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Looking Back: ‘Game of Thrones’ Season One, Episode 7: “You Win or You Die” Review


(The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones debuts on April 14th, marking the beginning of the end for HBO’s cultural touchstone. Over the years, we’ve covered all 67 episodes of the series, and are revisiting those original reviews in our new retrospective series titled, “Winter is Coming”. We’re pulling these straight from our vacuum sealed digital time capsules, so step into the virtual time machine with us and read our impressions from way back! With the benefit of hindsight, there is plenty of reasons these reviews will raise some eyebrows)

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The titular game begins in earnest this week as the closest thing the show has to an all-out hero, Eddard Stark, finds himself out-maneuvered – perhaps fatally – by the devious Littlefinger. “I did warn you not to trust me,” he sneers, with a knife designed on Ed’s throat. Clearly, this has not gone according to plan.

If this first season of Game of Thrones has an emergent moral, it’s that wits trump honor – every time, as proven by the parties who emerge victorious this week. An early scene between Queen Cersei and Eddard proves that the Matriarch is not one to be belittled, though the dialogue takes perhaps too-great pains to underline that (the “Oh but it was” reversal leading to the series’ title origin was a bit on the rich side), but it’s her secret confidant Littlefinger who proves to be the true wild-card this week. Unfortunately, Aidan Gillen was saddled with one of the series’ less subtle HBO Moments, in which he confesses his distaste for Ned while lecturing two of his whores (including the redhead seen traveling South last week) on the finer points of fakery in seduction, complete with heavy petting. (Though it does contain one of his better bon mots: “What we don’t know is usually what gets us killed.”) His ultimate conclusion – “I’m not going to fight them, I’m going to fuck them” – felt a bit like a cut speech from Showgirls.

Indeed, the series’ penchant for speechifying went a bit astray this week, except for the excellent early appearance by the villainous Tywin Lannister, who makes Jaime look like a housecat. The Starks’ new indentured servant, who was captured last week, uttered yet another speech about the evil the coming winter holds; we’ve had enough of those for one season, possibly. Better was the extended exit of the King, who is injured thanks to some poisoned wine and a wild boar. “Fill in the damn titles,” he says, casting Ned as the new King with what will turn out to be a rather ineffectual piece of paper. In his final moments, King Robert finally summons a bit of the honor his post is supposed to indicate – but again, it’s not of much use. Still, Mark Addy is tremendous in these scenes, communicating the King’s intense self-hatred with every grim proclamation.

Meanwhile, who’d ever expect that Jason Momoa’s Khal Drogo would grow to become one of the series’ most likeable characters? His genuine concern and love for the Khaleesi is sort of touching, even if it usually manifests itself as liquid rage, this week directed at a poor would-be assassin. Speaking of surprises, for all the proclamations of doom, the Night’s Watch seems to be the place to be to avoid the rabble. Sure, King’s Landing is temperate, but you’re apt to get betrayed or killed, as Ned himself discovers in the episode’s tense final seconds after rebuffing both Littlefinger and Renly and finding himself with no allies. If he’s to make it out alive – and given the tenor of the series, there’s no reason to think he will – he’ll have to shed some of the honor he holds so dear.

Simon Howell

Game of Thrones, Season One, Episode 7: “You Win or You Die”
Directed by Daniel Minahan
Written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss
Featured music Ramin Djawadi
Cinematography by Matthew Jensen
Editing by Martin Nicholson

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