Game of Thrones Season One Structure Analysis
Here is the follow-up to last week’s blog breaking down the pilot of the series.
WARNING! BIG SPOILERS FOR SEASON ONE AND THE START OF SEASON TWO…
Just to demonstrate how Blake Snyder’s beats develop over the series, I’ll explore the main features of the Ned story (main story) and Daenerys story (“parallel” story) over Season One and the start of Season Two. Note that meanwhile other stories will also begin and intersect with these – such as Catelyn and Tryion – but I shalln’t cover those here…
NED STARK’S STORY (SEASON ONE)
Catalyst: Death of Jon Arryn and thus vacancy of Hand of the King (Season One, Ep 1)
Debate: Should Ned become Hand? (Ep 1)
Break into Two: Ned decides he must (Ep 1)
Next comes the Fun & Games – The promise of the premise: This is all about the titular theme of a Game of Thrones. It’s about dangerous (escalating) conflicts, use of power and influence and strategic maneuverings and counter-moves between powerful people – Ned Stark vs the Lannisters. Because Ned doesn’t yet know the truth about Bran’s fall (and then can’t prove it yet anyway), for Ned the plot about Bran is largely “put on hold” or pushed back to being a background matter, merely foreshadowing more serious matters later to come.
Here’s how the Fun & Games focuses on Ned and the Lannisters jostling for power in various matters, under and around King Robert…
Ep 2: Firstly, Arya protects a peasant from Joffrey by attacking Joffrey. Joffrey takes his sword to her, but is attacked by her direwolf, who she then sends off into exile for its own safety. Cersei demands Arya is punished for injuring the Prince. Ned luckily gets Robert on side and avoids having to do so, but under Cersei’s protests Ned is nonetheless ordered to kill one of the direwolves as punishment. This marks a slight win for the Lannisters.
Ep 3: Ned, as Hand, arrives with the Lannisters at King’s Landing (home city of the King) and quickly takes charge of the King’s Small Council, ordering that they cancel an overly expensive tournament to celebrate Ed as the new Hand. This isn’t explicitly a power move against the Lannisters, but he is asserting his power base. (A win for Ned.)
Ned’s B Story (in a “normal” BS2 sense of the term; this ISN’T to be confused with having anything to do with the Daenerys story, even though it does unfold concurrently with Ned’s) – Ned’s B Story is with Littlefinger and develops as part of the Fun & Games…
Ned discovers he has a HELPER in the form of LITTLEFINGER – one of the Small Council members. He is a man who makes it his business to be one step ahead of events and has spies everywhere (as too does his semi-rival on the Small Council, Varys). Catelyn has tried to sneak into King’s Landing, potentially risking her life because she has come to inform Ned that she believes the Lannisters deliberately pushed Bran from the tower. This is news they would be desperate to stop spreading. Littlefinger has heard news of her arrival and safely escorts her to Ned. We discover Littlefinger is helping probably because of his history with Catelyn – he once loved her and indeed probably still does. Ned is unsure if he can trust him, but it seems perhaps he can. (Ned’s found an ally so this seems to be a win for Ned.)
Littlefinger and his help makes up the B Story (which unfolds mainly within the Fun & Games section).
Ep 4: Ned’s order to the Small Council that there should be no expensive tournament has clearly been ignored as preparations are going ahead. (A mark of power loss for Ned.)
Ned now begins a secret investigation (classic Fun & Games, especially with danger associated with it). He wants to discover the truth of what happened to Jon Arryn, with the hope of exposing the Lannisters and bringing justice. First stop is a discussion with another Small Council member, Maester Pycelle, who says Jon Arryn was keen to see a book shortly before he died. Ned asks to see the same book – it’s a history of lineage. He doesn’t understand its importance. (A very limited win.)
Littlefinger suggests, cryptically, that Ned should look into Ser Hugh of the Vale who was mysteriously knighted shortly before Jon Arryn’s death, but warns he shouldn’t do it directly. Everyone is watching everyone else – implying people will know Ned’s investigating Jon Arryn’s death and this will land him in danger. Littlefinger also puts him on the trail of an armourer called Tobho Mott. (A win for Ned – hope re. investigation lead; but with danger looming.)
Ned discovers Jon Arryn was very interested in the armourer’s dark-haired assistant – a boy called Gendry. Ned learns the boy had a yellow-haired mother and that his dad was King Robert (a bastard child). He doesn’t know why that’s important though and Ned hasn’t yet had chance to talk to Ser Hugh. (A limited win for Ned.)
At the Tournament, which Ned failed to cancel, there’s a death in the first combat – and Ser Hugh is killed. (A loss for Ned.)
Ep 5: Varys seeks a private counsel with Ned and says he has something important to tell him. Varys has watched and can see Ned is a man of honour who he can now trust. He reveals that Jon Arryn was poisoned and believes King Robert is in grave danger. He reveals Ser Hugh probably killed him. (A win for Ned on knowledge and finding more helpers; but there’s a sense of looming danger as he unpicks the conspiracy.)
HERE THINGS TAKE A TURN FOR THE WORST. THIS WILL LEAD, LATER, TO A LOW MIDPOINT. Note that the sections that will be coming AFTER that will then be: GOOD Guys Close In, leading to an All Is WON moment on the Break Into Three, just before the Finale. As Blake mentions in Save the Cat!, a Midpoint can be a low rather than a high and when that’s so, correspondingly, the Break Into Three will be a high (they are always opposite). Be that as it may, you’ll always want an emotional SENSE of Bad Guys Close In somewhere, so although we’re technically STILL IN THE FUN & GAMES section (the promise of the premise of Game of Thrones/Power Struggles/Investigation), it’s worth noting that from here, as things take a turn for the worst, we’ll see that the negative/looming danger features from the ‘usual’ Bad Guys Close In and All Is Lost beats are “borrowed” up to this section here, to a create a sense of things tumbling down (including even a borrowed Whiff of Death)…
So this is STILL FUN & GAMES, but with things starting to turn for the worst…
Arya overhears Varys and another conspiring and saying that Ned will begin a war. We don’t know why, but it’s implied they WANT war, although they fear it’s too soon. They discuss whether or not Ned can just be killed (presumably to prevent the war occurring now). They move on and Arya runs off, worried. (Thus begins the ‘borrowed’ SENSE of Bad Guys Close In.)
Arya tries to warn Ned but gives a garbled understanding of what she heard.
Arya asks a key guard, Jory, how many guards Ned has (only 50) and asks him to not let anyone kill her dad.
Ned is summoned to a Small Council meeting. Here there is finally notable cross-over with the Daenerys story – King Robert has learnt she is pregnant with a child of the warlord Khal Drogo. He is seriously worried of the threat she and the unborn child pose to the security of his rule and must be killed. Ned objects to killing an unborn child and its mother on the off-chance they pose a risk. This blisters into an argument. The theme here is clear: that Ned is honourable but that this honour may be a very dangerous weakness. Robert forces Ned to obey, but Ned resigns as Hand. Robert warns him to leave King’s Landing else he’ll take off his head as a traitor.
In a moment of positivity, Littlefinger tells Ned he can take him to the last man that saw Jon Arryn alive – if he can stay the night.
Ned, obviously feeling exposed by recent events and aware of an increasing sense of danger, requests guards posted on his daughters’ bedrooms and he goes off with Littlefinger. He meets a young prostitute with a baby daughter, whom Littlefinger reveals is yet another of Robert’s bastards. But Ned is still none-the-wiser as to why Jon Arryn was tracking down all of Robert’s bastard children.
As Ned and his three guards leave the brothel they find themselves confronted and surrounded by Jaime Lannister and 16 guards. (Jaime is here because of a sub-plot/parallel story – which is basically that Catelyn Stark kidnapped Tyrion Lannister, believing him to be man who tried to have Bran killed, and Jaime is furious at this.) (Note the ‘borrowed’ SENSE of Bad Guys Close In, which has led to this point.)
A fight ensues and Ned and his guards are killed one by one, leaving just Ned – as Jaime closes in and they fight…
Ned and Jamie’s fight seems very well matched (some hope?) but then a guard stabs Ned in the leg. Jaime is annoyed the guard ruined the fight. Jaime punishes the guard. He leaves Ned alive, but injured and alone. (He didn’t kill him because he wanted to ensure Tyrion was returned alive, which the viewer was aware of, but while fighting there was real sense Ned could die, especially surrounded by Jaime’s guards.)
Ned is left with a forceful sense of the Lannister’s power and viciousness. And then, alone and injured, Ned collapses. (Note the “borrowed” SENSE of All Is Lost and the whiff of death.)
That is the Midpoint – a “low” point. It also coincides with the end of the middle episode of Season One.
Good Guys Close In…
Ep 6: Ned is in bed injured. Cersei and King Robert are at the bedside. Cersei lays into him. (About the kidnap of Tyrion. And as he is no longer Hand, he must face justice for his actions against her noble house Lannister.) Robert commands both of them to be quiet and settle their differences. But Cersei wants Ned punished. She accuses Ned and his men of assaulting Jaime and his men. Robert tells her to be quiet and lets Ned say that he wants Jaime called to court to answer for his attack on Ned and his men. Cersei questions this and insults the King. The King slaps her across the face. She slams the door and leaves the room.
Ned seems to have the upper hand with King Robert – though not without problems: He says he cannot put Jaime on trial because he is so heavily in debt (financially) to the Lannisters. (He also orders Ned to have Tyrion released.) BUT Robert reinstates Ned as Hand and then says he, the King, is off for a few weeks on a hunting expedition – and Ned will rule in his stead. It’s not all in Ned’s favour though and Robert also silences Ned on the issue of not wanting to kill Daenerys and child. But the promotion to temporary ruler is clearly a win for Ned.
While the king is away, Ned makes some bold moves, clamping down on some of the offences the Lannisters are committing to peasants. We get a sense he is in power and bringing justice – but do wonder if this is wise!
Ned decides to send his girls back home to the safety of Winterfell. A positive sense he’s reducing the risks he’s exposed to.
Then he returns to the book Jon Arryn was reading and makes a crucial, incredible discovery: ALL of King Robert’s lineage had dark hair. Joffrey, who is blond, cannot be Robert’s true heir. That’s the secret Jon Arryn uncovered. It’s a game changing revelation – it removes the Lannisters family from the rightful line of succession to the throne.
Ep 7 : Ned tells Cersei he knows the secret that her children aren’t Robert’s. Furthermore he has come to realise they are the result of incest between her and Jaime. Cersei surprisingly admits it. Ned instructs her to take her family and leave the city before Robert’s return – else they’ll be killed and he doesn’t want to sanction the death of children.
Cersei leaves the room but not without an ominous warning to Ned: “When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or die. There is no middle ground.” This re-iterates the theme of the series nicely – a dangerous, brutal power game risking death for those who play.
Shortly Ned receives tragic news of Robert being mauled by a bear on his hunting trip. He is not expected to survive. Robert arrives back, fading but still alive. Ned hasn’t the heart to tell him in his last few hours of life the truth about Cersei and his false children.
All Is Won…
On his death bed, alone with Ned, Robert gets him to transcribe his dying wishes. He appoints Ned as his Lord Protector until Joffrey comes of age. Ned modifies the Joffrey reference, changing it to “the rightful heir” – giving himself room to throw out the Lannisters claim to the throne entirely. (Robert also now asks him to cancel the assassination of Daenerys.) Clearly this is a massive win for Ned.
Break into Three and into the Finale:
STEP 1 OF BLAKE’S 5-STEP FINALE (forming a plan): Robert’s younger brother (Renly) asks Ned to take the Lannisters into custody, but Ned, expecting resistance, says he won’t dishonourably shed blood in the last few hours of Robert’s life and terrify the Lannister children by taking them hostage. Instead Ned sends a raven to Robert’s middle brother, to inform him he is now rightful heir to the throne.
Littlefinger visits Ned and suggests Ned not try to take on the Lannisters at present as they have too many men loyal to them. However, if Littlefinger were to bribe them, perhaps they could buy their loyalty. This then is Ned’s plan.
After Robert dies, Joffrey calls everyone to the throne room and demands all pledge allegiance to him, King Joffrey.
STEP 2 OF FIVE-STEP FINALE (pursuing his plan): Ned confidently presents his letter of appointment, BUT…
STEP 3 OF FIVE-STEP FINALE (Everything goes very seriously wrong!): Cersei simply rips up the piece of paper. Ned expects the guards to support him, but despite Littlefinger’s promise of bribing them, the guards turn on him and kill Ned’s men! And then Littlefinger puts a knife to Ned’s throat! The traitor!! (Ned’s B Story ties back in dramatically – in the opposite way to how most BS2 B Story Buddy Love plots go: Normally the B Story buddy/lover makes a complicated pairing with conflict, but ends with them working together to help the protagonist towards success. This time the opposite occurs: Ned’s helper has screwed him over epically!)
Ep 8: STAGE 4 OF FIVE-STEP FINALE (Doomed, he needs a new plan): The rest of Ned’s men in the palace are killed and Sansa taken into custody. Arya narrowly escapes. Sansa is told to tell her eldest brother, Robb, to swear allegiance to Joffrey. (He was currently preparing war in revenge for the attack on Bran.)
Varys informs Ned that his morality and mercy was a costly mistake. Sansa begs Joffrey to spare Ned’s life. He says if Ned pledges allegiance then he will.
Ep 9: Varys tells Ned that his son Robb Stark is leading an army against the Lannisters. He warns that this puts Sansa’s life at risk, in addition to his. Ned will now need to confess to treason and pledge allegiance to protect Sansa’s life.
STAGE 5 OF FIVE-STEP FINALE (Digging deep, hero executes the new plan): Ned digs deep. He’d be prepared to die rather than bow to Joffrey and seemingly legitimise their rule, but to save his daughter’s life he delivers a big sacrifice, going against numerous of his key principles and says Joffrey is the true King of the Iron throne and falsely admits his treason. Joffrey now shockingly turns on his promise to Sansa and, even to Cersei’s horror, sentences Ned to death. NORMALLY THIS STAGE IS MEANT TO END IN SUCCESS! BUT THIS IS GAME OF THRONES – AND SO, NOPE!
Final Image: The executioner’s sword swings down and cuts off Ned’s head. Birds fly off. Arya (hidden in the crowd) watches in horror.
Thematic conclusion: You know how one talks about morals and lessons learnt from dramatic structures? Well, perversely Ned’s would be a rather unconventional one: Don’t be honourable, it gets your head chopped off!
Ep 10: It’s not really Ned’s story anymore (as he’s dead and all)! You could consider Episode 10 as a DENOUEMENT of sorts. It does allow some time for what’s happened to sink in for the viewer and also allows the horror of killing Ned to be a little off-set with the hope of Arya’s successful escape and that Catelyn and Robb will exact revenge.
Unlike endings to stand-alone dramas, rather than wrapping everything up, Ep 10 sets-up handing the reigns of main story/main protagonist out to the other story threads, ready for next season and beyond. (Ned becomes replaced by multiple representations of him via all the Starks.)
Season One ends with us desperate to see the Stark family destroy the Lannisters – an urge that will pull the viewers back to watch Season Two.
DAERNYRS’ STORY (SEASON ONE AND START OF SEASON TWO)
Catalyst: Daenerys’ betrothal to Drogo (Season One, Ep 1)
Debate: Whether or not to accept her fate with the man she is betrothed to marry (Ep 1-2)
B Story: Ser Jorah is really her B Story (in a classic BS2 sense) (Ep 1 onwards) – It’s a love story (albeit unrequited), with complications (he’s spying on her)!! As with classic BS2 B Stories, he offers the protagonist, Daenerys, advice. He also discusses the themes with her. And his advice and later his actions, both play a key part in pushing her journey onwards. Note he enters the story in Act One, at the wedding ceremony part way through the Debate, so before the Break into Two.
Break into Two: Conclusion of the Debate is that she decides to accept her fate and make the most of it. Wanting to please Drogo she discovers she could do so by taking control in the bedroom. And this she does! She embraces an opportunity to exert her free-will and it triggers a massive shift in her life. She’s no longer a powerless slave-like victim. (Ep 2)
Fun & Games: For Daenerys’ story the Fun & Games is really about her exploring and enjoying her new found confidence in herself and sense of freedom and hunger for power. It’s also about the questioning and challenging of her brother’s power and right to rule her or others. This is about her own Game of Thrones.
Ep 3: Daenerys (Dany) sees a Dothraki whipping a slave and, exerting her new found power as wife of Drogo, she orders the whole horde to stop. Her brother has a go at her for having him stop at her orders! Dany’s bodyguard spots this aggression and attacks him with a whip round his throat. He even suggests killing her brother, but Daenerys spares him. This is clearly a key moment of reversal of power between Daenerys and her brother. He can no longer exert control over her like he used he.
Later, we learn that Dany is pregnant.
Ep 4: Dany discusses with Ser Jorah if her brother could take the Iron Throne with a Dothraki army.
Her brother talks with a prostitute about how amazing dragons were (seeding the magical concept and appetite in the viewer for them to be real).
Later, alone together, her brother argues with her after he takes insult from a comment she makes. He hits her, but she hits him back with a belt. She tells him that if he strikes her again, she’ll chop off his hands. She’s standing up to him directly. Even without her bodyguard there, she exerts command over her brother.
Dany discusses more with Jorah. She says her brother is the rightful king but Jorah asks if she truly wants him on the Iron Throne. She says no but the people do. Jorah says the people don’t care who is in charge. Dany reflects that her brother will never make it to the throne. He couldn’t lead an army even if Drogo gave him one.
This discussion is paving the way for her later realising SHE should be the “rightful” heir to the throne.
Ep 5: Doesn’t feature Dany.
Ep 6: Dany is heating up her dragon eggs in a fire. Nothing seems to happen. She takes them out. They are so hot that touching them blisters her handmaiden’s skin – but has not even marked Dany’s skin. That scene begins to plant the idea there might be some magical promise with Daenerys’s dragon eggs and with Dany herself (foreshadowing of her as Mother of Dragons).
Dany eats a horse’s heart in a ritual and is told the child will be a son who will conquer all the known world’s – a “khal of khal” (kings of kings). Drogo is thrilled. So are the other Dothraki people. They love Dany. Everything seems to be moving in her favour.
Her brother is jealous and angry. He tries to steal the dragons eggs to sell but Ser Jorah stops him.
Later her drunk brother threatens the pregnant Dany and her baby with a sword. He’s furious he’s not yet got his payment due to him for betrothing Dany to Drogo. Drogo has had enough and so has Dany. With her consent, he kills her brother with the rather poetic choice of pouring burning hot molten gold on to his head – to make a crown! Good riddance, bro!
This is a key moment. She’s finally free of her brother.
Ep 7: Now her focus shifts clearly to ambitions for the Iron Throne. She tries to convince Drogo to mount an attack on the Seven Kingdoms. He seems uninspired, partially because of the challenge of crossing the Narrow Sea. Dothraki aren’t keen on water and have no ships.
Jorah prevents an attempt on Dany’s life by poison. (He knew it was going to happen because he had been spying on her for Varys in King’s Landing – from Ned’s story world – and Jorah twigged the danger when he was told they didn’t need him anymore. He received a document of official pardon for previous crimes he’d committed as payment for spying on her. During this time he’s fallen for Dany. He suddenly realises he’s no longer needed because they’re about to kill Dany. He spots the assassin and prevents the murder.)
Drogo is livid that King Robert has attempted this assassination – and Jorah says he’ll attempt it again. So Drogo decides he’ll attack and take the Iron Throne.
That is the Midpoint – a false victory, where it looks like everything is peachy. Horrid brother is gone. Got a new wonderful life where everyone loves her, she’s free, respected, and in love, with a baby. She has taken over her brother’s dream of seizing back the Iron Throne for their family, making that her ambition – and now, with Drogo behind her, this now seems achievable!
Bad Guys Close In (Dany’s fall from grace)…
Ep 8: Their march towards the narrow sea has begun. But to raise funds for the war, they sack villages. This tends to go hand in hand with raping and murdering. Dany finds this repugnant and orders it stopped. The Dothraki are angry at this. Complaints escalate against her and Drogo. Drogo fights one of them. He wins but suffers an injury, which Dany is worried about. He says it isn’t serious; she disagrees.
A would-be slave that Dany has saved from Dothraki brutality offers to use witchcraft to make him better. More Dothraki find this a horrendous idea, but Dany insists.
Ep 9: Drogo becomes very ill and falls from his horse. Dany insists the horde stops and they tend to Drogo, using the witch.
The objection to this witchcraft is significant and Dany senses the danger of ever building opposition to her. She asks Jorah to arm himself. He recommends she flee with her child because, if Drogo dies, the Dothraki will kill her and her baby. (Once Drogo dies, a new leader will emerge, won through combat between contenders, and they will not want the rival threat of her baby with its prophesy of being a supreme warrior leader.) She of course refuses to leave her beloved husband.
As the witch tries to tend to Drogo, she warns Dany that to save his life will cost another life. They sacrifice a horse. A Dothraki attacks Dany in protest but Jorah saves her.
Dany goes into labour presumably triggered by the stress. None of the Dothraki midwives will help her as they think she’s cursed, so Jorah has to aid her, as the witch works on Drogo.
All Is Lost (and whiff of death)…
Ep 10: Dany wakes up to discover the horrendous news her baby is dead (and mysteriously deformed). Drogo is alive but permanently comatose. Dany is beside herself. (It seems the cost of saving Drogo’s life was not the life of the horse they sacrificed, but the baby’s! And although Drogo is alive, he’s vegetative!)
The witch reveals that, even though Dany saved her, she did it as revenge against the Dothraki and to ensure that Drogo and her unborn child could not lead future hordes of Dothraki to rape and pillage again.
Dany tries desperately to rouse Drogo. Failing, she gently smothers him with a pillow.
Dark Night of the Soul…
In what seems to be a last move of revenge and then simply defeat, Dany burns the eggs, the witch and herself in flames.
WARNING! SEASON TWO SPOILER ALERT…
Break into Three and Finale:
Season Two, Ep 1: In a clever twist, Season Two will reveal that her fire wasn’t actually a depressed move to defeat, but in fact a brilliant plan. The event of entering the fire was in fact STEP 1 OF BLAKE’S FIVE-STEP FINALE (forming a plan): Dany’s plan was to use the witch’s magic of sacrificing life to give life…
STEP 2 OF FIVE-STEP FINALE (enacting the plan): The witch is dead, but Dany emerges from the remnants of the fire alive, unscathed and with three baby dragons! She has become Mother of Dragons. Success!
BUT… Things are not quite that simple.
STEP 3 OF FIVE-STEP FINALE (Everything goes very seriously wrong!):
SEASON TWO, Ep 1: The small remnants of the horde, who have stayed loyally with Dany, are now left in dangerously depleted numbers, surrounded by dangerous rivals who will want to take her dragons. The only option is to go to the dangerously baron Red Waste, with few supplies. She finds her dragons won’t eat the raw meat she offers them, then her horse, gifted from Drogo as her wedding present, dies from exhaustion. She sends three riders out to try to find a route that might offer hope of survival.
Season Two, Ep 2: One horse returns without rider and another with a severed head (killed by a rival Dothraki).
Season Two, Ep 3: Doesn’t feature Dany.
STAGE 4 OF FIVE-STEP FINALE (Doomed, they need a new plan, which they form):
Season Two, Ep 4: The third rider returns saying the city of Qarth is willing to receive the Mother of Dragons. But Jorah warns Qarth is famous for people dying outside its walls after being denied access to the city. Many have perished in the baking heat of the exposed desert surrounding it. If they travel there and they don’t let them inside the city walls, they will certainly die.
Dany decides to risk it, as they have little choice. They trek to Qarth. Here they are met by The Thirteen and they want to see the dragons. Dany, wary they may wish to steal them, says not until she and her people are all safely inside the walls. The Thirteen refuse. They shall leave them outside. Dany threatens to burn their city with her dragons. One of the Thirteen then contradicts the rest and “vouches” for Dany, granting them access inside the city…
There now begins a whole new story, with a new fresh story structure. (This coming story involves a B Story with the man who vouches for her, some magical Fun & Games, Bad Guys Closing In, an All Is Lost moment and a Finale which ends with her getting money which should buy her a ship to cross the narrow sea.)
And so her story evolves, with a structural re-set when it gets to the “end.”
I think it’s fair to say that as she enters the city and a new story begins, that the structure doesn’t then reset back to the very start of a BS2 structure, but rather it starts where the start of Act 2 would begin – leading quickly to B Story and Fun & Games.
Actually, more sensibly, I’d argue that there’s a dual purpose of the events spanning Series Two’s Episodes 1 to 4. I’d say these can be viewed as sharing an OVERLAP between the two story structures – that of the old story (Story 1) as it ends and the new story (Story 2) as it begins. What this would allow is that there is in fact an Act One for Story 2, but that it actually covers the SAME set of events as (most of) Act Three of Story 1.
It would mean the following: Story 2’s Act One would begin in Season Two, Ep 1 (which seems tidy and logical). It begins a little after Dany appears from the remains of the fire, after the excitement of this is over and once we’re into the negative sense of the problem facing Dany. Story 2’s Act One would begin with the idea that Dany and her depleted horde are trapped in a barren landscape with little food or water and surrounded by rivals who could attack at any time – these are the same events which marked Story 1’s Step Three of the Five-Point Finale.
Here, in Story 2, these function as the Set-Up, which reveals a problem: A people stuck with few supplies, in the middle of a baking desert, surrounded by rivals. It’s a dire situation. This is a stasis = death idea as they find themselves starving and overheating. The Catalyst (for good) would be the invitation to Qarth. There then follows a brief Debate section, which would be about whether or not accept the invitation, then a decision is made to make the journey to Qarth and after some drama at the gates, Act One climaxes as Dany makes the threat to burn the city and then they are welcomed inside, marking Story 2’s Break into Two.
Eitherway, their arrival at Qarth and entry into the city marks a major new chapter of the adventure. She is entering a new (very different) community, which offers them hope where there was none, so it’s a major world shift as you’d expect for a Break into Two. Notably, she is also arriving for the first time to strangers as the Mother of Dragons and this Act is the first time these live dragons will be a significant part of a story. Just like her liberty/throne ambitions were key drivers of the first story structure, her dragons/throne ambitions are the key drivers of this new story structure.
As you can see, the structure behind Game of Thrones isn’t quite as straight forward as usual shows!! But it’s interesting to see that Blake’s beats can still be found if you split the show into each of the key individual stories and look at the season-level arcs.
- Chris Roberts
Thanks Brandon! Yes I think that’s a very intelligent argument you make for Dany’s story and I love your observation about the opening and closing images of both stories. I think that’s a brilliant point.
I think it makes the Act Two beats for Dany’s story less satisfactory to me, but I think overall your suggestion works best actually.
I feel the false victory is at its highest as Drogo agrees to help her seize the Iron Throne and thus without other factors this does seem best contender for that beat, but I agree her brother’s death is certainly a key moment and perhaps more so I can see that if all three acts fit into Season One, this “requires” the Midpoint to be earlier. Your suggestion would allow time for an earlier Bad Guys Close In (including attempted assassination of Jorah, which certainly fits to that Bad Guys Closing quality, although with a big upwards “bump” of Drogo deciding to help her seize the Iron Throne before continuing with more Bad Guys Closing In).
I’d be curious where you’d place All Is Lost – him first being injured? Or (I’d be inclined to say) him falling off his horse? (Before he falls off his horse, I’d argue there’s insufficient “evidence” to the viewer of severity or enough build up)
It seems to me there’s a weaker specific climax to the All Is Lost and Dark Night if they happen earlier as you suggest, but that certainly doesn’t negate your argument.
Would you mark Dark Night of the Soul as her telling Jorah to arm himself and him recommending she flee but she refuses? Or a little later when a Dothraki attacks her? Or (I’d perhaps be inclined to say) slightly later still, when the stress triggers her labour and none of the women will help her as she/baby are now in danger while her husband too lies desperately ill?
And what would you make of the five steps of the finale? Would step one (forming a plan) be the plan to use witchcraft to fix Drogo’s injury? If so, depending on where Dark Night and All Is Lost fall, means step one is already established in amongst the beats of Act Two rather than in Act Three (as was true in my suggestion too). Or would you argue the plan is not witchcraft per se but the specific agreement with the witch of a life for a life? Same questions for Step 2 (enacting the plan of witchcraft)? Step 3 (all goes wrong) would regardless presumably be her finding her baby and Drogo both dead (which fits very well to a classic step 3, better than mine did actually). And Step 4 (dig deep for new plan) would be initially SEEMINGLY unconventionally dark and defeatist (suicide) but retrospectively revealed to be a great plan (again this also nails this step very well). Season One ends there of course and presumably Step 5 would be the reveal in Ep 1 of Season 2 that the result of her plan was success? Certainly those last three steps fit exceptionally well in themselves, more satisfactorily than my original suggestion.
Although I find Act Two’s beats less clearly and naturally defined in your suggestion, in practise these things can be a little like that (thus why people have different interpretations) but I do very much like the neatness of your suggestion (without it seeming too forced) more than the spill-over/overlap of structure that I originally suggested (which also has unsatisfying elements).
Thanks for your astute suggestions and love to get your thoughts on my comments! I love this process on the site of refining ideas collectively. Big fan of that!
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I have some nitpicks, but first I want to thank you for putting together this EPIC beatsheet–and as a bonus we get to see how a tragic midpoint/ending works (something Hollywood tends to steer away from). It would have taken me a few guesses before I would’ve landed Littlefinger as Ned’s B-Story, but you are indeed correct, and it’s interesting to see a B-story that leads to a hero’s demise rather than success.
Now, as for Dany’s story, I’d say you’re overthinking its reach. In my mind her beatsheet fits within Season 1 without any spillover into Season 2. Consider the opening/closing images: in both cases Dany is naked, first in a state of weakness (about to be bartered like property), then in a state of strength (reborn as a conqueror). This echoes back to Ned’s own opening/closing images, where he starts as an executioner, then ends up being executed.
If “taking control/gaining power” is the theme of Dany’s storyline, then I believe that Viserys’ death is her midpoint. She rids herself of her nagging brother, but it’s a false victory because she’s not yet a leader. Later, when Drogo becomes a vegetable it enables her to assume a position of leadership (Obviously, losing Drogo is an emotional low for her, but in terms of the theme, it’s a major boost). I’d argue that Drogo’s injury is the All Hope is Lost moment and Dany’s third act involves her attempt to save Drogo’s life–which in turn defines her own.