While I agree with Kyra that this season’s opening act has been a little on the lengthy side lengthy, it’s not so much that they’ve devoted a fifth of the show to reacquainting us that concerns me as much as the potential for waste. While, if the first two episodes are any indication, I think Game of Thrones has improved its ability to pace these storylines, I find it’s spending significant time with characters whose fates are not currently in peril. Are we any closer to an endgame now than we were when Joffrey called for Ned’s head? Too many of these characters, I believe, are essentially spinning their wheels, and I’m finding myself taking issue with who Game of Thrones wants to spend its valuable time, specifically the Starks. (Time has to be of heightened value on one of the most expensive shows on television, and one with ten episodes as opposed to the twelve or thirteen we often see allotted to high-brow drama.) It’s enough to ask whether the show has thrown too much on the map, to the point where new details are disclosed poorly or where the show keeps us in the dark with regard to certain characters, running afoul of its normal narrative rules in so doing. If Game of Thrones is becoming more patient with its characters, it’s me who’s growing a little impatient with the screen time given to some of them.
Don’t shoot the messenger, but I think the first family that merits cutting—and I’m not talking their necks, but rather their screen time—is the Starks. I’m thrilled we got another sob story from Mrs. Stark about how she’s failed her family, but by now I’m well-acquainted with her frequent bouts of wrongheadedness. Sansa is trapped in King’s Landing, but she stammers just like always. Wait, did we make sure to catch a glimpse of Jon Snow gazing forlornly over the mountain pass? You bet we did. The new additions to the Stark family don’t tickle my fancy, either. I’ve yet to feel an emotional connection to Robb’s nurse wife, to whom Mrs. Stark weaved her tale of woe, nor can I even tell you her name off the top of my head, owing mostly to the fact that Robb was foolish to marry for love in the first place. Certainly we’re meant to sympathize with Robb’s more modern desires, but therein lies the problem with the Starks: They are only vehicles for our sympathy and nothing more, and in the historical fantasy genre I don’t have a lot of interest in characters who are there just so I can pity them. I want to hear more of the ambitious king who married the ugly woman to sleep with his beautiful mistress on the side. You know, like every other king, and like Robb should have done. We know that the Starks definitely have the stupid gene; to date they’ve been pawns on the chess board that anyone in Westeros with an inkling of guile or ruthlessness has swatted away with ease. There’s nothing Sansa or Mrs. Stark have shown me to disprove their inability to come to their senses. Jon Snow’s encounters beyond The Wall are ripe for excitement, but that’s due mostly to the more interesting people—Mance Rayder, Commander Mormont—that he’s met, not Jon Snow. Arya—the one Stark I actually like, and the Stark who merits most our continued attention—has been done a disservice by the story: Instead of following Jaqen to Bravos, she’s back on the road with her two friends (another of whom, Gendry, also deserves a more compelling treatment) and back in the hands of powerful men. I doubt that the Brotherhood without Banners will prove a more ominous captor than Tywin, and whether the Brotherhood will train Arya (which, I think, is our desired result) remains to be seen. Then there’s Bran—another vessel for our sympathy, what with his paralyzed legs—on whom Thrones has decided to bestow a new talent, almost as if they realized that the Starks are as nuanced as they are intelligent.
I refer of course, to the Wargs, who have the gift of adopting the sight of animals, and a group to which Bran seems to belong; I felt that the discovery of this gift was clumsily handled given that I’d think it would be a very important ability in this universe. Kyra was 10000% correct in noting that the conversation between Jon Snow and Ygritte (To Jon: “Haven’t you ever seen a Warg before?”) was just a way for the show to say that it hadn’t pulled a fast one on us, even though that’s precisely what the show did. Certainly Chekov was no influence here, because there was nothing made known during the first act (or the second, if we’re going by seasons) to suggest the presence of this sight ability among the beings of Westeros; for all the legends of dragons and ravens and decades-long seasons, I was just as in the dark as Jon Snow was, because Wargs had yet to be mentioned in any of them. You’d think that this was something that would’ve been foreshadowed earlier: Part of the conceit of Game of Thrones is that the viewer knows everything while all of the characters must work with limited information. Therefore, it’s surprising that a skill set that allows a character to perceive what’s transpiring far away from where he’s located when the characters themselves have lacked such omniscience would be revealed so casually. This could be an example of Game of Thrones being spread too thin: If we have to introduce this heretofore unheared of and unseen talent to make things interesting, might that be a sign that we’re following around?
Likewise, as it’s the norm on Game of Thrones for the viewer to have a good idea regarding what’s going on with each of the characters, it’s odd and confusing that we don’t know the full story about what happened to Theon after he took a pole to the head. According to a brief discussion Robb had, his bannermen found Winterfell already charred, suggesting then that it wasn’t a portion of Robb’s army who had laid siege. Assuming the people who smoked out the walls of Winterfell are the same people holding Theon, that shuts us out as viewers; this is the only storyline where the actual circumstances are unknown to us, and again, this goes against the central narrative structure of the show. If the supposed joy of the show comes from knowing everybody’s motivations and schemes and then watching people discover if their bets have been mistaken, I don’t see why we can’t know the full extent of Theon’s dire situation. After hashing things out with my good friend Adam, I think it’s quite plausible that it’s Iron Islanders themselves driving screws through Theon’s feet as a form of psychological torture; I can see this playing into Theon’s brash but ultimately feeble incompetence in his effort to impress his biological family.
Luckily, the scene between Margaery and Joffrey practically saved the episode. If time spent with a lot of the Starks is mostly filler as we currently stand, Marge’s rise is keeping me interested; she’s about the only character possessed with kinetic as opposed to potential energy at the outset of Season Three. Her shrewdness has disarmed just about every player she’s com across: Joffrey is taken by her political savvy and of course her sexually charged compliments of his strength and power, however imagined; she was literally disrobed Renly not by coming onto him herself but by using her brother for that purpose; she’s convinced Sansa to quit stammering platitudes about her father’s traitorousness and actually speak her mind. Marge’s canniness benefits her power play, and her willingness to use those she impresses as possible collateral damage places her at the top of my Westeros power rankings. Now if only the show would continue to raise her profile, and lower others’.