“It is a million times easier to be cynical and wield a sword, than it is to be open-hearted and stand there…with the infinite potential to look foolish.”
Woooo! It’s Game of Thrones day again, as Ned Stark arrives in King’s Landing to do politics in the third episode of the first season. Though there are brief interludes at the Wall, with Jon Snow in training for the Night’s Watch, and in Winterfell, where Brand is waking up, the main focus of the episode is on the clash between the Starks’ honest Northern honour and the complex political games of the Southerners. Ned may be Hand of the King, and therefore technically in control of the King’s council, but they’re talking different languages: Ned (perhaps the only really “good” character in the series) assumes that the council is there to do what is right, whereas the council assumes that it is there to keep the kingdom stable and safe – whatever it takes. It’s a really interesting exploration of that culture-clash, and one which keeps us on our toes: as I’ve said before, I think SFF television series in particular (and, more generally, most television drama series) tend to allow us to watch binarily: this guy is “good”, this one “bad”. We should back this character, but not that one. Game of Thrones doesn’t (with the possible exception of Ned, who nevertheless makes some questionable decisions too). It draws us into the trap – “hey, Tyrion looks like a good guy” – and then springs it – “oh. He’s just as ruthless as everyone else”. I love these kinds of stories.
There’s also a little sub-plot going on here, across the Narrow Sea, about another kind of culture clash, in which we see Daenerys really coming into her own as Khaleesi of the Dothraki, and annoying her sleazy, ambitious brother Viserys quite a lot in the process. She can command the tribe, while he has no power whatever! Hurrah! (I really hate Viserys. You know when you get a character who’s not really evil enough to be called a villain, but is just weak and nasty and unprincipled in a scurrilous, low kind of way? And then they get stomped on, and it’s fantastic? That’s Viserys in this episode.) I think Daenerys may be my favourite character; her character arc, moving from weedy, delicate princess under her brother’s complete control to ruler in her own right, is both fascinating and satisfying.
Oh, and then there’s the hilariously camp, not-at-all-stereotypical swordmaster who’s assigned to teach Arya swordfighting:
All men are made of water. If you cut them, the water leaks out and they die.
Just by way of light relief, you understand.
One of the things I find most interesting about this series is the fact that it ought to be insanely complicated and hard to follow. There are so many families, so many factions, intent on beating each other up, and so many different motives and plots and plans, that it should be as turgid as Dickens on a bad day and as impenetrable as T.S. Eliot’s Waste Land. But – it isn’t. The pacing and the weighting of the storylines are such that we’re never allowed to forget any one subplot at any time, and each subplot intrudes into the next, so that all the myriad interlockings are quite clear. And (I keep saying this, but it bears repeating) the characters are all so clearly distinguished that it’s actually impossible to confuse them.
Another good episode, then, involving and fast-paced and clever. I actually think it’s my favourite so far. Onwards into Westeros!