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“The Pointy End” is a point of no return for Game of Thrones. Its characters have run out of opportunities for peace, its world is wrought with turmoil, and its plot is racing ever forward to a confrontation between two great houses. The episode’s title is a reference to young Arya Stark’s simple instructions for how to use a sword: “stick ’em with the pointy end.” For Arya, as well as the rest of the host of lives entangled in the show’s deadly game, the pointy end is all that’s left. Blades and battle lines are drawn, and “The Pointy End” stands as proof that no one is safe anymore.

Warning: Plot details ahead. Proceed at your own risk.

There is blood in the streets of King’s Landing. As Lord Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) sits in a dark dungeon cell beneath the Red Keep, his men and servants are slaughtered by Lannister soldiers. His daughters, still unaware of their father’s fate, are caught in the middle. Arya (Maisie Williams), in the midst of a “dancing” (swordplay) lesson, escapes through the tunnels beneath the city, while Sansa (Sophie Turner) is left behind. Desperate to maintain her own favor with the crown in the hope that she might save both her future and her family, she agrees to write to her brother Robb (Richard Madden) on behalf of Queen Cersei (Lena Headey), informing him that he must travel to the capital and pledge fealty to the newly installed boy King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) or face being branded a traitor like his father.

Robb refuses without a thought, choosing instead to call the banners of Winterfell and assemble an army in the North. Even as he gathers strength, the Lannisters are already striking, and as he reunites with his mother Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), they both realize that the battle ahead will be all or nothing.

As the armies of Stark and Lannister prepare to clash, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) makes his way home after escape captivity in the Eyrie, and makes a few unlikely allies along the way. And across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) continues to exert influence over her husband Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa). For her, it’s now become about more than securing an army to march on Westeros. It’s become about how to be a leader.

“The Pointy End” will likely be remembered most as the episode that saw the rise of Robb Stark from ancillary child of a major player to major player in his own right. Madden nails it every step of the way, from the headstrong moments to the vulnerable ones, when he’s faced with leading an army and aching to hug his mother at the same time. Fans of the books will rejoice in these moments, as they know what lays in store for young Robb. For viewers of the series alone, it’s just a chance to watch an intriguing character come charging from the background, sword drawn and eyes fiery.

The true triumph of “The Pointy End” is its ability to function as both a well-oiled cog in the big machine that is Game of Thrones so far and as a brilliantly taut standalone episode. There isn’t a wasted moment. Everything in this episode is kinetic and bold and tinging with the kind of bloodlust that a great fantasy war story is meant to have. Even though the swords of Lannister and Stark do more rattling than crossing here, simply watching the factions brandish their steel is enough to make you ache for what’s next.

 

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