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 210: Valar Morghulis

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.

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.

Last week’s episode, “Blackwater,” left the finale with a lot to live up to. Setting aside how plain awesome it was, when you spend the entire penultimate episode on a battle in one location, it leaves a lot of story lines to wrap up, especially considering “Game of Thrones” has the largest cast of any show on television.

As a result, the running time of “Valar Morghulis” was extended by ten minutes. That’s still not a whole lot of time to cram so many conclusions and cliffhangers into. The show did an admirable job in its attempt, and in its defense, the last few chapters of “A Clash of Kings” were equally hectic and oversaturated.

Tyrion’s Fall from Grace

Tyrion knew when he came to King’s Landing that it was all temporary, he was only acting Hand of the King. If we didn’t like him so much, we’d sit back, chuckle, and say “oh how the mighty have fallen” (that’s pretty much what Grand Maester Pycelle did). Of course, we love Tyrion, and we know King’s Landing would be rubble without him. But as Varys points out, he will not get the credit he deserves.

The Imp’s fall from grace has already begun. He’s left disfigured after being attacked by Ser Mandon Moore of the Kingsguard, and was moved from the Tower of the Hand to recover in a small, dank chamber in the Red Keep. Tyrion recognizes that Cersei must have ordered the assault, but with no way to prove it and his reign as Hand of the King over, there may not be much he can do about it.

However, Tyrion is still Tyrion, he refuses to run away with Shae because he intends to get his revenge somehow. “In the game of thrones you win or you die,” and Tyrion ain’t dead yet.

The Lion and the Rose, Sansa’s Future

Meanwhile, Tywin has been named Hand and Savior of the City. Of course, he didn’t do it alone. Without House Tyrell and the strength of Highgarden behind them, the Lannisters would have been crushed. As a reward, Margaery is betrothed to Joffrey.

The Lion and the Rose are allies now, but their alliance is tenuous at best. The Tyrells are not as stubbornly honorable as Ned Stark, they know exactly what they’re getting into. We already know Margaery realizes how the game is played, recall that when Renly died, she didn’t want to be “a queen,” she wanted to be “the queen.” If you think she’s something, just wait until you meet Grandma Olenna, also known as the Queen of Thorns (who I really hope is played by Maggie Smith).

Although they’re now on the same side, look for the Tyrells and Lannisters to be fierce competitors and conspirators in the capital. Think of the way Cersei and Tyrion clashed this season minus any concerns about kinslaying and the whole “no matter what I kind of sort of love you” thing.

With Margaery in the picture, Sansa is now free of any obligation to Joffrey, or so she thinks. We saw many times that “Game of Thrones” had perfected the art of the fade from smile to grimace, but Sansa’s walk out of the throne room might be the first time we’ve seen the reverse. Then, she’s back to tears in her eyes and “I’m not good enough for him” when Littlefinger calls to her.

For her part, Sansa’s finally figuring out how to play the game, although, as Lord Baelish points out, she’s not quite as good as she thinks, nor is she off the hook with the king. Luckily for her, Littlefinger offers to help get her home, supposedly because of how much she reminds him of Catelyn. Of course, he’s turned on a Stark before, so we’ll have to wait and see if Sansa’s lucky or “lucky.”

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Game of Thrones 209: Blackwater

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.

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.

Alright, I know I say it every week, but that had to be the best episode of “Game of Thrones” yet. And why not? It was written by George R.R. Martin, the author of the books (just as “Baelor,” the ninth episode of the first season was, remember what happened then?), and directed by Neil Marshall, who’s written and/or directed a number of critically acclaimed films. Plus, it finally answered a few questions that have been dogging many viewers all season. Questions like “why don’t they ever show us any action scenes” or “where is this supposedly huge budget going if not to CGI dragons and direwolves?” Well, as I hinted at in my post about “Garden of Bones,” they were saving the (best) action for (next to) last. As for the budget, well, it went here, and here, and here. But mostly, it went here.

There was really only one location in this week’s episode. So I’m going to be using a format I experimented with two weeks ago, splitting the post up based on character and thematic groups rather than geography.

Stannis vs. Joffrey

One of the things that stuck out to me most was the contrast between Stannis and Joffrey, the two kings. One’s a Baratheon and the other’s a “Baratheon,” and depending on who in Westero you ask, one is a king and the other’s a “king.” But what really set them apart is the way they handled themselves in battle.

Where was Stannis during all that bloodshed? Why, on the front fucking lines of course. He was the first one off the ships and the first up the ladder. He lead the charge, cut heads in half, and had to be quite literally dragged away when it appeared that all was lost. Oh, did I mention that during all this the dude neglected to wear a fucking helmet? Yet despite having the best claim and being an all around badass, almost isn’t good enough, and another sits the Iron Throne. What’s his name again?

Fucking Joffrey. I know, I’m pissed too, believe me. Even though I knew the outcome of the battle I was still on the edge of my seat, hoping in vain for the justice that was denied me in the books. Let’s put aside all the terrible things Joffrey has done for a moment and consider only what he did during the battle. While thousands died in his name, brave King Joffrey ran away. Bravely ran away, away! When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled. Yes, brave King Joffrey turned about and gallantly he chickened out. Bravely taking to his feet he beat a very brave retreat, bravest of the brave, King Joffrey! Thanks, Monty Python. Seriously though, it was a whole lot easier to “drag” Joffrey away from battle than Stannis. “Does my mother have urgent business for me? No? Well I’d better go anyway, just in case.”

Whose Death is it Anyway?

We saw an awful lot of characters die last night, or so it appeared. Keep in mind that a “Game of Thrones” character probably isn’t dead unless you saw him or her die, as in you literally watched them draw their final breath. Plus, this is George R.R. Martin we’re talking about. It wasn’t just his writing skills that got him placed on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world last year. His 16 straight mindfucker of the year awards no doubt played a part. That’s a joke. Don’t come crying to me if you found some strange pornogarphy after googling it, and please don’t e-mail me about your new fetish. Anyway, I’m not going to tell you who’s dead and who isn’t, that would ruin the fun. Instead, let’s look over how a few of the characters who might be dead spent their final hours.

First, let’s talk about Tyrion, whose early image as a jokester squandering his potential with drink and whores has all but disappeared. Last night was his moment to truly shine. As he tells Shae early on, while most others can leave or switch sides, Tyrion wasn’t given a choice. He’s a Lannister, seemingly the only one who gives a shit about the people of Westeros.

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Game of Thrones 208: The Prince of Winterfell

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.

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.

Winterfell

Before last night, Theon’s sister Yara was manipulative and mocking of her baby brother. She went so far as to allow him to get some inappropriate groping in to find out who he really is (and humiliate him). Well, inappropriate unless you’re a Targaryen, Cersei, or Jaime. As I so often discuss, every character in “Game of Thrones” is a human being, and we finally saw Yara’s human side last night.

As much as she is in competition with Theon for both power and their father’s affections, her anecdote about Theon, the “terrible baby” who finally stopped crying and even smiled when she came over to his crib showed that she truly cares for him despite being sent away for half his life. Furthermore, her insistence, and hope, that Theon doesn’t “die so far from the sea” was about as affectionate as the Greyjoys get.

On a happier note, Bran and Rickon are still alive. Along with Osha and Hodor, the boys have doubled back and are now hiding in Winterfell’s crypts, hopefully the last place anyone will think to look for them. That final scene was so perfectly executed, with Osha and Maester Luwin discussing how they could not tell Bran that Theon burned  the orphan boys and passed them off as the Starks, because he’d blame himself.

Eddard Stark’s influence is still incredibly evident in all the children he raised. Indeed Bran heard everything his caretakers said, and his teary expression indicates he does blame himself. Bran feels he has failed in his duty as Lord of Winterfell, and it has shaken him to the core despite his age. Ned’s tutelage is even apparent in Theon, who despite his many failings takes no joy in the things he’s done. Theon is not a sadist and the fact that he even has inner conflict is the direct consequence of the caring nature of the man who raised him. However, we see the most of Ned in Robb, as I’ll discuss right about… now.

The King in the North, the Kingslayer’s roadtrip

We saw Ned’s impact on Robb a great deal tonight, both literally, as in Robb’s initial conversation with Talisa, as well as in the young king’s actions (although not entirely in the way one might expect).

When Robb discovers that Catelyn freed Jaime in an effort to rescue Sansa and Arya, he feels understandably betrayed. Cat once chastised Renly, saying “my son is fighting a war, not playing at one,” yet now she seems to be playing as well. And not just at war but hostage Go Fish. “Got any Aryas? No? How about a Sansa?” As a result, Robb is slowly realizing that no one else, not even his mother, abides by the same code of honor which he does. This upsets him, but at the same time he recognizes some need to change. Robb knows what happened to Ned when he played the game of thrones too honorably (and stubbornly).

I believe something Tywin said to his war counselors was foreshadowing Robb’s, er, “slip up,” with Talisa. Tywin said, “He’s a boy and he’s never lost a battle. He’ll risk anything at any time, because he doesn’t know enough to be afraid.” Indeed, Robb may have risked a great deal by forsaking his pact with the Freys. It’s very telling, and displays the Ned in him, that he waited as long as he did. It’s clear he fears for his siblings just as much as Cat does, and he succumbed, in a moment of weakness, only when Talisa told her story. She knows the feeling of having a brother in mortal peril, which gave him something to latch on to. While his actions weren’t very honorable, Ned (allegedly) had his own moment of weakness while away fighting a war.

Meanwhile, Brienne is escorting Jaime back to King’s Landing. And thus, a buddy-buddy road trip comedy was born. The two appear to be exact opposites, one’s a man, one’s a woman, one seems to be a machine that runs on honor, while the other was quite recently called “a man without honor,” the quote for which last week’s episode was named. Will opposites attract or will the two be at each other’s throats the whole way to the capital (if they even make it there)? If nothing else, Jaime and Brienne’s interactions are sure to provide plenty of humor. We saw the beginnings of it last night. “Have you known many men, my lady? No, I suppose not. Women? Horses?”

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Game of Thrones 207: A Man Without Honor

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.

This week’s episode was different than most, it had a whole lot of character development and almost no macro-level action. As such, I’m going to be experimenting with something different as well. As usual, the post will largely be divided based on geography, but I’m also going to split some of it based on character and thematic groups. Don’t worry, you’ll see what I mean.

Winterfell

Theon Greyjoy is sure in a pickle. Nobody likes him, he goes from trying to rally the Ironborn to please Robb Stark to attacking the North to please his father. He just can’t win. Anyway, the actors in “Game of Thrones” have perfected the art of fading from smirk to grimace. If you watch the episode again, look for the way Theon’s expression changes as he turns from the people of Winterfell to the horribly burnt bodies of Bran and Rickon Stark. I mean, those bodies are Bran and Rickon, aren’t they?

Well, they might be. Theon did say there was nothing he wouldn’t do to stop himself from looking like a fool and that it’s better to be cruel than weak. Then again, when they mounted Ned’s head on a spike in King’s Landing it was perfectly recognizable, so why go to all the trouble of burning the bodies? Let alone the bodies of two boys Theon once thought of as brothers and whom he clearly still cares for, despite trying oh so hard to act like he doesn’t. And if Theon really did find and kill the boys where are Osha and Hodor (who’d be pretty hard to miss)? That said, this is “Game of Thrones,” we all know anyone can be killed. Maester Luwin was certainly convinced, are you?

Qarth

As I suspected, the dragon-napping was a way for Pyat Pree to get Daenerys into the House of the Undying. Most of you still don’t know what that means, but take my word for it, going there is just about the only interesting thing she does in the second book. As I’ve said her story line is boring, so they’re adding stuff like the dragon-napping and Xaro’s little coup d’état to spice things up a bit. There’s not much else to say other than let’s wait and see where it takes us. Oh, and that Pyat Pree is one creepy motherfucker.

The Lannisters as good guys?

As I’ve often discussed, one of the best things about Game of Thrones is that there are no good guys or bad guys, no heroes or villains, no black or white, only human beings and thus shades of grey. This week’s episode gave us some of the best evidence of this yet, as we got a glimpse into the minds of a number of prominent members of House Lannister. While they’ve done some awful things, the Lannisters are still human, and they’ve undergone many of the same struggles as the characters we love.

Last week, we saw a different side of Tywin when he told Arya about teaching Jaime to read. His humanization continued this week, partly because of the way he told Arya she reminds him Cersei after she said “most girls are idiots.” Like Cersei, Arya has no interest in things that are “meant” for girls, although I’m sure she didn’t take too kindly to being compared to someone one her to-kill list. More importantly however, Tywin actually took steps to protect Arya, who he now believes to be highborn, telling her to say “m’lord” rather than “my lord” if she wants to pass herself off as a commoner. Whether or not Tywin knows who she is specifically remains to be seen.

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