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Game of Thrones: “Winter Is Coming” for Bran

[ 110 ] September 21, 2012 |

(This is another one of those visual rhetoric posts that’s born of this upcoming course.)

In the previous post we established that the director of “Winter Is Coming,” Tim Van Patten, went to great lengths to transform Will into a sympathetic character. He can choose immediate death at the cold hands of the white walker or run back to Winterfell and face immediate death for having deserted his post on the wall. He chose the latter, which in terms of prolonging his life was the correct choice, but eventually his decision caught up with him:

Games of thrones - winter is coming00131

As hinted in the previous post, this shot is almost a graphic match that straddles the opening credits. Will’s forlorn face as he decides to run to this death rather than face the other resembles, in a compositional sense, this medium long shot of his capture. The difference is one of scale, and it’s an understandable one, as the previous medium close-up highlighted his pained indecision, whereas this medium long shot diminishes him to the “proper” height of one about to be beheaded.

But as I noted in the previous post, Will is but a directorial tool—a means to a sympathy-creating ends. The deep focus in the shot above emphasizes the fact that despite the fact that Will’s in the middle of an open field, he’s surrounded and escape is impossible. Unlike when he was north of the wall and the danger was effectively hidden in plain sight and shallow focus, south of the wall, easily spotted threats arrive from all directions. Hence, the look of resignation on Will’s face. Not that Will matters.

He doesn’t. He’s but a means to an end, and that end is the introduction of the rigorously structured points of view present in the novel. This episode, “Winter Is Coming,” translates nine chapters of Game of Thrones from the page to the screen. Ignoring, for the moment, Daenerys I and II, which cover happenings an ocean away, the episode must introduce the perspectives presented in Bran I, Catelyn I, Eddard I, Jon I, Catelyn II and Bran II. Without going full-Rashomon, how can Van Patten accomplish this? By introducing their internal thoughts and feelings via their reactions to Poor Will’s unfortunate fate. The shot above follows some of the riders to an establishing shot of Winterfell:

Games of thrones - winter is coming00137

Without knowing anything else about what’s going on here, what has Van Patten communicated? Unlike the inhumanely scaled wall presented in the Prologue, this castle is imposing but clearly of human design and repair. It’s also clearly a castle, which creates in the audience the expectation that they’ll be meeting the groomers and smithies and kitchen wards. Of course not: if Van Patten had cut to a crack in the castle wall large enough for someone half-starved to slip through, that might be the case, but he cut to a majestic extreme long shot of a castle lording over its domain, so of course we’re about to be introduced to royalty:

Games of thrones - winter is coming00139

Or people with pretentions of royalty. That’s Bran—of Bran I and Bran II—along with his half-brother Jon Snow and the next Lord of Winterfell, Robb Stark. (Who I initially mistook for Theon Greyjoy, because I need glasses, but which is an interesting mistake.) Snow and Stark will eventually have chapters of their own, but at this point Van Patten is more interested in introducing Bran’s perspective because that’s who narrates the chapters in the novel. That said, the introductory image of Bran is telling: Jon Snow, the Lord’s bastard son, dominates the center of the frame with what I’d call a pedagogical calm. He’s instructing the Lord’s legitimate heir, Bran, in the niceties of hitting what one aims at, and Bran’s clearly trying to impress him. Bran and Robb flank Jon, but because the movement in the shot belongs to Bran, Robb’s position is akin to not insignificant backdrop, but backdrop nonetheless. From this shot, then, it’s apparent that Bran wants to impress Jon and isn’t unaware of Robb, which is just as it is in the novel.

Only it isn’t.

This opening scene at Winterfell isn’t in the novel, which skips immediately from Will’s trial in the Prologue to the beheading of an unnamed deserter from the Night’s Watch. Significantly, Van Patten chooses to connect the Prologue with Bran I by having the deserter be Poor Will, and he interposes a scene in Winterfell prior to Poor Will’s beheading in order to establish the perspective of certain characters. In this case, the central perspective establish is Bran’s. He’s the one shooting target practice above and receiving tender archery lessons from his bastard-brother:

Games of thrones - winter is coming00145

Note again the composition of the shot: Jon’s the most central, only now he’s comforting Bran more directly. Robb’s still backdrop, but by including all three in the frame Van Patten’s suggesting that there’s a strong bond between lordling, bastard and heir. From the perspective of Bran I, not to mention future events aplenty, that’s clearly not the case—but Bran clearly feels some connection to Robb, and it’s established in these opening medium and medium close-ups. So too is the tenderness that Lord Eddard feels toward his sons, true-blood or otherwise:

Games of thrones - winter is coming00146

This odd, not quite point-of-view shot from a balcony above the boys includes both the three of them and the shoulders of Eddard and his wife, Catelyn. It’s significant because any time a director includes multiple figures in a shot, he or she suggests that they’re somehow connected. This is especially true in an introductory scene in which this type of framing is unnecessary. Of course, because Eddard and Catelyn have their backs to the camera it’s impossible to tell how they feel about this display, which is why Van Patten reverses:

Games of thrones - winter is coming00147

They’re clearly happy parents. Of course, the novel tells us otherwise, especially as regards Catelyn’s feelings about Ned’s bastard, but at this moment they’re engaged in something resembling domestic bliss. Only with bastards. Point being: Bran’s attempting to do something, Jon’s gently helping him, Robb’s indifferently watching Jon help, and Ned and Catelyn are looking upon the boys with laughter on their faces and something resembling love in their hearts. Or so it seems from Bran’s perspective which up to this point is where this scene’s been focalized through. This is Bran’s understanding of his world, and if it doesn’t align with Catelyn’s, that’s beside the point. Van Patten’s providing insight into Bran’s thoughts about life in Winterfell, including those about his sisters, one of whom:

Games of thrones - winter is coming00151

Is very much the little princess and important. Note that in this medium close-up of Sansa the Nurse occupies the same position Jon Snow did before the cut with one significant difference: whereas Jon towered over Bran as he taught him and only leaned over to provide advice, the Nurse is central to the frame but still sits in a position of supplication. Unlike Bran, then, who treats his bastard brother as an equal, Sansa can’t even bear to have her beloved Nurse look her directly in the eye. I’d argue that this is still Bran’s perspective of both this sister and the other one in the scene, Arya, who’s actually more central than her sister both initially, above, and as the camera tracks laterally to the left:

Games of thrones - winter is coming00153

Games of thrones - winter is coming00153

Games of thrones - winter is coming00153

Games of thrones - winter is coming00160

Until Arya almost occupies the entire frame. The shift of attention from Sansa to Arya is significant despite the fact that her own chapter won’t feature in this episode. Arya’s more central, and thus more significant in a filmic sense, than her sister, and this is a point that will resonate throughout the series and the novels. For now, it indicates how connected Bran feels to each of his sisters, relatively speaking, although it doesn’t necessarily indicate how he feels about that connection given that when he finally hits the target:

Games of thrones - winter is coming00178

He didn’t hit the target:

Games of thrones - winter is coming00178

The family dynamics of House Eddard Stark are being delineated via the perspective of its youngest male heir. Although these scenes aren’t in the novel, they’re necessary to understand how Bran will react to Poor Will’s execution. Who will provide him guidance and who will provide him comfort matter, and they’re established in this short bit of domestic bliss. Tomorrow I’ll bring the sympathy-engendering Prologue together with the above non-canonical interactions in order to demonstrate how crucial Poor Will is to establishing the importance of perspective in the series.

NOTE: For some reason, some images seem to be disappearing, then reappearing, then disappearing again and claiming that there are errors in them. If this happens, please contact me. I’m not sure why that’s happening, but I can correct it by re-uploading the images. Also, if you know how to correct it, by all means, tell me. It’s annoying having to re-upload all these images.

Comments (110)

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  1. Captain Splendid says:

    That’s the eldest Stark boy, Rob, not Theon the hostage, in those archery pics.

    Don’t think it changes your point though.

    • SEK says:

      Damn, I could’ve sworn that was Theon. As someone wrote in the earlier thread, “all those bearded boys look alike.” But you’re right, I don’t think it changes my point, given Bran’s relation to Robb.

      • Steve H says:

        This is exactly why I couldn’t follow the series on TV the first time through. I could only watch off-and-on, and I just could not figure out who was who.

      • JazzBumpa says:

        What it does, though, is highlight his relationship to Jon in rather a different way. Wouldn’t the strict family dynamic suggest that Robb should be the mentor, rather than the backdrop? Putting Robb in the Theon position you described is significant.

        • SEK says:

          I think you’re right. Doesn’t excuse my mistake that it happens to make my point more strongly than it would’ve otherwise, though.

        • He does stand back, but he also gives advice when Lord Stark steps in to indirectly chide them for not offering instruction.

          As I say below, Robb has less to prove about being a Stark, and a lot to prove about being The Stark. This shapes his relationship with his siblings – Robb plays the remote protector with Bran (Jon plays the playmate); Robb plays the parental enforcer with Arya (Jon plays the secret rebel ally).

      • James E. Powell says:

        As some one who watched the series before reading any of the books, I can tell you it was some time into it before I had the bearded boys completely straight.

  2. JazzBumpa says:

    This series is enlightening and entertaining. Really good stuff.

    Niggling points –
    - Ned isn’t king, and his son’s are princelings.
    - The other thing these scenes accomplish is informing us about Arya’s nature and character – and how starkly (ha!) different she is from Sansa – in a very natural and concise way.
    - John Snow’s parentage is way off-topic here, but I’d lay 100-1 odds that he is not Ned’s bastard.

    • SEK says:

      Got that corrected: odd that I wrote “Lord Eddard,” but went to “king” when describing his heirs. Too much “King of the North” influence, I take it.

    • James E. Powell says:

      It’s been my sense for quite some time that Jon Snow is not Ned Stark’s bastard and that this will be a Big Reveal in the next book. (I’ve read all five.) The fact that Ned kept Jon Snow’s parentage a secret from everyone suggests that he is protecting Snow at his own expense. That would suggest that Snow is a Targaryen. Or maybe not.

      It’s my ‘whatever the author is not telling you is more important than what he is telling you’ theory.

    • delurking says:

      “John Snow’s parentage is way off-topic here, but I’d lay 100-1 odds that he is not Ned’s bastard.”

      ….ooo. That is such an interesting idea.

      If GRRM isn’t going there, he OUGHT to be.

      • SEK says:

        Much as I’d like to believe that he’s a Targaryen, I’m inclined to think he lacks the physical attributes to be one. Plus, wouldn’t Aemon have said something, hinted something, if he were?

        • Darek says:

          It seems the popular theory is that Jon is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, hence the resemblance to Ned that is only shared by Arya among his step-siblings. The truth of this would be known only by Ned and his friend Howland Reed, and kept a secret to protect Jon from Robert (who didn’t seem to mind when the other Targaryen children were murdered by the Lanisters).

          • Ian says:

            I’ve sometimes imaigned that GRRM was taken aback when his fans figured out his (poorly concealed) big surprise so early on, and has been trying to come up with some other, even more surprising explanation–hence all the delays.

            Great series of posts, by the way.

            • Jameson Quinn says:

              Funny theory. But honestly, the portion of fans who are big enough geeks to speculate on that or read it elsewhere is tiny. Most would still be surprised.

            • Murc says:

              GRRM has actually been pretty open about why the last two books have been taking so long.

              There are two reasons. The first is that his timeline got fucked. He intended for things to jump forward about five years after Storm of Swords.

              He wanted to do a slow burn; Stannis conducting a weary, protracted slog in the northern autumn and winter against Roose Bolton; Cersei gradually squandering the strength her father left to her, ruining herself, her kingdom, and her alliances; Tyrion off in Essos, plotting with Illyrio; Littlefinger doing his little plots in the Vale, Daenerys desperately trying to keep Meereen under control.

              Then we he actually sat down to write it, he discovered something like one-half to two-thirds of his projected novel was going to take place entirely in flashbacks explaining what the fuck was going on. So he had to rebuild from scratch.

              And during the rebuilding he discovered his entire Meeren plotline AND his Aegon reveal was FUCKED. So he had to rebuild THAT too.

              That’s reason one.

              Reason two is that GRRM isn’t one of those guys who can just write anywhere. He can only really write at home, or another comfortable well-known space. And he’s been traveling more and more lately, promoting his ever more popular works. His publishers are okay with this; he’s been running over deadlines but his books have been coming out acceptably fast and he’s made them… a lot of coin.

              • Ian says:

                Oh, I know. I was just kidding. A related reason for the now-abandoned time skip, as I recall, was to let the remaining Stark kids grow up a little.

                I love the books, but I am a little worried about how he’s going to balance out the political nitty-gritty with the pending metaphysical stuff. If Winter is Coming, etc., etc., then all these squabbles between houses aren’t going to matter. And yet the squabbles are still pretty much all we’ve had for five books, and they’re what’s most compelling about the series. I’m not sure how one transitions from caring about Tyrion’s misfortunes, say, to caring about an icy inhuman malevolence sweeping into the lands below the Wall.

          • Ian says:

            and kept a secret to protect Jon from Robert

            Forgot to add: this helps explain the conflict between Ned and Robert about assassinating Daenerys.

        • Jamie says:

          Regarding the appearance, I think the fan consensus is that Jon is a plausible amalgam of Targaryen and Stark features. Plus, the most popular theory is that Jon is the son of Ned’s deceased sister, Lyanna. And it is mentioned more than once that Arya looks very similar to Lyanna, and that Jon looks a lot like Arya.

          Regarding Aemon, I think it’s definitely possible that he just wouldn’t know about Jon’s parentage. I think that the only surviving witnesses of the Tower of Joy are Ned and Howland Reed. And Aemon would have already been on the Wall while Robert’s Rebellion was happening, so he wouldn’t necessarily know any details of Rhaegar and Lyanna’s relationship.

          Of course, it’s possible that he has suspicions, which is why he takes an interest and a liking to Jon.

        • E says:

          Robb doesn’t look like a Targaryen, but he looks like Arya, who looks like Lyanna.

          • SEK says:

            You people are breaking my brain, damn it.

            • JazzBumpa says:

              I’ll take it a step further (off topic.) Jon is not a bastard at all. Rheagar married Lyanna, (Targaryans have a history of polygamy) and Jon is their legitimate heir. Which, I believe actually puts him first in line for the throne.

              Just a theory.

              JzB

              • E says:

                It depends on your criteria for legitimacy. I would argue that the Targaryens, as invaders and conquerors, were not legitimate. This would mean that Bran is the rightful king, as the Starks were around long before the Targaryens landed on Westeros.

                • Murc says:

                  And the Starks got to be Kings by being the meanest, hardest, killingest sons of bitches north of the neck. You don’t think they did a whole bunch of conquering themselves? These are people who did human sacrifice.

                  In the cultural context of the world, being a conqueror is actually one the only legitimate ways to gain the throne. If you owe fealty to someone, breaking faith with them is dishonorable and illegitimate. If you don’t, you can honorably go to war with them and take their stuff.

                • The Fool says:

                  Then there are no legitimate Kings of the Seven Kingdoms, because the Targaryens created that political entity out of seven entirely separate kingdoms. Besides, it had been three hundred years before their deposition. They’d virtually gone native, polygamy aside.

              • jhough says:

                Except, of course, that he’s joined the black, which removes any legitimacy he might have had.

          • I think you mean Jon.

            Robb looks like Sansa who looks like Catelyn.

        • Chet Manly says:

          he lacks the physical attributes to be one

          I think he’s a Baratheon for exactly that reason.

        • David Hunt says:

          In the world of GoT, certain Houses tend to win out in passing down their physical attributes over the other. It’s mentioned explicitly in the books and it’s how Ned knew that Jofrey was a bastad. The Baratheon black hair always won out over the Lancaster blond in previous pairings. Jon is definitely a Stark. Many people say he looks more like a Stark than his brothers who favor his Tully mother.

          I’ve only read the first book and a bit of the second, but my own theory based on what I’ve read is that Jon is the son of Ned’s sister and the Targaryen heir (Raygar?) that Robert killed in the Rebellion. He’d kidnapped her due to his obsession with her. Based on some vague hints in Ned’s remembrances of some promise he made to his sister on her deathbed, I’d say that Jon is product of Raygar’s rape on Ned’s sister and that Ned promised her he’d never let it be known. It’s just that the Stark features dominate his appearance. I speculate that a resemblance might be spotted by someone if he and Daenerys are ever in the same room together. Although they’re almost the same age, my theory would make her his aunt…

          • Peter Hovde says:

            During Arya’s travels north, she talks to a self-described bastard boy who says that he and Jon shared a wet-nurse, and this bastard boy *does* have Targaryen features, at least the violet eyes.

            • He has Valyrian features – a few other Houses in Westeros have Targaryen features, which is significant.

            • Murc says:

              … no. No, she doesn’t.

              Arya talks to Edric Dayne, squire to Beric Dondarrion and the Lord of Starfall, one of the largest and most powerful demesnes in all of Dorne. The Daynes have lineage stretching all the way back to Valyria.

              And aren’t the only ones. There are a number of houses and families in Westeros in which Valyrian/Targaryen features pop up regularly. House Velaryon, which is sworn to Stannis, is one.

              • Peter Hovde says:

                I stand totally corrected-I did an unconscious re-write, I think because at the time I though “Well, he *really* is R&L’s bastard”-but of course Darkstar Dayne has the features too.

          • Murc says:

            One of the interesting things pointed out is that if Rhaegar had Lyanna to wife (bigamy is accepted as legal among the Targaryens) that puts Jon above both Daenerys AND Aegon in terms of claim to the Iron Throne.

            Not that legalities matter to most of the people involved.

            • Jon says:

              This. Also, consider that if Rhaegar’s supposed raping of Lyanna was in fact a consensual relationship and marriage, then the crisis which led to Robert’s Rebellion (Lyanna Stark was ravished by a lawless Targaryen prince!) was a huuuge mistake.

              So much potential dramatic payoff, it’ll be more surprising if this theory isn’t confirmed outright.

              • Murc says:

                The crisis which lead to Robert’s Rebellion was Aerys deciding to murder the children of two of his seven most powerful principal bannermen without trial. These bannermen were allied with someone who, while not technically one of the seven greatest lords in Westeros (Hoster Tully) might as well have been.

                Rhaegar riding off with Lyanna began things, but it needn’t have ended in a war. Brandon Stark (brother of Eddard) was an impetuous hothead, but if Aerys had greeted him courteously at the Red Keep, noted that threatening to murder his eventual liege lord could be construed as treason, and held him in custody until he could figure out what fuckery his son was up to, things would have been very different.

                • Even worse than that – Aerys had one of the five top Lords of Westeros put to death (Lord Rickard Stark was Lord of Winterfell (and thus Lord of the North) as well as Warden of the North putting him on the same level with House Lannister, House Tyrell, House Arryn, House Baratheon, and House Martell), along with the Lords of Houses Mallister (bannermen to House Tully) and Royce (bannermen to House Arryn) and their sons, and Elbert Arryn (the heir to the Vale).

                • Jestak says:

                  Of course, since Aerys was mad, such a rational course of action would have extremely unlikely.

              • Sort of a mistake.

                Legally speaking in the world of Westeros, even if it was consensual and they got married, Lord Rickard had the right to determine who his daughter would marry and had already made an agreement with Lord Robert.

                Rhaegar’s abduction of Lyanna would still be considered a gross violation of the rights of House Stark and House Baratheon.

                After all, Helen went willingly with Paris, but it didn’t stop the Trojan War from happening.

                • Murc says:

                  And on top of that, Rhaegar would have royally pissed off the Dornish. I can’t imagine Oberyn would have taken the insult to his dear sister Elia of her husband deciding she wasn’t enough wife for him well.

                • It wouldn’t have been a personal conflict either; Westeros has fought civil wars over uncertain successions.

                  When the Heir Apparent suddenly takes a new bride, that creates a conflict between those who support the elder children and those who support the children “Rhaegar chose.”

                • rea says:

                  After all, Helen went willingly with Paris

                  No, the Goddess Aphrodite made her do it! And anyway, it wasn’t her–she was in Egypt the whole time!

            • The Fool says:

              No, it doesn’t. Aegon (assuming Aegon is actually Aegon) would be first in the line of succession as the elder son of Rhaegar.

        • Not all Targaryens look like that, though. Targaryen features are recessive – hence the inbreeding to maintain the look.

          One of the greatest Targaryen Kings who never was, Baelor Breaksprear, looked like a Dornishman because his mother was Dornish.

        • Erm…how would Aemon know what Jon Snow looks like? Yes, someone could have told him, but specific enough details? Not every Targaryen has the eyes and the hair color.

        • John says:

          I’m rather surprised that you would have considered this idea and dismissed it, because it seemed pretty self-evident to me as soon as the idea occurred to me. Martin has made clear that all Targaryens do not inherit the Targaryen coloring, and Aemon, I think, pretty clearly had no more idea than anyone else.

          If Jon is not Lyanna and Rhaegar’s son, there’s a gaping whole as to what Lyanna wanted Ned to promise her, among other things.

    • On Kings- except the irony is that the Starks have been kings longer than anyone else in Westeros; over seven thousand years of unbroken rulership in the North before the coming of the Targaryens. Which speaks to the strangeness of Westerosi politics: even before the rebellion, some of the lords of Westeros have a much better pedigree than their parvenue royal family.

      • Murc says:

        Depends on your opinion of pedigree. The Targaryens were powerful lords in their own right in Valyria for many years before conquering Westeros.

        And Westeros was kind of a backwater. In fact, it still IS kind of a backwater. The Kings in the North ruled rude clansmen and thousands of miles of frozen waste; the Targaryens rode dragons and were powerful lords in the greatest empire the world ever knew. Despite the longer lineage, I’d give the prize for breeding to the Targaryens.

        • I’d give them the prize for inbreeding.

          He-yo!

        • Al Gore says:

          In fact, it still IS kind of a backwater.

          Yep.

          There are five cities on the entire continent of Westeros – Old Town, King’s Landing, White Harbor, Gulltown, and Lannisport. Everything else on the map is a town or a castle.

          There are nine Free Cities in Essos, plus three Slaver’s Bay cities, Qarth, New Ghis, and I’m sure I’m missing some.

          • Murc says:

            It’s also said that on Essos, there are a lot of “towns” that would be considered full-fledged cities in the west.

            This isn’t to say that Essos and all points east are more civilized than Westeros. They are manifestly not. Cities aren’t the be-all and end-all of civilization; the Free Cities still have slavery, for example. But they seem to be more advanced in many ways, especially economically. It probably comes from living in the wreckage of the greatest empire the world has ever known.

            • jefft452 says:

              “Cities aren’t the be-all and end-all of civilization”

              yes they are, by definition

              • Murc says:

                Only if you’re hyper-literal about what the word “civilized” means. A lot of people, myself included, use it to refer to culture, not just to ability to build a big city.

    • Julia Grey says:

      I’d lay 100-1 odds that he is not Ned’s bastard.

      What makes you say that? You think he’s Baratheon’s, taken to Winterfell to save him from an earlier Lannister hunt for by-blows?

      But why would Ned claim him in the face of what seems to have been Catelyn’s eternal suffering and wrath? Couldn’t he have at least told HER the truth, privately, and saved them both decades of pain?

      I know he was an old school oath keeper, but what man would TAKE an oath to keep such a personally ruinous truth from his own wife?

      That makes no emotional sense to me at all.

      Besides, it seemed in the roadside scene on their way to Kings Landing that Baratheon himself genuinely believed Stark to be Snow’s father.

      • Julia Grey says:

        Wow, all the above speculation about various lines and rapes and abductions and whatnot has totally lost me.

        But in any case, I STILL don’t get why Ned would even promise his sister that he’d never tell CATELYN the truth. It has apparently been a major thorn in the side of their marriage for all this time.

        I’m not saying that the idea that Snow is not Ned’s is impossible, nor that it wouldn’t make for a great pivot on which to turn big surprising plot points, it’s just that in the TV series, they’ve made it look like Catelyn has SUFFERED mightily on the subject, and that it warped the marriage. From what they’ve let us know about the characters, I still think it would have been more consistent of Ned to have told her that Snow wasn’t his if he could have.

        I want them to behave like humans, is all.

        • James E. Powell says:

          If Jon Snow were the child of a Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, Robert Baratheon would have killed him. Eddard could not allow his sister’s son to be killed, nor was he willing to go to war with Robert over it. So he kept it to himself to keep the peace of the realm.

          • JazzBumpa says:

            Exactly so.

            SEK – I apologize for derailing your excellent post with this off-topic JON lineage speculation.

            But having come this far, Ned could not share this secret with Catelyn because she has really awful judgement (everything she touches turns to ashes – worse than Tolkein’s elves.)

            She’s not stupid, and I’m not one of her haters, but she proves repeatedly that she makes very bad decisions – her total neglect of Rickon is just one example.

            I believe Ned’s promise to Lyanna on her death bad was to protect her son’s life.

            • SEK says:

              I apologize for derailing your excellent post with this off-topic JON lineage speculation.

              No worries. I’ve finished the novels, so it’s not like I don’t find it interesting.

            • James E. Powell says:

              Also too. At the time Ned made the promise to his sister, he barely knew Catelyn. He didn’t choose her to be his wife; he married her because it was his duty. They grew to love one another, but that too years.

              She asked him about hit once and he gave her the Michael Corleone “Don’t ever ask me about my business, Kay!”

        • E says:

          In the books, GRRM actually makes it much more explicit that Catelyn loathes Jon, and that his continued existence is a cause of serious anguish for her.

          On the other hand, if Ned promised his dying sister to never divulge the true identity of Jon, I don’t think it would be out of character for Ned to take that secret to the grave. The whole Robert-Baratheon-the-King-on-the-Iron-Throne-wants-to-kill-anyone-with-Targaryen-blood probably didn’t hurt things either.

    • Peter Hovde says:

      This certainly lend credence to the “only mostly dead” theory. WILL Mellisandre realize she’s backed the wrong savior and use her magic to restore the Dragon’s Third Head? Find out . . .at some point!

  3. JazzBumpa says:

    Also, in the book, there is no doubt that the unnamed deserter Ned executes is in fact poor Will.

    • SEK says:

      There’s room for it:

      He had lost both ears and a finger to frostbite, and he dressed all in black, the same as a brother of the Night’s Watch, except that his furs were ragged and greasy …

      There we questions asked and answers given there in the chill of the morning, but afterward Bran could not recall much of what had been said.

      I think it’s not insane to infer that it’s Will, but it’s not explicit in the novel.

      • Karate Bearfighter says:

        Don’t have my copy at hand, but doesn’t the book say the executed deserter babbles about white walkers?

        Also, thanks for supplying a GRRM fix to those of us waiting for those damn Season 2 DVDs.

      • Peter Hovde says:

        If memory serves, Will gets wasted by the lordling-turned-wight at the end of the prologue-the deserter is the third man, whose name at the moment escapes me.

        In four out of five of the prologues, the perspectival character dies within the course of the prologue (at least in human form-Sixskins goes into one of his wolves). In one, the perspectival character survives the prologue but dies in pretty short order.

        • Ian says:

          Yes–the deserter is Gared. And we know it’s him because of the frostbitten ears.

          • SEK says:

            You’re right, the deserter’s explicitly Gared in the novel, which I think makes my point all the more salient about the series: creating continuity between the Prologue and the introduction of the Starks, especially Bran, is of paramount importance.

            • Ian says:

              Sure, the connection between Will and Bran is clear. Although I’m more struck by the connection you underscore between Arya and Bran, who never directly engage in the novels. (Arya watches Bran fencing a little, but he doesn’t see her.)

          • John says:

            I believe it’s also specifically mentioned later in the novel, perhaps when Ned is talking to Benjen.

        • YES! This is a huge shift. In the book, Will plays smart and tries to retrieve Waymar Royce’s shattered sword to bring back proof of the Others to the Night’s Watch, and dies in the execution of his duty.

          Gared is the one who breaks and runs.

          • Murc says:

            It’s not a huge shift, really.

            All they do is swap Will for Gared in the categories of ‘runs away’ and ‘dies onscreen to establish these wights are badass.’

            • Not quite. Gared also dies running in this. In the book, one of the three fights and dies, one runs and dies, and one holds to his duty in bringing evidence of the Night Watch’s oldest enemies and dies.

              What Will died doing was important, both for what didn’t happen (Castle Black doesn’t get the warning) and what it says about the man.

  4. We’re seeing how Bran sees his world when we look at the shots that show Bran, and in the shots that are from Bran’s point of view.

    These shots all include people and stuff in the background. There’s a guy taking a drink of ale, someone pushing a barrow, barrels tipped over, stuff hanging. It creates a sociable, lived-in look for the castle. This isn’t a stern fortress. It’s homey. At least, to Bran.

    • SEK says:

      Exactly. And what’ll be important in the next post, obviously, will be the contrast between what’s north of the Wall, what Bran’s accustomed to, and how they meet at a beheading.

      • Not just the contrast, but also the links. What it means to be a Northerner (from the position of those living south of the Wall) is to guard the Kingdom against what lies beyond – a majority of the Night’s Watch are Northern, Northerners have a different, more traditional and respectful attitude to the Watch, and historically, they were the ones who had to step up when the Wall fails to do its job.

        And it’s even more true for Starks – Starks serve and have served at the Wall, Starks have been Lord Commanders, Starks have fought on the Wall, Starks have died when the Wall failed and the wildlings broke through, and a Brandon Stark supposedly built the Wall.

  5. Dan Mulligan says:

    No offense meant but, even though I am a big fan of the books and the show, you need to get out more.

    • SEK says:

      It’s called lesson-planning.* Wouldn’t you prefer teachers do it before walking into the classroom?

      *Not that I wouldn’t do it anyway, just because that’s how I roll, but still.

      • Murc says:

        I once had a conversation with a friend of mind who teaches history that went thusly:

        “This SEK guy you linked me to knows his shit. I’m amazed he has time to do all this analysis and still teach and have a life.”

        “This IS what he teaches. He does visual rhetoric. He spent an entire semester just on Batman once, if I recall correctly.”

        “… I once wrote fifty-page essay on the use of visuals in Batman comics to complement my thousand-page Batman fanfic.”

        “I know you did.”

        “But I don’t get paid to talk about it!”

        “What ARE you being paid to do this spring?”

        “… three sections of American History to 1860. All freshmen. Again.”

        “That doctorate was money well spent.”

        • SEK says:

          Ha! I lucked into this position, and I’m not very well-compensated for it, but I do take it seriously. Your friend probably has a car that doesn’t make him rue his atheism every time he turns the ignition, which is an underrated benefit of viable employment.

  6. Oh man, oh man, so much I want to say here. I’ll put my political stuff down in a succeeding post, but just to comment on the visual stuff for a second:

    I love how this shows that Bran is under parental surveillance in the home and expected to perform under pressure, and Jon as a bastard is incredibly attuned to trying to live up to expectations when being observed in this place, and his attitude is to try to help Bran get up to the mark (because Father is watching!) and to surreptitiously aid the other child who doesn’t fit in with her rebellion.

    Robb stands off, free to laugh, because in some ways he has less to prove – he’s the heir and is secure in his position. He has other things he has to prove, and other forms of insecurity, but they’re about the burdens of leadership rather than the burdens of belonging. We’ll see his burdens and the way he deals with them in the next scene.

    • Prodigal says:

      That was really well said. Jon has to justify his continued residence within the household, so he does his best to teach Bran how to be the best Stark he can be, and run what interference he can between Arya and her parents’ disapproval of her actions and attitude. Robb only needs to stay alive.

      • Stay alive, and live up to the expectations placed on him. That last one isn’t easy.

        • Prodigal says:

          True, but as long as his father’s alive the expectations aren’t nearly as much of a challenge to Robb to meet as not giving Caitlyn an excuse to get rid of him is for Jon. Note how fast Jon gets shipped off to the Wall as soon as Ned agrees to become te King’s Hand, for example.

  7. Also, how everything you need to know about Arya is shown just from that composition where you see her hunched down observing, almost glaring at her sister, literally being overshadowed by Sansa, and the way she immediately reacts to the sound of the bowshots, dying to be out there instead of in her sister’s place of pride. I think sometimes people forget, because of how cool Arya is, that she starts off as the problem child of the legitimate Starks – and that’s the basis for her bond with Jon.

  8. So here’s the political/historical gloss:
    * In the chapter, there’s some fascinating stuff that happens about Eddard taking on and taking off the face of Lord Stark, Robb starting to do the same with Theon, and Bran learning to do the same thing re: the personal nature and ethos of the power to execute. After Foucault, the emphasis on the medieval spectacle of execution is well-taken, but this is a complete reversal. Public executions, conducted by the judicial authority, as a check on the authority to see if their individual conscience will permit the working of the law in the defense of order.
    * Robb and Jon are interestingly contrasted in the book, with Robb in this chapter as the romantic, Jon as the cynic, and Bran as looking to his father to show him the middle path. Robb and Jon are constantly competing – they race to the bridge, they compete as to who has the keenest eyes – but they also form ranks against outsiders when Theon menaces Bran’s puppy. Interestingly, Robb uses his personality and force of command to try to save the puppies; Jon uses reason and self-denial. Foreshadowing of their future leadership qualities, but also a commentary.

  9. Ian says:

    Not to get too far ahead in your series of posts, but one thing that has interested me about the TV series is that it doesn’t try to replicate the limited knowledge of the book’s POV characters. So, for example, we know right away what Bran sees in the Old Tower, and we know right away who Arya overhears in the dungeon. (There are other examples of this, but I’m blanking on them.) More obliquely, we know right away that Littlefinger is a scheming machiavel of considerable power, since we don’t just see him through the dismissive eyes of Ned or the fond eyes of Catelyn, and we know right away that the Tyrells are indeed lions wearing roses, since we don’t see them through the desperate (and still naive) eyes of Sansa.

    This suggests to me that although it’s certainly possible for the camera’s eye not to be panoptic (even without going full Rashomon), it’s generically incompatible with the sort of art and/or entertainment HBO (and perhaps GRRM) wanted.

  10. this medium long shot diminishes him to the “proper” height of one about to be beheaded.

    So you’re saying the director shortened him by a head.

    • SEK says:

      Sort of. More like what happened to the Doctor’s head in “The Pandorica Opens,” e.g.

      Amy Pond and River Song flank him, and even though the shot scale is medium close-up—meaning the camera captures him from the waist to the top of his head—Haynes uses an unusually high level of framing, which creates an awkward amount of space between the top of the Doctor’s head and the upper limit of the frame. This unusual level of framing makes it so the compositional oppressiveness parallels the narrative—or vice versa, as the relation between the narrative and composition is interdependent in film. In other words, it’s as if Haynes squished the Doctor but left the camera in the same position it occupied pre-squishing.

      That probably makes more sense in context, but the point remains: the camera’s already, by resisting convention, beheaded him in a sense. It’s just a matter of time before Ned gets around to doing the same.

  11. SP says:

    “youngest male heir”
    I’ve only read the books, haven’t seen any of the series- are Rickon/Shaggydog cut out of the TV version?

  12. Julia Grey says:

    I was struck by that last image of Arya. She’s in a box, surrounded by death: hanging pig (?) bodies that have an almost human look. FEMALE human to my eye, actually. Smooth and curved and pink. Does anyone else see that?

    So we have her in the box with the meat, the animal heads, the chains on the background walls, and outside the box, leaning against one of the heavy columns, is an indifferent, relaxed, weaponless guardsman having a beer. No help there. Not even any notice of her (which can be a good thing, as we’ve seen).

    But Arya has her weapon in her hand, and she’s just hit the center of the target — outside the box.

    That’s my grrl!

    • JazzBumpa says:

      She’s just one-upped her brother, but that probably doesn’t even occur to her. She’s doing what she can, because she can.

      And it’s not what she’s supposed to be doing. She’s bad at all that stuff.

      Arya and Jon are outsiders in their own home.

  13. clay says:

    Don’t you think you’re giving the director too much credit in some places. For example:

    Significantly, Van Patten chooses to connect the Prologue with Bran I by having the deserter be Poor Will, and he interposes a scene in Winterfell prior to Poor Will’s beheading in order to establish the perspective of certain characters.

    Surely having the deserter be Will would’ve been in the script?

    • John says:

      Indeed. Especially since on a TV show, the writer, not the director, is the boss (certainly in this case, where the showrunners, Benioff and Weiss, wrote the episode).

      • Ian says:

        Like the author, the director is the principle of thrift in the proliferation of meaning. SEK is really talking about the structural dynamics of the complete artwork, an object that had many creators.

  14. bth says:

    Jon Snow got killed didn’t he at the end of the last published book by the hand of his brothers black?

    I’m guessing Bran the builder re-emerges at some point and probably riding on a dragon. A legion of eunuchs would also come in handy on the wall.

    Just saying.

  15. [...] through Bran, but which also introduces the audience to the larger Stark family dynamics. (I also, as Julia Grey pointed out, inadvertantly indicated how Arya’s character would develop over the course of the season. [...]

  16. Matt Vallone says:

    One quick comment, you seem to say that Robb Stark will have POV chapters in the books, but he is never a POV character. Fleshing him out is one of the things I like most about the show- in the books he’s always somewhat detached.

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