Monday, July 22, 2024

Game of Thrones 1×04 Rewatch: Exposition, Bath Tubs, and Cogman Things

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We’re back at it with yet another Wars to Come: the Fandomentalist Game of Thrones rewatch. Our mission: observe the episodes before things turned into…well, the show as we know it now, and see what sparkling insights we can glean from this bygone era. This week, we have Bryan Cogman’s writing debut in “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things,” presented by Julia, Kylie, Jana, and Musa.

In case you didn’t have a chance to watch episode 4 yet, Kylie is here with one of her patented (patent pending) episode summaries.

Episode Recap

It’s slow, slow, slow on Game of Thrones, but in the good tension-setting kind of way! Don’t get too used to this, folks!

At the Wall, Jon is adjusting to being a recruit fairly well. When Samwell Tarly, an overweight coward, joins them, he does all he can to protect this new friend from bullying. As it turns it, Samwell was disinherited by his horrible father, who banished him to the Night’s Watch under threat of death.

Suddenly, this makes Ned killing Sansa’s direwolf seem a whole lot chummier, though she’s not ready to forgive him. Instead, she adjusts to life in King’s Landing by attending the Hand’s tournament, where she meets Lord Baelish. Littlefinger shows an odd interest in her, though with the watchful eyes of Septa Mordane, we’re sure nothing can go wrong.

Just your typical horror-free Tuesday!

Speaking of that tournament, it is all Ned can do to keep from screaming whenever the silly, expensive show is brought up. He has more important things on his mind, like investigating Jon Arryn’s death. After following a few threads, one of which is done with the help of Littlefinger, he discovers a bastard of Robert’s named Gendry. He also learns of Jon Arryn’s former squire, Ser Hugh, who was made a knight shortly after his death. That’s intriguing indeed, but it becomes a literal dead end when The Mountain horrifically murders Ser Hugh in a joust.

Family fun in the sun!

Things are certainly less dramatic in Winterfell, though not completely placid. On his way back from The Wall, Tyrion tries to stop at the castle, now run by Robb. Given that the young Lord believes the Lannisters to be responsible for Bran’s fall from the tower, his reception is as chilly as the surroundings. Tyrion tries to help out by giving Bran designs to a special saddle that will allow him to ride a horse again, even without control of his legs, but opts to spend his night in a brothel all the same.

Over in Essos, tensions are also high since Viserys is growing more and more disgruntled with his Dothraki political alliance. Daenerys tries to pacify him, but when he physically attacks her after a heated exchange, she quickly gains the upper hand and proudly embraces her Khaleesi title. She admits later to Ser Jorah that she doesn’t believe Viserys can take her home or win the throne. But where does that leave them?

And finalllllyyyyy, on her way back to Winterfell, Catelyn has the unfortunate luck of winding up in the same inn Tyrion chooses to frequent. When he spots her, she acts quickly and rallies the Tully bannermen she recognizes there to arrest Tyrion so that he might face the King’s Justice for his apparent attempted murder of Bran Stark. She’s really putting a lot on that dagger story, isn’t she?

Did Catelyn just start a war? Did Daenerys just give up on one? Will Theon enjoy his next tumble with Ros? You’ll have to find out next week!

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: Holy Bryan Cogman, batman. This was the man’s first episode, and boy did he not waste time filling in all the previously missed exposition. Viserys finally explained the Targaryen connection to the dragons (and their rule), Littlefinger took his rightful place as Expository Executive Officer, Sam gave his full backstory in his second scene, Sansa got a literal history lesson, and two Greyjoy Rebellion mentions. I’m not saying this was badly done, by the way. I think it was sorely needed at this point for non-book reader audiences. It’s just funny how that was basically the entire episode.

Jana: Two Greyjoy Rebellion mentions, and yet somehow Jorah forgot that he was there, even though this would have been the perfect place to mention it. Oh well. Besides the non-subtle drop of history lesson after history lesson, the episode was… Okay, I guess? Not much happened, but it did go out with a bang.

Musa: Littlefinger’s role as head exposition fairy wasn’t something I was keen on the first time I saw this episode. Seeing it again years later, I’m not any more keen on it. I do appreciate the amount of narrative compacted into this episode. Scene transitions are still a bit weird though. Scenes just sort of end and then the next one begins awkwardly. Also, this is something the show drops later on, but at this point in time, Dany was actually calling Jorah out for being a slaver.

Julia: I kind of loved this episode a little. Coggers is good at exposition. Or, at least, he’s better than D&D at it. The only scene where the exposition was painful was the one where Littlefinger vomits out Sandor Clegane’s backstory, for no reason. There was a lot here, as Musa mentioned.


Jana: Oh boy. My highlight is probably Harry Lloyd’s hilarious face. And look, he even got Dany to emote for a bit! Also, naturally, Catelyn’s badass moment at the end. Too bad they’re going to undermine that first thing next episode.

Picking a lowlight is harder. Sam not only shares his entire backstory during his second scene, this was also the beginning of Creeper Sam talking about sex and girls all the time. Also, I am absolutely no fan of SanSan, but they begin gutting that relationship already with Littlefinger spilling Sandor’s backstory, which has seemingly no impact on Sansa. And while we’re at it, how does Sansa know that her uncle and grandfather died in the throne room, but has no idea why? Has she… selectively ignored everything she has ever heard about Robert’s Rebellion? This is key information! And then she is rude to Septa Mordane. It’s not “I just realized, I don’t care” levels of OOC yet, but still.

Musa: My highlight would probably be the bathtub scene. Specifically how much world building is gotten across in the dialogue. The nudity also doesn’t seem to deter from the actual conversation the characters are having (I had almost forgotten that people could actually talk to each other in this show instead of just talking at each other). The mentions of Asshai, the Faceless Men and I think(?) Salladhor Saan were actually worked in well into Doreah’s dialogue. I would also like to give a small shout-out to the few seconds Kit Harrington was actually acting like Jon Snow when he was teaching Grenn how to pivot (he even had an actual expression on his face for like five seconds).

My lowlight is a bit specific and has to do entirely with the show’s treatment of Sam as a character. To start with, I’m just not a fan of the neckbeard look they give him in his early episodes. But that’s a minor nitpick compared to how badly his character is disserviced with his relentless sex obsession that only gets worse as the show goes on. I don’t need or want Samwell Tarly making anal sex jokes, I just don’t. On top of that, I found his interactions with Jon to be really weird. They don’t seem like they like each other at all, and Jon keeps acting passively antagonistic towards him in their first two scenes (you didn’t have to manhandle the poor guy when you helped him stand up, Jon). Sam is probably my series lowlight too, now that I think about it.

Julia: I second the bathtub scene as a highlight. It’s been a favourite of mine forever. Just a wonderful scene in every way. It almost makes me sad to think that the entire show had the potential to be that good. I also liked Arya’s scene with Ned; the two actors have such great chemistry, and fresh faced, wide-eyed Masie Williams is so great.

Lowlight? I mean, it has to be LF’s monologue about the Hound. I know there were logistical reasons for why the scene was the way it was, but the result is still cringy and awkward.

Kylie: Now I get to be the boring one with the same choices. Bathtub scene yes, Littlefinger scaring Sansa, no.

I adore Sam so I’ll push back on him being a series lowlight, but I totally agree that there’s something in their dynamic that wasn’t coming across fantastically. Is it wrong to keep laying the blame at Kit Harrington’s feet?

The problem with Show!Sam is how they make him completely sex-obsessed and a braggart, probably to make up with how “weak” he is in the books. It starts here a little with Ros’s tits getting as much emphasis as Jon’s bastard anxiety. But I guess this was a short-hand for male bonding?

Julia: Mr. Harrington does better in this episode than ever, but it’s still a little sad to see John Bradley acting his face off opposite him.

Musa: I still think the problem is that Jon acts more like a friend to Sam in all the scenes Sam isn’t actually present. In their one-on-one interactions, it still seems like Jon doesn’t actually want to associate with Sam at all.

Kylie: And this is a problem that gets worse and worse over time. Affection between characters becomes basically non-existent, unless it’s with Tyrion (or punished).

Quality of writing

Julia: Coggers is a better writer than D&D. This is a science fact and was true even back here when they were still decent writers.

Musa: I feel like this needs to be stressed again, but season one Daenerys actually called Jorah out on being a slaver. That’s important. Why exactly did the show forget this fact? They could have actually maintained some moral ambiguity with him since they ended up dropping all the creepy implications of his behaviour. There’s also some good showing instead of telling going on with Ned. He’s from the north so he’s not used to the summer heat of King’s Landing, so Sean Bean is sweating profusely in a room with people who aren’t. It’s the little things that this show used to do really well.

Kylie: Yeah, Cogman just doesn’t feel the same need to spell everything out, or at least not yet. There can actually be implications, even if it is Gendry mumbling about his blonde mother (the hair color stuff is always more of a sledgehammer on the show).

Julia: Jorah was obviously redeemed by his pure love for Daenerys. Duh. The exposition was dense, though. I think maybe the director needs some credit for pulling it off. He might be the real hero this episode.

Jana: Exposition is almost always a bit clunky just by nature once you know what it is and why it is happening. But it gets the job done, and most of it happens in a context that makes sense and doesn’t feel too forced, so, uh kudos to Mr. Cogman on that?

Kylie: Yeah, what even is an example of super-organic exposition? “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” maybe?

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Musa: I don’t know. Trust? Or lack thereof? Robb doesn’t trust Tyrion actually wants to help Bran for non-selfish reasons. Ned first trusts Littlefinger after he’s given some genuine advice on how to handle King’s Landing politics. Catelyn trusts all the men in the inn to follow her when she orders the arrest of Tyrion.

Jana: Dany now explicitly doesn’t trust Viserys anymore, not even to be king eventually, and is at the same time starting to trust her own abilities. And the whole scene with Ned and Littlefinger is about how Ned can’t trust anyone… Yes, I think this could work as a theme.

Kylie: I’ll go with it for sure. I’m trying to loop in Sansa’s refusal to forgive Ned as well, but I think the better fit is Littlefinger “trusting” Sansa with the Hound/Mountain story? I mean again, this doesn’t feel super intentional, but it’s an aspect. Even Jon having trust in his friends to take his side with Sam can be added to these lists, I suppose.

Julia: Yup. Musa gets an A+ on his grade 8 report card. I suppose if I want to stretch I can say Jon is trusting his own judgement.

Jana: And Sansa is trusting and distrusting all the wrong people! Wow. Almost enough to believe this might be intentional.

Cracks in the plaster (the bullshit to come)

Julia: One of those really minor details that only I would notice: they change the inn that Tyrion stays in at Winterfell into a brothel. This is the first sign of a crack that will eventually result in Showberyn living in one.

Jana: But how else could they have brought up Ros! I mean, besides the fact that apparently Jon also almost had sex with her. We might forget who she is, and then how are we to properly appreciate the boobs and shocking death to come?

Also, do things count as cracks if they’re just hilarious in hindsight? Because here we have the last and only interaction between Tyrion and Theon. You know, the one Tyrion is upset about in season 6 because Theon was being mean to him. And boy, was he mean, recommending a sex worker and all that.

Musa: Whereas Tyrion himself spent a good few minutes reminding Theon of the fact that he’s a prisoner that can be killed at any time AND that he’s essentially become whipped into being the Stark’s errand boy.

Jana: Speaking of people being kind of mean; during the first scene with Sam in the books, a few of the friends Jon made last chapter/episode actually join in on defending him on their own. Here they just stand by and let Jon do all the work. Which, come to think of it, also adds up with “Jon the Action Hero” later on.

Kylie: It’s sort of indicative of the “only one person can ever have a point at a time” writing that comes down the pike. If Grenn joins Jon in that scene, then it makes Jon seem less exceptionally good and moral, or something. Which of course, it doesn’t; it just makes the world a more pleasant place, and one people could actually give a shit about.

You know, have we even discussed one of the bigger cracks yet, which is Super Nice Guy Jorah? He’s dashing, he’s on Dany’s side without a hint of creeping on her… I know they do somewhat criticize the slaving (in my opinion, not nearly enough), but he’s still presenting mostly as Ser Dashing Kerchief. Who is nowhere to be found in the books.

Julia: We also have the first Littlefinger monologue. Oh god, the cracks.

Musa: The problem with Jorah isn’t nearly as bad in this episode as it gets later, but yeah there is definitely something to be said for all the personality whitewashing going on with his character. Even his slaving itself is kind of hand-waved away as if it was the fault of his “expensive wife.”

Kylie: I mean, she wanted necklaces; what was the poor guy to do?

Remember adaptation? (book readers only)

Musa: The scene at the end where Tyrion gets arrested. Fairly book accurate with regards to how Catelyn speaks to all of the men in the inn and how Bronn is introduced to the audience, immediately setting him up as a man interested in one thing and one thing only.

My main gripe is that it actually looks like every single man in the inn drew their swords to arrest Tyrion, whereas it’s made clear in the book that it was like half or so that did? That’s a minor point in the grand scheme, but it’s significant which ones did not take part. Specifically, the Frey dudes for whom this could have been a good opportunity to set up that they are not that interested in fulfilling their duty to the daughter of their liege lord.

Jana: The Frey dude already had the floppy hat! One of the few things to stay consistent over seven seasons. And speaking of Tyrion, in the book, the titular line was sarcastic. He played it up as a joke and to mess with Robb. On the show, I got the feeling we were supposed to think he’s being genuine. Yet another sighting of Saint Tyrion? Though even that, like a lot of this episode, was dialogue directly taken from the book. Word for word.

Julia: Not exactly Saint Tyrion, but Tyrion was lecturing Robb about being rude in a way that comes across as a little more dickish with this obvious adult than it did the the books where he was talking to a kid who just graduated from fighting with wooden swords. And they kept that tone for the next scene when he was explaining to Theon why the Greyjoy Rebellion was dumb.

On the other hand, maybe Sansa being rude to Septa Mordane is more age appropriate, since she’s clearly a moody teenager, rather than a little girl like in the books. But that has consequences elsewhere, like her general lower empathy.

Jana: Also, and I’m a horrible person for noticing this, but they replaced Jeyne Poole at the tourney with Arya, who originally did not attend. Though to be fair, the show was written before A Dance with Dragons (Dance) was published, so they probably had no idea about the implications there… Probably.

Musa: Speaking of Jeyne Poole, they actually went through the trouble of working her into Sansa’s scene with Septa Mordane in a somewhat seamless way. My question is, why exactly was she written out of the show? Would it have been so hard to have an extra hanging around Sophie Turner now and again?

Jana: Her and her five sisters who cannot inherit anything, apparently, even if the Pools had anything to inherit. I don’t know, maybe the girl who played her in the first episode was difficult to work with, or they didn’t want to bring on any more child actors? Also, again, Dance wasn’t out yet, so chances are they just assumed she’d never be important again. Although she is sent north at the end of A Storm of Swords, but that’s after the Red Wedding, and nothing after the Red Wedding is relevant!

Kylie: It is weird, given that Martin probably warned them what was coming up in the 5th book, released a couple months after Season 1 began airing. I understand given parsimony of time and all the players to introduce why they would have just thought she was skippable if all they had were the first four books in front of them (they’ve never seemed like the world’s closest readers). But I’m curious now if Martin told them, and they wrote off the idea of including it on the spot. Just a very strange decision, and one I’m pretty sure we know Martin pushed back on.

Poor Renly wasn’t given much in this adaptation…he just kind of seems like a bored, rich asshole. Which isn’t wrong, but it’s also not quite right.

Then there’s the SanSan adaptational decision here—that is, the lack thereof. Sandor’s backstory is no longer a weird moment of vulnerability where Sansa empathizes with him, but instead something ~scary~ and gross for her to be horrified by. I think what bothers me more about that change is Sansa’s immediate distrust of Littlefinger isn’t made clear in that scene at all. She’s kinda just down to gossip with him. But I’m also not sure how much of a SanSan can of worms we should open.

(Also, I should design a t-shirt that is just a can of words reading “SanSan Can”.)

Jana: Renly isn’t even that much of an asshole. At least not in comparison to anyone else in the room who is not Ned.

Julia: Omg, when do they start his romance with Loras? Is that next episode? I can’t wait.

Jana: And the thing about the change with the SanSan scene is, regardless of the relationship itself, the missing characterization for Sansa. A scary man with a disfigured face corners her and tries to scare her, and instead she empathizes with him and shows him kindness. A kindness that Show!Sansa is never allowed to display.

Musa: I’m fairly certain it was clear from the very beginning that D&D weren’t too big on people being kind to others for its own sake. Usually any kindness in Game of Thrones is derived from pity. Like Jon’s kindness to Sam this episode. Whereas the kindness Sansa shows Sandor in the books is borne from a genuine understanding of his trauma. The writers aren’t interested in that so much as they are the gory nature of the story itself.

Did the history lessons and expo-dumps work, or were they Littlefinger-in-the-crypts-esque?

Kylie: Expo-dumps on this show are normally…clunky. And I appreciate that it’s a difficult job, given how detailed Martin can get in his own prose without that distracting. I think for what it was, Cogman did a decent job here. I didn’t even really think about “oh my god, another history lesson” until I looked back to consider the episode. My biggest gripe was with Littlefinger telling the Hound story to Sansa, since that becomes Littlefinger’s role from here on out, but I’m not even sure that’s a fair criticism of this episode alone.

Jana: The scene where Tyrion goes off and explains Theon’s family history to him probably only feels as tacked on and expo-dumpy as it does because of the failed callback to it in season six. The tone was actually not bad, and now we FINALLY know who the hell Theon is.

Julia: Yeah, it really did feel natural at the time. And they had Tyrion being a jerk to someone for no reason. Even if in the same scene he was oh so concerned about the fate of those poor sailors in Lannisport. He has such a common touch.

Jana: The scene with Sansa and Septa Mordane in the throne room almost felt natural, too; taking her charge sightseeing around the Red Keep is probably the most on-the-job Septa Mordane has ever been. Sansa for some reason not knowing why her family members were killed in that room did away with all the good work, though.

Musa: I was most distracted by the Littlefinger stuff just because the info-dumping he was doing had absolutely nothing to do with him. Say all you want for the expo-dumping he’s going to be doing next episode, at least that has to do with his own backstory and experiences and informs the audience about his character. Here, it has nothing to do with him and doesn’t even effectively get across how creepy he’s supposed to be.

Julia: The Littlefinger expo-dump is bad enough to count as a crack in the plaster. It’s also night and day from something like Sansa and Septa Mordane in the throne room, where it makes perfect sense from a Doylist perspective that they would be having that conversation, and it relates to a specific anxiety that Sansa has at the moment, where she thinks the entire royal family hates her.

Kylie: And of course Viserys bragging about the Targaryen’s past arises from the context as well, I’d argue. No pun intended. I’m so sorry.

How was the pacing?

Kylie: I found it to be well-paced, I think? Sam’s bonding with Jon was quick, but nothing breaking there. And everything else felt like it took place around the same timeline. I guess it was *slightly* slow as an episode, but I wasn’t bothered by it. It’s not watching Sansa mail a letter for 2 minutes of screentime or anything—just a slowdown in general action to give us information and build tension.

Jana: The only scene that felt maybe a little bit wheel-spinny was the conversation between Jaime and Jory, which is probably only there to make Jory’s death by Jaime’s hand next episode stand out more. I’m not sure it accomplished that, but hey. At least we are now introduced to one aspect of how Jaime’s job sucks. Though I doubt he’d enjoy listening to Robert raping Cersei any more.

Musa: The stuff with Ned and Pycelle is probably a scene I felt could have been cut a little more succinctly, but apart from that I felt like it was paced relatively well. The scenes in different locations seemed to be taking part after each other chronologically. Something that the show gets increasingly bad at as time goes on. It was also refreshing to see important character moments and dialogue actually happening on screen. We know for a fact that doesn’t last.

Julia: I didn’t feel the length in this episode at all. Even if the only action was Sam/Ser Hugh/Tyrion being overwhelmed with superior force.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Kylie: It’s the Tasteful Tub Scene™! We had Viserys with a sex slave literally sexpositioning, and yet it worked. The power imbalance was made quite explicit and there was actually the rather tasteful decisions to have her hair fall over her boobs so the focus was you know…on their words (Julia will likely have more to say about TV being an inherently more voyeuristic medium). Plus, the sex itself characterized Viserys, while giving us a memorable history lesson.

Hey, guess who’s credited as writing the Brienne and Jaime tub scene of Season 3? Bryan Cogman.

Julia: Yeah, and the reason it worked is, like you said, the characters came first and the sex came second. The director needs to get credit for this too. And then the next day, Viserys is dragging poor Doreah by the hair and screaming about how he’s going to cut her head off. What a classic.

Jana: And let’s not forget Robert’s tasteful afternoon… Foursome? Fivesome? Did we ever get a final count? If Jaime has been standing watch over Robert’s orgies so frequently, it makes you wonder why he thought adding more sex workers to the mix could hurry up Tyrion’s, uh, exploits in the first episode, but I digress.

Viserys getting turned on by mentioning the names of dragons was glorious, though. He would be. He really, really would be.

Musa: There’s not much else for me to add here, except that I was actually thinking for a few seconds that Jaime was getting some character development in that scene where he’s being made to stand watch on Robert’s orgy. Then I remembered that nothing actually comes of this and this is only here so that Jaime could have an interaction with Jory before he kills him next episode for added shock value.

Julia: Speaking of Jaime, did anyone else catch how Viserys still plans on fucking his sister? And, can we talk about how literally everyone in the Seven Kingdoms has had sex with Ros? Even Jon has seen her tits.

Musa: I did not in fact catch that bit with Viserys. Was it in the bathtub scene? Or the scene where Dany stands up to him and threatens to have his hands cut off?

Julia: The latter, but speaking of the former, does Doreah think he bought her to make Drogo happy? Nope, all the cowgirl sex is ultimately for Viserys, apparently.

Jana: I took that more to mean that Doreah was also there to be at Viserys’s disposal, especially when she then, ah, gets on with it. Which of course doesn’t mean he isn’t expecting to benefit from Dany’s training at some point, but that didn’t seem to be the main implication of that particular scene to me.

Kylie: He’s also jealous of everything Dany has at this point. So it wouldn’t shock me if he shifted some goalposts.

Is it holding up?

Julia: Forget what we said this past year about Theon never telling dwarf jokes. He did call Tyrion “imp” once, after Tyrion spent a good 2 minutes making fun of him for being a hostage. Truly he is a monster. And Truly Coggers is a master of continuity.

Kylie: It wasn’t even a joke! It was just spitting the offensive moniker at him in the same way Tyrion is like, “oh hi…bastard,” to Jon. Like yeah, it’s not very polite behavior, but he wasn’t doing it to be clever in any way. Ughhh why does this show make me want to defend Season 1 Theon?

That bit aside, yeah, it’s mostly holding up still. I’m laughing to myself at how obvious it is that the GOT writing team binged Season 1 before writing Season 7 so that these callbacks would seem immaculately planned. Arya’s “that’s not me” is here, and boy is there no way anyone could have organically linked it to her muddied scene with Nymeria.

Musa: I guess if I was watching this for the first time, there definitely wouldn’t be anything that’s putting me off it. There certainly wasn’t the first time I watched it. So, in short, yes.

Jana: It’s still perfectly watchable, especially as a show in its own right for the Unsullied watchers. I don’t really remember my reaction to it when I watched it first, only that I stopped after 1×06 for no particular reason, and only picked it back up after hearing things about the books after Season 3 had finished airing. And the scenes that are irritating now are irritating mostly because I know nothing comes from them or because they perpetuate things that I dislike about the show later on, aka Sam the Creep, Johnny Snow the action hero, and almost everything they do to Sansa. So, yeah, it does hold up just fine on its own.

In memoriam…Ser Hugh

Julia: Ser Hugh was a little adorable.

Jana: He had One Job on this show, and no direct servant of the Hand of the King was going to distract him from that!

Musa: His one scene did actually get across the Vale’s stuck up culture pretty well, honestly.

Kylie: I agree. Just the general chivalric bullshit, which is aided by the whole tourney further bankrupting the realm. The most memorable aspect of the death scene was Littlefinger going out of his way to horrify Sansa though, so Ser Hugh was a bit overshadowed, I’m sorry to say.

Next week, D&D take the reins back from Cogman. We’ll see how we like it, and in the meanwhile, what did you think of our put-upon playwright’s debut?

Images courtesy of HBO

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