A Brief Treatise on the Rules of Thrones 1.03: Lord Snow


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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. 


TheOncomingHurricane 4 years, 1 month ago

At the episode’s halfway point, Ned and Catelyn are saying goodbye for the last time in their lives.

Did we really have to go there? Also, I finally have to ask - what is Mornington Crescent a reference to?

Other than that, some interesting musings on Arya I hadn't really thought about before.

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evilsoup 4 years, 1 month ago

There's a BBC Radio 4 comedy programme called I'm Sorry, I Haven't A Clue (sometimes shortened to 'Clue') which bills itself as 'the antidote to panel games'. Rounds include things like 'One Song To The Tune Of Another'.

One of the recurring items in the show is the game of Mornington Crescent. It's a game where seemingly anything can happen at any time, with the unconvincing pretense that it has some manner of rules behind it.

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David Anderson 4 years, 1 month ago

Although the first definitive codification of the rules of Mornington Crescent is attributed to the Lambert edition of '63, which remained in print until 1989, and was only superseded by the Rose edition of 2005, the game goes back far longer: the first undisputed reference to the game in something resembling its present form is in one of the discarded plates from Blake's Book of Thel: 'And Moorealan growing gigantic journeyed through Nottingham and Slough, Beulah, Jezreel, Watford, Hampstead, Golgonoozah, and came to rest in Islington and Mornington Crescent; but then spake Morrison you cannot do that for we are using the 1752 DC edition and Golgonoozah is in Nidd.'

(The wikipedia article on Mornington Crescent includes some widespread misapprehensions and should not be considered reliable.)

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JJ Gauthier 4 years, 1 month ago

In America, we play it as a full contact sport known as "Calvinball." American Mornington Crescent is hardcore.

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Daru 4 years, 1 month ago

On of the things I am really enjoying Phil about these blog posts is the idea of consistently using the game board as a setting to follow what is happening in the narrative. I like it, especially as I've had experience with table top and RPG gaming.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 4 years, 1 month ago

We did have to go there, I think. One thing that has jumped out at me in breaking down the episode structures for the post intros is that they frequently put very big moments at the halfway points of episodes. This one is particularly big, and I think part of its size comes from the larger tragic context.

As for Mornington Crescent, I can't really top the explanations given above. It is a statement of allegiance and intent on my part.

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Aylwin 4 years, 1 month ago

"We are the Lords of Small Matters here."

Or, translated: Kill This Man. Kill Him Now. I Said NOW.

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Aylwin 4 years, 1 month ago

a scene in which Robert, Barristan, and Jaime reminisce about their first kills, which...serves as a portrait of three subtly different ways in which people relate to their own status as weapons

And of course yet another example of the recurring analogy between sex and violence, but here purely as a game between writers and audience, without the characters being in on the "joke". I suppose the way it's done is connected to this being an original scene, as jumping in on a conversation in a way that invites a wrong guess about what is being discussed is one of those devices that works better on screen than on the page.

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curlyjimsam750 4 years, 1 month ago

Have you thought about tackling this show from a feminist perspective? The degree of venom launched by certain parties at Steven Moffat seems even more out of perspective when one considers some of the ways in which this programme seems to treat women - as little more than naked sex objects a lot of the time. But this has a curious interaction with the source material - as far as I can tell (not having read much of the books), Martin's writing is pretty pro-women. I'd be interested to see what you make of it.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 4 years, 1 month ago

I have, most obviously in "Winter is Coming," where the decision to rework Daenerys's wedding night into a rape scene is particularly striking. It's a theme I'll come around to at some point, but I haven't felt like I have anything to say yet that hasn't been well-covered by other writers.

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Dustin 4 years ago

As far as I can tell, Martin is obsessed with the word "pussy," obsessed with placing his female characters in sexual peril, and never misses an opportunity for lurid descriptions of female arousal.

I've retitled the TV show, in my head, "Male Gaze: the Series," for the way it treats women's bodies as merely decorative, and its comparitive squeamishness about male nudity.

I am, of course, the ten millionth person to say any of these things.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 4 years ago

A quick search suggests that Martin makes it through the entirety of Game of Thrones, at least, without using the word "pussy" at all. And while he is fond of lurid descriptions of female arousal, I have to say, being interested in female subjectivity regarding sexuality is a pretty decent result within the sci-fi/fantasy fandom Martin emerges from.

Which isn't to say that there aren't problems, but there's nothing to be gained in oversimplifying the matter, which is a lot of why I didn't just leap in at the first rape to tackle the issue.

That said, I'm writing up "You Win or You Die" now, and I'm pretty much certain to tackle the ludicrous sexposition scene in it, which should touch on some of this.

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Daru 4 years ago

Hi Phil, is there anything that can be done to promote the cessation of these spamming spell messages? As I usually click the 'notify me' checkbox I get them in my email inbox (including the old posts they spam on).

I notice that when I publish, the comments now are posted immediately, rather than needing for us to prove we are not robots - has this made a difference? Thanks.

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Daru 4 years ago

I just got about ten emails in a oner as they mass-spammed.

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C. 4 years ago

Another quick search suggests Martin has never used the word "pussy" once in all five of the Ice and Fire books, so calling him "obsessed" with the word is rather odd. does he use it in personal conversation all the time?

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Aylwin 4 years ago

Probably he's more of a dog person, like Stannis.

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JohnnyRuin 4 years ago

I also noticed the sex and violence analogy in this scene. I love how the transition is from a scene outside of a brothel between two of the only characters with a loving relationship to a scene featuring a man whose relationship is the exact opposite, and who reminisces lovingly about murdering people. The way the dialogue is structured to highlight that ambiguity is great.

"Yes, it's been a long time, but I still remember every face. Do you remember your first?"

"Of course, your grace."

"Who was it?"

"A Tyroshi.Never learnt the name."

"How'd you do it?"

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Aylwin 3 years, 10 months ago

For reasons which it would be otiose, at this moment, to rehearse, I briefly pondered the question of which characters would most probably be cat people, and came up with Tyrion, Samwell and, ironically, the Hound.

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