In the fifth episode of Game of Thrones we get to see the machinations of the court of King's Landing without much distraction from the other locations. For a summation of the plot without much spoiling, head over to Susan Arendt's excellent recap of the episode, but if you're a fan of the books and want more in-depth, spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in "The Wolf and the Lion," read on, my friends!
Everyone from the show's creators to less-enlightened reviewers have pegged Game of Thrones as "Lord of the Rings meets The Sopranos," but I always thought that comparison was a little too trite. The characters of Martin's epic story feel more like Shakespeare's King Richard than boorish Tony Soprano (although KING BOB isn't too far off) and the plot is too full of despicable acts to be like LOTR. The show so far has concentrated on introducing the feel of a gritty medieval world, and it has been successful. With this episode though, all of the backstabbing, scheming and intrigue that really define the story for me finally get equal screen time with the nudity and violence. King Bob even laments that his reign is now about scheming rather than the glory of battle, but unfortunately for him that's the story being told. Sorry, Bob.
I've enjoyed the show's subtlety and language so far, but the pivotal scene in this episode between LORD VARYS and PETYR BAELISH finally elevates it beyond mere adaptation to a piece of art that can stand on its own. The verbal sparring between these two spymasters was just delicious - "I know that you know what I know, but I don't know that you knew that I knew this." Varys' eyes widen that he may be caught in a treasonous act, and it's the first time we see the eunuch panic, before he recovers to scoff at Littlefinger's words. My wife trained as an actor and she said after the scene between Varys and Littlefinger that she was impressed with how Shakespearean it felt. That's because the intentions of each character were strongly threatening even if their words were polite and cordial.
Careful viewers (or fans of the books) will realize that Varys was plotting with Illyrio, the merchant from PENTOS who arranged the marriage of KHAL DROGO to DAENRYS TARGARYEN and gave her the three dragon eggs as a wedding gift in the first episode. The juxtaposition of this reveal just moments after Varys tells EDDARD STARK that he considers himself a "man of honor" is especially important. Varys is honorable and loyal in his way, but to the House that he believes should still rule the Seven Kingdoms - the Targaryens. It hasn't been mentioned in the show yet, but Varys was spymaster to the Mad King Aerys before Robert's and Ned's revolution. The whole plot of the show, and everything that happens in the books, could be said to be engineered by Varys the Spider just to leave the realm vulnerable to a Dothraki invasion to put VISERYS back on the throne. Of course, that's not exactly how things play out, but perhaps Martin's forthcoming fifth book A Dance with Dragons will provide more on that front.