Arrivals, false glory and palace intrigue are the primary concerns of the third instalment of HBO’s Game of Thrones. The episode is entitled “Lord Snow”, though Jon Snow plays a relatively minor role in the episode as a whole, and is not technically a nobleman (more on this later). Following the Stark family’s arduous journey from Winterfell, the episode begins with Ned’s uncomfortable arrival in King’s Landing, where he assumes the title of Hand of the King. We learn quickly that Ned has little time for the trivialities of the tropical capital, and his refusal to change into more appropriate garb for his first meeting with the King’s small council may tell us all we need to know about Ned’s suitability for the position he has just assumed.
On his way to the meeting, Ned has a tense conversation with Jaime Lannister about the death of Ned’s father and brother, and their talk shines more light on Jaime’s role in the murder of the “Mad King”, Aerys Targaryen. Though the show will be criticized by some for its reliance on exposition, we have, so far, found exchanges like the one between Jaime and Ned to be rather riveting. Ned’s implication that Jaime’s act of regicide was actually rather cowardly is very striking, and the public execution of Ned’s kin remains a point of curiosity (we can only hope for a gruesome flashback in a subsequent episode).
If you thought dual conspiracies threatening the king (one from the incestuous Lannister twins, and the other the result of the Targaryen union with the Dothraki horde) were concerning – add to it the fact that the Kingdom is in crippling debt, and the soldiers on the Wall are totally unprepared for the coming winter. The “broken cultural and political system” narrative adds urgency to the real politiking in the capital, and makes it so that Aiden Gillen’s appearance as Littlefinger in the series isn’t the only thing that will remind viewers of The Wire.
Reality is of little consequence, it seems, in King’s Landing – and elsewhere in Westeros for that matter. The gulf between the reality of kings of Westeros, and the glory bestowed upon them, is explored at length in two of the episode’s more curious scenes. This gap is introduced by Cersei’s revealing conversation with Prince Joffrey. She assuages his doubts about his own lack of character by assuring him that a King creates his own heroic reality, regardless of the veracity of that version. In a later conversation between the King, Barristan the Bold and the Kingslayer, the King Robert is flat-out interrogating Jaime about his first kill. Considering what we know about how Lannisters view their own relationship with reality; the King, and the audience, are quite right to be dubious of the heroic account given by Jaime. The King’s wonderful exclamation that the losers of a heroic battle often shit themselves but it “never makes it into the songs,” is a clear and rather humorous illustration of the “reality deficit” rampant in the seven kingdoms.
Which brings us back to Jon Snow – who has arrived and begun his training among the Night’s Watch. It was hinted at by the Imp in episode two – but in this episode we get a proper glimpse at the reality of the situation among the Night’s Watch. They are outcasts and criminals, abandoned men left to rot in the lonely cold of the Wall, “everyone knew what this place was” Jon Snow tells Tyrion, “but nobody told me.” Perhaps this is why the episode bears the noble version of Jon Snow’s name, he is the main victim of this gulf between reality and glory in Westeros.
- The scenes with the Imp and Jon Snow at the Wall; the manner in which the Imp teaches Jon about how to lead his unsavoury compatriots; and the desperate pleas of the Night’s Watch elders to the Imp were well executed. The sense of foreboding and pending doom that pervades the show is most intense at the Wall – especially because the viewer knows for sure , what no characters will openly speculate about: the White Walker’s have indeed returned.
- The acting in this series continues to be strong, and the dialogue flows very well for an exposition heavy show in only its third episode. A comparison of Game of Thrones with the initial start of Boardwalk Empire (a show that took about half a season to get comfortable with itself) is very flattering to the Thrones writing staff. From a pure enjoyment standpoint: the scenes of Arya’s “dance-lessons” with Syrio were great fun, and I rewatched the cryptic monologue from Bram’s care-taker about “the boy who doesn’t like stories” and the “generation long winter” with glee.
- Aiden Gillen, ladies and gentleman. Is there a better actor to portray a rat-fink in all of television? I can’t think of any. When it comes to playing smarmy punchable sycophants, Gillen is, as Tina Turner might say, simply the best.
- The power-shift between Dany and Viserys was awesome for anyone who likes to see pompous, whiny, long-haired blonde dudes get pushed around (i.e. everyone). Dany’s pregnancy is – of course – a game-changer, as the look on Jorah Mormont’s face when he hears the news makes plain. Emilia Clarke has been excellent, and Dany’s character development has been a highlight so far. Her shared kiss with Drogo as she predicts that her spawn will be male, seemed like a genuinely happy moment between the couple – even if it’s clear that Drogo is mostly a means to an end for Dany.