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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 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

 

Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 7. A Man Without Honor

 

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.

With only nuts to keep them going, Hodor (Kristian Nairn) carries Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) with Osha (Natalia Tena) and Rickon (Art Parkinson) in support

 

As is appropriate given the episode’s title, A Man Without Honor, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is frustrated and angry when he discovers Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) has disappeared, but manages to say encouraging things to Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter) about what a good-behaved little boy he’d been when he was a hostage. His conclusion as he leads the pack of hounds to track down the runaways, “Don’t look so grim, Maester, it’s all just a game.” The idea that it’s better to be seen as cruel rather than appear weak neatly sums up this unpleasant little man. Meanwhile, with Osha (Natalia Tena) leading the way, Hodor (Kristian Nairn) carries Bran further away with Rickon (Art Parkinson) in tow. But they know they can’t outrun the hounds forever. Waking after a night without passionate sex, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) finds himself the butt of sexual jokes from Ygritte (Rose Leslie). Do you have sheep at the Wall? No! No wonder you’re all so miserable! It’s a laugh a minute, but the vow of celibacy defines Jon as a man of honour and forms the basis of his emerging reputation. The sparky argument with Ygritte does pose an interesting question. If people have been living on both sides of the Wall for generations, why are they fighting each other? She tries to seduce him into abandoning his oath and joining Mance Rayder. When that fails, she runs off and leads Jon into a trap where he’s captured. At least he’s saved the embarrassment of having to pretend he’s in control.

Arya (Maisie Williams) offers Tywin (Charles Dance) a little more conversation

 

Back at Harrenhal, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) thinks he was the intended victim of the murder at his door yet, in his new role of surrogate Daddy to Arya (Maisie Williams), he still has time to chat with her and feed her mutton. He tells her how Herrenhal fell to the dragons, but she fills in all the gaps in his version of the history. He concludes she’s only pretending to be low born and that she’s too clever for her own good. At least he’s not completely stupid. Alton Lannister (Karl Davies) returns to Robb Stark (Richard Madden) with the rejection of the peace terms by Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and, as a reward for having the honour to keep his oath to return, he’s placed in the same lock-up as Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Happy as two peas in a pod, the prisoners remember the fun times they had when young and then Jaime explains his plan to escape. Meanwhile Robb Stark has taken Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin) off to the Crag to top up her supply of medical supplies. Naturally, to preserve his reputation for nobility and honour in battle, he wants her to be able to treat the wounded of both sides. This leaves Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) to defend the recaptured Jaime until Robb returns.

Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in a spot of bother

 

Having held back time for months, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) bleeds and thereby announces she’s physically able to bear children and so available to marry Joffrey (Jack Gleeson). Overcome with joy at this prospect, she runs to Cersei who offers womanly wisdom. Essentially this comes down to loving her children and trying to avoid being killed by everyone else. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) has news that a fleet representing Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) is about four days away and twice the size of their navy. He and Cersei lack confidence in the planning of the defence. Caught in a moment of truthfulness, Cersei admits to the incest and opines that Joffrey is her punishment. Off in distant Qarth, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) trusts Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) to find the stolen dragons. He gets the information from Quaithe (Laura Pradelska), but arrives too late to stop the coup organised by Xaro Xhoan Daxos (Nonso Anozie) and made possible by Pyat Pree (Ian Hanmore). It seems the warlock has the dragons.

Xaro Xhoan Daxos (Nonso Anozie) and Pyat Pree (Ian Hanmore) seize power

 

It’s fascinating that a contemporary fantasy series should feature two such awful people. This is not to say any of them are very nice. Indeed, by and large, they are a murderous bunch except for Tywin Lannister who’s increasingly demonstrating a cuddly side. But several of them have qualities we can respect if not actually like. This leaves us with Joffrey as a sadistic boy with megalomania coming on fast. Theon, however, must win a prize because his cruel streak comes from his cowardice. He’s genuinely despicable — his deception over the burning of the boys is gratuitously callous to protect his reputation but without any sense of what that does for his chances of survival in one piece. The women come out of this well. Ygritte is having fun at Jon’s expense, and the tag team of Catelyn and Brienne is shaping up well. Unfortunately, the pace of events north of the Wall is appropriately glacial, King’s Landing is in a holding pattern until Stannis arrives, and Winterfell is under the control of a boy who grew up into A Man Without Honor. Events in Qarth are happening, but I can’t say any of this is terribly exciting.

 

Thematically, the episode seems to be about the different ways in which people can enhance or lose their reputations. When she no longer controls the dragons, Daenerys discovers she has nothing (except the undeclared love of Ser Jorah Mormont). This continues her underwhelming contribution to the excitement level in this series. Xaro Xhoan Daxos has an impeccable reputation for having climbed to the top of the commercial heap from nothing, while the Spice King (Nicholas Blane) proves a disposable asset when he’s on the wrong side. Theon doesn’t realise that being seen as cruel is usually taken as a sign of weakness by others. Jaime no longer cares what others think of him, hence his successful plan to escape, while Cersei is finally prepared to admit Joffrey is a monster. In all this, the most interesting man is Jaime. It’s not that he’s without honour. It’s just that his code is not the same as everyone else’s. All in all, A Man Without Honor offers a lot of violence to compensate for the lack of sex. HBO must have some element to maintain its reputation for being edgy even though the pace of progress is slowing down quite dramatically.

 

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 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 — the HBO series considered

 

Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 6. The Old Gods and the New

 

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.

 

What makes The Old Gods and the New interesting is that it signals an increasing willingness on the part of the production team to move away from the book. It’s always appropriate when adapting a novel for a visual medium to change things around. But the continuity between this episode and the last is challenging. We leave it with Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) being rowed out to his single ship and return with him actually taking Winterfell. I’ve no particular axe to grind but there’s a lot missing with him landing, laying siege to Torrhen’s Square with a token force and then capturing Ser Rodrik (Ron Donachie) as our doughty defender marches to drive off the attackers. I suppose the important question is whether the increasingly selective way in which scenes are being chosen and fitted together actually works. In the main, what we see in this episode is reasonably easy to follow and not unenjoyable despite the slow-moving sequences north of the Wall. I’ll come back to all the changes to the main story at the end of the reviews of the individual episodes.

Jon Snow (Kit Harington) reaches a critical point in his relationship with Ygritte (Rose Leslie)

 

Personally, Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) is helpless but also mindful of the fate of the people in Winterfell so, with Theon and his crew of cut-throats threatening the few staff in residence, he mouths the words of surrender. This should have kept everyone safe except the weak-minded Theon listens to the wrong advice and decides to behead Ser Rodrik. Botching this simple task signals the end of respect for the man. Because this is an HBO show, Osha (Natalia Tena), the Wildling girl, sleeps with Theon, steals a knife while he’s in post-coital slumber, kills a guard and then leads Bram away from his home on the back of Hodor (Kristian Nairn) with his younger brother Rickon (Art Parkinson). In any other show, Osha would have picked up one of the hundreds of knives lying around Winterfell, quietly killed a guard and escaped. Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harington), shadowed by his direwolf, Ghost, goes off with Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong) and three other rangers on a commando raid to kill Mance Rayder. Among the first group of Wildlings they fight is a girl called Ygritte (Rose Leslie). Jon Snow now demonstrates why he’s also an ineffective person. In this type of raid behind enemy lines, there’s no place for sentimentality. Not understanding the extent of the boy’s weakness, Halfhand leaves him behind with instructions to kill her. Except he can’t bring himself to do it. She runs off and there’s then a tediously long chase. He catches her but he’s stubborn enough to lie out in the open with her. Good job he’s taken the vow of chastity. This saves HBO from having to show another sex scene — danger money would have been required for lying down and baring tender bits. Who knows what might get stuck to the ice.

Tywin (Charles Dance) looking the part as the head of House Lannister

 

To help us understand why Robb Stark (Richard Madden) is on a winning campaign, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) is shown having trouble with his senior officers, all of whom are as thick as two short planks. This is cartoonish. If Tywin Lannister is really so competent, he would have ignored all these lightweights and brought in military professionals to get the job done. Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) comes to report Renly’s death. He correctly identifies the Tyrrels as the unknowns since they have not yet declared what is to happen to their troops. He also reports on Tyrion’s plan to trade the Stark girls for Jaime. Lurking in the background as the cup bearer, Arya (Maisie Williams) listens carefully. Then, somewhat improbably when they are alone, Tywin tells Arya about teaching Jaime to read and talks candidly of his own father who was weak and almost lost the House. Although it’s interesting to consider what Tywin’s attitude to Arya might have been, seeing Tywin as less than ruthless in his dealings with her does rather blunt his reputation. But Arya’s impetuosity puts her in danger and she takes a second life from Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) to protect herself. She’s leading in the ruthlessness stakes.

Cersei (Lena Headey) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) say goodbye to Myrcella (Aimee Richardson)

 

Back at King’s Landing, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) finally gets his way and sends Myrcella Baratheon (Aimee Richardson) out of the city. Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) vows she will take revenge by killing anyone he loves. The presence of the great Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) in the city streets sparks a riot. Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) as The Hound literally carries Joffrey out of danger, but Tyrion worries where Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) is. She’s caught and men are about to rape her when The Hound finally does the right thing and rescues her — plenty of feeling on his part when slaughtering the wannabe rapists. No-one’s going to touch his Sansa. Tyrion has the satisfaction of slapping Joffrey. Fortunately, no-one kills Tyrion for his lèse majesté. After her rescue, Sansa and Shae (Sibel Kikilli) exchange notes on who to trust. There’s no explanation of how The Hound could find Sansa, but perhaps we’re supposed to infer an ability to track her scent through city streets and slum tenements from his name as The Hound.

Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin) could tempt Robb Stark (Richard Madden) into the wrong decision

 

In Qarth, Pyat Pree (Ian Hanmore) makes his first appearance as the warlock, while Quaithe (Laura Pradelska) offers a warning to Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen). Despite her pleading, the Spice King (Nicholas Blane) refuses to give any of his ships to Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). She has no army. She has no allies and cannot explain why the people will rise for her as the rightful Queen. He offers the wisdom of the ages. That wishes and dreams are not enough. She protests she is not an ordinary woman. She dreamed of dragons and her dreams came true. But the Spice King is all business where logic conquers passion. When she returns to the home she has been given in Qarth, she finds many of her supporters dead and the dragons missing. In a moment of peace, Robb Stark meets up with Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin) again. This time, she not amputating limbs after a battle and they manage to talk more romantically to each other before being interrupted by the return of Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) with bad news about Renly. Great timing as a crow also comes in from Winterfell.

 

On balance, The Old Gods and the New is one of the weaker episodes. Although we appreciate that the landscape north of the Wall is full of ice and snow, it’s not necessary to show us quite so much of it for so long. I also appreciate the difficulty in training animals, but the failure of the direwolf Ghost to put in anything other than a token appearance is a bit worrying. A little foreshaddowing of future events would be more useful than extended chases. In the Westeros, the characterisation of Tywin Lannister feels wrong. He’s far too likeable. Although Arya is the third most intelligent person in Harrenhal (after Tywin and Jaqen H’ghar), that’s no reason for Tywin to treat her like his own daughter. Yes, he’s probably a lonely old killer, but that doesn’t mean he would open up to a girl he’s only just met. So this is all disappointing.

 

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 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 — the HBO series considered

 

Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 3. What Is Dead May Never Die

 

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.

 

Let’s start this review of What Is Dead May Never Die by thinking about the amount of sex we’re being offered as viewers. A part of HBO’s reputation depends on its willingness to push the boundaries of taste. Content will not be denied a showing simply because it’s explicit. We need to see this in context. Anyone who wants material classified as pornography can find it easily, whether online or in other published media, but HBO is classified as a mainstream television network. For genuinely explicit content to appear on a prime-time show is therefore challenging established cultural norms. Of course, Americans at this point begin waving their copy of the Constitution and chanting about First Amendment rights as if laws somehow justify bad taste. This is the old, no-one forces you to watch an HBO show argument. When you switch to the channel, you know what to expect. Except what’s the actual benefit to the story? If A is notoriously a libertine, do we actually need to see him engaging in sexual intercourse to understand what that means?

Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) and Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) enjoy the ride home

 

To understand this point, we need a few examples. There’s been a repetition of a brothel scene from Season 1 where Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) is teaching one of his new whores the art of simulating sexual satisfaction to enhance the enjoyment of paying customers. Actual sex seems gratuitous. Since the training depends on the noises made, physical expressions and the body movements, this can be practised by everyone with their clothes on. It’s actually tiring the staff if they have to keep exerting themselves and tired staff make for unhappy customers. We’ve also had Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) demonstrating both the missionary position and penetration from behind. We’ve seen Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) so overcome with excitement he has sex with Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) standing up and over a table laid out with maps of battlefields. Surprisingly, we see brother Theon Greyjoy feeling up Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan), his sister (that’s also in the book and nothing to do with HBO trying to push the envelope — being faithful to the text always offers the television station a better defence against the charge of introducing gratuitous sex to sell the adverts). Although he was not aware of her identity, she was not averse to allowing him to continue at the heavy petting stage. Thematically, we’ve also been flirting with incest between the Lannister brother and sister, and between a father and his daughters. The Lannisters were shown together in Season 1 but, so far, the Crasters have kept all their clothes on. Presumably it’s too cold to expose the vulnerable bits for us to see. And then there’s the gay sex with Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) and Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones). Not bad for the first three episodes. When HBO runs out of sexual options to display, it will presumably be time for the gratuitous violence.

Arya (Maisie Williams) really coming into her own as a boy

 

Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is finding it tough to reconcile his private code of morality with the circumstances surrounding him. As Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo) explains, the Watch needs men like Craster (Robert Pugh). For Rangers north of the Wall, it can be the difference between life and death. No matter what the Watch thinks about the religion, they are to look the other way when Craster offers all his baby boys as sacrifices to the old Gods. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) and Gilly (Hannah Murray) do, however, make a real connection. Bram Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) tells Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter) the old retainer about his dreams as a direwolf. The Maester tries to dismiss such stories as old wives’ tales. The dragons have gone, the giants are dead and the children of the forest are forgotten. Bram, however, is sure he can tell the difference between mere dreams and actual experiences.

Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) standing tall

 

Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) arrives at the home of Renly Baratheon in time to see the impressively tall and muscled Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) winning a tourney. Lady Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) makes her first appearance as Renly’s wife even though he actually prefers her brother, Ser Loras Tyrell, the most appropriately titled Knight of the Flowers (who was knocked to the ground by Brienne but didn’t enjoy the experience of being beaten by a woman). The Greyjoys are also planning their campaign knowing that Robb Stark (Richard Madden) has gone south and left the north unprotected. Now Theon must choose whether to make an essentially cowardly attack upon Stark lands or retain some vestiges of loyalty to the family that held him safely as a hostage for so many years. In the end, he chooses his own family. A pragmatic decision since, otherwise, he probably ends up with nothing.

 

Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Shae (Sibel Kikilli) are also finding their relationship difficult when she may be taken hostage to persuade the Hand to act in ways he would usually deny, while Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) confronts the reality that, come the end of the campaign against Robb Stark, she will have to marry Joffrey (Jack Gleeson). Tyrion’s solution is to hide Shae as Sansa’s handmaiden. Perhaps they can give each other moral support. Tyrion tries to find out which members of the Council are trustworthy by looking as if he wants to forge alliances through by marrying off Myrcella Baratheon. Naturally, Cersei is outraged that her daughter should become a pawn and this reveals Pyclle (Julian Glover) as Cersei’s spy. When Pycelle is imprisoned, Varys (Conleth Hill) philosophises to Tyrion about the nature of power. It’s all illusion, residing temporarily where the majority people believes it to be found. Littlefinger is disappointed his own commission was a deception. Perhaps there are other ways he can help Tyrion.

Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) and Lady Margaery (Natalie Dormer) holding court

 

Arya (Maisie Williams) is still having trouble sleeping, remembering the execution of Ned Stark. Yoren (Francis Magee) offers what comfort he can, sharing that he watched the murder of his brother. Years later, he killed the murderer and took the Black. All this comes minutes before the King’s men come back in numbers to kill Gendry (Joe Dempsie). Yoren falls and the soldiers start sacking the camp. Arya opens the cage to release Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) and the other two criminals. She survives as a captive and tries to convince the soldiers they have already killed Gendry. She points to the helmet he fashioned as a blacksmith lying beside a dead body. She’s not only brave but also loyal to those who may become her allies or friends.

 

Well, that’s What Is Dead May Never Die. I fear the structure that works well in the written form, is less successful on the small screen. Short episodes with different points of view, switching chapter-by-chapter in a continuous text, can maintain interest. The fact of reading through to the end of the book maintains the continuity. But television seems to separate out the narrative threads and encourage a certain lack of cohesion. Season 1 managed a better focus. Season 2 is more diffuse without a strong individual character to unite around. Ensemble pieces only work well when the characters actually interact. I wait with interest to see how the writers manage the transfer of the rest of the text to the screen.

 

For the reviews of other episodes, 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 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 — the HBO series considered

 

Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 1. The North Remembers

June 13, 2012 1 comment

 

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’s 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.

 

It’s always interesting to see how television shows deal with the nature of political power. Looking back for a moment, our own William Shakespeare was not immune from the need to change history to suit the sensibilities and expectations of his audience. Perhaps more importantly, he also needed money from patrons to survive, so could not afford to upset the nobility by critiquing their use of power. It’s the same today because, with the exception of home-grown talent like the BBC or the Public Broadcasting Service in America which are not for-profit and so less dependent on advertising revenue, the folk who write and produce television shows have to consider the tastes of their audience very carefully. If viewership numbers fall and corporate advertisers will not pay top rates for their puffs to air, the producers and the networks take a big hit. That means, even at an allegorical level, writers and producers must be very careful what they say and show.

Peter-Dinklage getting his seat at the table of power

 

I’m starting the review of The North Remembers in this way because of one scene between Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). He plays the line that, as one of the spymasters, knowledge is power. As a response, she has a guard ready to cut his throat because power is power. The whole point of Season 2 is the collapse of the Kingdom of Westeros. Although Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) carries the Baratheon name and may appear to be the legitimate heir, the news of his true parentage will soon be spread through the marketplaces. Despite the Lannisters’ best efforts to kill all the bastard children Robert Baratheon left around the kingdom, claimants to the Iron Throne will come rapidly into view and civil war is unavoidable. We already have Robb Stark (Richard Madden) proclaimed as King of the North. Elsewhere, Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) has accepted Ned Stark’s invitation and steps into the ring to duke it out for the Crown. In such circumstances, the person-to-person physical power that Cersei wields is worth little, but a spymaster’s practical understanding of the “big picture” has great value, particularly if he’s also pulling some of the strings. Indeed, Cersei’s attempts to run the kingdom are ineffectual, while Joffrey’s reign is one of random sadism. One interesting figure on the horizon is Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann). As Joffrey’s bodyguard, he’s currently amusing himself by killing unwilling victims in unequal combat. We expect better things from him.

Lena Headey who’s intermittently in control of the situation

 

Fortunately, Tyrion Lannster (Peter Dinklage) is sent by his father to be the Hand. Since he’s not only intelligent but has also seen the world, he’s the right man in the right place with the right perspective to get things done. Although he can’t ignore Joffrey and Cersei, he has his hands on the levers of power. It’s a shame the same can’t be said of Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). He’s still being held as a hostage by Robb Stark and his embarrassingly fake CGI direwolf. Ah yes, the Starks. What a dour northern bunch they are. Young Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), of course, is the most interesting and we now have a proper view of him with Hodor (Kristian Nairn). It’s going to be interesting to watch him come to terms with his warg abilities. Arya (Maisie Williams) is briefly glimpsed on the King’s Road going north with Yoren (Francis Magee). We look for great things from her. Sansa (Sophie Turner) is in full survival mode, although we do notice a minor act of rebellion supported covertly by Tyrion. Out on military manoevres with her son, Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) accepts the first commission to reach out to make alliances. Robb cannot win on his own. If he’s to realise his potential power, he must have allies.

Isaac Hempstead-Wright and Kristian Nairn moving around with more confidence

 

Although there were hints of magic in Season 1 through Bran Stark’s dreams, not counting the dragons, of course, this opening episode is the first opportunity to see the Red Princess “at work”. As Melisandre (Carice Van Houten), she demonstrates her power over poison administered by Maester Cressen (Oliver Ford Davies), a follower of the old religion. Stannis Baratheon seems suitably humourless and so is well equipped to succumb to Melisandre’s charms.

 

Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is making progress in the power game. He learns the vital lesson that to become an effective leader, he must first learn how to be a follower. Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo) commands a small force north of the Wall to gather intelligence. While visiting the home of Craster (Robert Pugh), a wildling patriarch who takes all his daughters as his wives as soon as they are old enough, they hear the name of Mance Rayder. He was a former Ranger who’s setting himself up as the King-Beyond-the -Wall. So far, there’s little sign of his power. Even further off the map is Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). She may have the name, be the proud owner of three dragons and have the good-looking Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) in tow, but this counts for little when you’re in a desert without any provisions. At this point, it’s as well to remember that knowledge is power.

Emilia Clarke with one dragon to go

 

Overall, The North Remembers is a dark and brooding episode focusing on themes of knowledge and power. Many may find the killing of Robert’s bastards hard to take. Political expediency is rarely pretty in action. We see power in transition in the Westeros and power left behind in the land of the Dothraki. We hear of new power rising north of the Wall. We see a priestess of R’hilor seeking to consolidate her God’s power in the Westeros by supporting Stannis. So despite ranging from icy wastes to desert sands, the episode just about hangs together and moves us forward at a reasonable pace. I’m not sure Shakespeare would have appreciated it, but the advertisers have spoken and HBO has commissioned the third series. I guess this means David Benioff, D B Weis and George R R Martin have won this particular power battle.

 

For review of Season 2, see:
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 — the HBO series considered

 

 

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