Monday, July 11, 2016

Game of Thrones Rewatch 1.8: "The Pointy End"

Read the previous entry in this series here.
Read the next entry in this series here.

1.8 “The Pointy End”
Written by George R.R. Martin
Directed by Daniel Minahan
Commentary by George R.R.  Martin

Traditionally, the pacing of each season of Game of Thrones has had seven or eight episodes of build-up, then two or three explosive episodes that bring to a head all the planning and conniving and troop movement that the first ¾ of the season spent setting up. That tradition begins here, as the season moves quickly towards its ultimate climax.

“The Pointy End,” of course, refers to Jon’s instruction to Arya way back in episode two that the first rule of swordfighting is to “stick them with the pointy end.” But since Arya only appears in about the first five minutes of the episode—during which she does, indeed, stick someone with the pointy end—clearly there’s more to the phrase than just Arya using Needle. There’s a lot of sharpness going on in this episode, not all of it dealing with steel.

The episode opens immediately after the close of the last episode, with Lannister and Stark guardsmen fighting in the halls, Stark servants being slaughtered, and Arya and Sansa so far completely oblivious to the commotion. The fighting is intercut with Arya training with Syrio, which hearkens back to episode three, when Ned watched Arya’s first lesson and heard real steel clashing over it. He was aware of the dangers of King’s Landing, but probably had no idea he’d bring the danger on himself. Syrio protects Sansa from the Lannister guardsmen, giving her time to escape the city through the dungeons, and Mordane faces down another batch of Lannister guardsmen, giving Sansa time to run to her room and get grabbed by Sandor Clegane (less helpful, but still brave). On her way out, Arya grabs Needle, then makes her first kill, mostly by accident—she has the sword in her hand and turns around quickly and it ends up in the stableboy’s belly. (Like Martin, I miss the plaintive “Take it out” that the boy had in the book; he’s not sure why they removed it from his script.)

Similar sharpness is happening at the Wall, though it’s less effective than Arya’s. The bodies of two of Benjen’s rangers have been hauled in, and there’s something distinctly wrong with them—as Jon discovers when they get up and try to attack Mormont. Jon stabs one of them several times, including putting his sword clear through Othor’s belly, in the same place Arya stabbed the stableboy, but Othor doesn’t die. It takes Jon throwing a lantern at him and setting him on fire for him to die. Again.

Steel is also drawn in Winterfell, where Robb, upon hearing of Ned’s arrest, has called the northern bannermen and is preparing to march on King’s Landing to demand Ned’s release. Greatjon Umber doesn’t like that Robb’s the boss, and he really doesn’t like that Robb doesn’t intend to put him in charge of the vanguard. Greatjon draws his dagger in a rage, and Grey Wind takes off two of his fingers for him, leading to this wonderful exchange:

Robb: My lord father taught me it was death to bare steel against your liege lord. But doubtless the Greatjon only meant to cut my meat for me.
Greatjon: Your meat! . . .  Is bloody tough. (Video)

(One of my favorites in the books, as well.)

Finally, both steel and blood are in evidence in the Dothraki Sea, where Drogo has begun raiding villages to gather valuables and slaves so he can hire ships to sail to Westeros. Daenerys isn’t impressed with the conduct of the khalasar, and orders Rakharo to make the others stop abusing the women. (Interestingly, though rape is implied, it’s only implied; no actual rape is shown on screen here.) She claims all of the captured women as her own, which angers Mago, one of the bloodriders, who complains to Drogo. Drogo thinks it’s adorable that Dany’s standing up for herself and attributes her newfound inner strength to his son, “the Stallion who Mounts the World,” growing in her womb. When Mago decides Drogo’s affection for Dany is a sign of weakness and challenges him for leadership of the khalasar, we finally get to see why Drogo’s braid has never been cut. Martin points out that this fight wasn’t originally in the script; Mago was supposed to live through at least season five. But Jason Momoa pointed out that while we keep hearing about what a fearsome warrior Drogo is, we never get to see him in action, so they rewrote this section to include the fight. It also moves the wound that ultimately kills Drogo to the screen, rather than it being a random cut he picked up on the field, and makes it his own fault, as he intimidates Mago by flexing into the arakh then pushing him backward by walking into it. He then shows off by dropping his daggers and dancing around Mago for a bit before slicing his throat with his own arakh and ripping out the entirety of his vocal apparatus—tongue and all—with his bare hands.

Besides a sharpness of steel, this episode also shows quite a bit of sharpness of wit and brain. Robb’s above remark about cutting his meat is one; he also shows cunning by feeding a captured Lannister scout bad information and sending him back to Tywin. This level of canny thinking is exactly the sort of thing Tywin stated earlier that he didn’t expect from Robb, “a green boy.” Tyrion was less doubtful, but then Tyrion is generally an even more strategic thinker than Tywin (not by much, admittedly). Tyrion’s strategic thinking is also on full display in this episode, as he convinces a bunch of mountain tribesmen (and women) not to kill him and take all his things, but to work for him in exchange for the promise of ownership of the Vale of Arryn. As Martin explains in the commentary, the mountain clans are the remains of the First Men, shoved out of power by the Andals, who invaded a few thousand years after the First Men settled Westeros. They, of course, want their land back, and Tyrion’s promise to give it to them (along with the giant gold lion’s-head ring he hands over) seems to do the trick.

Joffrey’s Small Council is also honing their wit on Sansa, playing a game of good cop, bad cop (or good councilor, bad councilor, as Martin puts it) to manipulate her into sending a letter to Robb to convince him to swear fealty to Joffrey and keep the peace. Maester Pycelle plays “bad councilor,” insisting that Sansa will inevitably turn traitor since Ned’s a traitor; Varys and Petyr play “good councilor,” suggesting that Sansa is innocent and can be trusted if she’ll only prove her trustworthiness. Cersei acts as the focal point of these two sides, nudging Sansa to write the letter, indicating that her obedience here will be a major factor in Ned’s fate. They replay the entire mummery for the court when Sansa comes to beg for Ned’s life, with Pycelle bellowing “treason is treason!” and Varys pointing out how innocent she is, while Petyr looks like he smelled something bad and Cersei looks honestly concerned about how Joffrey’s going to handle this.

The scene closes with a slow pan-down behind the throne, the sharp blades rising up the screen, a literal pointy end to the episode. The visuals also remind the viewer of the power the king holds, and how that power is wielded at the end of a multitude of blades. Earlier in the scene, Ser Barristan Selmy is removed from the Kingsguard and throws his sword on the floor, telling Joffrey to “melt it down and add it to the others.” The Iron Throne itself is a reminder of conquest, without the double-edged reminder of the books that power is treacherous. The design of the throne for the show left out the sharp bits in the armrests and Joffrey cutting himself on them, making his position as king—and the position of the kings of Westeros in general—look a lot more secure than it really is.

RIP: a lot of guards and servants
Septa Mordane
The stableboy
Jafer Flowers
I’ll believe Syrio Forel is dead when they show me his body

Next week: Death. Destruction. Shock. Horror.

Gif from 10 Things I Hate About You, screencaps from


  1. A welcome piece, as ever.

    I have to wonder, since you point out Syrio, what his medieval/ist antecedent is...

    1. I see Spanish fencing influences, and maybe some Eastern mysticism.

    2. I have to wonder if the showrunners are echoing another piece of medievalism: Antonio Banderas's character in The 13th Warrior.