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Game of Thrones Recap: A Newbie and a Superfan Debate That Huge Thing That Happened

Each week, Vulture brings you a postshow analysis from Game of Thrones newbie Margaret Lyons and George R.R. Martin superfan Adam Pasick. This week: the episode that changes everything! Or does it?

MARGARET LYONS: Well, that happened. Poor Ned. "You think my life is some precious thing to me?" he wondered at the beginning of the episode, and by the end, I guess we better hope not, given the tragic — but inevitable — outcome. This is what happens when only one character has any access to or insights about genealogical information! Knowledge is power, people of Westeros!

Before we dig in to the Ned stuff — and trust, we will get there — there was a ton of other story going on this week. "Love is the death of duty," said the wise but sad old blind guy, whose name I now know is Maester Aemon and whom we now know is a Targaryen. (!) That's an idea that's come up over and over again on the show: Love ruins everything. I think it's a message we can all get behind, no? Every character we like is currently heartbroken, or at least heart-weary right now. I have "poor ____" written for almost every character on last night's episode: Poor Ned, obviously. Poor Arya. Oh, poor Sansa and her pretzel hair of betrayal. Poor Sam, who's just kind of a sad sack. Poor Robb, who's learning that all that heavy-is-the-head stuff is true. Poor Jon, who's being pulled in two directions, neither of which are particularly appealing. (Icy celibacy vs. a lack of familial love: What's worse?) Poor Maester Aemon, who's been carrying this emotional burden of choosing his post over his family for decades. Poor Daenerys, who's watching her husband die and is willing to try anything. Poor Drogo, who is dying. Poor Tyrion, whose family is full of assholes. Poor Bronn, who doesn't get enough screen time. Even Catelyn, whom I don't like that much anymore: Poor her, because hello, she is in a world of crap.

Ned's death was shocking in the sense that he was our hero for a while, and most shows don't kill their central players, but I wasn't as astonished as other people were: The show is all about the pathetic fight against winterized entropy, and the storm clouds have been gathering since the first second of the show. Ned's an order-keeping kind of guy, and we're moving into chaos territory. This was inevitable, wasn't it? Did we really think Joffrey was going to do something merciful? Of course not. Did we think Ned was going to catch a break of some kind? That would have been a first.

Ned Stark: Made-up Year–Made-up Year.

ADAM PASICK: So now that we're nearing the end of this season, I can finally talk spoiler-free about something I wrote about at the beginning of the season. When I read Game of Thrones, the death of Ned Stark was the first serious wake-up call that George R.R. Martin was not playing fair — and I really, really liked it. It was the same kind of narrative gut punch that I got with a few of the Lost season finales. I had been following a wildly entertaining story, but with certain assumptions. Having those assumptions yanked out from under me turned out to be a very enjoyable feeling.

In a way, I can see why you weren't surprised: HBO's big-ticket shows always whack somebody important in the penultimate episode of a season. (See: [Sopranos and Wire Spoiler Alert!] Omar Little,Adrianna Da Silva Adriana La Cerva, and a bunch more I'm sure).

Was Ned's life precious to him? No. But Master Aemon, né Targaryen had it right: Love makes us do the wrong things for the right reasons. Was Ned's life precious to us, the audience? I have to think that it was. Now that we know anyone can get whacked, all bets are off. I loved your line, and so I'll just repeat it: "Ned's an order-keeping kind of guy, and we're moving into chaos territory."

Now let's talk about Robb, Tyrion, and Daenarys!

LYONS: There was a ton to love about "Baelor," particularly from Tyrion and Bronn, whom the show (books?) has come to rely on for any sense of levity. Don't get me wrong: Tyrion is the best, and his invitation to "penetrate the enigma that is me" is going to work its way into the general lexicon in no time. But who is Shae, and why am I supposed to care about her? Because we're nine episodes into a ten-episode season, and the last thing this series needs is more characters. We're barely telling the stories of the characters we already have. Jorah, the Dothraki equivalent of Stands With a Fist, is Lord Mormont's son? Again, the names are really difficult to keep track of, given the sheer volume of characters, the variance in accents, and people not referring to one another by name all the time. If it's been explicitly acknowledged before, could we take this time to perhaps explore that a little? Oh, nope, we can't, because there is way way too much else going on.

Daenerys is someone else who's letting love lead her down the wrong path, if the wailing sounds coming from that tent are anything to go by. The Dothraki are not big fans of necromancy and "blood magic," but given their apparent enthusiasm for rape, horse-heart eating, indiscriminate bloodshed, and their fear of water, I'm not totally sure what we're supposed to make of that distaste. In general, dancing with the dead seems like a bad call — anything that requires getting drenched in horse blood raises a red flag for me — and I'm surprised that Danaerys seems to trust that witch lady so much. Are there no Dothraki faith healers or whatever?

Finally, Robb. I got a tiny bit choked up when he rode through the mist toward Catelyn. He looked so proud and so sad and so relieved, and like he really wanted to just hug his mom and cry for a little bit, you know? Richard Madden really nailed it. Also he has to marry one of the sad, pallid Frey daughters, who are the human equivalent of sniffles. Ah, Robb, there are a million women and men on the Internet who would happily take her place.

Here are my lingering questions: How come no one else has put together that Joffrey isn't Robert's son? How important is matrilineage? Cersei seems to have retained her Lannister identity pretty clearly rather than a Baratheon one, and Catelyn still gets a lot of mileage from her Tully roots, but are they the exception? Finally, was Arya just ... carrying around a dead pigeon? There was a lot of bird imagery this week — and there's been a ton on the show in general — but none quite so grotesque as the Coolest Little Girl in Westeros trying to trade a gross dead pigeon for some bread.

ADAM PASICK: So now that we're nearing the end of this season, I can finally talk spoiler-free about something I wrote about at the beginning of the season. When I read Game of Thrones, the death of Ned Stark was the first serious wake-up call that George R.R. Martin was not playing fair — and I really, really liked it. It was the same kind of narrative gut punch that I got with a few of the Lost season finales. I had been following a wildly entertaining story, but with certain assumptions. Having those assumptions yanked out from under me turned out to be a very enjoyable feeling.

My second favorite, after the enigma line, which should win a Best Sentence Emmy, was (and it's not the same in print, without Peter Dinklage's phrasing): "It's fun. Look at the fun we're having!" He wasn't having so much fun when the imperturbable Shea foiled his expectations and opened up the door to a very dark story from Tyrion's past. Shea don't play — and she kept her clothes on during story time! Is this the end of sexposition?

Also: "Halfman! Halfman! Halfman! WHACK! [End scene.]"

Are you really worried about more characters like Shae being introduced? This season is only like the FIRST CHAPTER. We have a lot of story to go. Don't be shortsighted like Theon Greyjoy, a.k.a. the worst military adviser ever. He is a good shot with that bow, though. Arya is also a pretty good bird killer, though her bartering skills need work. A dead pigeon for a lemon cake? (I think that's what those were, in a nod to diehard fans; A Song of Ice and Fire is to lemon cakes as Twin Peaks is to cherry pie and coffee.)

As for Daenerys and the obvious shortcomings of the Dothraki health-care system, as soon as the magi Mirri Maz Duur warned that "some say death will be cleaner," it was clear we were heading to the Dothraki version of Pet Semetary (Horse Section). I'm just waiting for Khal Drogo/Gage to emerge from the tent saying, "Come play with me Dany … "

LYONS: I was also partial to "sword! sword! sword!" from the guys at the Wall. It was a big night for chanting, no?

Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO