The second episode of HBO’s adaptation of “Game Of Thrones,” entitled “The Kingsroad,” was another strong entry in the series. Now that the main characters and a common understanding of the universe had been established — a set of mythological groundrules, if you will - the story is ready to break open. As such, the characters are beginning to flourish and demonstrate some of the complexity and depth that made them so fascinating in Martin’s novels (I promise not to do too many novel-to-show comparisons, difficult as that may be).
As before, the story meanders fluidly between various settings, the first of which seemed the most compelling — House Stark of Winterfell, whose Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark has accepted the role of Hand Of The King. Sean Bean’s portrayal of Stark as a tired, hardened Northman is pretty much spot-on — after roles like Boromir, I’d be stunned if the producers even called anyone else when they were casting. The Stark children are equally remarkable in their efforts — Robb, while not as prevalent as the others, begins to display the marks of a leader as his mother simply begins to disassociate after Bran’s tragic “fall.” Jon is unsure and anxious about his new chosen path on the Wall — not aided by the cynical and ominous remarks of Tyrion Lannister. Arya and Sansa, the two girls, are equally strong, though Arya is destined to become a fan favorite. Her almost Whedonesque spunk and toughness were beautiful to portray, and when Joffrey got a stick across the head, I almost clapped. An interesting, yet seemingly necessary diversion from the novel was the decision to show, rather than allude to, Arya driving her wolf away. It was a heartrending, piteous moment, but also served to show Arya’s strength and was easily one of my favorite bits of the show. If anyone failed to captivate me, it was Michelle Fairley’s portrayal of Catelyn Stark, which shot for desperate, embittered and obsessive, but instead landed squarely on bitchy, shrill and unpleasant.
Across the Narrow Sea, the story of Daenerys, Drogo and the Dothraki improved, but still felt somewhat diminished in scope. Perhaps it’s the books coloring my opinion, but I don’t think so. When King Robert laments Ned with tales of her marriage to the Horselord who has tens of thousands at his command, those scenes of Drogo’s Dothraki begin to feel decidedly lacking in grandeur and scale. Harry Lloyd, as Viserys, is a simpering, petulant brat — and seems to be doing an adequate job at it. Meanwhile, the relationship between Daenerys and Drogo continues to prove to be a complicated one. I was one of the few who was actually OK with HBO’s change in their consummation scene in the prior episode — it always felt like, given the circumstances, one of Martin’s few missteps was how quickly and easily Daenerys succumbed to Drogo’s ministrations. It seemed like the show’s depiction is a gritty, more realistic portrayal of what it would have been like — unpleasant as that may be. Regardless, Danaerys is also, like the others, beginning her evolution into a whole person, someone who is slowly beginning to take control of her fate.
By now, fans have already likely developed favorite characters — Arya and Tyrion likely among the top ones. Rightfully so — Peter Dinklage has captured the essence of Tyrion perfectly. A stunted, deformed outcast of his family, who still manages to be both arrogant and powerful and intelligent, Tyrion Lannister has begun to display a taste for both the kindhearted and the Machiavellian, an intriguing combination to say the least. I suspect that viewers are seeing Tyrion with the same unease as those around him — he has a certain allure, but what path he’s choosing is still unclear.
Therein lies the common thread of “The Kingsroad.” That sense of journey, both physical and metaphorical, was a strong theme that was consistent for almost every character. The show continues to demonstrate a distinct sense of deftness and subtlety, even if at times the settings feel a little community theater-ish. The show’s creators are far more successful on the smaller scale — the characters have shown an impressive degree of personal development in a short period of time. More importantly, that development and growth feels like it’s happening naturally and organically. The forces around them has begun to shape their fates, but also change them into people who are learning to choose their respective paths based on the shifting world around them. Arya’s hot-tempered assertiveness, Ned’s frustrated sense of noblesse oblige, Danaerys learning to assert herself and play a part in her marriage other than someone’s prize, Jon Snow’s trepidation and fear, coupled with eagerness and nervous excitement about taking the Black — all show the beginnings of new roads for the characters.
A lot happens in an hour that feels all too short, and “Game Of Thrones” continues to do what readers had hoped that it could — take the massive collection of brilliantly written characters and commit them to screen without sacrificing their personal complexities. There are still many characters to be introduced, some of which have gotten brief moments that hopefully signal greater future roles — most notably The Hound, Sandor Clegane, whose harsh, yet strangely comforting manner make him a potentially fascinating addition.
So far “Game Of Thrones” is a qualified success, and “The Kingsroad” made for an excellent start to the journey.. Performance and direction-wise, it’s a splendid bit of adaptation, with an intelligent, carefully-crafted set of interweaving stories and characters that have quickly broken out of the genre stereotypes. The sets sometimes feel a little cheap and flimsy, diminishing the overall experience — but only slightly. However, costume design is spectacular (oh, and seriously — how awesome are those opening credits?), and coupled with the aforementioned performances, it still engrosses the viewer and you find yourself compelled by this strange, beautiful and brutal universe.