Kill time until Game of Thrones season 6 tonight with a brand-new retrospective ebook

Editor’s note: for all those unaware, I have a side job of editing and publishing (and, occasionally, writing) a series of ebooks, most of which cover A Song of Ice and Fire, generally, and Game of Thrones, specifically.

It Is Known: Seasons 1 - 5 Deconstructed ebook

The newest book I’ve had the privilege of releasing is It Is Known: Seasons 1 – 5 Deconstructed. Written by GOT “scholars” extraordinaire Stefan Sasse and Miles Schneiderman (both of whom have written for Tower of the Hand for many years and are continuously featured on various podcasts to discuss the show), it takes a no-nonsense, amazingly in-depth look at HBO’s premiere series, extolling its many virtues and exploring its missteps. It reads like the nerdiest and most comprehensive commentary across all five seasons thus far, and even I – who have written about Game of Thrones for five sites now myself – ended up learning a thing or two, at the least, or reevaluating my assumptions of and stances on the show, at the most.

Even if I had nothing to do with either It Is Known or its wonderful creators, I’d still whole-heartedly recommend it to you.

But don’t take my word for it! I’ve collected below the first five “roundtables” that Stefan and Miles engaged in, covering – appropriately enough – the first five episodes (the ebook also includes all of the duo’s reviews published over the years at various sites, to boot). Take a quick gander and see if it isn’t you might be interesting in picking up to help while away the time in between brand-new episodes. (At $5.99 for over 600 pages, it’s a steal!)

Episode 101: “Winter Is Coming”

Stefan:

When we first ranked the seasons after season four finished, we disagreed a bit about the particular order in which they were presented, but we didn’t exactly contest whether or not the best one was the first. It seems to me that there aren’t that many people who consider the first season as the best one, which leads me to the question: why? Rewatching the first season after more or less excessively watching and rewatching season four and after several reads of A Dance with Dragons and A Feast for Crows, returning to the beginning of the story has a bit of a strange feel to it, the same I get when I take A Game of Thrones out. “We should start back.” Yes, Gared, we should.
So, after rewatching the pilot (“Winter Is Coming,” as apt as it is bland), I found some similarities to the novel. Both somehow feel a bit rough around the edges, as if the creators of the respective materials hadn’t exactly had the feeling of what they were trying to create. For example, every time I read the Prologue of A Game of Thrones, I trip over the sentence when Will obeys Waymar Royce’s stupid orders: “Honor bound them to obey.” Honor, huh? That doesn’t really sound like the Night’s Watch we will meet later, and it seems more of a leftover from your standard fantasy fare. We don’t even need to start talking about Tyrion’s backflip from the door of Winterfell’s Great Hall.

Miles:

I don’t think season one is in any way the best, and I don’t think it’s an insult to say so. Like many TV shows, Game of Thrones got better and better as it found its voice and its stride; season two was better than season one, season three was better than season two… and then, in season four, the fucking wheels fell off and the whole thing crashed into the ditch that was season five, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, TV shows that last multiple seasons are almost never at their best in the first one, and going back and watching “Winter Is Coming” with bitter, hardened, cynical eyes, that trend is absolutely apparent. There are so many cringe-worthy moments in this episode, it’s easy to forget the halcyon days of 2010, when we were just thrilled to see our favorite novels brought to life on-screen, and damn the critical reviews.

I don’t exactly share your perspective on the book-to-show similarities – at least, not in terms of being rough around the edges. Obviously, there have been some changes in story direction since A Game of Thrones was written, which might make it seem slightly incongruent, but the examples you give don’t resonate with me. “Honor bound them to obey” actually is a thing in the Night’s Watch, particularly at the very beginning of the series; remember the line from later in the books about how the Watch has lost too many of its best men? There aren’t enough honest men left to keep the rogues in line. The Old Bear also describes Gared and Will as two men he deemed as fine as any in the Watch. So, no, I don’t stumble there at all. As for Tyrion’s backflip, we do know that he was an aspiring acrobat for a while, so I don’t see that as a big deal. And, frankly, I have no issues with anything that “seems like more of a leftover from your standard fantasy fare.” I like fantasy.

Stefan:

I guess we have to agree to disagree on the thing about the honor-binding-them-to-obey thing, although I like your explanation about them being “the good guys.” And, yes, I know Tyrion’s backflip was explained, like, five books later, but I’m still glad it wasn’t in the show, and it is still weird in the books. It’s worse still if you read that god-awful comic where they actually painted it.

Miles:

You know, in a weird way, I feel like the backflip would have worked in the show. I’m not saying I was horrified at the lack of it or anything, but one thing that really comes across well in the first couple episodes is Tyrion being mischievous and immature, a brief portrait of a more light-hearted character that is quickly smothered beneath the weight of responsibility, hardship, and betrayal that alters him completely over the course of the series. The show actually does a better job of bringing that across than the book does, and the backflip wouldn’t have felt out of place in that context.

Stefan:

Never thought about it that way. Tyrion’s general nature will come up in future episodes again, I’m certain, antagonizing everyone around him, but I see your point. I wouldn’t have taken the risk (and cost) of the scene when it works well anyway, though.
The pilot has some scenes in which it lays it on thick: “There is no word for ‘thank you’ in Dothraki”; “Trust me – if he’d be unhappy, we’d know”; and many more. Someone seems to have felt the need to give some badass scenes, where the Walking Dead crowd is sitting there and affirming it as “cool” or something like that.

And don’t get me wrong – this is very, very minor and doesn’t really take from the overall quality of the product. Rewatching it, it just feels a bit out of step. Not much – just a little bit.

Miles:

“There is no word for ‘thank you’ in Dothraki” makes me want to swallow arsenic; frankly, pretty much everything involving Dany’s story in this episode was god-awful, with the shit-covered cherry on top being the transformation of the wedding night consummation into a rape scene (I don’t care what anyone says about how much sense it makes – I find it an unforgivable creative decision).

Where “Winter Is Coming” really stumbles, oddly enough, is in its simultaneous devotion to and butchery of the source material. There was a lot of pressure on the screenwriters to deliver from the very beginning and appease fans of the books that would presumably form the initial audience, but they were also hoping to rope in newcomers, and because the whole shebang kicks off with a big party of important characters in Winterfell, there was even greater pressure to properly introduce about 20 different people in an hour of television. What you get as a result of these competing interests is a lot of straight-off-the-page scenes trimmed down to their most efficient possible running times, combined with a lot of original scenes with a name or reference to a character trait awkwardly shoehorned into an otherwise perfectly acceptable piece of adaptation. For example, the forehead-slapping scene between Catelyn and Maester Luwin in which they discuss Tyrion’s love of books and booze.

Even better, look at the execution scene. In the book, when Ned asks Bran if he understands why Ned, specifically, had to kill the deserter, Bran responds with “King Robert has a headsman,” to which Ned replies, “He does. But our way is the old way,” and goes on to explain about the man passing the sentence and swinging the sword. In the show, when Ned asks Bran if he understands, Bran responds with “Our way is the old way,” and we go straight to sentence and sword-swinging. It makes total sense from a time-saving point of view, but it takes away from the “father teaches son lesson” feel of the scene, because Bran clearly already knows the lesson.

This detrimental efficiency rears its head in ugliest fashion during the Finding of the Wolves, which simply has none of the impact or importance it should have. It just feels flat, and that’s because there wasn’t enough time to do it in a way that would make it rich and vital.

Stefan:

I don’t experience the direwolf scene as that bad. I think it’s worse that the beasts essentially vanish in later episodes, most egregiously with Jon’s. Might have been better to omit them altogether. I also don’t feel that much of a problem with Bran’s shortened pep talk with Eddard; much of the necessary stuff is communicated by the faces of the actors before (Robb stern and lordly, Theon trying to imitate him but failing miserably, Jon stern and mentoring Bran, Bran unsure but trying to keep his posture), so the acting makes up for a lot of it, like it should.

Miles:

I have no problem with the execution scene as a whole – I was just using it as an example of how a book conversation was shorted for reasons of time, and some of the meaning was lost as a result. I definitely have a problem with the direwolf scene, though – it’s a pale shadow of its written counterpart. As you say, the direwolves are generally given short shrift in the show, which is a shame, because they have so much character in the books.

Stefan:

It’s a bit weird. Why, exactly, does the scene fall short the way it does? They go through all the motions, but you’re definitely right that, while the scene works in getting the point across well enough, it doesn’t really resonate as an event that much. Do you have any explanation for why this is?

Miles:

I think the direwolf scene falls short because there’s zero emotion in either the script or performances. I just read the relevant scene in the books again, and it’s an extremely tense moment in which everyone involved is on edge and feeling something with some degree of strength. Theon, Jory, and the other men of the hunting party are not happy about what they’ve found; it’s bad luck three times over (a direwolf south of the Wall, the antler in the throat, and the pups possibly having been born after their mother had died). Bran and Robb are determined to keep the pups, mustering numerous arguments and fiercely demanding that the wolves be saved. Ned, of course, doesn’t really buy the bad luck crap, but he doesn’t want to upset the men, and he’s not about to bring a litter of direwolves into his castle just because his seven-year-old has fallen in love with a cute little puppy dog. And then there’s Jon, who is defined here as both intelligent and altruistic, making the one argument that will sway his father in this scenario and saving the lives of the wolves by denying himself possession of one, after which his altruism is rewarded (both by his father’s recognition of his sacrifice and change of heart and by finding a pup for himself, after all).

All of this is in the HBO scene, with a minor discrepancy or two. They go through the motions. But the scene isn’t given enough time to tell the story, and nobody emotes very strongly. Kit Harington mumbles tonelessly, Bran is barely involved, and Ned is persuaded so quickly (by which I mean to say, the script rushes into Jon’s argument so quickly) that there’s very little of the sense of conflict and victory for the children that you get in the book. Everything is included, but it’s all watered down. It feels like the directors didn’t really care about this scene and, so, didn’t really bother doing much directing, which is in line with how they seem to view the direwolves throughout the series. Every time the wolves are on camera, the show seems to immediately lose interest, like the writers and directors know the wolves have to be there but really wish they could write them out and be done with it. Remember in season two when Ghost just sort of wandered off?

Stefan:

I agree. I guess what happened here is that the general aversion of David Benioff and Dan Weiss regarding omens and prophecy that they’ll display throughout all seasons (so far) muted all the ominousness of the scene that makes it so rich in the books. Maybe they really weren’t sure to what extent they’d include the direwolves at all; from what I heard from the making-ofs and other production information, animals generally are a pain in the ass, and the dogs aren’t exactly easy to film with. Add to this that many interactions between them and their masters happen as internal monologue, and you’ll get why they are so careful with them. In the end, the decision even kind of played out, given the understated role the direwolves have in future episodes and seasons.
And don’t even remind me of Ghost, Jon, and season two. I’m saving all my anger for when we get there.

Miles:

It can’t be denied that the role of the direwolves was deliberately de-emphasized for the show, for whatever reason. Production issues/animal problems, I can understand, particularly in season one, when they didn’t have nearly as much money to work with. The internal monologue excuse doesn’t fly with me, though. If you’re a screenwriter adapting a book, reworking internal monologue so it plays successfully on screen is at least half of your job description.

Stefan:

Of course the screenwriters should be better with this. I guess it was too much cost involved with the dogs, and that’s why they essentially scrapped it. Plus the already-existing bias against prophecy and magical stuff on part of the producers.

Miles:

There are scenes in this episode taken from the books that I would have been fine with leaving out (most notably, the very first bit with the Night’s Watch and the Others, which, looking back, really didn’t need to be there except for the fact that it’s the sort-of iconic opening of the first book) if it meant more time to flesh out some of the other stuff. As the show went along and became such a huge success that faithfulness was no longer the primary objective, the writers gained more confidence in their own abilities and were able to make some of the tough creative decisions that made for a less accurate adaptation, but a better overall product. In the beginning, they were, out of necessity, overly slavish to the book.

Stefan:

Thinking about cutting the whole prologue instead of recreating it is interesting. I’m pretty confident in saying that they would have cut it in later seasons. It did work very well on its own, though, tying in to the execution later on.

Miles:

I thought it worked very well – I’m just not sure it was necessary from a story perspective (from a “this is the first episode of our adaptation” perspective, it was very necessary). The guy who played Waymar Royce was damn good in the role. Also, I enjoy that scene much more looking back on it after that great season three line from Mance, “Always the artists.”

Stefan:

What they are already showing in this episode, though, is a clear understanding of what their actors can do and how they play well together. The cock-sucking gag aside, the introduction of the Lannister brothers and their relationship with each other has been perfect, Jon and Benjen work very well, and everything involving Robert is (and will remain) a revelation.

Miles:

I’m less generally impressed with the acting in this first episode than you are, but I will say that the three Lannister siblings are and have always been the show’s primary strength in that area. Them, and the fantastic child actor finds: Maisie Williams (Arya), Sophie Turner (Sansa), and Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran).

Stefan:

They definitely are the prime of the show. The acting is consistently strong, though, with only a few dropouts that would be regarded as top-notch in most other TV shows (Dany and Jon, mostly) – and even they will improve later. It’s also impressive to see how many characters who are essentially pure backdrop here – Theon Greyjoy, for example – will later evolve into such great characters.

Miles:

There are others that I think make poor showings in the first episode, but get better pretty damn quick: Robb, Catelyn, Drogo, even Bran, to an extent; as soon as he wakes up from the coma, he’s faced with some huge challenges as a character, and Hempstead-Wright rises to the occasion. At least, that’s how I remember it; we’ll see when we get there. As for Dany and Jon… yeah, they take a while.

Stefan:

I have so much man-love for Nikolai Coster-Waldau as Jaime, I can’t even start to describe it. Dinklage is, of course, also very strong, but he will outperform everyone else to such an extent in future seasons that his merely being very good here isn’t even noteworthy anymore. I also like Lena Heady as Cersei; she always looks like she just bit a lemon, but that fits the character well.

Miles:

Coster-Waldau is phenomenal throughout the series, and one could argue that he, like most of the actors, gets better as the seasons go on. However, watching him portray pre-war Jaime, with his hand and his smile and his arrogance and his incest, simply never gets old. Of all the great houses of Westeros, House Lannister is best represented on-screen.

Stefan:

Absolutely. Praise where it is due. I’m also looking very much forward to season two in that respect – it’s basically the Lannisters’ season.

Miles:

Some other observations: still wondering why the White Walker didn’t kill Will. Still wondering why the White Walker isn’t white. Still can’t believe I’m going to have to deal with Ros for two more seasons.

Stefan:

The White Walker didn’t kill Will for the same reason they decorated the floor with wildling pieces: they are much more mundanely sadistic in the show.

Miles:

King Robert’s introduction couldn’t be more perfect, mixing together his angry and amiable sides into an unstable, unhappy monarch who gets a kick out of pretending to intimidate his friends. It helps that Mark Addy is the best. He embodies everything fans talk about when they talk about Robert’s one-sided relationship with Lyanna and the hyper-masculine insanity it engenders.

Stefan:

Viserys is also a revelation to behold. Being a pretty one-dimensional villain in the books, in the series he really upgrades to a menacing presence who will later on gain some real character development before kicking the bucket. The same will become true of Joffrey, and we have to hope for anything like it happening with Ramsay, although there is some great groundwork for that in season four.

Miles:

I agree that Harry Lloyd does a great job with Viserys. He’s the only watchable part of the Dany story in this first episode (aside from Emilia Clarke in the bathtub). I also really love the fact that Joffrey only gets a brief appearance here, and looks kind of sweet and handsome. At least we get one episode of ambiguity before his true colors are revealed.

Stefan:

We see distinct guards of all three major houses involved in season one, everyone having their own distinct look. Good work, Art Department.

Miles:

Both the cock-sucking gag and the Dothraki humping ceremony continue to not hold up in any way.

Stefan:

I wonder why they stopped displaying the location names after the pilot. It’s not like they wouldn’t introduce new locations after.

Miles:

Theon and Robb bonding by making fun of Jon is a nice Easter egg. As for Kit Harington… oh, Kit Harington. At least you kind of get better later in the show. A little. Maybe.

Stefan:

Kit Harington does get better a lot. His material is very weak, which hamstrings him in the same way Emilia Clarke is until season three.

Miles:

Needs more Arya.

Stefan:

Definitely needs more Arya. Everything is better with Arya. If Arya were a pirate-ninja, this show would be an unstoppable juggernaut. And zombies.

Miles:

Arya the Pirate-Ninja would be the best spinoff ever.

Stefan:

In Arya the Pirate-Ninja, Joffrey would be a British admiral. Or, better yet, a representative of the East Indies Trading Company.

Episode 102: “The Kingsroad”

Stefan:

“The Kingsroad” is a pretty concise episode, one has to say. All of its plots happen on the kingsroad (if you want to count the path of the Dothraki as a kingsroad of their own) and have yet to sprawl in different directions. What the episode does really well is to give you a feeling of brewing danger, without anyone really being able to pinpoint it. Of course, you as a watcher can, even if you haven’t read the books, and that’s the beauty of it.

While Jon’s journey north already decouples from the broader narrative and centers firmly at the Wall and the Night’s Watch (of which we will surely talk more in the future), Winterfell is the epicenter of a burgeoning political earthquake. Cersei and Jaime are both actively antagonizing the Starks, even on their home turf, and after the royal departure, an assassin tries to kill Bran, starting the whole plot that ties A Game of Thrones together: the murder investigations of both Jon Arryn and Bran Stark. On the road, meanwhile, the fight between Joffrey (who, for the first time, shows his true colors) and Arya serves as the occasion for Cersei to start dismantling Eddard Stark.

All in all, the episode was very well-written in the story department.

Miles:

I agree with the “danger brewing” pall cast over the entire hour, though I’m not quite prepared to go as far as “well-written” – at least, not on the whole. Certainly there were some parts that were well-written. Given our conversation regarding Dinklage, Headey, and Coster-Waldau in episode 101, it almost doesn’t bear mention to say that the scene between the three at breakfast is excellent, and the same applies to their solo scenes: Jaime’s gentle mocking of Jon, Cersei’s commiseration with Catelyn, and Tyrion’s scenes with Joffrey and Jon, respectively. I will say that I’m not entirely sure Cersei is antagonizing Catelyn here; given the fact that we learn later she’s not lying about losing her firstborn, I see this scene as part of the show’s continual attempts to humanize Cersei and make her less of the cartoon villain of the books, as opposed to her twisting the knife for whatever reason. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in either case, and I don’t really understand why this scene exists at all, but there you go.

Stefan:

I guess the scene between Cersei and Catelyn exists to spell out the black-hair-golden-hair-dichotomy as often as possible.

Miles:

That’s a great call by you, actually. Makes total sense to bring that up early.

Stefan:

When Eddard and Robert are taking their breakfast in a beautifully realized scene (“Ah, this is country”), the seeming conclusion of “the coming war” is that the Dothraki will be the enemy. However, the depiction of Viserys and Daenerys in the horde are totally at odds with this. Already, it is obvious that Viserys won’t lead an army to Westeros, and, if anyone, Dany will do it. The viewer becomes aware of this almost instantly, while Robert and his advisors obviously cannot.

It is also very well-acted to see the almost physical pain that Eddard has thinking about killing Daenerys. Given that, only shortly before, he promised Jon to speak with him about his mother “next time we see each other” with almost the same look on his face, we can safely assume that Rhaegar and Lyanna equal Jon in the show canon, too.

Miles:

The conversation between Ned and Robert is by far the strongest scene of the episode. You really get a great sense of who these two are compared to who they used to be, and how their friendship has changed in the years since Robert became king. The relationship-building here is also a very nice set-up for their later confrontation.

Oh, and nobody says the word “welcome” quite like Benjen Stark. I love that moment when Jon gets his first glimpse of the Wall.

Stefan:

I also really liked the anxiety that always slightly trembles in Eddard’s voice – because there’s more at stake than Daenerys. Either Sean Bean was told about R+L=J, or he did it right by accident. Either way, it’s great work.

Miles:

I hated Dany’s storyline in this episode even more than the last one. It’s both poorly-written and logically flawed. I’m sorry, but you’re not going to convince me in the space of one plot thread in one episode that Dany is suddenly really concerned with how best to please the guy who casually rapes her between drinks with his buddies. (That was a great and horrible moment, by the way; Drogo is sitting with some other dudes passing a wineskin around and then is basically just like, “Hey, guys, be right back, just gotta go fuck my wife for a second.” Because that makes sense.) Seriously: it’s Drogo raping her, and then in Dany’s very next scene, she’s asking Doreah how to make him happy. Why – because, maybe, if he’s happy, he won’t treat her like complete shit? Goddamn, that’s so romantic! And the worst part is the scene where Dany takes an equal share in their suddenly-consensual sex life is actually a really good scene! It’s well-acted, well-scripted, and really conveys what’s supposed to be happening in the story. It’s great! But I can’t give the show credit for it, because they didn’t earn it. The pacing and plot structure makes zero sense. I can’t make that leap.

Stefan:

I never really felt it in the books, either. There, the move from “gentle Drogo” in the wedding night to “rapist Drogo” later in the Dothraki camp was always very jarring and is only mitigated by her taking him out. Drogo is a shit-bag at this point of the story, and – let’s be honest – he’ll never become anything resembling a saint before biting the grass (Lamb People, anyone?). For me, the scene aims more for the “stupid barbarian doesn’t know what’s good for him and needs to be educated” vibe. One can totally see it the way you do, though.

Miles:

I guess you could make the case that it’s also an abrupt transition in the book, but I think I would argue with you on that point. Maybe it’s because the initial scene is consensual, maybe because the book makes it clear that the transition takes place over a much longer period of time, but I don’t see the book’s version of events as willing sex, then rape, then back to willing sex. Dany appears to consensually enter a sexual relationship with Drogo on their wedding night, and while he certainly hurts her during sex later, there’s never anything to suggest that she’s resisting him. She begins to find sex with Drogo pleasurable in the same way her skin toughens and she gets better at riding; it’s not a change in the relationship, but rather Dany adapting to her situation with the passage of time. Now, we could probably write an entire book on what the character of Daenerys says about marital rape and child brides and culture shock and Stockholm Syndrome (we shouldn’t, but we could) and I’m not going to go so far as to say that Dany isn’t raped in the book. But it’s a far cry from the way the show treats their relationship, and the show’s version is much more jarring and makes much less sense.

And also, when I said “it’s her fault,” I was being sarcastic. Doreah basically tells Dany she’s letting herself be raped by “making love like a slave,” implying that the rape is Dany’s fault, not Drogo’s. Which is fucked up. I’m not sure where you got the “stupid barbarian needs to be educated” vibe, but obviously I’m not making the case that Drogo is a good person or anything.

Stefan:

I agree with your analysis of the book story, although I’d not be that forgiving toward Drogo. I mean, he really is hurting and disrespecting her, and he clearly doesn’t care unless she “proves worthy” somehow, which isn’t a fig better or worse than the show version. That one is much more condensed, as it has to be, because the passage of time stuff can’t be glossed over with a sentence, like in the book. Different mediums, different narrative styles.

Drogo definitely is not a good person. He loves Dany and gives a bit more wiggling room than barbarian brides in that society usually get, but that’s about it. He’s still a murderous slaver, and he’s good riddance. His invading Westeros would have been a tragedy on an enormous scale.

Miles:

Nobody is saying that Drogo is a good person, or that we should be forgiving towards him. Their relationship in the show is fundamentally more violent and hostile and considerably less time passes before they truly fall for each other. That is less believable and makes for weaker, more simplistic characters in a weaker, more simplistic narrative. And don’t tell me there’s no way to depict the passage of long periods of time in minutes or seconds of a TV episode. That’s ridiculous. TV scripts do that all the time.

Stefan:

By the way, the budgetary constraints are again weighing in heavily here. The Dothraki camp is smaller than the Native American camp in Dances with Wolves, for chrissakes. It’s just a bunch of Indian warriors sitting around before they can go shooting bison. I want to slap Jorah every time he pretends they are a badass army. I guess it works because every character is convincingly selling his fear of the Dothraki, blowing them into almost mythical proportions (as will Robert in later episodes, for example).

Miles:

Stuff like how small the Dothraki camp is always escapes my notice – and concern. Similar to other things, like style of clothing or fight choreography or any of the other stuff that people tend to get so worked up about. It just doesn’t bother me that much.

Stefan:

Interesting what kind of stuff escapes us. I’m not as forgiving as you on these matters, while I tend to be much more forgiving for missing iconic lines, characters, and the like. Shows you how much of this business really is purely subjective, I suppose.

Miles:

Also, of all the random-ass shit from the books that actually made the adaptation… ghost grass? Seriously? Why, for god’s sake?

Stefan:

I guess they wanted to give Iain Glenn a story to tell. His voice is made for telling stories. And it’s a nice one, by the way, and name-drops Asshai. And he did talk about grass before. So, it works in that context.

Miles:

The other major issue I have in this episode (as well as the first one) is Catelyn. This is something that I think Game of Thrones majorly messed up. Michelle Fairley is a fine actress, and, over the course of three seasons, I would say there are moments where she’s great. The problem is the character she’s being asked to play. And it’s not just the omission of the “It should have been you” line, though I think that line needed to be there. All the edges of Catelyn’s character have been sanded down. All her emotions have been muted. Catelyn Stark is, in many ways, a character composed of extremes. She doesn’t do sad, or afraid, or angry – she does grief-stricken, terrified, and pissed. It’s one of the things that makes her interesting, and, more importantly, it defines her actions – and her actions are primarily what moves the early part of this story. The Catelyn played by Michelle Fairley doesn’t become a crazed, shuddering mass of uselessness when her son is crippled, just like she doesn’t take Tyrion hostage on a whim, set Jaime Lannister free, or spend her last seconds cutting someone’s throat. I just don’t buy it, and I think it’s a major weakness of the show as a whole.

Stefan:

She is a really good actress and sells what she’s given to sell. I think the real problems start only in later seasons. Yes, they omitted “It should have been you,” but, really, the look she gives him! The essence of their relationship is there, plain to see.

Miles:

I think the problem with Catelyn starts in the first episode and has nothing to do with Fairley as an actress. I just find this version of Catelyn kind of boring compared to the original, and I think it’s not quite as believable that she does some of the things she does. Yes, the essence of the relationship between her and Jon is there (the scene in 101 when he happens to glance up at her and they have that brief stare-down is one of my favorite single moments in the show, because it conveys so much in so little time), but it doesn’t mean anything because show-Cat doesn’t have a very defined character. Fairley’s acting ability makes up for a lot of this, but not enough.

Stefan:

Yes, Catelyn is a bit muffled, no doubt about that. I’m just arguing that, in the beginning of the show, it isn’t a problem yet – she’s pretty much the same Catelyn there as in the books. The shift, in my opinion, starts in 107, but most noticeably in season two.

Miles:

I disagree on Catelyn; she’s not the same character at all. Part of it is the fact that she’s been aged up with everyone else, but most of it is just the way her character is written. Her initial insistence that Ned not go south, for instance. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad – I just miss the fierceness and extreme nature of the book character.

Stefan:

I forgot about the change regarding who wants to go to King’s Landing and who doesn’t. I see two rationales for this: either they didn’t want to give the Catelyn-haters material or they didn’t want to show her wavering that much (first for, then against, because of Bran).

Miles:

Other points from this episode:

Loved the farewell scene between Jon and Arya, but, sort of like Dany and Drogo, I don’t think the show earned it, given that we had no interaction between them in the first episode. Okay, fine – I’ll stop complaining about 10-episode seasons now.

Stefan:

I thought this worked. You understood that they had a very good relationship without being told before. Good shows can do that.

Miles:

The extent to which the writers had no fucking clue who Sandor Clegane was or what to do with him until the very end of season two is hilarious.

Stefan:

Yes. But that’s a point we should reserve for a certain tourney.

Miles:

I loved everything with Joffrey, Sansa, Arya, and Mycah. Couldn’t have done it better. Nymeria might have been driven away a little too easily, but we see later that the direwolves don’t matter and might just wander off on a whim for no reason, a la Ghost in season two, so I guess she was really the most loyal of them all. Except Summer, of course. Who is a total bad-ass.

Stefan:

Absolutely. I actually watched the making-of featurette on the Blu-ray set, and filming the dogs attacking stuff must have been a pain in the ass.

Miles:

This is a question that actually bothered me in the book, too. Why does Cersei have Lady killed, exactly? What does that accomplish? Just fucking with Ned? Trying to strip away Sansa’s protection? Just being evil because evil? I have never understood this. Maybe you can help me, Stefan.

Stefan:

Of course I can, sweet summer child. Cersei is already positioning herself for the fight that inevitably will come with the Starks. In a feudal world like Westeros, status is everything, and Ned loses status by essentially losing the “trial.” Since Cersei can’t possibly hope to cooperate with Ned (although she makes a half-assed attempt in 103 or 104), driving a wedge between Robert and Ned is the best strategy she can hope for, and it works rather well. Plus, it’s totally Cersei.

Miles:

I suppose that makes some sense in terms of Cersei knowing how to play Ned and Robert against one another. And I forgotten the part in the books where Cersei shames Robert by telling him that a real man would bring her a wolf-skin. She seems to be much better at playing these games early in the series (the books, that is) than later. Maybe she really is going totally batshit by the end.

Stefan:

Cersei is never really good at the game – she just happens to play on home turf, which she isn’t any more later on. Even her play at the inn is brutally obvious. Her political ploys always depend on her ability to use raw force and power in a contest of strength and willpower. The second she can’t do this anymore – because her enemy is officially her friend – she breaks down badly, because she artificially tries to recreate the situation from way back when, when everything was clearly divided into us versus them. And before that, her playing field had been the small council – where nothing anyone did under Robert’s reign was of any significant importance.

Miles:

I’m pretty sure I disagree with you about Cersei as a game-player, but that’s probably a conversation for later in the season. On a side note, though, ever since you pointed out the black-versus-gold hair as being the main reason for the Catelyn/Cersei scene, I’ve been seeing hair color emphasis everywhere. Later in this same episode, Catelyn is convinced that the Lannisters tossed Bran because of a strand of long blonde hair. And in 103, Robert has the line about the Lannisters: “Everywhere I go, I see their blonde hair and their smug, satisfied faces.” They really made a strong effort to make the revelation of Joffrey’s true parentage believable. I like that.

Stefan:

Yep, they seriously built that one up, which is good.

Miles:

Can someone just make a show called Tyrion Slaps Joffrey for an Hour? I’d watch that.

Episode 103: “Lord Snow”

Stefan:

I think what stands out when you watch episode 103 is just how consistent it is in quality when you come to the different storylines. For example, the whole eastern plot still sucks most of the time. After the Apache war camp in 102, this time we see perhaps 20 Dothraki riding through a bamboo forest, only to be served a pretty wooden performance of “not a queen – a khaleesi” for no apparent reason. I laughed out loud at Jorah’s response. “You want the entire horde to stop?” Yes, Ser Jorah, all 20 people. Please.

I don’t want to nitpick all the time on the size. I know the budgetary constraints involved, and I’m glad they spent the money the way they did, capitalizing on good actors, solid sets, costumes, and investing in screenwriters worth their salt. But scenes that simply require scale to work fall flat regardless. We will see this emphasized even more in the tourney of 104, which also flies directly in the face of what the characters are saying. Really, Janos Slynt? Because some 100 people attend a tourney in which a grand total of three knights ride against each other, the city got mad? A city, by the way, consisting of one gate and one back alley with a smith who has one apprentice. The added production values in season two onwards will pay huge dividends on this, but this is nowhere as apparent as in the Dothraki scenes. Just imagine they had the money they had when the Unsullied marched off in season three! Even on the march in season four, they looked so much more like an army than the Dothraki “horde” ever did.

Miles:

Ha! Okay, I get what you’re saying, but, at some point, you’re going to have to get over the budget constraints and suspend your disbelief a little bit, or we’re going to have this conversation during every episode. Remember, just because you only saw 20 members of the horde in that particular shot doesn’t mean there aren’t thousands more somewhere off-camera! I’m sure they would have turned the entire continent of Australia into a little miniature Westeros if they could have, but that’s not the way this works. If the primary concern had been a budget that allowed them to do everything to scale, they would have made a movie.

Stefan:

Hey, now you’re distorting it a little bit. The show will later on do a much better job of depicting scale, even within season one. The Lannister war camp, for example, manages to convey the feeling of “army” much better, and the aftermath of the Battle of the Green Fork, as well. It simply boils down to budget – they didn’t have that much on CGI to spend and had to prioritize, plain and simple. And I will point this out for the reason that it takes me out of the immersion that they manage to do better with the Dothraki on other occasions.

Miles:

Fair enough. You’re right that, compared to other army scenes from this same season, there’s not much of an attempt made to show, or even imply, the full strength of the horde (there’s something of an attempt, just not much of one). Just like the passage of time, there are plenty of TV tricks that can be used to cover up the lack of a “10,000 extras” budget, but they certainly refrained from pulling out all the stops on the Dothraki sea. Some of your other points, like King’s Landing being composed of one gate and one back alley, I think are a little reactionary. But I do see your point about the Dothraki – though, as I said before, it doesn’t hurt my immersion much, if at all.

Stefan:

A great scene between Headey and Jack Gleeson, in which Cersei lays down her political philosophy. I really hope people remember this scene when season five has its run on Cersei’s political acumen. It also serves well to characterize Joffrey beyond the one-dimensional villain he would easily become in lesser shows. He even has the right idea (royal institutions), only backwards (“I’m not asking” – what a chilly line).

Miles:

You summed up that scene nicely. I would only emphasize the line that basically sums up her character: “You are my darling boy, and the world will be exactly as you wish it to be.” That right there is what Cersei wants and what she works for. It’s really no wonder she officially goes off the deep end after Joffrey dies.

Stefan:

I have to shower more manly love on Coster-Waldau – his Jaime is just so good. Add to that Mark Addy as Robert Baratheon, and you get one of the really great scenes of a season in which there are many – Robert, Jaime, and Barristan swapping war stories is such a great scene, does much for world building, and tells us all we need to know about these characters and the complicated relationship they have with each other. You get the feeling just how alone Jaime is in the capital, and how he instantly bonds with other warriors over their shared experiences of killing hapless dudes much worse than they are. It also gives the series its gritty, realistic feel. It’s astonishingly good work.

Miles:

The scene between Robert, Jaime, and Barristan is one of the best in the season, if not the series as a whole. It’s the first thing I point to when people accuse me of “wanting the show to be the books.” This scene wasn’t in the books, and Robert wasn’t nearly as subtle and complex of a character. I have an issue with Catelyn, for example, because I find her character on the show to be less interesting. With Robert, the show character is 10 times as interesting, and I love Mark Addy’s version to (his) death. If there’s one thing this scene drove home like a hammer through a ribcage, it’s the fact that Robert should have died on a battlefield, and he knows it. Robert gets a lot of grief from book-readers for screwing up the kingdom during his reign, but when you watch this scene, you feel like the real culprit is whoever convinced him to take the throne.

There are two particular moments in this scene that leave me fascinated by Addy’s expressions and mannerisms. That laugh after he describes his victim’s last words… to me, that’s way more chilling than Joffrey’s line about not asking. And the look on his face when Jaime recites the last words of the Mad King… what is that look? What is Robert thinking in that moment? It’s clear he’s deeply affected, but how, and why? Is Jaime inadvertently reinforcing Robert’s resolve to destroy all Targaryens? Does Robert suddenly understand more about the man the realm calls Kingslayer? Is he seeing a horrible comparison between Aerys’ brand of nihilism and his own? It’s such a phenomenal two or three seconds. Mark Addy might be the best actor to appear in Game of Thrones, period.

Stefan:

Ten thumbs up (at least) for Mark Addy, no question about it. He really is that great in the show, and this scene shows it. “We’re telling war stories.” Sooo much of the characters in this scene. It’s such a shame that we don’t get more of it, more and more and more. There is so much to it! As you say, those three seconds alone should grant Emmys. Robert is always teasing and bullying Jaime, and the whole feeling of the scene changes from one moment to another, and everyone realizes it. There is a sense of danger in the air. Those people all bond over being warriors, but they all despise each other. Barristan loathes Robert for being the rebel and Jaime for being the kingslayer, Jaime despises Robert for being such an ass and nailing his sister and Barristan for being so damn honorable all the time, and Robert hates Jaime because why wouldn’t he and Barristan out of jealousy. Oh, man.

Miles:

I really enjoy the small council, for the most part. There’s one exception, and I’m sure you already know who it is. I’ll say this much: Aiden “Look At Me, I’m Evil, Don’t Trust Me” Gillen actually bothers me a bit less in the first season than he does in the others. Because the question of whether or not he’s really helping Ned is still something the show wants to treat as a shocking revelation, he plays his true intentions much closer to the chest in this episode, a far cry from the Full Snidely Whiplash he pulls out in later seasons. I also really love the moment outside the whorehouse, with the “Oh, the Starks” line and a look on his face that says, “These assholes again.”

And that’s about all the praise I can muster for Gillen’s wooden, lifeless, utterly dull performance. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am perfectly prepared to believe that Aiden Gillen is a decent actor in other situations. I have never seen him in anything else, and the script he is given does not do him any favors. But whether it’s his fault or that of the writers, this version of Littlefinger sucks. Littlefinger is one of the most intriguing and important characters in the books, and Benioff and Weiss just missed the mark on who he is and how he behaves. I want to see Littlefinger smiling, laughing, making jokes, and lying every time he opens his mouth. That’s who he is. This version just puts me to sleep… but it’s better than the later incarnations, which wake me from my slumber that I might froth with rage.

Stefan:

Aiden Gillen… yeah, well, what can you say? I’m not enamored by his Littlefinger, either. I agree that in this season he’s the least bad. I think he suffers from being shoved too much into the foreground. In A Game of Thrones, he’s more of an annoyance to everyone than he is one of the master players, which is his strength, after all – no one takes him seriously. This is in the show, as well, but much more muted.

Miles:

The other members of the small council get little screen time here, but I like the way we learn so much about them based simply on Ned’s reaction. He’s hesitant to even touch Varys and brushes him off in a heartbeat; he’s friendly with Renly and respectful of Pycelle. Of course, all three have more going on beneath the surface than Ned (or the first-time viewer) imagines, but the first council scene neatly sets up expectations for their characters so the writers can knock them down later.

Stefan:

Absolutely on board with your description of the small council scene. Varys is, from the beginning, presented as a baddy (much like in the books), and only piecemeal will you learn that he is, in fact, much more complex in character. They also do much more with Renly than Martin ever did.

Miles:

Also, everything with Arya and Sansa is really good. Turner and Williams both turn up their acting here; Williams has much more to do, but Turner’s body language and mannerisms in her brief screen time are brilliantly communicative. And Williams plays off her perfectly, emphasizing Arya’s anger in contrast to Sansa’s sullen depression while literally and figuratively punctuating her lines with a knife. Meanwhile, Sean Bean’s reaction to all this is weariness personified. At this point in the book, there’s a great line about Sansa crying, Arya sulking, and Ned dreaming “of a frozen hell reserved for the Starks of Winterfell.” That’s the exact feeling this scene gets across.

Later, of course, we get the great scene between Ned and Arya, with Williams masterfully revealing the guilt she’s been trying to drown out with rage. Ned’s reaction to Needle feels a little more casual than it ought to be, but, like Catelyn, a few edges have been shaved off his character. The more I think about this, the more I think that both Catelyn and Ned in the show are simply victims of the age-up. Their characters are less extreme because that tends to happen when you get older, and realizing this, I’m a little more okay with it. At any rate, this is the sequence of events that gives us Miltos Yerolemou as Syrio Forel, and that’s basically joy and happiness captured on film.

Stefan:

Yes, the girls are really good. Sansa gets a lot of underserved heat as both a book character and as Turner’s interpretation on-screen, which is unfortunate. She is really good with it and makes me feel the character. I also agree that Sean Bean works well in this context – Game of Thrones shows the value of good actors, because only they will be able to convey so much in scenes without spoken dialogue. And there is a host of shows out there that don’t manage to convey much more basic points about their characters without them explaining it in grinding detail.

I guess now is as good a point as any to discuss the age-up. In terms of the logistics of the show, it was something they couldn’t avoid. We see Isaac Hempstead Wright aging visibly from season to season, and if they had used all original ages, they would have either have had Richard Madden represent a 16-year-old (let’s call this the Dawson’s Creek approach) or to take a younger actor with all the risks that entails. And I don’t even want to start discussing the rape of 13-year-old Dany.

What constantly impresses me is how much consequence went into the process of aging up the characters. They just could have slapped older bumper stickers over them (“Hey, Arya is 11 now”) and then leave it at that, but they really changed whole storylines depending on this fact. This won’t get more visible than with Robb and Talisa in season two, but as you say, we can already see it in more-aged Catelyn and Eddard. Even Cersei seems a bit older (Jaime doesn’t, though). It has drawbacks as well as benefits, obviously, but you can’t fault the show for not committing to it.

Miles:

I agree that Sansa gets way more heat than she deserves. I can see where people are coming from with her book character, at least, but anyone who hates on Sophie Turner or what she’s doing with the role is an idiot.

I also agree that the age-up was absolutely necessary. Not even HBO was going to get away with Dany being 13, and it must have made the child parts easier to cast. Considering one of my favorite things about the show is the body of work put together by the young actors and actresses involved, I have no complaints. This thing I’ve been talking about with Ned and Catelyn is really the first time I’ve felt noticeably affected by it, but now that I’ve recognized the cause and effect involved, it all fits into place. That’s how important the age-up is: as soon as I realize something I dislike was done in the service of older characters, I’m immediately okay with it.

Stefan:

We also get Jon’s arrival at the Wall in this episode…

Miles:

I have a hard time caring, to be honest. Tyrion’s banter with various members of the Night’s Watch is fun, but Harington is way too bad of an actor here for the episode to be justifiably named after his character. The script does a nice job of showing how Jon turns the enmity of the others into friendship, with Tyrion playing the role of Donal Noye from the book, and our first glimpse of Yoren is a damn revelation, because Yoren is amazing, but other than that, I’m not sure how much I have to say. What were your thoughts?

Stefan:

Jon comes off as very one-dimensional, but it’s not like his role was any different. He’s an arrogant prick, and that’s something Harington delivers. It’s in season two when the whole thing falls apart really badly, and it only starts to exacerbate in season four. Exchanging Tyrion with Donal Noye was a clever move, omitting a superfluous character, and the other recruits are well introduced (Pyp, Grenn, Rast – all there). It is all serviceable and checks the boxes from the story of the book that need to be checked, but other than that, the Jon sections don’t really shine.

Much better is everything involving Tyrion, especially the scene with Yoren and Benjen. The characters rub each other the wrong way more, but the script also gives them more to do. Jon should be central, and that’s where he stands, but he doesn’t have that much to do with anyone except Sam, because he has no equals in the Watch; Tyrion, meanwhile, can talk smack to anyone, which, of course, makes for more interesting scenes. I always felt that the Wall storyline was operating on a structural disadvantage compared to many of the other settings – in the books, as well, by the way. I always found Jon in A Clash of Kings to be a little bit of a bore.

Miles:

Okay, so I’m admittedly an incredibly biased Jon Snow/Wall storyline fanboy, but are you saying that his character at this point in the book is a one-dimensional, arrogant prick? If so, I completely disagree, and I would ask you to back up that statement. The best part about Donal Noye’s dressing-down of Jon is the fact that how his behavior is being perceived has been totally lost on him until now, and having seen things mostly through his eyes up until this point (his first chapter at the Wall focuses on Alliser Thorne’s torments and the sudden change in Benjen Stark’s behavior), it’s meant to be lost on the reader, as well. Jon doesn’t see himself as arrogant or as a bully, and it’s a shock to him when Noye tells him differently.
Harington’s performance doesn’t give us any of that. Nor does the script provide any opportunity for us to see Jon’s reaction to the news that Bran has woken up, which is the other catalyst for his behaving differently toward the other recruits. Jon is an extremely complex character from the very beginning, and to write him off as one-dimensional or an arrogant prick is doing him a disservice. The writers in this show have never gotten the Wall storyline right (not once), so that’s a big part of the problem, but the fact remains that if Harington had been any greener in season one, he’d be Gamorra from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Stefan:

I totally agree with you about Jon – I love the character, too – but since in the books it’s his POV, as you point out, while in the show it’s not, he had to come over as arrogant in order for it to work. Can’t really have him running around as the hero and then get dressed down by Donal Noye (or Tyrion, for that matter), after all. Could it have been done better? Sure. But I defend my point about the structural disadvantage. There’s just not that much for Jon to do, not that many people to talk to, compared to many others.

Miles:

I guess I understand your points, though it still bothers me. I don’t really know how I would have done it better, and maybe I’m putting too much on the shoulders of the screenwriters, but I really think there was a way to tell the early part of Jon’s story in a way that clearly got the book’s message across. Again, we’re dealing with what it actually means to adapt something to the screen, particularly in season one, when there were competing pressures between mainstream HBO viewers and die-hard novel fans. In this case, I feel like the attempt to be faithful to minor plot points and specific character beats resulted in a betrayal of the subtler, below-the-surface content.

But, again, it’s the Wall storyline. The show is never getting this one right, in my eyes.

Stefan:

I absolutely agree that the keeping with the character beats from the novels over the narrative substance was a major source of the problem. Comes with the territory, I guess. It never hit on in my earlier re-watches as it does now, and I’m curious to see how it will play out later in the season. Ironically, they will go in the opposite extreme in season two, needlessly changing stuff up that would have fit the small screen perfectly (looking at you, Qhorin Halfhand) and inventing things that make no sense at all for no reason. They found a much better balance in season three, as well as a feeling for what works and what doesn’t.

Miles:

Over in the Dany plotline, this is the “Rakharo gets backstory” episode. I don’t know how I feel about this, because I don’t know how the character would have been written if Elyes Gabel had stuck around, but I do remember that, on first viewing, I was slightly resentful that this minor character was taking away dialogue and screen time from my faves. Of course, then Ros came back and made me forget all about the pesky bloodrider who, after all, does appear in the books, but that’s a conversation for another time. Watching it again, I thought the scene was fine. Gabel is good, and I like his banter with Irri. I neither know nor care about the technical accuracy of the sword conversation, but I enjoyed the exchange overall. I will say it’s pretty hilarious that nobody finds it suspicious for Jorah to randomly take off for Qohor in the middle of the night. “Wait, she’s pregnant? Reeeeally. Hey, so, I need to leave for a little bit. No reason, just, you know, riding to Qohor. Be back soon. Cool? Cool.” So fucking stupid.

Stefan:

I really like Gabel in the role. How did quitting Game of Thrones work out for him, by the way? Totally lost sight of that. But his scenes are very good, and he owns the role. “Eh, eh. You… walk.” Oh, man – that’s just so good. I also like the conversation he has with Jorah, because it conveys background information without Jorah having to tell it to Dany (as it was in the books), spreading dialogue around a bit and creating more of a living world.

As to Qohor… yes. It was very obvious, but you need the suspicion in the viewer before Varys tells everyone or else the revelation comes off too randomly, I guess. It is a bit strange, though, and they will do it again in Vaes Dothrak. Perhaps the Dothraki just don’t think about this stuff and don’t understand letters and the like enough and don’t care, so he got reckless. Rationalizing away, here.

Miles:

Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching so much Agents of SHIELD lately, but I kind of feel like the Jorah betrayal might have been done better as a big reveal. Like, have Varys indicate that he’s got someone in Dany’s camp (a little bird, so to speak) without naming them, and then set it up such that the betrayal is something nobody saw coming (similar to a certain character in the first season of SHIELD). Maybe it wouldn’t have worked – I don’t know. Either way, I don’t think this thing with riding to Qohor was necessary, I think it was handled clumsily, and I think it comes off now as just silly.

Gabel is good, though, as you say. A quick glance at his IMDB page tells me he’s been doing pretty well since leaving Game of Thrones; as of this writing, he’s the lead in a show called Scorpion, which I’ve heard good things about, and he’s been in World War Z, Interstellar, and A Most Violent Year. I’m glad to see him having some success, though it’s a shame he couldn’t do more in our favorite show.

Stefan:

I guess Jorah’s ride to Qohor is to you what the Dothraki horde is to me. We can both overlook only one of them – elsewise, the time-space-continuum collapses. Or something in that vein.
It is debatable whether being in World War Z is an improvement over Game of Thrones. 😉 But, seriously, good for Gabel. I’m always happy to see Thrones actors making it. By the way, it’s impressive to see how many of them jump to the big screen. Richard Madden in that Prince Charming flick, Kit Harington in the (horrible) Pompeii, Sophie Turner in the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse, Emilia Clarke in the new Terminator – have I forgotten anyone?

Miles:

Hey, just because World War Z kind of sucked doesn’t mean it wasn’t a decent career move for a guy like Gabel. From what I hear, Interstellar kind of sucks, too, but it’s still good exposure. As for the other Game of Thrones alumni, I didn’t know about half of those castings, so I’m not sure if you’re missing anyone. I will say that the one I’m most excited about is Turner as Jean Grey. Depending on how they write her character (please let it be Dennis Hopeless’ version, please let it be Dennis Hopeless’ version, please let it be Dennis Hopeless’ version), she’s going to be awesome in that role. Might even be enough to get me to go see the movie, even though I swore that I was done with those horrible pieces of shit after Days of Future Past made me want to eat a bowl of razorblades covered in lemon juice.

Stefan:

Hey, if you cut out all the temporal scenes and Wolverine scenes from the last X-Men, it’s pretty good. Much like First Class, actually.

Miles:

So… cut out all the scenes, then…

Episode 104: “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things”

Stefan:

And here we are at the greatest tournament of a generation, stirring up enough trouble that thousands of gold cloaks couldn’t keep the peace, and there are three competitors and at least 100 audience members. I mean, seriously, what the fuck? Never ever before or again has the lack of a budget been more apparent than here. A Knight’s Tale had more impressive tournaments than this, and they played “We Will Rock You” as background music.

At the Wall, I instantly fell in love with Sam. I mean, he’s just such a great character, I’d put him on the list of those that are improved by the show over the books. He seems to be more into his own skin and not that self-absorbed. I can more easily understand why Jon would become friends with him – I get that Jon rescues and protects him, being the good guy and all, but showSam is a more interesting guy to hang around with than bookSam, at least at this point in the novels.

Also, the scene in which Alliser Thorne is menacing the boys works really well, in my opinion. It makes Thorne a little bit more three-dimensional. Yes, he is an antagonist, a bad person, perhaps even evil – but he has his reasons why he is the way he is, and the idea that his life is dependent on those guys nags at him. If he weren’t such a shitty instructor, he would actually use that urge for something useful.

Daenerys seems still to be more of a passenger of her own story than behind the driving wheel, but, then again, if memory serves, it’s the same in the books at this point, right?
Syrio Forel is da bomb. You can’t praise him enough. Given that the guy is in a mere two-and-a-half episodes, his impact on the series is really great. Few people manage that even with a role as thankful as his. “What do we say to the god of death?” Great line.

Many people have criticized Viserys’ bathtub scene as a prime example of the series’ issue with sexploitation and sexplaining, but I really like it. I think it is extremely atmospheric and works really well in not only giving some background about the Targaryen dynasty, but also in Viserys’ character.

And – oh, boy – Iain Glen is so great as Jorah Mormont. I can’t get enough of him. I want him to sit at my bedside and read stories. His voice alone. Where is my audiobook of The Princess and the Queen…?

Miles:

For purposes of trolling, three quick points on your opening statement:

1. I don’t recall any instance of any character claiming this to be “the greatest tournament of a generation,” and if it was King Robert, it doesn’t count.

2. To claim that “[n]ever ever before or again has the lack of a budget been more apparent than here” is factually fucking incorrect.

3. Dude, “We Will Rock You” wasn’t just background music in A Knight’s Tale – it was being played there in the stands. People are clapping their hands to the beat and thumping the butts of their spears against the ground in rhythm. The last shot before the music stops is of trumpeters playing something that we don’t think we can hear… until the music stops, the trumpeters put down their trumpets, and you realize with shock that Freddie Mercury is immortal and “We Will Rock You” is a song about medieval jousting.

3.5. Man, I love A Knight’s Tale, even after all these years. It’s so wonderfully dumb. And Mark Addy is in it, and he’s fucking great! Who would have thought that poor, loyal bastard he plays would go on to become the drunken king of Westeros?

3.99. RIP Heath Ledger. There will never be a better Joker. God. I love A Knight’s Tale!
Ahem. Anyway.

I think this is officially the First Great Episode of Game of Thrones. I can’t really think of anything I didn’t like. Sam’s arrival is gold, the Dany/Viserys story is heating up in just about every way, everything involving Starks vs. Lannisters is amazing, and, personally, I had zero hang-ups about the lack of tourney budget (sorry, dude). There’s nothing like a well-written script, well-executed, and that’s exactly what we get with “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things.” (By the way, one of my nitpicky gripes? The titles of these episodes. Episode 103 wasn’t Jon-centric enough to earn the moniker “Lord Snow,” and this one wasn’t thematically about broken things in any particular way – or, at least, no more than Game of Thrones is always about broken things. Usually people.)

Stefan:

I always have the feeling that the episodes have titles because, well, episodes gotta have titles. It’s not like this trend would become any better, with few exceptions (“Blackwater” and “The Watcher of the Walls,” of course). Thrones isn’t a show that lends itself to atmospheric names for the episodes, but few shows do, actually. Most seem named, so they’re named.

Miles:

Totally disagree about episode titles, but whatever. I’m pretty sure most television shows put in at least a cursory effort toward having the name of each episode make sense. Star Trek comes to mind. So does Firefly. Episode titles are kind of important, in my opinion. If you’ll once again forgive my current obsession with Agents of SHIELD (it’ll pass, I promise), there’s a particular episode in the first season of that show called “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and the fact that it’s called that makes me warm and happy on the inside. Also, Game of Thrones totally does get better about this, particularly in season four (holy shit, did I just praise season four?): “Two Swords,” “The Lion and the Rose,” “The Children,” etc. But, again, whatever. Doesn’t really matter.

If I realized on first airing the extent to which season one brilliantly set up the core Stark vs. Lannister narrative, I had forgotten in the time since. In 104, along with the Ned-investigates-murder-mystery plot lifted from the books, we get three absolutely wonderful original scenes between the three Lannister siblings and various representatives of House Stark. First is Tyrion’s conversation with Theon. Two things struck me about this scene – one obvious, one perhaps less so. First of all, I’m glad some clever screenwriter realized that Theon’s backstory required explicit explanation if the character was going to work, and I’m glad they found a way to shoehorn it in without coming off as too blatant. The scene makes fundamental sense. Coming off the heels of his bristling tensions with Robb in the Great Hall (which is slightly chillier than the book scene), Tyrion is curious about Catelyn’s absence, angry about Robb’s attitude, and annoyed by the presumption of a self-satisfied prick like Theon, who is (a) really, really proud about the fact that he’s had sex with people, and (b) clearly carrying a torch for the girl who’d been kind enough to take his money – a lovesick puppy trying to cover up his unmanly insecurity by being kind of an asshole. Tyrion is in no mood for this shit, and reacts in his favorite way: by fucking with the kid’s head. By needling Theon about his past, Tyrion draws out the conversation, partially in hopes of learning Catelyn’s whereabouts, but mainly just to be an asshole himself. That’s the second thing I realized in this scene, something I touched on during the very first episode: when we first meet Tyrion Lannister, he’s something of a Robin Goodfellow – a puckish mischief-maker who performs acrobatics and makes cutting remarks. I think the show does a masterful job of translating that in relatively subtle fashion, and I loved this episode’s treatment of it in particular, because these aspects of Tyrion’s character start getting warped as soon as he becomes directly involved in the opening act (and, later, the center stage) of the War of the Five Kings, changes heralded by the history-shaking event that ends 104.

The other original Stark vs. Lannister scenes are more directly confrontational, but in different ways. Jaime’s conversation with Jory Cassel outside the king’s bedchamber is all about the concealed nature of Jaime’s character in relation to the show’s central conflict; as the two reminisce about the glorious days of the Greyjoy Rebellion, it’s clear that Jaime bears Jory no ill will as a Stark servant, but when forcibly reminded of the king’s activities (cheating on his wife/Jaime’s sister-lover), he grows cold and pulls rank, distancing himself from the brief connection. Jory probably walked away from that conversation thinking “another Lannister scumbag,” but, for Jaime, the tension between the families is just a thin veneer to excuse his actions. Cersei is his real motivation. For her part, she has a tremendous scene with Ned Stark which, while it amounts primarily to diplomatic genital comparison, also carries a distinct feeling of the truly honest man versus the master manipulator, each seeing straight through the other. It’s a great moment for both characters, and also foreshadows the iconic follow-up between these two, the “you win or you die” scene.

I totally agree with you when it comes to Sam being an example of a character better realized on screen than on page. Allister Thorne, too, in some ways; that monologue about spending six months beyond the Wall is goddamn terrifying. Frankly, this episode was filled with characters who got better treatment in the show than in the books. Aside from Sam and Ser Allister, there’s Septa Mordane, Grand Maester Pycelle, and, perhaps, the most interesting case, Doreah. I’m not prepared to rail against the bathtub scene for crimes of sexposition; for one thing, I’m saving that rant for Littlefinger laying out his entire character to a pair of prostitutes while they grind one another, and for another thing, it’s hard to rail against something that’s so damn well-acted. I really like the bathtub scene. I think it helps make both characters involved into something more than they were in the books, and it really helps viewers understand exactly why Viserys is the person he is (Harry Lloyd’s phenomenal acting helps with that). It also contains a fairly gut-wrenching twist toward the end of it, breaking viewer expectations, further examining Viserys’ character and making his dragging Doreah into Dany’s tent to have her punished for insolence later on slightly more effective. By that point, watching Dany hit Viserys with that medallion is almost as good as watching Tyrion slap Joffrey for 10 minutes.

This was the first Game of Thrones episode to really stand on its own and confidently deliver material that was both original and awesome. If there’s one thing season one has that none of the others do, it’s the ability to slide through the cracks of Martin’s world and give us a picture of his story that is at once familiar and wholly different. I’m not sure book material and show material ever blend together as seamlessly as they do in the first season. I wonder if the show was hurt by the massive expansion of both characters and plot threads more than anyone ever thought it would be.

Ah, who cares? This episode rocked. Even Aiden Gillen didn’t have the power to bother me… though as much as I love the Princess and the Queen audio book, I don’t remember ever in my life being blown away by Iain Glen as Jorah Mormont. He’s okay.

Stefan:

Iain Glen is great. Repent, sinner, and rejoice in the righteous light of insight.
I have reserved my praise for great episodes for the next one, but, in your general assessment, I definitely agree that we’re building up momentum here. I mean, what am I complaining about? Missing grandeur at the tourney and that Dany is a bit passive. Oh, well – there are worse offenses. So, yes, very good episode!

I absolutely agree on the assessment of Tyrion. In fact, showTyrion is generally behaving pretty ass-y (is that a word?) around people, which will, of course, come to haunt him later on, when he stands on trial and nobody likes him. It’s not like Tyrion is a sympathetic fellow. We like him for the same reason we like House, MD, or Sherlock Holmes – it’s just plain fun to watch them fuck with everyone and be the smartest guy in the room, but it isn’t going to win them any friends. This is definitely something we should keep in our mind when we go on to season two, because it’s not like Tyrion would change his pattern once in power. One could argue it gets worse. In that, the show mirrors the book exactly, and it is eerie to what degree they all get the core of so many characters right. Really, only a few of them are botched even a bit in this regard, and no one is botched outright until season two (hello, Qhorin Halfhand!). The quality of this show is incredible, and what we’re doing is basically nit-picking on a very, very high level. This makes me glad, in a way.

Absolutely, hands down on your analysis of Jaime, Cersei, Cassel, and Ned. Again, it’s amazing what level of detail went into this. One could rightly argue that Jaime is pretty much a side character until season three, and given that he isn’t in the source material for book two at all, them having someone with the chops of Coster-Waldau in is just another testament to how dedicated they are to the stuff.

Sam is, curiously enough, never a character I warmed to in the books. I don’t know why. Perhaps he is too much the nerd stand-in, hitting too close to home – I don’t know. But, yes, that Thorne monologue was really, really good. A shame that they will squander his potential in season four.

I don’t think the show was hurt by the expansion of characters and plot threads. In many cases, it isn’t, and some of the weakest links in the show have been there from the beginning. But I guess we’re gonna get to analyze this in detail once we move into season two, when Stannis-train creaks along.

Miles:

Regarding Tyrion, I agree with your points, except that he actually does change his patterns while in power: he gets worse. A taste of power leads him to throw some real political weight around along with his quips, and his trickery has real, actual implications, for better or worse. Once he gets his face split open by someone who was supposed to be on his side and sees his father assume control once more, it’s harder for Tyrion to slip back into the jester role. I’ve heard many book readers complain that Tyrion isn’t as funny in A Dance with Dragons, that his dialogue isn’t as witty and Tyrion, in general, is less “fun” of a character to read about. That would be because he has changed as a person in some fairly mammoth ways.

I’m totally with you on Sam. In the books, he’s honestly not that interesting, and his chapters are a bit of a slog. He has his moments in A Feast for Crows, for sure, but, prior to that, I had a really hard time caring that much about him. In the show, however, Jon Bradley is so damn good that I instantly found a wellspring of appreciation and respect for the character. Of course, as you pointed out, it helps that the script paints him as more likeable and less whiny. There’s only so far I’m willing to go with a character who lacks anything resembling social skills, and the writers knew that.

Stefan:

The cliffhanger this time was just gold, and tell me anyone can resist the urge to fist-pump when Catelyn seizes Tyrion at the inn. The interaction between Ned, Arya, and Sansa is translated very well from book to screen despite one or two changes in tone and character. And then there is Littlefinger at the tourney…

Miles:

I did really enjoy the cliffhanger. It’s all straight book stuff, of course, so it was always going to be well-written, but Fairley absolutely killed it here and made this one of the truly great moments of the series. That simple.

Dinklage, of course, was great, as well. I feel like Tyrion’s initial impishness, pun intended, tends to be picked up on and then forgotten as we grow so close to the character over the course of the first three books. He’s really only that guy in the first book and maybe the very beginning of the second, at which point A Clash of Kings, which is really Tyrion’s book, puts him through a series of fundamental changes before A Storm of Swords flat-out rips him apart. And since the reader is along for the ride inside Tyrion’s head the entire time, it’s hard for readers to remember, or care about, the character we thought we were meeting at the start. It’s like what would happen if A Midsummer Night’s Dream ever got really interested in making a rich, three-dimensional character out of Puck. I certainly didn’t notice it before, but Weiss and Benioff clearly did. Hell, now that I think about it, Tyrion’s introductory scene back in episode one was essentially Act II, Scene I of Midsummer. “I know you! You’re that guy who plays tricks on people!” “That would be me. I am impish and clever. Want to have sex?”

Man – on kind of a tangent – how poignant does this make Tyrion’s return to acrobatics in A Dance with Dragons? Most people pan the shit out of Martin going back to that, but isn’t it actually really sad and kind of touching to see this guy who has been totally destroyed over the last two years reach back to a time before that, either for comfort or for a reminder of who he used to be?

Aaaaanyway, you know I’m fine with the tourney; I thought, overall, it was well-done. I liked the contrast between Ser Hugh’s tragic dickishness before his tilt with Gregor, and his tragic deadness after it. I still have a really hard time with the way they revealed the Hound’s backstory, as I have with the way season one handles that character in general (Sandor is a pre-Qhorin character botch if there ever was one). The bare-faced exposition involved in this scene was in no way mitigated by the actor delivering it, as yet another classic piece of dialogue was mangled by the so-called talents of…
…no. I loved this episode. I loved everything about this episode. You will not ruin this for me, Aidan Gillen.

Almost everything else in this episode was straight from the books, except maybe Sansa’s conversation with Septa Mordane, in which Sophie Turner continued to be a very good actress. Not much to say about Arya’s balancing act or Ned’s hunt for answers, really. I will definitely say, however, that this was the first time I legitimately enjoyed everything set in Castle Black, and it wasn’t just because of Jon Bradley. He was good, Kit Harington was good, and the growing friendship between Jon and Sam felt very natural. The Night’s Watch recruits take on an anti-bullying campaign came off really well onscreen, and the scene in the practice yard, in which Thorne goes apeshit when nobody will attack Sam, is an extremely nuanced and well-constructed piece of storytelling.

Enjoy the praise while you can, Jon Snow-plot. You won’t be seeing all that much of it.

Stefan:

It’s again and again astonishing to see just how complex some of these characters are, especially Tyrion, and the depths to which Dinklage and others have to go to portray it.
Regarding a certain Hound and a guy with a rather small finger, I just stumbled over this interview Sean T. Collins did with Rory McCann:

“My audition was a scene of the Hound describing to Sansa how he got his burned face. It happens in the book, and they were gonna film it in the first episode: ‘Look at me – this is the reason I am the way I am.’ Then they decided not to do it. David pushed Dan into my trailer, and I was like, ‘Why are you pushing the wee guy in? You got something to say?’

“‘We decided we want to bring you in gentler. We don’t want you to talk about yourself at the moment. But don’t worry!’

“I go, ‘You’re bruising my ego. You’re not… firing me?’

“‘No, no, we’re not firing you! We’re just gonna bring you in slower.’

“It’s taken four fucking years, but here we go. [Laughs] That’s what’s happening. I’m gonna open up this time. The Hound’s gonna speak freely.”

Man, David and Dan, this was a really bad decision. I mean, we knew before that McCann auditioned for this scene, but we never knew the rationale behind the decision to put it to Aidan Gillen, of all people. It’s not even that he’s such a terrible actor, but Littlefinger just isn’t the guy who knows such a story. Varys, yes, I buy it – but Littlefinger? Come on. He would have spilled the beans along with some sex-joke years ago and would have been brutally murdered by the Hound.

The actor who played Ser Hugh also put his full weight into it. He was such an arrogant prick – totally nailed it. It’s just a moment in the story that tells you as the viewer that Ned is onto something. You know, like “game on” or something in that vein. Poor Hugh, to die for that moment. Plus, his drowning in his blood is a pretty iconic death, one has to say. Even beats Jory and the dagger.

Miles:

I didn’t know any of that about Rory McCann and his audition. What an idiotic move. That decision was incredibly stupid. And, yes, Aidan Gillen is a terrible actor – at least on this show.

Episode 105: “The Wolf and the Lion”

Stefan:

This was, hands down, the best episode so far and by far. Its plotting was intense and tight, and no minute felt wasted. While there certainly is a little bit of a downer in Littlefinger’s continued merging with the Hound during the tourney, it surely won’t ruin this blast of an episode. But let’s dig through some of the gold in more detail.

We have all the stuff on the high road, which is very well done. The attack of the wildlings is a well-done fight, intimate in its brutality and chaos and allowing two of our fighters (Rodrik and Bronn) to show off their chops while Tyrion and Catelyn grow their own character arcs, all the while seeing wildlings slaughtered. Many other shows and movies play such fight scenes for the action spectacle alone, but Game of Thrones manages to use it as a character-building exercise – well done.

In Winterfell, we’ve got the Bransplainer who does some bransplaining via a lesson with Maester Luwin. Essentially, it’s the same thing as Viserys and Doreah in the bathtub, minus the nudity (which would have been kind of inappropriate in this context). Not only do we get some background information of houses we will meet and hear all their house mottos (which is always good), we also see how other plots – King’s Landing and the high road – affect those left behind. Plus, we get pretty extensive mention of the Tullys, which will pay off in 107 when Tywin sends Jaime to attack them. A shame they fell off the radar later.

In King’s Landing, Eddard and Barristan make for another entry in the book of non-book-pairings of book characters that just work. The two of them share an intimate bond as warriors (again echoing the stronger emphasis of the show on Ned’s warrior identity) and can forget that they once fought each other, something we already saw in Jaime and Jory. Moments like this really help in building the world.

Also working very well is the Renly-Loras relationship. Never front and center in the books because neither of them is a POV, we see them plotting in first-person here, and their relationship and respective characters get a big boost in those few minutes. Add the two of them to the roster of characters improved by the show, though, of course, every one of them will have to take second place once Natalie Dormer’s Margaery Tyrell enters the picture in season two.

The beating heart of the episode, though – and some of the best pieces of acting in the season – has to be the dialogue between Robert and Cersei, another pairing that we couldn’t have witnessed in the books but that just feels incredibly real and authentic. We can see the person Robert now is, we get an echo of the one he once was, and we explore the troubled relationship those two had with each other while simultaneously giving us the backstory of Lyanna Stark and tying the Essos storyline to the main one. Whoever wrote this scene deserves respect. And then there’s the acting. Both of them are so multilayered, keeping up their facade, unable to ever break it (a scene that will be echoed in 207 between Cersei and Tyrion), but understanding each other – while still hating each other. God, this. Is. Good.
As a last note, the episode has no Jon or Dany in it. Coincidence?

Miles:

I like the previous episode more; it hung together a lot better for me, and I’m not sure I totally see the same waste-free pacing you do. That said, this one was still really, really good. There were only two scenes I really didn’t like: the Theon/Ros scene, because it has Ros in it, and the “Distrusting me was the wisest thing you’ve done since you climbed off your horse” scene, because it should have been so much more, and it wasn’t.

I agree with you that Robert/Cersei is the heart of the episode, but I would expand that to include all three major Robert scenes here (first with Ned and Lancel, then Ned and the council, and then Cersei). Granted, of those three scenes, the one with Lena Headey is the centerpiece (the heart of the heart, so to speak), but for an episode called “The Wolf and the Lion” (yeah, still care about that), the story running through it was, in many ways, the story of Robert Baratheon. Or, at the very least, Robert’s part of the story is the most compelling. You can’t not love him being talked out of jousting by Ned, in which he sends Lancel off to find the breastplate stretcher and nearly forgets to button his shirt. In the book, this is a key moment, a moment in which Ned thinks of Robert as a true friend once again, a good man who would side with him against the Lannisters. The show puts that across nicely, and, of course, it’s almost immediately contrasted with the small council scene, which features Ned abandoning the Handship and Robert threatening to decapitate him. As opposed to the old friend that Ned knew, this is the king who feels no qualms about murdering children, the same man who allowed the murder of Lady on the kingsroad. The episode gives us Ned’s two opposing images of Robert Baratheon, one not far after the other, as they war within his mind.
And then, once Ned is gone and Robert is alone with Cersei, we finally get the real Robert Baratheon. The one who has all the elements of what Ned sees in him – laughter, anger, honesty, fear – but who ultimately desires one thing: his wine goblet. I could write about how amazing this scene is for days, but you’ve already said most of it. Top five in the entire series, I’d say.

Stefan:

I hadn’t consciously made the connection in my mind between the two Roberts at war with themselves, but it’s spot on and again serves to underline my point about the structure of the episode. Well done.

Miles:

The second half of the tourney bit was good, though, as we discussed in 104, they totally didn’t earn that moment with the Hound. Thanks to Weiss and Benioff’s “slow introduction,” this moment had zero impact. I can’t really complain, because it’s not all that important in the book, and I really enjoyed Loras’ introduction, but still.

I definitely enjoyed Ned and Barristan together. That was a good scene. Ditto for Loras and Renly, whose characters were both made immediately more interesting here (though the cock-sucking sounds are almost as gratuitous as the entire Ros character). Everything with Tyrion, Catelyn, Bronn, and Lysa was amazing, though I feel like that pretty much goes without saying; continuing the thread of our Tyrion conversation, however, I want to point out that the high road marks the first time Tyrion kills a man, which I think has relatively immediate effects. Certainly this is the official introduction of Bronn, to which I can only echo Tyrion in saying, “I like you,” as well as Lysa, who is fucking insane and does a great job of it. As for the “Bransplaining,” I thought the most interesting thing about this scene was Maester Luwin, myself. I really liked the way the show consistently maintains him as an important character until his death.

This episode also contains the much-remarked-upon scene between Varys and Littlefinger, usually taken for granted as (a) total, absolute proof that Varys and Littlefinger are enemies because they had that confrontation in the show and HBO is always right, and/or (b) one of the bestest scenes in all of ever. I’m still not sure about (a), myself, but after watching it again, I’m even less sure about (b). My feelings on Gillen are what they are; this was one of his better scenes, in that he wasn’t terrible, but he was still flat and uninteresting. I wasn’t a huge fan of him getting the upper hand on Varys with the “foreign dignity” sighting, largely because Varys’ smile immediately dies and his face gets all upset/scared/ashamed/guilty – this from the awesome super-spy master of disguise. A decent portion of the dialogue in this scene also didn’t feel terribly well-scripted to me. Overall, this was the “Iain Glen as Jorah Mormont” of scenes: totally decent, but not nearly as incredible as some people seem to think it is.

Stefan:

I like the sparring between Littlefinger and Varys; they seem like something the two of them would do.

Miles:

I really fucking love Conleth Hill as Varys when he’s being obsequious and all-knowing and Varys-y, but there are times when he’s playing up the more serious side of the character in which he just misses the mark, like the scene in this episode when Varys confronts Ned.

Stefan:

Varys’ face was a bit obvious, but, then again, had he kept a mask, casual viewers might have missed the importance and the connection to Daenerys.

Miles:

I’m not entirely sure what you mean by suggesting the casual viewer might miss his connection to Daenerys. I’m pretty sure watching Varys have a secret conversation with Illyrio in the dungeons makes that connection pretty clear.

Stefan:

By the way, another thing that just came to me: is it just me, or does the show seem to put the blame of the failed marriage more on Robert than Cersei? In the show, she seemed pretty willing to do her part, but he was hostile from the beginning. We see this in their dialogue scene, as well, where he is pretty cruel towards her without cause or her lashing back; you can see her making the decision to kill him, though. Or am I misreading something?

Miles:

In book and show alike, they both did their part. I don’t think the show adds any additional emphasis on Robert’s role. There was definitely a moment in which Cersei was prepared to commit to her marriage, which was derailed when Robert called her “Lyanna” – that part is in both. The scene in which Robert strikes her is in both, right down to the dialogue. Let’s not forget, however, that Cersei has been sleeping with her brother for the entirety of her marriage, too, so it’s not like she tried her hardest to make things work with Robert. You could argue that she tried harder in the books, considering Joffrey’s advanced age in the show means he was conceived earlier (but, then again, in the book she actively aborted Robert’s child, so maybe not). Anyway, I think the deterioration of their relationship was pretty much mutual, and I think the show leans that way, too.

Stefan:

The fight between Jaime and Eddard was passable. While the murder of Eddard’s men has the necessary shock value and is over pretty quickly, the duel seems a bit nonsensical. I mean, what was he trying to achieve? He just gave the order not to kill him, right? This makes the dressing down that Tywin will give him later a bit strange, but we’ll get to that in 107.

Miles:

You say it was passable; I have always thought, and still think, that it’s pretty goddamn awesome. To answer your questions about the internal logic of the duel, I offer the following three points:

1. It’s doubtful Jaime meant to kill Ned in that duel. He loves a good fight and wanted to defeat Ned in combat (not outright murder him). It was foreshadowed in 101.

2. Tywin dresses Jaime down because he left Ned alive. Jaime left Ned alive because, otherwise, Tyrion would be killed. Tywin doesn’t share that priority. Hence the logic.

3. Oh, who cares – the fight was awesome! Loved the dagger in the eye, loved the look on Coster-Waldau’s face as he turns toward Ned, loved his attitude toward the soldier who ends the duel prematurely, and loved the actual swordplay. I loved the hell out of all of it and always will, and you (or maybe not you, specifically, but various other people) can shove your “not historically accurate fight choreography” up your ass. It was fun, you pricks. It’s a TV show. With dragons in it.

Good episode. I don’t really know how much the absence of Jon and Dany contributed to that (probably a lot), but they would have been better off leaving out Ros.

Stefan:

These were two really good episodes, no question about it. But the fifth episode beats the fourth, since it is just tighter and generally develops a brisker pace. But I guess Ros really spoils it for you. I’m saving the Ros discussion for later, when she becomes a character in her own right, but it is a discussion we’ll need to have at some point. Right now, though, she’s too inconsequential yet. I did, however, like her scene with Theon.

Speaking of the tourney, the moment they really earn – and sell – is the Mountain that Rides. He’s just one giant, lumbering beast, and he’s terrifying. Sadly, they can’t really capitalize on it later, because all of this is squandered in season two (of course, the availability of the actor is outside HBO’s control). The Clegane brothers really are a strange bunch in the tides of this show.

Miles:

It wasn’t just Ros that made me like this episode a little less than the last one. I disagree that it’s more tightly plotted, though I will allow that its pace is faster and it contains more dramatic action. What actually bothers me are the things I feel should have been better, but were made mediocre by problems that turn out to be systemic in the show. Little things that remind me of larger issues abound in this episode. Ros is a big one, but there’s also the Clegane brothers, as you mentioned. Gregor certainly comes off as a beast here, but he’s mismanaged throughout the show as a villain, regardless of who’s playing him. As for Sandor, the show’s version of him is a travesty right up until “Blackwater,” when Martin set the writers straight. And as much as I’m trying not to spend all my time harping on this… sorry, but Littlefinger is just wrong. He’s so wrong, he ruins entire scenes for me, particularly in season one, when his on-screen presence is at its height. And, again, I want to emphasize that for all the shit I love to throw at Aidan Gillen, the lines he’s given are fucking terrible, and the lion’s share of the blame rests on the writers.

Example: I mentioned that I loved Loras’ introduction. One of the things the show did that I noticed here for the first time involves his giving a rose to Sansa. Unlike the book scene, Loras isn’t being insincere in this episode. He’s just using Sansa as a stand-in for Renly… who happens to be sitting almost directly behind her. He’s giving Renly the rose, not Sansa. It’s a really nice little combination of scripting, staging, and acting. And then…

“Tell me, Lord Renly, when will you be ‘having’ your friend?”

Hahahahahahaha, get it? Having? Because, like, having sex, you know? With his friend? Because they’re gay? Isn’t Littlefinger so fucking witty and clever? And, of course, just like Varys, Renly gets this stupid, stricken look on his face for the whole world to see, like, “Hey, how did you know I’m secretly gay? Hey, does anyone know how Littlefinger knew I was secretly gay? Anyone?” I just hate this kind of shit, and I don’t understand how otherwise-competent screenwriters suddenly lose their minds because they apparently don’t understand how to write this one character. And what’s worse, when they just say “fuck it” and give him a line from the books (“distrusting me was the wisest thing,” etc.), it somehow still sucks. Bad acting, bad directing, or some combination of both – I don’t know. I just know that Littlefinger’s increased presence should be a strength of season one. Instead, it’s a weakness.

Stefan:

I agree that a good deal of it is the writers’ fault. I hate neither Gillen nor Bianco as much as you do, but in Gillen’s case, I see the problems well enough on my own. It’s especially excruciating that this is a problem that keeps with us. May I remind you of season four’s “Yeah, why prepare for the Lords Declarant?” thing? But, yes, you are right – the scene at the tourney isn’t exactly stellar.

Miles:

I honestly don’t think Benioff and Weiss understand the Littlefinger character at all. Which is a shame, because he’s one of the most important people in the series. I think this is a big reason the show isn’t all it could have been (though, to be clear, it’s still phenomenal).

Stefan:

When you state that they “don’t get the character of Littlefinger” – what is the character of Littlefinger? Or, asked differently, what would you have had done differently?

Miles:

To me, what’s missing from the show’s Littlefinger is the laughter and the mockery. Littlefinger jokes, he makes fun of people, he throws out little remarks that get under your skin. He gives no outward sign of being a threat to anyone; his only weapon is the quip. He laughs so often that it’s tempting to believe him when he seems to be taking something seriously (or as seriously as he ever takes anything), but, of course, he’s always lying. One of the reasons I tend to place blame on Gillen is that Littlefinger’s days are spent primarily acting like he’s friends with everyone (albeit that asshole friend who gives you shit all the time and makes you want to punch him in the face), when he’s actually plotting against them. Gillen’s Littlefinger doesn’t put on any act at all. But I really do think the script is the original problem. HBO’s Littlefinger is openly sinister and obviously dangerous. Martin’s Littlefinger would be appalled at such lack of discretion.

Stefan:

I definitely agree with your analysis of Littlefinger. I do think, however, that parts of it made it into the series (like his facility with sex jokes), which makes the experience even more jarring, I guess.

What do you think about the design of the Eyrie?

Miles:

Do you mean from the inside or the outside? I kind of dig the Moon Door being a huge circular pit in the floor as opposed to just a door in the wall. I like the sky cell design, too.
From the outside… I don’t know. It looked less impressive than I thought it should have. Or maybe impressive in the wrong way. It looked thick and formidable rather than unbelievably tall and treacherous, as I’d imagined. More like my vision of Storm’s End than the Eyrie. But I’m not that worked up over it.

Stefan:

I really love the floor-door and the lofty design of the throne room. Everything circular, everything pointing upwards – great set design. You can just see in what a place you are. From the outside, I was never really wedded to the book version of the Eyrie, so I rather like it a lot. And, yes, the sky cells are impressive.

Miles:

My eyes sort of glazed over the circular, upward-pointing theme of that set, but now that you point it out, you’re absolutely right. Very nicely done. I am fond of the book version of the Eyrie, but not to the extent that I’m prepared to complain about it. When the time comes for somebody to finally take that castle by force (it’s totally happening at some point), I suspect it will look different, because at this point there’s no real reason to try and maintain continuity with everything from season one.

I’ll say this much, though: the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am that we didn’t even get a nod of the head to the difficulty of the ascent. Not even a mention of it. They’re with Vardis Egen, and then they’re in the throne room. I really enjoyed that part of the book, and I think it adds a great deal to the Eyrie’s mystique. To have it not just glossed over, but completely overlooked, kind of sucks. Although, in all honesty, David and Dan have been pretty consistent in their utter disregard for world-building. They seem to think they knock that part out every week during the opening credits.

Stefan:

Why would they have it look different? There’s still a huge mountain to climb. Besides, they will come in through the Moon Door. Right? Right?

I guess some stuff simply has to go in order to maintain the 50-odd minutes of each episode, and they opted for this kind of stuff to keep in as much character moments as they could (and, yeah, Ros and stuff). I don’t know if you improve the scene especially by mentioning this, especially given that the look of the Eyrie doesn’t exactly suggest a hard climb. I was never in love with that part in the books, anyway, so I’m glad this is a bit more down to earth (no pun intended) in the show.

Miles:

They’ll have the Eyrie look different because they’ll have more money and they can. Plain and simple. The internal set will and should remain the same, but don’t be surprised when the outward appearance changes. As for the absence of the climb, you might appreciate it for your own reasons, but it doesn’t make any sense to me. The main feature of the Eyrie is that it’s impregnable, which Tyrion says in the show. Instead of making an effort to show us why, we’re expected to just accept that on faith. Breaks the immersion for me.

Also, every time anyone asks the question “where would they find the time in an hour-long episode,” the correct answer is always “cut out the part with Ros.” Every. Damn. Time.

Once again, you can find It Is Known: Seasons 1 – 5 Deconstructed here for $5.99.

42 responses

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    1. Like many TV shows, Game of Thrones got better and better as it found its voice and its stride; season two was better than season one, season three was better than season two… and then, in season four, the fucking wheels fell off and the whole thing crashed into the ditch that was season five, but that’s neither here nor there.

      OK, this is some spiteful nonsense. I should have stopped reading there. For some foolish reason, I kept going … I wanted to give the author a fair chance to explain his position, I guess. It was only after I made it about 2/5 through the page and had encountered about 20 other bitter, snarky digs at the show, at least 10 thoroughly unrealistic lamentations, and several borderline disgusting comments about the character of Ros – pretty much all of them in Miles’s “analysis” – that I realized that this writing style seemed highly familiar.

      It was then I realized that this Miles, much to my displeasure, was in fact the very same Miles whose angry ramblings and completely inability to be critical without resorting to vitriol – particularly against the show’s later seasons – had almost single-handedly inspired me to leave the once-enjoyable community at the Tower of the Hand and never, ever return. When that happened, I felt like an utter fool for not realizing it sooner. I had sworn off that website, and that writer in particular.

      I don’t need all of the analysis I read to come from professional writers or unabashed fans of the show. But I do expect at least a veneer of professionalism if someone claims to be a “scholar”. Miles utterly fails that test, in spectacular fashion. I don’t care if his opinions about the show are colored by his obvious infatuation with the books. If he couldn’t be critical without resorting to insults, then in my book any analysis he might have to offer is worse than worthless.

      I’m sorry, Marc. I respect all of the work that you do, and I understand that you were trying to share something with the WOTW community. But I should never have clicked on this article. I have no desire to ever read so much as a single word written by Miles ever again.

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    2. I don’t think I could stand these two guys nitpicking the show to death for 600 pages, I certainly wouldn’t pay 10¢ for that. IMO Game of Thrones is the best TV to come down the pike since I, Claudius. I’d hate to see what they would to a that show with it’s extremely limited budget and Stefan’s complete inability to suspend his disbelief.

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    3. If men don’t enjoy seeing Emilia act, fine. However, her naked body isn’t a saving grace to to scene. Your comment on it is an announcement to the world of the type of foul person you are – and our fair warning to stay far away from you and your like.

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    4. Jared,

      I’m sure he’s the same guy who said last year, in the season wrap-up, that he stopped watching the season halfway through and argued that he was in a perfect position to judge the entirety of it because someone else had described what happened for him. Not a joyous, entertaining or thoughtful read at all, imo.

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    5. The words “self-important” and “pompous” spring to mind.

      As good and enjoyable a read as the books are this is not Shakespeare, Joyce, Flaubert, Kafka, Dostoevsky or even Fitzgerald we are talking about. Some people just have way too much spare time…and I wish I hadn’t wasted some of mine reading this.

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    6. I agreed with a few things he said, like about Dany’s rape scene and the scarcity of dire wolves in the show esp the first two seasons or so. But the conversation got tiring- if the first episode was so bad, how on earth has it continued for 6 seasons? I stopped reading at the ‘off the rails’ talk of season 4.

      It would be interesting someday to have a conversation with D&D about season 1 – if they were able to refilm it now, with the budget they have now, what changes would they have made to the story and filming?

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    7. I’m really sorry to have to agree with the sentiments of the rest of the people commenting. I have absolutely no problem with people critically analysing the show, but some of these comments are pretty nasty and would not be made by professional critics of the show.

      I have nothing against you Marc as your “Anatomy of Thrones” series is excellent, but I have no interest in reading any of these other “scholars” opinions in future.

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    8. Jared,

      Yeah, well, that’s why this is a discussion. I’m frequently disagreeing with Miles, and you will see that in several cases, I will change his opinion – and in others, he will challenge and change mine. Sometimes it’s worth to hear an argument even if you don’t agree.

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    9. Wait,did they actually ask people to pay money for this ? I haven’t realised that until someone pointed it out in the comments,but i wouldn’t even read this whole thing for free, let alone pay money for it .

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    10. Stefan Sasse,

      I fully agree about the merits of reading dissenting opinions, but if said opinions are being presented as analysis from a “scholar” rather than gut reactions from a fan, then they need to be balanced and tempered with something approaching professional objectivity. I believe that’s necessary even if the author in question isn’t truly an objective party.

      What turned me off of Miles’s writing wasn’t the fact that he was criticizing the show. I’ve read many such pieces over the years, and I’ll read many more. It was the snarky, spiteful manner in which he couched his criticisms – they came across as bitter rather than fair. If Miles had made pretty much all of the same points but framed his language in a less inflammatory and spiteful manner, I wouldn’t have agreed with him any more, but I may have found something worth considering further. As it stands, he soured the well for me, and soured it long ago.

      I appreciate what you were trying to do in this discussion, which I is why I didn’t mention you at all. I’ve read your work on both the TotH and other websites in the past, and enjoyed it. I have read Miles’s work as well, but I have never found it to be enjoyable, interesting, or informative. I respect his right to do what he does in his own space, but he’s not required reading. I can find more reasonable criticism of the show from other parties – including you. There is no need for me to read something that makes me feel actively angry because the author in question has such obvious contempt for something I love so dearly.

      I do not know Miles. I do not mean to insult him personally in any way. But he has put his writing into a public space so that it can generate feedback and inspire discussion. I read his work for several years, I have come to the conclusion that his thoughts on Game of Thrones are not something that I find personally valuable, either as analysis or a contrarian view. So rather than seethe or try to engage with him in a manner that I’m sure would be frustrating for both of us, I’m walking away. I will never read his work again.

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    11. Stefan Sasse,

      No hard feelings on this end either. It’s just cleaner this way. I look forward to catching up on some of your other work, including the Boiled Leather Audio Hour that you host with Sean T. Collins, when I have a few free hours. 🙂

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    12. Glad I read the comments before trying to slog through this. I suspected that this might contain the type of discussion laced with anger that I do not enjoy. I have the utmost respect for the opinions of the thoughtful long-time participants on this singularly wonderful site like Jared (and you too, Marc). If there is snarkiness and vitriol, I am out. That’s why I hang out here rather than That Other Place or WiC or reddit. I enjoy the discussion, not the hate. Sorry, Marc. Maybe the folks on those other sites will enjoy it more.

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    13. I’m going to echo the sentiments of many of the posters regarding the quality of this analysis. To me, it seemed to be too much nit-picking, and the opinions too warped by the prism of the books. The commentators absolutely cannot disassociate their opinions from the holy text of “A Song of Ice and Fire” and Miles cannot understand the concept of “budgetary limitations.”

      For me, when Miles said “and then, in season four, the fucking wheels fell off and the whole thing crashed into the ditch that was season five” that should’ve been my cue to stop reading right then and there. Season four was easily the best season of GoT … unless, of course, you’re a book purist.

      Still, it’s always interesting to read different perspectives, so there’s that. I, however, will be skipping on getting that e-book.

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    14. I enjoyed it as a passing read, even though I disagree with about half of the analysis (the point of the only good scene being Dany’s bathtub scene reeks of misogyny) and the consistent judgment on the budgetary constraints came off as being increasingly pretentious. I simply cannot do 600 pages of it, however, especially where seasons four and five come into play.

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    15. If you allow to disagree, there is no reference to the “holy text” of the books. In fact, we strongly advocate NOT to follow the books too slavishly, which has been a problem propping up a few times in season 1 (not so much in later seasons). There are also quite a lot of scenes and story threads that the show improves over the books (Robert, for one). What we do in our analysis is to look where the show and the books diverge, if it works, and why, and what alternatives might have been. But neither me nor Miles are in any way dependent on the original text.

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    16. If it’s of any value to you, the budget issues will largely go away with season 2, as well they did. Also, misoginy shouldn’t be a problem in the book, since we both are critizicing HBO’s overreliance on nudity.

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    17. ““There is no word for ‘thank you’ in Dothraki” makes me want to swallow arsenic; frankly, pretty much everything involving Dany’s story in this episode was god-awful, with the shit-covered cherry on top being the transformation of the wedding night consummation into a rape scene (I don’t care what anyone says about how much sense it makes – I find it an unforgivable creative decision).”

      Unforgivable creative decision? This Miles chap seems like the life of the party.

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    18. On the day the show comes back on air with new material we should all be happy and rejoicing. Instead we get this nitpicky, comic book guy treatment of the first few episodes by a couple of SJW complainers. My god that was torturous. Why are they even watching the show if they have so much to hate? Also it used to be the right wing nutjobs who were the nudnicks who tried to ruin everything. When did this switch to left wing nutsos? Please keep your moral grandstanding out of it.

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    19. Stefan Sasse:
      If it’s of any value to you, the budget issues will largely go away with season 2, as well they did. Also, misoginy shouldn’t be a problem in the book, since we both are critizicing HBO’s overreliance on nudity.

      The misogynist is Miles – he makes that clear in many of his points. Also…

      If the two of you don’t know why Will survived, then you two might want to give some thought to taking some time away from the show and the books. Your brains might be trying to tell you that you are due for a very long, off-line holiday.

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    20. Jared,

      As always, this. You took the words right off my fingers.

      I have nothing against you Marc as your “Anatomy of Thrones” series is excellent, but I have no interest in reading any of these other “scholars” opinions in future.

      I agree on both points and hope that Marc continues his series this year!

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    21. Is there a Stefan-only edition of this available? Because I would buy that in a heartbeat.

      Instead this sample just made me determined NOT to buy this – I’d rather read the phone book than be exposed to more of Miles “angry GOT fan/GRRM is infallible” ramblings.

      (We’ll see if he stays away from season 6 as he promised on “tower of the hand”)

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    22. Zeus:
      On the day the show comes back on air with new material we should all be happy and rejoicing.Instead we get this nitpicky, comic book guy treatment of the first few episodes by a couple of SJW complainers.My god that was torturous.Why are they even watching the show if they have so much to hate? Also it used to be the right wing nutjobs who were the nudnicks who tried to ruin everything. When did this switch to left wing nutsos? Please keep your moral grandstanding out of it.

      Yeah that was my original point. Just really odd timing with the posting of this. Looking at the comments it seems pretty much nobody enjoyed this.

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    23. Stefan Sasse:
      If it’s of any value to you, the budget issues will largely go away with season 2, as well they did. Also, misoginy shouldn’t be a problem in the book, since we both are critizicing HBO’s overreliance on nudity.

      You do realize that just because you criticize nudity in one context it doesn’t give you a free pass on misogony in others. So unless this comment about naked Dany has been taken out, then misogyny in the book is still a problem. This is basic.

      On another note.. 30 more minutes! *squee!!!*

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