Episode 1 “Winter is Coming”

The kingdoms of Nunziata, Miller, and Rappe have convened once more.

Josh: Well, some serious shit left us hanging at the end of Episode 1 when, conversely, young Bran Stark was not left hanging by Jaime Lannister — after Bran caught him engaging in some sporting sister fuckin’. And Bran’s woes did not let up in this episode, “The Kingsroad.” Miraculously left clinging for life in a coma, Bran was nearly assassinated by a nameless scummy scumbag who staged a distraction fire, hoping to find Bran alone in his bed. But his mother Catelyn’s obsessive vigilance paid off, as she was able to hold off the attacker long enough for Bran’s direwolf Summer to bust into the room and eat some motherfuckin’ scumbag throat. Meanwhile, Ned Stark (Sean Bean) set off down the King’s Road to take up his begrudgingly accepted position as the Hand of King Robert (Mark Addy). Joining Ned were his two daughters, Sansa (the older unlikable one) and Arya (the younger awesome one). The other big event of the episode is the scuffle that takes place while Sansa is enjoying a lovely stroll with lil’ lord fuckstick, aka Prince Joffrey, heir to the thrown. While trying to be cool, Joffrey, buzzed on wine, starts menacing a young butcher’s son who is play sword-fighting with Arya by a river. When Arya steps in to stop Joffrey, the lil’ prick turns his sword towards her. Now, if we learned anything from that attack on Bran, it’s that one threatens the Stark children at one’s own peril, cause Arya’s direwolf Nymeria bites the shit out of Joffrey’s arm. Wisely sensing trouble, Arya promptly sets Nymeria free, which proves a very smart move when Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) orders the wolf killed. In a moment of sad karmic justice, the Queen orders Sansa’s wolf to be killed instead, which possibly could have been avoided if Sansa had backed up Arya’s version of the events instead of Joffrey’s lie – in which he claimed Arya and the butcher cruelly sicked Nymeria on him and beat him with sticks.

Holy shit am I loving this show. And I have much to gush about. But first my ongoing concern… the sheer amount of ancillary info I have to provide to my friends while we’re watching still has me worried. It’s not that I’m worried that people who haven’t read the books won’t be able to follow the show, or even that they’ll stop watching because they’re confused, but simply that they won’t be able to connect with the show on the same kind of level as, say, me. I am sure that eventually the show will get around to touching on everything, and will dig deeper into things they’ve already touched on, but there is a lot that has been left hanging. The series still hasn’t properly introduced Theon Greyjoy (played by Alfie Allen, singer Lily Allen’s brother), who currently seems like he is one of Sean Bean’s son, except for the fact that he never does anything. And I don’t think we’ve even seen the youngest Stark boy, though he’s been mentioned in conversation. This is definitely a show in which episodes should be watched twice for those who haven’t read the books. The old screenwriting mantra is “show don’t tell,” but inevitably Game of Thrones is going to be largely telling, because there is so much backstory. My friends became confused on the details of the previous King’s Hand. We learn that the Lannister syblings’ (Cersei, Jaimie, and dwarf Tyrion) father was the King’s Hand for twenty years under the previous king, which caused them to think that he was the Hand who just died. Which ain’t the case.

Elisabeth: I’m glad it isn’t just me who has to stop and explain things!  The relationships are still proving to be a tangle for my home viewers, who were shocked to find out Cersei had not one, but three kids, and didn’t catch which Starks were accompanying Ned to King’s Landing.  It’s definitely an issue.  I want to say it’s not that complicated, but if I was watching this without the benefit of the book, I’d be baffled about these Targaryens too.  (I was *reading* the book — the characters constantly refer to that rebellion as you’re still trying to keep them straight, and it gets muddled.  And that’s without the distraction of sets, costumes, actors, etc.)

I am worried that the show is so obsessed about hitting the high points that they might miss out on the nuances of the relationships and emotions.  The scene between Jon and Arya felt like fan service more than an organic moment that newcomers will care about.  I hesitate to really pile on the criticism, as it’s clear this will be a series that has to be judged as a whole and not in its parts, but I’m seeing that as a stumble even at this early stage.  I’m sort of obsessively examining it’s time management (did we need to see that? or that?) in a way I wouldn’t dream of with, say, “Boardwalk Empire.” But they’ve managed to get an amazing amount of detail and story out of the way in just two hours, and judging from reactions I heard and read, people are getting hooked into the story enough to cry over a direwolf.  I think this is an episode people will actually come back to and cry over again. With hindsight, it plays a lot more bitter and heartbreaking than it does the first time through.  At first this was a criticism of mine — oh, if only people KNEW what this was going to mean! — but I’ve since slapped myself and realized how brilliant it is that they don’t.  It’s probably the first moment I’ve really stopped and applauded Martin’s series for its vicious scope. You don’t realize just what it all means until you’re walking off the battlefield with these people, and then you just sort of die a little inside when you remember how you blew off those small and intimate moments.

Nick: I don’t see how newbies can get all that upset. In all of the dense epic shows, we miss things. It’s what makes replay value so key for things like The Sopranos or The Lord of the Rings or whatever else. We get enough to determine if it works and then from there we get all these newfound bonus upon revisit. Additionally, considering how many sacrifices have to be made for time, continuity, and to maintain pace I’m astounded they’re able to pull off as much as they do here.

I think Lena Headey’s a little too “Black Hat” in her portrayal here, but most of the work being done is quite good. Especially considering that only a small percentage of thr cast are “names”. I think a few of the young men in the show are too pouty and pretty but I can only assume when the chips all fall everyone will be lived in and worn. I felt the same way about Sawyer on Lost and look how he turned out.

But really, Dinklage is a revelation. He’s always been so good but by playing a role he’d said he’d never play he’s adding so many shades to a familiar archetype in the scant screen time he’s had. I could watch him for hours playing this role and hope I get to. Obviously… I’m the guy who knows this material the least. So far though, I’m hooked.

Josh: Alright. I will stop worrying about the normals out there from here on out.

The moment I heard Dinklage was cast as Tyrion I not only thought, “Perfect!” But I also said to myself, “Someone is gonna rack up Emmy, SAG, and Golden Globe nominations this year.” Tyrion is easily one of the best characters in the books and I’m happy to see him turning out to be one of the best characters on the show. That smirk Dinklage gives the character is just so great; he is functioning on another level of awareness compared with the rest of the characters, so he can’t help but be amused by much of his interactions.Tyrion’s personality really reflects the realistic ambiguity of Martin’s world, as he is neither good nor evil. I’m curious Tyrion if knows what happened to Bran and why it happened to him. I know the answer from the book, but I also know the HBO series is changing some things to better suit their television purposes. That convo he had with Jaimie and Cersei at the breakfast table after he woke up in the stable (what a stud) sort of implied he had some idea.

And I am with you Rappe on the wolves. I think they are the one aspect of the show that is suffering the most, thus far. We know the wolves are important – because they’re there – but they don’t feel that important as of yet. They sure are cute and badass though. I’m curious how big they will get. In the books they are gigantic once full grown; about the size of a Siberian tiger. I am a little worried about seeing clunky CG wolves prancing around by the end of the season.

King Robert is shaping up into a wonderfully complex character too. Everybody loves a big bawdy party animal, but I like that the show is demonstrating his major flaws as a ruler — namely how poorly he handled the aftermath of the wolf attack. And Mark Addy is adding a lot of pathos to the character, slowly eroding the images of Brian Blessed I carried in my mind from the books. The show really sells an empathetic presentation of Robert’s desire to wipe out the Targaryen bloodline. In the book Robert’s motivation comes off significantly more petty and self-serving, and less based on vengeance. I like it this way more.

Nick isn’t a big fan of Lena Headey thus far. Are there any other performances we think are leaving something to be desired thus far? I’m pretty disappointed with the casting of The Hound, Prince Joffrey’s facially scarred body guard. The character is neither as imposing or as intriguing as he should be. I am on the other hand fucking loving Jack Gleeson as Prince Joffrey, aka lil’ lord fuckstick.

Nick: That kid is freaky looking. Perfect casting. He looks like an old asshole man in a kid’s asshole body. You look at him and instantly know EVERYTHING. Phenomenal stuff, and I personally love the wolves because they actually sell as wolves. Usually we’re fed Huskies. And fuck Huskies.

Elisabeth: I have to concur about Joffrey’s casting.  I really wondered how they would find a young actor who could curdle your blood, and not just be one of those obnoxious bratty actors.  They’ve got a real find in this Jack Gleeson.  My home audience immediately went “Ugh!” when he came on the screen, and they have absolutely no idea what part he’s going to play.  It was the perfect gut reaction. He sells evil immediately.

And Joshua, I was disappointed in Sandor too! I picture him to be more like Jonah Hex — gaunt, bitter, dead-eyed, really fucked-up in the face and voice.  They knocked his helm out of the park, but the make-up and the casting leaves a lot to be desired.  I think they may have been tempted to soften him a little given his role later on, but that seems kind of counter intuitive to me.

I actually love Lena Headey as Cersei.  She delivered the line “We have a wolf….” exactly as I knew she would, and as I heard in the book. Cersei is all cool elegance, it’s how she maintains her position. I didn’t even take the weepy scene as an attempt to soften her, because the audience knows what Catelyn doesn’t, and it throws a dubious and sinister angle on her tears. Were those genuine tears? Was she truly a mother speaking to another mother? I don’t know. And that’s that kind of subtle character work that can really move the show above the books, if they’ll be brave enough to start coloring outside the lines more.

I’m a big fan of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime as well. He was a character I never had a solid picture of, but Coster-Waldau walked onscreen and I thought of course, that’s Jaime.  He’s really playing it with the right amount of charisma and nastiness, the kind of man you know you can’t trust, but you sort of warm to when he’s in the room.  I’m glad the show is giving this character a face and personality more than the book — you HEARD a lot about Jaime, but you never really got to know the man except as “the one who pushed Bran.”

The angle that’s not working for me thus far is the Dothraki scenes.  This was a chance for the writers to give more depth to Daenerys, and instead they’ve stripped it in favor of quasi-lesbian glances and one “Gee, this sucks to be raped nightly by this guy” grimace. The Dothraki just don’t seem as ruthless and alien either.  Her handmaidens looked like they belonged in Boulder offering you some scented oils.  They were just way too happy and clean to be slaves. Daenerys’ scenes were among my favorites in the books because they were a nice earthy break from the silks and slyness of King’s Landing, but they’re not working onscreen yet. But at least we did get to see Jason Momoa’s ass as a trade-off for all the tits.  Yes, I did go there.

Josh: I’m with you on the Dothraki sections too. I don’t have much of an issue with Daenerys herself, as she’s supposed to be kind of vacant and personality-less at this juncture (at least that’s how she always read to me), but the Dothraki themselves don’t come off as much of anything. These scenes are also the area where the show’s budget seems most lacking. At least they’re doing a good job of keeping this thread feeling as tied to the other storylines as is possible. There is definitely a danger of Daenerys becoming the older brother from Malcolm in the Middle here.

Nick: Rappe, every time you mention your home audience I envision an “Applause” sign that goes off and everyone going home with a door prize. Please tell me this is true. My main gripe with the Dothraki is that we hear how amazing they are in combat and how formidable Momoa’s character is and all we’ve seen them do is ride horses and give someone a backdoor rogering. I envision these as really cool characters if we ever get to see their sweaty asses on the field.

The plot is most definitely thickening and I think they didn’t lose much in the second installment.

Elisabeth: It is true! And I sit at a clear desk like Jon Stewart and gesture with a pen whenever I’m explaining why bastards carry the name of Snow.