The choir goes off. The board is laid out thusly:
Direwolves of King’s Landing: Eddard Stark, Sansa Stark, Arya Stark
Stags of King’s Landing: Robert Baratheon, Joffrey Baratheon
Lions of King’s Landing: Jaime Lannister, Cersei Lannister
The Direwolf Catelyn Stark
Dragons of Vaes Dothrak: Daenerys Targaryen, Viserys Targaryen
Bears of Vaes Dothrak: Jorah Mormont
Mockingbird’s of King’s Landing: Petyr Baelish
Direwolves of the Wall: Jon Snow
Direwolves of Winterfell: Robb Stark, Bran Stark
Kraken of Winterfell: Theon Greyjoy
Dogs of King’s Landing: Sandor Clegane
And the Lion of Winterfell, Tyrion Lannister
The episode is in twelve parts. The first runs five minutes and is set in Winterfell; the first shot is of a raven flying through the castle as Bran stands drawing a bow.
The second runs three minutes and is set on the Wall; the transition is deceptive continuity, with a cut from Theon watching Tyrion ride away to an overhead shot of a man on horseback who turns out not to be Tyrion.
The third runs seven minutes and is set in Vaes Dothrak; the transition is by family, from Jon Snow to Daenerys Targaryen.
The fourth runs seven minutes long and is in two sections; it is set in King’s Landing. The first section is two minutes long; the transition is by dialogue, from Viserys talking about the Red Keep to Sansa and Septa Mordane walking into it. The other is five minutes long; the transition is by family and dialogue, from Sansa talking about her father to Ned.
The fifth part runs two minutes and is set on the Wall; the transition is by family, from Arya and Ned Stark to Jon Snow.
The sixth runs six minutes and is set in King’s Landing; the transition is by family, from Jon Snow to Ned Stark. The transition marks the halfway point of the episode.
The seventh runs three minutes and is set on the Wall; he transition is by hard cut, from Jory walking away from Jaime to people dining in the mess at Castle Black.
The eighth runs one minute and is set in Vaes Dothrak; the transition is by dialogue, from Thorne talking about sniveling boys to Viserys, and by family, from Jon Snow to Viserys and Daenerys.
The ninth runs six minutes and is set on the Wall; the transition is by dialogue, from Daenerys saying “hands” to a shot of Sam’s hand scrubbing a table.
The tenth runs one minute and is set in Vaes Dothrak; the transition is by family, from Jon Snow to Daenerys Targaryen.
The eleventh runs six minutes and is set in King’s Landing; the transition is by dialogue, from Daenerys talking about her brother possibly taking back the Seven Kingdoms to a shot of Robert. The scene features the death of Ser Hugh of the Vale, killed by Gregor Clegane in the joust.
The last runs three minutes and is set in an inn on the Kingsroad in the Riverlands; the transition is by family, from Ned Stark and Cersei Lannister to Catelyn and Tyrion. The final shot is several of Edmure Tully’s bannermen drawing swords on Tyrion as Catelyn vows to take him to Mornington Crescent.
The episode is framed by Tyrion Lannister, providing a bit of structure to an episode that is largely about reiterating and expanding upon the new concepts introduced in “Lord Snow.” The most obvious expansion comes in the introduction of Samwell Tarly on the Wall, who, although not initially credited as a series regular, goes on to become one, and, in A Storm of Swords, a viewpoint character to boot. This constitutes a major reconfiguration of the Wall, giving Jon Snow a clear “best friend” figure of the sort whose absence formed the entire basis of his plot in the previous episode. The resulting story is straightforward, at least for this episode, but brings the Wall to a usable status quo after four episodes of gradual development.
Structurally, the Wall is paralleled with Vaes Dothrak, with every scene set in the latter location either leading into or out of the former. There the plot is largely in a holding pattern, with the single largest portion of the three Vaes Dothrak scenes being devoted to a Viserys scene that was created specifically for the show. As with many sequences added for the show, its content is largely an exposition dump, in this case a lengthy discourse on the history of dragons and of the Targaryens, but its real content, as with the entire Vaes Dothrak plot this episode, is to finally move to overt text what has been bubbling in subtext for three episodes, which is that Viserys is manifestly unfit to lead anything and will never take back the Iron Throne, a point that finally gets explicitly acknowledged by Daenerys in the last of the three Vaes Dothrak sequences. And, in turn, it foreshadows future plot twists, subtly highlighting the fact that Viserys, unlike his sister, is vulnerable to heat and fire.
The episode is anchored, however, by King’s Landing, which makes up three of its four longest parts, comprising a total of twenty-three minutes of the episode. As with the Wall, the bulk of this is in practice about fleshing out the location, with Grandmaster Pycelle getting a more thorough introduction, Janos Slynt getting introduced in the first place, the Hound getting some backstory, and a scene between Jory and Jaime that reiterates some earlier exposition about the Greyjoy Rebellion, develops the relationship between Jaime and Robert, and, most significantly, gives Jory and Jaime a scene together prior to the next episode’s climax.
There are no major shifts to the status quo here – indeed, Ned Stark’s investigation basically just politely spins its wheels with little more than an innuendo-laden confrontation with Cersei to show for it. There are clues and implications aplenty, most obviously around Ser Hugh of the Vale, but given that this is a mystery the audience has been told the solution to, the bulk of these scenes come off as marking time, not least because that’s mostly what they’re doing. Even for a book-reading audience who knows both who actually killed Jon Arryn and who hired the assassin to kill Bran there’s not much that’s actually happening here. There are perhaps a few subtle valences of Littlefinger’s actions that shift if you know the full story, but given that his larger schemes mostly amount to spreading chaos and discord, knowing merely that he’s untrustworthy, a point the show and, more particularly, Aiden Gillen make acutely clear, there’s not actually a lot that shifts. Similarly, Joffrey is so thoroughly portrayed as a malevolent figure that the addition of one trifling extra crime (one that’s never actually pinned on him in the show anyway) hardly changes things.
The reason for this, of course, is that in reality this isn’t a show about Ned’s investigation at all, and that the account of what sort of show this was given back in “Winter is Coming” was as much a lie as the account of Jon Arryn’s murderer was. It is just that this aspect of the status quo cannot be disrupted until the rest of the board is developed. Once all four locations have been painted in sufficient detail that the question of what sort of show this is no longer rests entirely on the shoulders of Ned Stark it becomes possible to disrupt and alter the initial status quo, but it is not until this episode that these aspects of the show are developed enough to allow for a shift in the first ground established.
Which brings us, inevitably, back to Tyrion, from whom the episode’s title derives, despite only being in two scenes comprising, between them, barely the time of a single King’s Landing scene. In the books, Tyrion poses an interesting textual problem. Barring a potential revelation about his parentage that is, while certainly a plausible theory, nevertheless far from certain, he is the only viewpoint character of the first book who sits outside of the ice/fire dualism that underpins the world. As already discussed, his eventual role is instead to traverse that dualism – he eventually becomes the first character to meet both Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, and to move from the Wall to Essos. Closely related to this, then, is the fact that he is the character most capable of causing major changes to the status quo, and indeed, it is from him that the first major shift stems.
Interestingly, though, this is not, at first, presented in terms of his own abilities. The first major change he brings to the status quo is not one in which he has any agency. Instead, it comes when he is taken captive by Catelyn at the episode’s end. The Aristotelean web of causality that forms the plot of the first season is a tightly knit one, but there are few events in it that serve as bigger turning points than this, which proves to be the spark that ignites the conflict that will eventually become the War of Five Kings. It is, it has to be said, a staggeringly bad move on Catelyn’s part. She gains no advantages whatsoever from it, and the cost turns out to be nothing short of catastrophic for the entire Realm. Nevertheless, it marks the first actual shift in the balance of power within the game since play commenced, and sets up dramatic consequences for the next episode.