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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Episode 1 Recap: Winter is Becoming!

Wow! Its finally here! After too long of a wait A Game of Thrones is officially underway and it looks great! I mean totally beautiful. If episode one is any indication, this series looks a whole lot prettier than the reported budget should allow for.  Not only is it pretty, but when it comes to evocation of location, they nailed it 100 percent of the time. This is Westeros!
Prologue - Opening shot of Waymar, Gared and Will. We get a shot of the ill-fated trio through the gate at Castle Black. Then in what appears to be an immediate homage to GRRM, we have to wait long seconds that seem to take hours while the portcullis is raised up to let the story get going. The ice tunnel looks positively frigid! Gared looks determined, Royce cocky and nonplussed, but Will kind looks like he's wondering if he left a hotplate on back in his dorm room. The panoramic shot of the Wall is exactly the way I pictured it. Perfect! Great ambient sound as Will ranges along. The wolf howling in the distance is right out the books. I feel cold. I'm starting to get scared.
I'm not sure where D&D were headed with the ritualistic layout of the wildling camp, but it was creepy as hell! Especially the kid on the tree. He/she looked a little uh..proppy, but maybe the doll-like appearance can be attributed to frozen skin? No idea where the dead body parts went, or for that matter where D&D were going with the differences here. In the books, the dead wildlings are more or less whole. There is no way the remaining bits and pieces we see at camp are going to get up and walk away by themselves. The change becomes even more puzzling when the trio head back and everything is missing. Why chop bodies up and lay them out only to clean them back up?
Anyway, I dig the appearance of the Others (White Walkers). The blue eyes perfectly reflect their unnatural coldness, so cold that the burn. Their voices are spot on as well! When they catch up to Gared and lop his head off, I can see at least four of them in one shot. Interesting change letting Will go. In the books he escapes. Actually in the books its Will who dies and Gared who escapes. The switch doesn't bother me at all, but I'd love to know why it was deemed necessary to make the change.
Credits - This was one of the few areas that I had no clue what to expect. I'm happy to say that they totally delivered! The credits feature a view of Westeros  and Essos that seems to be part map part game board. As the camera pans to various important areas, we get mechanical representations of major landmarks in each area but out of all kinds of gears, bells and whistles. In King's Landing we obviously get the Red Keep, but I'm pretty certain we can pick out Baelor's Sept and I think the gear with the Baratheon stag on it might be the Dragonpit. Winterfell shows all the appropriate towers as well as the Godswood complete with heart tree. The Wall is impressive. I did notice the Eeryie and the Inn at the Crossroads on the pan over to Pentos. Apparantly these areas will pop up as well in future episodes. I get that the sideways view in Pentos is supposed to have the viewer looking out over the Narrow Sea, but the angle is really disorienting. All in all an innovative and exciting opening that will change as time goes on!
The music was appropriate, but nothing unexpected or overly impressive. Its dramatic enough, but I don't think it is as strong as other HBO classic themes for shows like True Blood, The Sopranos, Rome or even the Wire and Boardwalk Empire.
Winterfell - After the credits, we see Will being apprehended by the Stark patrol. This brings me to a major plot hole. How did Will get over the Wall? I know a lot of you are okay with the book explanation that Night's Watch members "have their ways", but I'd sure like that one explained. He has no climbing gear, and by the way he's muttering to himself when he's caught, I hardly think he had the wherewithal to make it up a 700 foot wall of ice. It's a nitpick yes, but I would have like it explained better.
The introduction to the Stark family is a new scene, but I have to say, it's just a brilliant one that  establishes the family in a very creative way. Fantastic character introductions with minimal dialogue. I think we get a general sense of family ties here without specifically defining who is who and how they relate. Maisie Williams' Arya steals the scene without uttering a word, and Issac Hempstead is equally charming as Bran. The casting for the Stark clan from Eddard through the kids and even household members like Ser Rodrick and Theon  just couldn't be better. I was worried about Michelle Fairley's casting but to my surprise, she brings Catelyn to life as well as if not better than any of the other actors. What's more, she is actually had me rooting for Cat much more than I did early in the book. We also ge the first "winter is coming" here and I love how its placed into the dialogue.
Execution - The execution scene is remarkably faithful to the books and set out in the Irish (Winterfell) countryside. I love the juxtaposition of the gorgeous, rolling hills as the site for the gruesome beheading. The biggest omission in this scene is that they cut out Theon kicking the severed head. I actually prefer the scene better this way. Yes, we have to wait until later to develop Theon's character, but the kick just doesn't seem to mesh with the respect Eddard shows in handling the execution as well as the grave way he explain how the Starks handle executions themselves to Bran. I don't see him condoning such frivolity. My biggest problem with this scene, as well as the novel version is that we never learn how Will(Gared) makes it back over the Wall. Many fans just gloss over this hole saying "The Nights Watch has its ways" or that the Wall doesn't keep one man, but is supposed to guard against armies, but I don't buy it. Will has no equipment to get himself over the Wall and the haggard state in which the Stark guard finds him certainly leaves questions in my mind as to how  he could make it over even if he had the gear. It just feels to me like something a new viewer might ask after the very catchy credit scene has just shown us the Wall stretching out across the island. I'm sure there are many plausible answers as to how he gets past the Wall. I just wish the means he used were explained better. Other than that, I loved this scene.
Bring on the dire wolves - So this scene starts out better than the book imo. The symbolism we get with the dead dire wolf in the book is creepy, but its heightened even more by actually showing an extreme close-up of a disemboweled stag. In the novel, we are show that the stag's antler has killed the mamma wolf, but we never actually see the dead deer. It foreshadows future events even better than the book does. As the party explores and closes in on their quarry, we get a positively enchanting shot of the countryside. Kudos to the scout that found this site. It is only one of the many strong, but powerful locations that I'm sure made the case for shooting to take place largely in Northern Ireland.
I liked the look of the mamma wolf, but it reminds me of the tribulations the design team is going to have in future seasons when the Northern Inuits won't work any longer (unless CGI is added somehow). The rest of the scene plays very similar to the novels and is great to watch until the very end. The last where Theon says that Jon's pup (Ghost) is the runt of the litter, was a poor change in dialogue. I am reading the book along with the show. It's probably my 6th or 7th reread. the "This one is mine" line gets me every single time. I still teared up the night before when I read it. Much like the Will/Gared switch, I don't understand the need for the change here. It's an even worse change than the mostly interchangeable Night's Watchmen because not only is it inaccurate (Lady was the runt in the novels), I think the original line was such a powerful ending to that chapter. The change finished the scene with a somewhat hollow one-line thud. Still though, all in all, another great scene!
Kings Landing - Even though I've already seen it a bajillion times in the previews, the panoramic establishing shot of King's Landing looks fantastic.  The Red Keep looks different than its described in the novel, but it actually matches my mental image of it better. The tall storybook towers are a subtle reminder that we are in a fantasy world here. The other landmarks like Baelor's the Dragonpit and even Flea Bottom are all there if you look close enough.
Inside the throne room we get an sense of immense wealth and power at the seat of Westeros. Jon Arryn is laid in state. The canopic jars took me by surprise. Didn't think te Seven swun tha way for their death ceremonies. The incense burning seems to fit better. Even though this isa new scene, putting Jon here and not at Baelor's where we see another former Hand in AFFC is most likely forced by budget. Still, I dig the imagery of the Iron Throne looking down on its first servant's lifeless body.  Jon gave his life supporting the throne (or the king's bottom), and the actual seems to be in part mocking him ad in part showing its respect. I really think that the throne is going to be almost as good of an inanimate actor as the one ring .
So the Silent Sisters come in and start performing the death rites. I immediately get a sense of déjà vu.  I've seen this before, but where? Then it hits me. The Skeksis from The Dark Crystal! I half expected a gelfling (the one on the right) to jump through the stained glass window and make off with Jon's liver.  Speaking of Jon, looking at him with the stones on his eyes reminds me of another blast from the 80s past. Namely Exidor from Mork and Mindy! It’s a long clip but funny! To get the reference skip ahead to the 4:40 mark. Funny how an image so random can bring back a similar image from over twenty years earlier!
Anyway, back to the recap. Jaime and Cersei have a nice introduction scene. You can tell how they rely on each other which will be important later since they both have so many enemies. You get the sense they are…close.
Winterfell, Godswood - Back to first a great exterior shot, then a bustling interior establishing shot of Winterfell.  It may be hard for n00bz to tell who is whom in the dramatis personae of the show, but Gemma Jackson and crew have certainly made it easy to know where we are at any given time.
We see out first use of ravens as post. Westerosi ravens make for much more sinister mailmen than Hedwig.
Out of all the imagery from episode one, the shot that stands out the most as right out of the books is the one of Eddard cleaning Ice at the heart tree.  It simply could not be more perfect. In fact, I think it might be D&D paying homage to this famous piece of ASoIaF art. Oops! I meant this one! I also love how you can see the upper limbs of the heart tree from various shots all around Winterfell. great touch!
In the scene, we get a great example of the powerful acting we can expect from this series between Michelle Fairley and Sean Bean. Fairley is especially good as she delivers the news of Jon's death with wifely compassion. I sensed that Cat was truly sorry for Ned's loss. She also delivers the "You can always say no Ned." line with a quavering voice that exudes trepidation at the thought of Ned taking the Hand job….uh the position of Hand.
I don't know if it was intentional, but I love how a leaf fell in front of Ned as he sits there. It gives a sense of realism to a man made tree.
Winterfell, Great Hall - Here we get a quick scene showing the prep for the upcoming arrival of the king's party. We get a bit of exposition regarding Tyrion's proclivity for reading and drinking here, but I like the conversation.
Wintefell, Kitchen - More exposition regarding Joffrey, but I like the comeraderie between Robb, Jon and Theon. It’s the first time we get a sense that Theon is more than just a household guard. Incidentally, it seems that Winterfell's kitchen also doubles for its barbershop. I just hope that Tom Colicchio didn't take this fact too much to heart when creating the menu for the GoT food trucks and get is head shaved while making the blackfish stew!
Winterfell, Rooftops - While his brothers are getting shaved, Bran is busy upon the roof of Winterfell engaging in a heavy dose of foreshadowing. While watching this scene with my wife who has never read the books, I had the following exchange. She says, "Let me guess. He's going to fall off the tower later on." With the straightest face possible I answered," Huh? Fall? No he doesn't fall." In truth I didn't lie. He gets pushed! Blatant foreshadowing aside, this scene is marvelously shot and makes you love ran even more.
As he climbs down, we see a soon-to-be Summer waiting for him. The pup is looking a little bigger, but still way too small to appear threatening. Cat spys her son climbing down and accosts him in a mix of motherly emotions from stern consternation, to pleading worry, to chiding humor. Have I mentioned before how great I think Michelle Fairley is as Cat?
Winterfell, Courtyard - The king's party finally arrives. As the procession moves through the gates, we get a glimpse of crazy Maisie Williams doing her Arya thang! While I give top acting honors to Fairley, Williams come close to her with minimal lines. What's more, she is absolutely the most perfectly cast role in the show. I have a 9 year old tomboy and as I watch Arya on her secret spy mission I can't help but think it's exactly the kind of thing my daughter would do. As we watch the royal escot ride by, we get our first look at the Hound. I have to be honest, his helmet seems more comical than scary to me as he bounces past on his steed. The later scene with Tyrion is much more typical Sandor. For now, I think he might be better suited working here than as Joff's bodyguard.
The party rides up to the Starks and we get a piercing mind hump between Sansa and Joff. Then Robb looks at Joff with a completely different piercing gaze. Nice stuff. Robert rides up and does his thing. He comes off very well as the amiable former friend to Ned who now happens to be king. Cersei is appropriately snarky. I know they moved the whorehouse scene from King's Landing to Winterfell, and it’s a little hard for me to imagine a brothel inside of the Stark's home, but to hear Arya's "Where's the Imp" line made it worth it to me. For a second I almost thought we might see this guy come out of the wheelhouse. How perfectly like Arya to be more interested in the oddness of Tyrion as opposed to the beauty of Jaime?
Winterfell, Crypts - Compltely igonoring the queen's pleas for rest, Robert commands Ned to take him into the crypts to pay his respect to Lyanna his dead one true love and Ned's sister. After some believable brotherly banter, Robert gets to the crux of his trip and not only asks Ned to be Hand, but surprises him by proposing a Joffrey/Sana match, thus combining their two houses. A flaberghasted Ned follows Robert deeper into the crypt.
Winterfell, brothel - Odd change of scenery from the somber crypts to a lecherous whoreouse. Out first scene with Tyrion (and a stunning Esme Bianco), makes for some of the comical debauchery that could only be done right in an HBO show. This scene is priceless and losing it in if the series were shot on a regular channel would take some of the life out of the series. I still find it strange that they put a brothel in Winterfell, but the great fun had during the scene ad also with Arya's comments before it, make it easy to overlook the change.
Winterfell, crypts - Back to the crypts.  Superb acting by Mark Addy here. He makes you really feel for Robert. I was slightly disappointed to lose any inkling of "Promise me Ned" here, but Robert placing the bird feather in Lyanna's hand was an interesting alternative. I thought that first that perhaps this was a foreshadowing to future flashbacks showing Robert and Lyanna in love, but watching the episode on HBOGo, with the special feature on, we learn from David Benioff that the feather  is a momento of the past that Robert has brought with him from King's Landing.
Quick aside. If you have the ability to watch episodes on HBOGo, try to do so, The extra features package was a fantastic supplement to the show. Great for helping new viewers to keep track of who is who and also fun to help old timers spot a lot of the minutia we surely seek out when watching.
The scene ends with some talk of the Targaryens and a great segue.
Pentos, Illyrio's Manse - Its pretty incredible to me that I looked down at the episode timer and its not until just after the first half hour that we get our first Dany scene. Man this episode is going fast!
Emilia does a decent job playing young, innocent Dany here. I am a little disappointed in Harry Lloyd's Viserys though. In fairness, it seems to me more of a directing choice to play him less cruel and more subtle, and Harry does that well. I have just always viewed Viserys as one part mean, one part jaded and one part looney. It seems the meaness and the looney take a big back seat to the jaded here.
We move outside to meet Khal Drogo. Even though the good Khal is a bit of a one-note wonder, Jason Mamoa hits that note right on the head. The presentation of Daenarys is injected with all kinds of Dothraki badassery! Haku Mashente anyone?
The scene immediately following is one of my least favorite. Again, Harry Lloyd is just so jaded. Instead of all the caressing Dany, I would have loved to see him lose his composure for a second here and painfully grab Dany while uttering the line about the khalasar. Then if he clamed back down and gaveher the kiss he would come off even more unbalanced. As it is, the scene feels pretty flat.
Winterfell, Sansa's room - Speaking of bad scenes. I really hate even admitting this, but this scene is the weakest of the episode. I really like Sophie Turner and I hope she's better in later episodes, but  Gods this came off whiney. I don't want it now daddy! Make it stop daddy! The only redeeming quality of the scene is again, Michelle Fairley's acting. She plays the exasperated mom to a tee here.
Winterfell, Great Hall - The revelry for the feast is underway. Cersei looks on with appropriate disgust as Robert fondles the help. Cat sits next to her in uncomfortable silence.
Winterfell, Courtyard - I have mixed feelings about this scene. In many ways, I feel it's one of the strongest of the series. I don't mind changing the start of the scene to outside. Benjen comes riding in looking even Starkier than Ned. You immediately get a sense of closeness between Jon and Benjen. There is a nice smooth transition between Jon's talks with Benjen and Tyrion. With each "bastard" I chuckled harder until by the last one I was covering my mouth. The last line about all dwarves being bastards in their fathers eyes, was straight out of the book, and no less powerful. Great scene!
I did miss the imagery from the book at the very end where it talks about Tyrion in shadow standing as tall as a king. I suppose it's one of those things that gets lost in translation between mediums, but I still missed it.
Something else I missed in this scene is less forgivable though. I'm talking about Ghost. The standoff between Ghost and the bitch was so powerfully endearing in the book. I hated the fact it got cut. You could have even had it in the courtyard with Jon bringing some scraps out. The lack of Ghost here illustrates one of the few overall concerns I have with the series thus far. Some spoilersish comments follow so beware. I'm worried that we aren't going to get much of a chance to view the connection between the Stark kids and their pets before events begin to drive them all apart. Most likely next episode will see Nymeria being driven off and an even worse fate for Lady. We've never even seen the girls with the dogs. Jon will have lots of time to develop a relationship with Ghost, but I really felt an opportunity was missed here. Aside from a few scenes with Bran and Summer, we don't see another pup for the whole episode.
Winterfell, Great Hall - Back to the Feast. Nice dialogue here. Ned and Benjen. Cat, Sansa (Sophie is much better here), and Cersei. Ned and Jaime. We finally get to see Ned utter the "cheesiest line of the leaked pilot script" and to Bean's credit, it doesn't come off cheesy at all. The feast ends for the viewers with Arya getting into more delightful trouble and Robb carting her off to bed. In this scene Robb lookis strikingly familiar to another famous first son!
Winterfell, Lord's Bedroom - Superb, superb scene. Bean is great as Eddard, but again, its Michelle Fairley who is the workhorse of the scene and it's her best! Love, humor, fear, paranoia, pleading, futility all in one scene! What a great job!
Much ado has been made about how the Cat of the show is against Eddard going to King's Landing while the Cat from the novel is for it. I am in resounding favor of the  switch. To me it makes Catelyn infinitely more likeable and human. I've never been a Cat hater like a lot of the online ASoIaF  blog posters out there, but neither was she one of my favorite characters. Michelle Fairley is making me come around.
Aside from Luwin's droning, this is probably the strongest scene of the episode for me.
Pentos, Dany's wedding - The snake guy kind of looks like GRRM giving us a cameo, but I think it's just a similar looking dude. We get a pretty good sense of the brutality of Dothraki culture though the dancing and fighting seems just a tad staged. Maybe they needed to drop a dancer into the Rancor pit to spice things up a little!
Harry Lloyd finally comes out of his shell a little and adds to the mix. We get a little more of the crazy Viserys and less of the Jaded one with his desire to piss on Dothraki omens and chuckling at disemboweled party goers.
The dragons eggs look good. I thought at first glance that the green one Dany picks up (Rheagal's) seems to get darker as she holds it. Upon further viewings I think this is just my imagination running wild. The rest of the wedding goes off pretty similar to the books. It ends with Viserys calmly warning a petrified Dany to "Make him happy".
Pentos, Beach at sunset - This scene starts almost identically to the book, but finishes very differently. There is a brutal realness that Clarke and Mamoa bring to consumation of their marriage. Its really scary and sad all rolled up into one. I don't know how I feel about the change just yet. In the book Dany ends up accepting a much more caring Drogo and we see the very first seeds of the dragon awakening. Here, it's basically a rape. I'm very interested to see how they bring this relationship along.
Winterfell, Courtyard - Pre-hunt, we get a bawdy moment between Tyrion and the Hound, who seem to like each other more than they do in the books, a brotherly thank you from Robert to Ned and a tender, understanding nod between Ned and Bran. Bran starts his ill-fated climb. Maybe it’s the angle, but Summer-to-be seems smaller than before. There's really nothing to complain about in this scene. It's almost identical to the novel. I'll end here with my new favorite quote, courtesy of a new fan. "They killed him! They fucking killed him! Dude!"
So that's it! I hope those of you who managed to get all the way to the end enjoyed it! Next week I'll try to get the recap posted sooner. I've got relatives with pitchforks forcing me to hunt for strange candy-filled plastic eggs this week.

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