‘Game of Thrones’ recap: The curious incident of the direwolf in the nighttime


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The big news about this week’s episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ is that George R.R. Martin is credited with writing the script himself. (He’s apparently also writing an episode for the second season.) That may have been because he was the best-equipped writer to do the necessary triage: this one has to telescope a lot of plot movement into 58 minutes. In the course of a single episode, we get the gradual collapse of the Stark family, the beginning of the War of the Five Kings, Tyrion’s alliance with the mountain clans, negotiations at the Eyrie, a couple of Dothraki battles, a direwolf dining on fingers and a freaking zombie attack at the Wall.
Martin gets right into it in the show’s opening minutes, racing from the slaughter in the throne room (and elsewhere) to a terrific sequence with Syrio Forel holding off a crew of killers with a broken wooden sword while Arya makes her getaway. Later on, Martin even squeezes in a line or two of dialogue from Rickon Stark, the littlest scion of the family, who we’ve barely seen until now.
The only part of the episode where Martin genuinely moves too quickly is the sequence with Danaerys and the Dothraki, which hits a whole lot of beats without giving them room to breathe. The horde is sacking some kind of settlement to raise funds for their forthcoming sailing trip; Danaerys flexes her power to rescue some of the women; one of Drogo’s men doesn’t like that, a gory fight ensues and Danaerys persuades Drogo to seek medical treatment for his nasty cut from the ‘healer’ of the village his crew has just destroyed, which somehow doesn’t sound like a wise idea.
That’s two consecutive scenes. Whew. Here’s my question: how do any Dothraki manage to live to the age of, say, three weeks, given that they resolve every problem they have with knives, horses or the combination of knives and horses?
Sophie Turner, as Sansa Stark, consistently gets the worst dialogue in ‘Game of Thrones,’ and that continues here: ‘I’ll tell my father! I’ll tell the queen!’ Her character is supposed to be frightened and easily manipulated most of the time -- that’s how her family knows when Cersei is telling her what to say -- but it still beggars belief that she seems to genuinely adore Joffrey, who has been nice to her exactly once that we’ve seen. (When he declares ‘your sweet words have moved me,’ it would take a fairly severe impairment of comprehension not to understand that he’s trying hard to avoid rolling his eyes.)
Back around the first episode, when we initially saw the White Walkers, I was hoping there’d be some kind of ‘Walking Dead’-type zombie-invasion plot line in ‘Game of Thrones’; now I’m so invested in the characters down south that I hope the supernatural stuff stays in the background. Still, the uncanny elements are ramping up: we’ve now seen trees that cry blood twice, and Osha informing Bran that the Starks’ swordsmen ‘should be going north, not south’ suggests that there’s going to be a bunch more action at the Wall, by far the dullest locales in ‘Game of Thrones.’ At least Samwell is starting to prove himself not totally useless: his deduction about how long the corpses have been dead is a classic ‘curious incident of the dog in the nighttime’ move. And he reads too -- a practice that was Ned’s undoing, but tends to be helpful to Tyrion.
Oh, Tyrion. He’s so ... Tyrion-ish this time -- which is to say that he does nothing other than stroll out of trouble with a combination of wit, sleaze and lucre. The best line of the episode comes when he tells Bronn that if he’s ever tempted to betray him, ‘whatever your price, I’ll beat it. I like living!’
The sex, violence and catchphrase tally:
Bare breasts: None this time, much as Robin Arryn keeps pawing at his mother’s shirt. (Yes, he’s Robert Arryn in the books. He’s Robin on the show.) We do get Hodor as the third nude dude of the series, though.
Fatalities: At least five in the opening battle, plus the jerk that Arya sticks with the pointy end, a bunch more in the town the Dothraki are sacking, and the fellow who challenges Khal Drogo to a duel, although nobody whose name we know. Do immolated White Walkers count as fatalities? That’s always the problem with zombies.
‘A Lannister always pays his debts’: one, from Tyrion Lannister. ‘Winter is coming’: one, from Robb Stark, used as a metaphor rather than a statement of fact. ‘Not today’: Arya’s learned the biggest lesson Syrio had to teach her, and it sounds like a catchphrase in the making.
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-- Douglas Wolk