Monday, June 6, 2016

Game of Thrones Rewatch 1.3: "Lord Snow"

Read the previous entry in this series here.
Read the next entry in this series here.

Episode 1.3 “Lord Snow”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Brian Kirk
Commentary by Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark), Maisie Williams (Arya Stark), and Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran Stark)

While the first two episodes were primarily setup for the main arc of the season—Ned traveling to King’s Landing to run the kingdom for Robert and discover who killed Jon Arryn—this episode finally gets to move past setup and start the wheels in motion. To quote Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, in this episode, “the thick plottens.” Nearly everyone has reached the place they’ve been traveling toward in the last episode or two, and everyone is discovering that it’s not what they expected.

Since I’ve shoved Daenerys to the end of the last two posts, let’s start off with her this time (it’s only fair). The khalasar is still on the move, but that doesn’t mean parts of Dany’s journey aren’t coming to fruition. She’s getting more comfortable in the khalasar, learning to speak Dothraki and give commands—like a queen khaleesi.

She’s even finding the strength to stand up to Viserys, though that’s still a work in progress. He’s still her brother, and it’s clear that she still cares about him, but she doesn’t stop Rakharo from making him walk (a massive shame for a Dothrakan), and her demeanor is much less submissive. This is also when Dany finds out she’s pregnant, and when she and Drogo share their first on-screen kiss, so her relationship with Drogo is also progressing and growing stronger.

One thing about Dany’s scenes I found a bit odd was Irri’s attitude. Irri is a slave; this has been established, and continues to be evident in this episode because she’s walking rather than riding. Her attitude toward Dany is as expected—deferential but not quite servile—but the way she talks to Rakharo gives me pause. She gives him orders, bosses him around, and is generally not deferential. Rakharo is a bloodrider and a free man; it seems odd that a slave would dare to speak to him like that, especially considering that the director made it a point to show a slave being beaten for no particular reason. Now, maybe Irri and Rakharo have a special relationship—he does seem more amused with her attitude than anything else—and maybe being Dany’s slave in particular gives Irri some perks, but I doubt sassing a man as high in the khalasar hierarchy as Rakharo is one of them. (The show has kind of a problem with slavery and the conditions of slavery only mattering some of the time; this will probably be a developing theme in these posts.)

As Dany’s star begins to rise, however, everyone else is getting in way over their heads. Jon, for example, had a bit of a wake-up call on the road to the Wall, but not until he’s actually in training with his new brothers does he realize just what kind of person tends to make up the “brotherhood.” And because Jon already has a bit of a chip on his shoulder because of the bastard thing, his attitude toward the other recruits is pretty bad—until Tyrion smacks him down a peg by humanizing Pyp and Grenn and reminding Jon that privilege is relative; at Winterfell he might have been lowish on the totem pole, but these boys are lower than that, and haven’t had the noble upbringing that Ned provided Jon despite his parentage. He also gets a bit of a smackdown from Benjen when Jon assumes that he’ll be going ranging with his uncle. Benjen has to teach him that preexisting family connections mean nothing here, and Jon won’t be going anywhere until he finishes his training and is assigned to the rangers—assuming that’s what he’s assigned to. Nothing is going like Jon expected, and he’s torn between feeling like a big fish in a little pond and completely out of his depth. While he’s being kind of a twit now, this is an important part of his growth, and it’s good to see him struggling rather than just becoming a hero overnight.

Ned is also in over his head, as he begins to learn here. The kingdom is in much worse shape than he anticipated, and Robert just as hands-off as he threatened to be. The intrigues of court begin to take shape, as well, as Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish and Varys “the Spider” make their appearances on screen. While Varys tries to ingratiate himself with Ned and immediately fails (though his face makes it clear that he’s taken note of that failure and will use it to his advantage later), Petyr sets up a weird semi-adversarial relationship with Ned by immediately bringing up his previous relationship with Cat. Ned clearly doesn’t know where Petyr’s going with this, but immediately doesn’t trust him or like him (for good reason). That trust is not enhanced by Petyr taking him to see Cat, who has tried (unsuccessfully) to sneak into King’s Landing, at his brothel (complete with gratuitous boobies). The weird adversarial relationship continues when Petyr promises to help, but keeps insinuating that he and Cat have some sort of pre-existing relationship—despite Cat claiming that Petyr is like a little brother to her (witness his whole face tightening up when she says that). Also: “he would never betray my trust.” Oh, Cat. You have no idea.

At least Ned and Cat get a proper goodbye, which I’ll admit I’d completely forgotten about when writing last week’s post. It’s another bittersweet moment, because this is absolutely the last time Cat and Ned will see each other, but their love comes through so clearly. Ned tells Cat that Petyr still loves her, and her response (“does he.”) makes it clear that she doesn’t care how Petyr feels about her, only how Ned feels about her.

Several small scenes help set up a mix of foreshadowing and useful-but-not-essential information for the reader. Cersei and Joffrey’s discussion over his wounded arm gives some useful background on how the Westeros version of feudalism works and why a standing army wouldn’t be prudent or even really possible. Jorah and Rakharo’s discussion of their swords sets up differences in fighting style and weaponry between Westeros and the Dothraki as well as showing Rakharo learning to speak Westerosi and further establishing Jorah’s regret over being exiled from Westeros and having shamed his father. And Robert, Barristan, and Jaime’s discussion about the men they’ve killed shows that winning a throne and being a king aren’t the same thing, that Jaime still thinks he absolutely did the right thing in killing Aerys, and that Robert doesn’t have the best relationship with Lancel Lannister (foreshadowing dun dun duuuuuun).

Finally, let’s talk about the awesomeness that is Syrio Forel. I don’t think this part could have been cast better, and I love every second of the few minutes of screentime he gets. Miltos Yerolemou and Masie Williams have great chemistry, and seeing Arya finally truly happy is a delight. Yet as the music, sound effects, and push-in on Ned’s face warn us, this happiness will not last long; King’s Landing is a dangerous place, and while Arya might be sparring with wood, true steel will be bared before too long.

RIP: nobody! I don’t think anyone dies in this episode. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Next week: Dany grows even more. Ned reads a book. Arya balances on one foot. Also: Sam Tarly! Gendry!

Screencaps from Gif from

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