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Sunday, 7 of March of 2021

Game of Thrones – “The Kingsroad” (Noel)

The wolf is of the north. She deserves better than a butcher.”

Now that the hype has settled down a bit (and I admit that I was a victim of hype-backlash, despite my careful avoidance of sustained looks at the show beyond 140 characters), I think we can start working through the episode without the crushing weight of expectations bearing down on us. At least I hope so.

“The Kingsroad” is better than the pilot episode, but still has some problems to work through, though you’ll be happy to know that my problems are less with characters (though those still float about) and the narrative world than it is with just really horrible uses of elliptical editing that make the episode an unnecessary puzzle to piece together.

But the most important lesson I took from the episode? Don’t mess with the Stark children. Their direwolves will mess you up.

One of the challenges of big shows like Game of Thrones is helping the viewer make sense of the world that’s being watched, and “The Kingsroad” is a less than stellar example of this. While I was able to roughly keep up with everyone character-wise, I had trouble pinning down where everyone was, particularly Ned, his daughters, and the royal family. It’s bad editing that plagues the episode more than anything else.

We see Arya getting packed to leave, but we don’t see her or Sansa actually leave with Ned along the kingsroad (though we see Ned leaving as he talks to Jon), leading to a minor bit of confusion as that whole plot between Arya, Sansa and Joffrey plays out. Indeed, with the resolution, I genuinely thought we had somehow doubled back to Winterfell, despite having some brief establishing shots of whatever town the entourage set up camp in. Pile this on top of the fact that Arya had made fast friends with the butcher’s soon off-screen, I think a reasonable narrative gap filler response is to assume that she already some rapport with him (based on her sneaking around in the previous episode), and we were back in Winterfell.

These are frustrating little errors that come from lazy editing, and really don’t belong in a show with this kind of an obvious budget and production time. I’m more willing to swallow the month-long jump in the narrative (though I feel like it minimizes a number of beats in regards to Bran’s fall, but more on that in a minute) for the sake of compacting a very long narrative into 10 episodes (10?! Not even 13?!), but an episode in and of itself needs to avoid these types of narrative palpitations.

Technical issues aside, the episode is better overall than the previous one. The month-long jump left me frustrated a bit as Catelyn goes from proud and competent queen to devastated mother without so much as some basic establishing beats at the start of the episode. Before we were notified that it had been a month, I felt like scenes were missing, making me wonder what had happened in post-production (and perhaps priming me of the confusion above). But, as I said, I get that the show has to do this.

On the upside, it leads to the terrific scene of Catelyn fight off the Lannister-hired assassin, which is wonderfully intense and does provide Catelyn with the agency I was missing in the previous episode since it spurs her on to investigate the site of Bran’s fall, and then to do do something about it. So huzzah for small favors!

Likewise, the plot involving Sansa, Arya, and Joffrey plays well, even if Joffrey is pretty painfully placed into the role of the (narratively needed?) pampered psycho prince. It’s a tired character type, and the episode does little to turn Joffrey into anything else, and really only reinforces it as Robert publicly calls his son’s manhood into question. No doubt Cersei will nurture the brat to be a fine pawn in her larger game with Jaime.

But what worked best were the scenes between Jon and Tyrion. A large part of this is just that Peter Dinklage is clearly enjoying himself far more than anyone else (save for Mark Addy, who is relishing Robert), but he does have the benefit of having the one role that can push the boundaries of the formula due to Tyrion’s liminal status in the world. It’s why he can get away with expo speak about Jon’s place in Winterfell (or lack thereof) or what the Wall is, and because the delivery is on point, and because Tyrion has no hopes of ascending beyond his current stature (literally and royally), he can get away with actions that no one else can.

Daenerys’s bits in the episode are sadly lacking. Ham-fisted foreshadowing (or what I must assume is foreshadowing) by putting far too much focus on those dragon eggs overplays them. Foreshadowing should be subtle, especially when you’re loading Chekov’s gun(s). Instead of being surprised when the damn things hatch dragons (or are used in some other mystical way), I’m just going to yawn since the show has already told me that they’re VERY IMPORTANT.

Not entirely thrilled with positioning Daenery as having to use sex to claim any agency (she’s picked up on some of the Dothraki language, so clearly she’s clever) or that she has no choice but to learn from a former prostitute, but I’m willing to be patient, and let her arc play out, though easily this is the least interesting of the plots in the show right now.

So as we move to comments, I make a small request: limit your references to the books or to hint at future developments. For all intents and purposes, think of any references to the books as spoilers. (You don’t want to spoil me, do you?) Instead, let’s work through issues presented in the episode and how they work in relation to the previous one. If you’d like to talk issues of adaptation and the show’s relation to the book, head over to Karen’s thoughts on the episode, and she can talk to you about some of it (she’s nearly done with the first book). Do we have a pact?

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • Eagerly awaiting the follow spin-offs of Game of Thrones: Bastard & Dwarf (produced by Chuck Lorre, of course) and CSI: Winterfell.
  • re: the assassination attempt on Bran: No guards in the castle? Really? With Ned gone/in the process of leaving?
  • “You let that little girl disarm you?”
  • How beautiful were Tyrion’s slaps of Joffrey? (“Ah! Time for breakfast!”) I want a .gif of them, please. The slaps likewise no doubt come back to poor Joffrey’s fragile little mind as Ayra totally kicks his butt (still frustrated that Ayra is punished for being better than her male elders).
  • Oh, Penny Arcade. Just in time for my review.

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