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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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