Show: Game of Thrones
Episode: S01E08 – The Pointy End
Original Air Date: 5 June 2011
Spoiler Warning: For both show and book series
This episode examines mercy and sacrifice, and where those things do and don’t get you. And it begins with a display of no mercy whatsoever, as Queen Cersei’s men brutally slaughter all of the Stark men they can find – soldiers, servants, everyone. When Cersei makes a move, she doesn’t screw around – she goes for the jugular. Ned’s failure to do so, as we saw in the last episode, is what seals his fate. These moments show us two phenomenal sacrifices, though, as Septa Mordane (who is a lot cleverer and quicker on the uptake in the series than in the book) and Syrio Forel take defiant last stands to protect their charges. The Septa’s quiet dignity as she walks calmly towards the Lannister guards, seeing but not flinching at their bloody swords, is a beautiful, harrowing moment. This series made me like her a lot more than I ever did in the book, and though we don’t see what happens to her – we can guess. For sheer badassery, though, the award goes to Syrio, First Sword of Braavos. He fearlessly faces down the men sent after Arya, giving them a thorough whooping with his wooden practice sword – we get to see him really and truly in action for the first time, to see just how good he is. But a wooden blade, ultimately, is not a match for steel – Arya runs before we see what comes of his battle. We have to fear the worst – and yet, the series definitely leaves certain theories about his survival open as possibilities. Arya chants his refrain “Not today, not today” as she flees – and she makes it out, giving this episode its title, putting Needle’s pointy end to use for the first time. Arya gets her first blood, and then runs like hell (not to be seen again in this episode). Sansa’s not so lucky. I understand all the San/San shippers are quite disappointed, but having no dog in that fight, I couldn’t care less.
We then find Ned in a black (but quite spacious) cell, visited by Varys – who gives a phenomenal performance. Conleth Hill is so delightful in this role – he plays everything with such nuance. When Varys tells us he serves the realm, because “someone must” – do we believe him? Can we hope to? Varys is the one who points out to us that Ned’s mercy is what killed King Robert. The lighting and cinematography in this scene is really beautiful – it gives such a sense of how low Ned’s fallen. We met him in all the foreboding glory of the North, spacious and open, sky and trees – and we see him here, framed by darkness, in the flickering light of the single torch Varys brings.
I still don’t like Sansa, but I started hating her less in this episode. She becomes more pitiable here, at least. She’s terrified and surrounded – and she sues for mercy. She thinks she’s getting it, and she believes so much in it that she, unwittingly, betrays her family again. It’s an interesting contradiction in her – she believes so strongly in courtly honour and in chivalric ideals, but she can’t adhere to her own family’s strict moral code. She would rather her father confess to treason and that her brother bend the knee than that they pay the price honour demands. I’m not making a judgment about who’s right or wrong, or which decision is smarter, but it’s an interesting incongruity.
Meanwhile, in the Vale (where, have you noticed, everything echoes? It’s a nice touch), Lysa is crazy and selfish, Cat looks convincingly distraught. Tyrion and Bronn, on their way out, run into the mountain clans, who could kill them quite easily. Tyrion, with his silver tongue, convinces them to show mercy – or, rather, bribes them into it. (As a side note, did anyone else think that the clansmen look like something out of Monty Python?). Tywin Lannister is not a man much acquainted with mercy, and he certainly shows none to his son. Their conversation is illuminating in many ways, though, particularly as Tyrion realises just how much events have spiraled into madness in his absence. He looks so genuinely alarmed when he finds out that Robert’s dead, that his nephew sits the throne, and that his sister is now exercising her power.
Across the Narrow Sea, Dany tries to impose mercy on a culture that doesn’t have much of a concept of it. She’s suddenly finding being a khaleesi and a hopeful conquror more than a little morally complicated, as the Dothraki burn, pillage, enslave, and rape – in her name. They need to claim goods and sell slaves in order to get money to buy ships to take an army back across to Westeros. Dany’s not too happy about the way the riders are abusing the conquered people, though, and she starts claiming all the women she can find for her own – which doesn’t sit too well with some of the riders. If you re-watch this episode, pay attention to Irri and Doreah behind her – their reactions to everything are both telling and interesting, even though they get almost no focus. Irri is so skeptical of what Dany’s doing, whereas Doreah looks pleased and proud. Cultural differences.
Poor Robb is also finding leadership a little complicated, as he has to convince his proud bannermen to work together and accept his command. Of course, a little help from his direwolf goes a long way, as the Greatjon finds out. He loses two fingers for his pride, but Robb gains his loyalty from it. (As a side note, Bran’s reactions during this scene are brilliant – he looks so alarmed by what’s going on, at how much the men end up laughing at the idea of going to war). He’s struggling with his responsibilities, but he’s bearing up as admirably as can be hoped. Cat drops by, and as inconvenient as a mother is to a boy trying to become a man and a leader, she has sound advice for him – the only hope is to kick Tywin Lannister’s ass as thoroughly as possible. When the Stark men capture a Lannister scout, however, Robb reminds everyone that his father understood mercy – so he lets the scout go. Of course, Robb’s using some craft along with his dose of mercy, sending the scout off with false information. We also finally get some words out of poor little Rickon, and Bran talks with Osha – previous benefactor of Robb’s mercy – about messages from the gods. Not as much to work with there, but it’s seeding things that will pay off in the next season.
I haven’t said much about events up at the Wall, mostly because the theme there isn’t as knit together with the rest in this episode as in others, but that doesn’t make events there less important. The Night’s Watch is getting its first solid indication of what’s stirring out there in the cold, white wastelands: the dark powers at work can’t be denied or laughed off as children’s fables when the dead are coming back to life and trying to kill your Lord Commander.
At the end of episode, Cersei makes a critical misstep, dismissing Barristan Selmy from the Kingsguard. And he’s really not happy about being put to pasture. He vows, “I am a knight; I shall die a knight,” and when he unsheathes his sword, he reminds the 5 other knights of the Kingsguard present that he could cut them down easily. Barristan storms off – and Cersei’s just made herself another enemy. Those who’ve read the books, of course, know where he’s going. I wonder how the TV series is going to disguise him so that we don’t know immediately when he returns – or will they? Will the TV audience get to know what Daenerys doesn’t?
We wrap up not far from where we began, with Sansa on her knees, begging mercy for her father. In a trembling voice, she makes a promise we can’t be certain she can keep – that her father will confess his supposed crimes in exchange for his life. As the episode ends, the cameras panning strategically, she literally disappears underneath the throne, looking so small.