Having agreed to become the King’s Hand, Ned leaves Winterfell with daughters Sansa and Arya, while Catelyn stays behind in Winterfell. Jon Snow heads north to join the brotherhood of the Night’s Watch. Tyrion decides to forego the trip south with his family, instead joining Jon in the entourage heading to the Wall. Viserys bides his time in hopes of winning back the throne, while Daenerys focuses her attention on learning how to please her new husband, Drogo.
This is a melancholy episode, with fully a third of it devoted to unhappiness, and right at the very beginning. First, the unhappiness and suffering of Daenerys, followed by some fifteen minutes of the poignant farwells of the Starks. Beautifully acted, this episode is the first to really give Kit Harington as Jon and Maisie Williams as Arya some meaty scenes, and they do wonderfully. Kit plays the awkwardness of farewell very, very well, while Maisie is endearing (Nymeria’s also rather cute!) Perhaps the most notable thing in these scenes, however, is a change to one of the scenes from the novel.
The choice to not have Catelyn to call Jon by name—something she’s never done before, in the novels (and something she never does in these two episodes)—and tell him that it should have been him is an interesting one, and feels part-and-parcel with the changes to her character and actions we noted in our previous episode analysis. According to the producers, the loss of the line was because it felt too blunt in the scene, and that the actors had already conveyed so much of the tension through their acting. It sounded to me, when speaking to them, that they actually had written the scene with the line in, but it was decided to remove it in the course of filming. In any case, these words are ones that lead many readers to positively despise Catelyn. This is, and alway will be, an incredibly harsh judgment given the circumstances.
Catelyn’s appearance seemed like one that belonged to a woman 20 years her age, we’re told, and she’s half mad with grief, so it’s no surprise if she says something out of character. And it is out of character, as GRRM notes. It’s later something she’ll feel ashamed about, after she comes out of her black depression. But at that particular moment, she’s crushed under the weight of her sorrows, and acts in a way she never normally would. Similarly, we’d like to think that her argument with Ned—her pleading with him to stay—is partially informed by that black depression. It’s certainly from the book that she pleads with him to stay, but the argument that “duty” is just a word men use to justify their actions feels a little odd if it’s something sincerely held. After all, Catelyn tends to live her life according to the House Tully motto: “Family, Duty, Honor.” We’ll say it’s left to interpretation. We do need to praise Michelle Fairley, because her acting in these scenes is very good.
And that acting isn’t done, because the next notable scene in Winterfell features her with Cersei. Those who’ve read the books know the story of Cersei’s early marriage. The fact that she says she gave birth to a black-haired son who died of a fever, whose death was a tragedy that caused both Robert and her great grief, is a significant change from the novels. We won’t go too far into it, but suffice it to say, it does seem part of a concerted effort to give Cersei a more nuanced appearance in these episodes, when compared to the Cersei of the first novel who is only ever really seen through the eyes of others. Lena Headey’s performance is cool but affecting in its way, as she commiserates with Catelyn, mother to mother.
When we go across the water to follow the Dothraki, what we get is some interesting shift in terms of the episode’s correspondence to the novels. For one thing, the events of this chapter basically grab the very beginning of Dany’s journey east to the Dothraki sea, and then the rest is from the very end of that chapter. The vast, middle swath of it will instead take place in the next episode. For that matter, the corresponding chapter—Dany III—is quite a bit later in the novel than the positioning in this episode would suggest. But it does make sense for the producers to change the order around like this, so that we can more easily keep the story on Daenerys for just a bit longer.
There’s another consequence to how things have been shifted, however: some things haven’t, and are instead lost. So much of Dany’s journey is an emotional one, but that requires a great deal of introspection. Instead, what we get is an extreme shorthand: Dany suffers marital rape, looks at the dragon eggs, and seems calmer about it. Her dream of being purified by dragon flames, as well as the depth and seriousness of her suffering, are lost to us. It’s a grand shame, but it’s hard to see how they could have covered these things effectively. Dany’s third chapter actually covers (through flashback) many weeks of travel, and it’s hard to convey the physical and emotional journey.
In truth, the sheer scale of Westeros is something that’s hard to conceive if you just watched the show and skipped the amazing opening title sequence. The shift from Ned parting from Jon to Ned and Robert breakfasting far to the south follows immediately one after the other, and there’s no real sense of how long they’ve been on the road. It’s a conundrum, although we are at least informed in this episode that Bran’s fall happened approximately a month in the past when Catelyn—before departing for King’s Landing—says that Bran’s lingered that long with all of her prayers, and it’s not likely that her continued presence will change anything. But ... we do have that amazing opening title. That certainly should give a sense of the distances involved. And if you’ve noticed, we no longer see Pentos, and instead sweep further east to get our first look at Vaes Dothrak. There’s at least a couple more locations that will be featured in later episodes.
The end sequence plays very well, we think. Sansa’s tears and pleas pull at the heartstrings, and Sean Bean’s vulnerability as a Ned Stark who’s prepared to do what he must (but with a heavy heart) is very well conveyed on screen. There’s little differences—the inn at the crossroads instead of Castle Darry, and we lost out on Renly and Barristan being present for all this, for example, which means Renly’s line about Joffrey being disarmed is instead shifted to Robert—but on the whole it plays out the same. On the other hand, outside of the inn, the reveal that the Hound has killed the butcher’s boy plays very differently from how we imagined it based on the book. All in all, Rory McCann’s Hound seems to be a sadder, less savage sort of man; he may be somewhat dry and sardonic about killing the boy, but that’s probably much healthier than his aggressive, “in your face” attitude and brutal laughter. These are not, we might hint, the only changes when it comes to his character—keep an eye out for episode 4.
And the final moment? Heartbreaking… and intriguing! Ramin Djawadi’s scoring at that very last segment was perfect, as the strings created mounting tension and a sense of eeriness. Lady’s death-yelp… painful. Bean really carries this scene with his performance, but that final look of Bran’s eyes opening? Perfect. Yes, of course, in the novel that only happens after an extended dream sequence which is full of mystery, but this works very well to punctuate events. It is, in its way, a cliffhanger. After all, now that he’s awake, he’ll be able to reveal what happened, right?
All in all, how does this episode fare? With so much story to cover—again 9 chapters (well, 8.5, considering Dany III), plus a number of new scenes—it has to move quite briskly. Daenerys’s storyline feels the most awkward in this episode, but counter-balancing that is the beautiful series of Stark farewells. Djawadi’s mournful Stark theme plus the closing music (before the credits) also are great additions to the events, and leave us very interested in what else he’ll score for the production.
[HBO has posted an “inside the episode” featuring the executive producers, David Benioff and Dan Weiss.
This episode covers the following chapters of the novel: Tyrion I, Jon II, Eddard II, Tyrion II, Catelyn III, Sansa I, Eddard III, Bran III, and a part of Daenerys III. The Daenerys III chapter covers many weeks, but this episode only makes use of late event from that chapter; the bulk of the chapter will instead be in Episode 3.
Changes of note, chapter-by-chapter: