The deadpan remark also suggests that no matter how bad things look, they can always get worse, which could be the series’ theme. “Game of Thrones” new season will roughly follow Martin’s second book, A Clash of Kings, and the two volumes have a relationship comparable to the frying pan and the fire. The analogy doesn’t hold up for the rest of the series, though, unless there are more levels worse than “the fire.”
Season Two’s crackling first episode begins with a celebration for King Joffrey’s name day. Instead of ice cream and balloon animals, the festivities involve knights brutalizing each other. A comical mismatch involves an armored killer and a bumbling drunk who shows up late, wearing a chest plate that could’ve been made from a Captain America Halloween costume — it’s like a contemporary cosplayer/ “Thrones” fan was transported back to real medieval times. Joffrey orders his men to pour a lethal amount of wine down the poor sap’s throat, but Sansa Stark intercedes. Knowing the risks of countermanding the tyrannical little jerk, Sansa carefully suggests that Sir Drinks-a-lot should be made Joffrey’s fool, a fate worse than death.
Tyrion strolls up, in fine fettle — after all, Peter Dinklage has top billing now that Sean Bean’s gone. He cheerfully greets the younger Lannister kids, needles Joffrey for avoiding the field of battle and gives condolences to Sansa on her father’s death. “I am loyal to my beloved Joffrey,” Sansa says robotically, knowing how to keep herself alive. Tyrion’s next stop is to take over the Small Council as Hand of the King (i.e., prime minister). He scolds Cersei for allowing Joffrey to kill Ned and exacerbate the civil war. “Must be hard for you — to be the disappointing child.”
The scene shifts from the Small Council to the even smaller council as Bran, acting Lord of Winterfell, manages the family business with the help of Maester Luwin. Not surprisingly, Bran shows little patience for the complaints of the locals, and seems more intrigued with his apparent ability to see through the eyes of his pet direwolf while dreaming. He takes a stroll with Hodor and
Tonks the wildling chick Osha, and they talk about the scarlet shooting star that’s appeared in the skies. Osha suggests that the symbolic interpretations of the comet are all wrong: “Stars don’t fall for men. The red comet means one thing, boy: Dragons.”
Danaerys can also see the comet from across the Narrow Sea, and she’s got a cute CGI dragon riding her shoulder to prove it. After apparently a long time wandering the refugees, Dany’s loyal tribe looks more like refugees. She may have three dragons, but she’s losing horses, as her white stallion, a wedding gift from Khal Drogo, keels over. She sends her three best scouts in opposite directions to find a way out of the desert. Dany seems to have eyes for one of the scouts — maybe her mourning period for Khal Drogo is nearly done.
Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch can also see the comet from beyond the wall as they stop their expedition to find shelter with Craster, who may be the most loathsome character on “Game of Thrones” so far, which is saying something. Craster not only marries his daughters, he brags about it. He orders one of his wife-daughters to “Tell our lord crow how content we are,” and her terrified echo of the party line evokes the first scene, with Joffrey tormenting Sansa. The leader of the Night’s Watch assures him, “No one will talk to your daughters,” pretty much guaranteeing that the opposite will happen in later episodes. Craster also reveals that Mance Rayder, formerly of the Night’s Watch, is gathering an army of Wildlings with intent to march them South.
Would you care for a clutch of new characters this evening? We next find ourselves on the shores below the castle of Dragonstone, where Melisandre (Carice Van Houten), a red-gowned witch-woman, burns the statues of the Seven Gods of Westeros in the name of a new deity, the Lord of Light. An honest soul named Davos (Liam Cunningham) looks on disapprovingly, but doesn’t back up the old priest who tries to stop the ceremony. At Melisandre’s urging, Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) pulls out burning sword, like a sacrilegious version of young King Arthur.
Brother to late King Robert, Stannis is the legitimate heir to the throne, but nobody likes the old sourpuss, so he pens a letter outing Joffrey as the child of Cersei and Jamie’s incest, then plans for war. Davos points out that Stannis will need more than the backing of the Lord of Light to win the kingdom: “How many ships does the Lord of Light have in his fleet?” The old priest pours a not-at-all suspicious glass of wine and offers a toast to Melisandre. But when she drinks, the priest twitches and bleeds from the nose, while Melisandre shows no ill-effects. Every royal contender needs a Rasputin.
The news about the incest spreads with the speed of email. Cersei and Littlefinger have a terse exchange, with Cersei implicitly mocking him for failing to woo Catelyn. Littlefinger alludes to the incest and makes the conclusion “Knowledge is power.” Yeah, but Catelyn can have Littlefinger’s throat slit at any time. “Power is power,” she informs him.
The Stark armed camp is practically a tent city as Robb looks in on Jamie Lannister. Jamie needles Robb about how young he is, but Robb knows about Joffrey’s origins and the fact that “You pushed my brother from a window because he saw you with the queen.” Jamie’s expression says, “Oh yeah, that.” Robb’s ticked and menaces Jamie with his CGI direwolf, but doesn’t follow through with the threat.
Robb sends a Lannister cousin to Tywin with his terms to end the fighting, which include an exchange of hostages and recognition of the North’s independence. Theon offers to intercede on Robb’s behalf with his father, Balon Greyjoy, who has a fleet but also a grudge against the Stark family. Catelyn complains that Robb shouldn’t trust the Greyjoys and should do everything he can to get his sisters back. “It’s more complicated than that!” says Robb, who’s making grown-up, realpolitick choices and isn’t Catelyn’s little boy any more. He suggests to send Catelyn to Stannis’ brother Renly, another would-be king — because who can he trust more than her?
“Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be warlords,” could be the episode’s motto, as the next scene has another mother and son. Cersei meets with Joffrey, who gives the throne room a more militant makeover. (It’s like making a fort out of the sofa cushions, on a grand scale.) It’s hard to say whether Joffrey’s more upset about the incest rumors or the presence of so many of King Robert’s illegitimate offspring in the kingdom. He snaps to Cersei “I’m asking if he fucked other women when he grew tired of you. How many bastards does he have—” She slaps him, but she’s unable to put the royal bastard in a time-out.
Cut to a brothel for a scene of sex-lessons: until I saw “Game of Thrones,” I had no idea whoring required so much instruction. The Kingsguard comes barging in, finds the baby bastard Ned discovered last season, and one of the knights kills it with a knife, just off-camera. A montage worthy of the bloodiest Bible stories follow as all of King Robert’s bastards are slain (and possibly some poor kids who just fit the profile). Apparently Robert was literally the father of his country. The Kingsguard learn that boy blacksmith Gedry has fled North up the Kings Road, but can be identified by his bull helmet.
And finally we see the helmet, Gedry and Arya Stark, disguised as a boy, riding in the back of a wagon up a long road.
I saw this on an HBO screener with some unfinished special effects, so I don’t know if Robb’s direwolf looked as fake at broadcast time as it did when I saw it.
By the way, props to Richard Madden for his performance as Robb Stark. Robb isn’t one of the “POV characters” of the books and doesn’t make as much impression as the other Starks, but Madden does a great job of bringing the role to life.
Davos, on the other hand, is one of the book’s POV characters, but we don’t really get to know him this week. Liam Cunningham seems well-cast, and exudes the same kind of world-weary integrity as Iain Glen’s Jorah Mormont (Dany’s right-hand man).
In the opening scene, after the knight falls to the ground, a kid with a bucket comes to clean up the mess. Later, the Cersei-Littlefinger scene ends with a kid scrubbing the ground. The same one? I took it to be one of the innumerable spies, but maybe just a sign of Littlefingers’ fate if he gets too uppity.
Tyrion’s scene with his mistress Shae evokes his past as a libertine. Part of what makes Tyrion so interesting is that the chaotic times have finally given him a chance to prove himself. Plus, he’s one of the most compassionate characters on the show, there’s a sense of anticipation that Tyrion may be better suited to clean house in King’s Landing than Ned was. He may not be a role model, but he’s one of the good guys.
“If we go South to the land of the Lazarenes, the lamb-men will kill us and take your dragons.” You know things are bad when “lamb-men” pose a threat.
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