Winter is coming, but not soon enough. So to help pass the time until season seven of Game of Thrones, we’re doing a weekly rewatch of the series, episode-by-episode, with the knowledge of what was to come, and with more information about the yet unrevealed rich history of events that took place long before the story began. Be warned, though, as this series is full of spoilers for every season, even beyond the episode itself. So if you haven’t watched all of the show yet immediately get on that and then come back and join us for Game of Thrones Re-Throned.
Because the next best thing to watching new episodes is re-watching old ones.
Season 1, Episode 3: “Lord Snow”
Original Air Date: May 1, 2011
Director: Brian Kirk
Written by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
No show can fill every episode with big explosive moments. Some hours are going to be dedicated to the characterization and world building necessary to making those big moments mean something (Michael Bay doesn’t understand what I just wrote). That’s what Game of Thrones’ third episode, “Lord Snow,” did, all while still moving the main plot forward. So while it might not have seemed like anything overly exciting happened, a lot of important elements of the story were present. This entry introduced important events that happened before our story started, as well as put more pieces into place for huge things going forward.
The episode opens with Ned and his entourage arriving at King’s Landing, where a guard says the Small Council is waiting for him. It leads to the first of many great Ned reaction shots (you could use Sean Bean’s facial expressions in this one hour alone to replace all of your emojis), after the guard says, “If you’d like to change into something more appropriate…”
Before Ned gets to the meeting, though, he shares an amazing scene with Jaime Lannister in the throne room (which is not the first time the two met here)—one that’s so loaded with subtext they might as well have just told each other to go “f” themselves.
“Very handsome armor. Not a scratch on it.”
“I know. People have been swinging at me for years, but they always seem to miss.”
“You’ve chosen your opponents wisely then.”
“I have a knack for it.”
In a couple of episodes, after Jaime learns Catelyn has had Tyrion arrested, these two would end up fighting on the streets of King’s Landing, where Jaime would learn that Ned was not such an easy opponent.
“It must be strange for you coming into this room. I was standing right here when it happened. He was very brave, your brother. Your father too. They didn’t deserve to die like that. Nobody deserves to die like that.”
What he is referencing is when the Mad King, Aerys II, burned Ned’s father, Lord Rickard Stark, in a “Trial by Combat,” because the Mad King’s champion was fire. During this, Ned’s older brother Brandon, attached to a Tyroshi noose, strangled himself trying to reach a sword in an effort to save his father. Ned points out Jaime did nothing during this, and Jaime says none of the 500 people present did. They were all silent while the two Starks died.
“And later, when I watched the Mad King die, I remembered him laughing as your father burned. It felt like justice.”
“Is that what you tell yourself at night? You’re a servant of justice? That you were avenging my father when you shoved your sword in Aerys Targaryen’s back?”
“Tell me, if I’d stabbed the Mad King in the belly instead of the back, would you admire me more?
“You served him well, when serving was safe.”
In season six Lord Edmure would ask very similar questions to Jaime during the siege of Riverrun, so apparently people really wonder about the Kingslayer’s sleeping habits.
This is a really incredible exchange. Jaime, who hates Ned Stark (we’ll get to why in a second), says he thought about what the Mad King had done to Ned’s family, and Ned has none of it. He doesn’t believe that Jaime was acting nobly, he thinks he was an opportunist who only killed his king when the war was lost, because Jaime’s own father had taken the city on behalf of Robert (after lying to the king).
We also see Jaime call bullshit on the idea of honor by asking if stabbing the king in the front would have made a difference. For everything he has seen and been a part of, Jaime knows that the ideals Ned Stark lives his life by aren’t worth as much as he thinks. In fact, it seems the more nobly someone lives the more likely they won’t live long in this world of betrayal and swords. Obviously Jaime is right.
So why the animosity? Because, as Jaime would one day tell Brienne in that hot bath, Ned was the one who found him in the throne room, the same place this scene takes place, after Jaime had killed the Mad King. Jaime was sitting on the Iron Throne, and as soon as Ned saw him he judged him as an oath breaker and dishonorable man. Jaime never told him, or anyone, the truth about why he did what he did. Jaime wasn’t trying to save his own head, rather he was trying to save the lives of everyone in King’s Landing, but he is held in disrepute for breaking his Kingsguard vow instead.
These two dramatically different men shared something very important: they both sacrificed their honor in the name of something more noble. Jaime became the Kingslayer and kept why to himself, and Ned became an “oath breaker” by having a bastard, but he did it to keep a promise to his sister and to protect his nephew. I remember being fascinated by this scene the first time I watched the show (this is where my obsession with the history of the story began), and wondering what they were really talking about. Having all the answers only makes the scene better now.
Ned then finally gets to the Small Council, where we meet Grand Maester Pycelle (Ned seems neutral towards him), Varys (Ned seems cold), Renly Baratheon (whom Ned shares a warm hug with), and Peter Baelish (Ned seems to look down on him a little).
Ned and Baelish have never met, but know of each other. Baelish tells Ned that he still has “a token of [Brandon’s] esteem from navel to collarbone,” the wound he got when he challenged Brandon to a fight over Catelyn (she was originally to marry Brandon, not Ned, but then Brandon died). Brandon only let Littlefinger go when Catelyn begged for him to spare him.
We also learn that Robert doesn’t usually attend his own Small Council meetings, and that the crown is in massive debt to House Lannister (and, as we’d eventually learn, the Iron Bank of Braavos). We also get to see the pin of the Hand of the King for the first time, which I think had that Brady Bunch tiki curse on it.
“You’re a warrior like your father.”
“I’m not like him (how true for multiple reasons). I didn’t fight off anything. It bit me and all I did was scream. And the two Stark girls saw it, both of them.”
“That’s not true. You killed the beast. You only spared the girl because of the love your father bears her father. When Aerys Targaryen sat on the Iron Throne, your father was a rebel and a traitor. Someday you’ll sit on the throne and the truth will be what you make it.”
She’s not wrong. History is written by the victors.
The two then discuss the merits of kindness and cruelty, with Cersei explaining how and why a king might use his power. Joffrey believes in pure force and brutality, but she very accurately tells him why he could never rule the North with force.
“The North cannot be held… not by an outsider. It’s too big and too wild. When the winter comes, the Seven gods together couldn’t save you and your royal army. A good King knows when to save his strength… And when to destroy his enemies.”
So who exactly does Cersei think are their enemies? “Everyone who isn’t us is an enemy.”
No wonder, now that her children are dead and she is the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, she find herself surrounded by enemies everywhere. She has always treated everyone as an enemy, making them where they weren’t to begin with. It will be her downfall.
Next, Sansa and Arya fight, but afterwards Arya tells her father, “I don’t hate [Sansa]. Not really,” which should alleviate your fears about a bitter Arya ever trying to enact revenge on Sansa for not being a loyal Stark while in King’s Landing. Ned also learns about Needle, and tells her that she’ll have to learn how to use it.
We then go to Winterfell, where we discover Bran doesn’t remember anything about his fall (what a dramatically different story this would have been if he did). Old Nan is sitting by his bedside, telling her stories. She reference Ser Duncan the Tall, but Bran wants to hear the scary ones. Little does Bran know how important the legend she speaks of will be to his life.
“Oh, my sweet summer child. What do you know about fear? Fear is for the winter, when the snows fall a hundred feet deep. Fear is for the long night, when the sun hides for years and children are born and live and die all in darkness. That is the time for fear, my little Lord, when the White Walkers move through the woods. Thousands of years ago there came a night that lasted a generation. Kings froze to death in their castles, same as the shepherds in their huts. And women smothered their babies rather than see them starve, and wept and felt the tears freeze on their cheeks. So is this the sort of story that you like? In that darkness, the White Walkers came for the first time. They swept through cities and kingdoms, riding their dead horses, hunting with their packs of pale spiders big as hounds.”
I swear, if the White Walkers don’t eventually show up with their giant ice spiders…
Back in King’s Landing Catelyn and Ser Rodrik also arrive, but not in secrecy like they thought. It turns out Varys has little birds in the North too, and he told Baelish about his childhood crush coming to the capital. Catelyn show them the dagger used by Bran’s would-be assassin, and on the spot Baelish makes up a lie about losing it in a bet to Tyrion (he said Tyrion bet against Jaime, something Tyrion would never have done). We didn’t know it, but Baelish had already had Lysa kil Jon Arryn, and he views chaos as an opportunity. Trusting Baelish will lead to Catelyn losing her husband.
Next, we meet Ser Alliser Thorn for the first time, whose dislike for Jon was there from the get-go. He derisively calls Jon “Lord Snow” as the new recruits practice fighting in the yard. The next scene at Castle Black has Tyrion saving Jon from an attack by his fellow recruits. He tells Jon not every new recruit is a rapist or criminal, that some are here for unjust reasons. This is where Jon’s friendship with Grenn and Pyp starts, and the next training session shows Jon trying to teach them, rather than trying to win his fights with them.
In King’s Landing, Baelish brings Ned to see his wife, who he is keeping safe in one of his brothels. Thinking it is a bad joke Ned grabs Littlefinger by his neck, only stopping when Catelyn pops her head out. That leads Baelish to say, “The Starks: quick tempers, slow minds.”
That one hurts.
When Ned and Catelyn meet with Littlefinger, she tells her husband they can trust her “true friend.” She says, “Petyr has promised to help us find the truth. He’s like a little brother to me. He would never betray my trust.” Nope. Nooooooooooope.
That’s followed by Cersei yelling at Jaime for pushing Bran out the window, even though Bran doesn’t remember what happened. Jaime says if he ever does they’ll go to war with everyone, so these Lannisters really did get what they want, now that the entire realm hates them.
Ned and Catelyn then say goodbye (they don’t know it’s for the final time), and Ned warns her about being careful, “You watch yourself on the road, huh? That temper of yours is a dangerous thing.” She will ignore that when she runs into Tyrion Lannister and has him arrested, making things much, much worse for her family. Ned also says Baelish still loves her, but neither of them know just what that love will make Baelish do.
We then join Robert, who is drinking, while he talks with Lord Commander of the Kingsguard Ser Barristan Selmy about the first man he killed . Robert says his was a boy from House Tarly (Sam’s family) during the Battle of Summerhall, one of the first fights from his rebellion.
(The Battle of Summerhall, near the Dornish Marches, was actually made up of three battles in one day; Robert won all of them. It took place at the ruins where King Aegon the Unlikely died in a massive fire trying to hatch dragon eggs. Rhaegar was also born that day.)
Barristan says his first kill was an unnamed Tyroshi (almost certainly during the War of the Ninepenny Kings), but more important than this very cool world-building-folded-into-characterization is that we can see Barristan Selmy doesn’t have much admiration for Robert. In fact, when they call Jaime in to ask him about his first kill we can see Selmy’s demeanor change, suddenly he is smiling and warm. That is until Robert insults the Kingslayer.
Robert asks if the Mad King had any last words when Jaime killed him, and Jaime said he repeated what he had been saying for hours, “Burn them all.” It’s really amazing that his own sister would end up using those caches of wildfire that he stopped the Mad King from using.
Oh, and the wine server? That’s Lancel Lannister, who would soon be bedding Cersei, and would one day join the Faith Militant. This is the same actor, just older and with less hair.
From there we head back across the Narrow Sea where we see Daenerys acting like a queen, or rather, as she says, “Not a queen, a Khaleesi,” when she commands the horde to stop until she is ready to move again. This enrages Viserys who grabs her by the neck, which gets him a whip around the neck from Rakharo, who then refuses to let Viserys ride a horse. This is how the Beggar King became the Sorefoot King.
Back at Castle Black we see Jon visit the top of the Wall for the first time, with his Uncle Benjen there. Jon wants to go ranging with him, but he is denied, and the two say goodbye (another Stark farewell that is more than just a goodbye).
Inside we see Tyrion speaking with Yoren, a man who would go on to protect Arya Stark from the moment Ned was about to be executed. Tyrion mocks the Night’s Watch as Benjen comes in, and he gets an earful from the First Ranger as a result. Tyrion sort of/kinda/not really apologizes, but says he just doesn’t believe in “giants and ghouls and White Walkers lurking beyond the Wall.” So we should expect ghouls soon, right? Or are wights ghouls? Are zombies ghouls? I guess I don’t know what a ghoul is.
Back in Essos we see Jorah explaining to Rakharo why a Dothraki arakh wouldn’t be a good weapon against a knight in armor. This would prove to be prophetic, as Jorah would battle and defeat Qotho later in the season, partly because the Dothraki’s arakh couldn’t penetrate his “steel dress.”
The bigger news though is that Daenerys is pregnant, and she is sure it’s a boy. When Jorah hears this he reacts poorly, and as we know it’s because he was betraying Daenerys’ trust to the Small Council in Westeros. This pregnancy is Robert’s fear, and Jorah says he needs to ride to Qohor (one of the nine free cities of Essos), that way he can safely and secretly send word to King’s Landing, even if we didn’t know it.
Before Tyrion leaves the Wall (transporting Yoren who will be looking in the Red Keep dungeons for recruits), he meets with Lord Commander Jeor Mormont and Maester Aemon. They ask Tyrion for help via his sister and the king, especially because they are now taking the White Walker reports seriously (even if the rest of the realm thinks such talk is lunacy). They need it, since the Night’s Watch is only made up of about a thousand men, they aren’t a very good lot, and something very bad is coming.
“This summer has lasted nine. But reports from the Citadel tell us the days grow shorter. The Starks are always right eventually–winter is coming. This one will be long and dark things will come with it.”
Tyrion then says goodbye to Jon before leaving (after fulfilling his promise to piss off the edge of the world), and if Tyrion is a secret Targaryen he just spoke to his second relative of the day.
We then end with Arya’s first training session with Syrio Forel (Syrio!), the former first sword to the Sealord of Braavos. This scene and Syrio are just as awesome as you remember, but it’s what happens at the end that makes it bittersweet. Ned comes in to watch, and while he smiles at first, he then turns melancholy as he begins to have flashbacks to his own fighting days. The sounds of the wooden practice swords suddenly sound like the clash of metal. Ned has known many horrors in his life, but watching his unladylike daughter fighting might have reminded him of his sister Lyanna, and the sounds he remembers might be from the fighting that went on that day at the Tower of Joy.