Before we begin, a few ground rules: Like many of you, I’m a huge fan of Martin’s novels, and I’m dying to see how the story is adapted, what changes are made and how it turns out. With that said, this is a review of the television show, and I’d like it if folks could operate under the assumption that many have not read the books, and therefore avoid any spoilers. Discuss what’s happened in the show so far, but please don’t give away anything that happens in the future, up to and including speculation about events that haven’t taken place in the books yet. This isn’t a review of something that everyone has seen — in fact, we’re all seeing it for the first time. I don’t mind discussion about how things diverged from the books — in fact, I’ll likely indulge in that myself (with restraint, I hope) — but let’s not ruin things for the uninitiated. I don’t want anyone to see these posts as a minefield and thereby skip the discussions for fear of having things spoiled for them.
The third episode of “Game of Thrones,” “Lord Snow,” sees the show settling into an easy rhythm, as the characters’ respective traits and roles are now established and we’re allowed to watch them come together and understand their alliances and motivations. While the title suggests an emphasis on Jon Snow and his time at the Wall, the show was really more about the Starks and their trials at the home of King Robert Baratheon.
It’s there that we begin to understand the challenges facing Ned Stark — foremost of which is dealing with Robert’s boorish, decidedly unkingly behavior. The task is made harder by discovering he’s the King’s Hand for a surprisingly bankrupt kingdom and is beset upon by scheming yesmen and sycophants. This group consists of the likes of the covetous Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (Aidan Gillen), the obsequious eunuch Varys (Conleth Hill), and Robert’s brother Renly (Gethin Anthony). Ned has his hands full from the moment he rides through the castle gates, and one fears that those challenges may be more than he cares to bear. At the same time, the appearance of Catelyn provided him with some brief respite, even if it forced him into gratitude with Baelish. Gillen, most notable for his role as Mayor Carchetti in “The Wire,” is wonderfully snide and exudes “untrustworthy” from his very pores, but his helpfulness is undeniable. Similarly, Varys made my skin crawl with every line, and yet Stark cannot deny his usefulness. Perhaps most intriguing was Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s portrayal of Jaimie Lannister, a character that seemed a shallow, albeit mercilessly amoral, jerk in the preceding episodes. Here, he was shown to be more than that, and the character is becoming much more interesting. His encounter with Ned before the Iron Throne was a riveting bit of verbal sparring — two men who clearly loathe each other, but warily paced about each other, probing for weakness.
We saw little of Daenerys, but her turn of events still gave the impression of criticality to the story. The pending pregnancy is an interesting development, but more intriguing is her developing relationship with Khal Drogo, and her steadily growing into a mature, intelligent woman who is beginning to understand that she must take control of her destiny, instead of having it forced upon her by her brother. Although I admit that one vital piece of the novel that was changed was a bit of a stumble — the decision to have Rakharo (Elyes Gabel) be the one to command Viserys to walk instead of Daenerys was a bit disappointing and a missed opportunity to further demonstrate her independence. That said, one of my favorite scenes was the casual weaponry discussion between Rakharo and Jorah Mormont. It was done with such ease and comfortableness that it was a joy to observe.
As for Jon Snow, the parts that featured the ominous Wall allowed us to see Snow learning how to be more than a put-off bit of cast-off royalty, but rather the beginnings of a leader. It was made more interesting by the fact that the most important lesson he learned came not from any of the Brothers of the Night’s Watch, but rather from the Imp, Tyrion Lannister. Dinklage continues to impress (unsurprisingly) with his portrayal of Tyrion — equal parts cunning, conniving, intelligent and coarse in manner, he’s simply perfectly at ease in the role, even if he isn’t quite as hideous as the books would have us see him.
All in all, it was a thoroughly satisfying episode, and despite a few diversions from the novel (a couple of which, I admit, were quite frustrating), it feels like the series is getting stronger with time’s passage. The closing sequence, with the adorably surly spitfire Arya taking her first lessons from the Water Dancer swordmaster Syrio Forel — a role that Shakespearean actor Miltos Yerolemou absolutely nailed — was my hands-down favorite, perhaps of the series so far (“Dead!” “Dead!” “Very dead!”). The show continues to impress, and while the dense machinations are sometimes difficult to follow, it maintains its solid pacing and strong performances. Perhaps most impressive is the show’s ability to create a sense of impending darkness on the horizon, without resorting to crash-and-boom moments of cliched revelation. Instead, it credits its audience with being smart enough to realize that there are dangers around every corner, and those dangers will affect everyone. After all, winter is coming.