Something happened this week: in the middle of “Lord Snow,” I forgot I was watching a television adaptation of a book I know well. Suddenly, I was watching a compelling and well written TV show with interesting characters doing interesting things. Some of this shift in perspective may be due to the show collapsing some parts of the book while extending others, but really I think this show has finally found its footing. And its footing is the characters, especially the Stark children--and double-especially Arya.
Jess mentioned in the comments last week that she thought that episode’s theme was awakening—I would argue that awakening was the theme of “Lord Snow.” Our heroes are starting to come into their own (Jon, Dany, Arya) or to realize what they’ve gotten themselves into (Ned and Catelyn, Ser Jorah across the Narrow Sea). A few of them, of course, have always known what they’re up against: Robert, Cersei, and even Jaime.
Some wonderful character moments and back-story here. Jaime’s encounter with Ned revealed some key past moments while illuminating some of the strain between the Lannisters and the Starks: Ned, ever loyal, is distrustful of Jaime’s oathbreaking (he killed the previous Mad King despite being a member of the King’s Guard)—but he also knows that oathbreaking was the turning point in Robert’s Rebellion.
Everywhere Ned turns, he bumps up against people who have been disloyal to one person or another: Littlefinger, who implies that he has a thing for Catelyn; the Maester, who also served the Mad King; the Council in general, who haven’t been able to reign in Robert’s massive spending or the reliance on Lannister gold to support a Baratheon throne.
Cersei’s conversation with Joffrey rather obviously telegraphed some of the strategies at work in King’s Landing: falsity, truth-making, loyalty as a commodity to be traded, and the limits of dominion when it bumps up against that one sticking point—stubborn Northern goodness and straight-forwardness. Joffrey is proving to be a bitter, self-conscious little twerp, and he hasn’t been done any favors by Robert, who seems to ignore him entirely. Have we even seen them in shot together, much less talking?
The Stark children are something else, of course. Arya is wonderful, and I’m so impressed that such a young girl can act so well. (Either that, or her parents must be pulling their hair out.) Arya is starting to see how the world works, and to figure out that Lannister vs. Stark is, at base, the conflict that will define her life. Ned’s willingness to let her learn swordplay was a wonderful moment: at first, he does it because this is a daughter her understands, but as he watches Arya fighting in the final shots, he realizes that those skills may prove useful or even necessary, just as his training did for him in Robert’s Rebellion.
It was Robert’s speech that did it for me, though. His conversation with Jaime revealed so much about both their characters. Robert is a mean drunk when he feels like being a mean drunk, a pathetic king who misses the thrill of the fight but can’t rule at all. Jaime, who helped put him on the throne, is left constantly defending his actions—by killing a king given to burning people alive, he doomed himself to a lifetime of scorn.
Jon, too, awakened to his role at the Wall. Uncle Benjen told him he wasn’t a Ranger: does that mean not now, or not ever? He certainly seems to be good at training and helping people, which makes sense given his relationship with Arya. He’s impressing the Watch leadership and building loyalties—by doing good, not by trickery like the Lannisters. He’s a Stark indeed.
Tyrion seems to be getting a sense of the perils of the North, as well. For all his teasing about grumpkins, he’s leaving the Wall convinced that it might be a real necessity that needs more support from the crown. (Funding. It all comes down to funding, in the end.) According to Littlefinger, the dagger used to try to kill Catelyn and Bran came from Tyrion, who won it betting against his brother Jaime. That can’t bode well. And, speaking of Tyrion: despite his assertion that one leaves one’s family behind at the wall, he still trades on the Lannister name to get Jon out of trouble.
Across the Narrow Sea
Dany is really coming into her own as a woman and as a ruler. She’s starting to take charge of the horde, but still doesn’t know what to do about her brother’s megalomania. Perhaps her pregnancy will have some effect there—who knows? Meanwhile, something is up with Ser Jorah. (And, if you didn’t catch it: his father is commander of the Watch.)
Bitter Enemies and Uneasy Peaces:
• The credits changed slightly as the Dothraki horde moved further east.
• Such a touching scene between Ned and Catelyn. (And such a silly aside by Littlefinger outside the whorehouse.)
• We met Lancel, the squire with the stupid name. And Syrio, the dancing master.
• Jaime: “People have been swinging at me for years, but they always seem to miss.”
Ned: “You choose your opponents wisely, then.”
• Cersei: “Someday, you’ll sit on the throne, and the truth will be what you make it.”
• Old Nan: “I know a story about a boy who hated stories.”
• Robb: “She once told me the sky is blue because we live inside the eye of a blue-eyed giant named McCumber.”
• Did we go an entire episode without anyone dying? Madness!
This was the awakening episode for the series, too. If people ask me—as they have been—whether to try the show, I’m going to say they should watch through the third episode. If they don’t like it by then, maybe they never will. But I think they will, because this was good.
Four out of four blue-eyed giants named McCumber.
Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)
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