Game of Thrones – Season 2 – A Reaction

Posted on Posted in Reviews/Commentary, Television

Plot synopses and reaction to the HBO Television adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s book “A Storm of Swords.”  This article is part of a larger series of reviews on the “Game of Thrones” television adaptations of George RR Martin’s “A Song of Fire and Ice” book series.

 

With the conclusion of the second season of “Game of Thrones” on HBO, I decided to walk through my thoughts on each episode.  In doing so, I discovered that the second season served to partially wrap up many of the story arcs that had dominated the first two seasons.

 

Episode 1: “The North Remembers”

The momentum generated by the first season’s finale continued right into the premiere episode of season two.  There were so many new characters introduced and various locations featured that this episode served as my warm-up to get back into it all.  As a non-reader of the books, I did have to glance at a couple of online  summaries to straighten out some of the scenes.

Fan-favorite Tyrion suddenly had increased importance, being introduced as the ‘hand’ to the still-king Joffrey.  Joffrey’s reign would be challenged though, by the former king’s brother Stannis Baratheon.  Stannis appeared to be under the influence of a woman representing the Lord of Light, which was a creepy religious cult.

Elsewhere, Robb Stark continued battling and trying unsuccessfully to broker a peace deal.  His mother went to win the support of Renly Baratheon, the former king’s other brother who seemed to be positioned as a rival to Stannis.

Unfortunately, Daenerys, who had been prominently featured at the end of season one with her new dragons, only showed up briefly whilst wandering through the desert.  That storyline would get lengthened for several episodes, with her being only a minor figure during that time.

 

Episode 2: “The Night Lands”

This episode was mostly about getting pieces into place and the different story lines were really still getting rolling on a number of fronts.

Theon, a character who had been living for nearly a decade with the Stark family, returned to his home on the Iron Islands, hoping to gain the support of his father’s arm for the Starks.  He was not successful though, as his father wanted to win the crown for himself.

The odd theme of incest in the series continued with the Jon Snow and his comrades of the Night’s Watch.  That group was on the other side of the great wall, investigating rumors of a massing of ‘wildings’ and staying with a man named Castor who apparently had some information on the matter.  In the process, they also learned that he had children with his daughters.  Snow later discovered that Craster sacrificed the sons that he produced to the White Walkers, presumably as some part of a peaceful understanding.

Finally, Stannis had ill-advised sex with the Lord of Light cult leader Melisandre.  She promised him a son and that seemed to be all it took, despite her being very creepy.

 

Episode 3: “What Is Dead May Never Die”

More new characters were introduced, along with a major season two appearance by the rival brother of Stannis, Renly.  He was revealed to be the first major gay character.  Apparently his orientation was only hinted at in the book series, although I guess that his having what was referred to as a ‘rainbow guard’ should have been a tip-off to readers.

Renly’s very attractive wife, Margaery Tyrell, seemed to be well-aware that her brother was Renly’s lover.  She also didn’t seem to care, as she only wanted to get pregnant.  Renly wasn’t interested in that though, even after she made the over-the-top shocking suggestion that her brother could join them in bed.

Given the events of the prior episode, I had to really wonder about George RR Martin’s infatuation with incest.  At this point, he had introduced such a situation into three different ongoing storylines.

The episode’s standout scene involved Tyrion telling three ‘confidants’ three different versions of a particular plan in order to fish out who amongst them was a rat.  It was very witty writing and well-produced on-screen.  His character continued to steal the series for himself by showing such ingenuity.

 

Episode 4: “Garden of Bones”

Daenerys, who finally escaped her desert wandering, had her most significant screen time thus far in the season.  I really liked the standoff ‘debate’ scene involving her and thirteen leading council members of the wealthy city of Qarth.  Being a wealthy city, they were apparently well-secured and she had to negotiate her way inside after the council members demanded to see her dragons first.

Oddly though, my initial thought in seeing the wall outside of the city of Qarth was ‘Did they borrow the main set from the film “Troy?”

Standoffs seemed to be the norm for this episode, as Stannis and Renly met face-to-face in what was really an exchange of insults.  Their stand-off was more so a teaser of things to come though and it appeared that they would not be joining their armies together.

The other theme of the week seemed to be torture. By my count, there were at least three significant scene of torture or near-torture, two of which involved Joffrey. I wasn’t a big fan of  those, but I also recognized that they served to make the presumed eventual demise of such ‘bad guys’ more satisfying. In the case of Joffrey, he’d certainly been set up to be the character that everyone hated the most.

 

Episode 5: “The Ghost of Harrenhal”

I wished that I’d paid more attention to the introduction of the mysterious prisoner Jaqen H’ghar, as Arya Stark struck a deal to free him.  ‘Assassins’ were the theme of this episode, with Jaqen appearing, as did the shadowy ‘son’ of Stannis and the cult leader Melisandre.

The sudden death of Renly at the smokey hand of the creepy shadow ‘son’ was one of the first big shockers of the season.  I had expected him to be a major, regular new character, but that was not to be the case.

Theon, one of the characters who hadn’t done much to interest me, set out on a crazed plan to ‘prove’ himself to his father.

 

Episode 6: “The Old Gods and the New”

Theon’s quest paid off quickly for the viewers, as he became much more interesting to me in this episode.  Much of that interest had to do with a rather-brutal and clumsy beheading at his hands.  That said, he was a character whose action don’t seem to be headed – pun intended – in a direction that would be positive for him.

The show’s brutality kicked into high-gear in this episode, as we also saw a man’s arm ripped off by a mob and the near-rape of Sansa Stark.  While she was saved, the entrails of one of her attackers getting spilled was quite gruesome.

The introduction of the Daenerys romance sub-plot caught me by surprise.  The writers implied that her right-hand man, Jorah Mormont, had a thing for her and I guess that that would make sense.  They’d been through quite a bit together thus far in the story and she was certainly a very-eligible bachelorette.

The episode ended on an awesome cliffhanger, involving Daenerys’s dragons being stolen.  I thought that whomever stole them would end up soon regretting it.

By this point in the season, I was following the episodes much more easily, since they were digging deeper into the established storylines and no longer introducing many new characters or locations.  I had no idea how the average viewer might be figuring the series out without at least a little help via referencing the internet.  “Lost” often had the same problem, particularly in the last couple of seasons.  In that case, I know that a lot of people were looking online and engaging in online communities in order to sort it out.  It might seem a stretch to think that  millions of viewers are doing that with “Game of Thrones,” but I suspect that a fair portion are internet savvy and doing that too.

 

Episode 7: “A Man Without Honor”

The L.A. Times talked about how this episode was a ‘striking’ example of how the various changes between the books and HBO series led to what they thought to be increasingly significant deviations from the books in the series.  While I’m sure the series was leaving out things that annoy fans of the books, the series would seem to have also provided an opportunity to streamline and correct plot elements that were not cleanly executed in the books.

I know that I’m not supposed to like the Lannisters, but their patriarch, Tywin, had won me over as stern but not as awful as the rest of them.  Arya’s bantering scenes with him were a highlight of the entire season.

The most memorable scene in this particular episode though was the assassination of several of the council members of Qarth.  That was both unexpected and significant.

For much of the season, I’d mostly forgotten about Jaime Lannister, other than recalling his role as a hostage of sorts.  His attempted escape was surprisingly brutal, as I’d previously thought of him as a softie.

For all the sex in the show, it’s not unwelcome that my attention was been caught by the storyline about Jon Snow getting taunted by Ygritte into almost losing his virginity.   And, speaking of romance, something seemed to be brewing with Robb Stark and the attractive nurse Talisa.

 

Episode 8: “The Prince of Winterfell”

Theon got my attention again at the beginning of this episode after his sister came to visit him.  It was a neat writing trick in having her tell a brief story that gave a nice sentimental connection between two rather-random characters.  A lot of what I liked about the show was how the writers seemed to give a weekly clinic in how to compress down complicated stories and introductions.

Over in Robb Stark’s storyline, I was surprised that his romance with Talisa was consummated so quickly.  I really thought that her storyline was going to involve playing hard to get a bit longer.

The mistaken identify game between Cersei and Tyrion was unexpected and a bit bizarre, but quite entertaining.  I was surprised to see him legitimately, emotionally attached to his ‘girlfriend’ Shae.

As usual, I wanted more out of the storyline with my favorite temperamental heroine, Daenerys.  Then again, what I really wanted to see was her flying around on dragons or some such grandeur.  Of course, it was doubtful that we’d see that in the show for a long, long time.  I did really enjoy that the main players were finally hearing about her exploits though and that the writers were starting to set up her eventual return into the ‘mainstream’ storyline.

Ultimately, this episode seemed to be mostly about some last-minute maneuvering before the big battle that would be the main focus of the next episode.

 

Episode 9: “Blackwater”

It was tempting to attribute the greatness of this episode to the fact that George RR Martin happened to be the credited writer. It paid off much of the season’s setup and one had to also appreciate the fact that many of the season’s long-standing plot lines finally converged in what was a great battle.

The moments leading up to the battle were appropriate and interesting. The singing men scene was oddly beautiful, even if it turned a bit vulgar, and the glimpses of ill men on their ships was understandable.

When the fight did get rolling, the debut of ‘wildfire’ was unexpectedly intense. I had no idea that it was going to be as effective as it proved to be and, based on the reaction of the characters, I don’t know that they were expecting quite a light show either. Peter Dinklage’s finest hour of the series thus far as Tyrion came when he tried to rally his troops and he only continued to improve his already sky-high stock.

While the drama around the battle was memorable, Cersei managed to nearly steal the episode for herself. Her revelation that the ‘innocents’ would be poisoned if the city fell was a nice touch to raise the already-high tension. Nearby, Sansa certainly got away with a nice shot at Joffery’s courage as he was departing for the battle.

As Cersei became progressively drunk, her little advice sessions became increasingly interesting. It felt as though some of the ‘insider’ secrets were revealed when she unleashed zinger lines such as “Tears aren’t a woman’s only weapon.” Late in the episode, it was unexpected to see Cersei take a non-lethal stab at her cousin and lover Lancel Lannister, but she was a temperamental kind of girl. She wasn’t exactly known for her loyalty either.

Tywin walking in at the end, triumphantly, was pretty awesome and brought down the house for me. I know that I shouldn’t like his character, but he seemed so much smarter than any of his off-spring and I admired him for that.

 

Episode 10: “Valar Morghulis”

I hadn’t thought about about things hard enough to realize that Tyrion would quickly – and logically – be moved out of being a leader in favor of his father. On a side tangent, it would stink for Peter Dinklage to have to deal with the make-up chair going forward, due to his battle scar.

There was a nice, heavy-handed bit of symbolism with the horse defecating in the throne room, illustrating what had obviously befallen the kingdom. I was a bit surprised to see Margaery’s plan to become queen come together so quickly and glad to see her return. She should be a fun character to continue to watch in the third season. I do wonder if she really knew what she was signing up for though.

I wasn’t sure if Littlefinger should ever be trusted, but I suppose that such uncertainty was the point. Sansa hasn’t much choice but to go with him though.

Brienne seemed to be an under-used character since being introduced early in the second season. I hoped that her character would eventually develop in some positive ways. She remained a ‘nerd’ who one could imagine would be quite cool if correctly developed. While she was not necessarily attractive, my understanding was that she’s more attractive in the television series than in the books. I’d like to see her find some sort of a romance late in the story, since she’s the sort of character that would deserve a happy ending.

I was a bit perplexed as to why Stannis could be so easily convinced that he should continue to follow the Lord of Light cult. I guess that by killing his brother, he did get some confirmation that there was some legitimacy to it.

Theon’s speech to rally his troops wasn’t half bad, but I couldn’t help but think the entire time how delusional he had become. Of course, it seemed in-character, given that he’d have to be quite crazed to get where he’d gotten. The ‘surprise’ ending to his speech was nicely done and also appropriate.

There was a very excellent fake-out involving the presentation of the wedding of Robb Stark. I didn’t have a strong connection to his character, but I had to assume that his quick decision to marry would have some bad repercussions for him down the road.

I had had little to no interest in Jaqen all season, thinking him to be an unassuming thief. Boy, was I wrong on that front. After digging a little bit, I discovered that his reveal in this season finale marked him as one of the ‘Faceless Men,’ described as an organization of secret assassins. That’s obviously a very interesting idea. Adding fuel to that fire was the mention by one commentator that: “In the first book it is said that hiring a Faceless Man to kill Daenerys Targaryen would cost more than it would to hire an entire army.”

Arya’s character had been unexpectedly interesting all season and would suddenly get even more interesting if she some somehow started delving into a society of secret assassins. One of the key reasons that comic book writer/artist Frank Miller’s creation of Elektra resonated so much in the early-1980s was her having a back story that involved initiation into a cult of assassins. That would seem to be a logical direction for Arya’s character, given her introduction to sword training in the first season.

The scene with Jon Snow killing the ranger was a bit much for me. I understand why it was necessary, but it didn’t really help my appreciation of the character. Then again, the series has never really been about getting viewers to ‘like’ certain characters. I’d seen it mentioned that Snow was considered to be one of the more popular characters in the series by readers and I’m not entirely sure why. His segments had been the most boring to me for most of the prior episodes. Perhaps the reasoning of fans would be revealed via future events.

And leave it to my favorite female character, Daenerys, to light up the season finale – literally. Her line challenging the Warlock’s ‘fear of a little girl,’ was amusing, as it had become obvious that any prudent person would be right to be afraid of her. It was great to see the producers work a Khal Drogo appearance into the mix. Daenerys’s dragons playing hero for her paid off some of the long-simmering promise that they would seem to hold. The demise of Xaro Xhoan Daxos had a nice twist with him being revealed as a con artist, but I was surprised that Daenerys was so cold as to give her handmaiden a death sentence too.

Finally, it was about time that the series returned some focus to the white walkers. I did sneak a peek online to see if the pudgy character Sam was presumed dead in that scene, but the consensus was that he had been spared. The reappearance of the white walkers ended the season with just the right sort of cliffhanger, while also book-ending it with the first season’s opening sequence.

 

Conclusions

I was pleasantly surprised by how well the second season finale managed to give the entire season a nice sense of closure. The ending of season one felt much more wide-open and, in contrast, the second season finale was much more satisfying. It really felt as though seasons one and two worked best as a combined whole, with the second season finale being the natural conclusion of that combined arc. I look forward to what seemed to be more of a consolidation of storylines. After initially being overwhelmed by all of the new characters and locations, the season hit its stride for me by the middle episodes and came to a very nice conclusion in the end.

 

Bibliography


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Contributors. “Faceless Men.” Web. 7 June 2012.

Cuse, Carlton, and Damon Lindelof. Lost: The Complete Sixth and Final Season. ABC Studios, 2010. Film.

Jackson, Peter. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. 2001. Film.

—. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. 2003. Film.

—. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. 2002. Film.

Martin, George R.R. A Clash of Kings. Bantam, 1998. Print.

Miller, Frank. Daredevil by Frank Miller & Klaus Janson Omnibus. Marvel Comics, 2007. Print.

—. Daredevil Visionaries – Frank Miller, Vol. 2. Marvel Comics, 2002. Print.

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Miller, Frank, and Klaus Janson. The Elektra Saga (Marvel Comics). Ed. Denny O’Neil. Marvel Comics, 1989. Print.

Petersen, Wolfgang. Troy. 2004. Film.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1974. Print.

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