The Painterly Lighting of Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones returned Sunday night for its third season. It was apparently its most-watched debut ever, setting records. As a huge fan of the series and the books I was, like many, excited for its return. This season is based on the best book of the series, Storm of Swords, by George R. R. Martin. The book has so much going on in it that the creators of the series will actually split the story between this season and season 4. I am intrigued to see how they pull that off, without losing momentum. We'll see. But in the meantime, Peter Dinklage is back (!) as Tyrion Lannister, the smartest but least appreciated Lannister.

Tyrion and his sister Cersei (Lena Headey)


I was excited to watch the set-ups of many major character arcs this season:

The odd couple cross-country journey of Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and Jaime "The Kingslayer" Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).

Tyrion's fall from grace and his struggles to still make a mark in King's Landing.

The far-flung Starks — Robb (Richard Madden) at odds with his "traitorous" mother Cat (Michelle Fairley), Arya's escape from Harrenhall, Sansa's escape from Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and Rickon's escape from Winterfell,

Jon Snow's (Kit Harington) uneasy truce with Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds) and his army of Wildlings (and giants) beyond the Wall.

There are plenty of other interesting characters, of course. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is in Astapor assembling her army, "The Unsullied." Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) is slowly but surely securing her path to becoming queen. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) and the rest of the Night's Watch are hurrying back to the Wall, to warn the Seven Kingdoms before the White Walkers can reach them.

Tyrion and his father Tywin, lit by Rembrandt


All of these pieces are set upon the Westeros chessboard, and the season is off to a great start. But what really captured my attention during the first episode, "Valar Dohaeris," was the amazing set design and lighting, which gave Game of Thrones more than ever, the look of a painting. The heartbreaking scene between Tyrion and his father Tywin (Charles Dance), where Tywin made his disdain and outright hatred for his youngest child abundantly clear, was enhanced by the chiaroscuro lighting effects. Tyrion may have thought that the shadows in the room would help hide his recent scar from the Battle of Blackwater, but nothing could hide the brutality of his father's words to him.

“I gave you real power and authority. Instead, you spent your days as you always have: bedding harlots and drinking with thieves. ... I would let myself be consumed by maggots before mocking our family name and naming you heir to Casterly Rock.”

In the past the set designers have made King's Landing look like a sunny paradise, with flowering trees and dappled porticos that suggest the illustrations of Maxfield Parrish. But during wartime the capital city is harsh and stark. As Tyrion has learned the hard way, the sun may shine there, but it gives no warmth.