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Second Look: Game of Thrones Season One, Episode Three – Lord Snow

Second Look: Game of Thrones Season One, Episode Three – Lord Snow

In readiness for the eventual arrival of the final season, Ian Kennedy subjects himself to the whole thing again. Next up is the episode “Lord Snow”. Can anyone endure Ned’s honor, Stannis, the Red Wedding, and – worst of all – Arya’s unending journey from ‘annoying’ to ‘a different kind of annoying’, all over again? Or will the quality of the writing conquer all foes once more? Spoiler central here, if you hadn’t guessed… but in euphemisms that would make Tyrion blush, most of the time.

Episode Three: Lord Snow

First of all, I do some math during the DVD homepage, and create an amusing ratio that demonstrates the series’ very impressive body count. But eventually I accept there is also an episode or two ready to watch.

Ned and the royal party arrive at balmy King’s Landing, and a series of excellent dialogues introduce us to the many powerful men who Ned must now navigate between as Hand of the King, as well as other enjoyable backstory intrigues.

“Someday you’ll sit on the throne, and the truth will be how you make it,” Cersei counsels Joffrey, among other dangerously wise advice. “Everyone who isn’t us, is an enemy,” she says, condoning his view that the Starks are enemies – though he doesn’t realise just how narrow her definition of “us” is, given his real parentage. “War is easier than daughters,” Ned concludes, reflecting the private view of men the world over – you’ll find way more stories by men about war, than about daughters. Sadly.

It’s enjoyable watching Daenerys earn our respect from nothing all over again – and her brother our hatred – as she starts to behave like the Khaleesi (tribal queen) she has become. It’s fun seeing Tyrion still the carefree rich playboy, before a world of cares catch up with him. Quoting his brother Ned, to cut short a pleasantry from Tyrion, Benjen says “nothing before the word ‘but’ matters” – neat. Dany becomes pregnant – something I’d almost totally forgotten about. Her burgeoning relationship with the savage, brutal tribal ruler Khal Drogo is still one of the most distinctive love stories I’ve ever seen, and is executed (sorry, no pun intended) in a remarkably short amount of screen time over this series.

Ned sets Arya a ‘dancing master’ to teach her artful swordfighting, and these are still among the most enjoyable training scenes I’ve seen anywhere, with some rich payoffs later. No coincidence that her tutor is from Braavos, and her transformation comes to fruition there later. Seeing her move with a sword, Ned is taken aback. Maybe he’s surprised that in Season One, she’s not yet really annoying,

Playback rating: 4/5

If you liked Ian’s take on “Lord Snow”, take a look at his thoughts on Episode One: “Winter is Coming” by clicking here or Episode Two: “The Kingsroad” by clicking here!


Second Look: GAME OF THRONES Season One, Episode Two – The Kingsroad

Second Look: GAME OF THRONES Season One, Episode Two – The Kingsroad

In readiness for the eventual arrival of the final season, Ian Kennedy subjects himself to the whole thing again. Can anyone endure Ned’s honor, Stannis, the Red Wedding, and – worst of all – Arya’s unending journey from ‘annoying’ to ‘a different kind of annoying’, all over again? Or will the quality of the writing conquer all foes once more? Spoiler central here, if you hadn’t guessed… but in euphemisms that would make Tyrion blush, most of the time.

Episode Two: The Kingsroad

“It’s all very interesting, there’s lots of intrigue, but nothing’s really happened yet.” That’s what I said to my parents about GoT season one, several episodes in. So after the opening introductions, will things will start to drag for me second time around as I watch The Kingsroad?

Just two scenes in, I’ve already got a lot less to say. Dany’s ordeal in a savage land and marriage continues, and Jorah establishes himself as a support for her, a Westeros knight once exiled by Ned Stark for handing poachers over to slavers. Tyrion’s fateful feud with Joffrey is established in a suitably hung-over, throwaway incident. Cersei reveals she lost her first-born child, which I’d totally forgotten about, and this does put a different spin on her surviving children who stand as heirs to the throne – because only this one was black-haired, like all previous Baratheons. Jon presents Arya with a blade which she names ‘Needle’, which I’d thought was Robb’s doing. All vaguely interesting to fans, I guess, and still perfectly well-written.

“I have no choice,” Ned says. “That’s what men always say when honor calls,” complains his wife Catelyn – how true of the world she’s lived in till now, but a dangerously naïve view to take to the human snake-pit that is King’s Landing. Dialogue in the series rarely fails to be insightful as well as character-building.

I could recount further details, it’s all well done, but I’d just be retelling.

Afterwards, for the first time I explore the DVD extras I’ve been ignoring all these years. As much as anything, I’m relieved to see how to spell the names properly – no, I haven’t read the books. Amid the character notes, I learn that Eddard (Ned) ‘was not always meant to be Lord of Winterfell, but when his father and elder brother were brutally executed by Mad King Aerys, he was thrust into a leadership role and did his duty’. Well, as they say, what goes around… and yes, this bit of backstory is yet another neat bit of forward planning in the series, from long before the start. You really do feel like everything is part of a plan, which yields some wonderfully satisfying storytelling throughout.

A bit lower down the list of Stark characters, I learn about the long-dead Rickard Stark – which, if I’d bothered to read first time around, would have helped seed a much later revelation which felt a bit disconnected on its own. Among the other deceased Stark backstories (deceased Starks are something to get used to, I guess) there’s more interesting stuff about Catelyn and Littlefinger, a reminder that Theon is really a Stark prisoner due to his father’s failed rebellion years ago, the origins of the Baratheons as a bastard offshoot of the Targaryens 300 years ago (this series loves bastards) and Littlefinger’s nickname.

The seeds of future carnage really have been sown since long before the start of this series – salute to the author, George RR Martin. There’s useful backstory on Jorah and others here (including several who don’t even feature in season one), and Westorosi locations information, but finally on the ‘Characters’ extras, I can’t resist quoting the wonderful description of Bronn as ‘A sellsword of considerable prowess, flexible morality, and reasonable rates’.

So maybe I should have been a bigger geek for this show all along – knowing all this stuff actually would have made the stories even more involving. Of course, geeks are an important part of the audience of a fantasy show like this, but its ability to reach far beyond that is what has marked GoT out. Thankfully you don’t need to know any of the backstory to enjoy what’s in front of you and feel deeply involved. Good work. But it’s midnight and midweek now as I delve ever deeper, so a guy’s gotta quit sometime…

Playback rating 4/5

If you liked reading Ian’s take on The Kingsroad, have a look at his thoughts on Episode One: Winter is Coming by clicking here!

Second Look: GAME OF THRONES Season One, Episode One

Second Look: GAME OF THRONES Season One, Episode One

In readiness for the eventual arrival of the final season, Ian Kennedy subjects himself to the whole thing again. Can anyone endure Ned’s honor, Stannis, the Red Wedding, and – worst of all – Arya’s unending journey from ‘annoying’ to ‘a different kind of annoying’, all over again? Or will the quality of the writing conquer all foes once more? Spoiler central here, if you hadn’t guessed… but in euphemisms that would make Tyrion blush, most of the time.

Episode 1: Winter is Coming

In honor of Tyrion, it’s hard not to open a bottle of red wine. There will be much hardship ahead to endure. Especially with an hour of reintroductions to get through first.

Now, when I tell you that one of the main characters of a story will be a dwarf, you already know it’s in one of two genres. Which is crazy, since people of that stature can turn up in any other context. Why are you already assuming the story I’m talking about must be a fantasy or comedy? But, such is the power of genre expectations. Or maybe stereotypes.

So yes, Thrones is a fantasy – though the society it reveals plays out like a twisted version of medieval Europe, it has some important extra elements, like ‘bloodmagic’. And, by giving us a character who people could describe as a dwarf (he’s usually given other epithets instead, like Imp and Half-Man), it’s meeting some of our expectations of the fantasy genre. But it’s what the series does with tropes like this which is fascinating. Sure, we’re used to dwarf warriors in Lord of the Rings and dwarf magicians in Harry Potter… I could go on. But how about an alcoholic, wise, witty, rich, womanising one? That’s an individual, not a stereotype. Very quickly, we learn to view Tyrion as an individual – a person, not a type. The result is some powerful stereotype-busting – I’d been told to expect to spot his American accent in the early episodes, but I didn’t, reaffirming my conviction that Peter Dinklage is just a great actor, end of.

hadrian's wall

Hadrian’s Wall – not quite as big as the one in Game of Thrones…

Anyway, to the series itself. The first sequence, a Night’s Watch foray beyond the Wall, quickly establishes that it’s grim up North, and even worse North of the Wall. (Speaking of which, anyone else think the geography of Westeros in that vast title sequence is just an exaggerated map of medieval Britain, with the Wall standing for Hadrian’s Wall, Winterfell for York (Viking capital of the Danelaw), King’s Landing as London, etc? Sensibly, and vividly, we’re introduced to the series’ monstrous zombies straight away; if the White Walkers were introduced later, it’d feel like a cheap trick to heighten the stakes. Introducing them here – and then saying they haven’t been seen for thousands of years – shows that from the outset, the world of all these characters has taken a decisive change that puts everything in danger. If anything, the rise of the White Walkers across the coming series is too slow and occasional in the show, but we have plenty else to keep us occupied till they finally get to flex their muscles.

Next we’re introduced to the Starks, the family who are initially at the heart of the series, executing their usual dourly dutiful natures from the start, when patriarch Ned executes the deserter who escaped the White Walker before – not much of a reward for surviving the opening sequence, and a tough introduction to the character who is the moral heart of the coming episodes, but this sequence is intended to show the brutal justice of the world we’re entering: even the good guys accept their part in that. “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword”, Ned tells Bran, his 10-year old son, who he forces to watch the execution. Next, more casual gore and death, as the Starks then discover a dead direwolf, resulting in her brood of orphan cubs being given to the Stark children – a nice motif established for later, when they will come to be closely associated with their adult direwolves (though, as in other respects, they are unsentimentally handled within the story from an early stage – one is already unjustly killed within a few episodes).

In King’s Landing, we briefly meet Lannisters Cersei and her brother Jaime discussing the suspiciously-deceased ‘Hand of the King’, but this is just setup for the arrival of the King – Robert Baratheon – to Winterfell, where he will ask his old pal Ned to take over as ‘Hand’ in the capital. Ned’s been avoiding King’s Landing for 9 years – and probably since his best friend Robert took the throne – and I’m keen to explore my theory that if Ned had accepted or taken the throne back when he and Robert deposed the ‘Mad King’, all of the turmoil and decimation we see in the series might have been avoided. Now, Robert (hardly as good as king as he was as soldier) tells Ned to rule so that he can continue to drink and whore himself to an early grave.

Another character on the same track is Cersei and Jaime’s undersized brother Tyrion. We’re used to seeing dwarves in this genre – but not as playboys. With Tyrion we meet the first naked woman of the series – must be some kind of distinction – and the next follows moments later when we meet Daenerys, a vital powerful character, yet who is stripped naked in her very first scene as her brother (the heir of the previous, murdered king of Westeros) readies her for a strategic marriage to a ‘savage’ king across the English Channel (sorry, Narrow Sea). Game of Thrones likes to get its women naked first, and give them their dignity later. Dany’s brother renders this starkly (no pun intended – oh, who am I kidding), stating that he’d let the entire Dothraki army and their horses violate her in order for him to return to Westeros as king. She is powerless at this point is – sorry, I’m trying to avoid saying ‘stark’ again – and this sets up her journey to the top well by placing her firmly in the opposite situation and ensuring that she is the person within this savage realm who we empathize with from the start.

Back in Winterfell, Jon Snow trains to go to the Wall rather than join the revels, proving that in spite of his ‘bastard’ origins, he’s inherited the Starks’ sense of duty and honor, and Tyrion tells him in solidarity that ‘dwarves are all bastards in their father’s eyes’ too. Ned gets news that the last Hand may have been murdered by the Lannisters, amplifying his dilemma about Robert’s request.

Dany’s wedding goes to plan, in that being stripped again and subjected by her new husband was definitely part of the plan, from the men’s point of view. Her reward is that she is presented with dragon’s eggs, which are thought to be petrified but will nonetheless  come to define her later. All in all I’m impressed with the amount of information and motifs that are embedded in the first episode – as ever, the series juggles a big cast of characters while giving you just enough to recognize them all by. (See my Mini-Masterclass with the Game of Thrones personal identities challenge, to find out how this works.)

Finally, Bran stumbles upon a scene of you-know-what between siblings Cersei and Jaime (a queen, no less, shown robbed of her dignity, clothes and honor this time), bringing about Bran’s fateful accident. Finally we have a moment of action, and a good surprise plot twist to explain the rest of the intrigues we’ve discovered in the episode. This is also the first moment of action since the first sequence, just when I was just thinking this must be the only episode where none of the main characters have any.

The binding agent, the central question, that joins all the characters and storylines in THRONES is ‘who rules Westeros’. We’re not following the farmers or hilltribes. The series knows its central question, and sticks to it throughout, in spite of the huge cast, and never falls more than one or two removes away.

All in all, I wasn’t totally hooked by this episode second time round, but I felt the same about the first Harry Potter movie, even though both do a great job of introducing the fantasy worlds of their stories. Once you’re beyond that world-building, HP1 doesn’t have much more to offer you – but with its pincer-like moments of dialogue and brutalism, GoT’s first episode still does.

Playback rating: 4/5

GAME OF THRONES Season Review – Spoiler Free! By Jamie White

GAME OF THRONES Season Review – Spoiler Free! By Jamie White

GAME OF THRONES Season Review – Spoiler Free! By Jamie White

The latest season of GAME OF THRONES has perhaps been the most divisive amongst fans and critics.

Now it’s well past the books, THRONES’ showrunners have had more creative license with the show. It’s arguable if that’s a good thing, though…

The 7-episode length of the season gave the show a noticeable problem – how to pace itself. It began fine, and the quick travel and teleportation of characters is something viewers have almost always questioned and just let go. But with ultimately less screen time, the show has struggled to purvey the same fulfilling content as it has done in previous seasons.

In what started as a briskly paced season, it turned into a season that accelerated so fast, I personally felt like I needed a filler or a bottle episode (like THE FLY, S3E10 from BREAKING BAD). I ended up feeling like a car sick passenger with the driver putting the foot all the way on the gas.

This has still been a season with some magnificent moments, and one of the best episodes in the entire series. But it has been hindered by forced, rushed, and sometimes just damn silly plot developments. I’ve still enjoyed the season, but it doesn’t have the same substance as it once had…

This season of GAME OF THRONES has also been marred by leaks and hacks – some from incompetence, some from hackers. And this signifies the ever-changing world both TV companies and even Hollywood must adapt to.

Cyberattacks on big names like HBO and Sony must mean these honchos must adapt how they do business and how they produce film and television. (I even have my own theory that Sony has been releasing trash like THE EMOJI MOVIE to deter potential hackers…)

You can read more on Hollywood’s need to adapt to avoid cybercrime here:

Here’s a few links where you can find discussion on the current season of GAME OF THRONES:


Exclusive to WriteMovies – To syndicate this content for your own publication, contact ian (at) writemovies dot-com.

© WriteMovies 2017

Writing For Video Games Part 2: All about the story

Writing For Video Games Part 2: All about the story

With the recent arrival of a new Elite Mentor joining the team (one who specializes in video games), Jamie White continues his look at how you can be successful at writing for video games.

After looking at the linear narrative to the Call of Duty games last time, I thought the next step would naturally be to look at games with an over-arching narrative, but with hundreds, maybe thousands, of variations and combinations.

For me, the story is almost always more important than gameplay. Of course, there are various examples where it’s the other way around (looking at you Bloodborne) but the story and characters are the most important thing in video games, as they should be for any medium.

And so, that’s why I love TellTale games, Life is Strange and Heavy Rain. These games can be played by any kind of noob, by a child, or even your dog. These types of games mostly rely on you just pressing buttons to choose one of four dialogue options or performing “Quick Time Events”. I’d hesitate to even call them games – more like… interactive movies. And you know what? That’s fine with me.

But these types of games are much more difficult to write than the linear narrative of Call of Duty or the Injustice games. Looking primarily at TellTale, they employ an episodic format for their game releases. So, The Wolf Among Us will have 5 episodes, or their Game of Thrones game will have 6 episodes, which are released every 2-3 months. But the seemingly impossible task comes from the amount of choice you have within these games. Choosing from 4 dialogue options is no exaggeration, and there will be a LOT of conversations throughout the game – sometimes they force you to make a choice (to kill one guy or another, to burn a magical tree or not).

The secret with these type of games, though, is the choices and dialogue options don’t really matter. They give the player the “illusion of choice”. So, you can easily write the basic outline of the plot, then go back in and decide where you want to have multiple dialogue options. Go back and write in a QTE as you would an action scene – but remember, the player can mess these up, so you’ll need at least two outcomes for each action the player does (or fails to do).

Check out this video to the opening of TellTale’s The Wolf Among Us. This is the very first thing the player does. It’s a great intro to both the series, the game, and the game type.

Just a warning there is some violence, swearing, and a talking frog in this video. So, you’ve been warned.

I chose The Wolf Among Us for a couple of reasons. A). I love it. I love the story, the concept, the tone, the themes. It’s brilliant. Go play it, or at the very least, watch the playthroughs. It’s worth it. B). It showcases really well all the elements of a “Branching narrative” game.

Just note how many multiple-choice options there are, how many places the player can actually screw up. Then think about all the potential consequences and outcomes to each different dialogue choice or failed action. There’s a lot, right?

The best advice I can think to give if you want to write this type of video game is… How would you (as an individual) find it easiest to write this opening scene from The Wolf Among Us? There’s no right answer. You can use Celtx (format it as you would when two people talk at once, then do the same for the replies), or Excel (put each dialogue/action option into a separate cell), Word, a flowchart. Whatever you feel would be the most efficient way to map out multiple dialogue and action options FOR YOU, is the right answer.

And if you feel a little overawed by this task, take a look at the time of the video linked. It’s just under 2 hours. Almost  like a film! The episodic format of these types of games allows you as writers to use episode one as a learning curve. You find out the best way you write this type of game, take a break, then get going on episode two.

Next, I’ll look at open world sandbox games, tell you to stay away from writing things like Skyrim, and why make your own adventure novels could be an inspiration for writing these types of games.

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