This is the second post in a series I’m staring on this blog called Journey to the Throne, reviewing previous episodes of the show Game of Thrones before its eighth and final season. To view the first post, click here: The Greatest Pilot Episode Ever? Journey to the Throne S1E1
Since the goal of Journey to the Throne is to consider the show as a whole leading up to its end, please be advised that this post will contain SPOILERS up to the end of Season 7.
Game of Thrones, Season 1 Episode 2, “The Kingsroad”
Synopsis: Ned and Robert ride south towards King’s Landing, saying goodbye to Ned’s family, including Jon who rides North to the Night’s Watch. Bran remains comatose after being pushed out of the window by Jaime Lannister. Catelyn investigates his accident and suspects foul play, as an assassin was sent to kill him. Daenerys learns how to make love. After the Arya’s Dire Wolf attacks Joffrey, and Sansa’s wolf is executed for it.
A few years ago – among the first one or two dozen posts on this blog – I wrote about this episode, specifically the scene shared between Catelyn and Cersei. (That can be found here: Mother of Madness: The Cersei Lannister Scene Thrones Fans Choose to not Remember.) To summarize that post: the scene in which Cersei tells Catelyn that her (Cersei’s) first child was stillborn has a lot going on. There’s the possibility that Cersei is lying, but she could be telling the truth. Either way, this is a very complex and very human moment in which Cersei is trying to comfort Catelyn about Bran’s near-death injury (for which she feels partially responsible). The entire scene is open to interpretation – is Cersei’s story true? Is she trying to comfort Catelyn? Or perhaps her visit is sinister, and she is trying to get it into Catelyn’s head that Bran might die? Is she just trying to share something she shares nowhere else in this series, mother-to-mother, to someone who might understand? In a series which tends to give us definitive answers after a fair amount of time, I love that this scene allows for a plethora of interpretation.
(Note: a lot of commentors say that Cersei’s mention of a black-haired son was actually Gendry, Robert’s bastard, which miiiiiiight be possible, but I think that would be less interesting. This scene is lovely and fascinating on its own – let’s not add anything to it.)
In fact, I’d say that the only thing that’s clear is that Lena Headey, who plays Cersei, might be the best performer in the series.
And this episode has plenty of great acting. Check out the farewell scene between Ned and Jon:
Sean Bean here is working with a lot of emotional elements here, more than I can probably cover in this simple post. But Bean really sells the performance of a man saying goodbye to his son, but doing his best to keep it together. Especially at the 36-second mark in the above video, where Ned says “The next time we see each other, we’ll talk about your mother. Hm? I promise.” And it’s just everything about this single line; his little interjection of “Hm” is so fraught with emotion. His eyes are sad but he tries to maintain a smile. And although it might be a result of trying to act while sitting on top of a horse, it seems that his face twitches as though he’s about to tear up. While I don’t think that the cast in later seasons is any worse than the cast early on, I think they tend to lack these small moments of huge emotion.
One thing that gets sadly underplayed – and get ready for this to be a dominating factor form now until Season 3 – is just how talented Jack Gleason is in his role of Joffrey.
And another great performance which starts in this episode is Jack Gleason as Prince Joffrey. As I had mentioned in my post about the pilot, Joffrey has no lines in the first episode. So, in his first scene, Tyrion explains to him that he needs to give his sympathies to the Starks regarding Bran’s coma. Joffrey says he won’t, which is rather bratty, and then Tyrion slaps him across the face, which I at first thought might have been too much. He’s clearly an annoying kid, but a slap just seems a little strong from our modern sensibilities.
But then, towards the middle of the episode, Joffrey tries to intimidate and scar the butcher’s boy just for the delight of bullying. And that’s when we start to see just what Joffrey is made of. He’s arrogant, he’s violent – he’s utterly despicable.
Plus, his complaining results in Sansa’s Direwolf getting executed, so fuck that guy.
This episode shows us out first shot of the Wall – that’s a big deal, wouldn’t you say? There are a few brief moments at the Wall in the cold open of the first episode, but we don’t see much of it, and we don’t see it from the eyes of characters that we do here. Here you see the wonder on Jon’s eyes and on Tyrion’s eyes, and then the audience gets their first full shot of the Wall, and suddenly, we get what the characters are feeling; we’re seeing the wonder of their world.
Favorite line: “A mind needs a book like a sword needs a whetstone. That’s why I read so much Jon Snow.”
Favorite moment: I like the little moment of Catelyn doing her detective work to find out what happened to Bran, but I have to give it to Cately’s conversation with Cersei – there are so many moving parts to that conversation.
Season 1, Episode 3; “Lord Snow”
Synopsis: Ned and the Starks arrive in King’s Landing, and Ned joins the Small Council. Catelyn arrives shortly after them to alert Ned that a hired assassin tried to kill Bran, and intelligence provided by Petyr Baelish says the Lannisters might have done it. Arya begins learning sword-fighting from Syrio Forel. Bran wakes up and is unhappy. Many people chide Jaime Lannister about the fact that he murdered King Aerys he was sworn to serve. B i g b o y V i s e r y s challenges Daenery’s authority, and the Dothraki offer to kill him. Daenerys later learns she is pregnant with Khal Drogo’s baby. Jon adjusts to life in the Night’s Watch, and Tyrion (Who he’s made pretty good friends with) heads south.
One thing that Thrones does exceedingly well is establishing villains. I wrote about this above with episode 2, and how by the end of his first episode we already loathe Joffrey and understand he’s a scoundrel. One thing I didn’t mention from Episode 1 was the characterization of Viserys. He, certainly, is a villain. I was going to call him a scoundrel, but that term feels too light for him – he’s a scumbag. Episode 1 had his infamous line of “I would let his whole horde” that really says everything you need to know about this character and the way he sees Daenerys – as an object he can pawn off for power. Viserys is just the second obstacle Dany will need to overcome on her journey to the throne. (The first being Drogo’s excess masculinity.) What we start to see after the first episode is that Dany is a strong-willed, powerful woman.
This is also the first (technically second really) time we’re seeing King’s Landing, as well as the Small Council. The Small Council provides a lot of the content that makes Thrones what it quintessentially is. This episode introduces Littlefinger and Varys, the world’s best schemers, who seem like straightforward bureaucrats until Catelyn arrives in King’s Landing, and it becomes quite apparent that they’re in on everyone’s secrets. We find out just how much treachery and scheming there is in King’s Landing, and finally, we are playing the Game. (More about that later.)
This episode goes a little deeper into exposition about the Kingsguard and Jaime’s past. We get to see Jaime as a bit of a morally gray character. In the first two episodes all he really does is chide the Starks in conversation and push Bran out of the window. But when he tells the story of his murder of the King, we start to see that perhaps he was justified in what people regard as his most sinister wrong doing. He truly believes that he did the right thing, and the audience can begin to see something admirable in him – something that the series will build on again and again and again.
This is also the last Jon/Tyrion scenes we get until Season 7, which when you think of it is pretty sad. Jon is adjusting to life at the Wall and Tyrion is something of a cynical surrogate older brother for him, dispelling all of the romantic truths his family told him about joining the Night’s Watch. Then again, the fact that these two characters only see each other in seasons 1 and 7 makes their encounters that much more unique and pleasant.
Favorite moment: Ned’s tender goodbye to Catelyn is a nice moment – especially when you consider the fact that this is their very last scene together.
Favorite line: What Jaime says when Robert asks him the Mad King’s Last words – “He said the same thing he’d been saying for hours – burn them all.”