While I really enjoyed the first two episodes of Game of Thrones, it wasn’t until episode three, Lord Snow, that the series felt like it hit its stride. The buzz on the show has been about boobs and beheadings, but what I like best about George RR Martin’s novels is the political maneuvers and schemings that impact the fate of the Seven Kingdoms. And we finally started to get some of that this week.
Perhaps the most surprising thing to me was King’s Landing. I was disappointed that we didn’t get a soaring establishing shot of the city and castle, but I was excited that the castle itself looked so different from what I expected. In my head King’s Landing was London to Winterfell’s Scotland, but on the show King’s Landing has a more Mediterranean look, with palm trees and bright, sunny spaces. It’s an interesting choice - one, I’m sure backed up in the books - and it really sets King’s Landing apart from Winterfell in every visual way.
The second most surprising thing for me was the way Jaime Lannister is being handled. This episode took things from later books to help create depth for a character who, in the original novel, felt just like a villain. There’s something fascinating at the core of Jaime: he’s a man whose true love is his sister, and while it’s sick it’s also weirdly pure. And he’s a man whose greatest shame is that he broke his vows as a member of the Kingsguard in order to save the realm and kill the Mad King who was completely out of control. Jaime sees himself a hero, while everyone else sees him as an oathbreaker.
Having him butt heads with Ned Stark was a great way to show that, and to also show Ned’s impossibly rigid moral code. He hates Jaime for not taking action against the Mad King while he burned Ned’s father alive, but also hates him for stabbing the Mad King in the back to win Robert’s rebellion. I understand where Ned is coming from - he thinks that Jaime turned only when it was safe and easy to turn - but this episode also offered a hint at exactly why Jaime turned. Remember the Mad King’s last words, as they begin to hint at the psychosis that Jaime thwarted.
It’s funny - I find myself liking Jaime quite a bit. I didn’t think much of him in the novel A Game of Thrones (he barely even felt like a full character) but writers David Benioff and DB Weiss have taken elements from later books to expand on him in a major way. It’s kind of exciting, and it presents events from the first book in ways I had never quite considered them.
I almost like Joffrey more on TV, but not quite. His idea of having a centralized army IS a good one, and it would certainly save everybody a ton of back and forth loyalties and wars over the next few years. And he’s right about having a real trained force, but he’s a complete twat about everything else. Still, he has more depth here than he did in the novel, where he was simply sniveling. Joffrey might be a complete tool, but he’s a complete tool with a burgeoning understanding of how to be a tyrant. That’s not a great character trait, but it’s better than just being petulant.
It’s all of this character stuff that I loved in Lord Snow. What’s impressive is how elegantly Benioff and Weiss can pull it off; what takes Martin page after page to get across they give us in a couple of shots. One example is the arc of Jon Snow in this episode - he goes from a bastard who feels bad for himself but still has a haughty air to a guy who understands that he needs to work within his new family of the Night’s Watch. That’s accomplished in a couple of scenes of dialogue and a quick glance between Jon and Tyrion. We see all we need to see.
This episode is also notable for introducing a couple of important new characters. There’s Lord Varys, who is the realm’s most potent gossip. But more exciting is Littlefinger, played by The Wire’s Aiden Gillen. Littlefinger is one of the more… intriguing characters in the series, and I love that the show is using Tommy Carcetti for the role. Carcetti’s character was sort of the opposite of Littlefinger, a good guy who turned out to be pretty sleazy. Littlefinger may not be a ‘good guy,’ but there’s stuff going on beneath his pandering, slimy exterior. Some of Gillen’s deliveries where a touch flat in Lord Snow, but I’m interested in watching the character, especially if Benioff and Weiss continue bringing in elements from future novels.
And then there was Sylvio Forrel, the water dancer from Braavos. One of things I like best in Martin’s novels is exploring the cultures, and seeing what he lifts from the real world for which nation. Forrel is a pretty cartoony character in the book, but in a great way, and it’s nice to see that he’s getting the same treatment on TV. He should be broad and sort of silly, but also awesome. I like the way Arya is working on the show as well, and only hope that in future seasons Benioff and Weiss figure out how to punch up some of her more aimless adventures. The character deserves it.
Lord Snow was better than The Kingsroad in almost every way (except for the lack of direwolves. Why wasn’t Summer sitting with Bran in bed? And what the hell happened to Ghost, Jon Snow’s wolf?), but especially in terms of simple staging. The first episode of Game of Thrones had huge production values, but the remaining episodes seem to have become a little more stagebound feeling. There’s a production value problem that keeps bugging me, where obvious translights are outside windows or where doorways are shot to give us glimpses of obviously half-built hallways; in a lot of ways this show feels to me like what BBC’s I, Claudius would be if it were shot today. But the direction of this latest episode had more life than the last, and better basic blocking takes away from the staginess of it all.
Now that the pieces are in place and the story is really moving, I’m more excited than ever about Game of Thrones. Winter Is Coming got me going, but The Kingsroad made me a touch nervous. Lord Snow shows that this series is nailing it.