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I’m rewatching Game of Thrones Season 1 in anticipation of Season 2 beginning April 1 2012. This is the third post in this series. As before spoilers for the whole of season 1 and the book “A Game of Thrones” will follow so please don’t continue if you haven’t watched the whole first season. I will avoid spoilers from later in the book series though so if you are only watching the show have no fear that I will spoil events still to come in the adaptation.
The earlier posts are:
The episode sees the expansion of the cast to include (among others) the small council members. Aidan Gillen is the last member of the starring cast to be introduced, finally appearing on screen here in the third episode as Petyr Baelish. I think it was a sensible move to hold back introducing some of the cast until after the pilot – the large ensemble is a barrier to new viewers and stepwise introductions at least attempt to address this problem. Gillen is familiar to me from his starring role in the HBO drama The Wire as ambitious politician Tommy Carcetti and from Queer as Folk. His capacity to play manipulation and corruption was established in The Wire but Littlefinger has far more insight into his self interest than Carcetti. In a great small moment as the King’s Steward’s summons to the small council meeting he suggests that Ned change and Ned responds by taking off his riding gloves.
Baelish is joined on the small council by some equally great characters. Conleth Hill is superb as the Master of Whisperers Varys. He nails the eunuch’s obsequiousness in this introductory scene but over the course of the season shows just how great Varys is at disguise, obfuscation and deception. I think it is a great challenge to an actor to play a character who spends their time acting different roles like Varys does and Hill really impressed me in the role. I have not seen him in any other projects but I am keen to see more from him after his fine work here. Pycelle played by Donald Glover is another survivor of multiple kings. I thought it was a nice touch that Renly (played by Gethin Anthony) is the only member of the small council who Eddard seems pleased to see. This helps to establish Renly as a likeable and popular leader.
Absent from the small council scenes is Lord Commander Barristan Selmy of the Kingsguard – I don’t quite understand the show’s decision to remove him from the small council scenes. In this episode it helps with those staggered introductions but that could have been achieved by having him absent from one meeting rather than relieving him of the whole responsibility. I do like his introduction as he stoically listens to Robert’s drunken reminiscing and mistreating his squire Lancel Lannister. Jaime gets to demonstrate both his barely suppressed mutual hatred with Robert and contrast it with his palpable respect for Selmy.
Eddard meeting Jaime in the throne room is a great scene. It is filled with tension but also manages to exposit a fair amount of history. It also begins the difficult task of rehabilitating Jaime Lannister after pushing Bran out the window. He comes off slightly sympathetic here to my mind given his opportunity to explain why he betrayed and murdered King Aerys II and Ned’s rather cruel take on his actions.
Catelyn’s interception by the City Watch neatly establishes that the organization is under Littlefinger’s control foreshadowing the events at the end of “You Win or You Die”. Her claims at not well known swiftly followed by being identified by the Gold Cloak is quite a funny scene. The show doesn’t take the time to explain how she arrives in King’s Landing so quickly after Ned but I can understand that the expense of showing a ship docking outweighs the benefits of demonstrating her method of travel in the source material.
Her reunion with Littlefinger is a complex scene for the adaptation. It needs to establish their history which is partly set up by moving her thoughts about him to Littlefinger telling Ned about duelling his brother for her hand. She comes off as slightly childish in her indignation over being brought to the brothel which is a nod to their past together but probably too subtle for the typical casual viewer but still another reason in favour of relocating the scene to the brothel over the Red Keep. It also needs to establish Varys role as spymaster which it does well by crediting him for learning about both Catelyn’s arrival and the dagger. I think leaving the viewer to decipher some of the complexities of the characters is not a bad thing but I know the show was viewed as hard work by some casual viewers. The scene has to juggle introductions and relationships with the plot mechanics of the whodunit regarding Bran’s attempted assassination. I love the ongoing mysteries the series presents but I worry that for viewers it easier to forget unanswered questions than it is for readers.
We have a nice added scene between Cersei and Joffrey. Joffrey reveals an element of self loathing over his cowardice but his mother feeds him the idea of using power to revise history to help him deny his deficiencies. She clearly dotes on, and has spoiled, this son. At least she will criticise him for stupid ideas regarding control of the North but promising him whatever he wants sexually is terrible, creepy parenting. Cersei seems more human in the first season than she did in the first book but she remains an incredibly flawed and paranoid person in the adaptation. I think her assertion that anyone who is not a Lannister is a concise summary of her worldview.
Cersei’s bad parenting is paralleled with Eddard’s attempt to buy Sansa’s forgiveness with a toy doll in the next scene. He does a much better job with his younger daughter, unfazed when he finds her with a weapon he arranges for her to get proper training. This is not exactly acceptable by modern standards but in this world a very good idea. His gentle questioning about the sword gives Arya the chance to open up about feeling guilty over Mycah’s death and Ned appropriately reassures her and tries to explain her sister’s position.
Cersei gets a second added scene later this time one that uses material from later books to again give us a window into her sexual relationship with her brother Jaime. I wonder if her calling him a fool is because she thinks he sent the assassin after Bran as he responds by telling her it is a bit late to criticise him for pushing Bran from the window.
Also new to this episode is Margaret John as Old Nan, the storyteller of Winterfell. The actress sadly died last year so we will not be hearing any more of her tall tales. She is able to remind us of the threat presented by the White Walkers with the scary story Bran demands. Bran’s dejection over his injuries is understandable but not heroic; establishing it here gives him the opportunity to overcome it later though.
Tyrion’s dalliance at the Wall gives him some moments of wit but serves more as exposition regarding the strangely elongated seasons of the world and the state of the Night’s Watch. James Cosmo and Peter Vaughan are both excellent as Lord Commander Jeor Mormont and Maester Aemon respectively but their scene here has more to say about the world as a whole than it does about their characters. Both get meatier writing to work with later in the season.
This story turns a lot of fantasy conventions on their head but Jon Snow’s arc in the first season is fairly standard stuff. He is a hero of uncertain birth off bonding with his classmates while battling their bullying teacher as they train to face a great evil. It is a nice small scale reversal to have Pyp and Grenn go from being menacing criminals to Jon’s loyal friends and I’m glad the show kept the ever dissenting Rast who helps to show a spectrum of responses to Jon. Tyrion continues to get all the best bits – his advice to Jon about how he relates to fellow recruits demonstrates insight and empathy.
One of those convention defying stories is the exiled king being an arrogant, idiotic and petty rage addict instead of a hero. Contrasting Viserys’ obvious failings with Daenerys slowly growing confidence and leadership is a wonderful beat. His unshakeable sense of entitlement also contrasts with Jon’s growing realisation that he must earn the respect of his brothers in the watch. It is subtly written in that she is still unsure enough of herself that it takes her a moment to realise that she can tell, not beg Rakharo to leave Viserys alive. The shifting of Jorah’s loyalty to her mirrors the growing fondness for the character this scene should engender in the viewer. Of course his rapid exit to Qohor when he learns of her pregnancy keeps that loyalty questionable. Irri does specifically tell us it is more than two months since the wedding when she reveals Daenerys’ pregnancy. Three episodes is a relatively short space of time to show the growing love between Daenerys and Drogo but I think the show manages it well.
I think this is perhaps the series weakest episode because it is overburdened by set up, exposition and introductions and does not have the self contained feel that helped to lift both Winter is Coming and The Kingsroad while they fulfilled that purpose. It remains an extremely enjoyable hour of television and in an episode that introduces myriad supporting characters they save the best for last – Miltos Yerolemou as Syrio Forel.