Game of Thrones: “Lord Snow”


Game of Thrones

HBO, Sundays, 9 PM

Lord Snow

Written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss

Directed by Brian Kirk

“We’ve come to a dangerous place.” – Ned Stark

The characters in Game of Thrones certainly have a peculiar idea of brotherly love. One major character is engaged in a longstanding affair with his sister, and has fathered several children with her. Another routinely fondles his sister in order to assess her sexual attractiveness, then coldly sells her off to a barbarian whose idea of lovemaking would repel the Marquis de Sade. The wife of our main character refers to a man who clearly states that he is still in love with her as her “little brother”. Yeah, brotherhood in the Seven Kingdoms is nothing to brag about.

“We are the lords of small matters.” – Lord Renly

Ned Stark arrives in sunny, palm-tree-decorated King’s Landing to take up his duties as the King’s Hand. Almost his first task is to confront the imminent bankruptcy of the kingdom, as he learns that the crown is deeply in debt to the wealthy Lannisters. Honest Ned cannot understand why, when someone in power is given good, sound advice, he does not follow it. At this point I begin to wonder if Ned is merely terminally naïve or just downright stupid. He’s well aware – and has recently been pointedly reminded – that his king is a wenching sot with no more self-discipline than a Dothraki on crack, but he somehow believes that merely speaking to Robert will mend matters. I foresee a dark end to Lord Stark’s tenure if he persists in this fantasy. Yet in almost the same scene, he meets his wife in secret, hears her tale of Lannister conspiracy, and learns that the knife the assassin used in his failed attempt on her and Bran’s life used to belong to Tyrion Lannister. Warned that an open accusation of attempted murder will be construed as treason, he warns his wife to keep quiet and go home. Yeah, like that’s going to work with the likes of Catlyn Stark. Why can’t Ned take his own advice now and then? It’s not like Ned has no experience with tyrants; he deposed one to set up another.

“Someday, you’ll sit on the throne, and the truth will be what you make it.” – Queen Cersei

Queen Cersei, meanwhile, is raising her son to be a king like Robert: self-centered, egotistical and vain. She coaches her son in the art of the spin, re-casting the events of the dire wolf and the butcher’s boy to cast Joffrey the repulsive in a favorable light. Even Joffrey balks at this until she overrides him. Later, she freaks out in private with brother Jaime, afraid that their clandestine affair will be revealed by the now-conscious Bran. Jaime quietly comforts her by promising to kill anyone who crosses them. Whether he genuinely loves Cersei or merely enjoys controlling her, she is clearly the beginning and the end of Jaime’s ambition and his world. It is true that their liaison puts him in a powerful position vis-à-vis the throne, and that his own son is heir to it. But I think that Jaime Lannister would be his sister’s staunch ally no matter what, because his bond to her reflects his own self-love.

“People have been swinging at me for years, but they always seem to miss.” – Jaime Lannister

Jaime can’t win for losing. He’s handsome, rich and a good fighter, but everyone outside his family hates him.  Ned snarls at him, Robert loathes him, but in both encounters Jaime maintains a certain dignity not entirely based on egotism. Ned accuses him of idly standing by while the Mad King burned Ned’s father to death; Jaime reminds Ned that five hundred other lords stood by as well. Ned and Robert, both of whomled a rebellion against the Mad King, now call Lannister a betrayer of trust, despite the fact that it was Jaime Lannister, not Robert or Ned, who killed the tyrant. It’s hard not to see a pot calling a kettle black in Ned and Robert’s accusations of treachery. Or perhaps it’s only jealousy, as neither of them got to do the deed.

“When I watched the Mad King die, I remember him laughing as your father burned.” – Jaime Lannister

This episode introduces Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance, There Be Dragons), paterfamilias of the Lannister clan. He watches in detached amusement as the drunken king rambles on about his youthful exploits, bitter and resentful. It’s clear that Robert despises what he has become, and like most men with little self-awareness, blames those around him in some obscure way for what he has done to himself. He challenges Tywin, and later Jaime, to tell old war stories, then insults Jaime as a backstabber, demanding to know the Mad King’s last words. With perfect aplomb, Jaime says, “He said the same thing he’d been saying for hours; ‘burn them all’.” This stops Robert short, as it stopped Ned short, with the realization that for all their hatred of Jaime it was Jaime and not Robert, not Ned, who brought down the tyrant. Nothing breeds hatred like an enemy’s success at something you failed at. Tywin watches all of this with the approval of a master chess player, confident of his position, knowing he has planned out every move in advance. This scene showed us a father and son who are mirror images of one another: bold, confident, accomplished and ruthless. I like them.

“How can you let her marry someone like that?” – Arya

Out of the mouths of babes…Arya is still pissed at the entire royal house for the murder of her sister’s direwolf. The same sense of honor she inherits from her father keeps her seething over the injustice perpetrated on her family. When Ned, for the sake of polity, tries to talk her out of it, he runs smack up against his own code, embodied in his small daughter. Ned the Upright finds himself counseling his child to countenance lying, deceit, and treachery; he even tries to excuse Sansa for standing behind her betrothed — who is behaving in ways that Ned would never permit in his children. Arya calls him on this, and he has no reply. I admire Ned, but again he acts like he’s taking stupid pills. Can he not see the moral morass he has brought his family into?

Jorah: You’re learning to talk like a queen.

Daenerys: Not a queen. A khaleesi.

I hardly recognized last week’s elfin waif as this week’s barbarian queen. Daenerys has clearly come into her Targaryen heritage, assuming command ever more confidently under the tutelage of her champion, Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen, Doctor Who). She earns the wrath of her mad brother by giving orders as if she were in charge – which she is – and earning the respect of Mormont, whose loyalty to Viserys looks shakier every day. Viserys practically foams at the mouth when the sister he holds in contempt for the liaison he forced on her now defies him, and wins. His temper tantrum earns him the derision of the entire horde; I foresee a short future for this erratic young man. Unlike Jaime, whose attachment to his sister may actually be rooted in genuine love, Viserys cares for no one but himself, and is happy to use and abuse his own flesh and blood if it will get him what he wants. This is not an attitude likely to carry much weight among the independent-minded Dothraki, who look as if actions weigh more with them than words. Speaking of words, we finally got to hear something from Khal Drogo; I believe he said two words, maybe three when Daenerys announced her pregnancy. While it’s nice to see Daenerys smile, nice to see our married couple all lovey-dovey now, I still can’t warm up to Drogo.

“I don’t believe that giants and ghouls and white walkers are lurking behind the Wall.” – Tyrion Lannister

I can understand Tyrion’s skepticism. Even though we saw white walkers in the pilot, we haven’t seen them since, and the people living south of the Wall have heard only one or two hysterical reports from now-dead Rangers. I was disappointed with my first look over the Wall; I expected something more sinister than a snow-covered forest. In Lord of the Rings, we got to see Fangorn Forest, with its dark understory and tangled creepers, enormous trees and Ents. Here, we get a bird’s eye view of … a bunch of trees. Yawn. I trust dark things will soon be coming out of it. Meanwhile, Jon Snow is learning about social levels. Whereas he was bottom dog at Winterfell, here at the Night Guard’s training ground he’s held up as “Lord Snow”, and urged to show off his fighting prowess by beating the snot (literally) out of his fellow recruits. He obliges with all the condescension of the outsider who suddenly finds himself on the inside. Tyrion, the ultimate outsider, shows a compassionate side when he clues Jon in to the humble circumstances in which his fellows found themselves; reluctantly, a humbler Jon starts to teach them a few skills. With any luck, he’ll learn a few lessons about leadership himself. Jon continues to be a relatively colorless character, whose big scenes largely involve him reacting, not acting. He’s young, though, and there’s plenty of potential for character growth as young Jon forges a place for himself at the frontier of the world.

“Fear is for the winter, when the snows fall a hundred feet deep; fear is for the long night.” – Old Nurse

This idea that seasons can last for years is really fascinating. Measuring seasons in terms of years is rather like measuring inches in terms of feet; it’s completely inside out. Does this world have more than one sun? How does this extended-season work? If, as the old woman says, one winter lasted a generation, what did the people eat? How would plant life, let along higher forms, survive such a long, cold winter? I loved the old woman telling scary stories to Bran; I hope we get to see a few of those scary stories ourselves. What’s the point of a fantasy world with magical beings when we don’t get to see them?

“You served him well, when serving was safe.” – Ned Stark

Ratings are finally up for HBO’s premiere of this episode. The pilot drew 2.2 million viewers, a figure matched by the second episode last week. Adding in OnDemand and DVR-shifted viewings, the total jumps to nearly 7 million viewers all told. Since most series show a considerable drop-off from the premiere of any new show, this could be good news or bad news. The good news is that those who showed up for the pilot stayed for the second course. The bad news is that those may be the only viewers who show up – die-hard fantasy fans. It would mean that there’s little or no potential for audience growth.