We've seen two whole hours of HBO's Game of Thrones, the sprawling fantasy saga, so it's not too soon to start asking: Who's the hero of this thing? Who, in particular, are we rooting for? Who's our idol here?
Last night's episode offered us several possible choices for the hero of the saga — but which one do you prefer? Let's examine our choices here. Spoilers for episode two ahead!
Daenerys: The episode starts off by showing us Daenerys, who seems like an excellent choice for hero — she's a downtrodden maid who has been forced to marry a barbarian horselord and is somehow making the best of it. Nothing to eat but horse jerky, nothing to look at but grass, nothing to listen to but stories of the ghost grass that will swallow the world. And her brother, the Julian Assange lookalike, keeps tagging along and making silly comments about how when he's King, selling poachers into slavery won't be a crime.
Daenerys is just a pawn in her brother's power-mad schemes, and the Khal is taking her "like a hound takes a bitch" — like a slave. The scene where she's getting fucked by Drogo and her only consolation is staring at those dragon eggs surrounded by candles — until finally she looks at them and smiles — is really neat stuff.
Until she learns how to assert her power in the bedroom, which in turn will make her powerful in what passes for the Khal's throneroom. Sure, it's sad that Daenerys can only become powerful through mastering her sexuality — but it's better than her brother's strategy of pouting and stamping his feet. And the scene where Daenerys gets lessons in how to please her man is absolutely fantastic. "Out there he is the mighty Khal... but in here he belongs to you." And then the Khal tries to make her his bitch and she gets on top instead. They wind up looking into each other's eyes... Sexay.
Daenerys is living in a material world, and she is a material girl.
Tyrion: The shortest and coolest of the Lannisters is a sympathetic character in the books, but something about Peter Dinklage's portrayal is making him twice as awesome, and three times as lovable. There's just something so badass about the way Dinklage swaggers and dispenses awesome wisdom to Jon Snow.
I am eagerly awaiting the animated GIFs of Tyrion slapping the dopey Prince Joffrey over and over again. They could have a whole episode of just Tyrion slapping Joffrey, and I would watch it. Tyrion is the only one of the Lannisters who seems genuinely concerned about poor Bran, who remains in a coma the entire episode after being tossed off a tower last week. (Despite Cersei's fake sympathy.) Tyrion's concern seems mostly genuine, and only partly intended to dig at his brother and sister.
Tyrion also gives a great speech about how the mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone — when he's not needling Jon Snow about his decision to join the rapers and other assorted criminals of the Night's Watch.
Jon Snow: How about Jon Snow himself? He's steadfast in his determination to join the Night's Watch, even though both Jaime and Tyrion Lannister needle him about his choice to go defend the realm from mythological threats like Grumkins and Snarks and White Walkers. Jon Snow puts up with a lot in this episode, including the bitter contempt of his stepmom, Catelyn, and the ribbing of men who have a real future, and his only reward is a glimpse of the bleak, forbidding Castle Black. He asks his dad, Eddard Stark, about his real mother — and Eddard punts, saying that the next time they see each other, they'll have a nice chat about it. But he still finds it in himself to be generous and have a sword made for his tomboy sister, whom nobody else will encourage.
Catelyn Stark: So what about Catelyn herself? She's a jerk to Jon Snow, but she's a grieving mother, whose son has taken a dive off a very high tower and miraculously survived. And now her husband is going off with King Robert to King's Landing to be the Hand of the King, and the gods only know when she'll see him again. She's left sitting by Bran's bedside for weeks on end, waiting for him to wake up or, gods forbid, die, and she's got no patience for household crap.
But Catelyn's watchfulness over her son turns out to save his life — an assassin shows up suddenly, wielding a fancy blade and using a fire as a diversion, and Catelyn fights tooth and nail to save her son. And now Cateyln knows that someone wants Bran dead — which means Bran knows something and someone wants him silenced. Perhaps not coincidentally, Catelyn finds a single long strand of hair — Lannister blonde — under the window that Bran fell out of. Murder, she wrote! So Catelyn decides to ride South to warn her husband.
Arya Stark: Speaking of which, Arya is tragically awesome in this episode. She gets a new sword, which she names Needle, and she gets her first lesson — stick him with the pointy end. And she is training her direwolf, Nymeria, to fetch her socks for her when she's packing. (Nymeria is ridiculously cute in that scene.) And now Arya has an awesome sword and is ready to become a super-champion, fighting and slaying and swashbuckling. Right? Right?
At least, Arya is slightly more in touch with the realities of this world than Sansa, the fairytale princess who seems constantly startled by the remnants of brutality that come dangerously close to besmirching her nice gown. All the men with their tongues ripped out or their faces burnt half off. Sansa just wants everything to be nice and storybook-like — after all, she's already set to marry a handsome prince. The dashing young Joffrey. The sweetest, most noblest prince in the land.
Arya is practicing sword-fighting and practicing to be a total swordswoman, and she's the Butcher's Boy to practice with. Too bad the dashing Prince Joffrey discovers them practicing, and decides to teach the Butcher's Boy a lesson about not trying to rise above his station. Because nobility is so rarefied and awesome, and you have to be especially noble to be a nobleman. Or something. Arya does what any great hero would do, when she sees Joffrey cutting the Butcher's Boy pimp-style — she jumps in and saves the boy, and then when Joffrey attacks her in turn, Arya's direwolf pup leaps to her rescue.
Arya goes missing for hours, and finally sends her pup Nymeria away, because she can already see what's coming. Joffrey has told a whole bunch of lies about what happened. And because the only other witness — Sansa — is keeping mum, it's Joffrey's word against Arya's. And in the end, everybody agrees on a "compromise" — since Arya's direwolf is noplace to be found, they'll slaughter Sansa's. Poor Lady!
But who's going to slaughter the poor defenseless direwolf? How about the man who seemed most likely to be the hero of the saga last week: Eddard "Ned" Stark? This week, Ned is ducking questions about his bastard's parentage, making compromises to try and please his King, and finally taking a poor harmless pup and killing it.
Because that's the real lesson of Game of Thrones: Whoever you thought was the great hero of the story last week, chances are they'll be doing something horrible or making dreadful compromises this week. (Edited: I bolded this sentence because many of the commenters seem not to have read it.)
Oh, and then there's Bran, who finally wakes up at the end of the episode. Maybe he'll be our hero next week, when we finally get to hear what he's got to say.