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Monday, May 30, 2011

Game of Thrones proclaims "You Win or You Die"

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones 4-Book Boxed Set: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, and A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire)     Things are coming to a head in HBO's Game of Thrones, as the various forces who want control of the Seven Kingdoms begin to act on their desires. In the latest episode, "You Win or You Die," those plans begin to unfold. Even though Viserys (Harry Lloyd) is dead, his sister, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), decides she wants to sit on the Iron Throne. After a failed poisoning attempt ordered by King Robert (Mark Addy) on Daenerys, her husband, Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), pledges to win it for her and their unborn baby. As Robert passes away, Ned Stark (Sean Bean) makes a play to control the throne, exposing Robert's "son" Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) as a product of an incestuous affair, not the rightful heir. Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) has Joffrey rule, though, and a betrayal by Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) makes Ned the loser. For now.

     This wonderful fantasy series is made more so each week, as tension mounts, and dangers scale up their threat level. The political battles are merely one side of the coin, though they have been front and center, and highly addictive. Ned is clearly in the right, but while he at first appears to have the upper hand, especially after gathering all the intelligence that the last Hand of the King had before his murder, he is still left out in the cold because he doesn't play the loyalty games. Ned is straightforward and honest. Others are not. It's why Ned is not succeeding in ousting the Lannisters, and it's why the hero now finds himself outmatched by the villains. Which makes the story only more interesting.

     It truly is a good versus evil battle. While some of the players in Game of Thrones do operate in a shade of gray zone, like Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), or at least, their loyalties are still unknown, the main group of Lannisters and the Starks are truly assigned a right and wrong. It makes things a little easier on the viewers, as the story is complicated enough without not knowing who to root for. In this case, simpler is better. And it feels good to have the hostility out in the open now, instead of behind closed doors.

     Besides the Lannisters, though, Daenerys thinks she has a claim to the throne. And maybe she's right. Her father was king, after all, until he was overthrown by Robert and others, long before the series begins. Because Daenerys is so far outside of the machinations of the other main characters, she isn't assigned an appropriate label yet. But considering the ruthlessness of the people she is embracing, and the almost saintly goodness of Ned, she will likely by the intruder, not the defender.

     Which begs the question, might the Lannisters and Starks have to join forces against her? Or might Ned be able to team up with her? Thus far, Daenerys only approves of harm done to those who deserve it, as punishment, much like Ned. With a lack of decent candidates to sit on the Iron Throne, might Ned be convinced to support her campaign? It would certainly be an unexpected twist. The truth is, Daenerys is a wild card, and when Drogo and his army do arrive at the mainland, anything may happen.

     The other threat, this one casting a shadow over everything, even though they have not been seen on screen since the opening moments of the series, are deadly creatures that lurk behind The Wall. This week, the danger feels more real, as Benjen's (Joseph Mawle) horse returns without him. Nephew Jon Snow (Kit Harington) would like to look for his uncle, but is kept on the other side by his duties to the Night Watch, of which he is now a full fledged member. Lucky for Snow fans, he has been assigned as a steward, and will not be venturing into unknown territory anytime soon, as the rangers do. It means Benjen's disappearance won't quickly be solved, but does allow an interesting, noble character to survive until he can actually be useful.

     Game of Thrones continues Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

     If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Click here for all of my Current Season Reviews.

     To buy the Game of Thrones books on which the show is based, please click here.

Article first published as TV Review: Game of Thrones - "You Win or You Die" on Blogcritics.

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