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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 three 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 7: “You Win or You Die”
Much like every other art form or industry, film (and, of course, its sibling, television) goes through an endless cycle of fads; in terms of cinematography, snap-zooms and Dutch angles mark the work of the ‘70s and the ‘90s, respectively, permanently stamping their period in cinematic history. For the ‘00s, the visual gimmick that will forever date its productions will be the push-in.
Take Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002), for instance. George Lucas starts off nearly every single scene with the camera slowly moving in on one character or another, with the movement reset after each cut (making for an unintentionally hilarious game when jumping from chapter to chapter on the DVD). Why cobble together a picture in such a cookie-cutter fashion? (Although other directors, it should be noted, such as the tepid Peter Jackson, are far more egregious offenders in identical or closely related ways.) Beyond tapping into the filmmaking zeitgeist of the times, it is an easy – not to mention a superficial and relatively mindless – way of keeping the camera moving, which, of course, means keeping the audience with its literal five-second attention span titillated; cinematographic stillness is, apparently, always to be shunned, as M. Night Shyamalan’s critical drubbings have taught us.
Yet Game of Thrones, in short seven episodes, has brought the practice to a whole new level. Take the second scene of this week’s installment, where Lord Eddard Stark confronts Queen Cersei Baratheon about the parentage of her three children. Written in screenplay terms, the scene starts with a PUSH IN on the two-shot of them. CUT TO a CLOSE-UP of Ned, where we PUSH IN. REVERSE ANGLE to Cersei, PUSHING IN on her. CUT TO a MEDIUM SHOT. PUSH IN.
To say that it is tedious to write would be an understatement, but it’s nowhere near as tedious as to actually watch it on the small screen. Ironically enough, however, Daniel Minahan, “You Win or You Die’s” director, is nowhere near as heinous as Brian Kirk, the director behind half of the hitherto aired episodes (particularly “Lord Snow” [episode 103], an installment that out-PUSHes Lucas’s prequels). At this rate, despite Thrones’s many strengths as a series and accomplishments as an adaptation, it will become more dated than the disco (sub) genre.
And Ned Stark is not a man who is meant to strut about King’s Landing to the sound of the Bee Gees.
The Differences Between the Novel and the Episode
The grand introduction of Lord Tywin Lannister, a man who has been made much of up until this point, represents a break with the book that is significant mostly in its subtlety.
On the page, Lord Tywin is a figure of glacial composition; never smiling, with the flick of his gold-specked eyes typically his most flamboyant of movements, his pacing to a window is considered a melodramatic display of emotion. He is cold and calculating, austere and authoritative. It is somewhat of a surprise, then, that his skinning a deer, a process full of physicality and motion, is the manner of his introduction to the television audience. Although meant as a metaphor for the ruthless efficiency of his character – and intended to provide some highly visual blocking to such a dialogue-heavy scene – it is a far cry from the immovable gravity of his literary persona.
(There is a nice corollary to the showrunners’ alteration, however, which makes Lord Tywin a dim reflection of Eddard Stark – like the Warden of the North, the head of House Lannister is not afraid to get his hands dirty, literally as well as figuratively. It is a nice extension of Tyrion’s echoing of Jon Snow, the intelligent-yet-shunned outcast of the proud and noble family.)
His debut in the series, substantially sooner than in the novel, is also surprising. It is, of course, a move meant to develop his relationship with Jaime, which, in turn, is meant to further explore the Kingslayer’s character, yet it is indicative of the showrunners’ desire to portray the Lannisters with some amount of sympathy, even if somewhat at the expense of their depiction and utilization in the books. Cersei’s story of the loss of her firstborn son – the only one truly a Baratheon – in “The Kingsroad” (102) is a good example, as it is fundamentally at odds with her literary counterpart’s utter revulsion of Robert; indeed, in the novel, Cersei never let the drunkard ever have intercourse with her, let alone give birth to one of his children. (Of course, so much of the scene in which Ned confronts the queen is different from the book – it is day instead of night, in a courtyard as opposed to the godswood, and with a humanized Cersei as opposed to a defiant, calculating, and utterly unapologetic one – that it is hard to keep the tally running in one’s head.)
And there is, finally, one last element of the four-minute-long scene that must raise an eyebrow: why, oh why, would so much money be invested in such a detailed prop as the skinned animal when so many other sequences – such as, say, King Robert’s royal hunt (“A Golden Crown,” 106) – have been unduly pared down? Believability and consistency are far more vital elements than interesting set dressing.
It is known.
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. He has also written extensively about George R.R. Martin’s books for other sites.]
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