If “Winter is Coming” was an episode all about beginnings, arrivals and potential energy, “The Kingsroad” is an episode all about motion. Characters who only thought of change last week are now facing it head on, and many things – comfort, innocence and even dignity – are about to be left behind.
SPOILER ALERT: The remainder of this review may contain Episode 1 (“Winter is Coming”) spoilers. If you have not seen Episode 1, you may want to consider waiting to read this until you have. If you’re ready to move forward, follow to the jump.
Things are changing fast for the Stark family. Young Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) is in a coma in his bed after a treacherous shove out a Winterfell window. As he clings to life, his family (who believes his injuries are the result of an accident) must face their grief even as they break apart. Ned (Sean Bean) will take his two daughters south to King’s Landing, to take his position as Hand of the King to Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy). His bastard son Jon Snow (Kit Harington) will travel north to the Wall to take his position among the men of the Night’s Watch, with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) in tow for a tour. Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) will stay behind to tend to her broken son, and soon discover that there’s more to his fall than she could have imagined.
Across the narrow sea in the East, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is fighting to adjust to life as a khaleesi, the queen of the Dothraki horde led by her new husband Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa). As she learns how to manipulate her husband’s animal urges, her brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd) grows ever more impatient to cross the sea and take back his family’s throne from Baratheon.
“The Kingsroad” is almost entirely a story of things in flux. It is, by its very nature, a somewhat unsatisfying episode, simply because it serves as a bridge between what has been established and what is about to befall the growing host of Game of Thrones characters. It’s no less well-done than what’s come before, and it’s hugely entertaining, but apart from a few thrilling flashes of major plot development, it largely serves to put the pieces in place.
Among those thrilling flashes that set new paths in motion is the emergence of Catelyn Stark as a major part of the story. Her fierce love for her son, and her determination to both keep him alive and find out what happened to him, seem poised to reverberate through the universe. She also serves in this episode as an interesting parallel to Ned, who is having troubles of his own with his daughters on the road.
The episode also works to further explore the differences in way of life between the people of Westeros and those who live across the sea. Daenerys, who it now seems has accepted her fate as a bargained-for bride, begins to shift from reluctant participant in the ways of the Dothraki, to eager student, and perhaps somewhere just beyond as she begins to realize that the rough ways of the horse lords might be more at home for her than she thought.
Though it’s not as unified or well-rounded as “Winter is Coming,” “The Kingsroad” does serve to broaden the world of Game of Thrones, to set the pieces moving across the board, and to make us eager to see more.
“The Kingsroad” airs Sunday on HBO.