Note: Once again, please limit comments to discussions about the television show, and don’t spoil future events in the series for those who haven’t read the novels. Talking about how the show has deviated from the book is OK, but any spoilers will be deleted. Thanks. -TK
Eight months has never seemed so long, nor sixty minutes so short. Welcome back, my friends, to the world of “Game Of Thrones.”
The second season of “Game Of Thrones,” based on A Clash Of Kings, the second novel in George R.R. Martin’s Song Of Ice And Fire series, picks up shortly after the conclusion of Season One. Westoros is being devoured by a war between no fewer than four kings — Joffrey Baratheon, incestuous son of Cersei and Jaime Lannister and betrothed of hapless Sansa Stark; Robb Stark of Winterfell aka “The King In The North”, son of the executed Ned Stark; Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), Lord of Dragonstone and next in the line of Baratheon brothers after the death of King Robert; and Renly Baratheon, the youngest brother and Lord of Storm’s End. Robert’s death has thrown the realm into chaos, and each seeks to lay claim to the crown in some form or another.
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen leads the remnants of her khalasar across the Red Waste in search of new lands and to find an army to take back Westoros. And finally, Jon Snow, bastard son of Ned Stark and Brother of the Night’s Watch journeys beyond the Wall with his Brothers to seek out the purpose and strength of Mance Rayder, leader of the Wildlings and self-proclaimed King Beyond The Wall. In short, this joint is lousy with kings. All that royalty and there’s still the journey of wayward, rambunctious Arya Stark, the quest for power and recognition by Tyrion Lannister, and several other intertwined stories.
It’s that labyrinthine set of plot lines that made “The North Remembers” a difficult episode to deal with. Following up on the smashing success of Season One, the hardest issue is the fact that the universe has expanded explosively with new characters and places, new story lines and sagas to an already dense, complex epic of war, politics, intrigue and magic. As a result, the first episode was less of a plot advancement and more a series of introductory vignettes. We met Stannis Baratheon, his mysterious mystical Red Priestess Melisandre (Carice Van Houten, whose character wasn’t even mentioned by name), and his loyal-though-conflicted bannerman Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham). In King’s Landing, we saw Sansa rescue the drunken buffoon Sir Dontas Hollard (Tony Way), and beyond the wall we met the decidedly unpleasant (though not nearly as unpleasant as he seemed in the books) Craster, the independent master of his domain whose vile marital habits are truly something from the depths of depravity.
All of these new introductions made the episode feel rushed, as if we weren’t allowed more than a couple of minutes with each character as they hurriedly set the stage for their endeavors, and it’s because of this that the episode left me wanting. Part of it is a constraint brought about by the adaptation into a new medium — the novels are so dense that it makes such an adaptation an enormously complicated undertaking. As such, each introduction successfully gave context to each new character (and there are many, many more on the way), yet the episode ultimately rang a bit hollow as those introductions gave nothing more than a tantalizing yet unfulfilling taste.
But the episode shone when it came to its regulars. Peter Dinklage once again demonstrated why he absolutely deserved his Emmy, as Tyrion begins to mire himself in all new political quagmires. His entrance into the Small Council, full of swagger and confidence, was one of the best part of the episode, as was Lena Headey’s snarling Cersei Lannister. People aren’t overly fond of Headey, but I feel that she’s killing it with her portrayal of Cersei, a decidedly unlikable character who she depicts with a difficult combination of flinty stillness, harried desperation, and self-righteous fury, all of which was on full display in the episode. Her confrontation with Joffrey, who has rapidly overtaken Draco Malfoy as most unlikable blond teenager ever, was a surprising but fascinating departure from the novels, demonstrating her motherly dotage, her shameful wrath, and Joffrey’s seething, twisted royal venom all in one five minute scene.
Similarly, Robb Stark shone in his all-too-brief confrontation with the imprisoned, almost unrecognizable Jaime Lannister. Jaime, still full of cocksure arrogance despite his pitiful conditions, shows not one iota of regret or respect, while Richard Madden’s Robb has truly grown both as a character and as an actor, finally feeling like a full-fledged leader of men, one who fears little and has become hardened by his battles. Plus, DIREWOLVES, Y’ALL! This strength was demonstrated yet again in his confrontation with his tightly-wound mother Catelyn, one of the show’s more difficult characters, a mother who can’t see much of the larger picture beyond her concern for his children.
Yet there was all-too-little of each of them, with Danaerys having only minutes to dispatch her riders as her people slowly starve on their march through the desert, and poor Jon Snow only there to be berated by the vulgar Craster. And of course, only the barest of glimpses of fan favorite Arya Stark as she journeys with a group of drafted criminals towards the Wall.
“The North Remembers” had few great moments, but it was a necessary evil in order to expand the universe of “A Game Of Thrones.” Inevitably, the episode felt like a bit of a letdown, but that’s more the fan speaking than the critic. It was once again a beautifully acted and directed episode, providing all of the darkness and delightful intrigue that we’ve come to love about the show. Yet it spread itself so thin that it was difficult to find real joy in any single aspect of it as each piece felt like it had been given slightly short shrift. But this is only the beginning, and the groundwork has been laid out.
The night is dark, and full of terrors, and now that the introductions are out of the way, we can get to discovering them.