Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Game of Thrones Episode 1.03—“Lord Snow”

Hello again all, and welcome to installment three of our Game of Thrones co-blogging adventure. As ever, my friend Nikki Stafford from Nik at Nite is providing the GRRM n00b perspective, and I will be providing the impressions of the GRRM nerd.

All set? Well then, here's Nikki ...

Episode 3, “Lord Snow,” is where we get a lot more backstory on the characters than before. This episode, while still boasting a lot of action, is more dialogue- and character-driven, with slow-paced scenes that you must watch as closely as any episode of The Wire, and even then you probably have to go back and watch it a second time just to get the nuances. Chris is going to cover many of the smaller details of those scenes below, so I’ll just say that this was the first week where, as a viewer, I found myself a bit lost (and desperate for a list of names of people!) Thankfully, Chris will provide that below, too (thank you, Chris!) That said, I still loved the episode very much.


• The beautiful construction of the throne room at King’s Landing, with that incredible throne of swords. I don’t know how it’s described in the book, but in the show it’s magnificent.
• Carcetti!! Chris and I have chatted endlessly to each other about The Wire for years, so I was excited about him getting to this episode and finally seeing him. I’d have to check this, but I believe he’s actually Irish, so the accent he’s putting on for this show is as convincing as the American one he did on The Wire. Brilliant. I love when HBO finds a talented actor and uses him/her again.
• Arya looks remarkably like Catelyn… I don’t know how they found these two actresses, but what a beautiful match.

Character Development:

• Oh Joffrey, you sniveling little whiner. How much did I love the depiction of him this week as a foot-stomping toddler, with his “Oh, do I have to marry that yucky cootie girl?” while he sucked on his thumb. The scene between him and Cersei is at once a perfect portrait of a mama’s boy, but there’s a sinister undertone throughout of just how dangerous he will be, especially with her fierce encouragement. “Everyone who isn’t us is an enemy.”
• Sansa. When I first watched this episode, I cringed at how ungrateful she is, thinking man, she and Joffrey are perfect for each other. But I think she’s a more complicated character than perhaps they’re making her seem in the show. Remember, last week’s show ended with the death of her direwolf, and if those dogs become intrinsically linked with their owners, there’s something missing in her now (I don’t know how deep the link runs, but I’m assuming there’s more in the books about them?) She’s been taken ahead with Ned rather than staying back with her mother, and it’s clear Ned is more at ease dealing with men than women. He gives her a doll because she’s a girl… and girls play with dolls, right? Not when they’re teenagers looking for a husband, they don’t. She reacts harshly, and he looks out of his element and unable to deal with the situation.
• Arya. She, too, shows that side of Ned in his dealings with her. Arya is the tomboy who’s interested in swords, and you can feel the relief that washes over Ned when he talks to her because this, this is the kind of girl he can deal with. Ned: “You know the first thing about swordfighting?” Arya: “Stick ’em with the pointy end.” He gives her exactly what she wants, signing her up for her “dancing” lessons (I adore these scenes) and watches her proudly from the wings. However, that final scene in the episode grows dark when we hear the clash of steel on steel in his mind as he watches his daughter pretend killed… what was he thinking there? Is he remembering the great battles? The death of his sister? The death of Targayren? The death of the woman who gave birth to Jon Snow? I’m intrigued, and perhaps the readers know these answers, but I like the subtlety of the scene.
• If winter itself could be a character, then we get a sense in this episode of just how long and awful the winters can be, both from the old lady telling her ghoulish tales to Tyrion talking about how many winters he’s seen in his lifetime. God, I think Canadian winters last an eternity, but three years? Talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder.
• Daenerys is pregnant, and she’s becoming more confident and powerful. The scene where she leaves her horse only to be followed by the horrible Viserys is brilliant. He’s as vile as Joffrey, and watching him being choked by the whip is nothing short of AWESOME. It’s trumped only by the guy who choked him (someone whom Viserys sees as a slave) saying, “You? Walk.”
• One final question for Chris (that I meant to ask last week): That guy who’s always talking to Daenerys (I can never pick up on his name), is he the same in the book? Does he give the Dothraki backstory throughout, or are they using him as a convenient Johnny the Explainer character in this show?

And now… here’s Chris to clear up many questions:

And here we are at King’s Landing—as the caravan enters its gates, I keep hearing the Star Wars line—“You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy”—running through my head. Ned has no time to rest before being thrown into the snake pit, having a confrontation with Jaime Lannister in the throne room in which we get some background—how Ned’s father and brother were killed by the previous king Aerys Targayren … and how Jaime was the one who killed him, despite being sworn to protect him.

This particular confrontation does not happen in the novel, but this episode departs more from the book than the previous two have. Departs in detail, but not in spirit: many of the set-pieces making up the episode—Jaime and Ned, Robert and Barristan the Bold exchanging war stories, Cersei tending Joffrey’s wolf bite—are invented, but for the purpose of clarifying themes and conflicts and character traits that the novel develops more gradually. On first viewing, it was a bit off-putting; on second viewing, I appreciated the artistry of it. The characters are deepening and the stakes are getting higher.

The title of the episode is a little misleading, considering that we don’t see a huge amount of Jon Snow. Also, we don’t see Daenerys until thirty-five minutes in. Most of the action unfolds in King’s Landing, with a fairly heavy emphasis placed in history and background—in particular, Jaime Lannister’s act of treason in killing the previous king is revealed as something more ambivalent than most of the characters would seem to want to think. Both Robert and Ned obviously hold Jaime in contempt for such a flagrantly dishonorable act, and both express their fundamental distrust of him because of it. However, we get hints of their hypocrisy: Robert has his throne in part because of Jaime’s supposed dishonor, and Ned rebukes him both for not acting to save his father and brother when the Mad King tortured and killed them, and subsequently killing Aerys Targaryen. You can’t have it both ways, Ned—but then, that is the contradiction of Eddard Stark’s painfully rigid sense of honor.

All in all, yet another excellent episode. Some more thoughts:

New Characters

This episode added a bunch of new faces to the ensemble. As a frequent complaint of those unfamiliar with the books has been the difficulty of keeping names straight, here’s the episode three primer:

• Varys the eunuch—The Spider, the master of whispers. Basically, the clearing-house for intelligence gathering at court. Varys knows everything that is going on, usually before it happens. Case in point, Catelyn’s “secret” arrival in King’s Landing.
• Renly Baratheon—The king’s youngest brother; handsome, louche, and a bit of a gadabout.
• Grand Maester Pycelle—Shrewd and canny, and ostensibly a font of wisdom.
• Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish—Master of Coin, nicknamed Littlefinger because his family holdings are on the smallest of a cluster of peninsulas called The Fingers. He was once in love with Catelyn when they were youths, and dueled Brandon Stark, Ned’s older brother, when she was betrothed to him. Littlefinger lost, but Brandon Stark spared his life at Catelyn’s request. Baelish plays his own game, and is one of the slyest players in King’s Landing.
• Allister Thorne—Master at Arms at Castle Black. A thoroughly unpleasant character.
• Lord Commander Mormont—Father of Jorah Mormont, Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.
• The boys at the Wall—We meet Grenn and Pyp, who ultimately become Jon Snow’s friends and allies.
• Barristan the Bold—Legendary knight, who even in his advanced age is renowned for his fighting skills.
• Lancel Lannister—Cousin of Cersei and Jaime, one of the many Lannisters inserted into service at King’s Landing.
• Yoren—A Night’s Watch recruiter.
• Maester Aemmon—The maester for Castle Black; ancient, wise, blind.
• Syrio Forel—Arya’s “dancing master,” a master swordsman from the Free City of Braavos.

Best Lines

• “War was easier than daughters.”
• “I hate your stories!” “I know a story about a boy who hated stories.”
• “Well, Lord Snow … It seems you’re the least useless person here.”
• “You’re a funny man! A very funny man!” … though obviously this one loses something on the page. Spoken however by Sean Bean as he chokes Littlefinger, he gives us a brief but striking insight into why Ned Stark is dangerous.
• “Ah, Starks … quick tempers, slow minds.”
• “They never tell you how they all shit themselves. They never put that part in the songs.”
• “I’m the First Ranger. The job is out there.” Am I the only person to hear an echo of Omar in The Wire here? “The game is out there.”
• “Here, a man gets what he earns. When he earns it.”
• “Boy, girl. You are a sword. That is all.”

What They Added / Changed

• “I haven’t played with dolls since I was eight.” Such a heartbreaking moment. Sansa still blames Ned and Arya for the death of Lady, and Ned’s clumsy attempt to make amends only worsens things. That he then shows his connection with Arya draws a line between him and his elder daughter. War, apparently, is only easier than daughters when the daughter in question isn’t interested in the arts of war.
• “You are my darling boy, and the world will be exactly as you want it to be.” Cersei here shows her doting love for her repulsive son, which stretches into irrationality, but then without missing a beat delivers a shrewd little lecture on governance and realpolitik. This is the best Cersei moment so far: demonstrating her cunning and cleverness, but also her blind spot where Joffrey is concerned.
• “Everyone who isn’t us is an enemy.” This should be the Lannister motto.
• “The boy won’t talk. And if he does, I’ll kill him. Him, Ned Stark, the King, the whole bloody lot of them, until you and I are the only people left alive in this world.” In the books, we only start to see the nature of the interaction between Jaime and Cersei in book three, when Jaime starts to get his own POV chapters. But they nail it here—Jaime’s ruthlessness emerges in this chilling declaration, articulating his single-minded devotion to his twin. Incidentally, the bit about the singers making a ballad about “The War for Cersei’s Cunt” is a GRRM line that comes in book three (I think … it might be book four).
• Robert and Barristan the Bold exchanging war stories. I did not at first care for this scene, and then on second viewing turned completely around on it. I love that the impression you get at first is that they’re talking about losing their virginity … because, in a way, they are. As mentioned above, we get a better sense of history and background, especially when Robert calls Jaime in to taunt him. It is also a lovely way to introduce Barristan Selmy, who develops into such a great character as the books progress. And Lancel! Who looks, if possible, even more prissy and whiny than Joffrey.
• The top of the Wall. In the books, the Wall is described as simply being a flat expanse “about as wide as the Kingsroad.” Here, they’ve turned it into a warren of trenches, much like the battlements on the top of castle walls.
• Yoren. Odd, this—in the books, Yoren is described as sallow, laconic, and dour. They’ve obviously decided to go a different route here in making him a hale and hearty kind of fellow.
• The exchange between Benjen and Tyrion. Between this conversation and Ned’s interactions with Littlefinger, we begin to see where Starks have a reputation for being prickly. At the same time, Benjen’s speech about what lies north of the wall is (forgive me) chilling. One of the things this episode does is set us up for what is to come: the emphasis on the dangers of the coming winter gets almost a little heavy-handed.
• Ser Jorah talking swords with the Dothraki. I loved this little exchange, a great summary of the difference in how Westeros and the Dothraki approach war and battle. Curved blade versus straight, speed versus power. And then at the end, that suspicious departure as Jorah learns that Daenerys is preggers … hmm ….

What They Got Exactly Right

• The Small Council. The dynamic of the council was pitch-perfect, and Robert’s profligacy with the royal treasury yet another revelation about his efficacy as king. Three million owed to the Lannisters? That’s not good.
• Ned and Arya. The scene between them was poignant, more so as it comes just after his epic fail with Sansa. Arya, we see, is Ned’s daughter to the bone, and he is much more at ease talking to her and being a comfort. That he not only lets her keep Needle, but then gives her lessons in swordsmanship shows just how simpatico they are.
• Littlefinger! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—I freakin’ LOVE Aidan Gillen. He was brilliant on Queer as Folk (the original British version), and even more so as the altruistic councilman turned politically savvy mayor Tommie Carcetti on The Wire. Littlefinger is a perfect role for him, and he plays it beautifully. We see, all at once, his need to impress and his shrewdness. A brothel is certainly a good place to hide Catelyn, but he so obviously wants to impress her with his success and/or make her jealous by being surrounded by beautiful half-naked women. Alas for Petyr, she is neither.
• Old Nan and her stories. Gods, that one gave ME chills. The woman they have playing Nan has her voice and tone down perfectly.
• Ned’s instinctive moment of violence with Littlefinger outside the brothel. As mentioned above, Sean Bean gets this perfectly. You understand why he has so frequently been cast as bad guys—he can be utterly terrifying, and there’s something about his intonation (combined with that accent) that makes you realize just how dangerous Ned Stark can be.
• Jon Snow practicing in the yard.
• Viserys freaking out on Daenerys. YES! The moment the whip curls around his neck and he lies gasping for air, I won’t lie, is deeply, deeply satisfying. And then when Jorah deliberately ignores his order to kill the Dothraki. Humiliations galore.
• Syrio Forel. In the book he is bald as an egg, but otherwise everything about him is spot-on—his accent, his words, his movement, his expressions. His grin when Arya describes the sword as a needle is worth the price of admission.

Answers for Nikki

• The Iron Throne: yep, they’ve done a very good job recreating the throne as it’s described in the books. The story behind it is that Aegon “The Conquerer” Targaryen, the first Targaryen king who united the Seven Kingdoms, had it made out of the swords of his defeated enemies.
• The direwolves do indeed have something of a connection to their humans—especially Bran, but that only really gets explicated in later books.
• The guy who’s always talking to Daenerys is Ser Jorah Mormont, an exiled knight. He went into exile because he broke the law in selling some poachers to a slaver, and it was Ned Stark he was fleeing from. And yes, he’s more or less the same in the book. He offers more in the way of exposition on the show than in the novels, but not too much. He is, incidentally, the son of the Night’s Watch commander.
• Littlefinger and Catelyn: in the books, Petyr Baelish was fostered with Catelyn’s family. The romantic attachment goes one way: Littlefinger was/is in love with Catelyn, but as she said in this episode, she has only ever thought of him as a little brother.


Derek said...

You guys really have a great format going here in the last couple blogs. It's pretty cool how you put some of the more interesting bits in bullet point form. And the question/ answer parts are great for non-readers and readers who have forgotten a few things.

It's great to read this blog because it I can try and view the show vicariously through a non-readers perspective. It's difficult to watch because I can't like or hate certain characters because I know what they become.

Some added point (sorry) about the Iron Throne... but correct me if I'm wrong because I'm going from what I remember reading years ago.
- Swords are sharp and cut the kings (shows that they should never be comfortable and complacent/ shows the unworthy)
- I think it may have caused a death or two. Not sure if that is thought of as a rumor in the book or if I'm just making it up

MLBurt said...

I've successfully managed to get three of my friends who haven't read the books into the series, which has been a wonderfully fun experience. Consequently I've wound up watching each episode about four times apiece, but that's really more of a good thing than anything else.

I find my friends are a great gauge for how well the series is doing its job at translating the books. Their reactions to scenes from the book are pretty similar to the way I reacted when I read the scenes, but with all the added stuff this episode it was particularly fun to see what they thought. I noticed that that ineffably disturbing aspect of Cersei really got across with that scene where she's talking to Joffrey about how he can fuck whomever he pleases. One friend actually went "Wow, I'm feeling a little bothered by her", to which I could only respond "You probably should."

Anonymous said...

the scene with ned looking on and hearing swords is not in the books, so there isn't any one answer to what he was thinking about. that's part of what makes it so works as a flashback AND a premonition.

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