“Winter is Coming” and “The Kingsroad” were more than great television. They were efforts by Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to prove that they could be trusted with the beloved characters and universe of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. With “Lord Snow,” they have the confidence to take their adaptation in its own direction. It’s still faithful to its source, but “Lord Snow” is where the imagination of the series’ creators begins to take hold, and the show begins to lift off in its own right.

SPOILER ALERT: The rest of this review may contain spoilers from previous episodes. If you have not seen these episodes, you may learn things you didn’t wish to know yet.

Ned Stark (Sean Bean) arrives in the southern capital of King’s Landing after a long and draining ride from Winterfell. After the events of “The Kingsroad,” when he was forced to kill his daughter Sansa’s direwolf Lady, both Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams) are in a foul mood, and Arya is brimming over with hatred for the Lannister family, particularly Prince Joffrey (Jack Gleeson). Before he can even settle his affairs in his new home, Ned is summoned to a meeting of the king’s small council, where he meets a trio of powerful men: Petyr “Littefinger” Baelish (Aiden Gillen), Lord Varys (Conleith Hill) and Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover). As he’s thrust immediately into the role of Hand of the King, the council informs Ned that the realm is much worse off than he imagined, and when he goes home he still struggles with his daughters, who he now realizes he must protect even more. “This is a dangerous place,” he whispers to Arya.

In the North, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is adjusting to life among the men of Night’s Watch, where he soon finds his status as a Stark bastard and his martial skills make him a pariah among his fellow recruits.  And across the sea, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) continues to grow in strength among the Dothraki horde, much to the chagrin of her brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd).

While “The Kingsroad” might be called the episode in which each character moves into a new life, “Lord Snow” might be considered the episode about the pains of adjusting to that new life. The episode takes it title from the nickname Jon’s new Night’s Watch brothers have given him, a derisive jab at his half-noble birth and overconfident ways. As Jon works to overcome the immediate prejudices of his new cohorts, Harington comes into his own with his performance, setting himself up to become a fan favorite. In a particularly stirring moment, he rides an elevator to the top of the 700-foot Wall and looks out at the vast, blizzardy wilderness beyond. His life is cold now, in more ways than one.

Bean continues to be impressive as Ned, and this episode only deepens his own work, branching out his character with an added layer of vulnerability and deep concern when it comes to his daughters. There are moments between Ned and Arya that will be particularly heavy to fans of the books, as they say so much not only about what is, but what’s to come.

“Lord Snow” continues to ramp up the ever-quickening pace of the series, setting the stage for clashes of mind and of sword that will no doubt break out later in the season. Even as Ned is warning his daughters of the dangers of King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) is schooling her son Joffrey in the ways of being a king, and the ways of making history belong only to the victors. With “Lord Snow,” the pieces are now in place. It’s only a matter of time before the real game begins.

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