Sunday, June 16, 2024

Game of Thrones 1×03 Rewatch: Lord Show

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Welcome back to The Wars to Come, the weekly Game of Thrones rewatch for the seasons that don’t hurt us to watch. Last week, showrunners Benioff and Weiss (D&D) introduced us to the world of what will become Weisseroff. This week, it’s “Lord Snow,” presented by KylieJuliaBo, and Griffin, a show novice who only read the first couple books.

For those who missed who haven’t caught up yet, Kylie’s got another summary ready for you.

Episode Recap

Poor Ned Stark is really in it this time! His party’s arrived at King’s Landing, but it’s only bad news that greets him. King Robert has bankrupted the realm, and the current Small Council don’t care to stop him. To make matters worse, one of the counselors, Petyr Baelish, seems determined to annoy Ned, toying with him about Cat’s whereabouts. She was secretly hiding in one of his brothels! But what’s Cat doing there? Why, to tell Ned she suspects the Lannisters were behind Bran’s fall from the tower, of course. Baelish nearly confirms this when it’s revealed that the dagger used by the Catspaw was lost in a bet to one Tyrion Lannister. Cat and Ned are soon parted again, leaving him with a hands-off king, slimy counselors, and feuding daughters. He arranges for Arya to take sword-fighting classes, but how long can he keep the interpersonal and political peace when so much is wrong?

In her own political quagmire, Daenerys Targaryen continues her quest for greater agency by attempting to flex her leadership muscles. Yet this does not sit well with her brother, who attacks her when she attempts to order part of the Khalasar to stop. Fortunately, the Dothraki already are quick to jump to her defense—not his. Perhaps solidifying her position further, we learn that she is pregnant with Drogo’s baby. Will Viserys have something to say about that too?

Back in Winterfell, a fully-awake Bran has no memories of what he saw just before he fell from the tower. Robb insists he couldn’t have fallen by accident since he was always so sure-footed, but Bran—distraught over his paralysis from the waist down—is in no mood to hash that out.

He is not the only person with Stark blood in a bad mood, though. At The Wall, Jon finds himself very unimpressed with the Night’s Watch. His soon-to-be brothers are lousy fighters who resent “Lord Snow” for having been trained by a proper master-at-arms, and his Uncle Benjen won’t let him go on any ranging missions since he still needs to rise through the ranks. With a little encouragement from the still-visiting Tyrion, Jon makes a few friends, even helping them in their training. Though with Tyrion heading back South and Benjen going ranging north of The Wall, will Jon’s commitment stay enough to see him through his vows?

It’s a good question, but one we’ll have to find out next time, here on The Wars to Come.  

Initial, quick reaction

Bo: Considering how lukewarm the first episode left me, this was another episode where I walked away pleasantly surprised? I expected a lot of fond memories to vanish but they’re right where I left them. Oh yeah, that’s why I became such a big fan of Maisie Williams! I almost forgot. Some of that pesky scene-jumping problem presents itself in this episode but it’s such a small issue compared to the highlights.

Griffin: This is my first time watching this series like, at all — I read the first two and a half books before getting turned off by the excessive references to genital mutilation — and I recall saying that after the first episode, if I wasn’t part of the this “rewatch” project, I wouldn’t have watched episode two. Random nudity, rape, sex, and a world of high fantasy pretending that it’s not (I guess?) aren’t really my cup of tea. I do like political intrigue, but that wasn’t how I felt the show presented itself in the first episode. So I’m kind of on the same side of a similar boat as Bo, except sort of also not?

I do really like Maisie Williams too, though. Honestly, the entire cast, with the exception of Kit Harrington (is “stares into middle distance” a trendy acting technique or something?), Michelle Fairely (she’s desexualized to the point of it being distracting), and Emilia Clarke (she was the worst part of Terminator: Genisys, and that had Jai Courtney failing to be Michael Biehn!), are really fun to watch. It’s a little crazy to see a cast made up almost entirely of actors who can “elevate the material” all doing their thing.

That being said, I kind of enjoyed “Lord Snow”? Nobody died, I don’t think anyone got naked. So I guess I like Game of Thrones when it’s not being Game of Thrones (GoT).

Julia: It’s funny you say that, Griffin, because this feels like the most GoT-like episode so far, to me. Ironically, because no one dies, and no one got naked except for a couple topless background sex-workers. There was just something very D&D about the writing. Ned’s ruggedness was totally bowlerized, the invented scenes were only good because the actors are incredible, (Thankfully, they’re so incredible that they balance out into good scenes. I wonder how long they’ll be able to keep that up.) Saint Tyrion is making an appearance.

It was still an enjoyable episode, but I was distracted by the plaster cracking.

Kylie: You’re not wrong, Julia, though I’ll echo Bo’s pleasant surprise. I mean, this totally is the beginning of poor, simple, honor-gets-you-killed Ned, no question. But I think my biggest takeaway from the episode was how well the tensions were fleshed out, without anything necessarily big happening.

We’re given insight into Robert’s glory days nostalgia and Cersei’s very ruthless and family-based survivalism, it’s pretty clear how useless the council is to actually running a kingdom well, any romantic understanding of the Night’s Watch is peeled away, and Viserys’s frustrations are beginning to boil over—in this case with him directly pitted against Dany. The stakes are well set and exciting. I think that’s what the taste in my mouth was, far more than a lack of Tyrion challenging people to a duel with a fork. (That’d be just wonky for a visual medium, I think we can agree.)


Bo: This is actually a hard episode to pick a highlight for, and in a good way. Do I pick the Small Council scene, the Ned/Arya scene, or the Bobby B/Barry/Jaime scene? They were all so good. You know what, that’s my highlight. I’m going with the conversations as a whole. They were sharp, informative of both the plot and characters, and plain entertaining. What happened? How did Game of Thrones forget how to create scenes like these? It helps when you have Bean/Williams or Headey/Gleeson instead of DeadBored, but still.

Speaking of DeadBored, I guess Lord Snow himself was my lowlight. Not some huge lowlight, but it’s hard to watch Maisie Williams chewing her lip just like Arya is supposed to, then Kit Harrington gaping blankly like a fish out of water. Actually, that might be an insult to the fish. At least the fish conveys terror.

Julia: I like the idea of terror fish. They would make great sushi.

My highlight was Jaime, surprisingly enough. Maybe you had to be a book snob to appreciate it, but the scene where Ned comes into the throne room and Jamie is sitting there waiting, just like after the fall of the city during the war… it gave me feels. And Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was the best during that good, if a little incongruous, scene where Bobby B and Barry are shooting the shit with him, like randomly in the middle of the day.

Griffin: I remembered that scene with Jaimie after Robert’s Rebellion too! Or, rather, the flashback of it. However it was presented in the book, can’t really recall. But yeah, that was great when he’s all, “the fuck was I supposed to do Ned, he was burning people for fun you were there.” I think my main highlight has to be Arya and Syrio. I actually forgot about him from the books and was delighted to see he was just as ridiculous as I remember I imagined him. Like, where did Ned find this guy? Did he ask Robert? Whose idea was it to call them “dancing lessons”? It’s great, but it just leaves so many funny questions.

As for lowlights, I guess I was least entertained by Littlefinger being all horny for Cat. He hides her in a brothel, and women come out of the back room just so he can shoo them away—I mean he clearly planned that ahead of time. They can read the room! They kind of have to for their line of work, for God’s sake. Also what part of him thought Ned would be chill with this? Did he want to be choked/beaten up? For a guy who plans everything, it doesn’t really seem like he thought too hard about this.

Julia: My lowlight has to be up at the Wall and Tyrion being so wise and witty. I imagine I’ll be a tad fixated on it for the duration of this write-up. God, Jon, be like Tyrion and bond with the common folk!

Bo: Speaking of the brothel, can I also add Varys just sitting patiently behind the beads for his introduction? That was an extra level of dramatic. TBH I can picture book!Varys doing that. It’s probably how he spends most his time.

Kylie: Honestly, being back at ~THE FINEST ESTABLISHMENT IN ALL OF WESTEROS~ is almost a highlight in itself.

But for my own highlight, I’ll echo the crowd with Jaime and Robert’s scene. It was off-script, but it actually brought something to the table. There was care put into it, and it was like, “Oh here’s the advantage of a visual adaptation for books that have close POVs—we can gain insight into other people.”

It’s hard for me not to pick Julia’s lowlight since that’s the bug up my butt in general, but I think I’m going with Bo again. Kit Harington’s acting is far and away the worst thing on the show right now. I think Sam’s arrival is going to help him, but watching his scenes were painful. And that’s not just thanks to Tyrion’s cloud of smug.  

Quality of writing

Julia: Why do people keep asking how many king’s asses have polished the Iron Throne? Omg, that’s an easy to look up fact! At this point it’s 18. 19, if you count Rhaenyera. Which I do.

Kylie: She counts and Criston Cole is a dillweed.

Julia: It’s still D&D writing this week, but I think I’m less impressed? The exposition was more clunky and I think we have the first scene where I was embarrassed to be watching, and that was the one where Tyrion was lecturing Jon about classism while Grenn and Pip were right there. Awkward.

That being said, I like how they juxtaposed two parent/child conversations—Cersei talking to Joff and Ned talking to Arya—to contrast these two families and how they see power. And there was a good subtle moment where Arya asks Ned how he could let Sansa marry an asshole. It was good.

Griffin: Having never watched this show before, it was…fine? I’m inclined to agree with Julia here, since I don’t really know what comes next or how bad or dumb it gets. I did wonder why anyone had to ask how many kings there have been on Iron Throne, though. Seems like it’d be common knowledge.

Oh! The old woman trying to freak out Bran with stories of winter was…strange. The way it was shot made it seem like it was supposed to be horrifying, but it just came off as silly. It was like she was trying to traumatize this poor kid, because she’s bored, and then POOF that guy who is apparently Robb (why did they age everyone up it’s so weird) shows up and the “Tension” vanishes from the room. So weird.

Julia: I remember it being scarier in the books. But yeah, the White Walker/Others are supposed to be terrifying.

Bo:  Like you said, Julia, you can feel the D&D starting to creep in. This episode had a good amount of “the feudal system is stupid and we’re so clever to point this out” to it. Of course Tyrion’s the one who points it out, because he’s totally not one of the most classist, privileged people in the novels or anything. They also show through in that there’s a conversation crafted around an end point of people shitting themselves when they die.

Still, they rely enough on the books to cover most of the stink. They mostly craft the book dialogue into really good scenes and do an admirable job introducing you to this giant world. Even if it ends up in the way of silly ghost stories. To be fair, Griffin, they might have been going for the kindly grandma trying to scare Bran? I still want to give them that much credit. I’m also trying to keep the scope of this first season’s task in mind. It’s pretty monumental.

Kylie: I was so distracted by the amount that they ripped or awkwardly referenced for Season 7. I think I actually shouted when Benjen said, “my brother once told me that nothing someone says before the word ‘but’ really counts.” So it’s been kind of hard for me to really just consider the writing outside of the context of what’s to come.

However, I will at least say things sound right. There’s no unnecessary cursing, or attempts to pluck it up with a knowledgeable down-to-earth dude, you know? I can definitely see where this is leading with Saint Tyrion and Dumbed-down Ned, and that’s frustrating. But the actual quality of the dialogue is still mostly there. The audience is still invited to guess at things, and there’s very few sledgehammers in the writing. The parent/child conversations especially felt authentic and gave us important insights, and one of those was completely invented.

There’s still thought here, and I think the results are good. Maybe this is the benefit of second drafts.

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Julia: Hidden things being revealed. Hear me out. Cat was hidden in the brothel and then revealed to Ned. And while there, the owner of the dagger was revealed. (Or was it!) Dany’s pregnancy was revealed because her handmaid is just that aware of the size of her bewbs. Arya’s secret sword hobby was revealed. Cersei is concerned about Bran revealing things.

Bo: I can’t tell if I’m hopeless at identifying episodic themes or if Game of Thrones tends not to care about them. My gut reaction was family. The Ned/Arya and Cersei/Joff scenes both firmly establish the Stark/Lannister conflict. Jon meets and grows accustomed to his new family at the Wall. So maybe?

Kylie: These are both definitely contenders, and as with most episodic commonalities on this show, I’m pretty sure they’re unintentional. I mean, the family drama itself is kind of the scaffolding of the books, though there was an emphasis on showing us the very specific inter-familial dynamics to really be able to frame the (forgive me) war to come.

I’m struggling thinking of anything else. Unlikely bonds? Jon and Tyrion, Ned and Arya (over swordfighting), Robert and Jaime to some extent, Cat insisting on Ned and Littlefinger, the Dothraki now having Dany’s back, and idk, Bran and Old Nan? It’s very thin and a stretch, but there were a lot of scenes between two people in this episode, though none of it fell into the horrid buddy-buddy dynamic that basically comes to define D&D’s writing.

Cracks in the plaster (the bullshit to come)

Julia: Tyrion teaching Jon about classism immediately comes to mind. That was an odd choice, and it prevented Jon from having any positive non-noble mentors within the Watch. At least until Qorin, I guess. And he knew that the wildlings are just like us, a revelation that took Jon three books. So wise.

Bo: This episode definitely conceives Saint Tyrion. It also sets up the whole “the Throne doesn’t matter and everyone’s stupid to fight over it” thing they love to focus on in the most recent two seasons. The point of those serving at the Wall is that they kind of have to believe in the system, otherwise why would they bother? They’d just let the wildlings through. If they all know the wildlings are normal dudes totally just like them, then why fight them and hate them?

The point’s not exactly wrong, it’s just supposed to be made in a more subtle, gradual way than this.

And he’s quippy too!

Kylie: “Starks…Quick tempers, slow minds.” It starts here. Ned is perfectly smart in the books; he’s just also haunted by things that happened in the past, and he has difficulty juggling internalized and externalized honor in a situation that is very specifically recalling some of these events. There’s this bizarre tendency by fandom to equate intellect for cynicism in human nature, and I think that’s what ultimately lead D&D down the acedia path. But even though it’s certainly a reading you could do from the events of A Game of Thrones, it doesn’t seem to be what Martin argues, or what the point of Ned’s arc was.

So maybe I’m hanging too much on that line, but I think it’s very telling of what’s around the corner.

Griffin: Having never watched the show, I only vaguely know what kind of nonsense comes next. Mostly it’s about teleportation and absurd contrivances. And Ice Dragons, and I guess…filming rape accidentally, and then on purpose, and then even more on purpose… I’m having trouble seeing how that all stems from this, to be honest. Ravens carry messages, even though the procession of time isn’t super clear throughout the episode. I thought it was like a few days but it might be weeks? It’s not a game breaker but it is a little distracting.

Remember adaptation?

Julia: This isn’t really an adaptation thing but I’m not sure where else to put it: does anyone else think the place playing King’s Landing could have played Sunspear better? There’s palm trees, everyone is wearing yellow and orange for some reason….

Bo: Always thinking of Dorne. Jeez. Although maybe that’s why Ned looks so pissed when he gets there? It brought back memories.

It’s not a huge adaptational issue, but I noticed braggart Ned here. Not that Ned is above talking some smack to Jaime Lannister, but it felt weird for him to basically tell Jaime he’d kick his ass. Maybe it’s just me, but I assumed Ned’s attitude about fighting in tourneys to be more of a “I don’t like celebrating war because the worst moments of my life tie back to the wars I’ve fought” rather than “you stupid Southerners and your fake fights, find a real fight.”

I also have a pretty serious problem with presenting the Night’s Watch as the most rational part of Westeros. They totally understand that the Wildlings are just like them, everyone! No bigotry here with the rapists and murderers!

Julia: Braggart Ned is a huge deal from an adaptational perspective. Real!Ned is so far from that. I suspect they just didn’t picked up on it when reading that Ned was a good leader but not necessarily exceptionally good at combat, or indeed, that it’s not required that those two go together. They were just, “war leader who inspires loyalty and seems to be competent = good at swinging sword.” Ugh. There’s more than one way to be strong, Steven.

But this section is supposed to be more positive… Most of the stuff in King’s Landing was very good. The Small Council scene especially really got what that institution was across very well. That is, a bunch of self-seeking individuals not willing to restrain Robert or mitigate his failings in any way. (Really makes you wonder about Jon Arryn, doesn’t it.)

I already spoke a bit about Jaime, but I felt like I could hear Jaime’s aSoS internal monologue sometimes.

Kylie: Is this section supposed to be more positive?

Julia: More positive than the next one, I guess.

Kylie: If that’s the case, I can give my mild shout out to Ned breaking down Kingsroad-gate in a way many people still seem to not grasp:

“Sansa was dragged before the king and queen and asked to call the prince a liar.”

It was politically useful for her to have lied there!

Whatever. The only major adaptational change that isn’t Saint Tyrion I can think of at the moment is their Renly. Granted, he was not really in this episode a ton, but he’s just some bored councilman who might be a little snarky. I understand him not being in the last episode, I suppose, though the huge levels of charisma that kind of defined his appeal are just absent. Even though I think this Renly is like, #AttainableFriendGoals. We’d enjoy watching a game together.

Since we were on about the Carolization of Cersei last episode, how’s our “Oh Carol” Status now?

Griffin: I’ll leave this one to the veterans.

Kylie: If only you knew the Carol to come.

To the question at hand, her scene with Joffrey felt Cersei-esque to me. She’s politically prudent, she’s educating her son in a kind of horrifying way, and she’s tribalistic in her view. The worst I can say is that she was presented as tamping down on Joffrey’s worst instincts, but her rationale behind that were really based in survival. In my view, the dead baby monologue is still an exception.

Bo: I’m conflicted, because the Cersei/Joff scene felt somehow both full Carol and full Cersei. Like, the dialogue and attitude was completely Cersei yet she’s totally right? Though I guess that’s from an audience POV and her own reasons for thinking everyone is an enemy are tribalistic. I guess knowing what’s coming made it feel like Carol to me. I’m far from the Carol expert, though.

Julia: I think I agree with Kylie? The woman in this scene is totally blind to Joff’s faults, in a way that Carol never was. But there was a little bit of Cheryl in there, what with her favourite Wh- word. I don’t know, I guess they’re switching between them at this point.

How was the pacing?

Bo: Not quite as good as the second episode, but still better than the first. Like I said before, they do have a hard task with the first season. Introducing Westeros and its characters without overloading or confusing the audience is a hard thing to do, and that’s without considering the story itself. I still think they’ve settled into a better pace than the first episode did.

Julia: Yeah, there was something about the pacing and the transitions that seemed less natural this time.

Kylie: Did it have anything to do with Cat arriving in King’s Landing five minutes after Ned? And then leaving like 30 seconds later?

I think it mostly worked, but it is pretty obvious different locations are moving at different clips. That’s not enough to ruin any piece of media for me (see: The Empire Strikes Back or The Last Jedi). However, I did do a major double-take when I found out Dany was already two months along.

Griffin: I honestly have no idea how much time was passing between each scene, and considering how distance seems to play a factor in how everyone acts (and how information is withheld/disseminated) that made stuff a little weird for me. Nothing game breaking, but ultimately it felt…I dunno, disjointed? I kind of had trouble parsing together how all of these things connected with one another, and if I hadn’t read the books I honestly don’t think I would have been able to “get” the actual plot of this episode unless I watched it three or four times. The scenes worked individually, but they just sort of…existed next to one another.

Kylie: Yeah, that was more the case than last week’s, at least. But boy howdy, are you going to be in for a treat.

Let’s talk about sex, baby (if applicable)

Julia: It’s the debut of Batfinger’s Brothel! The place where sex was apparently invented.

Bo: I couldn’t remember when the “play with her arse” scene took place. I thought it might have been this one since it was the only episode without numerous guest recapper volunteers. You have to appreciate not just two topless sex workers waiting with Littlefinger, but another one waiting behind a curtain to pop in afterwards. So extra.

Kylie: Littlefinger’s slightly unbuttoned sorta-robe-of-sex-appeal really added to that, too. In my brain I know the topless shots were gratuitous, but I think I’m just so inured at this point that in my mind, this was a perfectly PG-rated episode. Way to use restraint, D&D!

Julia: And you know Cat and Ned totally found someplace to bone, missionary style!

Griffin: That whole brothel nonsense felt way less eye-rolls-out-of-my-head when I was reading the books. Probably because it didn’t look as absurdly dramatic or gross in my head as it did on the screen. Everything looked like a swingers living room from the 70s. Super distracting.

Is it holding up?

Bo: I think it’s holding up much better than I expected. At it’s best, it feels just like the books brought to life and there is still an emphasis on actually adapting A Song of Ice and Fire. The hubris hasn’t set in yet and D&D still feel the need to trust Martin over their own impulses. Though Julia’s right, you can feel it pressing in already. Just like the White Walkers! See, they know what they’re doing.

Kylie: I’m having more trouble being sold on Jon’s character and certainly on Dany’s storyline than I had the first time around, but overall the product is still very good. The danger signs are definitely there, but when the sounds of real sword-fighting were superimposed over Arya’s “dancing lesson” and we got that close-up of Ned’s face that just told us everything about this setting… It’s effective, and it makes me feel something. I know what it becomes, and I’m dead on the inside when I’m not laughing now, but as of this episode, we’re still viewing a quality piece of media.

Bo: Ending on his face was a home run. Sean Bean really knocks these scenes out of the park. He lives Ned’s guilt at all the right moments.

Julia: That was a really nice moment. All the snaps.

You’re right, Kylie, all the plaster cracks are only visible in retrospect, and the story itself is quality. Like, Ned and Arya’s relationship has an arc in this episode. Arcs! Remember those?

Kylie: Since you mentioned Ned and Arya I also just want to give a 3-second shout-out to befuddled Dad!Ned, who failed horribly when he tried to give Sansa a doll. So damn realistic.

Griffin: I mean, I guess it holds up? I didn’t watch it in 2011, and I sort of enjoy it in 2018. I really don’t have any good context for this, as my expectations for media have changed drastically in the past seven years. Honestly, I’m still only seeing hints of this whole political “main plot” that the show is apparently about. That, and the whole Targaryen thing reads as extremely tangential and primarily a vehicle for “BOOBS!”. I know that it’s not, thanks to the books, but with no other information it feels super random.

Kylie: I feel like the upcoming plot beats with Cat next week help focus the main conflict better, but disjointed Dany is going to be a feature for a while. The books are not without issue in that respect either.

In memoriam…or not! This is one of the only episodes without a death. Did that matter?

Bo: It mattered in a good way? Like, the story is actually establishing the danger of the setting and the conflicts, so I fear the potential for death more than I do in later seasons. I wish later seasons of Game of Thrones did half as effective a job establishing the stakes as this episode does. It’s not exactly subtle, but it’s better than throwing death out there just to live up to reputation.

Kylie: 100% agree with that. The whole “beautiful death” series about this show is…interesting, but it bothers me how much of a focal point that becomes. It ends up feeling like death for death’s sake. This episode gave us reasons to care about the living, and there were no stakes that felt lacking.

Julia: To the extent that actors are saying things like, “Gosh I hope I get a good death scene. That would be badass.”

I think the things these early episodes have proved the most is that a lot of the things that people think are essential to GoT’s “success”—lots of death, action sequences, sex—are actually not, and are just these growths that have consumed it over time.

Best metaphor ever.

Griffin: It’s not really something I expect in a serialized television show, so if I didn’t know that Game of Thrones was “that show that kills people,” I wouldn’t even think about this. I’m firmly of the belief that you should only kill a character if their death actually improves the narrative or if they have no more stories left to tell. That’s not to say that every character who is “done” should be killed, but Ned’s execution at the end of the first book is like, literally this. Everything explodes because of that one act.

Kylie: Well, we’re gonna have to wait a month and a half for that one, though tune in next week to see two champions face off.

In the meanwhile, we’re curious to hear what you thought of this episode. Was there tonal confusion? Are themes just for 8th grade book reports? Are we being too generous because the bar for what’s good with this show is buried six feet under? I’m sure we’ll get definitive answers to those questions. And with that, we wish you good fortune in The Wars to Come. See you next Tuesday.

Images courtesy of HBO

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