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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Review: Game of Thrones "Lord Snow"

Non Spoiler Review:
All this talk of winter coming gets disturbing and horrific elaboration throughout Lord Snow, warning of a lot of bad stuff brewing on the north side of the Wall. Many of the characters complete their journeys and arrive in King's Landing where the schemes begin in earnest and further scrutiny of Robert and the Lannisters exposes the ugly side of the royal family. Jon struggles at the Wall with his choice to join the Night's Watch, while Viserys learns that he may have made a horrible decision in his quest for the throne. The ravens earn their keep, delivering messages to pretty much everyone.

Lord Snow continues the rapid-fire character introductions, but I've learned to roll with this, as they seem to get fleshed out as the weeks progress. The main families get further development—including Robert Baratheon and Arya. The conspiracies are flying in all directions, and as Ned comments, King's Landing is a dangerous place for the Starks.

There was virtually no action at all aside from some minor swordplay, but the success of this series is apparent in the compelling interactions of the characters and all the backstory bandied about—not only regarding the mad king and his overthrow, but Ned's father, and the scary details about the long winters and the White Walkers. Overall a very effective episode.

And keep an eye out for the opening credits, as they've subtly changed to reflect the progress of the story.

Spoilers Now!
The Stark entourage reaches King's Landing. Ned heads off to meet with Grand Maester Pycelle, but runs into Jaime first in the throne room. Ned is pensive as he walks through the vast hall and looks upon the iron throne. He and Jaime engage in another awkward pissing contest/conversation where Jaime muses on the execution of Ned's brother and father at the hands of the mad king, Aerys. They were apparently killed there among a crowd of hundreds of knights who all remained silent, and it was Jaime (the king's protector), who killed Targaryen. Ned remarks he stabbed the king in the back and was the king's protector when it was safe to be. And he doubts it was his father and brother Jaime was avenging.

Ned goes on to meet with Counselor Pycelle, as well as Robert's brother Renly (Master of Laws and Lord of Storm's End), and Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger), the Master of Coin. Petyr knew Ned's brother and also carried a torch for Catelyn. Pycelle gives Ned the seal of his new office and they begin their discussions.

Ned is surprised the king does not attend. Robert wants a tournament to be scheduled to celebrate his arrival, but Ned is alarmed to hear the crown is six million coin in debt (and to the Lannisters, conveniently enough). He won't plan the tournament until he counsels with Robert (despite their advice that Robert tends not to care about the kingdom's debt). 

Cersei's tending to Joffrey's direwolf bite. She tells him not to fret about the truth of the matter, because when he sits on the throne, the truth will be what he makes it, just like his father who was once a rebel against the mad king. She suggests they make peace with the Starks but Joffrey doesn't want to marry Sansa. Cersei says he has to marry her but can do whatever he wants after, aside from formal occasions when they must appear together. Joffrey would rather teach the north a lesson—tax them and create a standing army through conscription rather than be indebted to other houses (each lord now commands their own men). Cersei plays devil's advocate—the north is too wild to be held. A good king knows when to save his strength and destroy his enemies. But she seems to agree anyone who isn't us is an enemy.

Sansa and Arya are at odds and Arya has a hate on for Joffrey. Ned sends the younger to her room and sits with Sansa, giving her a doll to replace her dead wolf, but she hasn't played with dolls since she was a child (epic fail, Ned). She goes off as well. He then talks with Arya and finds her with her new sword. A lady shouldn't play with swords, he tells her. She feels guilty about the death of the butcher's boy and hates all the Lannisters, but finally admits she doesn't really hate Sansa. Ned tells her Sansa has to agree with the prince even if she doesn't, which makes Arya ask why he would let her marry him. They've come to a dangerous place, he says, and lets her keep the sword as long as she doesn't stab her sister with it. 

Old Nan sits with Bran, but he's not impressed having to listen to her stories. He prefers scary ones, so she indulges, telling of the long winters and the nights that lasted a generation. The White Walkers swept through cities, hunting with packs of pale spiders. Robb comes in and sends her off and sits with his brother. And guess what...Bran can't remember anything. He'll never walk again and he'd rather be dead.

Catelyn and Sir Rodrik are already at the capital and are met by two soldiers instructed to escort them into the city. She's brought to Petyr in a whorehouse, which outrages Cat (she's no Back Alley Sally!). He tells her no one will come looking for her there (as he snaps his fingers and hisses at the whores to leave them alone).

Lord Varys had advised him that she was coming—he is the Master of Whispers and knowledge is his trade, apparently. And he asks to see the dagger. But he doesn't recognize it. Petyr then admits it's his dagger. And one he lost in a tournament to Tyrion Lannister.

At the Wall, Jon's skill in battle is being tested, and he manages to best all his opponents. The instructor calls him Lord Snow, as he's had the benefit of training with a masters at arms, and the rest of the men are thieves and runaways. Tyrion watches the training with Commander Mormont.

The men aren't impressed with Jon besting them and are ready to beat him up, but Tyrion walks in to save him by suggesting he'll write his sister, the queen, about putting their heads on spikes. Jon admits Tyrion was right about the Wall and Ned let him go regardless knowing he'd rot there. Tyrion's been learning about the other new recruits and says Jon, at least, was lucky to be trained by masters to fight. Then he informs him a raven has delivered a message—Bran has woken up.

A raven from Winterfell has another message for Ned as Petyr arrives and tells him Catelyn is in King's Landing. He takes her to the whorehouse. Despite his anger at Petyr, he's elated to see his wife. Petyr tells them both that to suggest the queen's brother tried to kill Bran would be treason. They need evidence. The dagger will just be denied. But Petyr promises to help and tells Ned he'll try to keep him alive. Catelyn wants to see the girls, but Ned thinks it unwise if she reveals her presence. Ned can't do anything without proof. He sends her off on the road to continue her investigation.

Cersei is angry with Jaime for being so stupid with Bran, as news has reached them he's awake. Jaime is sure they can outfox the boy and seems to be taking it all too lightly. He'll kill them all if he talks, until he and Cersei are the only ones left, he suggests.

Robert is in a foul mood, drinking and speaking of first kills with his  commander, Barristan Selmy. He mocks the wine server, who is Lancel Lannister (a cousin to the queen) and summons in Jaime. He asks who his first kill was, and then questions him what of King Targaryen? What was his last words when Jaime stabbed him in the back? Jaime replies he said what he said for hours...burn them all. 

The Dothraki continue their march as Daenerys learns more of their culture from Jorah. The Dothraki get their slaves through gifts rather than conquest. She decides to order the march to stop and walks off into the tall grass. Viserys rides up in a fury telling her to never dare give commands to him, pulling a sword on her. But one of her entourage, Rakharo, whips him and ask if she wants him killed. She tells them not to hurt him. Viserys demands she kill the Dothraki, but everyone ignores him and Jorah asks her if they should return to the group. She returns to her mount, and the Dothraki tells Viserys that he will walk, not ride. Daenerys' role as Khaleesi seems to be growing.

Jon goes to the top of the Wall and meets his uncle Benjen. They stare off into the north. Benjen is leaving on a mission to investigate the disturbing reports, but he won't let Jon come, given he's no ranger yet. He tells him they'll speak when he returns.

Benjen has had enough of Tyrion's mockery about the Night's Watch. He says most of the men they brought will die from one thing or another, and deserve respect. Tyrion doesn't believe that giants and White Walkers live beyond. The wildings are no different than them, Benjen admits, but Tyrion's never been north, so has no right to comment on what lies beyond.

A handmaiden, Irri, is teaching Daenerys the Dothraki language, and she's the first to notice that Daenerys is pregnant. Jorah, meanwhile, is advising Rakharo on some weaponry. They speak of their fathers, and Jorah's is a great warrior but he confesses he betrayed him. Irri comes in and lets them know of Daenerys' condition. Meanwhile, the dragon eggs remain in their nest of candles as Daenerys lies with Drogo and tells him she'll have a boy. He seems impressed and both appear smitten with one another now.

Jon's taken to training the men he'd earlier scuffled with. The older members of the Night's Watch suggest the next winter will be a long one, and dark things will come. The wildings are fleeing south and say they've seen the White Walkers. The Night's Watch has become an undisciplined army of tired old men and can't properly patrol the wall. They ask Tyrion to tell his sister they need help. 

Tyrion decides to return to King's Landing with the Night's Watch recruiter, Yoren, promising him warm beds along the way. He and Jon say their good-byes, and Jon asks him to stop in at Winterfell and tell Bran he misses him. 

Arya meets Syrio Forel, her swordmaster hired by her father, and begins her training. Ned watches from the door proudly, but then seems to get a grave sense of foreboding as he watches his daughter fight.

The Verdict:
Need I mention again that this has fast become my favorite show? The great thing about Game of Thrones is how each episode drastically alters perspectives on  characters from week to week. In just three episodes Daenerys and Drogo have gone from uninspired characters to power couple, while Robert's jovial Falstaff-like shenanigans have been revealed to be dark and corrupt. I'm waiting for some new insight into the Lannisters to see if they're as purely evil as they seem (Tyrion excluded, of course).

Westeros has terrible winters, complete with White Walkers and their pale spiders as big as hounds moving from city to city. Do the winters cover the entire continent?  How soon before we see winter fall? What does it mean for food supply and trade and all that stuff? Interesting that for a civilization with such a stretch of history (8000 plus years, and family lineages that can be traced as far back) that they have lost a lot of that history and the very rationale for the Wall.

There were two oddly drawn out scenes—King Robert's bitchy stories and Arya's sword training, so I'm wondering if Arya's going to get some major play soon (I'm leaning towards Sansa getting killed, if her wolf is any foreshadowing). And Robert's scene seemed to hammer home the backstory for King Targaryen's death.

Ned's coming face to face with his sense of duty and how it's bearing down on those around him, and now the king he helped install is no better than the last. Power corrupts, and will Ned fall victim next?

What are the chances that Tyrion was behind Bran's assassination? That's quite a stretch, but would be a considerable twist. He did say he loved his family, too, and would use his brains instead of the sword.

Who is the Knight of the Flowers that unseated Jaime in the tournament? Was that just an offhand remark or something to take note of? And the dragon eggs tease continues...

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