Misdirection in Game of Thrones


Last night I watched the first episode of the Game of Thrones HBO series. While the show was pretty gruesome, I thought it was interesting how the show uses misdirection to play off of audience expectations.

I thought it was interesting how much time the writers spent developing the character of the son. The first time we see him is when his brothers are teaching him how to shoot a bow and arrow. From the audience’s perspective, this scene feels like an introduction to a character who will be important to the story. Many of the characters are giving him advice and we see some competition with his sister when she shoots a bull’s-eye right after his father says that he’s never seen a marksman at ten years old. This promises conflict with his sister.

Later on, the boy watches his father execute a man and his father asks him if he understands that it is important that the judge also be the executioner. This feels like a coming-of-age passage because the king is imparting knowledge on his young son. Again, it feels like these lessons are going to be important later when the boy is grown.

The boy’s biggest scene is when he is climbing on the castle walls. The camera follows him as he goes up and down the walls, emphasizing how important his experience is. When his mother chastises him for climbing, she sounds like any other worried mother who doesn’t want her child to get hurt. The audience understands that what he is doing is dangerous and that she is afraid he will slip and fall. The boy promises to never climb again, but we know he will. This scene feels like a plot promise and if this wasn’t a George R.R. Martin story, the boy’s climbing ability might be what saves his family because he is the only one who is small and deft enough to get over those walls.

But this is a George R. R. Martin story, and in the final scene we see the boy climb the walls and see something he shouldn’t have. He gets caught and there is a moment when we hope he is doing to escape without any consequences. The man who catches him even starts to walk away, as if planning to let him go. Then, he seems to change his mind on a whim and pushes the boy out the window. We see the boy fall into the screen, and BAM. The episode is over.

I think what is so interesting about this first episode is that I really didn’t see the boy’s end coming. Children are sacred and in most stories the mere sense of jeopardy for a child is what keeps the story going. The child is followed by a man with bad intentions, or is dangled over a metaphorical cliff—but children are rarely actually hurt. The mere threat of a child getting hurt is usually enough to propel the main characters into action. In this story, we saw plenty of instances where the king and queen cared for their son, wanting him to grow up right and not get hurt. This sets us up to expect the boy to survive, and so when he is pushed out of the window at the end of the first episode, we are totally surprised because we didn’t see it coming.

About E.S.O. Martin

E.S.O. Martin is a writer, a California native, and a graduate of SF State's Creative Writing MFA program.
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