST!!! He FINALLY appears, and what an entrance he made. Speaking of entrances we also finally got Kristian Nairn as Hodor! His “Hodor” was more subdued than I expect, and I never imagined grey hair, but he’s lovable Hodor all the same. Grey Wind and Summer also got cameos, and while I wish we’d seen a little Shaggy, this is more direwolf than usual so I’ll keep my mouth shut. Isaac and Maisie continue to be far too adorable and awesome for words. The little smile Bran gave Tyrion melted my heart, as did Arya’s “that’s not me” line. These kids truly are the gems of this production.
It’s interesting that this ended at the Crossroads, because I feel that’s sort of where the story is at this point. Lives are intersecting and people are clashing, and with events like the tournament and the voyage to the Eyrie on deck for next week, we may actually get a full-sized dose of action very soon.