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In the fifth episode of Game of Thrones we get to see the machinations of the court of King’s Landing without much distraction from the other locations. For a summation of the plot without much spoiling, head over to Susan Arendt’s excellent recap of the episode, but if you’re a fan of the books and want more in-depth, spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in “The Wolf and the Lion,” read on, my friends!

Everyone from the show’s creators to less-enlightened reviewers have pegged Game of Thrones as “Lord of the Rings meets The Sopranos,” but I always thought that comparison was a little too trite. The characters of Martin’s epic story feel more like Shakespeare’s King Richard than boorish Tony Soprano (although KING BOB isn’t too far off) and the plot is too full of despicable acts to be like LOTR. The show so far has concentrated on introducing the feel of a gritty medieval world, and it has been successful. With this episode though, all of the backstabbing, scheming and intrigue that really define the story for me finally get equal screen time with the nudity and violence. King Bob even laments that his reign is now about scheming rather than the glory of battle, but unfortunately for him that’s the story being told. Sorry, Bob.

I’ve enjoyed the show’s subtlety and language so far, but the pivotal scene in this episode between LORD VARYS and PETYR BAELISH finally elevates it beyond mere adaptation to a piece of art that can stand on its own. The verbal sparring between these two spymasters was just delicious – “I know that you know what I know, but I don’t know that you knew that I knew this.” Varys’ eyes widen that he may be caught in a treasonous act, and it’s the first time we see the eunuch panic, before he recovers to scoff at Littlefinger’s words. My wife trained as an actor and she said after the scene between Varys and Littlefinger that she was impressed with how Shakespearean it felt. That’s because the intentions of each character were strongly threatening even if their words were polite and cordial.

Careful viewers (or fans of the books) will realize that Varys was plotting with Illyrio, the merchant from PENTOS who arranged the marriage of KHAL DROGO to DAENRYS TARGARYEN and gave her the three dragon eggs as a wedding gift in the first episode. The juxtaposition of this reveal just moments after Varys tells EDDARD STARK that he considers himself a “man of honor” is especially important. Varys is honorable and loyal in his way, but to the House that he believes should still rule the Seven Kingdoms – the Targaryens. It hasn’t been mentioned in the show yet, but Varys was spymaster to the Mad King Aerys before Robert’s and Ned’s revolution. The whole plot of the show, and everything that happens in the books, could be said to be engineered by Varys the Spider just to leave the realm vulnerable to a Dothraki invasion to put VISERYS back on the throne. Of course, that’s not exactly how things play out, but perhaps Martin’s forthcoming fifth book A Dance with Dragons will provide more on that front.

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In many ways, this episode is a preview for the second season of the show which will reportedly follow the plot of Martin’s second book A Clash of Kings. In that novel, THEON GREYJOY gets point-of-view chapters that detail his return to the Iron Islands, and the lukewarm reception he gets from his sister Asha. But in order to seed that plot, the show’s creators have begun developing Theon a bit early by trying to explain his complicated position at Winterfell. He’s being held as a hostage because his father, Balon Greyjoy, attempted to secede from the Seven Kingdoms and Robert mustered the knights of the realm to smash the Viking-esque culture to kneel again to the Iron Throne. As a way to keep the Greyjoys in line, Robert seized the eight-year-old Theon and asked his friend Ned to raise him, probably to instill the kind of honor that only the North can apparently engender in wayward youths.

Theon’s a complex character, but the show spends too much time establishing his frustration with his lot in life. In this episode, he screws a whore – the now famous Roz mentioned by both JON SNOW and Theon in previous episodes – and talks a big talk about how he’s a man. The thing that’s missing for me is Theon’s attachment to the Starks. He loves ROBB like a brother, and has some loyalty to WINTERFELL for how he’s been treated despite his lineage, but all we see now is his displeasure. If the show doesn’t start to portray him in a better light, then his actions in the second season will become a bit meaningless.

The other scene that is more of a preview for season two concerns LORAS TYRELL grooming RENLY BARATHEON, both literally and figuratively. The Knight of Flowers is first introduced at the tournament as the man who unseats the Mountain in the joust, albeit by riding a mare in heat that distracts GREGOR CLEGANE‘s stallion. Before all that messy horse killing and brother sparring, Loras shares a significant look with the king’s younger brother. I liked that the look hinted at something that becomes important later without stating it outright, but then the show’s writers throw the pair’s illicit gay relationship in the audience’s face with a scene designed to seed Renly’s attempt to gain the Iron Throne. While shaving his chest, Loras tells Renly that he and the rich Tyrells would back him, if the younger Baratheon were to put himself forward as Robert’s successor over JOFFREY and Renly’s stodgy older brother Stannis.

The Knight of Flowers is essentially explaining the entire plot of the second season in this one scene, and I think it gives away too much. Sure, the books strongly suggest something between Loras and Renly, and even then there isn’t a firm (heh) confirmation that they were lovers, even though Martin himself said that was his intention. For the show to throw it out there so early seems to miss the opportunity to investigate how such a homosexual relationship was so scandalous back then. Plus, the scene went on about 30 seconds too long for me. Were the slurping sound effects absolutely necessary?

Even though I’ve been mostly talking about the intrigue in “The Wolf and the Lion,” the episode actually had violence between main characters instead of merely describing their combat prowess. Ser Gregor using his huge claymore to behead his own horse was terrible to behold and the fight between the Hound and the Mountain was vicious and nearly deadly. JAIME LANISTER and Ned Stark also cross swords, and they seem evenly matched. The look on Jaime’s face as one of his guards stabs Ned through the thigh is precious – Jaime is disappointed that he can’t best Ned Stark on his own. (Yet another clue for future events: there is more honor to Jaime than one might assume.)

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The first full-on battle in the show occurs on the way to the Vale when mountain clansmen attack LADY STARK‘s small party. The bloody melee is satisfying because there is no pageantry involved, just survival. TYRION THE IMP holds his own despite his diminutive nature, clipping Catelyn’s attacker and smashing his face in with a shield. Once again, the Lannisters are proving to be more complex than one might assume, making Tyrion’s treatment once the party reaches the Eyrie seem even more unjust. The battle is also important for introducing one of my favorite characters, Bronn the sellsword, and his friendship with Tyrion blossoms in the moments after all the clansmen are killed. Later, his line about “impregnating” the Eyrie is pretty damn funny, and the friendship of Tyrion and Bronn is clearly one that will provide most of the laughs in the show.

The Eyrie looks just amazing, the throne room is majestic and soaring and the “dungeon” where Tyrion is kept is just terrifying. I remember the three-walled room having a sloped floor though, making the mental anguish of not being able to sleep lest you roll off the edge even more alarming. But that doesn’t mean the Eyrie isn’t already chockfull of creepiness.

Seriously, how can anyone take a woman suckling her eight-year-old son at her word? Lysa Arryn, the wife of the deceased Hand of the King and sister to Catelyn Stark, is one crazy bitch and I’m glad the show makes that clear from the first image we see of her. My mother-in-law was worried about the child actor and how scarred he might be by having to portray a scene in which he sucks the breast of a stranger pretending to be his mother, and her concern is a testament to how disturbing breastfeeding is for a child that should have outgrown such mothering. But we do get to hear little Robert Arryn say the line that I remember most from the books: “Make him fly!” I can’t wait for the third season, when we’ll realize that phrase refers to the favored execution method in the Eyrie: pushing the condemned off the edge to fall hundreds of feet.

The episode is called “The Wolf and the Lion” for the growing tension between the Starks and the Lannisters, and that conflict has finally reached a boiling point. Ned Stark’s guard is killed – poor Jory having a bunch of scenes to himself last episode to only be stabbed in the eye – and the Hand’s position is further diminished after his quarrel with King Bob at the Small Council meeting. The knights are being moved across the board, but the players of the game are finally being shown to the audience. Why did Littlefinger seek to delay Ned after he clearly wanted to depart King’s Landing that day? And how exactly did Jaime Lannister know that Ned Stark would be at Littlefinger’s whorehouse?

The Game of Thrones has truly begun in earnest.

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