Editorial

Anatomy of a Throne: “First of His Name”

anatomy1

HBO’s Game of Thrones brandishes a consistent and high degree of fidelity to the nearly 5,000-page-long source material of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, but there still, of course, are differences. While most of these gaps from the page to the screen are small and detail-oriented, it is nonetheless the case that the most subtle discrepancies often hold the biggest insight into the adaptation process, into the demands of filmmaking, and into the rigors of the literary narrative.


This, then, is the anatomy of a key scene of Thrones – not because of its dramatic importance or visual effects whizbangery, but because of the telling nature of its realization.


Episode: “First of His Name” (405)
Scene: Littlefinger’s accidental revelation

In a novel filled with unexpected reversals of fortune, giant battle sequences, and, of course, murderous wedding scenes, one of A Storm of Swords’s single biggest, most breathtaking moments is when Lord Petyr Baelish’s conspiratorial dealings are laid bare.

The importance of this revelation is hard to overstate. Littlefinger’s involvement behind the scenes of the narrative thus far is nearly all-encompassing; everything from the death of Lord Jon Arryn, the first Hand of the King witnessed in the series, to Eddard Stark’s deployment to King’s Landing to the War of the Five Kings itself is all his doing. The character is the closest George R.R. Martin gets to having his very own Darth Sidious, the main antagonist of George Lucas’s six-picture Star Wars saga (what? There’s more SW movies coming out? Nope – haven’t heard of ‘em), and this scene is the equivalent of that other George revealing that Lord Sidious and Supreme Chancellor Palpatine are one and the same.

Littlefinger’s unmasking, in fact, is so dramatically pregnant, it serves as the cliffhanger ending of the entire novel, and though it may lack a certain emotional devastation that the Red Wedding (“The Rains of Castamere,” episode 309) contains, it’s nonetheless one of the most anticipated moments for book-readers to see delivered on screen.

Imagine everyone’s surprise, then, that the scene not only lands right in the middle of the season, but that it also is slipped into an otherwise expository sequence that has Sansa delivered to the Eyrie and Lord Baelish marrying the former Lysa Tully.

To explain: Lysa’s extreme candor in the murder of her husband and the blaming of the Lannisters (“Winter Is Coming,” 101) is lifted from the later scene of her extreme jealousy in the sudden presence of Sansa Lannister, when she’s had too much to drink and allows more than she should to slip out in her fury. In the show, such an admission causes Littlefinger a certain level of discomfort, moving him to shut the wench up by agreeing to her advanced marriage schedule; in the book, the consequences are a bit more drastic, given the presence of other characters who are certainly not meant to hear of such sordid machinations. It is an interesting move on the part of showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, subtly but irrevocably changing the storytelling cadence of the entire throughline.

As with all the other adaptive maneuverings, there are certain explanations for and ramifications caused by the move. First, the rationale: the writer-producers have repeatedly stated their intention of shifting the dramatic arc of the typical Game of Thrones season forward by several episodes this year – and if Joffrey can die in only the second installment (“The Lion and the Rose,” 402), there’s nothing stating that Storm of Swords’s final chapter can’t be similarly advanced. But since there are certain elements that are more appropriately reserved for the later slots, as in Martin’s original telling, Weiss and Benioff ended up splitting the difference, delivering the information of Petyr and Lysa’s secret Sith ways early and saving the dramatic fallout for later. It is a strategy that has actually been employed several times in the series already, perhaps most noticeably with the previous season’s arranged marriage of Tyrion Lannister and the former Sansa Stark (“Second Sons,” 308), drawing what was only one or two chapters in the source material into a several-episode-long story thread (which, ironically, also heavily featured Lord Baelish. Mayhaps the showrunners have had a particular game plan for him all along?).

(And then there’s the little issue of moving several characters’ – such as Theon Greyjoy’s, Jaime Lannister’s, Daenerys Targaryen’s, and, now, apparently, Sansa’s – material from books four and five forward to the current season, helping to pad out this year’s narrative while simultaneously trimming the fat from future episode rosters [and ensuring that what will ultimately be 7,000 pages of story can be told in only six or seven seasons]. What is television, after all, if not a creature of convention, and what is good writing if not the disruption of the expected?)

The ramifications of such a move are, at least in the short-term, to strangely complicate the rollout of exposition to the viewer. There is already a big twist in the scene where Littlefinger and Lady Arryn reunite: the fact that they’ve been romantically involved years ago, back during Petyr’s puppy dog phase with Catelyn Stark – and that, as a corollary, all his bluster to King Joffrey’s small council that he was more than sly enough to wed and bed the lady of the Vale (a plot point substantially played down in Game of Thrones’s rendition [“Walk of Punishment,” 303]) was just another layer of bullshit. On the page, this inference was proof enough of Lord Littlefinger’s game-playing acumen, a hint to whet one’s appetite for the main course that would be coming in the following chapter; in the show, it seems that Benioff and Weiss wanted to make that statement a bit more flagrantly, putting down all of Baelish’s cards on the table with one grand flourish. It is not an altogether incorrect move, given the sheer density of characters, locations, and plot lines that inundate every single episode (if it hasn’t been said already, Thrones will go down in television history as being the single most narratively dense production); it may constitute a bigger info-dump for viewers upfront, but it promises more smooth sailing down the road.

Well, as “smooth” as Martin is capable of.

Previous Installments

Episode 201: “The North Remembers”
Episode 203: “What Is Dead May Never Die”
Episode 207: “A Man without Honor”
Episode 209: “Blackwater”
Episode 210: “Valar Morghulis”
Episode 304: “And Now His Watch Is Ended”
Episode 305: “Kissed by Fire”
Episode 309: “The Rains of Castamere”
Episode 401: “Two Swords”
Episode 402: “The Lion and the Rose”
Episode 403: “Breaker of Chains”
Episode 404: “Oathkeeper”

Marc N. Kleinhenz is the features editor for Tower of the Hand and the publisher of Remy Verhoeve’s nerdtastic Waiting for Winter: Re-Reading A Clash of Kings, Part II. He has written for The Huffington Post, co-created and -hosted two podcasts, and has even taught English in Japan.

53 Comments

  • I definitely think it’s realistic that when things come to a head with Sansa/Littlefinger/Lysa, that Lysa DOES come out and start talking again about what she did for him. This time it’s in a drunken fury and Sansa gets to overhear it, and this way we see how unstable she is and understand it more that she’s a liability for LF and that’s why she gets pushed.

  • I really enjoy your posts Marc. It’s just too bad that there is only one a week.

  • Abyss,

    Mh, when I think about it, it’s this weeks episode really… F it, I go to sleep now, it’s 1:52am here in Germany…

  • I would suggest another reason for dropping the Jon Arryn-bomb early: putting it in this early allows the information to sink in to the viewer better than if it was dropped with all the twists in the book-scene. You don’t want to bombard the audience with too much information or action too quickly. I imagine that is why they had Littlefinger immediately plant a kiss on her. To give the audience a moment of silence to let it sink in.

  • “…saving the dramatic fallout for later.”

    You have a way with words, ser! Nice touch!

  • So how many more episode go by before we officially write off LS being on the show?

  • EverydayI’mHodoring:
    So how many more episode go by before we officially write off LS being on the show?

    Um, I would imagine you would have to wait until the point where that character actually appears to start questioning that.

  • Eleanor:
    Please stop calling Sansa “Sansa Lannister”. It makes me so sad.

    But she’s married to Tyrion! And he’s awesome! She even calls her husband “Lord Tyrion”. Awww. Those kids are going to be in love FOREVER! Mark my words. FOREVER!

  • EverydayI’mHodoring:
    So how many more episode go by before we officially write off LS being on the show?

    Chickenduck:
    EverydayI’mHodoring,

    I don’t see why we should expect this to happen before ep 10 of this season.

    I would suggest that in the books that scene works as a epilogue reveal because we’ve heard about this mysterious LS and her connection to the BWB beforehand. Then the exposition of how it came to be is quickly explained. But TV is a visual medium and telling backstory rather than showing it happen when it does, in my opinion, would be a huge error/missed opportunity. I guess the suggestion is, why haven’t we seen her resurrection by now because she would have been in the river for weeks already, and if they’re not going to show that for some reason and we just have the epilogue scene in episode 10, then why hasn’t she been mysteriously alluded to? If she just appears at the end of the season, it’ll feel like we’ve missed a couple of scenes, and casual unsullied viewers will be seriously confused. If they instead show her resurrection (and Beric’s death) in episode 10, then I’d be okay with that, but she would have been in the water far too long, which is why a lot of people thought that scene, based on the chronology of the storylines, should have happened in the Episode 3-10 or 4-01.

  • Another great article but how is Jaime onto book 4/5 material apart from getting his gold hand early?

  • The thing that struck me was that they changed Allayne to LF’s niece instead of his bastard daughter. Of course it’s an inconsequential change, and I am in no way making a fuss. What struck me was that in our world LF showing up with his niece feels less suspicious, it’s a cover story people are more likly to accept without questions than saying she is his daughter. However in Westeros the opposite is true, by saying she is his daughter from a lowborn she becomes almost invisible to the people that could blow her cover.

  • I don’t like this change. It was much better as a huge bang, followed by another huge bang. I do understand why they separated the two, though. To ensure that everyone understands maybe? They should have subtly hinted at it in this episode and shown it like in the book in episode 7 or 10. In the show it seemed mundane whereas in the book it was an epic reveal.

  • I wonder if we will ever see a ‘small council’ meeting between Mace, Qyburn, Kevin and Randyll I think it’s fair to say the show puts more emphasis on Kings Landing so wondering how they will handle the shifting of players, would be sad if we ended up with tons of Marg and Mace

  • Troublesome Birdsong: Chickenduck:
    EverydayI’mHodoring,

    I don’t see why we should expect this to happen before ep 10 of this season.

    I would suggest that in the books that scene works as a epilogue reveal because we’ve heard about this mysterious LS and her connection to the BWB beforehand. Then the exposition of how it came to be is quickly explained. But TV is a visual medium and telling backstory rather than showing it happen when it does, in my opinion, would be a huge error/missed opportunity. I guess the suggestion is, why haven’t we seen her resurrection by now because she would have been in the river for weeks already, and if they’re not going to show that for some reason and we just have the epilogue scene in episode 10, then why hasn’t she been mysteriously alluded to? If she just appears at the end of the season, it’ll feel like we’ve missed a couple of scenes, and casual unsullied viewers will be seriously confused. If they instead show her resurrection (and Beric’s death) in episode 10, then I’d be okay with that, but she would have been in the water far too long, which is why a lot of people thought that scene, based on the chronology of the storylines, should have happened in the Episode 3-10 or 4-01.

    yup there was a lot of chatter about it probably being in 3×10 what with that ep being called Mysha, back when the season 3 episode titels where released in a related note , my kindom for an Arya wolfdream

  • Anyone think Craster’s lead wife could be the one to lead all the Wildlings to Hardhome?

    she had that “woodswitch” feel

  • House Mormont,

    That is an awesome piece of speculation! Deirdre Monaghan did a great job with very little to say, they could at least make her Mother Mole!

  • jentario:
    I don’t like this change. It was much better as a huge bang, followed by another huge bang. I do understand why they separated the two, though. To ensure that everyone understands maybe? They should have subtly hinted at it in this episode and shown it like in the book in episode 7 or 10. In the show it seemed mundane whereas in the book it was an epic reveal.

    I think that is why they are doing a lot of things this season. Season 4 seems to be the one where they are treating the audience like a bunch of fuckin’ morons who need everything spoonfed to them. Maybe it is necessary. I’m more bothered by cheesy dialogue and action sequences (that belong on a show like VIKINGS) than I am with the changes from the books that are geared toward TV audience mindsets that need everything explained.

  • King Stannis:
    Petyr is a fooking legend

    There’s only one Fookin’ legend around here boy and he’s from Fookin’ gin alley!!!

  • The Ghost of Karl Tanner: There’s only one Fookin’ legend around here boy and he’s from Fookin’ gin alley!!!

    WAS from gin alley. Now dead because talks too fooking much and defeated by a boy crow

  • LS fits in better on episode 10 as a cliff hanger. No need to rush that story when there’s a lot that needs to be solved first up the north and Kings Landing.
    Does anyone know if the BWB are casted this season?

  • King Stannis: WAS from gin alley. Now dead because talks too fooking much and defeated by a boy crow

    You should shut your fucking hole. Ugly little cunt. You look like a fucking ball sack. Ugly looking stupid cunt face. I could piss in any gutter and sow five of you. You know how much they pay me to kill a man at King’s Landing? Seven silvers. They told me a man’s name and that man never saw daylight again. None of them cocksuckers got away from me. I haven’t lost a fight since I was nine. Maybe it’s time? Do you think? Eh? Maybe you’re the man. Eh? Cunt?

    I was a fucking legend in Gin Alley. A fucking LEGEND. I would take any knight, ANY knight, any time. Fucking cunts in steel plate; fucking cowards.

  • King Stannis,

    Yes, but what would the scene in episode 10 be? LS being resurrected? LS hanging Freys? LS meeting Brienne? All have been suggested as possibilities.

  • Troublesome Birdsong,
    SPOILER!?
    Agreed troublesome birdsong. This has been worrying me for some time. I am one of the believers that it should have happened in Ep 310. At least being found should have happened, even if just in a quick blink of a shot. This is why I think it will be a no go. I think if it happens now it will be a “jump the shark” moment for non book readers.

  • GeekFurious: Every action piece in the previous episode was a cliche. Making it cheesy. Hell, the Karl vs. Jon Snow fight is a whole bunch of cheese. Like they made it up on the spot.

    Watch your tone ya Fookin c*nt I’m a Fookin Legend!!!!

  • I think some folks are too worried about that unsullied will think. I think they will handle LS by having one of the BWB retelling the story, and then it will cut to her. Scene. They’ve already laid the ground of that being possible, and folks know that there’s magic in Westeros. I don’t think any true fans that are unsullied will think it’s jumped the shark.

  • GeekFurious,

    Actually, just read a Kit interview (linked from WiC post to Hero Complex) where he says they didn’t have time to prepare. Here’s the quote:

    “It’s a pretty heavy fight, this,” the actor said during one of the breaks. “Actually, I think it’s the most complex one we’ve done or definitely that I’ve done on ‘Thrones.’ It’s in a confined space, and it’s a longsword versus two short daggers and we didn’t have a huge amount of time to rehearse. So it’s becoming doing it on the hoof, but it’s a very important fight in the story.”

  • Troublesome Birdsong:
    King Stannis,

    Yes, but what would the scene in episode 10 be? LS being resurrected? LS hanging Freys? LS meeting Brienne? All have been suggested as possibilities.

    I think I like the idea of TBWB finding her body in the river. Cut the scene and have the resurrection happen off screen and have a second scene towards the end with the fray hanging and LS appearing. That should give enough for the audience to talk about and piece it together until the following season

  • GeekFurious: Every action piece in the previous episode was a cliche. Making it cheesy. Hell, the Karl vs. Jon Snow fight is a whole bunch of cheese. Like they made it up on the spot.

    Let me guess…. Just because it was not in the books it was cheesy. I guess there’s no winning with some people without being too much of a critic. *Yawn* A Song Of Whine & Cheese

  • trarecar,

    its not so much that its hard to grasp from an unsullied pow, its more that it has not been adequatly set up / foreshadowed. And shouldnt the point be to show these things happening, isnt that the major added value of the show

  • I don’t think LS would jump the shark. All they need is to start mentioning that there is some vengeful lady running about, and then reveal her at the end of this season….

  • Kessell:
    trarecar,

    its not so much that its hard to grasp from an unsullied pow, its more that it has not been adequatly set up / foreshadowed. And shouldnt the point be to show these things happening, isnt that the major added value of the show

    Agreed. Not taking the opportunity to show someone being brought back to life or just skipping that entirely, even if GRRM did that in the book, would be a waste. I was surprised that they even underplayed it a bit with Dondarrion last season.

    King Stannis,

    Yeah, exactly. Even if they did a fake-out where they find her body and Beric or someone is like, ‘Bring her back’ and Thoros says, ‘No. She’s been in the water too long.’ and then at the end of the episode they reveal her and explain what Beric did, then I’d probably be all right with that.

    But jumping straight to her hanging Freys is weird. I’m not saying the unsullied wouldn’t get it eventually, because they would, but if I was in that position, I’d feel cheated or assume I’d somehow missed a scene earlier in the season.

  • Deathdreams,

    Why, thank you. While I greatly appreciate the sentiment, I think doing anything more than once a week would kill me. :)

    I will have my book on season three coming out shortly, however, if you want *lots* of my articles all in one place. ;)

    ~M.

  • Troublesome Birdsong: Agreed. Not taking the opportunity to show someone being brought back to life or just skipping that entirely, even if GRRM did that in the book, would be a waste. I was surprised that they even underplayed it a bit with Dondarrion last season.

    King Stannis,

    Yeah, exactly. Even if they did a fake-out where they find her body and Beric or someone is like, ‘Bring her back’ and Thoros says, ‘No. She’s been in the water too long.’ and then at the end of the episode they reveal her and explain what Beric did, then I’d probably be all right with that.

    But jumping straight to her hanging Freys is weird. I’m not saying the unsullied wouldn’t get it eventually, because they would, but if I was in that position, I’d feel cheated or assume I’d somehow missed a scene earlier in the season.

    how you want the scene to go in the show, showing the ressurection I mean, is my personal nightmare. I would hate them showing the BwB finding her body, because everybody would have figuered it out already. I just want the reveal to be her hanging Freys, because unsullied won’t see that coming at all and I’m fairly sure that’s going to happen, since Catelyn has been dead for weeks or even months (in the show) by now. showing her ressurection would be so anticlimatic and the audience isn’t that stupid that everything has to be explained and it will be explained when Brienne meets LS