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Friday, May 20, 2011

A Game of Thrones: Episode Three ("Lord Snow")

"Lord Snow" is not a relief episode.  "Winter is Coming" and "The Kingsroad" were episodes devoted to producing tension, introducing all the major conflicts that would drive the series and tossing in a number of cliffhangers and "holy crap" moments to keep the audience glued to the screen.  Instead, "Lord Snow" is an episode that draws that tension out, like pouring lemon juice into a wound.  Now, things must move at a more measured pace.  We may know the answers to what is going on, but the Starks are only speculating -- they must find their way to the truth and navigate the slimy world of kings and queens, lords, and court politics.  At the Wall, Jon Snow must come to terms with his disillusionment about the Wall and the Night's Watch.  And across the Narrow Sea,
Daenerys has begun to discover herself, testing her authority.
For the most part, "Lord Snow" is an effective episode.  The title obvious comes from Jon Snow's name, even though the episode is barely devoted to him (he seems to get the most screen time this time around, but a great deal of attention is also paid to Daenerys, Eddard Stark and his children (go Arya!), and to Catelyn Stark).  Since pacing has been one of the few aspects I have focused on when reviewing each episode, I think it's important to note that "Lord Snow" doesn't add much to the plot, but does move seamlessly between the various characters to give a sense that there is a progression.  That progression is focused on the characters rather than on the plot.  We see characters grow and become new people, setting the stage for what will come in future episodes (if you've read the book, then you know a lot of what happens in episode three is foreshadowing).  Some of these changes are expected, and some are ones I had been hoping for (Viserys, for example).
There are also a number of additions to the cast:  Lord Baelish (Aiden Gillen), Varys (Conleth Hill), Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony), Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale), and others.  I've been pleased with the cast so far in the series, although I remain iffy about Aiden Gillen and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lanniser).  It's not that they aren't good actors; rather, I feel like their accents are off somehow.  It might be a good thing that I am hesitant about them, though, as both of their characters are meant to illicit negative feelings.  And, of course, there is Miltos Yerolemou (Syrio Forel), who is absolutely perfect for his role -- his accent is spot on, his attitude is just as I pictured him, and he's amusing on screen.  We'll see more of these characters as the series progresses and hopefully my feelings about them will continue to improve.

One of the things I've been incredibly pleased about with this series is the cast of child actors.  "Lord Snow" lets them shine, giving them the opportunity to do more than run around being child-like (climbing, running, laughing, and so on).  Child actors are difficult to pick.  More often than not, the wrong actors are chosen for the role.  HBO has avoided that dilemma.  Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) is brilliant, though a little rough around the edges at times -- her final scene with Syrio is wonderful, though.  Isaac Hempstead-Wright (Bran Stark) doesn't have much face time, but still delivers his lines with enough emotion to make you wonder what is going on inside his character's head (not good things, I assure you).  Even Jack Gleeson (Prince Joffrey) fulfills his role as a stuck-up prince with ease. The more I see of these actors, the more I feel that they are the right choices and look forward to seeing them on the screen.

I only have one complaint about "Lord Snow," which is that it has too many scenes that I feel distract the viewer from the story and the characters who matter.  Towards the middle of the episode, King Baratheon spends several minutes telling war stories with Ser Barristan Selmy and Jaime Lannister.  While I understand that the filmmakers are trying to add depth to Baratheon's character, the scene seemed like it was thrown in the middle to fill time rather than to contribute anything to the overarching narrative.  We know Baratheon is rude, impulsive, and a drunk (a.k.a. a total asshole).  That much has already been established.  This scene only reinforces that point, hinting that maybe there is something more to be seen -- a something which never materializes.  

A similar scene involves the Queen and Jaime Lannister discussing the events in the previous episode, which only reminds us again that they are involved and that they have a "close" relationship.  While I understand why this scene exists, it draws too much attention away from the Starks, who are central, and the problems they are attempting to resolve.  The more time we are given with these characters, the more answers are given to us, and the fewer surprises we are offered when the Starks figure out what is going on.  A Game of Thrones is partly a medieval mystery, full of backstabbing, lies, secrets, and half-truths.  Giving away those truths to the audience by providing scenes where characters admit guilt draws tension away from the mystery Eddard and Catelyn Stark are so adamant to uncover.

That said, "Lord Snow" is a decent episode.  It is well constructed and the scenery and sets continue to be wonderful.  The Wall is the largest addition, and it is as dark and dank and rundown as I expected it to be.  The folks behind HBO have really chosen some great locations for A Game of Thrones.  Hopefully this will continue to be true as new places are added to the story.

I should also note before closing out that one of my favorite scenes this episode is the closing scene -- Arya and Syrio clashing wooden swords together as she receives her first lesson.  I loved this scene in the book and love it on screen.  There's something about the sword fights that draws me in, I guess.  Even the scene where Jon Snow pounds on his fellow recruits (and the scene that follows later on, which shows Snow as a "better person) is fantastic.  Such scenes are choreographed well and feel real.  And that's the most important thing, right?  Realism.  A Game of Thrones is all about it...

Directing: 4/5
Cast: 5/5
Writing: 3/5
Visuals: 4.5/5
Adaptation: 3/5

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