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Here follows a collection of thoughts and commentary on the adaptation of the HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones. Susan Arendt has got you covered if you wanted a straight-up recap of the events of the second episode, “The Kingsroad.” You can check out all our Game of Thrones coverage here.

Much more than the pilot, the second episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones series convinced me that this grand experiment might actually be working. Converting a dense story like George R. R. Martin’s fantasy epic, A Song of Ice and Fire, into hour-long chunks of TV is a tough task and I thought the first episode did as well as it could to introduce the audience to the myriad cast of characters. The second episode, aptly titled “The Kingsroad” — nearly all its action takes place traveling from one place to another — is still introducing characters, but it builds on the foundation of the pilot to keep even those not familiar with the books entranced. My wife and mother-in-law, who have never read the books, were just as excited as I was to find out what happened next to poor BRAN, fragile DAENERYS, and those damn LANNISTERS.

TYRION LANNISTER is my favorite character from the books, and we get to see a fair measure of his depth in this episode. Seeing the queen CERSEI, JAIME, and Tyrion interact for the first time at the breakfast table was endlessly entertaining, but his response to the Bastard JON SNOW asking him why he reads gets to the core of Tyrion’s character. Yes, he whores around and drinks, but he also knows that knowledge is the only weapon he has. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can provide about Peter Dinklage’s performance is that when Tyrion is on screen, I can’t watch anything else. He carries himself in every scene with a thespian’s grace, tempered with a very honest delivery.

The dwarf is also the only one to appropriately scold his nephew JOFFREY for his insolence. I absolutely loved seeing Tyrion smack the much taller boy across the face (Thrice!), and I think that scene not only shows the audience the comparative nobility of Tyrion, but also Joffrey’s petulance. The way the boy treats his Hound, the unnamed SANDOR CLEGANE finally seen without his dog-shaped helmet, is terrible, but the scarred man just takes the abuse, which is somehow creepier.

Speaking of creepy, I liked the subtle introduction of SER ILYN PAYNE. He’s mostly a silent figure in the books (heh) but he becomes very important by the end of this season. To deftly call attention to Payne, as well seeing a bit of the Hound’s infatuation with SANSA STARK as the royal party stopped at the Inn, was subtly done. In many ways, I feel that the show’s creators, Benihoff and Weiss, are weaving threads of story and character in much the same way that Martin did. The TV audience doesn’t know how important Payne or Clegane will become in the story, just as Martin’s readers didn’t until the focus started to shift in A Clash of Kings, but providing the small details now will allow them to expand the Hound’s part of the story when the time comes.

It may seem like a non-issue to some. You might ask “Don’t all shows do that?” The thing is, a lot of TV scripts are badly written, with people just talking at each other with no real plot, or the opposite problem with so much plot involving characters that you care nothing about. It can be hard to realize that achieving the perfect dramatic balance is extremely difficult, especially with so many plots, sub-plots and characters. Game of Thrones packs so much character information into seemingly casual observations but it never feels like an info dump because each conversation advances the plot. Nothing Jaime Lannister or NED STARK or any character says is wasted; every line – no every freaking expression – means something about their character and their intentions. The show, like the book, is densely packed with background information, and I’m glad the show’s creators made sure that it is just as tightly plotted so that the exposition comes out so easily.

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That doesn’t mean all the information is being absorbed. One detail that I think my wife missed was that SER JORAH MORMONT, now traveling with Daenerys Targaryen through the Dothraki Sea, says he was banished from the land by the same Eddard Stark now on his way to be the Hand of the King. The connection is a tiny one, but sometimes subtlety can be lost amongst so many other details. I dread the moment when my wife asks me who Mormont is again, or what he’s doing with these horse people anyway, and I start listing his family history and what happens to his House.

My wife didn’t need to be told that KHAL DROGO is an insensitive lover. The camera might have lingered a little too long on him taking his new wife from behind, and the obvious displeasure she feels at such mistreatment is uncomfortable to watch. But we are soon introduced to the handmaidens of Daenerys, one of whom teaches her the ways of sex. Witnessing the young girl confront her monstrous husband by wishing to look on his face during coitus, and Drogo’s apparent excitement at such a prospect, didn’t really make up for his previous transgressions. My mother-in-law scoffed at the couple now happily screwing face-to-face, “What, are they going to love each other now?”

This is one part of the adaptation that still doesn’t really feel accurate to me. It is important that Daenerys become emboldened by her relationship with Drogo – she grows into a more independent woman based in part on being a good wife … in bed – but I just don’t think the motivations match up with how I interpreted the book. Daenerys asks her handmaiden to teach her so that she can pleasure her husband better, not so that he stops raping her. I hope the writers are playing up Daenerys’ vulnerability so that her coming-of-age story is more adequately realized, otherwise she may just come off as weak.

The greatest characters to emerge in this episode were the direwolves. We saw where they came from, suckling from their dead mother, but their true power is shown for the first time in “The Kingsroad.” Again, I commend the writers for showing the special intelligence and loyalty of these creatures without explicitly stating it for the audience. Nymeria obeys ARYA‘s commands when she’s packing, as does Lady when Sansa tells her to stay. And Summer (even though he’s not named in the show) viciously defends Bran by ripping out the throat of the boy’s would-be assassin. The contrast of gore of the killer’s blood oozing out with the obvious warmth the direwolf feels for his young master was masterfully accomplished. After that scene, my wife blurted out, “This show is just well-made.” I couldn’t agree more.

After watching the final scene where Eddard Stark must take Lady’s life at the order of his friend and King, I considered the symbolism of the wolves for the Stark family. The sigil of House Stark is the direwolf, which is partly why Ned kept the beasts, but he and his girls are leaving the North to go to the dangerously unfamiliar intrigues of the capital city. The Starks will be out of their element. Sansa and Arya sought to bring their wolves with them, but at the conclusion of “The Kingsroad” both are gone – Lady executed and Nymeria chased away. The Starks cannot take the North with them to King’s Landing and the wolves can no longer provide protection like Summer did for Bran.

From the first glimpse of THE WALL to the great closing moment of Bran opening his eyes, the action of this episode more firmly established the setting of WESTEROS in the minds of a new audience. My wife remarked that the second hour was a lot easier to follow than the first, which proved to me that the details presented did a better job than I expected building upon that which was already shown. I resisted quizzing my wife and her mother on what they thought about the KING and Ned Stark, or who they think Jon Snow’s mother is, or who sent the killer after Bran, because I didn’t trust myself not to give anything away. My hope is that discovering the truth of these threads will be just as enjoyable for them while watching the show as it was for me when I first read the A Game of Thrones.

Greg Tito can’t stand even looking at Joffrey’s face – it must be the terrible haircut.

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