“Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things” is more than just an incredibly catch episode title. This is an episode about things coming undone, about things that are already broken (some beyond repair), and about the cracks that begin appearing in a framework laid out in the first three episodes. Readers of the Game of Thrones source material know that it’s a largely grim story, and while this episode isn’t as grim as it gets, it is a depiction of the creeping darkness that lurked in the background of everything that came before, and threatens to envelope everything that comes later. Plus, we finally get to see some jousting.
SPOILER ALERT: The rest of this review may contain plot details from the past three episodes. If you have not seen these episodes, proceed with caution.
The Stark family is on dangerous ground. Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) is on the hunt for justice after hearing what she believes is evidence that Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is responsible for the near death of her son. Ned (Sean Bean) is sinking deeper into the world of whispers and spies of the palace as he investigates the death of his predecessor. And Sansa (Sophie Turner) is learning that courtly life is not the dream of beauty she first thought it to be, particularly after hearing the gruesome story of the brothers Sandor (Rory McCann) and Gregor (Conan Stevens) Clegane from Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen). While the rest of King’s Landing is focused on the royal tournament to celebrate Ned’s appointment as Hand of the King, Ned himself is certain that sinister things are afoot.
Across the sea, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) enters into a deeper conflict with her brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd) as she strengthens in her role as khaleesi, threatening his own position of authority as the rightful ruler of Westeros. And on the wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) must face the ridicule of his fellows brothers of the Night’s Watch when he attempts to take overweight, timid new recruit Samwell (John Bradley-West) under his wing.
Much of the episode is concerned with the theme of decline, or the attempt to overcome decline. For Ned, it’s the search for answers after the death of a long-trusted friend, and the suspicion that the realm he is sworn to protect is in danger. For Jon, it’s the attempt to find in Samwell something worth upholding. For young Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), it’s simply trying to find a way to move on his own again (Bright side to that: we get to meet Hodor.).
Of course, this is all done masterfully, but “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things” is more than just another segment of costume drama punctuated by the occasional sword or whore’s breast. This is an episode with some action. The Hand’s Tourney is a pivotal sequence in the books, as it’s the first point where Martin establishes his “no one is safe” philosophy. Any character could fall at any given moment. Director Brian Kirk and creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are certain to give equal importance to these moments in their adaptation. The tourney doesn’t disappoint. It’s brutal, it’s bloody and it’s a hell of a good time to watch.
“Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things” takes Game of Thrones into its darkest territory yet, while still maintaining the element of wonder that held viewers’ eyes in the beginning. If you’re not a prior visitor to George R. R. Martin’s world, brace yourselves: it’s getting heavy on Game of Thrones.