Game of Thrones Revisited: 1.05 The Wolf and the Lion
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Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And in 2019, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros and the rest of the world, continuing with the dramatic events of The Wolf and the Lion.
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
The fifth episode of the first season is much more focused in nature; there is a brief sojourn to Winterfell to check in with Bran (while gaining a bit of back story to the noble houses through his studies) and Theon, who has a bit of fun with Ros. Otherwise the action is centred around Catelyn and Tyrion in the Eerie (making its first appearance in the title sequence) and King's Landing. It adds some well-needed development of two key sub plots and it means that Daenerys and Jon are not missed. There is too much going on in The Wold and the Lion - the strongest episode yet - to ever get bored.
The attack of the hill tribes as Tyrion is marched as a prisoner to Catelyn's sister is quick and brutal, demonstrating Game of Thrones' trademark for guttural, visceral violence. Bronn gets a great moment to shine and demonstrate his fighting prowess after his brief introduction last episode. But it is the debut of the citadel at the heart of the vale that is most disturbing. From poor Tyrion's open prison cell, looking out over the dizzying vale below to the first appearance of Lysa Arryn (an unhinged performance by Kate Dickie) with her fully grown son Robin still feeding at her breast, there is something really unsettling about this place. It is quickly seen in Catelyn's expression as she encounters her sister for the first time in years and the creepy performance from Lino Facioli as Robin, as he asks to let the dwarf fly, is skin crawling.
But as great as these moments are, the best stuff is reserved for the capital and the many, many schemes and machinations at play. This is a great episode for Conleth Hill, who dominates mid episode in three key scenes; first advising Ned that his predecessor looked too deep into the secrets of this place and professing his aide, then observed by Arya in the dungeons talking brazingly with Illyrio Mopatis (Roger Allam), last seen aiding Viserys in the opening episode.
But it is his scene with Littlefinger in the throne room that is the real highlight of the episode. It's a fascinating power play, Hill and Aidan Gillen bouncing off each other with as their characters trades threats wrapped in kind advice and reveal each other's deepest, darkest secrets. Giving this this never happened in the books, it a tour de force of a script by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, one that I could have watched unfold all day.
There is also another gorgeously scripted scene, again not seen in the books, between Cersei and Robert as they lament their 17 years of marriage and the trouble of the kingdom. There is almost a grudging fondness under all the layers of hate and bitterness. It's a rare moment of openness between these characters and Lena Headey and Mark Addy convey years of shared history in just a look. Given his often vile nature, it's another moment where you genuinely feel for Cersei as she confides that she loved him once and asks for the same, to which he replies a gruff no. While she suggests that she feels nothing for that response, there is a strong sense of sadness in the way Heady pauses before taking a sip of her wine and responding.
I continue to remark just how unlikeable Robert is, perhaps because I am used to Cersei and Joffrey and Tywin Lannister and Roose Bolton, all the cruel cold leaders still to come on the show. His decision to order Daenerys's murder, along with her unborn child, shows just how far he has fallen and Ned rightly makes the decision to stand up to his former friend and cast away the mantle of Hand to the King. The moment Ned decides to leave immediately with the girls, I felt a surge of grief, knowing that he shouldn't dally, but dally he does, once again corrupted by the schemes of Littlefinger.
There are a lot of shocking moments this episode, particularly the joust between the Mountain and Loras Tyrell (future Iron Fist Finn Jones). While obviously the work of special effects, the Mountain severing his horse with his sword in rage is sickening and the ensuing fight as the Hound steps in to duel his brother is riveting. I had forgotten they had this battle so early on in the series, something that fans are hoping will come to pass again in the final season. There is also a bittersweet moment between Renly and Loras; while there are many things suggested in that shaving scene and hinted off camera, it also sets up the idea of Renly taking the crown of Westeros over his brother Stannis (first mentioned here), setting up the War of the Five Kings in season two.
Equally as shocking is the episode's closing moments as a vengeful Jamie Lannister takes advantage of Ned no longer being Hand to exact his revenge following the news of Tyrion's capture by Catelyn. I knew Jory Cassel (Jamie Sives) didn't make it out of season one, but I had forgotten the nature of his death and Jamie driving a blade through his eye was a shocking brutal end to Ned's loyal right hand man. Ned being cut down in the leg by the spear was nasty too, left for dead and unable to make his escape from King's Landing. Even knowing what is coming up, it ended the episode on an uneasy note.
The Wolf and the Lion was a great episode of Game of Thrones and ends the first half of the debut season on a high, if bleak note. The character stuff was terrific, particularly the moments between Varys and Littlefinger and Cersei and Robert. The final battle between Stark and Ned - the wolf and lion - was a thrilling end and ups the stakes for the approaching war to come.