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Review: Game of Thrones, Episode 4

Posted by msunyata on Monday, May 16, 2011

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 six 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 4: "Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things"

 

Across the previous three episodes, the audience doesn’t get to see much of Theon Greyjoy, the "ward" of Lord Eddard Stark (made so after his father’s ill-fated rebellion against King Robert Baratheon nearly a decade earlier); aside from the occasional line of dialogue, he is essentially a glorified extra, present in scenes but rarely, if ever, integral to them.  Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss leave his backstory – and, even, his name – out of the spotlight until this week’s installment, and, even here, Theon only warrants the briefest of scenes (though one created almost exclusively for his benefit).

It is, simply put, a deft move.  On the one hand, it makes for responsible and superbly crafted television storytelling; the subtle introduction and gradual exploration of character, particularly those trotted out from the background to land squarely in the narrative foreground, draws the viewer in while simultaneously layering plot or thematic complexity, and it is the hallmark of such small-screen heavyweights as The Sopranos or the Battlestar Galactica franchise.

On the other hand, it is representative of the very best in translation efforts.  There are no clumsily inserted lines of exposition shoehorned into already-packed scenes, no ham-handed voiceover narrations, no pathetically desperate introductory sequences.  There is, instead, the simple and implacable faith in the audience’s intelligence – or, at the very least, its ability to be intelligent.  One cannot get any farther from the most egregious of the outright broken adaptations, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it is a refreshing, not to mention creativity-reaffirming, sight to behold.

 

The Differences Between the Novel and the Episode

There is a little story in “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things” that constitutes a big change.

In the episode, Lord Petyr Baelish discloses to Sansa Stark the extremely secret – and extremely unsettling – tale of how Sandor Clegane’s mountainous brother, Gregor, held his face to an open flame, horribly disfiguring him (though, it must be pointed out, the on-screen realization of the disfigurement is nowhere near as grotesque as the print depiction [think Aaron Eckhart’s Two-Face versus Tommy Lee Jones’s]).  He ends the anecdote with a dire warning not to repeat it to anyone else, lest Prince Joffrey’s sworn shield tear her apart (begging the question of why Littlefinger would even regale her with it in the first place).

In the novel, however, it is Sandor himself, the so-called Hound, who is the storyteller, moved to divulge his dirty little secret due to a playful combination of alcohol and violence; the Mountain That Rides, he claims, is such a skilled knight that there is no possible way his impaling his tourney opponent through the throat was accidental.  This is Sansa’s first exposure to knights, the heroes in all the songs and stories that she grew up with and within, behaving in anything other than a chivalrous manner, and she outright dismisses the Hound’s accounts.  It is an important moment for both characters; by Sandor opening up to another, even under duress, and by Sansa having her eyes forced open to how real men behave in reality, the first fumbling acknowledgements of the outside world are made for the two of them – as is the awkward beginning of a tenuous, bizarre relationship that carries on throughout the next few books.

Of course, the young Lady Stark has another long-lasting, equally peculiar (and dysfunctional) relationship with Littlefinger, and this just may explain the showrunners’ decision to swap him with Clegane:  his inclusion not only sets up the multi-season arc with Sansa in a suitably prominent way, it also helps to flesh out his character, something which the writers have had precious little opportunity to do over the course of the past two episodes, all while still maintaining the original intent of the scene itself.  Whether its integrity remains is yet to be seen, however – along with the character of the Hound, who, at this point in the series, is a taxidermal trophy rather than a ferocious pet.

Previous "It Is Known" Installments:
Episode 1: "Winter Is Coming"
Episode 2: "The Kingsroad"
Episode 3: "Lord Snow"

 

[Marc N. Kleinhenz is a freelance writer and videographer who will be reviewing HBO’s Game of Thrones for us. He has also written extensively about George R.R. Martin’s books for other sites.]

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