(My apologies for the delay in posting this…life decided to get in the way)
And we are so back.
The first episode of season 2 of HBO’s Game of Thrones refused to let you settle in after the long wait. While this is still somewhat of an introductory episode, it’s more to set things in motion for the rest season, something that it took several episodes to do in season 1.
We open on King’s Landing with Joffrey acting like the vicious little tyrant we all knew he could be. For his name day (birthday) he is making men battle each other to the death, and because this is Game of Thrones, we see the death part. The show has never shied away from showing us exactly what is at stake with every single blow; when the nameless knight is knocked off the ledge by the Hound, he lands with a thud and as he’s dragged away, we see enough blood to know how dead he really is.
Poor Sansa is still at his side, having to parrot back lines about her “beloved Joffrey” even when said beloved is making her declare her family as traitors. Sansa tries to talk Joffrey down from drowning a sad display of a knight in wine, showing some of the wiles her father seemed to lack when dealing with the Lannisters, and thankfully the Hound backs up her assertions about reaping all year what you sow on your name day.
Luckily, we are spared more of this butchery in the King’s name once good old Tyrion shows up. Side note: It is amazing that Myrcella and Tommen, Joffrey’s younger siblings, aren’t absolute horrors. Tyrion manages to have more swagger than the entirety of King’s Landing (Littlefinger and Varys not included) and shows a bit more heart than his nephew when he tells Sansa he’s sorry for her loss. Of course that swagger serves him even better when he walks into the Small Council and tells Cersei who’s in charge. He mocks her losing Arya, killing Ned, screwing Jaime…well that’s more implied.
One of the exciting things about this new season is the opportunity meet new characters, especially those at Dragonstone: Stannis Baratheon, Robert’s till-now-unseen-brother and his “spiritual advisor”, the red priestess Melisandre. We meet them (and Davos the Onion Knight who gets short shrift here but should get more screentime going forward) on the shores of Dragonstone, burning the statues of the Seven worshiped by the southern part of the kingdom. Melisandre has swayed Stannis from worship of the Seven to the worship of Rh’hlor, and Maester Cressen ain’t too happy about that. The scene where Cressen tries to poison Melisandre is slightly different in the book, but we get how she has some actual power and is a pretty scary lady in her own.
Oh, and Stannis is a huge pain in the butt; no wonder Renly thinks he would be more popular. Nitpicking over every word in his “incest announcement” that he is sending to every corner of the kingdom, denouncing Joffrey as the product of 2 Lannisters, not a Baratheon hair to be found on his body, thereby justifying Stannis’s claim to the Iron Throne. Really Stannis? Really…you think someone is going to question whether Robert was your “beloved brother” or just “brother”? However, I did love his insistence that Jaime was both a Kingslayer and a knight, one clearly does not preclude the other.
Speaking of this Kingslayer knight…he’s still being held captive by the Starks. Jaime is looking a little worse for wear, grimy and bruised, and sitting in a cage. Robb Stark who looks much more like the King in the North, enters followed by Grey Wind who looks much more like the Direwolf I imagined/feared in my dreams. The CGI here isn’t particularly great, but you get a sense of how imposing Grey Wind is, especially since they switched from using dogs to real wolves this season. Dirt and chains haven’t dulled Jaime’s spirit and he spars nicely with Robb – “Three victories don’t make you a conqueror,” says the Kingslayer. Robb shoots back, “It’s better than three defeats.” Grey Wind does make Jaime shut it fairly quickly.
Robb continues to impress as he sends a Lannister cousin back to King’s Landing with a list of his demands, knowing full well Joffrey aka Cersei won’t comply. He also sends Catelyn to meet with Renly and see if they could unite. Catelyn who only wants to return to Winterfell to give some attention to Bran and Rickon, the youngest Stark who might as well not have a name with all the attention he gets in print and on screen. Catelyn tell Robb Ned would have been proud of him; sharp contrast to how Robert would feel about his disgusting “offspring”, ruling on high from King’s Landing.
Sidenote and slight spoiler:
Theon Greyjoy will become more than “just another Northern boy in furs” this season. I don’t know much about Alfie Allen and we haven’t really gotten a sense of his acting abilities, but I hope that he is up to the challenge of Theon on as the series progresses.
Bran as acting Stark in Winterfell is listening to a lord’s complaint, Maester Lewin by his side. Bran looks bored until the lord starts bad mouthing Robb. But rather than throw him from a parapet or have his tongue cut out, he reminds the lord that this is not Robb’s war, that Joffrey killed Ned. When you compare Bran’s reaction to Joffrey’s, it just goes even further to insist that Joffrey is a horrible excuse for a human being, not just too young for the job. That and Ned and Catelyn did a much better job raising their children in the north than Cersei and Robert did in the south. Bran has started having his “wolf dreams” and all I’ll say is warg. Warg.
Another new development this season what lies beyond the Wall. The Night’s Watch ventured out at the end of season 1 and just keeps moving in season 2. They stop by Craster’s for shelter for the night. Craster would give the Lannisters and the Targaryans a run for their incest money. He marries his daughters only to have them birth more daughters for him to marry. How classy. We very briefly meet Gilly, played by Skins’s Hannah Murray. Jon Snow, still very pretty, catches Craster’s eye. Jon Snow also can’t keep his own mouth shut. This leads to this quick but strong worded chastisement from Commander Mormont
What is beyond the Wall is really quite different than anywhere else in the Seven Kingdoms and I’m very curious to see how they handle Mance Rayder, a former man of the Night’s Watch who became King-Beyond-the-Wall, over the wildlings. This is a true betrayal of everything the Night’s Watch stands for.
What of dragons? Poor Daenerys. Drogo was dead. Her khalasar abandoned her. The few stragglers following her into the red waste. Her dragons are too small to be anything other than additional mouths for food that doesn’t really exist. But as we all know, don’t count out Dany just yet.
A scene that I don’t remember from the book provided a fascinating look at Littlefinger. He all but tells Cersei that he knows about her and Jaime, snidely remarking “Knowledge is power.” Cersei responds as any Lannister would — has her guards rough him up, stopping them right before she laughs, says “I’ve changed my mind” and then looks him in the eye and says “Power is power.” I am not a Cersei fan by any stretch of the imagination, but she has a point. We’re seeing the shift from a world where people like Littlefinger and Varys could bend the wills of other simply by knowing something dangerous to one where it’s very much a “might makes right” situation. It’s also a new thing to see Littlefinger so unnerved.
But who or what can unnerve Cersei? She stood her ground when Ned confronted her about her relationship with Jaime. She withstood Robert’s entire existence, drunken and whoring and let’s face it abusive. Put her in front of Joffrey and his own accusations about her incestuous relationship and Robert’s bastard offspring though…
Ballsy, Cersei. Ballsy.
The episode ends not on a great battle or revelation, but on the most biblical of sequences. We see Roz of the Constant Nakedness, now a madame in Littlefinger’s brothel instructing her workers on proper technique, all so similar to the sexposition of season 1. In walks Janos Slynt, commander of the City Watch of King’s Landing. Rather than visiting for a quick roll in the hay, Slynt and his men are there for the baby we met towards the end of season 1, one of Robert’s out-of-wedlock offspring that Ned has sought out before he lost his head. And thus begins a great slaughtering of all of Robert’s bastards, and supposed bastards, within King’s Landing and most likely outside its walls as well. Throats are slit, heads held under water until their owners drowned, babies carried by their ankles to their doom. It was vicious. Of course we have Cersei to thank for this. Goaded into it by Joffrey’s vileness.
The only one who seems to escape this violent fate for the moment is Gendry who along with Arry (Arya), is slowly making his way north to the Wall. Gendry and his telltale bullshead helm.
Tying together all these disparate characters and locales is the appearance of a blood red comet in the sky. From Winterfell to the red waste, everyone claims its omens for their own, but what does this comet really signify?
So there we are. Pieces set in motion, the world of Game of Thrones starting to crack open. I can’t wait for this Sunday.