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State of Play
The choir goes off. The board is laid out thusly:
Direwolves of King’s Landing: Eddard Stark, Catelyn Stark, Sansa Stark, Arya Stark
Stags of King’s Landing: Robert Baratheon. Joffrey Baratheon
Lions of King’s Landing: Jaime Lannister, Cersei Lannister
Dragons of the Dothraki Sea: Daenerys Targaryen, Viserys Targaryen
Bears of the Dothraki Sea: Jorah Mormont
Mockingbirds of King’s Landing: Peter Baelish
Direwolves of the Wall: Jon Snow
Direwolves of Winterfell: Bran Stark, Robb Stark
And the Lion of the Wall, Tyrion Lannister.
The episode is in fourteen parts. The first runs fourteen minutes and is in three sections; it is set in King’s Landing. The first section is nine minutes long; the first shot is the Stark bannermen riding through the gates. The second is three minutes long; the transition is by hard cut, from Varys saying they serve at Lord Stark’s pleasure to Cersei treating Joffrey’s wounds. The last is five minutes long; the transition is by dialogue, from Cersei and Joffrey talking about the Starks to the Starks.
The second part runs three minutes and is set in Winterfell; the transition is by family, from Ned and Arya to Bran. The cliffhanger is resolved sixteen minutes in, when Bran appears for the first time.
The third runs three minutes and is set in King’s Landing; the transition is by family, from Robb and Bran to Catelyn.
The fourth runs one minute and is set on the Wall; the transition is by dialogue, from Littlefinger talking about Tyrion to Tyrion.
The fifth runs two minutes and is set in King’s Landing; the transition is by dialogue, from Jeor Mormont talking about the Starks to Ned.
The sixth runs two minutes and is set on the Wall; the transition is by family, Ned Stark to Jon Snow.
The seventh runs eight minutes and in four sections; it is set in King’s Landing. The first section is one minute long; the transition is by dialogue and by family, from Tyrion informing Jon Snow that Bran has woken up to Ned and Catelyn in Littlefinger’s brothel. The second is one minute long; the transition is by dialogue, from Littlefinger and the Starks talking about the assassin’s attempt on Bran’s life to Jaime and Cersei talking about theirs. The third is two minutes long; the transition is by dialogue, from Jaime saying he’ll kill Ned Stark if need be to Ned Stark. The last is five minutes long; the transition is by dialogue, from Ned talking about Robert to Robert. At the episode’s halfway point, Ned and Catelyn are saying goodbye for the last time in their lives.
The eighth part runs three minutes and is set in the Dothraki Sea; the transition is by dialogue, with Jaime talking about killing Aerys Targaryen to Daenerys Targaryen.
The ninth run eight minutes and is in two sections; it is set on the Wall. The first section is three minutes long; the transition is by family, from Daenerys Targaryen to Jon Snow. The other is four minutes long; the transition is by hard cut, from Benjen Stark walking away from Jon Snow to Tyrion and Yoren drinking. One minute into it, Benjen Stark arrives.
The tenth part runs three minutes and is in two sections; it is set in the Dothraki Sea. The first section is one minute long; the transition is by hard cut, from Tyrion drinking to Daenerys having her hair braided. The other is two minutes long; the transition is by hard cut, from Daenerys reacting to the news of her pregnancy to Jorah admiring a Dothraki sword.
The eleventh part is two minutes long, and is set on the Wall; the transition is by dialogue and family, with Jorah talking about Daenerys and his father to Jon Snow and, shortly thereafter, Jeor Mormont and Aemon Targaryen.
The twelfth runs one minute and is set in the Dothraki Sea; the transition is by family, from Aemon Targaryen to Daenerys.
The thirteenth runs one minute long and is set on the Wall; the transition is by family, from Daenerys Targaryen to Jon Snow.
The fourteenth runs three minutes long and is set in King’s Landing; the transition is by family, from Jon Snow to Arya Stark. The final shot is Ned flinching as he imagines Arya being pierced by a sword and gasping “Mornington Crescent” as she dies.
It is not a neat and tidy game, and certainly not a short one; indeed, its length is infamous. Central to both of these facts is the way in which the overwhelming preponderance of moves have the result of expanding the board. The fractal dualism of Ice and Fire is one strategy for navigating this, but another is simply travel, and it is worth focusing on the locations upon the board. After the first episode the convention of captions identifying the locations is abandoned, but it must be pointed out that the first cut to Daenerys is the last time that there has been a cut to a scene featuring no characters the audience has seen before. Which is to say, from the start the audience has been invited to look at the show in terms of geography, as something taking place on a board.
Indeed, the show has been active in teaching the audience about the geography of the world by carefully regulating the rate at which new concepts are introduced. The second episode features one change to the locations in the opening credits, as Daenerys, Viserys, and Jorah decamp from Pentos towards Vaes Dothrak. Now the series gives proper introductions to King’s Landing and the Wall, having gestured at their existence since the opening shot of “Winter is Coming.” Indeed, this is the major purpose of “Lord Snow,” which spends thirty minutes over five parts in King’s Landing and ten over five on the Wall, well over half the episode by both metrics.
It does this with a methodical structure. The first seven sections (and roughly the first half of the episode) alternate between King’s Landing and the Wall, save for an initial transition to Winterfell in the second scene, the only time that location is used this episode, while the back half alternates between the Wall and Vaes Dothrak before returning to King’s Landing for the last scene so as to give the episode symmetry, allowing each of the two new locations space within the structure to establish themselves.
In reality each are slightly more reluctant. King’s Landing has much to introduce - Syrio, Barristan, Varys, Littlefinger, Renly, and Pycelle all make their first appearances here, with various degrees of detail. This time it is Littlefinger who get the most attention, which is sensible, given that it’s Littlefinger whose machinations will most immediately affect the progression of play. Indeed, he’s the only one to be credited as a series regular, although Varys will eventually become one. But nevertheless, the initial focus is on the basic fact that King’s Landing is a snakepit than on the considerable depth of that pit, a point emphasized by the decision to close the episode not with Arya and Syrio, but with Ned reacting to Arya and Syrio, thus in effect returning to the point of the initial scene: that the Starks have arrived in a dangerous place. (This has the side effect of softening a major moment for Arya by making her first contact with Braavos into a scene that ends with Ned, who is not even present in the equivalent book scene.)
This is not the only set of terms King’s Landing is introduced in, however, as the show adds several sequences not set around the Starks that are outside what the books could have depicted. Many exist to reiterate basic characterization for characters, such as to establish Joffrey’s repulsive nature or to remind viewers of Cersei and Jaime’s incest. One, however, stands out - a scene in which Robert, Barristan, and Jaime reminisce about their first kills, which allows for an extensive meditation on significant portions of Westerosi history that the books were able to cover via internal monologue, but also serves as a portrait of three subtly different ways in which people relate to their own status as weapons, a theme that is further developed in Arya’s plot.
Also interesting is the fact of Catelyn’s presence in King’s Landing, which serves to introduce the location, in effect, through an additional familiar character who is put there for one episode only. The same thing occurs at the Wall with Tyrion’s presence. In the book these two facts are straightforward: they allow both locations to be introduced through an additional viewpoint character. Indeed, in the books Catelyn is the first viewpoint character to have a chapter set in King’s Landing. Their purposes in being briefly located in these parts of the board are admittedly different - for Catelyn the effect is to give her and Ned another episode of development as a couple before they are permanently parted, whereas for Tyrion the excursion to the Wall serves the long game, as it will ultimately make him, significantly, the first character to traverse the board from ice to fire.
In this regard, his role is to establish two things about the Wall. First, he is there to comment on its sorry state in a way that Jon cannot. Even though he is, as the audience knows, wrong to scoff at the White Walkers, he also lets the show establish what a reasonable person thinks of the Wall, which is a distinct viewpoint from what Jon, with his frustrated anger at being abandoned to the Wall. Second, he is there to teach Jon an important lesson - a role that is played up in the series by having him be the one to tell Jon to check his privilege instead of Donal Noye. The straightforwardness of Jon’s heroic arc requires wise mentors early on, and the contrivance to have Tyrion be one of them gives Jon a needed tether to the rest of the board.
Tyrion’s presence, in the books, also allows for characterization of the Wall’s leadership, which would not have fit in around Jon Snow when he’s still a new recruit. It still serves much the same purpose here, as, while the show is perfectly willing to insert scenes that do not feature any characters who were viewpoint characters in the novels, a scene with no regulars remains outside of its own narrative rules, which means that characters like Commander Mormont, Benjen Stark, and Yorren would not be possible to flesh out to any degree.
And so, at last, the board is essentially set. There are no more basic principles or fundamental laws to introduce. And it is, at last, time for the first major move.
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