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.
Away in the westerlands, we see the Lannister army spread out in an encampment, and get our first glimpse of Lord Tywin Lannister as he cleans a deer in his tent while hearing Jaime read Eddard Stark’s demands that he and his father come to King’s Landing. Tywin feels the attack on Ned was stupid, but since it was done, he wonders why Jaime didn’t kill him. He thinks nothing of “clean” kills or what others think of him, caring only for the family honor and name. But now they’re coming to a moment which may make or break their family; he gives Jaime 30,000 men, half of their forces. He clearly resents Jaime having wasted his time as a Kingsguard (calling them glorified bodyguards), frittering away his gifts serving a mad man and a drunk.
Back in King’s Landing, Eddard waits for Cersei to arrive, and when she does, he reveals he knows that the children are Jaime’s, not Robert’s. She replies that the Targaryens wed brother to sister for centuries, and that she and Jaime were more than just siblings, they shared a womb. Eddard accuses them of having pushed Bran from the tower, and she admits it, saying only that she loves her children as much as he loves his, and would do anything to protect them. She reveals that she worshiped Robert once… but he said Lyanna Stark’s name on their marriage night. Eddard tells her that she and her children must leave before Robert returns, because he plans to reveal everything to him and does not want the blood of children on his hands. Cersei says that Eddard doesn’t understand the game of thrones: you win or you die. He missed his opportunity at the end of the war, when he could have climbed up and sat on the Iron Throne but instead gave it to Robert.
In a brothel, Littlefinger tutors Ros and another prostitute in how to properly please customers. His explanation about how they should proceed shares some philosophical similarities, so to speak, with his own approach to intrigue: he seduces his enemies, lets them thick him weak and powerless to harm them, so that they reveal their weaknesses to him. He reveals to Ros that there’s a woman he’s saving himself for, not very beautiful but of impeccable lineage, whom he knew from boyhood. He was her confidant, he said, and when she was to marry an anvil-jawed Lannister, he challenged him for her hand in marriage, trusting to the stories that always had the little hero defeating the big villain. For his trouble, she had the other man spare him, though he left him with a scar to remember him by. Ros asks if she married her Northerner, but he was killed and instead she married his brother, who’s simply so very good. He then makes it explicit that he learned that he can never win that way, and has instead learned to “fuck” his enemies, using his own rules. Ros asks what he wants… and he says that he wants everything.
In Winterfell, Osha—wearing chains on her ankles—brings rushes into the great hall to spread them on the floor. Theon accosts her, telling her how lucky she is, and informing her that where he comes from, she would have been staked out on the shore at low tide and drowned. She wonders where he’s from, and then wonders where the Iron Islands are. Theon’s surprised she doesn’t know, but she tells him that he’s never heard where she’s from. He tries to insist that she call him “my lord”, as is proper… but when he says that he’s Lord Balon Greyjoy’s son, she wonders why his being a lord means that she needs to call Theon a lord as well. Theon is annoyed, but then gets down next to where she’s kneeling, and offers to get her chains off and leans in to kiss her when Maester Luwin stops him.
Luwin notes that she’s a guest. Theon thought she was a prisoner, and Luwin asks if those states are exclusive, in his experience. Theon leaves, and Luwin learns from Osha that she and the other wildlings meant to get as far south as they could because something has awoken again beyond the Wall, something terrible.
On the Wall, Samwell and Jon are standing watch. Samwell talks about girls, but Jon doesn’t respond. Samwell comes closer, and sees that Jon has spotted a horse approaching the Wall. Samwell starts to go to one of the horns, to sound the alarm, wondering if it’s a ranger returning or a wildling, but Jon notes the horse is without a rider. Taking the cage down, they see the horse brought into Castle Black, and realize it’s Benjen Stark’s horse but Benjen isn’t with it.
Back in King’s Landing, a blood-covered Renly arrives to tell Ned that something has happened with Robert and a boar. Eddard arrives to find Robert speaking with Joffrey, with Cersei and Pycelle in attendance. Robert is mortally wounded, torn open by the boar’s tusks because he was too drunk and missed his thrust. He killed the boar, however, shoving his knife through its skull, and insists it be served at his grand funeral feast. He sends Cersei and Pycelle out, to deliver his last command, that Eddard serve as Lord Protector and regent until his son Joffrey comes of age. Eddard hesitates and writes “rightful heir” instead of Joffrey. Robert signs and seals it, and tells Eddard that he’ll hate ruling worse than Robert did, but that he’ll do it well. His last wishes are that Eddard stop the attempt on Daenerys Targaryen’s life, that Ned help his son, and that he be given milk of the poppy so that he can die without so much pain.
Outside the room, Pycelle takes milk of the poppy to Robert and Renly follows him. Eddard speaks with Barristan Selmy and Varys. Selmy reveals that Robert was reeling from being so drunk, and had ordered everyone to step aside. Varys wonders who gave Robert the wine, and it’s revealed it was his squire, Lancel. Eddard informs Varys that Robert wants the attempts on Dany stopped, but Varys fears those birds have already flown.
In Vaes Dothrak, Daenerys speaks in Dothraki with her husband as she braids his hair, urging him to go west to invade the Seven Kingdoms and take back the birthright of their unborn son, the Iron Throne. Drogo is uninterested. She tries to tell him there are many lands beyond the sea, the poison water that the Dothraki fear and hate, including her own, but makes the error of using the word for “dirt” and Drogo corrects her before leaving her and saying that a khal needs no chair, only a horse. Later with Ser Jorah, Irri, Doreah, and Rakharo, Daenerys goes through the market. She asks Jorah to help persuade Drogo, but he tells her to be patient. She says it’s her right, but she reminds her that Aegon I won his kingdom by force, not by right. When Daenerys adds that he had dragons, Jorah seems dubious of this fact, trusting only those things he can personally verify. He leaves her with her companions, seeking out the merchant captain to see if there are any letters for him. He’s intercepted by a boy who gives him Varys’s greetings, and hands over a royal pardon.
Daenerys speaks with a wine merchant, who offers her a gift of a dry red wine from the Arbor. Jorah, watching this and considering his unexpected pardon, becomes suspicious and stops them. She has Rakharo put down the cask and then makes the merchant open it and pour some of the wine. Daenerys insists as well as he stalls. Jorah takes a cup and considers drinking… but then has the merchant take it. The man starts to do so, then throws it aside, throws the cask at Rakharo, and tries to run. Rakharo uses his whip to pull him down, where other Dothraki warriors seize him.
At Castle Black, Lord Commander Mormont gives a speech to the latest batch of recruits to be passed on to become full members of the Watch, informing them that they serve the realm. He gives the assignments, and against all expectations, Jon is named to the stewards. Later speaking to Maester Aemon, he learns he’s to be Mormont’s personal steward, and angrily asks if he’s supposed to fetch Mormont’s meals and hot water for his bath. Aemon says he is. Jon demands to know whether Aemon takes him for a servant and the aged maester replies that they took him for a man of the Watch, but perhaps they were wrong. Jon storms off, and Samwell and Pypar follow him. Pypar is annoyed by Jon’s angst, and says that he’s been forced to give up his family and his old life because a Smallwood lord tried to molest him and, when he refused his advances, was falsely accused of theft. Samwell questions this story, and Pypar leaves angrily. Sam convinces Jon that as Mormont’s squire, he’s being groomed for command.
In King’s Landing, Renly has cleaned himself up and approaches Eddard. They talk about what’s happened, and Renly reveals he has friends and can put a hundred swords under Ned’s command in an hour. Eddard wonders why, and Renly says that they need to strike and seize Joffrey in the night before Cersei can prepare. Renly indicates that every moment’s delay increases the danger for them, because Cersei will not let them hold power and may try to kill them. Eddard wonders about Stannis… and Renly wonders how that will protect the realm. Renly says that Eddard shouldn’t care about the line of succession, just as he did not care when he helped Robert win the crown. He says Stannis is no king, unable to win love or loyalty as he is… but Renly can be. Ned says that Stannis is a commander, a man who’s fought in two wars and destroyed the Greyjoy fleet, but Renly throws back that Robert was a good soldier, too. Eddard finally rejects Renly’s proposal, saying he won’t trouble Robert’s last hours with bloodshed and frightened children.
In his chambers, Eddard finishes a letter to Stannis and gives it to one of his men, who will take a ship to Dragonstone deliver it to Stannis personally. Littlefinger enters, knowing that Eddard is now Lord Protector. He learns from Eddard that Joffrey is illegitimate, and that Stannis is the rightful heir. Littlefinger tries to argue that Eddard should instead make peace with the Lannisters and support Joffrey’s reign. They can remove Stannis, and if Joffrey proves troublesome, they can reveal his true parentage and they can seat Renly on the Iron Throne instead. Eddard notes that that’s treason, but Littlefinger says that’s only a problem if they lose. Eddard questions the idea of making peace with the enemies who tried to kill his son, but Littlefinger points out that you make peace with your enemies: “That’s why they call it… making peace.”
In the end, Eddard indicates the true reason he needs Littlefinger, though can’t come right out and say it because it’s dishonorable. He needs the city watch to back him… and Littlefinger can help him control them, because he holds the purse strings. Littlefinger agrees to do so.
Beyond the Wall, Samwell and Jon go out to say their vows. It’s done before a carved weirwood, and they are congratulated by their sworn brothers, the older members of the Watch who accompanied them. Then Ghost appears, with something in his jaws. Jon calls him forward, and the direwolf deposits what he has on the ground: a severed hand, pale and bloodless.
In Vaes Dothrak, Daenerys wonders at the fate of the wine merchant. Jorah says that he will be leashed to a saddle and forced to run behind the khalasar as long as he can. When he can’t any longer, he will be dragged along the ground until he dies. Jorah believes this is not the last assassin, and that Robert will now never abandon the hunt for her despite Viserys being dead. Her son will be too dangerous to him. Drogo arrives with some of his warriors, aware of what’s happened. He gives Jorah a gift for having saved Daenerys… and then makes a fierce oath, swearing to give his unborn son, the Stallion that Mounts the World, the “iron chair” of his mother’s father, to lead his khalasar across the poisonous water on “wooden horses” and to tear down the “stone houses” of their enemies, to rape their women and enslave their children, as the stars stand as witness to his oath. The Dothraki leave Vaes Dothrak soon after, and the wine merchant has been stripped naked and leashed to Daenerys’s own saddle as they ride out.
Eddard learns Robert is dead, and that Queen Cersei and King Joffrey command his presence. Eddard meets with Littlefinger and Varys, and learns from Littlefinger that he’s done what he’s asked, while Varys reveals that Renly has fled the city with Loras Tyrell and some fifty retainers, galloping south. Janos Slynt, commander of the city watch, tells Eddard that they stand behind him. Entering the throne room, Joffrey informs the council that he expects to be crowned within the fortnight but will take oaths of fealty from his councilors. Eddard gives Barristan Selmy the king’s will, and Selmy reads it out before Cersei asks for it. She takes it and ripes it into pieces, wondering if Ned thought that was his shield? Barristan Selmy is shocked and says those were the king’s words, and Cersei merely replies that there’s a new king. She tells Eddard to kneel to Joffrey, and they will allow him to return to the North, but Eddard says that Joffrey has no claim to the throne.
Cersei orders Barristan to seize Eddard as a traitor, and Eddard’s guards come forward. Matters escalate as the Hound draws his sword as Joffrey commands him and his mother’s men to kill Stark and all of his guards. Eddard asks Janos to escort the queen and Joffrey away, and says he wants no bloodshed… and with a look from Cersei, Slynt shouts, “Now”, and his guardsmen turn their weapons on Eddard’s men and begin to kill them. The Hound cuts down one man, while a stunned Eddard looks at the slaughter only to have Littlefinger come up behind him, hold a knife to his throat, and say, “I told you not to trust me.”