A reader that goes by the name of Brude contacted me with his thoughts on the pilot script. Brude has years of experience in the entertainment industry as a manager of screenwriters. As you can imagine, he has read thousands of scripts in his time in Hollywood and a few of his clients have become successful screenwriters, so he definitely knows what he is talking about. The write-up is very long and detailed, but it is a great read and provides a unique and interesting perspective on the script. Click through for the full review.
Over all impression:
The script is written with great economy, more so than I would have thought possible and I think that mostly it works because of this, but sometimes in spite of this, as well. Occasionally I was left wishing certain parts of scenes or lines would not have been cut, but if their was one thing I learned in my Hollywood days when reading adaptations, it was to judge a script more dispassionately, as if I am a reader/viewer experiencing this story for the first time. I have a feeling these missing bits are probably (for the most part at least) unnecessary, which is why David and Dan cut them. I think these inevitable changes were mostly necessary.
The Prologue and the first 10+ Pages:
The prologue lasts about 3 pages/minutes which may be a bit brief and possibly even feels a bit too brief, but I understand the need to show this quickly and move on. As for how it works as an intro in terms of pacing, think the opening scene of the BSG mini-series – it’s about as long and hopefully will have the same impact. The writers I think wanted to get to the wolf pups by page 10 or so (which they do by page 9, actually), because that is really the appropriate place to hit this mark in the script, at least as I always imagined it. One could have easily spent nearly 7 or 10 minutes on the prologue, but to do so would really throw viewers – it’s too much time to spend on something dramatically when you only have 60 minutes to introduce most of the important dramatis personae for the episode. The first 10 minutes of the script have 3 potential hooks for viewers: The Others, the beheading and the finding of the pups – if one of these doesn’t carry new viewers at least to, “the things I do for love,” then I don’t know what.
After the prologue we get the title credits which have been described and which I think could look beautiful. Showing the map is smart and helps the audience and the writers found a nice way to do that. We specifically see the regions from The Wall to King’s Landing; I wonder if future seasons will show us other regions of Westeros as they become more important to the story (The Iron Isles, Dragonstone, Dorne, etc.). The raven landing on the Iron Throne is a dead on perfect combination of images for the whole series: the Throne and a carrion bird perched upon it.
Daenerys’ story is given to us in two sections as the summary has already noted. I think the other option is of course to spend one long sequence in the episode with Dany, but then you don’t get the sense of time moving and it also sets it apart too much from the main story. Cutting back and forth twice makes the Dany material seem more a part of the overall plot, which may be important for the audience so I think it’s the right choice structurally. Future episodes may have more or less of Dany as appropriate, some may spend the better part of the episode with her others may not touch on her story at all – we’ll see how this plotline gets spelled out over time, but in this first episode jumping to her story twice is ideal. And, if it doesn’t work, they can always re-edit and put them together instead, but I doubt it will go that way.
My one question is how they plan to denote to the audience the change in location. There will no doubt be some sort of establishing shot of Pentos before we cut to Dany in her dressing room, but the script doesn’t describe this in any detail. At some point and in some way the show will have to explain that Dany and Viserys are across the Small Sea, on another continent but as written the pilot doesn’t show that. Maybe that’s a question they plan to figure out to later in the production, and maybe they already have ideas about this. The dialogue does at least give us the basic set-up of Viserys’ plan to retake the Seven Kingdoms with a Dothraki army at his back. But I do feel that, like the opening with the map, it is useful for the audience to have a mental picture of how far away Dany and Viserys are from Westeros.
Overall, I think the Dany scenes play very well. As with everything else, the scenes are rendered with some ruthless economy, but I think it covers all the bases and hopefully spends enough time on her introduction. We get Dany and Visery’s in Pentos, their introduction to Drogo and then later the big wedding scene all in a total of about 12+ pages/minutes. The wedding action could last a bit longer than it reads on the page, so we might get as much as 14 minutes or so of Dany if they feel like drawing this out – that’s pretty good, in my opinion.
New Scenes and Dialogue:
A couple of conversations have been invented with varying degrees of success. There is a scene between Cersei and Pycelle that isn’t in the book (because it would have to have been a Cersei chapter if it were) but I know much of the dialogue is culled from somewhere else in the book. I don’t remember what scene specifically (an Eddard chapter? Tyrion?), but it imagines the moments directly after Jon Arryn has died (we see his dead body in bed) and Cersei is told what his last words were. It’s a good scene and I had to remind myself it’s not precisely how it is told in the book.
The two that really stand out are used to introduce Jamie, something the novel deliberately avoids throughout the first book but which in the dramatic venue is probably more necessary at least to some degree. These conversations are between Jamie and Tyrion in a brothel in King’s Landing, another between Jamie and Ned during the banquet in Winterfell. There is also some new dialogue between Catelyn and Cersei at the banquet as well.
The Jamie/Tyrion scene is of course a completely new invention, but I think it works beautifully. It feels like a scene that might have been written for the novel but was cut and the dialogue is appropriate to the books and to the characters. It’s a well done scene and it also succeeds at feeling like a scene you expect to see on HBO.
Unfortunately the new conversation between Jamie and Ned during the banquet did not work nearly as well for me. Again, the purpose is to better introduce Jamie to the audience. The moment of tension between Ned and Jamie felt forced and unnecessary in this context, probably because the real Stark/Lannister conflict had yet to begin with Bran’s fall (the inciting event of this struggle I would contend). It also comes before the scene where Catelyn, Ned and Maester Luwin read the message from Lyssa warning them of the Lannisters’ possible hand in Jon Arryn’s death, so again, there seems less of a need for this tension at this point. Yes, the Lannisters have reason to be wary of Ned – they want Tywinn to be Hand, but it still doesn’t feel right and honestly it’s not as well written as the rest of the script (which is otherwise very strong). The dialogue in this part simply doesn’t “pop.”
Jamie comes off as needlessly peevish and confrontational. The scene action suggests it’s a kind of test wills between two of the greatest warriors in the realm, Jamie is trying to get a feel for Ned but Ned wants none of it and has other, more immediate concerns he’s trying to attend to. It feels very forced. The one thing that nearly saves this exchange is a comment at the end by Tyrion that is right on the mark and funny (I am not sure, but it might have come from some other part of the novel, but it’s all Tyrion).
All in all, the banquet scene lasts for 7 ½ pages (I’m including the Benjen/Jon exchange but not the Tyrion/Jon exchange outside), easily the longest single scene in the script. The Ned/Jamie exchange lasts for two pages out of this – that’s two minutes of screen time, but it feels like a dead spot to me in the story. I think they could have better spent these two minutes either adding a bit more detail to some other scenes elsewhere, or they simply need to just rework this encounter in some way. Fine, let’s make sure Jamie gets a good intro in the pilot, but let’s make sure it feels true to his character and is written up to par with the rest of the script.
Then again, if we get to know Jamie too well as a villain in the first season, his shift may not make as much sense later – part of the reason why that works later is because we DON’T know his mind very well, we don’t understand his motivations and we come to realize our understanding of him was simply a misunderstanding of point of view. Once we start to learn his motives he becomes among the richest characters in the series, but before that he’s of course a pretty one-dimensional villain. So, I’m divided on if I like expanding his character earlier on is a good thing or a bad thing.
A Final Observation:
The only major character that appears in the pilot that doesn’t get any sort of introduction, and I don’t think even has any lines, is Sansa. No doubt she’ll have more in future episodes. I honestly didn’t even realize this until after my second read through of the story, but I guess she isn’t much of an instigator in these opening scenes so it maybe makes sense that she is getting left out until probably episode 2. The journey south and her “romance” with Joffrey along the way will be a good place to show us what she’s all about.
A few minor things the script needs to address that aren’t made clear:
1) The passage of time from when the wolf pups are first found to when we later see them at Winterfell, clearly more grown; they aren’t newborns, suckling milk from rags, we have Ghost eating scraps under the table at the banquet and the still unnamed Summer following Bran to the tower. Two suggestions for this:
a. give Catelyn or Ned a line or two of dialogue explaining that it’s going to take a good month or more for the King and his entourage to travel from King’s Landing to Winterfell at the end of the Godswood scene. They could kibitz about how it’s barely enough time for preparations.
b. Have the pups be a bit more grown when they are first found – it could be that their mother was defending them and was killed in the fight, but didn’t birth them right there on the spot. They may be a good 8 weeks old already.
2) Related to the above, we only see Ghost and Summer running around Winterfell in these opening scenes and though we get a good bit of Arya in the script, we never see Nymeria even simply following her around. I think in the books they were being kept in the Godswood so as not to cause problems with the Royal Family, but it did stand out that they were absent or their absence was not explained.
3) When Catelyn approaches Ned at the Godswood he could be praying. As is he’s merely cleaning his sword. Maybe they are leaving the explanation of the differences between his and Catelyn’s faiths for later, but if we don’t see him praying we don’t necessarily get a sense that this is a holy place. It’s just a clearing in a wood with a big creepy, white tree that has a face on it – at least that’s what those who haven’t read the books will see. Without the book’s narration describing what the Godswood is, I think they could show us a little via Ned’s actions.
Recap of My Feelings on the Script:
Over all this is a very strong pilot script and I think as written it can work very well. I’ve noted a few issues and changes I’d like to see above, but even if not made I think the script is at least on par with “Rome” and certainly far better than anything in the first season of “The Tudors” (I thought the best parts of the second season of “The Tudors” was actually quite strong).
I do have the sense that the writers were maybe clipping down scenes here and there to fit everything they felt they needed into the requisite 60 pages. I wonder/hope that maybe HBO will give them a bit more leeway to go over the hard and fast 60 pages I think they were going for and flesh out a couple of scenes, even if only by a quarter of a page here or there. One or two more pages might let them get in just a few more lines or details that could really help add just a bit more to these sequences.
It was certainly exciting to be reading what we all hope will be lighting up our TV screens in the not too distant future. For most of my read I found myself being drawn into the story, losing myself in it at times even though I have read the novel four or five times by now. That bodes very well for how it might work for someone not at all familiar with the books, for the general viewers watching when it hopefully, eventually airs.