Game of Thrones Memory Lane 107: You Win or You Die

Cersei 1.7

Today on our countdown to the season 6 premiere, we have a notable Game of Thrones turning-point episode on our plates: “You Win or You Die,” written by D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, and directed by Daniel Minahan. In addition to featuring the key scene when Ned Stark and Cersei Lannister face off with honesty (leading to a downfall from which Ned never recovers), the episode is balanced by the death of one critical male power player and the introduction of another.

And yes, this is the episode when Cersei says the thing!


She said the thing! I love it when they say the thing.

While this episode is often more remembered for its explicit Littlefinger-micromanaged sex scene (more on that later), “You Win or You Die” depicts the critical moment in King’s Landing that we’ve been waiting for throughout season 1. The tensions between the Starks and the Lannisters have escalated since the premiere. With the suspiciously sudden death of King Robert Baratheon,  jostling for control of the Iron Throne pushes that conflict into open warfare.

Rewatching the episode, Ned doesn’t seem as entirely foolish as fans sometimes make him out to be. He does make a solid attempt at strategizing and dealing with the Lannister situation. Ned’s problem though is that he gives Cersei a heads up in their private conversation, out of kindness to Cersei’s children whom he knows will suffer as a result of their parentage becoming public. Their lives may well be on the line, since they’d be considered abominations by most. It’s an admirable gesture on Ned’s part, and no, not very careful of him to show his hand, but with his plans in the works, it must have seemed like a small enough risk to him. In addition to having honor, Ned Stark is simply a good man.  For some people, taking on risk to do the right thing is worth it.

He also underestimated the depth of Littlefinger’s ambitions and capacity for holding a grudge over an incident from twenty years before.

script async src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js">
Definitely the face of a man we can trust.
Definitely the face of a man we can trust.

Clearly he was wrong about a few things, and outplayed by experienced King’s Landing manipulators. It doesn’t help that Littlefinger was there all along waiting for the long-delayed chance at payback.

Most people share their intimate ruminations with their closest friends. Since he doesn’t have those, Petyr Baelish shares his thoughts on his scheming in “You Win or You Die” with two women auditioning to join his brothel. Okay then.

On a show as complex as Game of Thrones, with so many back-stories to unload in the first season especially, it’s not unexpected there would be some lengthy exposition scenes. GoT had several of them in season 1, and it so happened that a few of these scenes included sex or nudity. The internet took notice, because well, it’s the internet.

And “sexposition” was born.

The term became popularized after TV critic Myles McNutt included it in one of his recaps at his Cultural-Learnings blog.  I don’t blame people for latching onto the term. It is catchy.

ros armecaGame of Thrones has always presented a bluntly realistic take on a fantasy world, with sexuality sewn into the fabric of it. The question with these sex and nudity scenes was, did they exist because the show didn’t think fans would sit through exposition dialogue without jiggling breasts to distract them? Were they just symptomatic of too much exposition on the whole in the first two seasons? Or were people making too big a deal out of the scenes?

It’s a subject where you’ll find not a lot of agreement. As always, Game of Thrones inspires debate and analysis, with many coming to completely different interpretations about the same minute of footage.

As for the scene in this episode, Littlefinger’s pointed monologue does actually involve the metaphor of seduction and sex, so it’s not an unreasonable connection. However, when the moaning and sexual theatrics gets so loud you can’t understand some pieces of dialogue very well, you do start to wonder.

That we got personal confessions and “What we don’t know is usually what gets us killed” in the same scene as Littlefinger rasping “Play with her ass” made this a very interesting episode.

Whatever people decide, sexposition entered the cultural lexicon thanks to Game of Thrones and the conversations around this episode.

TywinIn other notable moments from “You Win or You Die,” we said goodbye to King Robert of the House Baratheon, after a Very Bad No-Good Hunting Trip. But just in time, a new player is introduced, and his presence immediately casts a new light on characters we already know.

Tywin Lannister is presented to us none-too-subtly skinning a stag. The moment we meet Tywin, we’re shown a whole new Jaime Lannister. The arrogant Kingslayer is brought down a peg, and it’s easy to see why Tywin has been feared for so long by his enemies and by family. It’s something we’ll see with all his children in time. Charles Dance was an extraordinary addition to Game of Thrones, and stole virtually every scene he was in until the end of his run in season 4.


Introductions: Brian Fortune plays the Senior Night’s Watch Officer leading Jon and Sam in their vow-taking. He’ll pop up again in “The Pointy End” and then resurface in season 4, finally named as Othell Yarwyck (the First Builder). Ros’s fellow auditioner Armeca, played by Sahara Knite, turned up in the show’s brothel throughout season 2. And of course, this is Tywin’s first episode.

Deaths: King Robert, played by the fantastic Mark Addy. It’s odd- we spent so much time waiting for the show to happen, discovering the casting announcements, waiting for the first glimpses of characters- it seemed like a long road. And then that quickly, King Robert was gone from the show. Addy wasn’t the most popular initial choice for the role- fans were more familiar with his comedic work, and he lacked the impression of brawn that people expected in Robert. But Addy won everyone over with his gruff, horny, and hot-tempered gone-to-fat soldier king.

Big Moments: After Robert’s death, Joffrey is placed on the Iron Throne. Jon Snow and Samwell take their Night’s Watch vows before a heart tree. Benjen’s horse returns to Castle Black without him. Drogo decides to invade Westeros after an assassin targets Daenerys.

Gif-able Moments:  Cersei turning Robert’s last written words into shreds fit for the litter box.

ripping paper

Samwell expressing his deepest secret wish. And then Jon laughs in his face.

sam

jon laughs


Creative Fandom:

King Robert’s death by boar, cleverly depicted by Robert M. Ball in the Beautiful Death series:

Robert's death

Jon Snow, in Night’s Watch Vows, from DavidDeb on Deviantart:

Jon Snow art

You Win or You Die by Nikittysan

you-win-or-you-die-bbh-prints

A meme from Tywin’s memorable introduction plays on the Lannister unofficial motto. Though perhaps given the scene, “flays” would have been a better word choice.

spays

From Arrested Westeros:

arrested westeros

Yes. You really did.

Join us tomorrow as Nate takes us down Memory Lane, back to the George R.R. Martin-penned classic episode, “The Pointy End!”

Sue the Fury
Susan Miller, Editor in Chief of WatchersOnTheWall.com

36 Comments

  1. Those are some beautiful drawings.

    Oh Ned…..he should have known right then when Cersei delivered those lines.

  2. If not for the Littlefinger monologue scene, which I think is still the worst scene in the entire show, this might have been my favourite episode of the series (it still makes the top 10; possibly the top 5, it’s been a while since I last compiled a list). Even setting aside the ridiculously gratuitous nudity (debates around Game of Thrones often misuse the word “gratuitous”, but this is the definition of it here), I think the monologue itself is misplaced. We don’t need Littlefinger rambling about how he’s going to screw over Ned in the lead-up to him doing that.

    For trivia purposes, this is the only episode other than episode 406 to not feature any of Ned’s kids.

  3. Love this episode. Thanks Sue

    Poor Ned – he mistakenly thought everyone was as honorable as he would be. (Having the chance to tell Robert the truth before he died)

  4. Mihnea,

    Agreed. It sums up both Tywin and Jaime really well.

    One of my favourite scenes of the first season.

  5. Sullied by Knight,

    Thank you 🙂 it took a few takes hahaha!
    I am the one on the right, trying so hard not to laugh haha

    Mihnea,

    Agreed, I LOVED all of Tywin’s scenes, and probably because of Charles Dance

  6. Mihnea:
    Tywin’s entrance is one of the best scenes in the show.

    Agreed… and the symbolism of “a lion” skinning a stag was awesome.

  7. Sean C.,

    Depends on what one considers “the worst”. There’s bad and then there’s so bad that it’s actually great. I consider this particular scene the gold standard of hilarious over-the-top-ness. Can you really watch it and not laugh gleefully at how crazy it is? It’s glorious.

    A truly bad scene with no redeeming qualities? The fight in the Water Gardens.

  8. Mihnea:
    Knight of the Walkers (Formerly Jeb),

    Charles Dance is a bloody god of acting. He nailed every single scene he was into.

    My sentiments exactly. He is probably one of the few dead characters I wish could come back to life (beside JS of course). I miss his performances. Even subtle nuances of facial expressions were priceless. ;(

  9. Fans of video games and Aidan Gillen: he’s gonna be in quantum break on xb1 coming out in April. Just like Spacey was in that CoD

  10. Charles Dance initially reminded me of Kirk Douglas and Peter Cushing. His Tywin was magnificent, and had the best character introduction in the TV series.

    Cersei couldn’t recognize she was never going to get a better deal to protect and prolong her children’s lives than Ned’s offer. Ned wasn’t the only fool.

  11. Sean C.,

    I liked Littlefinger’s sexposition very much, because it was exposition and not sex which made us hold the breath. And indeed the scene revealed Littlefinger’s character better than anything. It was rather fearsome how indifferent he was.

  12. That one brothel sexposition scene was far too long and it pretty much cemented Littlefinger as my least favorite major character on the show (not much of a fan of the book version either). If I made a list of least favorite scenes in the five seasons so far this would be written down first. There’s never an episode that I want to listen to him talk for that long in one scene. I typically rather enjoy nudity but how it was done in this one, along with Littlefinger’s droning, I felt like the show took a hit. At the time the series was running concurrently with Camelot on Starz and viewers were deciding/arguing about which was better. GoT obviously was but this scene really seemed like a bewbs-for-viewers Camelot type of thing. Luckily the show recovered quickly and they haven’t made us suffer watching anything that terribly long and awful in one scene again.

    While I do think the episode was brought down because of that one scene, most of the rest lifted it back up. Drogo’s angry speach was awesome.

  13. Inga,

    Yeah that scene is in no way the monstrosity some people make it out to be.

    To be fair that’s my opinion on all the scenes that some think are the anti-christ.

  14. Agree with Mihnea that Tywin’s introduction was one of the best. Charles Dance played it perfectly, and I loved how NCW showed Jaime’s braggadocio evaporating in the face of his father’s withering scorn.

    I also agree with Sean C. that were it not for the Littlefinger scene, this episode would be one of the best in the series, if not the best.

    Lena Headey underplayed the Ned/Cersei scene nicely, I thought.

  15. Since I found out that Lena Headey was noticeably pregnant in real life during the shooting of season 1, I always look to work out how they draped her costumes in a way to conceal her pregnancy – or at least minimise it being obvious.

  16. Clob:
    That one brothel sexposition scene was far too long and it pretty much cemented Littlefinger as my least favorite major character on the show (not much of a fan of the book version either).If I made a list of least favorite scenes in the five seasons so far this would be written down first.There’s never an episode that I want to listen to him talk for that long in one scene.I typically rather enjoy nudity but how it was done in this one, along with Littlefinger’s droning, I felt like the show took a hit.At the time the series was running concurrently with Camelot on Starz and viewers were deciding/arguing about which was better.GoT obviously was but this scene really seemed like a bewbs-for-viewers Camelot type of thing.Luckily the show recovered quickly and they haven’t made us suffer watching anything that terribly long and awful in one scene again.

    While I do think the episode was brought down because of that one scene, most of the rest lifted it back up.Drogo’s angry speach was awesome.

    The scene with Drogo going nuts is still one of my all time favs.

  17. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has read any of my effusive comments about him over the years – or the lengthy Curtain Call I wrote for him back on the old website – but Charles Dance’s performance as Tywin Lannister is my favorite performance that any actor has ever delivered on Game of Thrones. It’s a very long and elite list, to be sure, one that includes some truly brilliant work by many incredibly talented people. But Dance as Tywin is at the very top, and I doubt that anyone will ever supplant him there in my esteem. Whatever image I had in my mind of the character when I read the books has long since disappeared (Bald? Mutton chops? I’ll pass, George). Tywin Lannister will always look like and sound like Charles Dance in my mind, and his introductory scene defines this master player perfectly.

  18. As for the infamous ‘sexposition’ scene … I don’t mind it nearly as much as some people do. I think that this is a strong episode for Littlefinger overall, and there are some good moments for the character in his monologue. I don’t mind the nudity, either – without being crass, I get that it’s a not-insignificant part of the GOT’s appeal as a premium cable show. It can be a useful tool to liven up a scene like this one, or to hook viewers who might not otherwise be interested in a fantasy story. Just because it might not be strictly necessary doesn’t automatically mean it’s ‘gratuitous’.

    (The term ‘gratuitous’ has been thrown about so frequently and heatedly in our culture that it’s lost all meaning for me. I don’t care whether it’s referring to violence, sex, or some other taboo that the show is breaching – whenever I see a review or articles start in on a screed about the show that includes that word, I roll my eyes and my interest in the piece starts declining rapidly and exponentially.)

    Still, there are definitely a few beats in the sequence that I don’t care for – not because they offend my moral sensibilities in any way, but because they’re clunky enough to be distracting. “Play with her arse”? That’s a line that could have been cut.

    Sex and nudity will always be a part of the show (and the books as well). Hopefully, people for whom that promise was a hook will find other reasons to stick around once they start to learn about the characters and the story. But lamenting its presence will never amount to anything. So we should all enjoy it at its best, tolerate it at its worst … and if it’s equal opportunity for everyone, even better!

  19. Every episode after 6 is hard for me to watch because Ned’s mistakes are so obvious in hindsight.
    I’m rewatching season 1 in the lead-up to season 6 and it’s becoming one of my favourites. It’s my 4th time but somehow it’s better than it has ever been.

  20. Jack Bauer 24: The scene with Drogo going nuts is still one of my all time favs.

    It is awesome. And really made me realise how superb Jason Momoa is. I thought he’d been cast predominantly for his imposing physique but he really shows his acting chops in this scene.

  21. I watched season 1 right before season 3 aired and never could I imagine there would be any uproar over the LF scene. Thought it was a great scene that was well written and fit right in with the characters and world of Game of Thrones.

  22. LatrineDiggerBrian,

    Same with me and the Sand Snakes fight….
    I didn’t tought it was a great fight, but I don’t think it’s anyway close to the abomination some make it out too be.

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