Winter is coming, but not soon enough. So to help pass the time until season seven of Game of Thrones, we’re doing a weekly rewatch of the series, episode-by-episode, with the knowledge of what was to come, and with more information about the yet unrevealed rich history of events that took place long before the story began. Be warned, though, as this series is full of spoilers for every season, even beyond the episode itself. So if you haven’t watched all of the show yet immediately get on that and then come back and join us for Game of Thrones Re-Throned.
Because the next best thing to watching new episodes is re-watching old ones.
Season 1, Episode 2: “The Kingsroad”
Original Air Date: April 24, 2011
Director: Tim Van Patten
Written by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Going into this rewatch, I was fairly confident I knew what episodes would make me the most emotional. I mean, I did write an entire list about the show’s saddest moments (which, after this most recent string of episodes, is already in need of a major update), and I have no problem admitting to how often
still images from the previews the show makes me tear up. Yet, somehow I was unprepared for how much the second episode, “The Kingsroad,” would leave me devastated. That’s because it was filled with members of House Stark saying goodbye to one another, unaware of how often it was truly goodbye. On top of this, there’s the added weight of knowing Jon’s real mother, and the sadness of Ned’s secret.
The episode opens with Khal Drogo leading his hoard, with new wife and her impatient brother in tow, through the Dothraki Sea. A beleaguered (that’s being kind) Daenerys gets a (sort of) pep talk from Jorah, who tells her things will get better. However, it’s something else he says, which originally felt more like world-building than anything particularly pertinent to the story, that now feels much more important.
“ln the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai, they say there are fields of ghost grass with stalks as pale as milk that glow in the night; it murders all other grass. The Dothraki believe that one day it will cover everything—that’s the way the world will end.”
That sounds reminiscent of the Long Night and the coming of the White Walkers. The legends of the first Long Night are not just limited to Westeros, but extend to all of the known world. This is also true of the prince-that-was-promised prophecy, which seems to be found in various forms throughout the world, and might ultimately prove to be about the Mother of Dragons herself. It’s also noteworthy that Jorah spoke of this end of days coming from Asshai, where the dragon eggs Illyrio gave Daenerys as a wedding gift came from. Asshai is also a major base for the followers of R’hllor, the same who now believe Daenerys is the savior of the world.
Asshai has been mentioned in both of the first two episodes, and, even if we never physically go there on the show, it seems as though things and people and beliefs coming out of there are very important to plenty going on across the world in Westeros. That is where Melisandre is from, after all, and she proved useful and full of magic.
Jorah also told Daenerys that he fled Westeros because Ned Stark was going to execute him for selling poachers to slavers (outlawed in Westeros for hundreds of years). Viserys laughs at this as “nonsense,” butthe Breaker of Chains would obviouslycome to dedicate her reign of Slaver’s Bay to his cause. Jorah himself would also be sold into slavery one day, along with Tyrion, so what goes around comes around.
When Tyrion (with different hair than in the pilot) slaps around his nephew Joffrey for not paying his respects to Ned and Catelyn, The Hound (with a different look than the pilot, too) tells him, “The prince will remember that, little Lord.”
Tyrion happily responds, “I hope so.” I’ll bet he regretted that just a little bit after almost being cut in two during the Battle of the Blackwater by Ser Mandon Moore, on the orders of King Joffrey.
Those are the original children that played Myrcella and Tommen. I once dropped an ice cream cone right after I got it, and I’m still not over it 15 years later, so I don’t know how I’d handle my role on the biggest show in the world being recast right when it got awesome.
During Tyrion’s breakfast with his family, they discuss Tyrion’s upcoming visit to The Wall. He mentions the White Walkers, but the way we might talk about seeing unicorns in our backyard. There is a concerted effort during the episode to dismiss the dangers of The Wall, especially the mythical White Walkers.
After Cersei and the kids leave, Jaime gets upset at Tyrion saying he hopes Bran lives and says what happens (an indication to Tyrion that it would be bad for House Lannister), but Tyrion assures his brother where is loyalty lies by saying, “You know how much I love my family.” Uh, we’ll say that proved not to be exactly true.
Jaime does say something that now drips with irony: “Even if the boy lives, he’ll be a cripple, a grotesque. Give me a good, clean death any day.” I wonder if old gold-hand feels that way now.
Next, Cersei visits Catelyn, who is holding constant vigil by Bran’s bedside. Cersei tells her a story about losing her first son with Robert to a fever; he was a “little black-haired beauty” that “looked just like” Robert.
She then follows that up by saying she prays every day for the Mother (of the Seven) to return Bran to her. Now this is an obvious lie, but the first part about losing a son does not sound untrue. She makes a special note of saying he had black hair and looked just like Robert, something her other three children clearly don’t (since they are really Jaime’s kids, and that ends up driving the story to come the rest of season one). There’s no way to confirm if this story is true, as it is told by a master liar, but it felt honest.
Cersei says she never saw the boy again, not even his crypt, after they took him away. She wouldn’t get to see Myrcella’s body either years later, when Tommen forbade her from leaving the Red Keep during her funeral.
In Winterfell’s courtyard we get our first look at Needle(!), before Jon has a brief conversation with Jaime, who hints at how awful the Night’s Watch really is to an overly eager Jon. The two share a handshake that makes us very excited at the idea of these two meeting again someday.
Jon then gives Arya Needle (and we get to see Nymeria, who soon enough will disappear into the void), and the two share a goodbye hug that will have you wiping your eyes. But don’t worry, lots more of those to come!
Like when Jon then goes to say goodbye to a still unconscious but expected-to-survive Bran, where Catelyn Stark is horrible to Jon for the crime of existing (“I want you to leave.”) Before that, though, Jon tells Bran that even though they had planned on seeing The Wall together, Bran could come visit him there. “We can go out walking beyond The Wall if you’re not afraid.” Bran would obviously go well beyond The Wall one day to face real terror, but not by walking.
God dammit everything about it is awful. Then Ned shows up and it somehow gets worse. The look on his face as he stares at Catelyn, as she is full of hate for Jon, is loaded with so much more now. It wasn’t the guilt of an unfaithful husband, but the pain of a man with so much honor he’d besmirch his own name for his family, and for an innocent boy. Sean Bean should retroactively win an Emmy for this episode, because knowing (for sure) what he was carrying here imbues everything he does with an unimaginable sadness.
And then Jon and Robb say goodbye to one another, only we know it’s goodbye forever so good luck at this point in the rewatch not wanting to crawl into a dark hole. “You Starks are hard to kill,” jokes Jon. Oh c’mooooon. Though in fairness, for all the Starks that end up being killed, Jon literally came back from the dead, and Arya is apparently immune to multiple stab wounds to the abdomen, so we’ll call this sorta ironic.
These goodbyes are merely prelude, however, to a scene that felt important in the moment, but feels so much more relevant now, and especially sad. As Ned heads down the Kingsroad with Robert to be his Hand, Jon heads north on the road with his Uncle Benjen (and the visiting Tyrion) to The Wall. Father and son have, though they don’t know it, what will be their last conversation together, and the topic is Jon’s mother.
“There’s great honor serving in the Night’s Watch. The Starks have manned the Wall for thousands of years. And you are a Stark. You might not have my name, but you have my blood.”
“ls my mother alive? Does she know about me? Where l am, where l’m going? Does she care?”
“The next time we see each other, we’ll talk about your mother. Hmm? l promise.”
Just reading those lines is a punch in the gut, but watching Sean Bean’s face, quivering and crushed, holding his dying sister’s secret for her son’s own safety, even at the cost of Jon’s plight at being a bastard, is like being punched in the gut while getting kicked in the head.
Watch this again and again, because each time it feels like Ned gets sadder and sadder. I remember thinking of this moment when Ned was executed… well, after gathering myself, this was the first thing I thought of. How sad it would be for Jon to never know the truth. I imagine he will soon enough, though. And I wonder if he’ll appreciate what Ned did for him, or resent him for it.
Either way, Ned Stark is the best man that ever lived, real or fictional. Fight me.
The next scene also involves talk of Jon’s mother, when Ned and Robert have a meal together along the road. This is one of my favorite scenes in the entire show’s history, and we learn that Ned told Robert that his bastard’s mother was a woman named Wylla, whom Ned refuses to describe. Ned gets very sad, again, when faced with the topic of Jon’s mother. No wonder Bran would say in season six, during his vision of Winterfell, that his father never spoke of Lyanna. Her death was too painful for Ned to relive, partly because he lived with it every day in a very real and tangible way.
This scene had so much unknown and unexplained history behind it for viewers that made it fascinating, and now that we know what Robert and Ned went through, personally as friends and as conquerors of the Targaryen dynasty, it’s even better. (The acting is great too.)
It’s also why Ned gets upset when Robert suggests killing Daenerys Targaryen, who Robert has learned has married a Dothraki horselord. Ned gets indignant (and points out a khalasar can’t get to Westeros without ships), but Robert sees it as the only way to ensure his crown. This recalls Ned and Robert’s fight, after winning the rebellion, over what The Mountain did to Elia Martell, Rhaegar’s wife, and their royal children during the sacking of King’s Landing, when Gregor Clegane brutally murdered them. Robert didn’t order it (Tywin most definitely did), but he didn’t punish it either. Robert saw it as a terrible necessity, Ned saw it as dishonorable and a crime. It caused a rift between Ned and Robert that only ended after Lyanna died.
During this scene, Robert also says, “There’s a war coming, Ned. l don’t know when, l don’t know who we’ll be fighting, but it’s coming.” He was right, though he never could have known it would be the White Walkers coming.
The war Robert was fearful of, though, is hinted at, when the episode then cuts to Daenerys. She finds comfort through her tears, as Khal Drogo has his way with her, by staring at her dragon eggs, which are adorned with lit candles. A shot of the dragon eggs, lighted by flames, is shown two more times. By the third one, even Chekhov found it a bit much. Seriously, these are all from totally different scenes during this episode.
In a later scene, when Daenerys is being groomed by her servants, the non-Dothraki servant Doreah tells her that she heard from a trader that dragon eggs came from a second moon (which was really an egg) that got too close to the sun, and “it cracked from the heat, and out of it poured a thousand thousand dragons and they drank the sun’s fire.” Considering how Daenerys ended up birthing her dragons, this feels like some very subtle foreshadowing.
Daenerys then asks Doreah, who was sold to a pleasure palace at age nine, to teach her how to make Drogo happy in bed, which Doreah does. The two become very close and begin bonding, which makes Doreah’s betrayal of her Khaleesi in season two all that much worse. Remember, it was Doreah who Daenerys found in bed with Xaro Xhoan Daxos, the man that conspired to steal her dragons and trap her in the House of the Undying. Daenerys locked them both up, alive, in Xaro’s empty vault.
From there we see Summer save Bran from an assassin, one carrying a very fancy Valyrian steel dagger with a dragonbone hilt that he had no business owning. This scene also shows us why people are scared of direwolves and their neck-removing abilities. That leads to Catelyn doing some sleuthing and deducing the Lannisters may have been responsible for Bran’s fall.
Although it seemed like it in the moment, we know Jaime and Cersei didn’t send the assassin, but I don’t think the show ever answered who did. In the books it is all but certain it was Joffrey, for any number of psychotic reasons, but I think the show abandoned this. Maybe we’ll still get an answer, but I don’t think we have one yet.
Catelyn brings Robb, Ser Rodrik, Maester Luwin, and Theon (the only one still alive from this scene, and that’s been true for a long time) to the Godswood to tell them this very dangerous theory. Robb is ready for war already, and Theon swears to back him (ha!), but Maester Luwin wisely points out they haven’t proved anything yet. That leads to Cat and Ser Rodrik deciding to covertly head to King’s Landing to tell Ned. This will lead to many, many, many, many problems. Like the near obliteration of House Stark.
The final scene brings us to the Crossroads Inn. This is the same place where later Catelyn would have Tyrion arrested, where Arya, Gendry, and Hot Pie would sit down with the Brotherhood without Banners—before the captured Hound would out her as a Stark and Hot Pie decided to stay and work, and where Brienne and Podrick then went on their search for Sansa. You might remember that last one from Hot Pie talking about gravy and Arya.
This is when Joffrey picked on Arya’s friend, Mycah the Butcher’s Boy (who would soon be killed by The Hound), leading to her fighting with Joffrey, and then to Nymeria biting him. Arya would then pull a Harry and the Hendersons with Nymeria, marking the last we have ever seen of her. (I know fellow book readers, I know. I think we’ll see her on the show again eventually.)
(Arya named her direwolf after the legendary Queen of the Rhoynar who brought her people to Westeros after fleeing the Valyrian Empire. She ended up in Dorne, married a Martell, and helped them become the most powerful family in the region. That’s why they have princes and princesses, and why it’s the only one of the Seven Kingdom that can have a female ruler without an issue.)
When Sansa lies about not remembering the exact events, therefore undermining Arya’s accurate story, she betrays her family, but it leads to Cersei demanding that Lady, Sansa’s direwolf, be killed in Nymeria’s stead. Sansa isn’t loyal to House Stark, and it symbolically cuts her off from the rest of the pack, something that would literally happen to her soon enough. Remember, she warned Cersei about having to leave King’s Landing, which tipped of the queen to Ned’s plan, and resulted in his death. Sansa’s desire to live her fairy tale is what helped put her in such a nightmare.
The final shot, when Ned kills Lady because she is of the North and deserves better than a butcher,* ends with Bran, back home in Winterfell, opening his eyes. This is the first indication that there was something about Bran, something that connected him to the world in a way that others weren’t, even if we didn’t know it at the time.
(*That was a reference to Ser Ilyn Payne, the King’s justice who can’t speak because the Mad King had his tongue pulled out for saying Tywin Lannister, the Mad King’s Hand for 20 years, really ruled Westeros. Of course, Ned would end up dying at Ser Ilyn’s hand, when he executed him with Ned’s own sword Ice.)
This was a loaded episode. There was also the great scene with Tyrion and Jon, where Tyrion tries to explain the truth to Jon about the Night’s Watch, as well as the first sign of Robb stepping up as the new Lord of Winterfell. We even get the first first real shot of the Wall in all its glory. A lot happened, and looking back on it a lot of it was crushing. Starks said goodbye not knowing it was truly farewell, unhatched dragon eggs surrounded by fire were practically shoved down our throat so we knew they were important, and Sean Bean gave one of the best, most devastating performances in the show’s history. We didn’t know how good—or how sad—it was at the time, but that makes it even better now.
What do you think of “The Kingsroad” after re-watching it? Tell us in the comments below.