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Episode 003, “Lord Snow,” kicks off with a fury of new information and scenery, a slew of characters and the beginnings of serious tension between the houses of Stark and Lannister. If you want a straight recap of the show, be sure to read Susan’s write-up. This commentary treats the show from the viewpoint of a fan of the novels, so there are some slight spoilers for those who may not have finished the books.

I know it’s been mentioned before, but I really do want to take a moment to praise the opening title sequence again. When reading the novels, I would constantly flip to the front of the books to figure out where the chapter was taking place on the map of Westeros and beyond the Narrow Sea. So I imagine reinforcing the world, sense of space, setting placements and directions is invaluable to new viewers.

The episode opens with our first good look at the exterior of King’s Landing outside the walls of Red Keep. It always intrigues me to see someone else’s visual representation of something I had only seen in my imagination. My King’s Landing was a far less colorful, vibrant and clean place, I remember the stench being detailed on a few occasions in the books, but playing up the almost alien environment that Lord Stark and his daughters have come to might have been what the show’s creators were going for. While in King’s Landing, we also get to see the GOLD CLOAKS for the first time. They serve as the city’s police force/city watch/defenders. As the series progressed they play an even more pivotal role and it becomes especially important who’s really giving the orders.

Ned Stark leaves the rest of his host to settle in while he is called off to a meeting of the SMALL COUNCIL, but not before running into Jaime Lannister in the throne room. Here we are given some more explanation of what happened to “The Mad King” Aerys II Targaryen. Jaime believes that he was doing everyone a favor by killing him as he was planning to have the Alchemists put the whole city to flame to keep it out of Robert Baratheon’s hands. For Ned though it’s still a horrible dishonor for Jaime to have assassinated the man he sworn to protect, this is how Jaime earned his nickname of Kingslayer.

Moving on from the throne room (though I thought I recalled the meetings always taking place in front of the Iron Throne), we are introduced to the members of the Small Council. The two major important details of the scene are that the King is not in attendance, opting to let other essentially rule while he entertains himself. As Jaime put it “the king shits and the Hand cleans it up.” We also learn that the kingdom is 6 million gold in debt, 3 million of which is owed to the Lannisters. See the Lannisters hold control of Lannisport, an important port in Westeros and known for its goldwork. So they are propping up the kingdom with their wealth, but now that Cersei is queen, it’s among the family’s best interest to keep it afloat.

The next few scenes serve as looks into the inner workings and dealings of the parents of house Stark and Lannister with their children. Cersei cautions Joffrey on his “if I was King” plans to conquer the North and sows some words of wisdom for her son by warning him, “everyone who isn’t us is an enemy”. She seems to care little for the King and still considers herself and her children to be Lannister, which has more truth to it because of her unsettling relationship with her brother. Likewise, Ned Stark is having a similar conversation with Arya after she and Sansa butt heads. The Stark motto, “Winter is Coming,” applies to much more than a change of seasons. He instills to her that they must look out for their own. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that these two houses are going to clash eventually.

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At Castle Black, ALLISER THORNE is drilling the new recruits, though drilling consists of pitting all of them against “Lord Snow”. We see Lord Commander JEOR MORMONT “The Old Bear”, father of Jeroh the exiled knight with the Dorthaki. James Cosmo, who you might remember from Highlander or Braveheart, really stood out for me as a great fit for the role, playing the grizzled, past-his-prime commander of the Night’s Watch. (Now, where is the raven cawing for corn? The bird and the Old Bear were practically inseparable in the books, with it more than happy to butt into his conversations with continued requests for food, rather like a feathery cat.) After a sound thrashing from the trained Jon Snow, several of the boy recruits attempt to assault him but Tyrion threatens them into standing down, and Jon Snow relates that he has come to realize that the Night’s Watch is not quite the noble elite order he believed it to be, it now being made up more of rapists, brigands and thieves than stalwart heroes defending the realm. He is especially bitter that no one, other than the mocking Jaime, made this plainly clear to him.

Cersi meanwhile is understandably a little distraught with Jaime now that word has reached them that Bran is awake and likely to live long enough to let folks know who tried to kill him. Jaime tries to console her that it’s simply the word of a child against theirs and he’d go to war with everyone until it was just her and him left, further turning up the temperature for this pot to over boil into a bloody mess. Again the editors choose to juxtapose the two houses, because we cut to Ned and Catelyn saying their goodbyes. They need more evidence than the dagger to present to the King and the only other lead had his neck ripped out by a dire wolf. Ned sends her away under secrecy because it is too dangerous, not even allowing her to see her daughters.

Speaking of the King, Robert meanwhile is sharing war stories of first kills with BARRISTAN SELMY, sometimes called Barristan the Bold, the commander of the Kingsguard, an elite order of knights sworn to protect the King. Robert belittles Jaime for now having to serve as his glorified door guard. We see that Jaime has some measure of respect for Barristan, but the King presses the issue and demands to know what The Mad Kings last words were. Jaime reveals the previous king had just been repeating “burn them all” over and over, alluding to his plans to set the whole city ablaze. During this scene, we are also introduced to another Lannister in the King’s inner circle, his squire LANCEL, who will soon become a very pivotal character.

We finally cut away to check in on the Dothraki. I’m still a little disappointed that the Dothraki horde is more a narrow column than a khalasar horde 40,000 warriors strong, but I am hoping this is simply the show’s creators conserving their budget for some more pivotal scenes down the line. Daenerys calls for a stop and commands them to wait until she’s finished exploring, which angers her brother greatly as he does not think it’s her place to command him. Before he can strike him though, a whip lashes out and ensnares him around the neck. I’m fairly certain this is supposed to be one of Drogo’s BLOODRIDERS and will serve a continued and greater service to Daenerys as the series progresses.

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Though she commands her brother to be freed unharmed, he is still told to walk instead of ride. I wish they could have slipped the detailing of what it meant to be in a khalasar but not to ride in the previous explanation dump of Dothraki culture; it misses that glorious bit of extra venom to the sting. Another odd omission was that Deanerys was the one in the novel who gave the order for him to walk, knowing full well the implications of it. This was a great turning point for her when she finally began to see her brother for what he was and started to stand up for herself.

Leaving the lush fields across the Narrow Sea, we find ourselves at its antithesis. Jon rides the slow and creaking elevator to top of the 400-foot (down from 700 feet in the books) tall “Wall” of ice. (According to sources, on set Martin commented that “I made the Wall too tall! It’s just too tall!”) Arriving at the top, here was another instance where my internal interpretation of the novel diverged from the series. The Wall was said to be wide enough for several riders to ride abreast and I had imagined it more akin to a castle battlements against the edge. What we were shown however was interesting though. I actually kind of enjoyed the bleak and dreary visuals of the top of the wall, with its stark walls. I don’t think it was an accident that the creators created something that was very evocative of World War I trenches. This would also serve to increase their blocking and limit how much green screening they would have to employ. We find out that Benjen ( the first ranger) is going to be leaving to range north of the Wall and that Jon is to stay behind, effectively losing his only point of familiarity at Castle Black. Below, Tyrion is laughing, joking and drinking his way through a little more explanation of the Night’s Watch’s recruiting habits with their recruiter YOREN, who has a minor although somewhat important part in events to come.

Jumping back to the Dothraki, Daenerys is learning their language while one of her hand maidens puts enough details together to realize that she is with child. Here is another area where I think the series might falter a little. While they have done an excellent job of presenting the map and space in the opening, the sense of time is being left by the wayside a bit. You need to be quick to pick up on the detail that Daenerys has missed her moon bleeding (menstruation) for two months now. In another fantasy adaptation, Lord of the Rings was able to largely compress what was actually a very long journey. So I hope the Game of Throne writers will be able to as cleverly dodge the issue or can just as eloquently provide the series with its literary counter-parts timeline. Jorah and the Bloodrider from earlier are discussing the finer points of Dothraki and Westeros’s respective battle tactics. Though Jorah is quick to depart upon learning that Daenerys is with child, I remember this being played far more subtlety in the book, but maybe it’s just because A Storm of Swords is still relatively fresh in my mind. We also see what I think will be another point of contention with the series: the sudden love and smiles between Daenarys and Drogo. I think there has to be some footage on the cutting room floor showing Drogo’s more gentle nature especially when compared to Viserys’s cruelty. It’s a really shame because I think there are other less important scenes that could have been cut for this important piece of character interaction.

Episode 004 looks promising from the teaser and I am really looking forward to the Tournament of the Hand. Who hasn’t been clamoring to see The Mountain that Rides or Thoros of Myr and his sword set aflame? Despite knowing many of the twists and where the plot it going to lead, I can’t help but continue to be captivated every week.

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