“Why don’t you look at your Khal? Then you will see what life is worth when all of the rest is gone…”
Mirri Maz Duur
“Fire and Blood” the words of House Targaryen and Dany’s narrative in this episode experiences both the best and the worst that fire and blood can bring. The episode is visually bookended by the images of fire and blood: the thick blood being wiped from the sword of Ser Illyn Payne and the fiery funeral pyre of Khal Drogo. It is also the story of two births: one in blood and one in fire. Daenerys pays for her mercy in blood in this episode as both her husband and her unborn son pay the price for her mistakes. Dany awakens to find that her son is not alive and that he was: “Monstrous. Twisted… He was scaled like a lizard. Blind, with leather wings like the wings of a bat. When I touched him the skin fell from his bones. Inside he was full of grave worms.” This is a haunting description for anyone to hear, let alone the newly bereaved mother. It serves as warning of the extreme price that dabbling in blood magic can result in, as Mirri Maz Duur states herself: “Only death pays for life.” Again, keep this phrasing in mind as it crops up again during another monstrous birth that is anticipated by this one.
Daenerys pays in blood for the magic of Mirri Maz Duur and, in turn, she makes the sorceress pay in fire as she burns her on Drogo’s funeral pyre. She is denied the life of her son and husband in blood and gives birth to new life, her new children in fire. Before climbing onto the pyre herself, she frees the slaves and proclaims them her Khalasar. Jorah’s concern is real and he says that he won’t stand aside while she climbs onto the pyre. All of the foreshadowing done throughout the season to suggest that Dany’s Targaryen blood renders her immune to the effects of fire come rushing to the forefront as we see our Khaleesi surrounded by ashes with 3 newly-hatched dragons at her side. Daenerys’ story is the one of the Targaryen’s house words: Fire and Blood.
The words of the sorceress spared by Daenerys seems to apply to the Starks as he move through the lives of the various Starks in the wake of the announcement of their patriarch’s death – we get to see what is left when all else is gone. Thematically, there seems to be a link between the Houses Stark and Targaryen. Throughout this episode there are a number of references to the lingering impact the Targaryen dynasty has left on the continent of Westeros, even though they are all but eradicated. This can easily be compared to the immediate after effects we see in response to Eddard Stark’s death – his impact is felt across the board and the consequences of Joffrey’s actions are sure to linger. This touches on the notions of legacy that were established by Tywin Lannister earlier on in the season. Similarly, we can compare the contrasting fortunes of the Targaryens [a house that was rapidly in decline but now seems to be on the rise] and the Starks [a house that was in ascendency but is now doomed to face a rapid decline]. Though the Targaryen dynasty may be long past, its present is still felt at several point in this episode.
Bran’s dream involving the 3-eyed raven and the crypts of Winterfell crops up again. This time he gets Osha to take him down there. He gives her the guided tour, pointing out the tombs of his Grandfather Rickard and his Aunt Lyanna, before arriving at the point where he saw his father in his dream. They’re then given a shock by Rikon and Shaggy Dog who tells his brother that he saw Ned down here last night when he was sleeping. Osha dismisses his dreams before they are greeted by the sight of Maester Lewin who has just read the raven informing him of Ned’s death. There’s something going on with these Stark boys and their dreams. Pay attention to any time they are dreaming in the future: Bran has an eerily prescient subconscious.
We then cut to Catelyn Stark slowly walking her way through the Northern camp, as her bannermen lower their heads in respect, before she ends up breaking down in a nearby wood. It’s then that she spots her eldest son hacking away in frustration at a tree. The Young Wolf desperately sobs into his mother’s shoulder that “he’ll kill them all. Every one of them”. Cat manages a more pragmatic view, reminding her son that they need to get the girls back. But once that’s done she vows that they will kill them all. There’s a steely resolve in her face and you wouldn’t bet against her staying true to her vow [if only].
In an episode of stirring, rousing moments, the one that elicits the largest swell of pride and emotion for me is the declaration of Robb Stark as the King in the North. With the execution of the Lord of Winterfell, the Northmen have found themselves at a crossroads – what is their next course of action? Suggestions abound, with some believing that they should march South and declare for Renly Baratheon in order to combine their forces. Ever his father’s son, Robb echoes Ned’s words as he initially pledges support for Stannis: “Bran can’t be Lord of Winterfell before me and Renly can’t be King before Stannis”. There are then a few competing voices of dissent arguing the cause either way. Leave it to Greatjon Umber to step up to the plate though. He spits on the claim of the Baratheon brothers [“Why should they rule over me and mine from some flowery seat in the South?!”] and decrees their gods wrongs before claiming they should rule over themselves again. Umber’s words take root as he draws his steel against his liege lord – this time, though, he is declaring him as King in the North. The cries of “The King in the North” bellow around the hall and throughout the camp as the lords of the North bend the knee before their new King. In the midst of all this is what at first appears to be a beautiful moment between Robb and Theon as the latter pledges his sword to the King in the North: “Am I your brother, now and always?… My sword is yours, in victory and defeat. From this day until my last day”. Theon you treacherous bastard. These are empty hollow words and watching you backtrack on this promise is heart-breaking in its own right. You get your comeuppance but I’m gaining less sympathy for your eventual situation as these episodes go on.
Whilst all of this is extremely important from a plot progression point of view, it is also tied [albeit slightly tenuously] with the legacy of the Targaryen’s that is evident in many strands in this episode. As part of his reasoning for declaring his belief that the North should once again be an autonomous kingdom, Lord Umber mentions the circumstances of their inital surrender. He say that they bent the knee to the dragons and now all the dragons are dead. The Northmen no longer fear the fire and blood of the dragons and feel free to fight for their own freedom. On top of this, of course, it sets up the rebirth of the dragons [and by extension the Targaryen’s] that occurs at the end of the episode nicely.
In an episode named for the words of House Targaryen, it’s fitting that even minor scenes within the grand scheme of the narrative are embellished with the motif of fire and blood. After dealing with the Starks, we are greeted by what this show passes off as comic relief as we see the bard who approached Cateyn Stark at the inn being brought before the King. If the last episode didn’t emphasise what a vindictive and cruel ruler Joffrey is going to be, then this act proves that he is not one to mess about when it comes to punishment. The bard is forced to play the [frankly hilarious] song about the Queen that he sang at a tavern, before Joffrey asks him whether he favours his fingers or his tongue. Our minstrel pitifully decides that “every man needs hands” before Joffrey sends Ser Illyn Payne to carry out his bidding. He points out how fitting this is – Ser Illyn was a victim of the Mad King’s paranoia as he thought that members of his Kingsguard were laughing at him and plotting against him. Ser Illyn was unfortunate enough to be seen to be laughing by the Mad King and had his tongue cut out. Ser Illyn holds the tongs over a flame to sterilise them before we see the out of focus bloody mess left by the bard. He pays for his song in fire and blood.
As a side note, this is the first song we hear in its entirety in the show. There are a couple of notable instances of songs that occur later on in the show, namely “The Rains of Castamere” and “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”. Songs are always of significance if you’re looking for themes or foreshadowing. Keep an eye out for these. Meanwhile, here are the lyrics of the song our unfortunate bard had to sing before the King:
“The boar’s great tusks, they boded ill
for good King Robert’s health.
And the boar was every bit as fat,
as Robert was himself.
But our brave King cried: ‘Do your worst.
I’ll have your ugly head.
Nowhere near as murderous
as the lion in my bed’
King Robert lost his battle
and he failed his final test.
The lion ripped his balls off and
the boar did all the rest”
To further underscore the motifs of the episode, we are reminded of another man forged in fire and blood – Lord Varys. The scene opens with a shot of Littlefinger longingly looking at the Iron Throne and Varys asks him what it looks like when he pictures it and if “all the lords and ladies simper and bow? The ones that sneered at you for years?”. He drolly replies: “It’s hard for them to simper and bow without heads.” Littlefinger courteously asks the same question of his companion who replies that he must be one of the only men in the city who doesn’t want to be King. Despite all of the smoke and mirrors, this does seem to be the case for Lord Varys. He is playing a different game, or at least one with a different end game in mind. They then descend into a conversation about Vary’s castration with some pretty funny moments – “Do you spend a lot of time wondering about what’s between my legs?”/ “Do you lie awake at night fearing my gash?”. The xenophobic undertones that have cropped up at points in the last few episodes rears its head again as Baelish seems keen to draw attention to the fact that the Spider is “a man from another land, despised by most, feared by all”. As is so often the case between these two characters, their words are merely a façade for the subtext. As the scene ends they move onto their mutual admiration of each other. The subtext of this is the two of them pointing out to the other that they are fully aware of what the other is doing and acts as a warning shot – you might outsmart them, but you won’t outsmart me. Their assessments of each other are pretty on the money though. Varys calls Baelish a “grasper from a minor house with a major talent for befriending powerful men…and women”. Littlefinger then draws a neat little line under proceedings with “playing our roles.”
Furthermore, we have a case of the Targaryen motifs being alluded to directly – this time by another man who is fully aware of the lasting effects of the Targaryen dynasty. An excellent scene embedded in this episode further underlines the actors vs soldiers theme of this season and highlights something I’d touched on before: ” but winning a kingdom and ruling a kingdom are rather different things….if a man goes through his life with his battle visor down he is often blind to the enemies at his side.” We get to see Grand Maester Pycelle’s fraudulent senility as he rambles on to Ros about Kings whilst coughing and spluttering. After she leaves he jumps up at stretching before re-affecting his fragile poise. He always states that “of the thousand thousand maladies that afflict us, madness is the worst.” and that it was awful to King Aerys melt away “consumed by dreams of fire and blood”.
[Can anyone pick apart why these images of circular patterns from above keep cropping up? There’s this one, the one the Night’s Watch find beyond the Wall which is more like a spiral, and the final image of Season 3 sees Dany held aloft my the people of Yunkai who form concentric circles around her at the centre. I can’t come up with anything at present to tie them together…]
- “You look lovely tonight, Lady Stark. Widowhood becomes you…Slip out of that gown and we’ll see if I’m up to it.” Jaime you old dog. You’re such a sleaze and it’s so easy to hate you. [at this point.]
- Jaime also strikes upon a theme that is going to become far more central in the second season – that of religion and the ways in which the various divine entities manifest themselves within Westeros: “What gods are those? The trees your husband prayed too? Where were the trees when his head was getting chopped off?” The proof [or lack thereof] of the ways in which the gods work is to be an important concern of many characters from here on out. As for Jaime’s question – Osha has already answered this. All of the Weirwood trees were chopped down in the South and how can they watch over us if they cannot see?
- Cersei is far from amused as it appears that her lover is not ticking the right boxes for her. Her ersatz Jaime, Lancel, is not fulfilling her needs and asks far too many questions. Cersei’s incest is perhaps another hangover from the Targaryen regime. At the very least, she uses the Targaryen policy of intermarrying to keep bloodlines pure as her justification to Ned Stark.
- “Madness. Madness and stupidity”. The words of Tywin Lannister as he is left to clean up the mess that his grandson has left him. Tywin begins to show some respect for Tyrion as he concedes that his youngest son was right about Eddard Stark:Tywin: “I always thought you were a stunted fool. Perhaps I was wrong.”/ Tyrion: “Half wrong.”The Imp is then sent to King’s Landing to act as Hand of the King on behalf of his father. This turns out to be a particularly shrewd move. Tyrion makes an excellent Hand, as the first half of Season Two indicates to us. He also issues Tyrion a warning that he’s not to “take that whore to court”, perhaps further reflecting Tywin’s issues with his own father that I outlined last time.
- All of the groundwork for Arya’s ability to look like a boy comes in use here as Yoren cuts off Arya’s hair and tells her that they’re travelling North. Gendry seems like a decent lad, doesn’t he? Fighting the good fight, sticking up for the little man. The later sequence with the new Night’s Watch recruits gives us our first look at Jaqen H’ghar as well. Terribly exciting, a man must say.
- Joffrey clocks off for the day after de-tonguing someone and tells a tearful Sansa that she “looks quite nice” before making her go and look at the Ned-on-a-stick that used to be her father’s head. Not before telling her that once she has “had her blood he’s to put a son in her” [further blood significance.] He truly is a sadistic piece of work. There’s a moment where Sansa sees an opportunity to push her husband-to-be to his death after he has had Ser Meryn slap her. The Hound intervenes though, offering her a handkerchief to wipe her face with instead. The Hound’s softer side continues to emerge and he moves ever so slightly further along in his arc from cut throat mercenary to reluctant hero. He sympathises with Sansa and shows a tenderness towards her that her King never will.
- “Don’t look so terrified. If we beheaded everyone who ran away for the night, only ghosts would guard the well.” The Great Bear absolutely calling out J Snow. Rumbled.
- There’s a lot of ominous chat from Jeor about goings-on beyond the Wall before he announces that they are riding out in the morning. “When dead men and worse comes hunting for us, do you think it matters who sits on the Iron Throne?”. Clearly this is the overall mentality of the Night’s Watch but we’ve already seen the difficulty that the Watch have in convincing everyone else of their importance. As things get messier beyond the Wall, there’s a lot of Southerners who need to sit up and take notice. After all, winter is coming.