Online: 4 Guests: 24
Weighing in at just over 800 pages, A Game of Thrones is full of plots and sub-plots, primary and secondary (and tertiary and ancillary) characters, major and minor leitmotifs, and foreshadowing of foreshadowing – to say it is a dense narrative is an understatement in the extreme, particularly considering its status as only the inaugural chapter of a much larger tale. This column (It Is Known: An Analysis of Thrones) will act as a companion piece to both series, novel and television, analyzing each installment’s character beats and plot points as well as scrutinizing the transition from page to script. What it will not do is spoil the story; the hope and intent is elucidation, not ruination.
With eight further episodes this season, and a second year already greenlighted (and the much-anticipated and oft-delayed fifth book, A Dance with Dragons, due to release immediately following the season finale), such illumination will be needed.
It is known.
Episode 2: “The Kingsroad”
The scene of Bran Stark being thrown out a window, assumedly to his death, by Ser Jaime Lannister is an obvious episode-ending scene (the only surprise here being its placement, as the ending to the pilot; showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have opted, apparently, to waste no time with their small-screen adaptation). The forced execution of Sansa’s direwolf, Lady, is a less apparent choice, but, in retrospect, it is as equally inspired, and not simply for its (admittedly less pronounced) cliffhanger elements – its disquieting, emotionally unnerving quality puts it on very much the same par as most installments of The Sopranos, which is, of course, no small praise.
It also puts into stark (no pun intended) relief the efforts of Benioff and Weiss to highlight as much as humanly possible author George R.R. Martin’s penchant for morally ambiguous or outright depressing story twists and turns. Indeed, by condensing or otherwise compacting the amount of narrative material between Eddard Stark’s beheading of the Night’s Watch deserter and dispatching of Lady, the two executive producers have done much to distill the first 160 pages of the book to their very essence: death. From the show’s opening of the Others slaughtering and reanimating the living to the cold-blooded murder of Mycah, the butcher’s boy, and even all the drops of backstory regarding Robert’s Rebellion against the last of the Targaryen kings that have been squeezed out in-between, the audience has had its share of bloodletting – particularly of the innocent. And this is only episode two of a proposed ten-season series.
All of which is not to say that “The Kingsroad” featured only strong components, however. Two of the installment’s most critical scenes – the direwolf Nymeria’s attack on Prince Joffrey and the subsequent stand-off between Houses Stark and Lannister, with King Robert stuck in the middle – come off substantially less dramatic or powerful than do their literary counterparts. The Joffrey sequence in particular is a rather ham-handed affair, suffering from lackluster cinematography to, even worse, atrocious blocking (Mycah’s sudden shout of “I’m going to get you,” prompting Arya to suddenly dart all of three feet away and abruptly turn back around, just in time for Joff and Sansa to come awkwardly around the corner, bears a striking resemble to a high school play). For all of the production’s efforts in realizing the novels with formidable acting talent, a detailed wardrobe, and a sophisticated score, such sequences are mystifying, if not downright shameful.
The Differences Between the Novel and the Episode
Queen Cersei Baratheon gets to shine in this episode. From ordering the twin executions of the poor butcher’s boy and the even-more-innocent direwolf to her involvement (at least once) in the attempted murder of Bran, she is drawn as black-and-white evil in a pervasively grey world, a Dark Lord of the Sith facing off against the purity of the Starks’ Jedi Knights. And yet she still displays a startling multi-dimensionality when visiting Lady Stark at her comatose son’s bedside andconfessing the death of her first-born child, allowing the icy smoothness of her royal mask to slip just enough to show the emotional vulnerability – and, perhaps, insecurity – beneath.
The entire scene, of course, is an invention by Weiss and Benioff. Cersei never visits the injured Bran, the boy she very much wants to see shuffle off this mortal coil; on the page, the queen, in fact, is never anything short of glacially bitchy, snapping orders at subordinates, treating her malformed brother with disgust, and atrophying her strong-willed husband with classic plays out of the passive-aggressive handbook. Softening her character in both word and deed for the series, however, is an inspired move, as it would be so incredibly easy for an actor’s performance to become over-the-top. And then there’s the remove the screen creates between audience and character; the books may be able to put the reader literally in the mind of Cersei, showing the world – not to mention her own actions – as it is colored by her perspective, but the filmmakers are precluded from such a modulating and explanatory device. Giving ambiguous-but-nonetheless-heartfelt monologues is the only viable option left.
On the other side of the equation, literally and figuratively, is Catelyn Stark, who once again sees a noticeable and noticeably questionable shift in behavior. The scene where Jon Snow comes to say goodbye to the bedridden Brandon results in an emotionally tense confrontation between he and his father’s wife – but nowhere near as potent or as revealing as in the book:
He was at the door when she called out to him. “Jon,” she said. He should have kept going, but she had never called him by his name before. He turned to find her looking at his face, as if she were seeing it for the first time.
“Yes?” he said.
“It should have been you,” she told him. Then she turned back to Bran and began to weep, her whole body shaking with the sobs. Jon had never seen her cry before.
Pulling back the fervor of her hysteria and, beneath it, her disdain for Ned’s bastard can, more likely than not, be attributed to the same limiting factors and adaptive qualifiers imposed upon Cersei. Complicating matters further is Catelyn’s status as, arguably, the most three-dimensional of all Martin’s characters, the one who can express the most vitriol as well as exhibit the most tenderness, the one who is both the most and least objective, the one who is capable of making the best judgments but also of committing the greatest follies. In the circles of literary fandom, there are very few who are non-committal to Lady Stark – she is, quite literally, someone who is either hated or loved, and with an equal amount of ardor.
It’ll be most interesting to see just how divergent, in both ontology and reaction, the visual Cat and the written Cat end up becoming by season’s end.
Previous "It Is Known" Installments:
[Marc N. Kleinhenz is a freelance writer and videographer who will be reviewing HBO’s Game of Thrones for us. His latest literary foray is a short story in the print anthology Eye of the Dagger.]
There are currently no comments