Clashing Kings: The North Remembers

It’s time to try something new: A regular feature.

Every week I’m going to offer thoughts on the latest episode of Game of Thrones, the second season of which premiered last night. It’s a phenomenal show, I’d say perhaps the second best on television after the currently-between-seasons Breaking Bad, and as such it more than deserves some regular discussion.

I love the books (I’ve read all five) and was thrilled last year when HBO’s first ten installments proved to be a gloriously faithful adaptation that delivered almost everything a fan could hope for, while still drawing in millions of newcomers.

Now George R.R. Martin’s world has nearly risen to the level of cultural phenomenon, with everyone in the know tuning in to watch one of the clearest indicators that we’re in a golden age of television.

While I will compare the show with the books, I won’t actually spoil anything for those who haven’t read ahead.

So with that…

Dragonstone is the flashy new locale added to the already great opening credits, proving right off the bat that yes, things are only getting more expansive from here on out.

We’re first reintroduced to the King’s Landing crowd, and King (shudder) Joffrey’s name day celebrations. He’s having men fight to the death for no reason, naturally. Sansa, less useless by the day, tricks him into showing a bit of mercy. What a dear.

And without further ado, enter the Imp: Tyrion Lannister, ladies and gentlemen. Hold your applause. The new King’s Hand? Yes please. Does Dinklage’s top billing mean he’ll now get nominated for the best lead actor Emmy? We shall see. He and Cersei still don’t get along, by the way.

New Lord of Winterfell Bran dreams he’s a direwolf, the first person perspective both minimizing the need for CGI and communicating what’s going on in the most effective way possible. Kudos on that one. As someone who finds Bran horribly boring it’s a great sign that even I loved that little touch.

Everyone’s interpreting a comet differently, but Osha’s confident it can only mean dragons have returned. Yet they’ve been dead for centuries, asserts Bran. The laws of dramatic irony decree we must now cut to…

Daenerys Targaryen, Stormborn, Mother of Dragons. Clothed again, but still with one of the reptiles perched on her shoulder. She’s not quite looking at it, but the CG is solid. And then her horse, the one she got from the late great Drogo, drops from dehydration (Season Two Horse Death Count: 1). Yeah, turns out a trio of potentially lethal lizards doesn’t solve all your problems.

The Night’s Watch are the guests of Craster, a charming Wildling with a lot of wives and exactly as many daughters. He’s not very fond of Jon. Too damn pretty for his own good. Huh. I’d wager Snow’s used to being judged for his genes, but not quite like this.

And hello new characters. Stannis Baratheon, Robert’s younger brother. On Dragonstone his red priestess Melisandre burns the new gods in effigy, for she worships the one true god, the Lord of Light. Stannis’s most trusted advisor Ser Davos Seaworth (the Onion Knight; more on him later) looks on uncomfortably while a Maester tells him this is blasphemy. But no, Melisandre seems to think Stannis is the Westerosi messiah, only cooler because he gets a flaming sword.

Stannis edits a letter proclaiming himself rightful heir to the Iron Throne. He’s the oldest trueborn Baratheon, you see, what with Joffrey being an inbred little shit. Some of his council encourages Stannis to make alliances with Robb or Renly (his younger brother from last season who’s decided that the whole “eldest gets the throne” thing is played out) but Stannis is having none of it. When it comes to honor, he’s like a less cuddly Ned Stark. The Maester tries a painfully obvious poisoning gambit to get the red priestess out of the picture, but Melisandre 1)Doesn’t fall for it and 2)Drinks the poison anyway to show she’s got some supernatural know how on her side.

Our third (and counting) king makes his entrance. Robb Stark gloats over a chained and bloodied Kingslayer about recent northern victories and Jaimie’s incestuous predilections (which seem to have become common knowledge in the show, whereas many were unsure of the truth in the books). Jaimie banters back with all he’s got, but a direwolf visit shuts him up nicely. The King in the North gets a +1 to his swagger.

Tyrion and Shae have a chat that’s as adorable as it is sexually explicit.

Cersei asks Littlefinger to find Arya. While in the books he never even hinted at his intentions, here Baelish is openly ambitious (but so damn compelling) and flaunts his knowledge of Lannister incest right in the Queen’s face. “Knowledge is power” he claims. “Power is power” counters Cersei, and orders her men to execute the master of coin before calling them off at the last moment. Learn a lesson about keeping your mouth shut, Petyr? (Although I suspect like three of those soldiers were working for him anyway)

Robb delivers his unreasonable terms for peace to a Lannister squire then agrees to send the ever-faithful Theon to recruit his father, Balon Greyjoy, to the Northern cause. That’ll go well, probably. Catelyn also gets ordered to negotiate with Renly, who I would have liked to see in this already jam-packed premier. Ah well.

Cersei slaps Joffrey (there was a reason, but does any viewer need one?) and he threatens her life. Yes, she may have created a monster.

And we end with some lighthearted whorehouse antics…followed by the brutal slaughter of Robert’s bastards (as in, infants) by the city watch. Even for this show, that was bleak. We close on a glimpse of Arya and Gendry, heading north. Likely not fast enough.

Welcome back, Game of Thrones. You were missed.

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