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Game of Thrones: Season 2 — the HBO series considered

August 14, 2012 4 comments

 

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

 

Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 10. Valar Morghulis

 

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.

 

When Tyrion Lannster (Peter Dinklage) wakes, he discovers Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) has assumed the role of the Hand and, to celebrate, has made Tyrion a prisoner — a perfect end to a perfect day. Varys (Conleth Hill) explains to Tyrion he’s now without friends among the nobles. Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) did, after all, try to have him killed on the battlefield. But the people love him for saving the city which makes him feel a whole lot better. Shae (Sibel Kikilli) wants Tyrion to leave, but he likes being close to power so decides to stay and play the game.

Gwendoline Christie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau literally bonding

 

There’s a tearful moment as self-interest finally pays out with a reward. Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) is given Harrenhal for bringing the Tyrells to rescue the Lannisters. Looking seductive, Lady Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) asks whether she can be Queen to Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and, after Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) is cast aside, Margaery gets a round of applause if only for having the nerve to wear that dress in public. Varys meanwhile moves to recruit one of Littlefinger’s whores as a spy — you just can’t have too many spies. Out in the sticks, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) fights Stark’s men to keep Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) safe — a stupid if noble thing to do given she’s only loyal to Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) and could just have left Jaime to his fate. Now back in family mode, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) discusses the notion of love with his mother and confirms his desire to marry Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin), the immediate bird in the hand, and not the politically convenient bird on the House Frey bridge. So he ignores Catelyn’s warning about what happens to oath breakers, and the happy couple tie the knot in an official civil ceremony.

Alfie Allen inspiring his troops to fight

 

Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) remonstrates with Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) for failing to warn him he was going to lose. She puts on a brave front and convinces him he will be victorious and become King. The only price is that he must betray everyone around him. Having ordered the death of his brother, he should have no problem with that. And talking of experts in betrayal, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is under siege in Winterfell and remembers as a child how everyone said he was lucky to be a hostage. Sadly, he feels he can’t run because everyone will think him a coward — an incredibly stupid reason even by his standards. Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter) makes the constructive suggestion he could make a strategic retreat to the Wall where the law can’t touch him. Unfortunately his loyal Iron Islanders think he would do better in the care of those besieging them. They knock out their revered leader, leave Maester Luwin fatally wounded and burn Winterfell. Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) is there when the Maester dies. With his final words, he sends them north to the Wall where he says Jon Snow (Kit Harington) will look after them. Except Laughing Boy Snow is a prisoner of the Wildings and, to impress the locals with his betrayal skills, he kills Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong) in self-defence. Now he’s going to meet the King Beyond the Wall while Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) has a more exciting encounter with some dead folk.

John Bradley gets his first sight of one of the “Others”

 

In the House of the Undead, there are visions of the Iron Throne in a ruined King’s Landing, of the ice beyond the Wall, of Khal Drogo and the son that was never born to them, but always Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) hears the cries of her dragons and is not tempted by the unreal. When Pyat Pree (Ian Hanmore) finally puts in an appearance in the flesh, her dragons burn him and set her free — sadly the wrong way round but you just can’t get sensible dragons these days. When she and Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) open the giant safe, they find it empty. Yet another con trick revealed, so they fill it with the giant personality of Xaro Xhoan Daxos (Nonso Anozie), steal all his moveables and go off to buy a ship. And Arya (Maisie Williams) gets the magic password featuring as the title to this episode. More about that comes in Season 3 if we feel strong enough to watch it. Fortunately, this brings Season 2 to an end with just a final set of conclusions to come from me.

 

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 — the HBO series considered

 

Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 9. Blackwater

 

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.

 

Well, for better or worse, here comes the battle for Kings Landing. Believe me when I tell you, watching this serial has become a chore. The first series was beautifully structured to give a direct plot line development to confirm the death of the King and his Hand, leaving the field open for the claimants to fight. This was something we could all relate to and cheer on. Sadly, the set of episodes to date has been all over the map without any clear idea of where it’s going. As evidence of this, welcome to the battle that should be the climax to this season. What we should have seen is all the dead wood cut away and a simple series of events leading to the failure of the primary claimant to take Kings Landing. We could then have gone away, licked our wounds, and considered what was happening north of the Wall and in other parts of the world as the start of the next season. As it is, we have to sit through an hour-long battle, only then to have a further hour to see what’s happening elsewhere. What should have been a real cliffhanger with everyone who has not read the books uncertain as to whether Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) survives, is going to be dragged out with redundant information in the final episode.

Jerome Flynn as Bron showing that, to start a battle, just point and shoot

 

So with Neil Marshall, a film director, brought into play in the hope his visual style can make a television hour of fighting a watchable fifty minutes, we’re off with Ser Davos Seaworth (Lian Cunningham) and his son leading the Navy towards King’s Landing. His son has naive faith they will win. Ser Davos has the experience to know it will not be easy. Tyrion lies with Shae (Sibel Kikilli) and reflects on his fear. But he’s a Lannister and he doesn’t have a choice. Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) gets some poison — just in case. Bron (Jerome Flynn), Tyrion’s sell-sword, and Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) as The Hound exchange pointers on killing as they put the whores to one side and get ready for battle. Varys (Conleth Hill) gives Tyrion a map of the tunnels under the city. The captain of the ship always says he will go down with it when the ship is still afloat. But Varys offers the encouraging thought that Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) is being helped by dark forces and having such a man on the throne would be a disaster. So Tyrion had better win. Cersei keeps order by killing those who would run away. She keeps herself calm by drinking wine. Lots of wine. She mocks Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) for praying.

Lena Headey as Cersei in her cups

 

Ser Davos wonders where the opposing fleet is. Then only one unmanned ship comes into view and the wild fire is released. Stannis and some of the army survives and they press the attack on the walls. The Hound decides he’s had enough and leaves the field with a sack of wine. Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) has enough sense to see he’s losing and makes a strategic retreat. This leaves Tyrion to rally the citizenry as troops. “Don’t fight for honour. That’s your city he’s attacking, your women he’s going rape.” he tells those who will listen. When put to it, Tyrion has a nice inspirational line for those daft enough to still be around to listen. Sansa also starts a choir singing hymns but, on Shae’s advice, runs to hide in her room where, to her surprise, the Hound is waiting. He proposes to leave the King to die on his own, and offers to take her to Winterfell, to keep her safe.

Jack Gleeson gives words of encouragement to Peter Dinklage

 

When Tyrion’s last play seems to have failed, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) and his troops suddenly show up and drive off the remnants of the invading army. So near and yet so far. So much for the powers of the seer! Now Cersei need not commit suicide and we’ve another season of her witlessness to suffer. Even Joffrey survives! If only Tywin could have kept his deus in the machina and killed off Robb, we could have had a great Season 3 with him fighting Stannis to recover the Iron Throne. As it is, we have a city siege on the cheap with a lot of running around in the dark with mist to help conceal the small number of extras in the attacking and defending armies. It shows what can be done with flair and style on a shoe-string budget. Thanks to whatever divinity you believe in there’s only one more episode to go.

 

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 10. Valar Morghulis
Game of Thrones: Season 2 — the HBO series considered

 

 

This episode is nominated for the 2013 Hugo Awards for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.

Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 8. The Prince of Winterfell

 

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.

 

Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) gets a lesson in leadership from his sister who calls him weak and stupid. Their power comes from their ships, not from the land. Now he’s killed the boys, every man in the North wants to kill him, so she begs him to come home with her to avoid death at Winterfell. For once his sister is showing signs of affection. Showing a similar female desire to save the men from themselves, Ygritte (Rose Leslie) protects Jon Snow (Kit Harington) but Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong) has also been captured, the rest of the not-so-elite SEALs killed. The two survivors are being taken to meet Manse Rayder — and not before time.

Alfie Allen still alive

 

Robb Stark (Richard Madden) tells Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin), his girlfriend-in-waiting, that he’s pledged to marry as the price of controlling a bridge. Being a lord is like being a father except you have thousands of children to protect. Thinking of her children, Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) lets Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) go as the price she agreed with Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen), supposedly for releasing Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams). As a reward for giving in to her maternal instincts, Catelyn is to be kept locked up until Robb decides she’s been locked up long enough. Meanwhile, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Chrstie) and Jaime bond as she takes him towards King’s Landing probably aware in their bones that Robb has sent men to track them down. Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) decides to march against Robb so Arya wants to escape Harrenhal. Thanks to a nice trick, Arya gets Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) to help her escape. It’s all working out well for her.

Oona Chaplin tempting the man from the path of righteousness

 

While Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is looking in books to find out how to defend King’s Landing against Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), his loyal sell-sword, now promoted to wear the Gold Cloak, has been going around killing all the known thieves. He offers the insight, not in books, that the biggest danger during a siege is that the people get hungry and, when there’s nothing left to steal, they eat the weak (or the rich who can’t defend themselves). In his description of war at StormsEnd, Stannis Baratheon confirms this foody trend to Sir Davos Seaworth (Lian Cunningham) who will be the Hand if Stannis wins. He ate all the animals he could find.

Peter Dinklage and Conleth Hill read Warfare For Dummies

 

Most Kings are groomed for the role as Princes. They grow up watching their fathers and his court rule. Robb is different because he grew up with no expectation of ruling anything other than Greyfel. He wants to know how Talisa Maegyr became interested in medicine. She describes a scene as children when her younger brother drowned. A slave who worked on a fishing boat, applied artificial respiration until he could breathe on his own. She decided she would not waste her time as a noble lady and would never live in a slave city again. So Robb gives up the bridge and beds the doctor. Tyrion describes how Tywin put him in charge of the plumbing. He was good at making the shit flow down into the sea. And talking of shit flowing, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) thinks she’s found Tyrion’s woman and puts it to him that, if Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) dies, his whore will die. Unfortunately she has the wrong whore. Later, when he’s with Shae (Sibel Kikilli), he comes close to admitting real love. It’s his weakness.

 

Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) asserts the dragons are her children and the only children she will ever have. Against his better judgement, Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) agrees to take his (love) to the House of the Undying where Pyat Pree (Ian Hanmore), the warlock, is keeping them. At Winterfell, Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter) discovers the trick with the bodies and begs Osha (Natalia Tena) not to tell Bram.

 

As the calm before the battle for King’s Landing, this is a moving meditation on the value people place on their own lives and the lives of others. We see the stupidity of Joffrey who has no idea how to rule or mount the defence of King’s Landing. Stannis and Sir Davos Seaworth have been through thick and thin, taking all the abuse society can pile of them, but now they have the chance to rise to the top. Tyrion and Varys (Conleth Hill) finally acknowledge each other as excellent players of the game. Robb does something for himself, and Theon sinks deeper into the mire.

 

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 9. Blackwater
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 10. Valar Morghulis
Game of Thrones: Season 2 — the HBO series considered

 

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