If you haven’t seen the second season of Game of Thrones yet, don’t read this review. I’ll be spoiling the bejesus out of this. Thou hast been warned…
Game of Thrones completed its’ second season well over a month ago. Perhaps I needed the month to process everything that happened… perhaps I was burnt out on talking about one of the best shows on television… perhaps I figured that I spoke enough about the series in my talk with Jason and Karen on The Walking Deadcast… perhaps I forgot… either way, I believe it is now time to share my thoughts on HBO’s epic depiction of George R. R. Martin’s mammoth series, A Song of Ice and Fire… aka Game of Thrones.
I am a fan of both the show and the novels… each media has their great points, each has their flaws. Interestingly enough, I find that those flaws don’t match up… yet often the great moments do. Due to budget constraints, there are limits to the scale and scope the show can bring to something like the Battle at Blackwater (Episode 9, Blackwater), which in the novel is far more elaborate and detailed. But there are events that the show is able to depict that are only referred to or alluded to in the novels due to the constraint of chapters being told from individual points of view. It is a balancing act to be sure, and it’s an act that HBO has skillfully performed in taking an incredibly difficult story and managed to have it make sense (mostly) over the course of ten hours.
The best way to begin a recap of the second season would be… previously on Game of Thrones… we last left Westeros in a state of shock… the king was dead, and in his place was an inbred evil little son of a bitch (literally and figuratively); the hand, Ned Stark, had his head lopped off for the crimes of being both overly noble and remarkably stupid; his son Robb has declared himself King in the North; his daughters Sansa and Arya are trapped in either exile (Arya) or engagement (Sansa) in Kings Landing; Jon Snow was heading north beyond the Wall in order to find lord knows what; Dany Targaryen has hatched her baby dragons in lieu of her husband and child; Jaime Lannister is being held captive by the Starks; Tyrion Lannister has been given the duty of being the new Hand of the King while his father wages war against the aforementioned Robb Stark.
We begin season 2 by introducing us to some new characters, because really, there just aren’t enough people and plot to keep track of… let’s add some more! We meet Stannis Baratheon, middle brother to the former King Robert, who believes the throne is his by right (it is), due to the fact that Joffrey is the product of twincest, and his “loyal?” red priestess Melisandre. We join Renly Baratheon (Robert and Stannis’ youngest brother) who is also laying claim to the throne along with his lover Loras and his beard, Loras’ sister Margaery Tyrell, as well as the wonderful Brienne of Tarth, a knight in Renly’s Kingsgurad. Eventually we also meet Balon Greyjoy, the grizzled old ruler of the Iron Isles and Theon’s father… yet another claimant to the iron throne. Keeping track of the number of kings? Joffrey, Stannis, Renly, Robb and Balon… five kings, one land. Perhaps this would be the time to mention that the novel the second season is based on is titled, A Clash of Kings… and clash they do.
Trying to recap this series is virtually impossible unless you were to go over each story arc individually… I’m not going to do that… this post would be crazy long, at which point I would be forced to say, read the damn books. I will say however that the main arc of the story is Tyrion doing his best to prepare for the oncoming war with little credit given to what a great job he is doing. Yes, there are a host of other things going on, but really, that is the main thrust which culminates in what may be the greatest episode of the series yet, Blackwater. The battle that ensues is the first actual battle we’ve seen on Game of Thrones, and it is beautiful… and gory… and the money shot is an explosion of wildfire that engulfs Stannis’ fleet in green flame. If there was a point to season 2, this episode was it.
I don’t mean to short change all the other storylines going on… but the thrust of the story seems to come to a head at that moment. Also happening while the chaos in Kings Landing progresses is Theon Greyjoy, sent by Robb as an emissary for the Starks to his home islands, has a cornucopia of daddy issues and in turn betrays the Starks by taking Winterfell for the Greyjoys… disappointing everyone, Greyjoy and Stark both. That does not end well for anyone. Theon is now captive to what is assumed to be the Boltons, Bran and Rickon are on the run with Osha and Hodor (Hodor!), and Dagmar Cleftjaw seems to be taking the place of Reek (book readers will know what I’m saying).
Dany’s story deviate the most from the book. After wandering the Red Waste for ages, she comes to Qarth seeking refuge. There she finds a political council, a goofy rich guy, a creepy warlock, and nothing but trouble for her and her people… and her dragons. Yes, we see the dragons again, small and still learning to cook their meat. For those people expecting to see some awesome dragon action… meh, not so much. The final moments we share with Dany are interesting, and frankly the only interesting aspect to her journey throughout both book and series. When she enters the House of the Undying, she is granted a number of weird visions… in the novel, those visions are prophecies and are far more psychedelic and telling. In fact, one of those visions would be a complete spoiler if we were to see it visualized. In the novel it’s just weird and confusing… to see it would be a give away for the events in A Storm of Swords, and ultimately, the end of season 3 (the third book, A Storm of Swords, will be spread out over two seasons with a very obvious dividing point).
Arya’s story deviates the most from the novel for clear reasons. What happens to her before, during, and after her stay at Harrenhal is completely altered due to ease of storytelling. Characters are eliminated, arcs are given over to others to complete, and she kills absolutely no one on the show. In the novel she is becoming quite adept at the art of skewering her enemies… HBO seems to be a bit squeamish to show a young girl killing grown men. At no point in the novel does she spend time with Tywin Lannister, but on the program, she becomes his cup bearer and becomes his confidant. This is something that as a book reader was odd, yet, I enjoyed. I found this to be a difference I could get behind. Yes, we lose some awesome details, and sadly, no Vargo Hoat… but we get some of the best acting and most enjoyable dynamics between young Maisie Williams and Charles Dance. Fortunately, they retained the Jaqen H’ghar storyline. What do you think… do you believe that coin he gives her will have any significance?
Alright… time to get to Jon Snow. His story line was bungled from beginning to end. Yes, the events that happen are essentially the same, but how we get there is quite tweaked from how it could, or rather, should have gone down. I’m not completely sure why some of the decisions that were made were made, but it’s a bit of a shame. As it is on page is stellar… as it is on the screen, not so much. That said, I adore Ygritte. I love the Lord of Bones (aka Rattleshirt). I can’t wait until we meet Mance Rayder. As for Craster… he is horrible in any media. I honestly don’t know why they made Jon such as idiot when it came to Craster and his sons other than to give us a glimpse of a white walker… which sadly, most viewers didn’t realize that that was what it was that picked up Craster’s boy.
Speaking of white walkers… the final scene of the season gives us exactly what many of us have been waiting for since the first episode of the show… zombies. An epic end to an epic season.
I believe I left one important aspect of the second season out here… I loved it. I love how the plot weaves itself into these wonderful knots that leave us the viewers wondering what the hell is going on… I love that this show demands your attention and punishes those that can’t keep up with story… I dig the emergence of high fantasy and magic as the dragon grow and gain in strength… I love the sense of impending doom that seems to hang over every event… I love the sex and the nudity (there you go… I said it)… and I love the fact that so many people are getting behind a series based in fantasy and medieval times that alternates between being a soap opera and a horror film.
I don’t believe I did an adequate job of reviewing the second season here… this is nothing but a brief overview. The point I would like to get across more than anything else is that this is an incredible television series that, although not without its flaws, is head and shoulders greater than almost anything I see on TV today. I realize that the DVD/Blu-rays won’t be released until March, 2013… but if you need to catch up, I’m sure you can see it on On-Demand or HBO Go. Then again, if you haven’t seen it yet, why in the hell are you reading this?
Final words… if you thought season 2 was exciting, wait until you see what happens in seasons 3 and 4. Enjoy that final zombie filled scene below… and remember… winter is coming.
You know nothing,
Cornelius J. Blahg