As always, please label spoilers for events beyond those portrayed in the aired episodes before in comments. But do feel free to spoil away!
I go to a semi-regular dinner on Sundays where I effectively act as a Game of Thrones interpreter for a group of people who are watching the show mostly cold; they’ve read at most, the first novel in the series. One of the things that happens all the time is that they’ll ask me about the implications of something they’ve seen on-screen, only for me to tell them that if we tug that thread, we’ll unravel thousands of pages of spoilers, storylines that I don’t even know the answers to. The way details germinate and bloom into hideous flowers is one of the most impressive and engrossing things about reading A Song of Ice and Fire, and it’s one of the things that makes the show an impossibility for casual audiences.
One of the things the show has done best as an adaptation is to draw out personalities that will prove to be important later in the narrative. Almost all of the additions to Martin’s narrative have been those kinds of strategic character developments, and they’re almost uniformly excellent—last night’s episode was a particularly good episode for it, in large ways and in small. Ser Barristan Selmy’s remarks about sitting vigil for Ser Hugh, who died at the end of last episode, is just one of the ways the show’s played up his role in a way that will have real payoff in subsequent seasons. Similarly, playing up Robert’s petty cruelties to Lancel Lannister is useful now and in the future: it illustrates both the smallness of the king’s character, and it’s an investment in future narratives. And I do love watching Littlefinger and Varys snipe at each other, particularly when they’re one-upping each other with rumors about the nobility’s sexual habits.
But I think perhaps my favorite addition in this episode is the way it draws out the sexual and romantic relationship between Ser Loras and Renly Baratheon. I’ll admit the first time I saw this episode, that surprised me: I’ve read all the books three or four times, and just missed the relationship Martin implies between them, and was convinced this was an invention out of the whole cloth. I’m not sure how other people will feel about this development, since i know it may read as HBO taking advantage of its license to depict people getting it on (I do wish the actors had kissed. There’s still something more taboo about the idea that gay people are tender towards each other than the idea that they have sex.). But I thought the episode did a great job of using the relationship to illustrate other things, whether it’s the falseness of the rituals of courtly love and the extent to which Sansa falls for them, or the reach of Littlefinger’s knowledge.
I’m not sure, however, how the show’s investment in making Cersei Lannister a more sympathetic character is going to pay off. Whether it’s the addition of a child she bore Robert who died, or her question to Robert, in a moment of contemplation of their marriage “Was it ever possible for us? Was there ever a time? Ever a moment?” the show has invested heavily in the idea that she’s tough but not without some tenderness. I genuinely don’t know how that will govern audiences’ reactions to events that I assume are still to follow, but for now, I’m trusting David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. So far, they’ve proved themselves masterful players in their own game.