Kit Harington as Jon Snow in HBO's Game of Thrones.
This episode was nearly the perfect blend of drama, humor, sass and badassery. The drama is ever-present. Ned has barely made it through the gates in King’s Landing before he’s summoned to the king’s council. “Flatterers and fools,” I think the book calls them? We have some great introductions here: With his few lines, Conleth Hill already really impressed me as Varys, and we’ve all known about Aidan Gillen’s impending spectacularacity since we found out he was going to be our Littlefinger. Renly was also there, played by Gethin Anthony, who I think has gone largely under-appreciated. Many fans (myself included) just didn’t see him as our image of Renly, but despite this, he deserves a chance. He had very little to say in Lord Snow, but I did detect a sense of casual indifference at the council table, and I think this is very fitting of our young lord of Storm’s End. My guess is that HBO made Renly a bit less, er, stereotypical, than he is on the page? Julian Glover rounds out the round table as Grand Maester Pycelle, who at this point is just another old man in robes. He didn’t really get any intrigue this episode, but I’m assuming he’ll get some soon enough.
On the Wall, Jon Snow realizes this isn’t going to be like Winterfell, where he has built-in friends in his brothers. I consider myself a very proud, very devoted JS fangirl. But no one really likes him at Castle Black because, well, he’s that guy- that football player in high school who went to the elementary school where they didn’t just play pee-wee, they played to WIN, that guy that uses his brute strength and tackling ability to pick on the nerdier kids not because he necessarily dislikes like them, but because it’s what’s expected of him. Okay, maybe Jon’s not THAT bad. But the true Jon Snow comes out with a little help from Halfman Tyrion Lannister (lols, Rast/whoever said it, aren’t you tall?!). And soon enough, Jon is helping out the kids he was just bashing around, showing them how to move and block and become a better fighter. After he comes to understand the situation, Jon really demonstrates his abilities as a leader, and as a good, honorable young man. And I love him for it. Next week, I’m sure we’ll see these traits develop even further when he meets Samwell Tarly.
I actually laughed at several moments in this episode, which was a nice break after the terrible events of last week (Lady and Mycah, we will never forget you!). First off, Arya’s knife stabbing breakfast. When she tells Sansa she’s practicing for the Prince?! I LOVE YOU ARYA. Ned’s line to Septa Mordane: “War was easier than daughters.” I’ve never had a daughter, but I have been a daughter, and I’m going to wager to say this is probably true. The exchange between Tyrion and Yoren was brilliantly written- the equivalent of going into a bar and finding the two regulars sitting in the back reminiscing about their crazy, mixed-up lives. Benjen tries to kill the fun, but Tyrion still makes out okay – “Do you think I’m plump?” Syrio added a bit of comic relief as well, mainly due to his Braavosi accent. His phrases like, “this is not a great-sword that be needing two hands” or “the Westeros” had me giggling not only because they sound silly, but more so because that’s actually how non-English speakers sometimes speak English. I lived in Italy for a few months in college, and can imagine an Italian using those types of phrases in English (and for the record, I know I did the same in Italian). Don’t be fooled though, Syrio isn’t just comedic. See below.
Before I get to sass and badassery though, I just want to point out my favorite comedy bit of the episode: BACK ALLEY SALLY. You had to have known it was going to be her. I’m desperately waiting for an opportunity to bring Back Alley Sally into my regular vocabulary. She deserves it.
Cat’s line about Sally may have been funny to me, but within the context of the story, it was indignant and sassy. Cat showed she was repulsed by the fact that Petyr brought her to a brothel. I don’t think the repulsion came from a haughty place- as in she thought herself too good to be there because of her rank- but from a purity. Cat is a mother and loyal wife, an honorable woman; her love comes from a noble place, unlike the whores in whose company she found herself. And the fact that Petyr, a man she considers a little brother, brought her there made it all the worse. Either way, this was a scene in which I found TV Catelyn to be more sassy and grounded than the Catelyn in the novels. While reading, I was essentially ambivalent to the character. But Michelle Fairley has made me love her.
Badasses. There’s no specific formula that makes someone a badass. You just either are or you are not. Syrio Forel most definitely is. He’s already a tidal wave with a sword, and we’ve only seen him training with a 10-year-old girl. That’s another aspect of Syrio that makes him totally badass: He’s the Mr. Miyagi mentor type, full of power that is unseen but that we all just know is there, teaching a kid that could really benefit from the discipline his teachings instill. Teacher of the Year, Badass of the Week, Best Westeros Robert Downey Jr. Lookalike…there are so many awards I want to give Syrio. Miltos Yerolemou might not be the exact Syrio we know from the novels, but he’s perfect as his own Syrio.
Let’s move now from the former First Sword to the Sealord of Braavos to the sworn sword of the King of Westeros. Oh yes, Barristan the Bold finally showed up, and it was marvelous. Ian McElhinney barely had any lines, but he didn’t really need them yet. His presence, stature and demeanor alone were enough to show he’s someone not to be messed with.
And we can’t forget Rakharo. He was strangling Viserys with his whip and all the while just sat on his horse chillin’. How’s that for casual?
The first episode felt like exposition, and the second episode felt like transition. Lord Snow felt like the writers were finally able to have a little fun with the characters. The pacing felt much better during the first half hour. It slowed down perhaps a bit too much around Robert’s Reminiscence (he won the Rebellion, but did he win this?), despite brilliant performances and the debut of Barristan Selmy, but peaked again in Arya’s training scene. This hour was packed with great character moments, and you can sense the plot gears winding up for the big release. I can’t wait.