Explaining that the future of the Lannisters is at stake, Tywin (Charles Dance) presses Jaime to “be the man you were meant to be” as they prepare for battle. Ned confronts Cersei about the secrets that killed Jon Arryn. With the fate of the missing Benjen (Joseph Mawle) very much on his mind, Jon Snow takes his Night’s Watch vows, though not with the assignment he coveted. After Ser Jorah (Iain Glen) saves Daenerys from treachery, an enraged Drogo vows to lead the Dothraki where they’ve never gone before. An injured Robert takes pains to ensure an orderly transition at King’s Landing.
“You Win or You Die” is a moment the show has been building to for seven episodes, and it executes it all very smoothly, very well… but perhaps, for the first time, the fact that we know the story so exactly means that some of the shine has been taken off of this moment; but perhaps that’s only us. This is a very solid episode, and there’s some excellent work both from director Daniel Minahan and writers David Benioff and Dan Weiss. Of the new scenes, by far the best for us was Tywin Lannister’s introduction. Charles Dance was the actor we most wanted from the role when Benioff and Weiss asked the forum, early in casting, for suggestions, so it was fantastic to see him in the part. As we say in our preview, he was born to play this part, carrying off the lean, arrogant, incredibly dangerous persona perfectly. Oh, his Tywin his different, as some will tell you—he shows emotion more easily, he goads Jaime, he’s personally skinning a stag (though we doubt Tywin would never have done that; lords hunt in Westeros, and they’d know how to skin animals)—but it serves to underscore the man he is. Tywin is very much George R.R. Martin’s taking Machiavelli’s fictional prince and realizing him on the page. We’re looking forward to more from Dance. A very minor gripe, though: “I could care less” is a very American phrase and one that’s ungrammatical, since what one really wants to say is, “I could not care less”. It was about as jarring to hear as Eddard talking about fighting “for real”. Fortunately, such missteps are rare with these writers.
Oh, and the stag? Great symbolism, as he skins the sigil of House Baratheon. Did the writers choose to borrow a bit from Samwell’s tale of his father skinning and gutting a deer in front of him? Tarly has nothing on Tywin Lannister as far as being absolutely unyielding and tough, but where Tarly seems to be tough for the sake of toughness, Tywin’s driven by family and a deep pragmatism that makes him very dangerous indeed. Where other men worry about their personal honor, he’s abandoned all such trappings, instead focusing with intensity on the future of his family.
Despite how good that scene was, possibly the nadir of the show was reached with the new scene featuring Littlefinger, Ros, and the unnamed prostitute (called Armeca at some point during casting, and played by adult entertainer Sahara Knite). It’s not so much that we mind Littlefinger’s dialog, because Aidan Gillen’s always a pleasure to watch, and here he’s rather brassy and forthright in a satisfying way. And it’s not as if we can fault the actresses for doing exactly as they were told to do, and looking good while they were doing it. But the show has perhaps a bit too often associated sex scenes with exposition, and there’s a surprising amount of exposition during this surprisingly long sex scene. No matter how well written, hearing loud moans and groans takes something away.
Beyond that, yes, whether Littlefinger would ever reveal so much of himself to anyone, much less two lowly prostitutes… well, that doesn’t seem very in-character compared to the character in the novel. Even if this is an adaptation, what sense does it make for him to reveal so much? It feels, unfortunately, like a somewhat sloppy approach to make some things explicit that, perhaps, need to be explicit. How else to do it? We don’t know, but we wouldn’t have minded something more subtle. Especially since it does rather strongly suggest Baelish is preparing to betray Eddard (so that he can have Catelyn, whom he’s “saving himself” for), which is something we think would have been better not to reveal.
Maybe just leaving his instructions to the women and leaving out his explicit declaration that he “fucks” his enemies would have served to allow viewers to come to their own conclusions. And then, of course, leaving out the claim that he was saving himself would make it less obvious that he’s looking to get rid of Eddard at his earliest convenience. We’ll be curious to see how viewers respond on Twitter to this particular detail.
The rest of the King’s Landing material is well-played. We won’t get into our Cersei issues too much, but you can probably spot our problems in the book-to-screen analysis. That aside, the scene with Robert on his death bed was good, and the scene with Renly was our one real surprise as we sort of failed to realize that Renly was going to explicitly tell Eddard he should sit the throne. As that never happened in the novel, the fact that Loras has put the idea in his head did not impact the way we thought the scene would go. It’s an interesting choice, but at the same time, it’s a huge political miscalculation by Renly; he should have known Eddard Stark would never go for it. In the novel, even if one supposes he was angling for the throne in that scene, he didn’t come out and say it—he focused on stopping the Lannisters, something he knew that Ned was in agreement with. This Renly took a bold chance by being very upfront, hoping beyond hope that Eddard would go for it, but it’s simply no surprise that it failed whereas in the novel, Eddard’s refusal seems just a touch more out of touch with reality. We also miss the exchange about the gods being good and Renly’s reply that the Lannisters are not. Our own view is that, in the novel, Renly certainly wanted to be prominent at court, and saw an opportunit as Eddard’s staunch supporter to increase that influence… but he wasn’t actually aiming for a crown at that time.
Over in Essos, the story is largely quieter, with less time devoted to it… but the heavy use of Dothraki, created by David J. Peterson of the Language Creation Society, was a pleasure. Though some of the details play out differently—particularly the message Jorah received, which somewhat recasts the situation as presented (or at least hinted at) in the novels—it stays largely faithful. Simon Lowe deserves a mention as the wine merchant, both for the way he played his overtly unctuous friendliness and the way it slowly turned into nervousness and then desperation…. and, well, for that rather full-frontal nude scene, as well! Takes some courage to do something like that, we expect. As to the Wall, we admit, we quite miss the fact that the fifth Jon chapter was utterly cut out.
It does a nice job giving Jon something to really do, a chance to achieve something positive, revealing his loyalty and also his thoughtfulness as he recognizes that the Watch can’t afford to waste a single man. Without it, we instead focus on his angst about being named a steward, but that’s quickly resolved and mostly we’re left wondering at just what the production meant with Pypar’s story changing as it did. As it is, it’s already rather different from the novel, and the reference to his signing makes us wonder if they aren’t toying with him replacing Dareon later on. And, speaking of Dareon, we see “him”—in the form of an extra without any lines—but curiously, I’m almost certain a different extra was used when I saw the scene being shot a few times. Oh well!
Otherwise, the show plays out exactly as expected, and this is a good thing, but also perhaps a reason why it felt anti-climactic to Linda and I as we watched it. Our response at the end was a satisfied nod that the producers did it right, without the shock of what it was like actually reading that scene for the first time. We’re sure many others, readers and non-readers alike, will likely feel quite differently.
[HBO has posted Inside the Episode piece featuring director Daniel Minahan and executive producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss.]
This episode covers the following chapters of the novel: Eddard XII, Edarrd XIII, Jon VI, Eddard XIV, and Daenerys VI. Jon V—in which the recruits learn they are being passed forward, except for Samwell, which leads Jon to approach Maester Aemon to get his support in convincing the Lord Commander that Samwell can serve as well—has been skipped over entirely. Tyrion VI has been pushed to the next episode.
Changes of note, chapter-by-chapter:
- Eddard XII: Much of the start of this chapter is excised, such as Eddard’s preparations to send his daughters away, his learning from Pycelle (who’s tending to his wound—a broken leg in the novels) about the message arriving from Lord Tywin regarding Eddard’s commands, and more. Most notably, there’s no reference at all to Cersei having left with Joffrey and the Hound to join Robert’s hunting expedition, which is a much grander affair in the books with many courtiers and knights in attendance (including Bronze Yohn Royce, who has gone unmentioned). The scene takes place in the garden that seems to have replaced the castle’s godswood. The dialog is largely similar, although there are some small differences and some significant omissions. Perhaps the most notable is that Eddard does not tell Cersei that Robert would have been a husband any maid might have desired, and her response being solely about his saying Lyanna’s name when he bedded her on their wedding night. Instead, we have Cersei saying she worshiped him and idolized him when she first married him, which we know from A Feast for Crow was not in fact the case.
- Furthermore, when Eddard advises she leave with her children, he also suggests her brothers and father should flee with her, which Eddard does not do here. Further, in the novel Cersei attempts to seduce Eddard at one point, and then slaps him when he wonders if she tried to do the same with Lord Arryn, leading to his repeating her line about wearing the mark as a badge of honor. She rails at him then, questioning his high attitude when he has a bastard of his own, wondering where it’s from… including mentioning Ashara Dayne as a possibility. All that is, of course, gone. The show’s general trend has been to entirely leave out anything touching on details of Robert’s rebellion and Jon’s parentage, with neither Ashara Dayne nor Arthur Dayne and the other Kingsguard ever being named.
- Eddard XIII: Ned is not woken up with the news of Robert’s arrival, but is instead in the hall way with his guards when Renly arrives covered in his brother’s blood. In the bedchamber, Cersei is present (as in the book) but so is Joffrey (who is not there in the book). Robert’s wound is less extreme from what we can see, as in the novel it’s said that the boar ripped him from groin to navel, while this wound seems to be across the navel. The scene otherwise plays out much as in the novel, with two small omissions: there’s no mention of Aerys Targaryen, when Robert compared himself to Aerys and saying he was as bad a king, and Eddard assuring him that was not true; and Eddard does not hold Robert’s hand near the end, which would have been an excellent touch to have in the scene as played. Afterward, we lose Renly wondering aloud in something like awe at how Robert could have killed the boar with his entrails exposed and hanging out, but otherwise the scene is very much the same.
The chapter is broken up somewhat, so that it’s later in the day that Renly approaches Eddard and offers to gather a hundred men to help him seize Joffrey and the children. However, following the depiction of Renly in the show as opposed to the novel, he explicitly indicates he’s doing so with the intention of Eddard agreeing to make him (not Joffrey or Stannis) king. In the novel, Renly makes no such references, and merely seems to think that Joffrey should be under their control to prevent the Lannisters from destroying them. Then there’s another jump, where we see that Eddard has written and completed a letter for Lord Stannis, informing him that he shall be king, and sending one of his men on to a ship to deliver it personally, much as in the novel. The scene with Littlefinger largely plays out the same way as in the book, although Littlefinger’s rhetorical question at the end is not from the novel, and puts us in mind of a riddle that Varys tells Tyrion in A Clash of Kings. Perhaps the most notable thing about this last section is that the explicit reasons for why Stannis shouldn’t be king are not given by Littlefinger. This scene actually feels somewhat incomplete because of this. In the novel, Littlefinger explicitly notes that Stannis as king will mean a war, not only with the Lannisters, but probably the Tyrells because he’s not one to forgive their besieging him in Storm’s End for a year during his brother’s rebellion against the Mad King.
- Jon VI: Having skipped all the material about Jon pressing for Samwell to be called up with the rest of his fellow recruits, Sam being named to the stewards is simply a given in this scene. The dialog from Mormont is almost word-for-word from the novel, merely compressed somewhat. In the book, it’s Ser Jaremy Rykker, the new First Ranger, who questions why Samwell will abandon his father’s gods, but Rykker goes unnamed here and the line is delivered by Ser Alliser Thorne. Strangely, there are some changes in regard to the placement of some recruits: Pyp is made a steward instead of a ranger, while the never-seen character of Toad (his nickname, his actual name being Todder) is made a builder rather than a ranger. A strange change indeed. When Jon is named to the stewards, the look from Alliser Thorne (and the actor Owen Teale’s remark to myself and a group of journalists when we visited while this scene was being filmed) makes it plain that this was his doing. Bowen Marsh, the First Steward, is the one who gives out the specific assignments for the new stewards, but here all those lines are given to Maester Aemon. A new line—“And do not mention his nose”—is a funny addition from the writers, one that made George laugh when we watched the scene being filmed at Magheramorne.
Sam does convince Jon that it’s a good thing he’s been made Mormont’s personal squire, but no, he did not actually say in the novel that he wanted to be a wizard. More notably, Pypar is the one who complains about Jon being upset, and tells a story that in fact he was forced to join the Watch because a lord tried to molest him; Samwell’s response and Pypar’s departure when Samwell asks him to sing strongly suggests he may be embroidering the truth. In the novel, it’s Dareon who is a singer, and who says that he’s on the Wall because of a false accusation of rape from Lord Rowan’s daughter, whom he claims appeared naked at her window to help him climb into her room.
Finally, the vows do play out more or less the same…. though the weirwood grove is reduced to a single tree (it does give us our best look at a carved face, however; would have liked the sap to be prominent). And, of course, Ghost barks. The vows of the Watch have been cut down somewhat, losing these words: “I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers…” Dywen, the old ranger, is not mentioned and does not urge them to hurry back to the Wall before Ghost appears. The hand he’s holding is quite pale, whereas in the novel it’s described as black (which is a rather important detail, in the novels).
- Eddard XIV: Although there’s some compression here, the scene plays out almost exactly as in the novel. For some reason, instead of having Varys deliver Robert’s last royal order to Cersei, it’s Barristan who does so. Of course, unlike the novel, Eddard never actually carries the Valyrian steel dagger with him, so Littlefinger is using an ordinary blade. The final line is, indeed, exactly as in the novel.
- Daenerys VI: In the novel, the scene starts with Daenerys and Drogo just after sex, and his preparing to depart for a hunt. Drogo’s view that he needs no chair is as in the novel. No distinction is made between the Eastern and Western Markets of Vaes Dothrak, named for the fact that the eastern market features caravans and traders from the far east of the continent and the Western features merchants from the Free Cities and even goods from Westeros. Dany is significantly more pregnant in the novel than she is here, as well, as that makes something of a plot point. Otherwise, the scene is largely similar, although instead of switching from Dothraki to Valyrian, the show has them speaking Westerosi (i.e. English) in part because the show has not yet opted to have Valyrian turned into its own language. As well, the merchant is not clearly indicated as Lyseni by having blond hair and blye eyes, but then, neither is Doreah on the show. On the other hand, it did make us smile that, just as in the book, the cask has the grape clusters sigil of the Redwynes burned into the wood. In the end, when Drogo arrives, on the show he is clearly already aware of what happened, whereas in the novel he returns happy from his successful hunt, bearing claw marks from a hrakkar, the white lions of the Dothraki sea, and promising Daenerys its pelt.
Most notably of all, however, is the fact that Ser Jorah is given a full pardon here by a young boy, clearly representing one of Varys’s “little birds”; the fact that the boy speaks in and of itself suggests that the show has somewhat changed how they’re supposed to be seen, as it seems fairly clear from the novels that Varys’s “little birds” are rendered mute. Jorah’s full pardon leads him to then realize that Robert must have sent assassins after Daenerys, which is why he arrives in time to save her from what must have been poisoned wine. However, in the novels its revealed that in fact, Varys (by way of Illyrio) sent the message to Jorah specifically warning him against assassins. While one may suppose that Varys was somehow aware of the fact that Jorah would come to understand why he was pardoned and then go out of his way to protect Daenerys, it seems like a stretch; more likely, on the show, Varys was truly prepared to have Daenerys killed, perhaps in hopes that this would inflame Drogo into invading.
- Tywin and Jaime: A wonderful addition, finally showing us Lord Tywin. Dance and the writers interpret the character a bit differently from the novel—the Tywin of the books never smile, rarely seems to get angry, and is largely just very, very cold; Dance plays him as somewhat more expressive—but it works very well. Jaime’s host of 30,000 men is about twice as large as what he has in the novels, which is a rather surprising change, given the show’s difficulty with depicting very large groups. This figure is given as half of the total force Tywin has gathered, which again is more than what the case was in the books. Tywin noting that the attack on Ned was stupid is interesting, as in the third novel a character speculates that Tywin had hoped that Eddard would personally ride out to deliver Gregor Clegane to justice, giving him the opportunity to capture Ned and use him as a bargaining chip; this was foiled by Jaime’s rash action.
A minor note: we also see Jaime in new armor, rather fancy Lannister armor. I believe I saw the elbow pieces, shaped like lion heads, when I was in the costume armor shop. In the novels, of course, Jaime never wore any armor but his golden, lion-helmed armor, but that was done away with for the show. No real issues, and it’s a fine piece of armor… but we do wish Jaime kept his white cloak, because it’s one of those oddities of his that Jaime never really gives it up even when he’s taking up arms against some of Robert’s allies.
- Littlefinger with Ros: This one… this scene will probably fall afoul of those who complain of the show using sex scenes to deliver exposition, and in this case, we did find it very distracting, and not in a good way. Nothing wrong with the actors or the idea behind the scene, but it played out in a very tawdry way that took something away from it all. It also makes Littlefinger seem a very active partner in this brothel, “coaching” the prostitutes and all, whereas in the novels he merely “invests” in them. Littlefinger’s details of his love for Catelyn are interesting, but the idea that he’s “saving himself” is rather… interesting. Most notably, because it rather seems to give away the fact that he’s biding his time to betray Eddard Stark so that he can have Cat to himself. The details of just how Baelish approaches his role in the court are very interesting, however, and a very plausible approach to laying out his strategy of making himself seem every man’s friend, able and willing to procure anything they want for a reasonable price, and all the time he’s having them open themselves to him and reveal their weaknesses.
- Osha and Theon: A new scene that shows more of Osha’s time in Winterfell, it does a very fine job of both showing the character—who is, as we’ve previously noted, rather a lot younger (and prettier) than the character in the novel—and her culture, and giving Theon another woman he tries to have his way with. Luwin rather baldly reminding him that he’s very much in the same position as a guest/prisoner of the Starks seems impolitic for the maester, but it’s a very satisfying line… and one that will probably be yet another small slight to make Theon more anxious about his position.
- Sam and Jon on the Wall: In the novels, Benjen Stark’s horse never appears as it does here. It does not, in fact, really appear at all. Stark has been missing for months at this stage, and we’re not sure why they chose to have this scene at this stage. Possibly simply as a reminder for viewers, and set up for the final scene with the Watch.
We join Tom and Daniel of MTV Geek in a brief podcast series, discussing each week’s episode after it airs. You can download it directly, or listen to it below: