Ned looks to a book for clues to the death of his predecessor, and uncovers one of King Robert’s (Mark Addy) bastards. Robert and his guests witness a tournament honoring Ned. Jon takes measures to protect Samwell (John Bradley) from further abuse at Castle Black; a frustrated Viserys clashes with Daenerys in Vaes Dothrak; Sansa (Sophie Turner) imagines her future as a queen, while Arya envisions a far different future. Catelyn rallies her husband’s allies to make a point, while Tyrion finds himself caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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This is the very first episode—one of three—not written solely by the Benioff & Weiss duo. Some might receive that with apprehension, others with anticipation. Written by Bryan Cogman, who we’ve interviewed previously, this episode really clicks for us. Perhaps it’s that Bryan is the “mythos” guy, and so there’s some wonderful nods to the history of the setting. For fans of the novels, references to Greyjoy’s rebellion, the foreshadowing of Tyrion’s remark concerning seeing sailors and ships burn at Lannisport when the Greyjoys burned the Lannister fleet, and names of various dragons (including one that’s clearly a nod to a great fantasy film fo the past) will all be enjoyable; so, too, would Doreah’s references to Asshai and dragonglass, and men who change their faces. Of course, from a non-reader perspective, this may feel like quite a lot of exposition, especially exposition that establishes recent history, both the Greyjoy rebellion and the Targaryen downfall and their earlier association with dragons. From our perspective, though, the exposition seems to flow quite naturally from the scenes they’re in, and do not feel forced.
It is yet another episode that introduces one of the last, significant players in the narrative: Samwell Tarly. The scenes on the Wall have a terrific pacing to them this time around, now that Tyrion’s story is allowed to be put on the back burner a bit after he departed. John Bradley’s Samwell (see our interview is wonderfully realized in his first scene, especially as he apologizes to Jon and then admits he’s a coward. This big, ungainly young man carries a lot of saddness with him. But there’s something added from the Sam from the novel, and it’s a great addition to the character: he’s rather more humorous. Bradley has a gift for comedy, a genuine talent for it, and it comes out in his last scene with Kit Harington. The two actors play off one another wonderfully well, Harington’s portrayal of Jon’s insecurities fitting together neatly with Bradley’s depiction of Sam trying to cheer him up. And, you know, his line about “Ros with the
” followed by his disbelieving exclaimation just cracks us up.
Balancing the pleasure of Samwell’s entry into the story is the great turn by Owen Teale as Ser Alliser Thorne in this episode. When I was at Magheramorne, I had a chance to be part of a group interview with the actor. One of the best things he said about his role is that he doesn’t try to justify why his character is as he is, he simply tries to understand it. For him, Thorne is a man who’s living in an unwanted exile, at this cold, terrible, bleak place. For what reason? For serving the last king faithfully, nothing more or less. So he’s become cramped and mean, disillusioned. What he didn’t reval then, but it’s plain as day here, is there’s more to it: he is legitimately haunted by his time as a ranger, surviving a horrifying six months where he was snow-bound with a group of rangers. The horses being killed and eaten was bad enough… but resorting to cannabilism to survive? Terrifying. That’d leave a deep mark on anyone’s psyche. In his case, it’s made him vicious to those around him.
(As an aside, just how amazing is Kit Harington in the practice yard fight? A lot has to be put down to Buster Reeves’s excellent choreography, but Harington sells Jon’s competence and toughness to a T. His threatening charge at Grenn, leading Grenn to yield, is perfect.)
The resolution of the situation with Rast (who’s well-played by Luke McEwan, who carries off his bullying ways quite well!) is nicely handled, although we suspect there may be a little ... howling from fans when Ghost actually growls and makes a sound. As fans of the novels know, besides being an albino, Ghost is also complete mute—he never makes a sound. But when he snarls at Rast on the show, there’s a definite growl going on. We’re going to put it down to just not playing well visually when there’s no sound, especially as they had not established in previous episodes that Ghost was mute. We get the sense that the producers really did want to use the direwolves more (and, hey, besides Ghost, we see Grey wind as well!), but various factors made it impractible.
Another area where they may be howls, alas, is the fact that Sansa’s scene with the Hound never happens, and his backstory is instead conveyed by Littlefinger. This was a surprise to us, as the early Artisans videos features the production design and set decoration of the feast tent at the tourney… but in this episode, it simply never happens, and we can say that the next episode isn’t going to feature the feast either. What happened? We have no idea, really. It just seems they intended to use it, put time and effort into preparing it… and then some unknown factors required them to drop the tent almost entirely. Other than a brief glimpse or two in this and the next episode, it doesn’t figure into the story. And Sansa’s interaction with the Hound? So far, episode 2 is all there is. Was this a deliberate hoice to downplay their interactions? If so, we wonder why. Unless it’s merely a concern that the Hound’s interest in Sansa simply would not come out well given Sophie Turner’s young age?
On Essos, there’s some terrific acting from Emilia Clarke on display, and Harry Lloyd remains in top form. The conflict between the siblings is drawn almost word-for-word from the novel, as is Daenerys’s conversation with Ser Jorah. Though, speaking of Jorah, Iain Glen really is just ... strikingly different from the Mormont of the novel. He’s handsomer, slighter, much less hairy, and his attitude seems far more appealing. Mormont in the novel is gruff and somewaht rough-hewn and unpleaant; Mormont in the show is almost .... suave. This is not a significant change, as such things go, but it reminded us of how very different the translation from a written description to a physical actor can be. If anything, Glen’s Mormont is among the most radically changed ... even as his lines stay almost exactly the same! There’s nothing at all wrong with this—in fact, we’re quite fond of him—but just an observation.
The east shows, really, nothing of Drogo ... but Dany and Viserys? Yes, there’s plenty. Lloyd’s tempermental, cruel, but ultimately craven prince comes through beautifully. His stunned expression as Daenerys laid down the law? Priceless. His earlier scene with Doreah was just a bit kinky (Doreah—played by the lovely Roxanne McKee—reminded us a little bit of Jaime Lee Curtis’s character in A Fish Called Wanda), and added some additional nuance to the character. And not necessarily redeeming nuances. Viserys admitting that he got a hold of Doreah so that he could haver, and that her training of Daenerys was secondary, reveals a little more forethought from him than we usually see. And his callous approach to dealing with her, when she seems genuinely interested in him, is certainly trademarked Viserys. But in the end, his anger and his arrogance is unstable and insecure, and when Daenerys fights back he’s stunned, flabbergasted, unable to respond.
The consequences of this fight with Viserys are significant, as far as Daenerys is concerned: she really understands now that he’s too weak to ever get her home. It’s time to distance herself, perhaps. And we see Ser Jorah supports her in that, very much as in the novel. His loyalty is to her, something first hinted at in the third episode, but reinforced here. One interesting detail from the screeners is that the scene with Jorah has been trimmed somewhat, with the exchange finishing with Daenerys responding to having called her child, “I am no child.” We suspect the producers decided that, in retrospect, it’s a bit too on-the-nose—if the viewers haven’t already figured out that Daenerys is matured and not a frightened little girl any longer, something’s wrong.
As to King’s Landing, this is a fairly quiet episode, but it’s a fun one in terms of the characters coming forward—Gendry, played by Joe Dempsey (best known for his work on the UK’s Skins), appears, and we finally meet the Mountain that Rides (see our interview with Conan Stevens) in a brief but brutally-realized jousting scene—and in terms of history. A new scene showing Jory and Jaime reminiscing about the past is especially effective, because of Jaime’s prickly, standoffish behavior briefly giving way to a soldierly camraderie… until he’s reminded that he’s Robert’s guard and servant, and Robert is debauching himself, and all he can do is stand and listen and sneer. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was in fine form, as was Jamie Sives. Our own biggest regret in this area? More than anything, we’re sorry that the tourney scene was so cut down so drastically to feature just the one joust, and the loss of some of the actual Sansa-Littlefinger dialog from the novel (“Your mother was my queen of beauty once”)
But we have to admit, the best scene in that area of the episode has to be Ned with Arya. Ned loses his joke about which toe a water dancer is supposed to be able to stand on, but otherwise it’s another almost word-for-word from the original scene. Maisie Williams is simply stunning in her portrayal so far, and deserves a great deal of praise. There’s a small change to her final line—“That’s not me”, versus the original’s, “That’s Sansa”, which perhaps conveys some different information (a greater focus on herself, or a decreased focus on her annoying sister)—but it really is quite deliciously acted. Everything comes together perfectly in that scene. Not that Arya is the only one who has a moment to shine: Sophie Turner as Sansa in the throne room was a pleasure to watch. The call-outs to past historic events always go over well, and it’s a sharp way to remind us of the wedge between Ned and his daughter thanks to the events at the crossing of the Trident.
Where do we place this episode, of the six we’ve seen? I’m inclined to say that it’s right in the middle. More importantly, we prefer this episode to the previous one. Despite a number of new scenes, and an identical number of book chapters covered, the pacing and flow of the story seemed stronger to us. Scenes felt like they had sufficient room to breathe and feel fleshed out ; there are no scenes like last episode’s Tyrion chapter which abruptly introduces us to Maester Aemon. Hardcore fans may regret the fact that Ghost growls, and the shippers may regret the lack of the Hound and Sansa having their “big ” scene, but all in all the new scenes are great additions with the story moving at a reasonable clip without feeling rushed.
[HBO has provided a an “inside the episode” look at the episode, with executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.]
This episode covers the bulk of Bran IV (the first couple of pages were loosely adapted in the previous episode), Eddard V, Jon IV, Eddard VI, Catelyn V, Sansa II, and Daenerys IV (again brought very much forward from where it is in the novel).
Changes of note, chapter-by-chapter: