I finally got around to watching A Game of Thrones last night, as my daughter went to bed at a reasonable 8:15 instead of 9:30. I am glad I did, because I think it was the best episode yet.
I think it was the best episode yet for a number of reasons. The largest, by far, was the episode's focus. The majority of the action was in King's Landing, with a small bit at the Eyrie and an even smaller (almost unnecessary) bit at Winterfell. We saw no Dothraki and no Jon Snow. This was a good thing; the tigher focus made the pace quicker and the tension even tighter. Even the Eyrie scenes were directly connected to the events at King's Landing, as Jamie goes after Ned because Catelyn has taken Tyrion. I've urged Lost-like, character-centric epiosdes before, but this episode made me realize you could have location-centered episodes just as easy.
The second thing I loved about this episode was the things that were NOT in the book. The fairly immediate and forthright reveal of Renly and Loras' relationship went over much better than the three books worth of hints Martin has given us. It also served to make relationships even more complex, as Loras urges Renly to actively seek the crown. The other added scene I thoroughly enjoyed was the Robert/Cersi conversation. Mark Addy is just dead-on as Robert, brining life into a character I never really "got" in the novels. And Cersi in the show is much more multi-dimensional than in the books. In the books, she goes from incestuous schemer to crazy woman. Lena Hedley's Cersi has a lot more depth. Come to think of it, there's not a lot of Jamie/Cersi love happening in the show.
The Ned/Jamie fight was awesome. The other fights, especially the ambush on the road to the Eyrie, not so much. The facial expressions on Ned and Jamie nicely mirrored their earlier conversation by the Iron Throne. I let out an audible "Urk!" when Ned gets taken down by the Lannister man, and smiled when Jamie punches him out. That action shows both how amoral Jamie can be and sets up his transition nicely. We may not get Jamie reading the White Book later on, but if we do, we can see his own self-reflection reaching back to this moment.
There were lots of other little bits I liked. I liked Loras' armor (and the fact that Renly commented on it later). I liked Barristan noticably putting on the White Cloak. I liked the Sky Cells. I liked how freaking creepy and crazy Lysa seemed. I liked that we get to see Bronn. I liked the nicely choreographed bit where the Hound kneels to his king and the Mountain swings where his head used to be.
Best episode yet.