Game of Thrones: Season 2 — the HBO series considered
Game of Thrones is based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin. The content of Season 2 in this television adaptation by HBO is drawn from A Clash of Kings. As before, the production is helmed by David Benioff and D B Weis. Here is the link to my retrospective overview of Game of Thrones Season 1. This is a spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in each episode, so do not read this if you want to watch without prior knowledge.
Having now watched both seasons, I’m convinced there’s an insuperable problem in trying to bring these novels to the small screen as written. We see separate scenes with no meaningful interaction between them. The best way to resolve this would have been to make the Iron Throne the central point of view. We could then watch who held it and lost it, who gained it and held it, and who ended up with it when all the fighting was over. Reports could come in telling us what was happening in different parts of the world, and we could see different characters reacting, or not reacting, to each piece of news. So Varys (Conleth Hill) might be interested in how Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) was getting on, but no-one else would care. No-one at all would care what was happening north of the Wall, but there would still be reports coming in from the Night’s Watch. That’s the way bureaucracies work. News comes into the centre and plans are, or are not, made in response. So this season could have been the world as seen through the eyes of all the key players in Kings Landing. Watching Tyrion Lannster (Peter Dinklage) try to manage Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), manoeuvring to make alliances with Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) and Varys, and generally acting as the Hand would have provided the necessary focus.
In any society, when history looks back, it sees only the one unique set of circumstances that caused this particular result. Everything else is either irrelevant or conjectural. This season is littered with events that have no real bearing on the reality of who controls the Iron Throne. We see all the people who might, if circumstances had been different, have advanced their claims. Many are now dead. Well that was exciting.
In this, I acknowledge joining the ranks of the iconoclasts. For some reason, fans of the books are demanding a word-by-word translation of their sacred text to the screen. Yet what works reasonably well on the page definitely does not work well on the small screen. In this season, we build up to the Blackwater Battle only to have a whistle-stop tour round the rest of the known world finding out how everyone else is getting on. How can that possibly have any dramatic tension? Does anyone still care what happens to Daenerys and her dragons. And as for the Starks and Jon Snow (Kit Harington), they’re just boys flailing around and making a mess of things. The books are sprawling works and, as they proceed to get ever more diffuse, I found myself as a reader increasingly bored with some elements. Trying to bring all these characters to a television series is completely wrongheaded. There’s no way any story can maintain pace and momentum when we keep moving from one disconnected set of scenes to another with a cast of thousands no-one cares about.
More importantly, even as adapted, the faithful are howling in despair over the departures from the books. For example, the whole plotline featuring Daenerys and her dragons has been rewritten. George R R Martin has Daenerys go into the House of the Undying to learn about the future. The dragons have not been kidnapped. That all this additional drama was felt necessary is an admission by the show’s developers that, as written, this section of the Daenerys story is fundamentally uninteresting. “I must rescue my babies. . .” is a sign of desperation. Then we have the drive to make Joffrey even more hateful with his voyeuristic sadism towards the girls sent by Tyrion. It’s the same with Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) where the scriptwriters have done their worst. In the books, he’s allowed to surrender Winterfell. Moving in the opposite direction, everything between Arya (Maisie Williams) and Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) has been changed. While at Harrenhal, she almost never encounters Tywin and she’s the one who kills the guard to complete the escape. This is her final transformation from a reasonably nice little girl into a cold-blooded killer. I see absolutely no justification for television forcing her to rely on Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) for a rescue when she’s perfectly capable of saving herself. Finally, this new storyline involving Robb Stark (Richard Madden) and Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin) seems unnecessary. Any relationship with a woman from outside the Westeros would be bad karma. At least the books have some degree of credibility in the casual way in which Robb beds Jeyne Westerling. I could go on pointing out novelties but you should get the idea. Most of these innovations are not an improvement.
So, sadly, I’m lining up with the naysayers to this series. Season 1 was terrific but Season 2 has completely lost its way by too literally following the structure of the novels.
For reviews of Season 2, see:
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 1. The North Remembers
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 2. The Night Lands
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 3. What Is Dead May Never Die
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 4. Garden of Bones
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 5. The Ghost of Harrenhal
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 6. The Old Gods and the New
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 7. A Man Without Honor
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 8. The Prince of Winterfell
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 9. Blackwater
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 10. Valar Morghulis