“The night is dark and full of terrors old man, but the fire burns them all away.” — Melisandre
George R.R. Martin’s medieval fantasy epic novel series, A Song of Ice and Fire, made a triumphant debut on HBO with Game of Thrones in the Spring of 2010. The show was headed to be a big success due to the huge fan-base that have read and re-read the novels, but the show was able to attract those who wouldn’t know George R.R. Martin or his books. This was the show that further cemented the notion that genre has become the ruling king of quality tv.
A new season of Game of Thrones now arrives with the premiere episode titled “The North Remembers” and while it shows Robb Stark (now proclaimed King of the North by his bannerman and liegelords) flush with success against the forces of House Lannisters and thus King Joffrey at King’s Landing the episode also weaves in an ominous tone that looks to dominate this second season. It’s a season based mostly on the second novel in the series titled A Clash of Kings and tonight’s episode has set-up not just King Robb Stark of the North against King Joffrey Baratheon at King’s Landing, but the old king’s two surviving brothers (elder brother Stannis Baratheon at the Isle of Dragonstone and younger brother Renly Baratheon at Storm’s End) as these four kings begin their path into a clash for the Iron Throne.
One thing to be said about tonight’s episode is just how much happens throughout it’s running time. We see how life since the execution of Ned Stark has changed the kingdom of Westeros for the worst as refugees fleeing the war between Lannister and Stark has made things near-untenable in King’s Landing. While the peasants and commoners of the kingdom suffer we’re quickly re-introduced to the author of the war in King Joffrey (played with an almost psychotic glee by Jack Gleeson) who hold’s knightly games to commemorate his naming day and plays at being a conquering monarch by redecorating the throne room. Trying to manage this petulant boy king is both his manipulative mother, Cersei Lannister, and his dwarf uncle Tyrion Lannister who also has been appointed the latest Hand of the King to help advise.
While we see the North with Robb sending peace offerings and terms to the Lannisters in the hope of getting his sisters (Sansa and Arya) back we also see him in a nice scene confronting Jaime Lannister still his prisoner and still trying to gain an upper-hand on the young king. It’s a huge difference winning battles can do to a young man’s confidence as Jaime’s veiled insults about his age only amuses Robb. It helps that his direwolf looks to have grown double in size since we last saw Greywind. The episode went a long way to showing Robb not just becoming King of the North in name, but also in manner and deeds.
Tonight’s episode might have been called “The North Remembers” but it’s the arrival of Melisandre of Asshai (Carice van Houten), the priestess of R’hllor (Lord of the Light) and her sway over Stannis Baratheon that adds a sense of the magical to what had been a series steeped heavily in medieval realism. It’s the addition of Melisandre and her seeming real gift for magic plus a glimpse of Daenerys’ dragons that offers glimpses to a world of magic and shadows behind the reality of war and the suffering it puts a kingdom’s people through.
As one could see this is quite a lot for one episode to juggle, but series director Alan Taylor has done a great job of keeping things from becoming too confusing to follow. Even the dark turn into infanticide and bloody purge in the end of the episode was a consequence born out of one of the king’s advisors in Petyr Belish (aka Littlefinger) who thought himself witty and clever by telling the Queen Regent Cersei that he knew exactly what had gone on between her and Jaime and the true parentage of King Joffrey. Taylor kept the episode from being bogged down in one area but at the same time still gives each character in the episode some character growth. Everyone looks to have aged and grown since last season and some for the better (Tyrion enjoying the fruits of being Hand of the King but also reveling in the fact that of all his father’s children it is he who is now trusted and not the disappointment) while others for the worst (Joffrey continuing his path towards Caligula-level mania).
One thing tonight’s busy episode has done is re-introduce the show’s audience to the world of the Seven Kingdoms and it’s many interesting characters and stories that came out of season one. It’s a world that continues to be a complex web of intrigue, moral greyness and ambiguity. While we see certain character on the extreme spectrum of right and wrong (Stannis and Joffrey respectively) we’re truly shown by tonight’s season premiere that everyone has their own agenda. Even characters we might have been led to believe as good show signs of cruelty while those we’re to see as amoral show signs of benevolence.
“The North Remembers” was a great start to what looks to be a season that will blow the first season out of the water (I don’t just mean because of the epic Battle of Blackwater that would highlight the season), but it also showed that despite being a show that had a legion’s worth of characters and subplots it still remained must-see and captivating to watch. Let the clash of kings commence.
- It was great to see the opening title sequence once more and this time with the addition of Dragonstone to the stable of clockwork strongholds that has become famous.
- We see Sansa Stark still pretty much a hostage of King Joffrey and trying to keep her head by parroting what he wants to hear. She did redeem herself somewhat by keeping a drunkard looking to become a knight from being drowned to death in wine and instead becoming Joffrey’s latest court fool.
- Tyrion’s entrance in the same scene may not have had him slapping Joffrey (a meme that grew out of a slapping scene early in season 1), but his veiled insults at Joffrey’s ability to rule as king shows us why Peter Dinklage was deserving of winning that Emmy for his role as Tyrion Lannister.
- The scene with Tyrion visiting his mistress Shae in the manor he had set her up in King’s Landing was brief but showed just how much Tyrion seemed happiest when close to her. Though it still doesn’t stop him from keeping her secret from everyone especially his father.
- Once again I like to point out just how huge the direwolf looked as it growled menacingly at Jaime Lannister while Robb Stark held onto it. It’s almost as if Robb had to keep Greywind from lunging forward to rip the Kingslayer’s throat out. Maybe Greywind thinks Jaime was partly responsible for the death of Sansa’s direwolf Lady in the first season.
- Speaking of direwolves…we get more clues that the Stark boys may be closer to their direwolves more than we thought as Bran Stark back in Winterfell dreams of roaming the forest near the God’s Wood and seeing it all through the eyes of his direwolf Summer.
- HODOR! HODOR! HODOR!
- Great sequence between Littlefinger and Cersei in the castle courtyard. Littlefinger may think of himself as the smartest and cleverest man in King’s Landing, but he still finds himself outmaneuvered, manipulated and laid low by Cersei. Those who doubted that Lena Headey would make for a great Cersei shouldn’t be having any more doubts about that casting choice with tonight’s episode.
- We get a hint at the future introduction of what could be another self-proclaimed king in what looks to be quite a busy batch already with Theon Greyjoy asking to be sent back to the Iron Isle to speak with his father, Balon Greyjoy, on behalf of Robb who will need those hundred of Greyjoy ships to take on King’s Landing.
- Was surprised to see Robert Pugh as Craster. I thought he looked like Shipmaster Mr. Allen from Master and Commander.
- Also great to see Liam Cunningham as Ser Davos the Onion Knight who looks to be the clear-headed counsel to Stannis Baratheon.
- Was disappointed there was very little of one of the show’s more interesting players in Varys the Spider, but it looks like he gets to have a juicy little scene in next week’s episode, “The Night Lands”.