George R.R. Martin published the first three novels in the “Song of Ice and Fire” series at two-year intervals between 1996 and 2000. Then a complication of writers’ block and story complications slowed him down considerably, so the fourth book came out in 2005, with the fifth due in July 12. And some of our favorite characters weren’t even IN the fourth book, so we readers have been waiting to check in for a decade.
HBO plans to begin filming “Game of Thrones” second season this July. One can only hope the channel will boost the show’s battle-budget. The climax of season one, it seems, wasn’t the big combat scenes that Tyrion and Catelyn (not to mention we, the home viewers) sat out last week, but Ned Stark’s execution. “Fire and Blood” begins with a close-up of executioner Illyn Payne’s blade, still dripping with Ned’s blood, followed by a mercifully out-of-focus shot of Payne raising Ned’s severed head to the crowd. The Nightwatch guy keeps Arya from looking, but Sansa isn’t so lucky, and faints dead away.
As Sansa, Sophie Turner gets her best moments of the season — and, overall, the best performance of the episode — as she realizes the depth of her nightmarish predicament. Cersei apparently still wants young King
Caligula Joffrey to wed Sansa, It would be great if Joffrey were indifferent to the Stark girl, but instead he savors his sadistic power over her — perhaps he remembers Sansa’s presence at the incident with the direwolf, so she’s a constant reminder of his humiliation. She’s uniquely positioned to bear the brunt of his every dark, insecure impulse. He sneeringly displays Ned’s head on a pike, not far from her nurse’s head.
Sansa allied herself with the Lannisters early this season, so she’s learned a harsh lesson about turning against family loyalty. There’s a moment when she realizes her fate if she plays the victim, and makes a step towards throwing Joffrey off the footbridge. There’s some Stark in the girl yet. Just when you thought Joffrey couldn’t get more loathsome, he says, “My mother told me a king should never hit his queen,” so he has one of his goons slap her.
Meanwhile, the Nightwatch guy cuts Arya’s hair short and renames her “Harry,” as she needs to pass as a boy. They join the latest group of Nightwatch recruits from the King’s Landing jail, and Arya shows off her ferocity and swordsmanship with some pudgy bullies: “I’m good at killing fat boys.” She discovers a possible ally in another recruit — that young smith who’s King Robert’s bastard son!
At Winterfell, Bran has one of those three-eyed raven dreams, and at one point we think he’s dreaming that he’s walking but he’s actually awake, riding on Osha’s shoulders. He and the Wildling woman go into the family crypt, where he relates a little family history before Rickon and his direwolf, Shaggydog, scare the crap out of them. Both boys apparently had clairvoyant dreams of Ned’s execution.
Catelyn is devastated at the news, but focuses on supporting her son Robb, who hacks his sword into a tree in grief. She then visits their prisoner, Jamie Lannister, and reacts to his insolence by smashing a rock against his head. Jamie admits to pushing Bran out the window, and his honesty seems to disarm her (although, after Lannisters crippled her son and killed her husband, I’m surprised she didn’t just kill him then and there.)
Speaking of Lannisters, Tywin admits that the war has turned against them, with Stannis and Renly also on the field. With Ned dead, the Lannisters can’t sue the Starks for peace. (Hence, the Stark bannermen name Robb “The King in the North.”) Tywin acknowledges that Tyrion saw this coming, and gives his unloved son a promotion by naming him the next Hand of the King, which is the closest thing to validation Tywin has ever given his son. Tywin forbids Tyrion from bringing his “whore” to King’ Landing, but Tyrion plans to bring Shae along anyway.
Jon Snow attempts to desert. It was hard enough to remain with Ned imprisoned and his brother captive, but he actually leaves to avenge his father’s death. Touchingly, Sam and the other young Nightwatchers catch up and persuade Jon to stay behind by reciting the oath. Later, the Nighwatch boss asks Jon if desertion would undo his father’s death. “Are you going to bring him back to life? I’ve had enough of that sort of thing,” he says, acknowledging the current outbreak of zombification. The episode ends with the Nighwatch marching out beyond the Wall in force.
Across the Narrow Sea, Danaerys awakens to discover the horrible outcome of last week’s supernatural medical crisis. Her baby son wasn’t just stillborn, but came out with creepy reptilian traits. The witchwoman says there was “always a price” to dark magic, and Danaerys should’ve insisted that she be more specific. It’s like discovering that you have a huge deductible on your health care plan. Drogo’s technically alive, but comatose, and the Witchwoman tells Danaerys that she never wanted to help them after the Dothraki destroyed her community.
Danaerys smothers Drogo rather than let him linger in a vegetative state, and puts his body, the dragon eggs and the witch-woman on the funeral pyre. Jorah thinks Danaerys plans to immolate herself out of grief, but she’s got something up her sleeve. She climbs into the fire and the next morning finds her in the ashes. She’s okay, her clothes are gone, and the dragons have hatched. She may have lost her unborn son, her warlord husband and the Dothraki horde, but she’s got the only live dragons left in the world. And when we remember when Arya went to the dungeon and saw the huge dragon bones, they could get to be really, really big. Winter may be coming, but dragons are on the horizon, too.
Varys and Littlefinger banter amusingly — "Do you lie awake at night fearing my gash?" — but their scene suggests the continuity of power. Kings come and go, but theose two still scheme in the shadows.
The minstrel’s song reveals that the citizens of Westeros have no love for Cersei, and the rest of the Lannisters by extension. Joffrey orders Illyn Payne to cut out his tongue because, lest we forget, Illyn has no tongue of his own.
“Do you know what happens to deserters?” Samwell asks Jon. “Better than you do,” he replies, a nod back to Ned beheading the deserter in the season premiere.
Most recappers object to the sexposition scene with Grand Maester Lycelle and, apparently, Roz the prostitute. All it reveals, as far as I could tell, is that Lycelle isn’t he doddering fool that he appears. Perhaps he’s the one responsible for shipping Robert’s bastard son to the Wall for safekeeping.
Osha, Bran’s Wildling woman friend, is played by Natalia Tena, who plays Tonks in the Harry Potter movies. I just realized that last night. I wonder if another Harry Potter actor will play Stannis Baratheon in Season Two? I wonder if Jason Isaacs is free.
Here’s a little, spoiler-free hint about the shape of Season Two. In Martin’s books, each chapter takes place from the point of view of a specific character. Here are the “point of view” characters from the second book, A Clash of Kings:
Tyrion Lannister, youngest son of Lord Tywin Lannister, a dwarf and a brother to Queen Cersei
Lady Catelyn Stark, of House Tully, widow of Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell
Princess Sansa Stark, eldest daughter of Eddard Stark and Catelyn Stark, held captive by the King on the Iron Throne at King's Landing
Princess Arya Stark, youngest daughter of Eddard Stark and Catelyn Stark, missing and presumed dead
Prince Bran Stark, second son of Eddard Stark and Catelyn Stark and heir to Winterfell and the Kingdom in the North
Queen Daenerys Targaryen, Stormborn, of the Targaryen Dynasty
Jon Snow, bastard son of Eddard Stark and a man of the Night's Watch
Theon Greyjoy, heir to the Seastone Chair and former ward of Lord Eddard Stark [He's not a "POV" character in the first book]
Ser Davos Seaworth, a smuggler turned knight in the service of King Stannis Baratheon
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