Game of Thrones – “The Kingsroad”

“The Kingsroad”

April 24th, 2011

“You’re not supposed to be here.”

In chatting with one of my colleagues who has not read A Song of Ice and Fire earlier this month, he raised an interesting question: why, precisely, do some Stark children go to King’s Landing while others remain in Winterfell?

It was a question that never occurred to me while watching “The Kingsroad” since I already knew the answer before I popped in the screener, but it’s one that strikes me as important during these early episodes. There is no avoiding the fact that Game of Thrones has a dislocated narrative, with various locations (highlighted in the opening credit sequence) housing storylines that are often operating on their own frequency, and such dislocation risks feeling arbitrary. It is, arguably, the greatest challenge that Benioff and Weiss faced with the adaptation, and facing that challenge will require more than a clever title sequence that places the various locations into context.

“The Kingsroad” is the first stab at really tackling this challenge through thematic material, something that embraces the parallel storytelling that the series necessitates (as compared to the books, which go long stretches without visiting particular locations/characters). While the shifts in location were minimal (and very strategic) in “Winter is Coming,” with “The Kingsroad” we see a more traditional structure wherein we consistently shift from one location to another, a structure united by a growing sense that these characters may wish they had taken a different fork in the road.

It doesn’t quite bring the entire episode together, but the maps drawn for each of the show’s numerous storylines are at least all on the same piece of paper, and focus on the degree to which each individual character is prepared for the path that they have chosen (or that has been chosen for them).

In his review of the first six episodes, Ryan McGee suggests that these early episodes don’t have “themes,” but I would respectfully disagree. I think it goes back to a discussion that Matt Zoller Seitz and I had last summer about Mad Men, in which we differentiated between “theme episodes” and “episodes with themes.” Both are strategies used to tie together potentially disparate storylines to a central idea, but the difference is that the former presents a central idea distinct to that episode, while the latter uses themes that are more generally relevant to the series at hand.

Based on his review, McGee is more or less discussing the former:

“With the exception of Episode 4, there’s little in the way of unifying theme to any of the episodes. It’s just a string of actions that occur more or less concurrently with the others. Not having narrative or visual echoes between the pieces really heightens the separation between the tales set in King’s Landing, The Wall, or the various other locations featured in these initial six episodes.”

As noted above, I think this is a perfectly legitimate concern, but I feel these early episodes actually do something very important in not attempting to unify these storylines. Part of the point of Martin’s story is that everyone is getting pulled in different directions, and that the only thing that they might have in common is a sort of ignorance to the reality of their situation. “The Kingsroad,” at least for me, finds less a unifying theme and more a unifying purpose: to tear down most (if not all) romantic notions about going north, south, and everywhere in between by opening the eyes of its various characters.

Admittedly, early in a series, this is a somewhat problematic endeavor. It risks seeming like “moving pieces into place,” especially since this is basically a travelogue: Ned, Arya and Sansa head south with the Royal caravan (with Catelyn eventually following), Jon heads north with his uncle and Lord Tyrion, and Dany crosses the Dothraki Sea (which, if it wasn’t clear, is actually a sea of grass/trees) with her new husband. Not only are the storylines separated, but they’re moving in completely different directions: Ned and Jon literally reach a fork in the road as they leave Winterfell, sharing a brief moment before the latter heads to Castle Black and the former prepares to take over as the King’s Hand. Meanwhile, Dany and Viserys continue to move further away from their homeland as the Dothraki Khalasar returns to Vaes Dothrak (pictured in the credits, but not yet reached) until their omens favor war.

I don’t think this really constitutes a cohesive theme, but the lack of cohesion feels very purposeful to me: all of the characters are heading places for different reasons, and often with varying degrees of willingness. Jon and Sansa, for example, believe that they are fulfilling their destinies on their respective roads: the former is searching for a home where he will no longer be marked as the bastard, a true brotherhood compared to the half-brotherhood he shares with his siblings, while the latter is already imagining what it will be like to be a princess.

They learn quickly that their roads are not that simple. For Jon, he realizes that he has been romanticizing the Night’s Watch: as Tyrion so kindly explains (in a scene that nicely builds on their scene in “Winter is Coming”), most of his “brothers” will be criminals who chose to take the black to avoid further punishment, and by the time he reaches the Wall any optimism is wiped off his face. I love that scene as they approach the wall, both for how effectively it presents its scale (with Castle Black seeming so puny at its base) and for how ragged Jon looks. Kit Harington is great at capturing Jon’s brooding, but there was something in that moment that stripped away the repose in favor of legitimate fear, a sign of the kind of performance we’ll be seeing from him in the remainder of the series.

Sansa, meanwhile, has everything planned out: she’s going to go to King’s Landing, she and Joffrey are going to be married, and she is going to pop out little princes and princesses after he becomes King and she becomes Queen. If there’s anything that this series punishes, though, it’s the idea of having your entire life mapped out: while Jon discovered that his destination wasn’t quite what he anticipated, Sansa discovers that her journey won’t be as smooth as she imagined it to be. When Joffrey’s intolerability runs headlong into Arya’s determination at the river’s edge, Sansa finds herself unable to do anything but urge Arya to stay out of Joffrey’s torture of Micah and scream “You’re spoiling everything!” When she is eventually brought before the King to explain her side of the story, she again resists taking a stand: she pleads that she doesn’t remember what happened, hoping that remaining above the fray will help things return to “normal.” The problem, of course, is that this situation was never normal to begin with, a fact that Sansa is both too naive and too young to realize.

By comparison, Daenerys is one step beyond these two characters on her journey. While Jon and Sansa are coming to understand the harsh reality of the choices they’ve made (or, in the case of Sansa, the choice that was made for her but which she had wholeheartedly endorsed), Daenerys saw that reality in last week’s premiere. In “The Kingsroad,” we see her looking to find ways of coping with her situation, and the beginnings of a sort of self-awakening.

Yes, in this particular episode, this is very much defined by sex, which seemed to be a problem for one journalist in particular. Jon Weisman at Variety suggested that “in episode two, there’s a plot point involving Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) that was so appalling, I almost quit the show right then and there.” Expanding on this in the comments at Winter is Coming (a choice which I respect a great deal), he makes the following argument:

In the premiere, Daenerys is forced to marry and then of course sleep with the Dothraki, against her will…In the second episode, without explanation, she suddenly decides that she wants to please him in every way possible…I have to watch this poor girl instantaneously decide to become sexually assertive and welcoming with her captor. Stockholm Syndrome happens, but even allowing for the time period, this topic just has to be dealt with more nuance. Or at least we have to be made to feel on some level how sad this is – think Elizabeth Smart – rather than it being played just for titillation, as it was in the show.

While I see where Weisman is coming from, and the pacing of the series does mean that we rush into this particular realization (and lack the inner dialogue that might more clearly represent Dany’s perspective), I think he misreads this section of the episode on a number of levels. First, I don’t think that this is about asserting her sexuality so much as it is about asserting control over her sexuality, a fine distinction if there ever was one. My mind keeps going back to that scene where she asks her handmaids about dragons, and how Doreah’s answer demonstrates a sort of playful relationship with the world around her. While the other repeat the traditional gospel, suggesting that “it is known,” Doreah has an alternate perspective, and what Dany is searching for is a way to take a situation defined by duty and servitude (to her brother more than Drogo, frankly) and find something more.

To Weisman’s point, perhaps it is strange that she doesn’t look for a way out, but who is going to help her? Her brother is the king-in-waiting, which means that Mormont’s sword is sworn to him, and Viserys was the one who put her in this position in the first place. Dany is in no position to fight against her circumstances, but she is in a position to start to control them. While Weisman suggests that she desires to “please” Drogo, I think her motivations are not about pleasure. Instead, they’re about taking some measure of control over her own destiny, much as Doreah chooses to believe that the moon is a dragon’s egg which exploded when it got too close to the sun. Dany’s still married to Khal Drogo, and she still has sex with him, but it’s different: note that despite being naked in the scenes in which he ravages her, she remains clothed as she is “on top,” an important distinction that resists turning the pivotal moment of (limited) empowerment into something exploitative. In a situation where you feel helpless, any measure of power or control can be a sense of hope, and I think the use of sexuality is consistent with a girl of that age (roughly 16-18) and the nature of her situation. Sure, Dany’s sex lessons with Doreah feel a little on the exploitative side, but the relative chasteness of her final scene with the Khal is deeply meaningful for what’s to come.

Now, as demonstrated here, one can create a theme that connects these three storylines. However, one could also argue that doing so is adding something to the text which is not actually present. After all, the episode also works in the action at Winterfell as a hired assassin attempts to murder Bran and Catelyn decides to ride to King’s Landing to spread word of the nefarious actions which we know led to Bran’s fall (and the attempt on his life, we presume), and the three storylines discussed in greater detail here were not dispersed evenly. The Arya/Sansa storyline, for example, plays out as a single sequence at episode’s end almost as if it were a chapter in a book, as the only earlier glimpse of the caravan was Robert and Ned’s roadside chat (which was enjoyable, and included some key information and context, but served no real narrative purpose). Meanwhile, Jon and Tyrion’s trip to the North is only a handful of scenes, and has a definitely feeling of “Point A to Point B” that might well define the entire episode.

The only direct attempt at drawing parallels between the storylines is the cut at the end, as Bran opens his eyes just as Ned slits Lady’s throat. Now, obviously, one could argue that this is not an instance of direct causation (although fans will know that it does hint towards something to come down the road), but it is something of a pivot between storylines. There was a similar moment earlier, as Robert and Ned discuss the Targaryens and we cut to Dany and the herd, but that’s felt mostly functional rather than stylistic. By comparison, the final scene is evocative and compelling, and I would argue that it marks a definitive end for the episode. To go with the theme that I’m suggesting, there’s something about opening your eyes that runs through every storyline here: Jon seeing the wall for the first time, Sansa seeing the truth about her would-be prince and trying to pretend it never happened, and Dany wanting to look her husband in the eye as they make love. And so for Bran to open his eyes seems purposeful, as he is about to wake up to a world that he never quite imagined.

To what degree am I reading this into the episode in a way that wasn’t intended by the writers? I am unsure. However, I think that Martin’s novel offers some nice elements of passive symmetry in the early going, and this type of literal translation can still serve a thematic function without being dramatically rearranged or altered. It’s not much more than pieces moving on a chess board if you were to sum up the events of the episode, but those pieces each respond to those movements differently, and in ways that I felt did a strong job of setting up the next moves.

Cultural Observations

  • I don’t think I can say enough things about how adorable Nymeria is in that scene in Arya’s bedchambers. The entire scene is fantastic of course, with Jon’s goodbye with Arya and the delivery of Needle rendered wonderfully, but anyone who leaves this episode not wanting a runaway Nymeria showing up on your doorstep doesn’t have a heart.
  • I think Lena Headey’s Cersei takes a while to fully come together, but for me it stats with her visit to Bran’s bedside. It’s the first time she has really felt like a Queen, free of a furrowed brow and able to command respect without it feeling owed to her. She’s still a bit cold and distant, but the story of her first son’s death is humanizing in what feels like a calculated fashion (coming, as it does, following her breakfast with a concerned Jaime and a curious Tyrion).
  • There is nothing more satisfying than Tyrion slapping Joffrey – Jack Gleeson gets special mention for the patheticness of those girlie screams, which nicely foreshadowed Arya’s asskicking delivered at episode’s end.
  • I’d already seen a fair bit of the attempt on Bran’s life in trailers, but it’s a really well-handled sequence. It’s a major turning point for Catelyn as a character, and I like the way they worked in Catelyn’s frustration with Summer’s howling into the story. In the books, for the non-readers, Catelyn bans Summer from his bedside and the direwolf spends the entire time howling below his window, only allowed in after saving his life. It’s a key bonding moment, and it’s been well realized (if not entirely contextualized) here.
  • “He ran – not very fast.” A really chilling line from the Hound, and a nice way of emphasizing the consequences of that moment. Sure, our emotions are with Lady and her tragic end thanks to political maneuvering, but I think most people will have forgotten about Micah in that moment, so his body lying over the back of that horse was an eye-opening moment, if you’ll forgive the continuation of the theme discussed above.
  • There’s been some extended discussion of the Dothraki and their characterization (or lack thereof), and to what degree they are simply a hodgepodge of ethnic stereotypes, and I think that’s a discussion for next week’s episode (and the episodes which follow) more than this week, where Dany is definitely the focus.
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35 Comments

Filed under Game of Thrones

35 responses to “Game of Thrones – “The Kingsroad”

  1. Tony

    I’m curious, do they show Bran’s dream in episode 3? If not I’m very interested to see how they handle it, because that sequence is what sets Bran’s character up for the next 3 books.

  2. I agree with you on the fact that there is a theme — even if a passive one — that you can pull out of this episode. And it’s a theme that, really, is a part of the whole season. If the first season of the show is “about” anything, one could say it’s about the pulling apart of a family… In a very literal way to begin with, but I think there’s enough there that you can see that it’s foreshadowing that it’ll be more than literal as time goes by.

    After all: Sansa lost her wolf.

  3. Gecc1

    An eye opening review.
    Very nice.

  4. Jeremy

    I’m glad to see more of the Hound in this episode, as he’s one of my favorite characters from the books.

  5. Targaryen Fanboy

    I really loved this episode. I agree with everything you said about the Dany scenes.

  6. Jeff Jensen

    What I find particularly problematic about the Dany/Drogo storyline isn’t the Dany of it all but the Drogo of it all. He’s a cliche brute, a caricature of a savage… but not SO much of one that he can’t be instantly tamed by one night of Dany getting on top and making him look her in the eye while ploughing her? Ridiculous.

    There’s a lot of worrying about Dany’s “exploitation,” a lot of ‘just-hang-in-there’ promises that her story will reveal itself to be about growing feminist empowerment, triumph over circumstances and perhaps redemption of her misogynistic culture. But all of that is meaningless and certainly cheaply earned if the men in her life are poorly drawn cartoons.

    I know, I know: “The book.” Many who have read the book give this storyline a free pass — perhaps, I guess, because they can project what they know about Book Drogo onto TV Drogo. But that only speaks to how thin and vacant TV Drogo is. There’s no excuse for shoddy character work. Check that: For NO CHARACTER WORK AT ALL. The Drogo of the TV show is crude sketch of a character, shallowly portrayed and poorly directed.

    The rest of the show is, for the most part, strong, though I think we could and should be harder on the younger actors. I have some larger problems with the series in general that impede my enthusiasm for the whole enterprise, but my biggest problem with the episodes as realized is the tonal inconsistency. Everything not-Dany/Drogo has great grit and credibility; it feels relatable and relevant. The Dany/Drogo is crap — a Skinemax gloss on fantasy pulp. It simply isn’t up to snuff with the rest of it.

    • Thanks for expanding on your tweets, Jeff – always appreciate your insights.

      Not to fall into your traps, but I think the books are important to exploring this issue (if not explaining it away, as you might have seen them used). I will resist the temptation to go into book spoilers, but I will say is this: Drogo is one of the characters who lacks a “POV” in the books (meaning that we are never inside of his head), so it is not as if there is substantially more character in the books that is being read onto the character. He’s thin there, and he’s thin here, but I think you’re right that his thinness seems to be used for the sake of convenience more than purpose in the case of the show.

      The question becomes why they chose not to expand the character: they could have shown us more of his POV when he arrived to pick up Dany, or in the khalasar, etc., so why not do so? I think that’s where knowledge of the books may be most useful, so I’ll hold off on commenting further.

      As to questions about tonal inconsistency, I personally felt it improved over the course of the six episodes I screened, but it does feel like it comes out of a different show at times during these early episodes. However, frankly, that’s more Martin than it is the show – it’s an isolated storyline over the course of thousands of pages, and I think the show would find it hard to change such a thing. It doesn’t mean it’s less problematic, but rather that the problems stem more from the source material.

      • Jeff Jensen

        I started reading the book after watching the first two episodes. I was really struck by how different Martin played the wedding night sex in the book than the show did in the pilot. [Those who haven’t read the book and want to experience this themselves, please stop reading now.] Martin sets up the reader to expect a pretty savage experience for Dany, because he’s doted so much on the rape/gladiator ritual of the wedding feast. But then he subverts that expectation and gives us something else altogether. The collision of reader expectation with what really happens creates a precipitant that enhances Drogo — the suggestion of character, even if it isn’t really explored or only ever seen from Dany’s perspective. (I have not read much further than this in the book.) I’m all for the producers deviating from the text and going a different way to similar conclusions, or even different conclusions; indeed, I wish the adaptation approach to GoT took more chances, a la, say, Cuaron’s third Harry Potter movie. Still, whichever way they go, we should be getting more from Drogo than we are getting.

        PS: I totally agree with the next commenter’s take on the race aspect of Drogo. It bothered me, as well.

        • Bale

          I feel like this is an area where picking and choosing 2 or 3 story lines to focus on in a given episode rather than trying to include a little bit from everyone would really help. Even as someone who has read the books I have to agree that Drogo is pretty much a non entity at this point, but through 2 episodes he’s been on screen all of what, 10 minutes? I’m hoping that given this turning point in his relationship with Dany he will be used a little better in upcoming episodes.

          Myles, do future episodes start having more focus?

          • Skyweir

            @Jeff Jensen:
            The tonal “inconsistency” I think is intentional. The Targaryen story is a different kind of story, more classical fantasy than the story set in Westeros. They are traveling east, towards Asshai and Valyria, were the world is not as mundane and non-magical as it is in Westeros. And the Targaryens are outworldly people, prone to “great rages and great mirths” as Howard puts it in his Conan books. Dany’ story reflects this. It is a contrast and a comment of the all too “real” story of the Starks and Lannisters slugging it out in the mud. Without the Targaryens, that is what their world has become, swords and blood.

            I also never liked the book scene with Drogo and Dany, it is no less of a rape just because she mutters yes. In later scenes she tells us about countless nights of crying into a pillow while Drogo rides her, and the “sweet” wedding night in no way mitigates this. To have Dany flip-flop on this issue when we can’t follow her thoughts would be seen as inconsistent writing. Drogo is a cruel and unbending man, and Dany is using her only way to power and freedom. At least for now.

            I can understand your dislike for Drogo, but he is just a shallow character and I expect nothing from him. He is a warlord, he conquers, kills and rapes. Not much more to him, and no real need for more either. Not every person has hidden depths or other motivations that they show by their actions. Anyway, the show has given us no indication that Dany’s plan has worked in any way, so your assertion that Drogo has been tamed is a bit premature I think.

          • @Bale – yes. While episodes 3/4 maintain a similar structure, episodes 5/6 abandon one storyline entirely to focus on the others.

        • Let me know when you finish the first book so that we can discuss this further, but I think the larger storyline better explains their decisions in this particular deviation. But, I will say no more for now, not knowing how far into the book you might be.

          • Thanks for replying to my comments — and Skyweir, I really appreciated your thoughts. I wish/hope the show finds a way to import or make more manifest themes you mentioned, i.e. “the Targaryens are outworldly people … Without the Targaryens, that is what their world has become, swords and blood.”

        • Kim

          I think this is a great discussion to be having. Is it good to be bothered by a show? Ya. This one depicts brutality, present both in the period, and in the here and now.

          I will say that Martin does a better job of dealing with ethnicities than Tolkien or Lewis, both of whom were rather characteristic of their times. This is not to give Martin a free pass, but merely to introduce some others to compare to.

          Oh, and at least we don’t have “dark elves” who are wicked, amiright?

  7. Brian

    As someone who has not read the books I am viewing the series and expecting it to provide enough information visually to help the viewer connect the dots and keep the various narrative threads consistent, a point which I think The Wire has managed better than any series on television with such a large cast and expansive narrative.
    However, my real frustration with the series so far is in its usage of “whiteness” to portray Drago and the Dothraki people as even more barbaric and dangerous. From this episode it is clear to me that the producers have modeled the Dothraki people on the Native Americans- with the visual elements of the tents, drying cowhides, and people of the grass like many of the Native Americans who once roamed the prairies. In using this visual shorthand they are “Othering” not only the Dothraki characters but also continuing a tradition of making Native Americans the forces of terror and evil that threaten the good “white” people.
    Finally, it seems to me that the producers could have done more to flesh out the book and allow more three dimensional character representations to be crafted, a quality which many HBO series have been lauded for in the past. Instead, much of what we see feels like caricatures without the deeper explanations that readers of the novels claim make the narrative series so excellent. While I can understand a desire to remain “true” to the books on some level. It is also important to recognize that part of the freedom of the creativity for adapting for another medium, like television, means that the writers and those involved should display a desire to critically engage with both the faults and positive qualities of the novels when putting them onscreen.

    • Ryan

      Full Disclaimer: I’m one of those foaming-at-the-mouth, fanatical, book reading Martinites, although the Dany chapters were never my favourites.

      I think that in discussing the issues of sex and gender some regard must be had to the setting of the series. While it may be fiction, it remains rooted in an attempt at a realistic portrayal of the generic-fantasy setting of knights and kings, etc. As a result of this choice, the primary characters are of European Stock and the “Other” (though not “the Others”) are analogues of the foes faced by medieval knights.

      @ Brian, I had always seen the Dothraki as fantasy Mongols (a threat in the early Middle ages). SLIGHTEST OF SPOILERS And just as in the past the Vikings were a danger to the kingdoms of Christendom, so do the (white) wildlings of the North take that role (ok, the Ironborn are probably closer, whatever). And those guys are pretty rough. Actually, the ordinary knights aren’t exactly exemplars of honour either.

      So my first point is that in terms of race and gender Martin was staying pretty close to “historical” settings.

      The second issue is the character of Drogo. When reading the novels I thought he was purposely kept as a cipher to increase our sympathy with Dany. “Oh poor little girl, stuck with this beast.” I never thought he was supposed to be anything but Otherness Incarnate.

    • Brian, I very much agree with you, and I cannot promise you that it does get better – because while we will get to know more of the Dothraki, and they come into their own, Daenerys as their khaleesi could then be said to be the “great white hero.”

      I’m not saying the historical framework excuses this, even. George Martin gives us a patriarchical world where he nevertheless has strong women, and he seems very in tune with the difficulties of such inequality, but he does not put the same amount of awareness into racial hierarchies. Still, there is a strong current of multiculturalism in the later parts of Dany’s story, if that helps.

    • I think this is simply an instance where visualizing/forming the Dothraki culture as Martin imagined it was going to run into these problems, and there are a number of story factors which led the writers to choose not to create dramatic changes.

      It’s important that we’re having this conversation, and I don’t want this debate to disappear in the weeks ahead. However, I do want anyone having issues to keep an open mind for how the storyline develops in the weeks ahead, where I hope to discuss this in more detail (especially in episodes five and six where the “plot” of it all begins to pick up). There’s no dramatic change, to be honest with you, but I look forward to discussing the subtle shifts as we move forward.

    • Kim

      on the American Indians? WRONG CULTURE. Turks at Constantinople’s gates. at least politically speaking. The turks were horsemen too, if you’ll recall…

  8. Ryan

    Here is the real issue I have been worrying about. When is the right time to judge this (or any) series?

    If there’s one thing that Martin seems to be all about it’s restraint. Again and Again we’re forced to wait before things are revealed.

    NON-PLOT SPOILER: When are we given the history of Westeros? End of Book 1. When are we given any info on the Seven Gods? Start of Book 3. When, for all the muttering of the Stark motto, does winter actually come? End of Book 4. That is some serious restraint.

    So when do judge a series’ portrayal of a character or of issues of gender or race? After the first 2 episodes when they are being set up to be dispelled? The problem is a Telvision series is supposed to hook you straight off the bat. Which is a little unfair to Martin’s slow boiler epic.

    I find myself drawing comparisons to Dollhouse which DOLLHOUSE SPOILERS went from sexist exploitation of the female figure in some rather humdrum stock standard scifi plots into what can only be described as sheer madness, the result of really following through on the implications of the tech. I stuck with it because I trust Whedon. Will non-SoIaF fans have the same faith?

    Martin follows through on his premise. But will anyone other than the already converted be there to see it?

    • EvilClosetMonkey

      I agree that part of the “Otherness” of the Dothraki and Drogo is meant to make us sympathize with Dany and her situation. It’s why we don’t get any subtitles for the Dothraki language until Dany starts speaking it.

      *** Thematic Spoiler Ahead that could allow you to figure out certain plot points before they are revealed/become obvious ***

      Martin does seem to take great joy in setting up traditional arcs/caricatures, especially as they relate to fantasy, and then turning them on their head. Some of the criticism I see involves people seeing these traditional and predictable elements emerge in the story and then extrapolating that this story will go as a thousand others have gone before. This is why Martin’s approach can be both problematic and brilliant. To have the rug pulled out from underneath us, we must first believe that our experience with past stories and characterizations does apply to these characters and situations. The trick is keeping people until the payoff. I know Martin manages to do this (for the most part) with his books; we’ll see if HBO can manage it as well.

      *** End Spoilers ***

    • So long as we do not definitively judge the series’ representations, I think it’s safe to judge the short term implications of these decisions. Even if I know where the story goes (both in the next four episodes and in the next 3 3/4 books) I think it’s fair to draw attention to these issues.

      The only problem is if someone “writes off” the show based on short term representations. I hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s definitely a possibility.

      • Kim

        I’m glad to see people wrestling with issues! It makes it more fun to read people’s perspectives!
        Just… don’t stop watching!

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  10. Tim

    Successful nomadic hordes were ethnic hodgepodes. Central Asia used to be rather ethnically diverse with various Caucasians (Scythians, Sarmatians, Goths, etc) and Asiatic tribes (Huns, Mongols, Turks, etc). Normally these individual tribes would be fractured and independent. However when a successful warlord arose and united his tribe like Atilla did with the Huns the other tribes would be swept in his wake and the horde that resulted would end up being quite a mishmash of different peoples. When Attila invaded the Roman Empire he didn’t just have Huns under his command, he had Goths and Samartians and slew of minor tribes with him.

    As for the Dothraki being brutal, everyone was brutal during premodern era, and nomads more brutal than most, whether they were white or Asian.

    • Tony

      “As for the Dothraki being brutal, everyone was brutal during premodern era, and nomads more brutal than most, whether they were white or Asian.”

      Also, the Dothraki are no more brutal than some of the folks in the seven kingdoms, we just their brutality first.

  11. Maxwell James

    Brian makes a good point – the problem with the Dothraki isn’t so much that they are “bad” – after all, most peoples are “bad” in this story – but rather that they are uninteresting. And that’s despite some of the lengths the producers went to, such as creating over 1000 words in a new language, to give them some depth. In part I think the problem is highlighting more of the Native American traits that went into their creation, as opposed to the Mongol traits that were more dominant in the book. That leads viewers to quickly read them as “primitives,” when the story in the book is at least somewhat more complex.

    As for the “Skinemax” qualities of the Dany storyline, after seeing the second episode I’m somewhat on the fence. Her scenes with Doreah were clearly pretty cheesy (James Hibberd does a good job mocking them in his recap). And it’s clear that HBO wants the show to be perceived as “sexy” a la True Blood.

    But it remains pretty clear to me – and to my spouse, who’s watching the show as a non-reader – that we are meant to sympathize with her throughout her brutal treatment at the hands of her husband and her brother. I haven’t found any of the sex scenes to be titillating at all thus far, which itself is pretty true to the books.

    Oh well. Being a reader, I at least know these problems will be ameliorated over time. I am starting to hope more fervently that in season 2, they take some risks to make the many storylines more manageable, even if it ends up offending some of the hardcore fans.

    Just discovered this blog btw – enjoying it a lot.

    • Thanks!

      And yeah, I haven’t found the stuff with Dany “titilating,” especially compared to the sex on shows like True Blood. Admittedly, there are some later scenes which are allowed to be a bit more “sexy,” but they’re far removed from the gender and racial politics of the Dany/Drogo relationship.

    • Katran

      Brian makes a good point – the problem with the Dothraki isn’t so much that they are “bad” – after all, most peoples are “bad” in this story – but rather that they are uninteresting. And that’s despite some of the lengths the producers went to, such as creating over 1000 words in a new language, to give them some depth.

      As a fan of the books, Dany’s storyline is one that never clicked as much with me because it has a lot of inherent problems, the first of which is that she’s in a culture that’s totally disconnected with the rest of the story. The culture of Westeros, because most of the POV characters are in it, always feels more complete, and GRRM obviously puts a lot of time and effort into its worldbuilding. Minor characters might show up again in someone else’s POV, so they get a little more fleshed out. On the flip side, the Dothraki culture seems to exist primarily as a foil/comparison for the Westeros culture, when over the course of the season, all the “barbarian” stereotypes set up for the Dothraki get played out in Westeros as well, so who’s really “civilized”? (Theme!) Unfortunately, I don’t think that GRRM spent as much effort in fleshing out most of Dany’s supporting characters, and the ones that do get fleshed-out, possibly coincidentally, are mostly non-Dothraki. In the books, it really makes Dany’s story seem flat and occasionally unmeaningful, because nearly everyone around her is a caricature. I am hoping the TV show expands on not just the Dothraki culture, but also the characters in it, and make them feel like something other than cardboard props for Dany’s character arc. I’m not holding out a lot of hope, though.

  12. Sheldon

    While reading the books, I usually found myself glossing over the Dany chapters, I just could not get into them, so it isn’t too much of a surprise that the weakest parts of the series has been the ones that involve her. But yeah the Dothraki appear even more stereotypical than what I imagined when I read the books, I’ll be curious to see how that part of the storyline unfolds, because I’m really digging the rest of the series.

  13. megganj

    loved your review Miles. Thanks for offering a different view than Ryan. I didn’t think it was a “themeless” episode either. From the dream-like state Cat was in at Bran’s bedside to Tyrion waking up among the goats, clearly this episode was about characters dreaming/waking up, literally and figuratively. Your travel through each character to show that this is the case. You also prove that the writing on this show demands you pay attention–with a mental workout after watching. Maybe Ryan McGee isn’t up to that, and he was expecting something less involved? Anyway, clearly you’re doing some great gymnastics here!

  14. super01

    I find the discussions about characters and story lines very interesting, but as a TV show viewer and not having read the book, I’m struggling. I have only watched episode 1 & 2 and I can’t figure out certain story lines. For example, what’s the wall for? Reason for my question: The first episode starts out with three riders leaving the wall, presumably to the “dangerous” side, finding the mass murder place of a small settlement, and only one guy surviving the attack of green eyed monsters. Then he deserts and somehow ends up very close to Winterfell where he is executed for desertion. How the heck did he walk all the way, and how did he get there from the “wrong” side of the wall. Doesn’t make sense.

    Even worse in episode 2. Lord Stark just left Winterfell with the King, we see them taking a break along the way, etc. etc. Catelyn suspects that someone is trying to kill Bran and decides to ride to inform Lord Stark. Arya and the prince get into their shuffle. All of a sudden it’s night time, Lord Stark is looking for his daughter in the woods, someone finds her, and she is before the King being questioned. How did Lord Stark and the King get back so quickly? Where were they, and where were they going? If some of the children are supposed to go, too, why didn’t they? And why did the Queen not travel with her husband?

    I just don’t get it. The change of locations is extremely confusing and doesn’t make any sense.

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