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Game of Thrones: Everyone is alone, everyone is surrounded in “The Wolf and The Lion”

[ 16 ] November 5, 2012 |

I always say that titles don’t matter, then I go on to demonstrate how they do, so I see no harm in doing so again: the definite articles in the title matter because this episode focuses on what it’s like to be “the” Stark (wolf) or “the” Lannister (lion) in the room. And the roles keep reversing. In “Lord Snow,” Jon Snow (wolf) stood alone in the middle of a circle, surrounded by people who wished him ill and observed by Tyrion Lannister (lion); in “The Wolf and the Lion,” Tyrion stands in the center of a circle, surrounded by people who wish him ill and observed by Lady Stark (wolf):

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The shots are not identical in scale, but they are nearly identical in composition: in both cases a significant character is nearly, but not quite, occupying the center the frame:

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I don’t want to harp on about explicitly literary tropes like “empty centers,” so instead I’ll just note that the reason the center is empty both in “Lord Snow” and this episode is partly because the top half of the frame occupies fifty percent of the shot and is (ostensibly) empty of people. The features of the landscape are dominating the characters, and with good reason: the Wall in “Lord Snow” and the Eastern Road here represent (or in this case pose) more of a threat to the characters than they do to each other. Even if, as is almost the case above, a character’s head sat square in the cross-hairs, he or she still wouldn’t be a dominant element in the frame. The (very) long shot allows the viewer to understand that whatever threats or pleas these characters enjoin, those hills behind them don’t care, nor do the people in them:

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Granted, those hill people are running down the road, but I can’t show you the hill people in the hills any better than I did (or didn’t) above: they’re a part of the landscape from which projectiles emanate more than they are people. Because it only appeared in the first frame above that Lady Stark and those beholden (however temporarily) to her surrounded Tyrion: in truth the circles were concentric, with the hill people surrounding Stark surrounding Tyrion, and when this becomes clear to all involved, these lonely wolves and lions call a kind of truce:

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Tyrion stands alone, surrounded by hill people, as does:

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Lady Stark. Both of the proud members of these noble houses are cowering, because both are surrounded now. Shifting to the medium close-up allows the audience to read the fear on their faces, and the fact that both of those eyeline matches look off-frame and, in fact, are unrequited by the next shot creates an addition sense of chaos. Because if the people in the middle of a scrum can’t figure out what its focal point is, how is the audience supposed to? Perhaps if they worked together?

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If she unties his hands, maybe the focal point will come into—

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Excuse me, “Ser,” Lady Stark and Tyrion are trying to have a momen—

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No, that’s worse, now all we can see is your a—

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At least now we can see the important people again. Now as I was writing before my shot was so rudely obstructed, Lady Stark and Tyrion are the important people here, which is why when they come together—when they are no longer alone—the person who’s actually the most significant in the person in the sequence dances through the foreground. Whatever momentary truce they come to in the midst of battle matters far less than Bronn playing the interrupting sellsword. The rest of the sequence (12:49 and ff.) substantiates my point, but this post is unwieldy as is and the visual emphasis on Bronn’s talents is easily discernible to anyone who’s read any of these posts. The previous scene occurs on the Eastern Road to the Vale, which Lady Stark and Tyrion eventually reach only to find themselves surrounded again:

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Placing Lady Stark in the center of a circle (described off-frame by the Knights of the Vale) puts her in a position analogous to Jon and Tyrion’s earlier, meaning that despite the context of the scene (that is her sister on that throne), because the directors have trained the audience to consider center-circle people imperiled, she doesn’t seem altogether safe. Nor is she. The director of this episode, Brian Kirk, points out via his short selection that whatever bond she shared with Tyrion on the road to the Vale has been unforged:

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She is as alone here as she was in “Winter Is Coming.” The close-up and shallow focus emphasize her isolation, and a similarly scaled shot is used to reflect Tyrion’s reactions to her sister’s words:

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In fact, the only people in this scene who aren’t alone—who occupy the same frame at the same time—are her sister and her nephew:

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Which strikes me as an unsubtle argument in favor of being alone. But Lady Stark is not the only lonely wolf, nor is Tyrion the only lonely lion. There are five more scenes in the episode I should discuss, but only one more that I must, which is at the end of the episode, and the reason I must is because it deliberately confounds my entire argument about center-circle people:

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This shot is nearly identical in scale and composition to the first one I discussed, only this time the lonely Lannister isn’t in jeopardy. He stands in the center of the circle threatening the periphery as opposed to being threatened by it. The suggestion from the earlier shot—that this is secretly a concentric circle—still holds simply because of the percentage of the frame occupied by Littlefinger’s bordello, but all those spears seem to be pointing at it too. All of which is only to say that this shot interests me because it undermines my argument, i.e. because it surprises me. In an episode dominated by lonely and imperiled wolves and lions, this shot suggests that even though this series is teaching its audience how to watch it, viewers need to keep vigilant because the writers and directors are more than willing to confound the very expectations they created.

Comments (16)

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  1. Eeeeeee!

    Agreed as usual about the visual rhetoric, although I’d add that the way that the Eyrie was constructed in the show is all about hollowness: the impossibility of the Moon Door being set in the floor, meaning the thing is somehow floating in space, the missing fourth wall in Tyrion’s cell/Remedial Econ lecture room (today’s lesson: abstract property rights!), the hollowness of the Eyrie’s exaggerated devotion to chivalry (look at all the brave knights ready to murder someone half their size), the hollow brittleness of Lysa’s pretence at normalcy, etc.

    And I love the parallel here between Tyrion and Eddard – two men who strictly speaking didn’t do what they’re accused of but who have been tainted by association, forced into rigged combats because the driving force has a strongly developed sadistic streak.

    On the political front (although I’ll have to admit I haven’t gotten up to this over on my blog) – this part of the story arc reminds me a lot of those strange incidents between touchy noblemen that suddenly kick off decades-long blood feuds. The choosing of red roses vs. white roses, the Queen Mother of Scotland marrying a Douglas instead of a Crichton, etc.

  2. SpaceSquid says:

    Nice how Catelyn and Tyrion are on opposite sides of the shots during the beginnings of the fight, so when they come together they do so by filling the gaps in each other’s frames.

    That might just be the stills SEK chose, of course.

    • SEK says:

      It isn’t, actually, and that’s a good point. I’m actually pretty poor at recognizing negative space, and I think you’re right that they end up occupying each other’s. (I wish I could post videos to supplement the stills, but there are, um, issues about that. But if you don’t believe me, I’ve given you the time-stamp, and you’re more than welcome to check it out for yourself.)

      • SpaceSquid says:

        Just to be clear, I was guarding against the possibility I was saying something stupid, not suggesting you were implying something the video wouldn’t support.

        • SEK says:

          No worries. I just had problems with tone this morning. Likely had something to do with being woken up at 3 a.m. by the incessant howling of a bored cat.

  3. Left_Wing_Fox says:

    Until I saw this episode, I had no idea the Moon Door was in the _floor_. I always thought it was an exterior door to a balcony that no longer existed.

    Great read as always SEK.

  4. Could the final shot be explained by the fact that (spoilers, I suppose) Littlefinger’s bordello is part of the trap? Stark thinks this is a standoff between him and Jamie, when really he is encircled by Jamie + Littlefinger. He’s in far more trouble than he knows.

    Maybe this is what you were saying; if so, sorry for being obtuse. After reading this series it definitely seems like something the director could intend.

    • SEK says:

      I actually didn’t say anything affirmative about that final shot, only that it confused me, and that I think it did so deliberately … so yes, absolutely, I think that’s a valid reading of it. It’s another imposing edifice, like the Wall and the Eastern Road, that verges on becoming a character. (The Wall more staunchly than the road or the bordello, but the logic’s the same.)

      • I saw it less as a character in its own right, and more as representing Littlefinger himself, who thus forms part of a circle that is more dangerous for being unseen. Though now that you mention it, the building itself is rather wall-like, especially for a structure that ostensibly wants to welcome you inside (at hourly rates).

  5. [...] Game of Thrones: Everyone is alone, everyone is surrounded in “The Wolf and The Lion”: SEK This entry was posted in Potpourri. Bookmark the permalink. ← Reader Feeder Bits for (Mon. 5-Nov-12 1630) [...]

  6. [...] Everyone is always alone, everyone is always surrounded in “The Wolf and the Lion” [...]

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