Catelyn Stark Cersei Lannister General Jaime Lannister Recap Reviews Season 1

“Lord Snow”: WiC Remembers Season 1, episode 3

“Just so!”

“Lord Snow” suffers from many of the same problems of the other early episodes of Game Of Thrones, where trying to produce an authentic adaptation of the novels and a coherent television show often clash. But you can start to see the increasing confidence of the production overall in this episode; it’s becoming its own thing. There are three scenes scattered through the episode that demonstrate how Game Of Thrones is becoming its own beast with humor, empathy, and formal emphasis.

The most important scene in this process, for me, is the one with King Robert holding court with his Kingsguard about the first man they killed. None of the characters in the room (Jaime, Robert, Barristan, and Lancel) is a point-of-view character from the books, so this is one of the earliest examples of a totally new scene for the show. In that, it adds depth and sympathy toward Robert and Barristan, two characters who are important for the titles, while the setting is also improved with the mention of the history of these warriors’ battles.

But the thing that stands out to me most about this scene is, I’ve come to believe, the single greatest advantage that the show has over the books:

It’s funny. Most of the greatest scenes on the show are those where two or more larger-than-life characters are placed in the same room, with their own secrets and motives, and try to work with, around, or against their foil. Varys and Littlefinger have had several; Arya and Tywin in Season 2 works as well; and perhaps my personal favorite, the new Small Council shifting their chairs around upon Tywin’s arrival in Season 3.

There are a few similarities between these scenes: the actors are strong, for one thing, which is true for the entire series. That strength allows them to turn their characters’ cleverness on the page into wittiness on the screen. The show also has the advantage of being able to pace its scenes differently, building and releasing tension with time, silence, lingering looks, and so on. That tension is often best released with humor, which is something the great television dramas of the recent past, like Breaking Bad, The Wire, and The Sopranos all succeeded at, while their imitators have fallen short.

Finally, there’s a formal advantage that the show has, in that it can play with perspective. Take a look at this shot, from the middle of Robert’s complaint about being surrounded by Lannisters. As Robert is talking about the Lannister’s “…smug, satisfied faces…” we see Jaime’s mild smirk from Mark Addy’s perspective on his desk. We, the audience also know that Jaime’s just threatened to go to war with Robert, and has obviously killed a king before, so it’s not a simple conversation to us, just as it’s not to him. The shot’s also closed off by the side of Addy’s head, so it looks like the only thing we can see is a Lannister. (Addy, it should be noted, is fantastic here, alternating between taking advantage of his role and being bitter about it, defining his character’s unsuitability for the role well.)

I hesitate to apply too much intentionality to this scene, because the nature of filming out-of-order and the intricacies of writing a show like this make it impossible to know for certain, but it feels like this scene is the realization that they’d hired great actors, and letting them do their work within the story, instead of adapting the words on the page. In other words, this seems like the point where the show started to feel like it was having fun, instead of being as authentic an adaptation as possible.

Using new scenes to illustrate the advantages of HBO’s budget and production values is working at this point, but Game Of Thrones doesn’t handle that so well in a thematic sense. The scene between Joffrey and Cersei, where she tells him what she wants for him and he describes how he’d deal with the North, ends up feeling awkward and didactic (“Why should every lord command his own men, it’s primitive!”). The direct engagement with political history—a future king trying to figure out how to deal to powerful vassals—feels out-of-place on this show that’s happier to deal with character rivalries and metaphor than straightforward connections to real-world history.

But the most awkward scene of the episode is one that’s a more direct adaptation. Cat and Ned saying goodbye to one another, for the last time as it turns out, is a bizarre scene that feels like they’re just going through the motions. When the camera rests on their faces, it’s powerful, but the words just don’t seem to fit, and I think it’s because Martin’s lines “Gods be good, you nearly killed poor Littlefinger yesterday” and the actors’ interpretations just aren’t coming together.

It’s the polar opposite of the second scene that demonstrates the increasing confidence of the show, Jorah and Rakharo comparing weapons. This is another largely invented show, as the POV character from the novels for this part of the world, Dany, is off-screen. This is just a slow, quiet scene to add a budding friendship between these characters and, more importantly, to humanize the Dothraki after their painful introduction in the pilot. It doesn’t have the tense humor of Robert’s scene, but that the show is willing to take a breath and relax is, I think, an important move.

Both the Robert and the Jorah scenes stand apart from those involving Thrones’ most traditional hero types, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen. For them, “Lord Snow” is little more than a continuation of that. Jon Snow’s pride is punctured, and he has to learn to swallow status and work with others. Dany, meanwhile, moves further away from her controlling brother’s influence. Both of these are, for me, the least interesting parts of the story at this point, though they’re important enough long-term that I’ll get to them in due time.

The final scene of the episode, with Syrio showing up as Arya’s dancing instructor, is also evidence of the show’s increasing confidence. Simply put, for the first time, Game Of Thrones is inspiring here. The novels, and the show, have a not-fully-undeserved reputation of being a slog of bad things happening over and over, but that’s a difficult tone to maintain without shedding audience members exhausted by the negativity. So for it to take a few minutes and show one of its characters having a good thing happen to her, to show Ned as the proud father, to show Syrio being awesome–it’s a scene that inspires a smile, and some of that is absolutely necessary for making Game Of Thrones feel balanced.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s a scene that is deliberately chosen by the producers, writers, and editors to be done in such a way that the smile—combined the the ominous noises of battle Ned seems to hear—is the last thing we remember of the episode as we wait for the next one. “Lord Snow” indicates that there’s more emotional and formal complexity to the show than the first two episodes demonstrated.

Notes and quotes:

  • “Shame ye didn’t say a prayer for the butcher’s son.” Ned Stark throws some shade.
  • “His Grace has many cares. He trusts some…small matters to us that we might lighten the load.”
  • Cersei telling Joffrey about propaganda seems like an intentional reference to a famous profile of the Bush administration. “Someday you’ll sit on the throne, and the truth will be what you make it” compares very directly to “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”
  • “War was easier than daughters.” I remember the show was often compared to The Sopranos in early reviews, and I suspect this scene was a big reason why.
  • “I know a story about a boy who hated stories.” Old Nan sets the stage for the White Walkers, as does Benjen Stark later. This is a continuing reminder of the opening scene of the series, and I think contributed so people’s belief that the show was about the White Walkers.
  • Love Michelle Fairley’s reading here: “You take me for some back-alley Sally you can drag into a…!”
  • “He’s like a little brother to me, Ned, he would NEVER betray my trust!” Sad trombone.
  • “I’ll go to war with him if I have to. They can write a ballad about us. ‘The War For Cersei’s Cunt.’”
  • “They never tell ya how they all shit themselves. They don’t put that part in the songs.”

 

14 Comments

  • The ending to this episode with Arya and Syrio is probably one of my favourite closing scenes of the entire series. It’s a great scene on it’s own, but when it gets to the final seconds and we see Ned Stark’s face with the sounds of Arya & Syrio’s practice swords turning into sounds of full on war, it’s a really powerful moment and showcases how great Sean Bean was in the role.

    Whether this is intentional or not, it’s fitting that even in this episode titled ‘Lord Snow’ the reviewer actually didn’t mention anything about Jon Snow’s storyline. It really was the weakest part of this first season IMO, as it never really got the narrative kick that the other plotlines got until the final episode.

    • Aussie,

      I did! There’s a paragraph buried in there. (I had to remember that I wanted to say I didn’t want to say anything about it)

  • Great review although I completely disagree with Cat and Ned’s final goodbye. That is my favourite scene in the episode and I thought the dialogue was great, it made me tear up knowing what is in store for the both of them. Even though Michelle and Sean were only in a handful of scenes together I thought they had great chemistry and they held these first few episodes together.

  • Rowan Kaiser,
    Ah you did indeed, my bad. You shared my overall sentiments on his storyline though, great writeup! I’m a big fan of the AV Club reviews so having an ex-writer from there writing some more reviews on here is great.

  • Unpopular opinion: I’m really not a fan of the season 2 Tywin/Arya scenes. However, many of the added scenes in season 1 were really good. Lord Snow may be one of the early episodes that are mostly about the setup and where not many exciting things happen, but it’s an episode where I really enjoyed most any of the added scenes that flesh out the non-POV characters.

    This is indeed one of the show’s biggest advantages: while it loses by not being able to get us in the POV characters’ heads, it gains by being able to give a more objective view and shed more light on the other characters. For instance, in the book we are in Ned’s head and get to see the situation in King’s Landing through his biased view: as a result, the Lannisters seem like a dangerous, powerful family full of sly people who know exactly what they are doing, who are closing around poor Robert, whom we get to see as a likable victim in the situation, because Ned likes him and despises and distrusts the Lannisters. It’s only in later books that we see just how dysfunctional the Lannister family is, and that most of them aren’t nearly as capable and in control of everything that’s going on; and it takes some time to shed Ned’s biases and see Robert for an irresponsible jerk and abusive husband that he is. Our perspective on Jaime especially changes since book 3, and we see how wrong Ned’s impression were. But in the show, we see more of Robert’s rude behavior to his wife’s family members early on, and to see why the Lannisters may be really sick and tired of this guy beyond the issue of being scared of him learning about Jaime’s and Cersei’s secret relationship and the parentage of the children. We get to generally see more of Jaime’s and Cersei’s POVs early on and flesh out the characters better. (The “war for Cersei’s cunt” scene was taken directly from Jamie’s memories of that conversation in A Storm of Swords.) Jamie also gets to defend himself somewhat to Ned and say some of the things he is just thinking in his POVs that he get to see later on.

    The “who was your first” scene was especially good, it’s my favorite in the episode as well. However, I didn’t mind the Cersei/Joffrey scene or the Ned/Cat scene. (The Bush administration parallels went completely over my head, since I’m not American.)

    I don’t think that being funny is the show’s advantage over the books, though. There is a lot of humor and great one-liners in the books.

  • Are we at the point where we could review an episode a week and line up with the next season release?
    – edit spelling

    • Richard,

      I doubt it, especially with the holidays. I might have to do two per week a few times and will need to figure out the math on that.

  • I had no problem with Joffrey’s conversation on feudalism. It’s not merely exposition/worldbuilding for the viewer, it lets us see Joffrey as someone who will be impatient with any constraints on his power and eager to use military might to crush any opposition.

  • On the subject of show-only inventions, the little scene with Ned cluelessly giving Sansa a doll was a nice moment (the doll’s subsequent cameos in “Blackwater” and “Second Sons”, as well, though since the show removed Sansa’s agency in her escape, presumably it was left behind in King’s Landing with the rest of her stuff; or maybe it magically teleported to the Eyrie along with her wardrobe, since we know that inexplicably made the trip).

  • First post!

    It’s a coincidence, but my husband and I decided last week to view the first three seasons again while we wait for season 5. And we listened to episode 3 (season 1) yesterday. It would be great, as suggested by Richard, if a look back at an episode a week (with adjustments) would be posted here. It would allow me to ask questions, such as this one:

    My husband (unsullied (books), but has seen all 4 seasons) asked me what exactly Ned was thinking about when he heard the sound of swords clashing at the end of the Syrio-Arya scene. Was it war in the general sense or a specific engagement or duel?

    Because I have difficulties remembering how much past events have been discussed in the show (vs. books), I was uncertain of the answer I could give him. In my opinion, Ned was thinking of his sister (Arya looks like her and likes to fight as she did). Was there any mention of these two characteristics in the show?

    Opinion anyone?

    • Welcome Belacel!

      The shouting in the background of Ned’s “hearing” indicated to me that it was a general battle–he’s coming to believe Robert that a war is coming. That’s how I’ve always read it, at least.

      I don’t think the specific parallels between Arya and Lyanna are clear on the show at this point, so even if it was a specific reference to his fight with Arthur Dayne, I don’t think there’s any way that a non-reader could pick up on that.

  • There is great/better humour in the books too, of course, but when it comes to dialogue specifically, the show manages to take advantage of no time spent on prose to get from one snappy line to the next in the right type of scene, half of such lines not being from the books. That’s why new conversations between non-POV characters can be so dynamic, particularly Tywin-anyone.

    “Lord Snow” is probably my least favourite of the season, but S1 was so tight that such a comment is no slight. Ned’s story is ongoing and compelling in every episode, but it’s the only early one that seems to lack another really terrific fleshed-out multi-scene plot (1×02 has Arya/Sansa/Joffrey drama, 1×04 has Jon/Sam, 1×05 has Robert and Arya, 1×06 has a Dany story turning point, etc.) “Lord Snow” has decent Jon, Dany, and Arya development, but I guess the other episodes all have more “wow” scenes for me.

    MVP: Sean Bean, though Aidan Gillen does make a splash (his four big Season 1 episodes are his best in the series).

    Season-best work for: Only Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, I think, mostly due to a lack of other options for him; I think this was the only S1 episode besides the pilot where Jaime gets more than two scenes.

    I look forward to discussing BCog next week.

  • Belacel,

    War in the general sense, I think. By acquiescing to Arya’s desire to learn swordplay, he’s giving her the tools to to protect herself in a dangerous world, but he’s also giving her permission to be a part of parts of that world that he would prefer to protect her from himself. He’s seeing the future of violence that Arya has in store for her, he sees himself allowing that door to be opened, and he is worried.