‘Game of Thrones’ – ‘Lord Snow’: War stories

A quick review of tonight’s “Game of Thrones” coming up just as soon as I know a story about a boy who hated stories…

“Here, a man gets what he earns, when he earns it.” -Uncle Benjen

Though some people have complained that “Game of Thrones” doesn’t depart enough from George R.R. Martin’s books in terms of adapting the material to the different needs of a TV show, “Lord Snow” is the first episode so far (and the only one of the six I’ve seen) to feel explicitly like Benioff and Weiss just took an 80-page section from the book(*) and put it on screen. Where the other episodes build to a significant climax (Jaime throwing Bran off the roof, Ned executing the direwolf), “Lord Snow” just kind of stops, in that way “The Wire” (whose creator always referred to it as “a novel for television”) so often did. Arya’s fencing lesson is a wonderful scene, carried by the joy of Maisie Williams’ performance and the playful, Inigo Montoya-ish quality of her new teacher Syrio, but it’s also such a small, simple thing that you wouldn’t ordinarily expect it to be the note that an episode of dramatic television goes out on.

(*) For the entirety of our discussion of “Winter is Coming,” and for about a half day of our discussion of “The Kingsroad,” y’all did great about not going overboard in discussing the books. Then one person made a comment alluding to something that had yet to be depicted on the show. Then another person saw that first comment and assumed it was okay to do more of the same, and on and on, until people were revealing stuff left and right with the annoyingly inaccurate qualifier “This isn’t a spoiler.” Enough.

As I’ve said, there are plenty of places online to discuss this show in the context of GRRM’s books, discussing at length things that have yet to be depicted this season, things that may not come to pass for many, many seasons of the TV show etc. This is not that place. So now I’m expanding the rule from no discussion of future plot to No discussion of any event, character moment, historical revelation, etc. from the books that has yet to be depicted on the TV show. Period. If you so much as hint about something the TV show has yet to tell us, your comment will be deleted. This is a TV show. It’s a TV show based on a beloved series of books, and I understand the impulse among readers of those books to want to make constant comparisons between what GRRM wrote and how Benioff, Weiss and company are showing it on TV. But it’s a TV show. We’re discussing it as a show. If you want to stay present-tense (for instance, last week a few people noted how the death of the butcher’s boy was revealed in both versions), that’s fine. Beyond that, no. End of story.

But I think I liked the looser, more rambling quality of “Lord Snow,” an episode largely about transitions, fish out of water, and old ghosts.

Ned finally makes his way to King’s Landing and has to settle into his new responsibilities as the king’s hand, and interactions with Robert’s other advisers. Most notable of these – and not just because he’s played by “Wire” alum Aiden Gillen – is Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, the man responsible for keeping the money flowing  to indulge Robert’s various appetites. Littlefinger also moonlights as a pimp and has an old crush on Catelyn Stark, and so it’s never clear how much Cat or Ned are supposed to trust him as he offers to help link the assassination attempt on Bran to the Lannister family.

Jon Snow finds himself just out of sorts at the opposite end of Westeros, as he struggles to fit into the Night’s Watch. In Winterfell, he was too common; at the Wall, he’s too much of an aristocrat. He has more training, better manners, better overall breeding than most of the would-be criminals conscripted to serve alongside him, and it’s a problem. Kit Harington did a fine job of showing Jon grapple with the problem, and eventually learning to fit in, and it helped that the transition took place while he was still under the eye of Tyrion Lannister – not only because Peter Dinklage makes everything he touches on this show better, but because these two characters click so well together. And I like the notion that the Wall, for all its downsides (horrible climate, bound to it for life, possibly monsters on the other side), is the one merit-based place in Westeros, where everywhere else in this episode (particularly with Joffrey and Viserys) we see petulant, entitled would-be rulers who feel they’re owed success by the accident of their birth.

And “Lord Snow” was heavy on history, as one character after another paused to tell a tale from long ago. Jaime discusses (with both Ned and then Robert) his killing of the Mad King, and also how that king burned Ned’s father. Old Nan tells Bran a story about the White Walkers we glimpsed at the start of the premiere episode. Robert shares a deglamorized war story from his youth – “They never tell you how they all shit themselves. They don’t put that part in songs.” – and Dany’s guide Jorah Mormont talks a bit about his own fighting lessons, and the father he betrayed as he wound up a fugitive.

I’ve talked before about how heavy on exposition this show is, and “Lord Snow” is particularly big on that. For the most part, though, it works this week, because the stories are being told with such passion, and because there’s still so much I want to know about these people and how they connect to each other.

Keeping in mind, again, that we’re not going to talk about anything from the books that has yet to be revealed on the TV show, what did everybody else think?