A Brief Treatise on the Rules of Thrones 1.04: Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things

(15 comments)


The choir goes off. The board is laid out thusly:

Direwolves of King’s Landing: Eddard Stark, Sansa Stark, Arya Stark
Stags of King’s Landing: Robert Baratheon, Joffrey Baratheon
Lions of King’s Landing: Jaime Lannister, Cersei Lannister
The Direwolf Catelyn Stark
Dragons of Vaes Dothrak: Daenerys Targaryen, Viserys Targaryen
Bears of Vaes Dothrak: Jorah Mormont
Mockingbird’s of King’s Landing: Petyr Baelish
Direwolves of the Wall: Jon Snow
Direwolves of Winterfell: Robb Stark, Bran Stark
Kraken of Winterfell: Theon Greyjoy
Dogs of King’s Landing: Sandor Clegane
And the Lion of Winterfell, Tyrion Lannister

The episode is in twelve parts. The first runs five minutes and is set in Winterfell; the first shot is of a raven flying through the castle as Bran stands drawing a bow. 

The second runs three minutes and is set on the Wall; the transition is deceptive continuity, with a cut from Theon watching Tyrion ride away to an overhead shot of a man on horseback who turns out not to be Tyrion. 

The third runs seven minutes and is set in Vaes Dothrak; the transition is by family, from Jon Snow to Daenerys Targaryen.

The fourth runs seven minutes long and is in two sections; it is set in King’s Landing. The first section is two minutes long; the transition is by dialogue, from Viserys talking about the Red Keep to Sansa and Septa Mordane walking into it. The other is five minutes long; the transition is by family and dialogue, from Sansa talking about her father to Ned. 

The fifth part runs two minutes and is set on the Wall; the transition is by family, from Arya and Ned Stark to Jon Snow.

The sixth runs six minutes and is set in King’s Landing; the transition is by family, from Jon Snow to Ned Stark. The transition marks the halfway point of the episode. 

The seventh runs three minutes and is set on the Wall; he transition is by hard cut, from Jory walking away from Jaime to people dining in the mess at Castle Black. 

The eighth runs one minute and is set in Vaes Dothrak; the transition is by dialogue, from Thorne talking about sniveling boys to Viserys, and by family, from Jon Snow to Viserys and Daenerys. 

The ninth runs six minutes and is set on the Wall; the transition is by dialogue, from Daenerys saying “hands” to a shot of Sam’s hand scrubbing a table.

The tenth runs one minute and is set in Vaes Dothrak; the transition is by family, from Jon Snow to Daenerys Targaryen.

The eleventh runs six minutes and is set in King’s Landing; the transition is by dialogue, from Daenerys talking about her brother possibly taking back the Seven Kingdoms to a shot of Robert. The scene features the death of Ser Hugh of the Vale, killed by Gregor Clegane in the joust. 

The last runs three minutes and is set in an inn on the Kingsroad in the Riverlands; the transition is by family, from Ned Stark and Cersei Lannister to Catelyn and Tyrion. The final shot is several of Edmure Tully’s bannermen drawing swords on Tyrion as Catelyn vows to take him to Mornington Crescent. 

The episode is framed by Tyrion Lannister, providing a bit of structure to an episode that is largely about reiterating and expanding upon the new concepts introduced in “Lord Snow.” The most obvious expansion comes in the introduction of Samwell Tarly on the Wall, who, although not initially credited as a series regular, goes on to become one, and, in A Storm of Swords, a viewpoint character to boot. This constitutes a major reconfiguration of the Wall, giving Jon Snow a clear “best friend” figure of the sort whose absence formed the entire basis of his plot in the previous episode. The resulting story is straightforward, at least for this episode, but brings the Wall to a usable status quo after four episodes of gradual development. 

Structurally, the Wall is paralleled with Vaes Dothrak, with every scene set in the latter location either leading into or out of the former. There the plot is largely in a holding pattern, with the single largest portion of the three Vaes Dothrak scenes being devoted to a Viserys scene that was created specifically for the show. As with many sequences added for the show, its content is largely an exposition dump, in this case a lengthy discourse on the history of dragons and of the Targaryens, but its real content, as with the entire Vaes Dothrak plot this episode, is to finally move to overt text what has been bubbling in subtext for three episodes, which is that Viserys is manifestly unfit to lead anything and will never take back the Iron Throne, a point that finally gets explicitly acknowledged by Daenerys in the last of the three Vaes Dothrak sequences. And, in turn, it foreshadows future plot twists, subtly highlighting the fact that Viserys, unlike his sister, is vulnerable to heat and fire. 

The episode is anchored, however, by King’s Landing, which makes up three of its four longest parts, comprising a total of twenty-three minutes of the episode. As with the Wall, the bulk of this is in practice about fleshing out the location, with Grandmaster Pycelle getting a more thorough introduction, Janos Slynt getting introduced in the first place, the Hound getting some backstory, and a scene between Jory and Jaime that reiterates some earlier exposition about the Greyjoy Rebellion, develops the relationship between Jaime and Robert, and, most significantly, gives Jory and Jaime a scene together prior to the next episode’s climax. 

There are no major shifts to the status quo here - indeed, Ned Stark’s investigation basically just politely spins its wheels with little more than an innuendo-laden confrontation with Cersei to show for it. There are clues and implications aplenty, most obviously around Ser Hugh of the Vale, but given that this is a mystery the audience has been told the solution to, the bulk of these scenes come off as marking time, not least because that’s mostly what they’re doing. Even for a book-reading audience who knows both who actually killed Jon Arryn and who hired the assassin to kill Bran there’s not much that’s actually happening here. There are perhaps a few subtle valences of Littlefinger’s actions that shift if you know the full story, but given that his larger schemes mostly amount to spreading chaos and discord, knowing merely that he’s untrustworthy, a point the show and, more particularly, Aiden Gillen make acutely clear, there’s not actually a lot that shifts. Similarly, Joffrey is so thoroughly portrayed as a malevolent figure that the addition of one trifling extra crime (one that’s never actually pinned on him in the show anyway) hardly changes things.

The reason for this, of course, is that in reality this isn’t a show about Ned’s investigation at all, and that the account of what sort of show this was given back in “Winter is Coming” was as much a lie as the account of Jon Arryn’s murderer was. It is just that this aspect of the status quo cannot be disrupted until the rest of the board is developed. Once all four locations have been painted in sufficient detail that the question of what sort of show this is no longer rests entirely on the shoulders of Ned Stark it becomes possible to disrupt and alter the initial status quo, but it is not until this episode that these aspects of the show are developed enough to allow for a shift in the first ground established. 

Which brings us, inevitably, back to Tyrion, from whom the episode’s title derives, despite only being in two scenes comprising, between them, barely the time of a single King’s Landing scene. In the books, Tyrion poses an interesting textual problem. Barring a potential revelation about his parentage that is, while certainly a plausible theory, nevertheless far from certain, he is the only viewpoint character of the first book who sits outside of the ice/fire dualism that underpins the world. As already discussed, his eventual role is instead to traverse that dualism - he eventually becomes the first character to meet both Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, and to move from the Wall to Essos. Closely related to this, then, is the fact that he is the character most capable of causing major changes to the status quo, and indeed, it is from him that the first major shift stems.

Interestingly, though, this is not, at first, presented in terms of his own abilities. The first major change he brings to the status quo is not one in which he has any agency. Instead, it comes when he is taken captive by Catelyn at the episode’s end. The Aristotelean web of causality that forms the plot of the first season is a tightly knit one, but there are few events in it that serve as bigger turning points than this, which proves to be the spark that ignites the conflict that will eventually become the War of Five Kings. It is, it has to be said, a staggeringly bad move on Catelyn’s part. She gains no advantages whatsoever from it, and the cost turns out to be nothing short of catastrophic for the entire Realm. Nevertheless, it marks the first actual shift in the balance of power within the game since play commenced, and sets up dramatic consequences for the next episode. 

Comments

Blueshift 2 years, 7 months ago

> the addition of one trifling extra crime (one that’s never actually pinned on him in the show anyway)
Is show-Joffrey guilty of this though, or are we the audience to assume this was a Cersei/Jaime plot? The show's past the point of ever addressing this really, and it seems strange not to, given how massive a deal it was at the start.

Also, why does Littlefinger lie about who the knife belongs to? I never realised he had until a recent reread of the books where it is clear that it was Robert's knife not Tyrions, as Tyrion doesn't bed against family. It is a bonkers, risky move on Littlefinger's part to tell such an obvious falsehood that could be easily revealed, only isn't as Tyrion is taken to the Eiyre and stuff goes down. If Tyrion was taken back to Kings Landing and everything brought up before the king, it is likely that odd deception would be uncovered in no time.

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ScarvesandCelery 2 years, 7 months ago

"The eighth runs one minute and is set in Vaes Dothrak; the transition is by dialogue, from Thorne talking about sniveling boys to Viserys"
I appreciated that joke a lot.

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Aylwin 2 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, the whole knife business and its mysterious disappearance from the plot seems a weak part of the story (on TV at least) in all sorts of ways.

Cat's behaviour here can be explained in terms of emotion and the appearance of an unexpected opportunity getting the better of rational thought, even when she has already been in the discussion where they acknowledged that there was no point in trying to force the issue without further evidence. But the Starks' failure to notice what a transparently crude and implausible fit-up the use of the knife is until Tyrion points it out, or to give it any consideration after he does, just seems unaccountable. It's one of those cases of forcing intelligent characters (which the Starks, whatever their blind-spots, basically are) to be unfathomably stupid on occasion because the plot demands that things go horribly wrong, to which elaborately plotted dramas seem rather prone (The Wire, otherwise almost flawless in its first four seasons, was a serial offender on this front).

Then there's the even less plausible fact that Tyrion seems not the least bit interested in finding out who framed him or why, or in doing anything about what he does know. The issue momentarily raises its head with the firm implication at the start of season 2 that Tyrion is well aware, as he would pretty much have to be, that Littlefinger dumped him in it by telling the Starks the knife was his, but otherwise vanishes into thin air.

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Blueshift 2 years, 7 months ago

I wouldn't go that far. I think given Littlefinger's history of friendship with Cat (having grown up as practically a younger brother) he would be one of the few people she would 100% trust. Nothing about that ever struck me as odd, especially as I didn't pick up that it WAS a lie until much, much later.

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Aylwin 2 years, 7 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Blueshift 2 years, 7 months ago

Oh right yes, got you. Yes, I mean in many ways if the knife was Tyrion's, then Tyrion would be the least likely candidate. And it turns out that the knife was Robert's and was stolen to use in the attack, after all!

Of course, why doesn't Littlefinger just say the knife was Robert's? Surely that would sow just as much suspicion with Ned with the added bonus that it's true. I just don't get what he gains by claiming it is Tyrion's.

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Aylwin 2 years, 7 months ago

I don't mean that she, or Ned, shouldn't have believed that the knife was Tyrion's. It's the implausibility of the idea that Tyrion would have chosen to equip an assassin sent to kill a member of a very powerful family, inside that family's own castle, with a visibly very remarkable and distinctive, indeed apparently unique (and incidentally very expensive and irreplaceable) weapon belonging to him, when any blade would have done the job, which should have rung alarm bells.

Being TV-only, it had never occurred to me before today that the knife might not have been Tyrion's (and it seems likely that as far as the TV series is concerned it actually was his, since if it were meant not to be, in this version of the story, we would surely have been shown him denying owning it - and as you point out, it makes a lot more sense for it to be his than not, since Littlefinger would hardly be stupid enough to tell a lie so likely to be exposed, and with such potential to destroy him if it were). But the knife's use for such a purpose was always clearly a frame-up of a comically crude and unconvincing sort (ineptitude that makes perfect sense in itself if Joffrey was responsible).

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Aylwin 2 years, 7 months ago

Having deleted my comment and reposted a revised one, I have now thoroughly confused the thread order. Sorry. Anyway.

Of course, why doesn't Littlefinger just say the knife was Robert's? Surely that would sow just as much suspicion with Ned with the added bonus that it's true.

Yes, that would work better. "Clearly whoever did this was trying to sow discord between you and the King. But who would stand to gain from that? And who would have access to the King's private possessions?" Job done.

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Daru 2 years, 7 months ago

"Of course, why doesn't Littlefinger just say the knife was Robert's? Surely that would sow just as much suspicion with Ned with the added bonus that it's true. I just don't get what he gains by claiming it is Tyrion's."

I suppose in the end Littlefinger thrives on chaos and seeks to seed it whenever he can. Certainly from the books it looked more likely from later information that Tyrion gained (and jamie) that it was likely that Joffrey was indeed behind that knife attack, but Littlefinger sought to utilise events for his own means - setting Lannisters against Starks.

And I think in the books the knife was found to have been won by Robert from Littlefinger, so distancing the knife further from himself would make sense.

Tyrion was also an easy target as he was away from Kings Landing, around in the North and then possibly revenge against him would be easy.

So yeah it does get lost in the TV show later on, shame as these events were all parts of the trigger to the chaos that comes

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Daru 2 years, 7 months ago

"As already discussed, his eventual role is instead to traverse that dualism - he eventually becomes the first character to meet both Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, and to move from the Wall to Essos."

I would say easily, from last week's episode Lord Snow, that Tyrion became one of the most fascinating characters for me. His discussion with Jon on the way to the Wall as he was reading was great. I could hear his cynicism - directed towards his family and the structures around him, as well as the sneering about the supernatural - and his awareness of his position in life.

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Michael Durant 2 years, 7 months ago

My watch has ended, and I'm compelled to point out a slight error that has major implications for Phil's coalescing rules.

Surely Stannis beats Tyrion to the other end of the board? He starts in fire, closely allied with Melisandre, and by the end of season 4, meets Jon Snow north of the Wall.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 7 months ago

I'd argue that it's Mellisandre who traverses the board, not Stannis, and much of her journey comes before her first appearance. On the show, both start in Dragonstone. But Tyrion goes from Jon Snow to Daenerys, and I think it's fair to call Jon Snow and Daenerys the definitional ends of the board.

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Michael Durant 2 years, 7 months ago

Ah, but one might call Dragonstone and the Wall the "traditional" ends of the board (playing by Targaryan dynastic rules, I suppose), and Stannis would definitely be following traditional rules.

I suppose I will have to accept that you won't be placing Mellisandre (nor discussing the Lord of Light) until she appears. I'll buy that Stannis goes from Fire to the end of the Ice, but doesn't start at the end of Fire.

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Aylwin 2 years, 7 months ago

Actually, I think that would only be so under Targaryen Dynastic Radial Rules. Under Targaryen Traditional Lateral Rules the other end would be Valyria, no?

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Daru 2 years, 7 months ago

Well I suppose it depends on whether you were playing the game under the Original Rules of the Dawn (granted there are a number of 'Original' rules), where the board could be moved to allow for advantage for any particular sets of players. The Lateral and Radial Rules are then variations of the many sub-rules that allow the board to be rotated and positioned according to the combinations of scores/dice/manipulations accrued by players - the most bizarre of which is the one where the board is set spinning like a top on the player's head with the lowest score.

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