Episode 1.2 – “The Kingsroad”
Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by Tim Van Patten
Commentary by Lena Heady (Cersei Lannister), Mark Addy (Robert Baratheon), and Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau (Jaime Lannister)
Episode 1.2, “The Kingsroad,” is an episode full of partings, both literal and figurative. People leave other people, people lose pieces of their identity, people leave behind pieces of themselves they no longer have use for. This is a major theme of the whole series; people (those who survive) are pared down to their essential essences, leaving behind the parts they don’t need or want. Sometimes this is a literal leaving-behind—of people or objects—and sometimes it’s more figurative.
In this episode, much of the leaving-behind is literal. Ned, Arya, and Sansa leave Winterfell (and Catelyn, Robb, Bran, and Rickon) to go south. Jon leaves everyone to go north. Tyrion and his siblings split up. The episode is full of goodbyes, and just as with the small moment between Ned and Bran in the last episode, readers and re-watchers know this is the last time most of these people ever see each other.
The first goodbye of the episode is between Jon and Arya and showcases their relationship. Although there have been only hints of how alike they are in feeling like outsiders in their own family, the connection between them is clear in this scene. Jon’s gift to Arya becomes the focal point of her identity as she proceeds on her journey, the one thing she can’t give up at the House of Black and White. Throughout the books, Arya wishes she could see Jon again, and keeps trying to get to the Wall after Ned’s death, though she’s constantly thwarted in that attempt. Of all the Starks, these two are easily the closest and have the best relationship.
The Jon-Arya goodbye stands in immediate and sharp contrast to Jon’s farewell to Bran. Bran, of course, is unconscious, so the dramatic tension is between Jon and Catelyn, who clearly loathes the very sight of Jon. Jon, to his credit, doesn’t let that deter him from saying what he needs to say to Bran, and he doesn’t complain to Robb later that his mother was less than kind about Jon’s presence. (That Robb asks about Cat’s behavior shows how aware everyone else is of Cat’s loathing.) Robb and Jon’s goodbye uses few words, but shows a deep respect and understanding between the two young men.
Hard on the heels of Jon and Bran’s farewell is Cat and Ned’s. Again, it’s tense and confrontational, and Cat finally puts into words why she despises Jon so much—he’s living proof of Ned’s (supposed) infidelity. She also expresses the frustration of women in this sort of society—men are always going off and doing things in the name of duty, then claiming they had no choice; “You had a choice,” she tells him, “and you’ve made it.” It’s pretty clear that she doesn’t just mean his decision to leave right now, but every decision he’s made in their relationship—leaving to fight with Robert, (apparently) having sex with another woman, bringing the product of that union back to Winterfell, raising him with her children, and now leaving again, against her advice. All of this comes to a head, and she yells at him before he leaves. (I don’t remember if she regrets this conversation when she finds out about his death. We’ll see when I get there.)
The final Stark goodbye in this half of the episode is between Ned and Jon at the cairn marking where the Kingsroad splits north-south. This encounter continues a so-far pretty subtle theme of Ned letting his honor and duty keep him from doing the right thing (or at least the smart thing). Assuming that the R+L=J theory is correct (as I do, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go look it up), and the promise that Ned made to Lyanna on her deathbed was to keep Jon secret and safe, it makes sense that Ned would keep the identity of Jon’s mother from everyone, even Jon. After all, he was young, and who knew when he might blurt it out where people could hear him. But Jon’s shown himself to be diplomatic and careful with his words, and there is no excuse for Ned not telling Jon right there who his mother is. Ned’s got all the foreshadowing working against him—he’s going south at the summons of a king, which is the same situation in which his father and brother died; the last person in his position was murdered—and Jon’s heading into a demonstrably dangerous life as a brother of the Night’s Watch, weeks after a deserter claimed the White Walkers were a-walkin’. There’s absolutely no guarantee that he’s ever going to see Jon again, and not giving him at least a little bit of information about his mother is just plain irresponsible at this point.
These farewells are poignant, but also speak to new beginnings and moving forward. The farewells in the second half of the episode are harder and tend more toward the symbolic. There are two literal farewells between Starks, though—Cat leaving Bran and Arya driving away Nymeria.
The assassination attempt on Bran is what shocks Cat out of her stupor and refusal to do anything besides sit next to Bran’s bed—anything, even things that, as lady of Winterfell, she’s duty-bound to take care of. She neglects her guests and other children for weeks, refuses to handle the affairs of the house (Robb has to take over for her), and is not present to see off her lord-husband and her guests. I think the sheer magnitude of her faux pas get lost in both the books and the show; Martin doesn’t do a lot with the responsibilities of women in running a household, and the show doesn’t have time to instruct the viewer on the finer points of medieval courtly etiquette and household responsibilities. But the attempt on Bran’s life and her realization that this is the second attempt on Bran’s life give Cat a purpose again, and she finally gets up, dresses, and leaves in order to warn Ned that everything is so much worse than they thought.
Arya, too, learns that everything is worse than previously thought when she’s forced to send Nymeria away. Again, this is somewhere that the show loses some nuance in the visual rather than written medium. The show doesn’t really establish the wolves as much beyond special pets; the depth of the Stark children’s relationships to their wolves and how the wolves represent their identities as Starks and/or Northerners is completely lost in the show (at least as far as I remember; if the re-watch turns up evidence to the contrary I’ll point it out). Arya has to drive Nymeria away to save her from being executed, but that puts Lady in danger—which Arya of course never anticipated. Thus, Sansa, too, loses her wolf, though she never gets to say goodbye to Lady.
Which brings us to the figurative farewells; among the Starks it’s mostly their sense of justice. Ned begins to realize how incapable Robert is of ruling. Sansa gets a glimpse of Joffrey and Cersei’s true natures. Arya realizes that nothing is fair and loses her trust in just about everyone (except maybe Ned). It’s a loss of innocence on a wide scale—all in these two or three scenes. Jon, too, is losing his innocence, realizing that what he signed up for isn’t as grand and respectable as he tried to convince Jaime it was at the beginning of the episode. These farewells and losses aren’t complete yet, but the groundwork is being laid for the catastrophic end of the season.
In the Dothraki Sea, Daenerys is also losing parts of herself. She begins the episode miserable, in pain, and being raped (again). But something about the dragon eggs seems to awake something in her, and she voluntarily recruits Doreah to teach her how to “make the Khal happy.” This is a slight shift in agency from the books; in A Game of Thrones, Doreah is a wedding gift from Viserys, given specifically so that Doreah can teach Dany how to please a man. These lessons are never shown. Instead, there is a brief mention that Dany and Doreah stay up late talking before Dany takes charge and seduces Drogo. In this episode, Dany is losing her fear and timidness and gaining agency. She has been sold to Drogo like a slave, but when Doreah asks if she is a slave, she shakes her head. She demands equality in her next sexual encounter with Drogo and begins to gain the confidence of a khaleesi. Obviously, there are still problematic elements here; Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau points out that this is very Stockholm-Syndrome-y: “because if you see in episode one, she is basically just given to this man who is just raping her, and now she falls for him.” This is continued fallout from the issue I mentioned in the last post, that changing that one scene and Dany’s early dynamic with Drogo will have far-reaching consequences for their relationship and its implications.
RIP: Mycah the Butcher's Boy, unnamed would-be assassin, Lady
Next week: Jon grows up. Dany gets pregnant. Littlefinger smarms his way onto the screen. Arya's dancing lessons begin.