Here, a man gets what he earns, when he earns it.
Written by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Brian Kirk
Three episodes in, and almost every major character in season 1 of Game of Thrones is firmly in the place they need to be, most notably Jon Snow at Castle Black. Respect and admiration have already been hard to come by for the bastard son of Ned Stark, and it's not going to get any easier, as we quickly see that Castle Black is a place full of cheap, dirty, low-lifes that makes the Night Watch's recruiting system look like the laughingstock of Westeros. We watch Jon Snow prove himself to be the "least useless person here", as said by the sharp-tongued Ser Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale). Jon tries training with the other boys, but none of them have so much as picked up a sword, making it extremely easy for Jon to beat every single one of them. Jon's only sources of comfort at the Wall are his uncle Benjen Stark and Tyrion Lannister, but come on now. Nobody that is inherently good in the continent of Westeros is allowed to be happy and comfortable, so it's only natural that Uncle Benjen announces that he is leaving on a several-month ranging trip north of the Wall, and Tyrion, after taking his piss off the top of the Wall, departs to begin his trip back to King's Landing.
With our first look into the characters at the Wall, D&D are still making it very difficult for us to keep up with who is who and what is what. By now, we're pretty comfortable with the King, the Starks, the Lannisters, and the Targaryens that are all the way on the other side of the world. But now, we've got a whole new lovely lot of faces to keep track of, so heads are still spinning with mass confusion (this is a time when book readers have a humongous advantage). And yes, there are still a lot more characters that have yet to be introduced, but as Game of Thrones rolls along and really starts to pick up steam, it should become quite clear that there are honestly just four places we need to keep track of, regardless of how many characters are actually there:
1.) King's Landing
2.) The Wall
Granted, there will be several more locations, but what I just listed I would call the Big 4 of Game of Thrones locations. For those of us who haven't completely lost interest at this point, let's just remain optimistic, because with enough time and patience, we'll get to know Westeros and Essos like the back of our hand.
We'll have plenty more opportunities later on to talk about Jon Snow and his new digs, so let's not get too bogged down with him in this episode. We now transition to Ned Stark's arrival in King's Landing, where he is called upon to attend a meeting of the King's Small Council. The Council members are the king's brother Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony), the eunuch Lord Varys (Conleth Hill), Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover), and the Master of Coin Lord Peter 'Littlefinger' Baelish (Aidan Gillen). Ned and the council discuss the heavy debt that the crown currently faces, with Ned dismissing the idea of a tourney being held to honor his appointment as Hand of the King.
Early scenes taking place in King's Landing in this episode are our first chance to see the more political side of Game of Thrones, as the conversation between Ned and the Small Council is followed up by a conversation between Cersei and Joffrey, in which Joffrey expresses discontent over having to one day marry Sansa, followed by how he would impose taxation laws on the North and appoint someone who is truly loyal to the crown as Warden of the North. Cersei assures Joffrey that anyone who isn't them is their enemy, which is a clear indication to us that no one is going to get the best of the Lannisters and get away with it.
Speaking of the Lannisters, I've said next to nothing so far about the other Lannister sibling, Jaime. We get quite a bit of him in this episode, primarily in two separate conversations he has, first with Ned and then later with King Robert. This is when we learn why Jaime is referred to as the Kingslayer: Jaime killed the previous King before Robert, the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, who was also the father of Daenerys and Viserys Targaryen. These conversations with Jaime are easily some of the best moments of the entire episode, as we get our first real taste of something that George R.R. Martin likes to do with his more villainous characters: make their motivations entirely clear and have the character explain their side of the story. Only two episodes in, and Jaime has established himself as a no-good son of a bitch, yet despite his unforgivable acts, he is not a man without morals (though pushing a ten-year old boy out a window would suggest otherwise), which is why it's best for us to keep a close eye on him and understand that there may be some humanity buried underneath his dashing good looks and desire to be close with Cersei.
Going back to Ned Stark, he discovers Needle when he goes to visit Arya in her room. Arya exclaims her desire to become a swordsman, and Ned secretly helps Arya carry out this desire by enlisting the help of the "water dancer" Syrio Forel (Miltos Yerolemou) to teach Arya lessons in swordsmanship. It's a classic example of Ned being the loving father that he is, though the episode doesn't necessarily end on a happy note. As Ned watches Arya practice with Syrio, his smile quickly turns into a look of concern, as we hear the sound of clattering swords right as the screen goes black. Game of Thrones is usually very subtle with its foreshadowing, but I find this foreshadowing to be a test of how much the viewer is really paying attention. If you're not listening hard enough, you'll miss the sound of the swords and assume the episode ends on a happy note. But if you do catch it, then you can make an educated guess that not only is bloodshed coming, but Arya is bound to take part in it, one way or another.
Ned also gets an unexpected surprise when Catelyn makes a secret visit to King's Landing, meeting with Petyr Baelish to discuss the attempted murder on Bran. When Catelyn gets ready to depart, she and Ned have a heartfelt goodbye, and you know that this will mean one of two things: either this is the last time that the two will ever see each other, or when Ned and Catelyn do meet up again, it will be a very long time from now. Savor all of these precious moments during the show; you never know when another one will come by.
Lastly, in Essos, we see that Daenerys has gained quite a bit of confidence, now feeling much more comfortable with her husband and knowing that she has the full support of Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) and others in the Dothraki tribe. Daenerys is even starting to feel like she can give commands, but this will not stand with her brother, who assaults her and threatens to unleash the dragon. Daenerys' bloodrider Rakharo (Elyes Gabel) intervenes and nearly chokes Viserys to death, but Daenerys begs for her brother to be spared. There is a major role reversal going on now between the Targaryen siblings; the impatient, controlling Viserys is losing his grip on his sister and the Dothraki tribe, while Daenerys has found herself a brand new support system, coming to fully embrace her new role as a Khaleesi (the wife of a Khal). If things continue like this between the Targaryens, something's gotta give.
So we're not quite there yet, but season 1 of Game of Thrones is almost completely out of its set-up stage, getting more and more characters into their rightful locations, while developing a few new plot lines that will continue to grow as the episodes roll along. Further character development takes a bit of a backseat in this episode, the only thing that I would say is clearly missing. Nonetheless, "Lord Snow" is filled with some intriguing conversations and some charming moments, as well as starting to give us a further look into some of the themes and ideas that makes Game of Thrones as compelling as it is. It only gets more intense from here on out. Enjoy these semi-peaceful times while you still can.
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