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Game of Thrones: Lord Snow

“Everyone who isn’t us is an enemy.”

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.

King’s Landing

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.

The Wall

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 is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


  1. I've had exactly the same reaction. We're finally after all the introdutions and the story can kick into gear.

    Syrio Forel and Arya stole the show in the last scene. Wonderfull.

    Only 7 episodes to go and then 10 months of waiting for season 2. :( At least the 5th book is coming in July. It's offical, GRRM finished it.

  2. I'm not quite with you yet. I'm enjoying the show, but for me, it is still mostly just going through the motions of bringing the books to life. I love seeing all the characters made flesh, but it is only when we get scenes or characterizations that reach beyond what was in the books (at this point) that it really speaks to me. I loved the scene between Robert, Jaime, and Sir Barristan, and the way the final scene shifted from joy to ominous foreboding was great.

    And I'd still argue that last week was awakening. This week was buckling down or laying in for the long haul, now that they've had their morning coffee and seen reality for what it is. :)

  3. I'll thumb wrestle you for awakening dibs, Jess. It'll be the Thunderdome of Thumb-Wrestling.

  4. I felt this connection last week, probably because that was the point I really got into the books as well. Still I think Jess is right, they are definitely buckling down for the long haul!

    Thanks for the review Josie!

  5. I am so impressed with this series; I can't get enough. I just wonder how it is that I never heard of it before. I bought the books and am almost through the first one. They of course give you a lot of insight into the characters and their motivations, but the short chapters, much like the weekly show, leave me gritting my teeth for more. That hour on Sunday night seems to fly by.

  6. Well, if they awoke last week, I'd say this week's theme is comprehension, understanding of just how deep shit they're all in, scuse my French.

    I loved how this episode built a theme of gathering foreboding and impending doom. It really hit me in that sweet goodbye scene between Catelyn and Ned that just felt so Final, it really scared me.

    The doom-sense intensified as John realised he's alone at the wall with only thieves for brothers, Tyrion realised that the fight for dominion of Westeros might be larger than Lannister vs Stark, and even that Awesome introduction to Syrio turned chilling as Ned's sombre face was pictured with the sound of steel on steel.

    No one died this week but it didn't stop me feeling like someone is about to.

  7. I had to start the episode with my paper and pen again because the Small Council confused me. I think I got there in the end, but wouldn't bet the house on it.

    Cinematically, this episode was breathtaking. I loved the way that the Wall was shot in blue, making it seem cold and dark. King's Landing, on the other hand, was warm and bright. Not only did it make the show visually interesting, but it made the scene shifts easy to follow.

    Cersei is interesting to watch. She is so Machiavellian it's terrifying. Imagine having that conversation with a child, much less one's own son. "The truth will be what you make of it." She may not be wrong (after all, "History is written by the victors"), but it is no wonder that Joffrey is such a sadist.

    I loved the scenes with Ned and his daughters. On the one hand, he has no idea how to interact with Sansa, yet he understands and can talk to Arya very easily. "War is easier than daughters" made me laugh out loud.

    As an aside, it you get the chance to watch the audio commentary for this episode, don't hesitate. It is done by the three young actors who play the Sark kids. Not only are these three articulate and charming, but it is fascinating to hear them talk about acting with such legends. Well worth the hour.


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