Game of Thrones never fails to amaze. The HBO series (based on the uber-popular fantasy books by George R. R. Martin) just keeps getting better, and better, and better – in all respects, without avail.
Every seemingly minor detail is important. Every conversation, every line of dialogue, every scalding hot bath. Just when you think they’ve added too many elements to the show – too many characters, subplots, and what have you – the hefty creative reward for those elements becomes immediately apparent.
Read-on for our recap and reactions to the latest episode, number 7, "You Win or You Die." It goes without saying that what follows will contain MAJOR SPOILERS for Game of Thrones episodes 1-7. Continue reading at your own risk.
Last week’s episode, “A Golden Crown,” saw so many major plot points go down it was almost too much to bear.
The wrongfully captive and infinitely likable Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) – more commonly known as “The Imp”– was released from custody when his champion brutally defeated Lisa Arryn’s in sword-to-sword combat. But not before Tyrion uttered a hilarious monologue reminiscent of Chunk’s confession from The Goonies.
Elsewhere, Ned Stark (Sean Bean), the current Hand of the King, discovered the reason behind his predecessor's untimely death. It turns out Prince Joffrey Baratheon (as close to a literal monster as any human child has ever been) is not the true son of King Robert, but rather the incestuous offspring of Jaime and Queen Cersei Lannister – a union that led to the crippling of Bran Stark, the middle son of Ned.
Lastly, the sniveling Prince Viserys Targaryen interfered for the last time in Princess Daenerys Targaryen’s new Dothraki lifestyle, and her husband, Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa, A.K.A. the new Conan), bathed his bleach-blonde head in liquid molten gold, killing him instantly.
And so, with just four episodes left in the season, here we are at the seventh, “You Win or You Die.” Is war between the Starks and the Lannisters brewing to the point of being inevitable? What about the potential war between the Dothraki and the entire realm? And what, pray tell, is the latest news with regard to those mysterious and horrifying White Walkers, whose existence threatens everything, everywhere? Read on to find out…
This episode of Game of Thrones – “You Win or You Die” – shows just how far the art of television has come, and how it’s beginning to surpass mainstream movies by and large. It used to be that Hollywood movies developed their characters and plots as thoroughly as possible; now, character and plot development has taken a backseat to action scenes created by animators and their computers.
Not so with television; not so with Thrones. This series is all about the art of story, intrigue, drama, and suspense – nebulous things that aren’t so easily constructed as CGI crutches. And yet, this medium is catching up to film in terms of production values, as well. The look of episode 7 is perfect. Gritty but beautiful.
“You Win or You Die” (and Thrones as a whole) is not unlike the grand movies of yester, yester, yesteryear. The characters and the plot aren’t just in the front seat, so to speak – they’re driving, too. The dialogue is all-important in terms of delivering information about those characters and that plot. For instance, we learn (via a throwaway remark) that Ned Stark had the opportunity to take the throne for himself – he even forced Jaime Lannister down from it – but refused because he didn’t feel it was just. His "thing" is honor and justice with a hint of sadness, but he's not so simple as that.
Because we know the ins and outs of Ned, of his wife, of his awesome (save for that unbearable redhead!) children, of his bastard, and so forth, we’ve come to genuinely care about them in ways we rarely do in today’s films. When “action” invades the scene, we worry like we just don’t worry watching Thor, The Expendables, and so forth. In fact, the ending of this episode is so wonderfully worrisome, it’ll be almost unbearable to wait one more week to find out what happens next. Alas, episode 8 won’t be available on HBO GO tonight like episode 7 was last week, so we’ll just have to make do.
Yes, the action is sparse. So what? That doesn’t mean it’s not good, because it’s absolutely good. It’s brutal and well-choreographed. The gore is realistic and yet exploitative – in that always enjoyable HBO sort of way. But we’re not over-saturated with the stuff, so we appreciate it more whenever it occurs. We also appreciate it because of what it means to the characters and the story, rather than just appreciating “how cool that one move looked,” or whatever.
Everything has been perfectly developed in this show, from the characters to the plot to the numerous sub-plots. In “You Win or You Die,” King Robert has been mortally wounded by a hog on the hunt, and thus, everything we’ve seen inklings of – Ned Stark’s political war with Cersei Lannister and the fact that Robert’s son is not actually blood-related (and therefore not the heir to the throne) – is about to come to a head. How does one undo this decades-long charade created by the Lannisters, especially when the Lannisters are there to stop it? How does one prevent the horribly spoiled Joffrey from becoming king of all there is? Ned has a lot to deal with in the crumbling of a kindgom, and perhaps not the cruelness of heart to do it.
For the first time, we’re introduced to the crafty, formidable Lord Tywin Lannister, father of Tyrion and the Wonder Twins – err, that is to say, Jaime and Cersei Lannister – as played by the awesome Charles Dance (you probably know him best for his villainous roles in The Golden Child, Last Action Hero, and Space Truckers). Tywin is handing out life lessons to his vain, arrogant son Jaime about the importance of family while he guts a stag and cleans it for consumption. This is a man who, wealthy and lordly though he is, isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and do what needs to be done.
One of the best exchanges from his and Jaime’s scene goes like this:
Tywin: “You spend too much time worrying about what other people think of you.”
Jaime: “I could care less what anyone thinks of me.”
Tywin: “That’s what you want people to think of you.”
There’s so much going on in those three lines of dialogue. There’s wisdom, cleverness, and insight. Can you say the same for the whole of your average movie?
We receive more hints of the existence of the White Walkers – known more prominently as “the Others” in the books – giant, blue-eyed monsters who live north of The Wall (a gigantic barrier created exclusively to keep these monsters at bay). They’ve been gone – sleeping – since before anyone can remember. Many believe them to be myth, but we, the viewers, know they’re more than that. And they're coming to kill everything.
If there’s one complaint for this episode (and really, it’s a minor one), it’s that the sexual content verges on totally gratuitous. Some of it seems necessary for a variety of reasons, but there are a few minutes near the beginning – you’ll know it when you see it – that appear to cross the line from “necessary for the sake of realism” to “Game of Thrones obviously needed to fill its HBO-mandated monthly nudity quota.” And fill it, it does. There may, in fact, be a surplus for next month.
At this point, it's safe to say that Game of Thrones isn’t the kind of show that you just casually watch every week because it’s consistently enjoyable. Rather, Game of Thrones is the kind of show that you pine for. It’s the kind of show you find yourself restlessly daydreaming about the Monday after it airs, the Tuesday after it airs, the Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday after it airs.
You can’t help but be addicted to this thing because the characters are so likable and well-rounded, the dialogue is so crisp and well-crafted, the story is so enthralling and – holy crap – stressfully intense. Got a graduation party to attend Sunday at 9 p.m.? Skip it, because Game of Thrones is on. Need to go to bed early because you’ve got to be at work on Mondays extra early for some reason? Too bad, power through it, Game of Thrones is on.
ATTENTION: If you’re going to comment below, assume that everyone has seen the episode but that no one has read the novels. Even if you include a “Spoiler Alert,” the comments section are a completely inappropriate place for such, well, comments. Stay on topic and talk about the show, not the novels.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays @9pm on HBO
Follow me on Twitter @benandrewmoore.