Last week, Game of Thrones Episode 8 – “The Pointy End” – had its highest ratings of the season so far with 2.7 million viewers (3.6 million total for the night). That’s 22 percent higher than the premiere, for those who aren’t keeping track.
If the ending to last night’s episode 9 – “Baelor” – is anything to go by, next Sunday’s season finale – “Fire and Blood” – is going to be the climax we’ve all been waiting for. Today, we have a recap for “Baelor,” the preview for the finale, and an interview with series star Sean Bean, the man who plays Ned Stark. As always:
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
Early on in “Baelor,” Varys the eunuch visits Ned Stark deep in the darkest dungeon of King’s Landing to tell him that Sansa, his oldest daughter, has pleaded for his life to young King Joffrey. As a result, if Ned rescinds his claim that Joffrey is not the rightful heir to the throne – remember, Joffrey is secretly the incestuous offspring of twins Cersei and Jaime Lannister (as opposed to King Robert) – Joffrey will be merciful and allow Ned to live.
At first, Ned refuses. Nothing is more important to him than his honor and integrity, not even his own life. But then Varys reminds him that other lives hang in the balance, like those of his daughters, Sansa and Arya Stark. See, nothing is more important than Ned’s honor and integrity – save his family.
Meanwhile, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), the head of the Lannister clan, is preparing for war with Robb Stark, the son of Ned and current leader of the Northern forces. He orders his heir, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), otherwise known as “The Imp,” to join the Tribesman and Bronn on the front-lines of war. Apparently, Tywin hates Tyrion and basically holds him responsible for his mother’s death because she died giving birth to him.
Tyrion believes that this might well be his last night on Earth, so he asks Bronn to find him the best-looking prostitute in the whole camp and the three play what can only be described as a really tame, really sad version of “grownup truth-or-dare.” Eventually, Tyrion tells them a story about his first love, a young girl he immediately fell in love with and married soon after, only to learn that she was a prostitute hired by Jaime to make him happy. Instead, it ruined “love” for him for the rest of his days.
The next morning, after delivering a grandiose speech to his troops, Tyrion is knocked out and lies unconscious throughout the entire battle. This was a quick, easy way for the showrunners to skip over a massive battle that would’ve eaten up both A) previous screen-time and B) precious budget. (Hey, it worked for us.) In the end, Tywin’s men killed all 2,000 of the Northerners. Alas, they were merely a distraction, and the other 18,000 Northerners marched toward Jaime Lannister’s men, killing them and capturing Jaime.
Across the ocean to the East, Khal Drogo (played by Jason Momoa) is dying. His wound from last episode has festered and he'll be lucky if he lasts the night. His beloved, Daenerys Targaryen, is desperate to save him, so she begs the woman whose life she saved last week -- a witch, of sorts -- to cast some spell to stop his death. Because it involves "blood magic" and the death of a horse, it gets the unwanted, potentially violent attention of one of Drogo's men, and Ser Jorah Mormont is forced to kill him in armed combat. Unfortunately, Daenerys simultaneously goes into labor and only the witch can save her, so we're left wondering, regardless of blood magic, whether or not Drogo will live to see season 2.
Back at King’s Landing, Ned Stark is brought before the people at Baelor’s Sept where he proclaims that he was wrong to stand up to the Lannisters, that he was a traitor to do so, and that Joffrey is the one, true heir to the throne.
But unlike Ned, Joffrey has no honor to speak of. He’s a petulant boy who lives to hear the roar of the crowd in “honor” of his presence. It doesn’t matter that he gave his word that if Ned Stark swore fealty to Joffrey, he’d show mercy on him and allow him to live out his days on "The Wall." He refuses the request of his mother, Cersei, and refuses the pleas of his future wife, Sansa; they’re women, so obviously they’re weak and wrong (according to Joffrey).
And thus, the young faux-king has poor Ned’s head chopped clean off. You see, also unlike Ned, when King Joffrey orders an execution, he doesn’t do the deed himself, as is honorable. Rather, he has his minions do it for him. It's the perfect callback to one of the first scenes of the series where Ned executed a Night's Watch desserter by his own hand. For those who don't recall, here it is:
“Baelor” was an episode all about sadness, loss, and death. The sadness of Tyrion Lannister, a man who has always been alone when it comes to love; a man who has always been hated by his father and blamed for his mother’s death; a man who has always been second to his older, taller, and more handsome brother, Jaime.
The loss of 2,000 Northern men to Tywin’s army, in sacrifice to the greater cause: The capture of Jaime Lannister and the surprise defeat of his men.
The death of poor Ned Stark, a man who put honor and goodness above everything else in his life, except for his own family. But then, maybe those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. Maybe they’re the same thing.
Season Finale Preview
Check out the preview for next week’s (no doubt) explosive season finale below, entitled “Fire and Blood”:
Check out the brief summary for the finale, too:
A new king rises in the north; a Khaleesi finds new hope. (Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss; directed by Alan Taylor.)
Game of Thrones Interview: Sean Bean
And lastly, here’s an interview with Sean Bean, courtesy of InsideTV. When asked what he thought of Ned’s arc when he read the script, Bean said:
“I thought it was a very courageous move for a television company. I know HBO has a track record of bold moves but I thought this is pretty incredible if they can pull this off. I love the character, that he’s a principled man who tries to hold things together. This is a journey that he makes where ultimately his loyalty causes his downfall. But I just thought it was a wonderful piece of work.”
On whether or not knowing Ned’s fate changed his portrayal:
“I knew I had to get quite a lot in before I got my head chopped off. I think you just play what’s on the page — he’s a good man trying to do his best in the middle of this corruption, he’s a fish out of water, he’s used to being up North in Winterfell where people are pretty straight and pragmatic, and he comes down to a place where people are playing games and backstabbing.”
Asked if there was reluctance to play another fantasy character that dies, Bean said:
“Not really. His death was [as] much a surprise to me as anyone. In Lord of the Rings, that death scene worked out quite well and Peter Jackson shot it beautifully, so it was quite heroic, and that also applies to the Ned Stark scene. It’s shocking and sad for his young daughter in the crowd.”
And for fans upset by the beloved character’s death:
“Ah, sorry about that! Tell them to blame George R.R. Martin.”
What did you think of the death of Ned Stark? Was it courageous? Was it crushing? Was it all of the above and so much more? Let us know in the comments.
Also, if you’ve read the books – DO NOT DISCUSS THEM HERE! There are plenty of other places on the Internet for you to do that, we assure you.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays @9pm on HBO. The season 1 finale will air on June 19, 2011.
Follow me on Twitter @benandrewmoore.