2
Apr
2012
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 1
The North Remembers
Michael
Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to this season of HBO's Game of Thrones. It's a show that probably needs little introduction on this site, but here's the short of it: George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy was last year's most anticipated show among critics and hardcore fans, but managed to expand its fan base to become one on the network's biggest hits. How it managed that is still a bit of a mystery. It is probably only the second successful fantasy series to reach a mainstream audience after The Lord of the Rings, and it carries its genre's limitations like a badge of honor, shoving busty topless lasses and bloody sword fights into the front and center. But behind the lurid attractions hides a show that is more deeply committed to characters and world-building than any other television show in recent memory. For every scene of sex and violence, there are 18 scenes of oblique conversation, introspective monologues and lies, both big and small.

It is also a show that is deeply serialized, more so than even the HBO series that preceded it. Which means my job of grading each episode is way more difficult. For example, how to look at this episode, in which almost nothing happens other than introductions and scene settings? In last season's premier, only Bran's great fall at the very end of the episode served as any impetus to the main plot going forward, but we never get anything so dramatic here. One could read that great twist ending as a preliminary apology for a show that, despite expectations, preferred a slow burn of intrigue to big plot developments (though those became abundant by the end). Here, the expectations are established, and that negates any need for big action pieces or developments

So where are our favorite characters? Daenerys wanders through a wasteland with her new dragons and the pathetic remains of her once-great horde. Other than Jorah and her three blood-riders, she's been reduced to ruins and desperate for any kind of respite. By comparison, Joffrey continues his reign of terror, forcing people to fight to their deaths for his birthday amusement. That is, of course, until Tyrion arrives to begin his tenure as the Hand, upsetting his sister and throwing the small council out of sorts. In the North, King Robb debates whether to ally himself with Renly Baratheon over his brother Stannis, and takes Theon Greyjoy up on his offer to bring the Iron Islands in with the Northmen. Even farther to the north, beyond the wall, Jon Snow spends the night with Craster and his daughter-wives, an ominous first scene for the future of this storyline. Arya, meanwhile, continues on her journey to the wall, along with one of King Robert's bastards.

And that's just the characters we knew about previously. The most important new development is on the island of Dragonstone, where Robert's brother Stannis makes his case for the Iron Throne. In a couple short scenes we get a taste for what he is - stern and honest to a fault. In a perfect scene announcing his suspicions about the Lannisters' little incest problem, he forces his scribe to include the epithet "Kingslayer" but also to include his title "Ser" - after all, "He's still a knight." Alongside him sits Melisandre, the red priestess who speaks in ominous prophecy, as well as Davos Seaworth, who seems to be suspicious of this woman's new religion and the hold it seems to have over his lord and king.

But don't expect any action from them. No, 50 minutes of tonight's episode are dedicated to reintroductions and catch-ups. In contrast, however, are two scenes in which Cercei tries to reclaim her dominance of the throne. After Littlefinger lays bare his knowledge of the queen and her brother's incestuous relationship, he claims that knowledge is power. She answers it with a quick order to her guards to slit his throat, then intervenes at the last second. "Power is power," she claims, which has the distinction of being both foreshadowing for an entire season and the worst line this show has ever produced. And then, suddenly there is a scene where the city's Gold Cloaks round up all the potential bastards of the late king and have them summarily executed. Incidentally, the longer this scene goes on the more comical it becomes, making it perhaps the funniest instance of familicide ever put to film. It's a perfect summary of Cercei's character - she is not the smartest player of the game, but she knows that brute force can get many things. But she risks alienating all of her potential allies, as well as the people of Westeros themselves.

If I must judge this episode alone, I have to say it was the fastest hour of TV where almost nothing happens I have ever seen. At the expense of storylines, we got a little bit of everyone we love and love to hate, and the beginnings of the intrigue that will surely boil over by the end of the season. It's a taste, a tease, a dance around the full truth. It's exactly what Game of Thrones is about.

Grade: B+

Miscellaneous:

-A note on spoilers: I, like many people, consumed all five of the books upon finishing the series last summer. And if you haven't, you should, because they're excellent. That being said, I do not plan on divulging anything you couldn't find outside of press releases in terms of spoilers. I'll mention that GRR Martin himself is writing the penultimate episode of the season "Blackwater," but I will not talk about what the Blackwater is. Deal?

-Dinklage earns himself top billing for the season, after Bean's departure. Very fitting.

-That wolf CGI is pretty bad, but at least they're not trying to convince us that a direwolf and a larger-than-average husky are the same thing.

-Ros (who I refer to as the Forest Gump of whores, considering all of the important people on this show she's conducted business with) has gotten a promotion! Now she's doing the instruction at Baelish's brothel. I still don't know why she exists.

-This week's "I hope somebody got fired for that blunder" - Stannis burns the Seven before the attempted assassination of Melisandre, when in the book it's the other way around. I'm not sure if this ruins the series, but I'm leaning towards 'yes.'
Tags: Game of Thrones
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