Winter has come, my friends.
Now if you’re not already a rabid fan of this show or the series of books it’s based on, “A Song of Fire and Ice” by George R.R Martin, a reference such as that (a playful evocation of the motto of Winterfell) might confuse you. And while I would love to help usher in a new wave of fans to geek out with, this drama requires a commitment to the material like none before. Honestly, although I’m elated that HBO has stuck with it because of improbably good ratings, it shouldn’t be as successful as it is. Sprawling fantasy, as most understand it, is the realm for nerds with nothing better to do than pretend they are knights at the proverbial round table. But in 2011, “Game of Thrones” helped alter that perception and revealed how badass swordplay, magic, and power grabbing could be.
David Benioff and D.B Weiss were tasked with bringing the elaborate vision of George R.R Martin to the small screen as Peter Jackson had done at the multiplex with J.R.R Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” (Wow, I’m just now noticing the R.R thing? An homage?). And it’s as daunting to take in as a viewer as it must be to translate such grandeur into 50-minute chances. But Benioff and Weiss don’t dumb down, nor do they handhold for anyone who missed the epic first season. And unfortunately neither can I. For the sake of space and regular sleep patterns, I won’t be able to recap what happened last year in thorough detail, though I will reference some pivotal events that occurred. So for those who are newcomers be weary of SPOILERS as we go forward. And for those who have read the source material, PLEASE do not reveal any plot elements not covered on the show in the comments. I have not read ANY of the books yet!
Now, with all that housekeeping out of the way, let’s dig in to the unrest in Westeros.
For those in the know, the events of this season are contained in Martin’s second book in the series, A Clash of Kings. There are five “kings” vying for the Iron Throne. The validity of each claim is for you to decide, but due to the rashness of the sitting king, Joffrey, the others have sprung into war to unseat him. Since there’s some new faces in the crowd, and we skip from location to location during the episode, we shall journey around the map here as well, to check in.
At the capital, Joffrey is still the bloodthirsty, spoiled brat we left in season one. It’s his Name Day (a Westerosi version of birthdays) and for his amusement, his imposing personal guard, The Hound, is vanquishing knight after knight. Sansa, the poor soul, has to watch countless men slain after witnessing her father decapitated at the immature king’s behest not too long ago. But she politely watches the spectacle, dutifully responding to his whims with a “Your Grace” every time. She falls out of line once to save a knight’s life when the young bully orders his men to drown him in wine. She suggests that it would be bad luck to kill a man on his Name Day, and The Hound (who has shown pity for Sansa in the past) agrees. Therefore, the clumsy and tipsy knight is spared, but demoted to be Joffrey’s fool.
Much to my delight, Lord Tyrion returns from the battlefield (likely not from fighting, but from the battlefield nonetheless)! Arguably the lead of the show now that Sean Bean’s Ned Stark was offed, now Emmy and Golden Globe winner Peter Dinklage asserts himself from the jump, delivering nearly all the best lines. He immediately undercuts his nephew with quips like, “We looked for you on the battlefield, and you were nowhere to be found.” And when Joffrey defends himself with, “I’ve been here, ruling the kingdoms!” Tyrion sarcastically replies with, “And what a fine job you’ve done.”
He continues his tour of humiliation by interrupting a meeting of the the council where much to his sister (and Joffrey’s mother) Cersei’s dismay, their father, Tywin Lannister, has granted Tyrion the position of Hand to the King, while he commands the Lannister forces in battle. Tyrion assures her he only plans to advise the twerp, but we know that of all the self-minded brutes across the Seven Kingdoms, Tyrion is the trickiest to pin down when considering his motives. He berates his sister because they’ve lost track of the other Stark girl, Arya, who they could use when bargaining for their brother Jamie’s life. More on him later.
At the home country of the Starks, the young and newly crippled Bran is reigning Lord. Though he is as impatient as any child, he embodies the same honor his father possessed and seems to rule fairly with the aid of Maester Luwin. He continues to have prophetic dreams where he takes the form of his direwolf and his Wildling woman prisoner suggests there’s something special about them. You think? The only other note is that he notices a red comet streaking across the sky. He’s heard a rumor that it’s a symbol from the Old Gods of the blood spilt when his father was beheaded. But as he rides piggyback on the half-giant oaf, Hodor, the Wilding woman suggests it’s an indicator that dragons have returned, which even the youngster scoffs at. There haven’t been dragons for centuries! Which brings us to….
The Red Waste
Here we meet up with our favorite submissive Dothraki khaleesi, turned Queen of the Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen. With a loyal Dothraki hoard behind her, and Ser Jorah Mormont as her advisor, Daenerys treks across the hot, barren landscape hoping to stumble upon a civilization. She would also like some dragon food to feed her triplets, but the desert doesn’t seem to have any supermarkets. Can I just remark on how awesome it is that there’s a legitimate TV drama with CGI dragons? Sick nasty I say! Sick nasty! Anyway, Ser Jorah says they have to keep heading east otherwise to the south. “The Lamb People” will surely slaughter them. So she sends three loyal riders out separately in search of any friendly people who might be a tasty snack for her fire-breathing babies. And you know, if they have shelter that would be sweet too.
Something I picked up on too, Daenerys seemed to be making eyes at one particular rider, Rakharo. Yeah, I get that she’s vulnerable after her king hubby, Khal Drago, died from complications of a sword wound and black magic, BUT how long has she been mourning? I hope the grieving process is prolonged for at least a few more episodes before they inevitably get it on and actress Emilia Clarke is once again exposed. Because, why not?
North of the Wall
For a territory described with such dread last season, our first foray into the great unknown was mostly filled with whimsy. We meet the hilarious and hospitable master of incest, Craster (Robert Pugh) who provides the Night’s Watch with a resting place and some key intel. Our good friend and bastard son of Ned Stark, Jon Snow, is in search of his uncle Benjen Stark and has witnessed firsthand the return of the storied White Walkers, a sort of snow-covered zombie. Craster, when he’s not paranoid that one of the sex-deprived Men of the Black will have their way with one of his many daughter-wives, warns them that Mance Rayder, a deserter of the Night’s Watch has proclaimed himself King Beyond the Wall and assembled a formidable army. Then he makes some outlandish old man comment about how Jon Snow is prettier than most of his daughters and wonders if he has a “wet tw*t” between his legs. I’m not sure how I feel about this Westeros equivalent of a redneck, but I’ll admit that I laughed, and even mildly agreed with him that the Night’s Watch got the short end: a sexless life of service while he has a cozy cabin and all the girls he wants. Granted, they’re all his spawn and it’s creepy as all hell, but it’s a living, right? Yeah, no, it’s just wrong.
Ou first new locale! And by proxy, the area that produces the most new faces. I’ll mention the few that are essential, according to experts of the books. Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), is the BMOC (Big Man on Campus), and a legendary commander. He also fled his brother Robert’s kingdom and fled to this set of islands on the eastern side of Westeros. What little we gather is that he is a calculated, stoic, and precise man who bickers with his scribe over the wording of his letter of intent to the Seven Kingdoms. He refuses to call his deceased brother “beloved,” and though he’s an SOB, he insists Jamie Lannister still bear his title “Ser” since he is a knight after all. He has been informed by raven (the high-tech deliver system employed in these parts) that Ned uncovered the truth about Joffrey’s illegitimate right to the throne. Robert Baratheon is not his father, rather Jamie Lannister is! Making his mother Cersei his aunt-momma and Jamie his uncle-daddy, and we’re all puking in out mouths a bit. With this news, Stannis readies his troops to claim his title by birthright, according to rule of succession.
However, he may have a major roadblock on his own team in the seductive fire priestess, Melisandre. See, she worships neither the Old or New Gods, but some crazy other god, R’hllor. Now, I’m all for religious tolerance, but she has Stannis burning effigies of the Seven New Gods and pulling out a flaming sword. Then she dubs him Lord of the Light and his advisors are worrying that this chick may be the death of him. She’s Lady Macbeth with dark sorcery.
So his main man, Ser Davos Seaworth agrees with Maester Cressen that it might be time to pull the guy aside and tell him that this girl has changed him. But like most buddies, they don’t wanna piss off their pal. So Maester Cressen says, Hey, what if I just poison her? That will end this whole mess and we go back to how things were. Ehh, it ends up a failed suicide mission. Evidently, piety has granted the priestess imperviousness to poison. He bleeds out from his nose and perishes, and she stares into soul knowingly. And that’s the end of that mutiny! Her over-the-top line, “The night is dark and full of terrors, old man. But the fire burns them all away,” is spoken which such malice (The first part, “Night…terrors” is repeated by others throughout the episode) it frightened me to my core. She’s ruthless like Daenerys without needing sexual empowerment, and, well, all evil. Love it, and can’t wait to see what kind of mess she stirs up for Stannis during his conquest.
Robb Stark’s camp
We learn some important bullet points from our visit to the Northern bannermens’ campsite. Robb Stark, though he doesn’t fully trust the men he’s leading into battle, has won their loyalty and three consecutive battles. He taunts Jamie Lannister with this, saying, “It’s better than three defeats,” and leaves his humungous direwolf to play with him. He also makes his intentions clear to a Lannister cousin who will relay his terms to the enemy. 1. His sisters will be released into his custody. 2. The bones of his father will be returned to him and buried in the crypt below Winterfell along with the bodies of all who died in service to him. 3. The North shall be a free and independent country. If any of these terms are violated, “the South shall be littered with Lannister dead.”
Robb, whose propensity for leadership would surely make his dad proud (Oh Ned! You were so honorable, but so stupid! Sorry, I’m still mourning), has a couple alliances as options. Theon Greyjoy, ward of the Starks suggests aligning with his house, the Greyjoys since they have the naval fleet take take King’s Landing. This plan does not go over well with Robb’s mother and widow, Catelyn Stark who remembers their treason, though Robb points out that now they’re the rebels. Robb instead commands she butter up Renly Baratheon (the youngest brother of Robert) so that they might join forces. I’m itching to see Robb in battle after learning of his accomplishments, but for now this military strategy and politicking is tiding me over. All hail The King of the North!
Back to King’s Landing…
Oh boy. Well, Tyrion has brought his whore, Shae to the capital and she’s umm…enjoying the smells? I don’t know, she’s a peculiar prostitute. And the conniving Petyr Baelish almost talks himself into an execution when he mocks Cersei’s incestual relationship after she insulted his upbringing. Petyr had sniped that “Knowledge is power,” but with the City Watch under her command she strongly disagrees that “Power is Power.” She spares Baelish and assigns him to finding the escaped Arya Stark. But even her power has its limits. Her supplanting bites her in the ass a bit when she slaps Joffrey for insinuating that his father (well who he thinks is his father, Robert) slept around because she couldn’t satisfy him.
Afterwards, Joffrey reminds her that the transgression is normally punishable by death, putting Mom in her place. Then his rage boils over and he commands the systematic slaying of all his (supposed) father’s bastard children. Though off-screen, the gruesome rampage comes to a head when a whaling baby is sliced. It’s the sort of scene that may be “too-far” and it doesn’t help that it happens in a whore house surrounded by naked women, but this sort of brutality is the nature of the world. And though it’s fantasy, the rawness of it is just the sort of no-limits, dark perspective that sells right now. And I admit, I’m buying it.
Despite, as you can tell, an abundance of exposition the intrigue’s overwhelming. The episode ends on the image of the last remaining Baratheon bastard, Gendry, hitching a ride to the Night’s Watch where he’s been recruited. Tagging along is King’s Landing’s Most Wanted: Arya Stark, disguised as a boy, Ary, with the help of Night’s Watch recruiter, Yoren. It’s not a twist for those of us who saw season one’s finale, but we were spoiled last year with some awesome, climactic cappers. So while blood was shed, the blood of innocent children, I was left wanting just a bit more to grasp for next week, but damn if I’m not excited by the direction we’re headed. Whether it’s more of Peter Dinklage’s dangerous wit, expansion of the new characters, or some all-out, armor-clanging warfare, I know it’s gonna be epic.
For exploring every corner of Westeros and leading GoT fans into the “The War of Five Kings” chomping at the bit, I dub thee, season premiere, an A-. But just like the cutthroat games played in their realm, in my reviews…”You win or you die.”