Review: ‘Game of Thrones’ Lets the Games Begin in Episode 3

By  · Published on May 3rd, 2011

Now that we’re three episodes into Game of Thrones we find ourselves with main characters that are firmly established and battle lines that are being drawn. Tension is rising, schemes are being hatched, and visions of power and influence are dancing through people’s heads. We get our first scenes set in the kingdom of Westeros’ throne room, and the first images of the iron throne that should become a central one to the story. This is called Game of Thrones after all. Despite the fact that Robert Baratheon is firmly implanted as the king of the realm, what this episode establishes is that positions of power are always tenuous, and everyone around you is always looking to usurp your place. Maybe even those closest to you. But most of what we get is still a lot of talk, war stories and warnings. We get scenes of old veterans reminiscing about first kills, young whippersnappers boasting about future victories, and battle hardened warriors comparing weaponry and technique. There are plans to hold a big tournament of knightly battle. Boys train to become fighting men of the Night’s Watch. And Arya Stark tries to get strong enough just to swing a sword. Do you think there’s a fight coming in the Kingdom of Westeros? I do. What this show has been about so far is building tension and setting characters up like game pieces in position to come in conflict with one another. To what end isn’t quite clear, but it sure seems like it’s going to involve a lot of fighting.

For Jon Snow, the bastard son of Ned Stark, the fight seems like it’s going to be with everyone around him. In this episode he has arrived at the immense wall at the north border of the kingdom to begin his life of servitude with the Night’s Watch. The only problem is, nobody wants him there. All of the other recruits are peasant boys, petty criminals, and vagabonds. Jon Snow is the only one who has been trained to fight, trained to do much of anything, and there is a lot of resentment coming his way from his new “brothers”. They’ve dubbed him “Lord Snow”, and they’ve started putting him through the medieval version of high school bullying. What that means is instead of getting ganged up on in the locker room and given wedgies, he’s ganged up on in the weapons room and knives are put to his throat. Strangely, the only support he gets comes from Tyrion Lannister. That drunken, lecherous, manipulative imp who doesn’t seem like he has a reason to help anybody uses his powers of persuasion to give Snow some advice, and begin to mend the gap between him and the rest of the Night’s Watch. But to what end? Does he see a use for Snow, or perhaps a way to use the entire Night’s Watch to his own ends? When we leave the wall the leaders of the Watch are begging Tyrion to go to his sister, the Queen, and see that they get more men, more resources. It’s interesting that Tyrion may be Jon Snow’s only hope for continued survival, as elsewhere in the episode things are being set up very clearly to pit House Stark against House Lannister.

Back at King’s Landing there is conflict and tension everywhere you look. Ned Stark has been instated as the King’s Hand, and before he can even have his first meeting in the position, the smarmy, child crippling, Jaime Lannister is putting doubts in his head about taking the job. “The King shits and the Hand wipes,” Jaime says. And that doesn’t seem to be empty smack talk either. For when Stark has his first meetings with the King’s advisors, it becomes clear that his old buddy Robert isn’t the King they hoped he would be when they overthrew The Mad King Aerys Targaryen and sat him on the throne. Robert hasn’t been concerned with much more than drinking wine, going on hunting trips, and throwing parties. Subsequently, the kingdom has spent more coin than it has acquired. With this conflict in responsibility, and the scenes from episode two where Ned and Robert’s children were at each other’s throats, the seeds of Ned Stark against Robert Baratheon have begun to be sewed.

And what of Robert’s wife, Queen Cersei? So far we’ve seen her be a party to throwing one of Ned’s kids out of a window and ordering the death of another of his kid’s pets. Not to mention the fact that she’s cheating on her husband with her own twin brother Jaime. The big scene we get from her this episode is one in which she appears to be grooming her son Prince Joffrey for the day when he might take the throne. When the boy laments the fact that he is a coward and a liar, Cersei tells him, “Some day you’ll sit on the throne and the truth will be what you make it.” Sinister words that Joffrey uses to inspire a fantasy where the entire north is in his servitude and the Starks have been crushed under his boot. When he looks to his mother for assurance that the Starks are their enemies, she replies, “Everyone who isn’t us is an enemy.” The question seems to linger in the air as to whom exactly that “us” includes. Is she including her cuckolded husband Robert Baratheon, or does “us” only stretch to those with Lannister blood?

Things aren’t all copacetic in House Stark either. Events have conspired to pit sister against sister, and husband against wife. Arya is angry at Sansa for siding against her and with the lying Prince Joffrey. Sansa is mad at Arya for ruining her fairy tale romance with the young Prince. Both Arya’s friend and sparring partner and Sansa’s direwolf Lady ended up dead because of their disagreements already, and the promise of more death seems likely. As for Ned’s wife Catelyn, she’s come to suspect, rightly, that it was a Lannister who was responsible for her son Bran being thrown out of a window, and she has come to King’s Landing to investigate further. What should be a big reunion between she and her husband is sullied a bit when Catelyn is intercepted by the Kingdom’s Treasurer Petyr Baelish and brought into the back room of a brothel for a meeting. Not only does he implicate Tyrion Lannister in the attack on Bran during this meeting, but Baelish himself gets revealed to be an ex-squeeze of Catelyn’s. This doesn’t sit well with Ned who does things like take his wife’s ex-squeezes by the throat. The situation seems extra suspicious to me simply because Baelish is played by a sneering Aidan Gillen, who was Mayor Carcetti in The Wire. Surely he’s got something up his sleeve. Could there be tension in the Stark marriage as well as tension in the Baratheon one? At King’s Landing everyone has been pitted against one another. Not only is it Stark vs. Lannister, it’s also husband against wife, and sibling against sibling. And the King, Robert Baratheon, seems to sit drunk and oblivious in the middle of it all. Which side will he prove to be loyal to, his old buddy Ned’s, or his treacherous wife Cersei’s? And why is the iron throne empty every time we get a look at it?

One person who would like to be sitting in it is Viserys Targaryen, who considers himself the rightful heir to the throne, and Robert Baratheon to be a usurper. But overseas in the East, his plan to acquire an army of warriors by marrying his sister to their leader Khal Drogo doesn’t seem to be going as planned. No longer content to be bullied by her brother, and to be subject to his whims, Daenerys Targaryen has been schooled in the womanly arts of pleasing a man, and has subsequently taken hold over the mind of her powerful husband. And as Viserys is loath to find out, she who controls Khal Drogo controls all of the Dothraki warriors. Viserys had planned to use his sister as a pawn in his play for power, but instead he has found his power stolen, and he ends the episode walking alongside the Dothraki horses like a peasant. While the kingdom of Westeros is poised for a power struggle, here in this distant land the struggle has already begun. For Daenrys Targaryen, it’s game on. Personally, I’m fully sucked in by all of the backstabbing, hidden agendas, and evil machinations of Game of Throne’s characters. I’m loving the series so far, and I’m primed and ready for people to start getting offed. But I came into the series as a fan already. How are the rest of you reacting? Are your mouths watering in anticipation for all of the big stuff to go down, or are you bored to tears by the slow build of the series?

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Writes about movies at Temple of Reviews and Film School Rejects. Complains a lot.