Game of Thrones: Season 2 in Review

SPOILER WARNING: All events that have occurred in the TV show are fair game. I have read the books but I will not go any further beyond small hints that only fellow book-readers will catch on to. You’ve been warned.

Note: Because it can be hard to keep all the names and faces straight, the first mention of each character contains a link to a picture of them which will open in a new tab.

Things were different this season. There really was no “Ned,” a central character for the viewer to grab on to, and as such, there really wasn’t a central story arc for us to stash all our hopes and dreams in (only to have them crushed, or, you know, sliced off).

Sure, the beginning of last season was confusing. We all know that every time we recommend “Game of Thrones” to a friend, it’s with the caveat that they’re going to have to fight through the cacophony of misunderstanding that is the first few episodes. All these issues we’re amplified in Season Two, when not only do we have a bucket load of characters (the largest cast on television), but all in different places. Seriously, name a location other than King’s Landing where more than two major characters reside. It can’t be done. And as if that wasn’t enough, the show decided (well, needed) to throw even more characters and locations at us.

It certainly makes for a manageable format for blog posts, but in different hands, the second season of “Game of Thrones” could have been a catastrophic failure. So let’s get a round of applause for showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and of course, the cast, namely Peter Dinklage and Alfie Allen, who are headed for Emmy nominations or my name’s Aloysius, and it’s not. I mean that sincerely; whether you’re in a cubicle or your living room wearing your polka dot boxers, I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, stick your head out and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I can’t go another year without ‘Game of Thrones‘!”

Think of how ballsy it is, when upwards of ten locations could be present in any given show, to have an entire episode devoted to just one (“Blackwater”), leaving the finale to somehow wrap up every other story line. Amazingly, “Game of Thrones” was able to do it, everything else it had to, and so much more. Now, back to that manageable blog post format, where I’ll discuss the three best (or my three favorite) character and thematic developments of the season.

Arya the Ruthless, Tywin the Old Softy

Out of necessity, Season Two diverged from the books a great deal more than the first season did. Some changes couldn’t be helped, and a slight few were questionable, but most breathed new life into the source material. Perhaps the best and brightest example of this is Arya serving as a cupbearer for Lord Tywin rather than Roose Bolton, one of her brother Robb’s bannermen.

I could get into the complicated scenario by which Arya comes to serve in a Bolton-occupied Harrenhal, but what you need to know is this: while the specifics were changed, the general theme and atmosphere of the arc remained the same, and condensing the scene meant interactions between the fantastic-despite-her-age Maisie Williams and old pro Charles Dance. But more important was the interaction between the two characters, which showed us two things: Arya’s continued growth into a cold killer fending for herself, and a softer side of the impossibly thick-skinned Tywin Lannister.

The line was altered for the show, but in “A Game of Thrones,” Ned tells Arya, “When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.” Winter is coming, but Arya has been forced to watch as her pack has been taken from her one by one. She is the lone wolf, and if she hopes to survive she must grow up fast.

As of yet, that hasn’t been a problem. In episode five, “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” Tywin caught her in a lie. Arya claimed she was Maidenpool, but knowing she’s a Northerner, he asks where she’s really from, and Arya’s got the stones to follow it up with another lie. Then she looks him right in the eye and tells him she doesn’t believe Robb can’t be killed, as some in the North believe, because “anyone can be killed.” The subtext here is “even you.” She doesn’t even blink.

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Game of Thrones 206: The Old Gods and the New

SPOILER WARNING: All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game. I have read the books but I will not go any further beyond small hints that only fellow book-readers will catch on to. You’ve been warned.

Winterfell

I for one am not a big fan of drawn out cliffhangers, as such the showrunners handled “the sea coming to Winterfell” very well. As was the case with Renly‘s death they gave us the aftermath right at the beginning of the episode, and what an aftermath it was. To quote Ser Rodrik, “Gods help you Theon [punkass] Greyjoy, now you are truly lost.”

There are no heroes or villains in Game of Thrones, no black and white, only shades of grey. You’ve got to give Alfie Allen credit for the way he’s playing Theon, you can see how unsure he is with every double take, quiver in his voice and tear in his eye. It really sets him apart from someone like Lord Tywin, who is so confident in everything he does.

The whole scene, especially Ser Rodrik’s death, was perfectly executed, pun intended. It really showed just how fiercely loyal the people of the North are to the Starks. The man who calls Theon a “steaming sack of shit” insists he serves the Starks, and right before Ser Rodrik is killed he tells Bran, “Hush now child, I’m off to see your father,” which is enough for him. After he says it he puts his head down and grits his teeth, completely ready to die. It takes Theon more than a couple swings to take Rodrik’s head, another impressive symbolic contrast between he and Ned Stark.

Beyond the Wall

Jon has lost his brothers of the Nights Watch and now has only the wildling woman Ygritte, who he could not bring himself to kill, to keep him company. There was a great parallel between Ygritte’s rubbing up against Jon and Osha seducing Theon. Each used their feminine wiles to get what they needed, Ygritte needed to stay alive (and perhaps convince Jon the free folk aren’t so bad) and Osha needed to escape Winterfell and protect the Stark children. In short, wildling chicks do what they gotta do.

Harrenhal

The interactions between Arya and Lord Tywin were not in the books, but after seeing the two characters’ (and actors’) chemistry, maybe they should have been. When Tywin jokingly tells Arya she should devise their next battle plan, she gets this little smirk on her face that fades into a look of pure terror the moment it’s announced Littlefinger has arrived. Just another brilliant moment for Maisie Williams, who continues to impress. I’m certain Littlefinger recognized Arya. Always a step ahead of everyone else, he’ll save that little tidbit until it’s most valuable. You know: buy low, sell high.

They’ve actually managed to humanize the cold, calculating Tywin, who’s seemingly the only Lannister save Tyrion who knows what the hell he’s doing. His discussion of teaching Jaime to read was fantastic. It goes to show that Tywin is just another man who loves his family; he’s doing what he can to protect them in the only way he knows how.

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