Game of Thrones Revisited: 1.03 Lord Snow
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And in 2019, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros and the rest of the world, continuing with the third episode of season one, which introduces a whole host of new key players to the series...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
Now this is where things get really interesting; all the political intrigue, schemes and power plays that are synonymous with the show really start here. In the opening moments, the audience is introduced to the iconic Iron Throne and Ned is swept into a meeting with the High Council and we are introduced to key players, the spider Varys, the schemer Lord Peter Baelish, cocksure brother to the king Renly Baratheon and the wise, manipulative Grand Master Pycelle. It is apparent just how out of his depth Ned is; he might come with the best intentions, willing to forgo costly tournaments in his name but he is completely unfamiliar with who really has the power in King's Landing.
Secure back in her own home, Queen Cersei guides Joffrey's worst intentions; "everyone who is not us are our enemies" she tells him in smoothing motherly tones and that means the Starks. Catelyn meanwhile is quickly swept up into the machinations of Varys and Baelish as her arrival in the capital finds her brought in stealth to one of Baelish's brothels where she learns in secret that the assassin's dagger, once Baelish's, now belongs to Tyrion. All these machiavellian secret conversations and threats are a delight to watch after the rather straightforward nature of the first two episodes - at least by Game of Thrones's standards.
Already the Starks are being divided, their good nature falling prey to enemies that threaten to pick them off one by one. Ned and Catelyn's reunion is incredibly bittersweet; viewing in retrospect, you know this is the last moment they will share and Sean Bean and Michelle Fairley exude warmth and love in this sad departure. I also liked Ned's quieter moment with Arya as he learns about Needle and offers sage advice to a daughter who is much more than just a simple lady in training. This leads to the wonderful introduction to her exuberant mentor Syrio Forel (Miltos Yerolemou), which really launches her journey from girl to warrior. Ned's face though tells a different story; as he watches, the realisation that he may have awoke something in her is all too clear, particularly as it may be necessary.
The one thing I have always loved about Game of Thrones is that there are few clear-cut good guys and bad guys. Robert Baratheon is supposedly the heroic king but in his scenes with Barristan Selmy, Lancel and Jamie Lannister we see just how cruel and bitter he has become. His treatment of Jamie, who is otherwise an arrogant, smarmy figure, cuts deep and you almost understand his motivations to overthrow him.
Things are simpler perhaps, but far more brutal up north as Jon Snow first experiences the resentment to his life as new recruits, all former criminals, battle against him. It's almost amusing that someone treated as an outcast among his people for his bastard status is now looked down upon for his lofty upbringing. Tyrion makes a great ally too, the one good Lannister, or certainly the one the audience likes the most. There is also a precursor to the much loved friendship with Bronn, as he finds camaraderie in Nightwatch recruiter Yoren.
We also get our first look at the Wall in the jaw-dropping moment Jon takes the lift up to the top and looks out into the wilderness. The frozen ice and raging blizzards add grandeur to the show, a stark contrast (pun intended) to the safer, warmer climates of the rest of the show. There is also another bittersweet farewell as Benjen sets off as First Ranger to explore the mysterious happenings beyond the wall, knowing that he is another Stark to soon meet a grim fate.
Across the narrow sea, Vaes Dothrak makes it into the title sequence as Daenerys' journey takes her close to the home of the Dothraki people. After deciding to change the nature of her relationship with brutal husband Khal Drogo last episode, we see her embrace her role as Khaleesi as she orders the slaves to stop being mistreated. This awakes the 'dragon' in vile Viserys and his lack of power is quickly exposed as he finds himself beaten down by the Dothraki for attacking her. It's a hugely satisfying moment for this despicable character and the first real suggestion that the dragon is inside Daenerys and not her brother.
I also appreciated the gravitas Iain Glen brings to the role as Jorah Mormont, not just in his loyal servitude to Daenerys but his ability to banter in Dothraki with Rakharo. The seeds of his eventual betrayal are also sown here in his rush to leave the moment he learns of her pregnancy.
Lord Snow is a huge episode; even three episodes in, it establishes a number of big key players, broadens the scope of the show from the Wall all the way to King's Landing and Vaes Dothrak. The talks of the approaching winter and the end of long, peaceful summer is also hugely prophetic, setting the scene for the conflict we only really begin to experience in the seventh season.