A new king rises in the north; a Khaleesi finds new hope.
The finale of the first season of Game of Thrones was one that was sure to set viewers alight, following hard on one of the most memorable closing scenes to ever grace television in the previous episode. Eddard Stark’s execution was a shock for many, one that spawned a number of articles (the most recent as of this analysis being the UK’s Independent). Starting the next episode in the immediate aftermath of that moment was an effective way to set the scene for what was to follow in this last episode. Blood drips from Ice, the Stark heirloom Valyrian steel blade, and Yoren carries off Arya to cut her hair and make sure she understands that she’s a “boy” now. It’s a violent transition, and on reflection, this episode—like the novel before it—closes with quite a few scenes of transition. In some cases, it even creates a greater sense of transition, of movement from one space into another.
The Jon Snow story is a fine example. The departure of Jon from Castle Black, the night chase through the woods ending in Samwell’s pratfall, his restoration to his duty by his friends reminding him of his oath—it feels like a classic piece of storytelling, and it is. He’s brought back to the fold, and is sharply reminded by Mormont that his friends had honor enough to save him from himself. And then the cliffhanger moment from the novel: Mormont will lead the rangers beyond the Wall, to meet whatever is out there. This is where we had expected the story to end, on the cusp of a transition. But Benioff and Weiss smartly realized that they could go further, and giving a stirring depiction of the expedition departing through the Wall. Matched to Ramin Djawadi’s music, it felt suitably epic, like something out of the movies. In the novels, Martin approached this more deliberately, using the first Jon chapter in A Clash of Kings to effectively bring readers back up to speed before going beyond the Wall in the following Jon chapter, but with the show on On Demand, on re-run, on DVD by the time the second season comes out, and all the other ancillary material that will be floating around, why do the same thing? This was a smart choice.
One of many. Again and again, transitions happen. Robb transitions from an inexperienced youth to a king, in a scene that differs somewhat from the novel—it loses some of the scope, particularly with the lack of explanation of who the first speaker is (Jonos Bracken, one of the chief riverlords)—but was especially well-acted by Richard Madden as Robb and Clive Mantle as the Greatjon. We discuss our issues with Catelyn’s role—non-role, as it happens—in this scene in our chapter-by-chapter breakdown, but suffice it to say, from our perspective that was the only real flaw. Tyrion has his own transition, from the Imp who has no responsibilities and no power beyond his wits, to the acting Hand of the King… and, more importantly, to a direct disobedience of his lord father in a way that we suspect he hasn’t actually done before. The story of his father’s dealing with his early marriage certainly darkens the relationship between them, yet the frankness of their exchange at the table (and the little touches, such as Tywin pouring his son a cup of wine, after initially seeming to be denying it to him) shows something important: however much they dislike one another, they’re more alike than they care to credit. It’s a point that Martin revisits in the novels, and it’s good to see that the writers picked up on its importance and made sure to depict this scene so closely to how it was shown in the novel.
Of course, the greatest transition of them all is Daenerys’s. From wife to widow, from expectant mother to grieving mother, from the bride of a khal to the bride of fire. The birth of the dragons is one of the rare, transcendent moments in the novels, and the show managed to capture something of the eeriness. Daenerys wakes from her ordeal, faced with the disastrous falling apart of the khalasar, the loss of her child, the betrayal of Mirri Maz Duur, the mindlessness of her husband. We see her attempt to understand and to rectify, to no avail. Mirri Maz Duur’s statement as to when Drogo will return is something that has led many fans to wonder if there’s a prophecy in there, or if Mirri merely put forward a list of impossibilities. If her words were prophetic (purposefully or inadvertently), it’s interesting that the producers left off the most important line, claiming that Daenerys is now barren. Why that was dropped is certainly something to speculate about—do they know something we don’t? Do they know or believe Mirri’s words are meaningless in and of themselves, so saw no problem with trimming it for time? Or do they have other plans? Very curious.
Perhaps the one thing that the shift from a novel to television detracted from in this segment was the full sense of the otherworldliness of the scene as Daenerys makes her preparations for Drogo’s funeral pyre, and for all the things she intends. Not only has the almost-ritual nature of Daenerys’s behavior been curtailed—she names each of her khas as kos and bloodriders, and offers them each a weapon in turn, which they reject in turn while she ignores them—but the strange thoughts in her mind at this time, touching on something supernatural or magical, are not so easily conveyed when we cannot be in Daenerys’s head. The moment that comes closest before she walks into the flames is that long glance at Ser Jorah, beautifully conveyed by Clarke and her expressive eyes (who can genuinely care that they’re not violet, any longer?) The sense should be that Daenerys is on the path of destiny, and half way into another realm. There’s something in it in the scene, but perhaps not as much as we might have wished. One small detail might have helped: the comet, which Daenerys glimpses before stepping into the flames in the novel. It doesn’t appear in the finale of the series, and so the sense of destiny is a bit diminished, but no great loss.
The final frames of the episode—Daenerys rising naked from the ashes, three dragons about her—are a “wow” moment if ever there was one. In our interview with the VFX Producer, we covered some of the nitty-gritty of creating the remarkably-good effects for the dragons, but all that serves to provide visuals that can move an audience, and BlueBolt (lead VFX vendor for the first season) certainly achieved this. More than one person has admitted they cried to see this scene realized (Linda certainly did), and realized so well. It’s the ultimate moment of transition in the season, and perhaps of the entire series so far. There’s no going back from that moment. It’s interesting to consider that most of the final chapters of the books also tend to feature some sort of transition; some are genuine cliffhangers, while others are more low-key, thematically linking one movement of the story to the next. The show successfully evoked this, in particular thanks to director Alan Taylor, who will be directing four episodes of the next season. The pulling back from the scene provided a movement to echo that transition: not only a movement, in fact, but a widening of the vista, which is very much in line with what’s happening in the next season.
There are too many people to thank for this first season, among the cast and crew and creators, among the executives who have given it their support. So we’ll just sign off with a thank you to all those people who made this show possible, and who made it a success, including our fellow fans. Often, adaptations are disappointments to fans of the original, but by and large this translation of the first novel to the screen has been exceptionally successful for the vast majority of fans. Judging by our own forum, a distinct minority were disappointed by the show as a whole. And judging by Twitter and the rest of the ‘net? It’s a smashing success. On to season two!
[Executive producers David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, and director Alan Taylor, give a look inside the episode.]
This episode covers the following chapters of the novel: a small final part of Arya V (the rest was seen in “Baelor”), Bran VII, Sansa VI, Daenerys IX, Tyrion IX, Jon IX, Catelyn XI, and Daenerys X. Plus, the final Arya scene is drawn from Arya I in the second novel, A Clash of Kings, a significant new scene in the show (discussed in “added scenes”) is drawn almost entirely from the final Catelyn chapter, Catelyn VII, and the final Jon scene finishes at a point after Jon I, both in the same novel.
Changes of note, chapter-by-chapter:
- Arya V: As noted in the previous episode analysis, the main change here is from the viewer’s perspective: Martin uses the nature of the written word to keep Yoren’s identity unknown, and the scene (and Arya’s final chapter in the novel) ends with his knife coming down at her. We see here that it’s Yoren who grabs her, and that the knife he’s lowering towards her is to be used to cut her hair short.
- Bran VII: That Rickon and Bran share a dream is true enough, as is Hodor being too afraid to go down into the crypt and so Osha carries Bran. In the novel, however, Maester Luwin is accompanying Bran. This chapter also features more description of the Starks in various tombs. When Rickon appears, Shaggydog actually bites Luwin, breaking skin, and Rickon comes out swinging the sword that was laid across Brandon’s lap. Later, all the company go to Luwin’s tower, where he tends his wound and discusses the history of the Seven Kingdoms with them. At the end of the chapter, the letter arrives, and a tearful Luwin tells them that they must find a stonemason who knows Lord Eddard’s likeness.
- Sansa VI: Omitted from this section is the fact that Sansa has been almost in a delirious state for the three days following her father’s execution, staying in bed and eating nothing for a long time, passing her time between weeping uncontrollably and sleeping. Some of the details—Joffrey having Ser Meryn strike Sansa for the first time, the Hound telling Sansa to do as she’s bid and to give Joffrey what she wants—are from the early part of the chapter. The details of the court session are broadly right, though there is a surprising difference. As in the book, a singer has performed a satirical song about Robert’s death and his relationship with Cersei… but on the show, that singer is Marillion. In the novels, this character continues to appear in the rest of the series through A Feast for Crows, and indeed plays a small but significant role in events. It seems we’re unlikely to see this tongueless singer ever again on the TV show, so it will be interesting to see how the show deals with that later on.
Sansa being taken by Joffrey to see the heads of her father, Septa Mordane, and other alleged traitors, and then being struck after suggesting Robb would kill Joffrey, is the same as in the books. Furthermore, if it isn’t clear, Sansa moving forward after seeing how high up they are is indeed her determining to try and push Joffrey to his death. As in the book, the Hound surreptitiously intervenes to clean the blood from her face.
- Catelyn XI: Besides the detail of showing the immediate arrival of the news of Eddard’s death, this scene changes the location quite significantly: it takes place out in the field, at some unidentified ruin, rather than at Riverrun as in the novel. So, we do not meet any of the Tullys, such as Ser Edmure the heir or the ailing Lord Hoster. Some of the riverlords present in the novel go unnamed and unnoted here, and indeed, the council scene makes no reference to the Tullys… which is odd, given the momentous event if some of the unnammed lords here in fact represent riverlords. In the interest of compression and cost-cutting, it’s certainly excusable, but it might have been nice to have some riverlord present himself as Lord Tully’s official representative…
However, despite these relatively minor details, there is one very large change, from our perspective: yet again, Catelyn Stark seems relegated into a new role. As noted in our new scenes section, her thirst for vengeance is a very strong departure from the novel at this time. In fact, at the council, Catelyn stands up and very firmly argues that no matter how much vengeance she might want, what she wants more is to think of the living. All she sees in this war with the Lannisters is futility—they’ve accomplished the rescue of Riverrun, and they failed to save Ned. It feels appropriate to quote in full Catelyn’s words at the council:
“Give me Cersei Lannister, Lord Karstark, and you would see how gentle a woman can be,” Catelyn replied. “Perhaps I do not understand tactics and strategy . . . but I understand futility. We went to war when Lannister armies were ravaging the riverlands, and Ned was a prisoner, falsely accused of treason. We fought to defend ourselves, and to win my lord’s freedom.
“Well, the one is done, and the other forever beyond our reach. I will mourn for Ned until the end of my days, but I must think of the living. I want my daughters back, and the queen holds them still. If I must trade our four Lannisters for their two Starks, I will call that a bargain and thank the gods. I want you safe, Robb, ruling at Winterfell from your father’s seat. I want you to live your life, to kiss a girl and wed a woman and father a son. I want to write an end to this. I want to go home, my lords, and weep for my husband.”
By making her hungry for revenge (subordinated temporarily to their first getting her daughters back), it seems to us it very much simplifies her role rather than enriches it, as Martin did by have her being an unwilling but dutiful supporter of her son’s crown, doing things to help him and suffering the emotional cost in silence. It feels to us as if the producers have been reticent to discuss the changes to Catelyn… and this may be why, because the while the middle section of the show promised to move her fully back onto the course GRRM wrote for her, a course that made her a very complicated and realistically drawn character very much worth admiring as a literary creation (how many other mothers are as compelling in genre literature?), this last episode has cut that away. The Catelyn Stark who’ll doubtless be carrying out many of the same actions as the Catelyn of the novel will still be, in some fundamental ways, a different character… and one that seems less interesting to us, simpler, easier to read, less appealing. It’s a shame, because Michelle Fairley is a fine actress, and we think she had ample talent to convey Martin’s more complicated, more ambiguous, and (yes) more controversial character.
We hope that the change to the character is the result of the producers not knowing how to convey the complexity of her interior life in a sufficiently respectful way within the constraints of the show and its running time, and so they went a more straightforward direction, one with a simpler narrative arc. But… it’s a shame, none the less, that Catelyn feels relegated to a more secondary position, sitting there silently at the council. Fairley does get across the momentousness of the occasion, and her conflicted feelings about Robb actually being crowned, at least.
- Catelyn VII (ACoK): We were uncertain with how to deal with this scene, whether to call it a new one or not. We’ve opted to insert it here, since it does borrow almost completely from the Catelyn chapter in A Clash of Kings. It represents only a brief and early part of that sequence. As in the novel, Catelyn visits Ser Jaime privately as he’s held prisoner… but of course, in the book, it’s very near the end of that novel and Jaime has been a prisoner for months. We understand the desire to have Coster-Waldau on screen again, and definitely appreciate the fact that some of the key dialog is practically word-for-word from the novel. Ser Jaime suggesting Catelyn might want to bed him, his declaration that there are no men like him, and his questioning the gods because of the injustice in the world? All from the book.
Catelyn hitting him across with a rock, on the other hand, is not, but we can worth it. She has a good deal of reason to abuse the man who’s done so many awful things to her family. Excellent performances from both of the actors.
- Tyrion IX: This scene plays out much the same as in the novel. The key difference relates to the description of the disaster in the riverlands, because on the show, Robb defeated the majority of Ser Jaime’s host in the battle in the previous episode, whereas in the novels he captures Ser Jaime and defeats a small detachment from the larger force besieging Riverrun. Robb then proceeds to fall on the besieging camps—three of them, as Riverrun sits at the fork of a river—and largely destroys the encamped and unprepared Lannister force. Another detail is the fact that Ser Gregor Clegane is not part of this scene, whereas in the novel he has a rather memorable line, suggesting that if the Lannister scouts could not find the enemy, Lord Tywin should have the eyes taken from one of them and given to the next scout, to see if that would help. Finally, Ser Kevan starts to suggest that they consider suing for peace, while in fact this is a line from his good-brother Ser Harys Swyft, who does not seem to be present. Ser Addam Marbrand does not seem to be clearly delineated, either.
- Daenerys IX: Daenerys has a feverish dream before she wakes that is not referenced, one that’s full of portent. Furthermore, the Lhazreen girl Daenerys saved from further gang rape, Eroeh, never made an appearance in a show; in the novel, Mago (the same Mago who protested when she was taken from him, and whom was killed by Drogo on the show) took her and raped her, gave her over to the ko-now->khal> named Jhaqo who raped her in turn, and then she was given to the rest of his bloodriders before her throat was slit. Most notably, not all of Mirri’s “prophecy” (if prophecy it is) is given. Of course, we get more detail in the novel of what happened to the khalasar, which split up among several different khals. Among the various impossibilities she lists before Drogo will return to who he was, she adds, “When your womb quickens again, and you bear a living child.” Why this was omitted, we can’t say, but it’s certainly interesting. Her attempts to revive Drogo are similar, and it should probably be noted that in the novel she tries every method she knows (including some of what Doreah taught her)—the show discreetly cuts.
- Arya I (ACoK): Yoren’s cutting her hair is revealed at the start of the second book. Her first chapter also recounts her introduction to the recruits, including Lommy Greenhands and Hot Pie (her tormenters), Gendry, and the three caged prisoners from the black cells. In the novel, Arya has her practice sword, and when Hot Pie shoves persists in trying to attack her and take Needle, she thoroughly thrashes him. This leads to Yoren taking her out in the woods and beating her backside
- Jon IX: This scene is somewhat briefer than in the novel, but otherwise contains practically all the same content, although some of the details regarding the reports—particularly the first mention in the series of Qhorin Halfhand, who plays a significant part in the second novel—are omitted. Nice to see Cotter Pyke, the commander of Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, mentioned.
- Jon I (ACoK): The immediate departure from Castle Black is something not actually directly shown, but it takes place after Jon’s first chapter, so we’re supposing most of the material of that chapter will be omitted or somehow shifted into different situations in the second season.
- Daenerys X: This scene is largely faithful in broad outline, but there are a number of omissions. Because the particular gifts Drogo received are never noted, Daenerys attempting to give them to her surviviving khas and her attempt to name them kos and bloodriders are dropped; for that matter, Rakharo (and perhaps one, silent Dothraki we see at the end) seems to be the only khas. Of course, in the novel, the khas refuse—men do not make themselves bloodrider to a khaleesi, and their last duty to her is to see her safe to Vaes Dothrak. Therefore, when Daenerys is found alive and with dragons, it’s Rakharo and the other Dothraki khas who fall to their knees and swear themselves as bloodriders, “blood of my blood”, because of her miraculous survival and the birth of the dragons. Having Jorah fall to his knees and say the words instead is actually rather curious, suggesting he’s assimilated to the Dothraki life quite a bit. In the novel, Daenerys instead names him the first of her Queensguard, and promises him a Valyrian steel sword forged in a dragon’s flame… which, of course, is the first hint that she believes that the dragon eggs will hatch. The other notable absence is the fact that just before the fire is lit, Daenerys and the Dothraki see that the first “star” in the sky is in fact a red comet with a long tail, which Dany takes as a sign that she is on the right path—this comet, which will be mentioned repeatedly in the next novel, is not seen or noted on the show.
At the end, Daenerys is as naked as in the novel, although it’s noted in the book that much of her hair has burnt away as well, while the show did not opt to do this. Her recent pregnancy is emphasized by having two of the dragons actually suckling at her breasts as she stands. The appearance of the dragons was done very much with GRRM’s consultation, and so closely fit what little description there is in the novel. Finally, the black dragon does raise its voice first, although in the novel the other two join it.
- Catelyn with Robb: We are never shown the moment when Robb and Catelyn receive the news of Eddard’s death, as it arrives off the page. We may note, however, that Catelyn never expresses a sentiment such as, “We will kill them all.” Quite the opposite, in fact, as we discuss above in the scene corresponding to Catelyn’s final chapter.
- Cersei with Lancel: This reveals a relationship that is not revealed until A Clash of Kings, but as it shows it directly on the screen whereas the novels never do, it seems appropriate to consider it an added scene. The sharp viewer will likely be able to put pieces together and realize that Cersei seduced Lancel and that he played a part in Robert’s death, as Varys has implied, but purposefully making sure Robert was very drunk. Also, yes, Cersei’s cheating on her brother Jaime, in a way that perhaps lacks a little background such that it seems abrupt.
- Pycelle with Ros: This scene makes us think a bit of a scene we may be treated to in the second season. But, it’s entirely new. And the most notable thing about it? Pycelle’s “transformation” after Ros leaves the room. As we noted early on, Julian Glover’s Pycelle is more decrepit and foolish-seeming than in the novels… but it turns out that this has always been act, and that like Varys and Littlefinger, Pycelle wears a mask to hide his true intentions. What are they? We can’t say. We do suspect it all ties to his noting to Ros that he’s still around—his acting as if he’s very old and weak may be meant to keep attention off of him.
- Littlefinger with Varys: A well-written scene, revealing nothing in particular new, but a fine chance to see Varys and Littlefinger trade barbs again… and perhaps underscore the fact that the show’s Petyr Baelish really does seem to want to be king. His ambitions are both more naked and, we think, a bit more grandiose than they are in the novels.
We join Tom and Daniel of MTV Geek in a brief podcast series, discussing each week’s episode after it airs. You can download it directly, or listen to it below: