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A lot of shows settle in after a few weeks of explaining things to refocus on the current story, though if anything, last night's Game of Thrones episode actually had significantly more exposition than the previous ones. We learned the backstories of a few minor characters, we learned more about the war that gave Robert the throne and the last winter, we learned about when places were built and the names of some dragons. Having already read the books, it's hard for me to know how much of this information is really useful, and how much is just window dressing I'm already familiar with that spices up the reading but can slow a TV show down a bit. The book worked by bringing you inside the heads of several significant characters from chapter to chapter, and needing all of these stories and tidbits to be told in dialogue instead seemed to bog it down a bit. It's still a well-made show, and the cast did a good job of wringing some entertainment out of those speeches, but I did think it was a little dull in comparison.
You pretty much have to take it on faith at this point that these things will become important, because the plot is still winding up to get going. Just take the opening scene - Bran dreaming of being able to walk, and seeing a crow with three eyes. I know the significance of this moment, but new viewers won't, and no further light is shed in this episode. Later Tyrion stops in Winterfell on his way back south, and gives Bran plans for a saddle that will let him ride a horse despite his ruined legs, an act which doesn't quite jive with the information last week that the knife the assassin had was his. He stops to make fun of Theon's family's failure in the last war, and his current status as a ward/prisoner, before leaving. This is one of the more exposition-heavy scenes in the show so far, and it's even harder to pull off because Tyrion's telling Theon something he obviously already knows. It strangely works though - there's just the right amount of mocking in his tone, and you get a sense of the history of animosity all of these families now share after generations of fighting each other for scraps of land. There's more in a scene when Ned's servant tries to deliver a message to Robert, whose door is being guarded by Jaime while he frolics with women who aren't his wife. The two share a moment of reminiscing about past glories on the battlefield, but Jaime immediately turns cold once Ned's name is said. The Starks and the Lannisters are two of the oldest families in Westeros and their hatred apparently runs deep.
Having failed to prevent the tournament in his honor from being held, Ned provides the leader of the city guard with some additional manpower before a discussion with the Grand Maester alerts him to the fact that Jon Arryn was doing some detective work before his death. He had been reading a book on genealogy, and visiting a boy at a blacksmith's who he realizes is King Robert's bastard. Jon's last words were "the seed is strong", and Ned definitely has a mystery on his hands. I'm not sure how apparent the development that all this is hinting at is, but it's one that sharp viewers will already have guessed, and explains a lot about the little movements and power plays that have been going on since before the show began and will increase in visibility and importance as it continues.
Still at King's Landing, we also see how Ned doesn't understand what his younger daughter really wants from life - he tells her she will marry and be the mother to knights and lords, but she wants none of it. At the tournament, Petyr tells Sansa the story of how the Hound's older brother, known as the Mountain, burned his face when they were children, before he kills his opponent in a joust. This scene's a little clumsy in the way it just throws that little bit of backstory in there, but there's so many people you have to know about that it's hard for some of their introductions not to come off a little perfunctory. It's a decent episode for Littlefinger in general, who fills Ned in on just how vast everyone's little armies of spies are, gives him some clues, and advises him that he really shouldn't be trusted. The character is fascinating because of how inscrutable he is, and they do a better job of getting that across here.
Across the sea, Daenerys finally stand up for herself when she strikes and warns Viserys after he attacks her, showing a little development in a side plot that has so far, much like the early books, been a bit vague and unclear on what its actual importance is. She's separate from the rest of the story for a long time, so seeing her make progress and realize the influence she now holds, being the wife of a Khal, is a welcome development. Viserys' attack is brought about during a conversation he has while sharing a bath with Doreah, the prostitute he hired to be his sister's maid. This was probably the most boring scene of the episode for me, despite it featuring a girl sitting naked in a tub, because the dialogue seemed kind of drawn out. The fact that dragons are extinct has already been established, and I don't think there was much to get out of his stories of seeing their skulls in King's Landing and learning their names. Doreah's story does sort of echo Arya's in an interesting way, though - the latter is destined to be some noble's wife, while the former will always be seen as a whore. It's not exactly a very forward thinking society.
Up at the Wall, Jon Snow meets Samwell Tarley, the son of a Stark bannerman who hates him, and forced him to join the Watch or be "accidentally" killed. Sam is no fighter, and the way Jon makes sure nobody hurts him, by persuasion or intimidation, shows how he is already being seen as something of a leader by his peers. The trainer's story about the last winter, when he was beyond the Wall for months at a time, is another in a number of small moments on the show that really drive home and build up the danger and foreboding that the oncoming winter will bring with it. Too much of these horror stories and it might get tedious, but so far I'm enjoying how it's being handled. It was also nice seeing evidence that Jon's wolf Ghost still exists.
The last scene goes back to Tyrion, who happens to walk into the same tavern where Catelyn is staying, in the middle of her family's territory. She calls on several men who belong to various houses she recognizes under her father's rule, and has them arrest Tyrion for trying to kill Bran, a development he seems puzzled by. And there ends the episode. If nothing else, they've found great stopping points for these episodes so far - last week is the only one that wasn't a solid cliffhanger, and it was still a very good scene. I think at this point they're running low on people that need to be introduced this season, though I can think of at least a couple more, and so things should be clicking along with a bit more fluidity by next week. This wasn't really my favorite hour of the series, but it was still up to its high production standards, and just had a couple rote speeches too many holding it back. It should only be getting better from here.