After a fantastic first season, the television adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire, known as Game of Thrones, returns to HBO. Did it return with a spectacular first episode? Well, no, but then Game of Thrones and the series it is based upon are both well known for their rather realistic approach to war and life in the old ages. It’s obviously peppered with some supernatural elements such as dragons and the cold ones but Game of Thrones isn’t a series where two kings go to war and we spend a whole season showcasing brutal battle after brutal battle. No. This is a series where they stand around and talk about it.
That makes the series, and the first episode back, entitled ‘The North Remembers’, sound a lot less exciting than it really is. But Martin understands that the excitement of a war doesn’t just lie in the battlefield and it feels like the creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss understand this concept just as much. It might seem a little boring to listen to Robb Stark talk of needing ships but it’s important to the story and it gets more interesting when you realise that Stannis Baratheon was debating the same idea with Ser Davos Seaworth.
And that is perhaps the purest reason why it as interesting to hear these characters talk about war rather than take action. It allows us to see the power plays between all the different divisions and bannermen. Stannis Baratheon won’t align with his brother Renly Baratheon because they both want the throne for themselves but Robb Stark needs them to get along so that they can come together and outnumber the Lannister army. Meanwhile, Robb is torturing Jaime Lannister with his Dire Wolf Grey Wind and proposing peace terms so long as he gets to be King of the North. No one actually cares about the Seven Kingdoms. It’s all about the power they can take for themselves.
This is perhaps best seen in a couple of exchanges that Cersei Lannister has with Little Finger and her son. In the first exchange, Little Finger reminds Cersei of a well known proverb that ‘knowledge is power’. Cersei retorts by having her guards seize him, prepare to cut his throat, only to have them back off, turn around and shut their eyes. Little Finger is visibly shaken by the display when Cersei approaches him and states quite simply ‘power is power’. But she forgets who holds the true power. First her father imposes Tyrion on her as an interim Hand of the King and then her own son, Joffrey, and King of the Seven Kingdoms, puts her in her place. After she disciplines him with a slap, he reminds her that such an act is punishable by death. Jack Gleeson should be commended for making us believe that he actually might behead his own mother.
This puts Cersei in vivid contrast with Robb Stark. When Tyrion Lannister arrives in King’s Landing to serve as interim Hand of the King, he admonishes his sister for having let her son kill Ned Stark and losing one daughter, Arya, whom they could have traded along with the eldest daughter for Jaime Lannister. Cersei also makes no attempt to hide the bastard children of her death husband until Joffrey makes it clear she should have done something about it. On the other hand, Robb Stark is actually praised by Jaime when he explains that he would trust his bannermen ‘with my life but not with yours’. He understands the necessity of keeping his enemies close but also how valuable allies might be when the time comes. Whether Stannis or Renly Baratheon can put their pride aside in order to overthrow the Lannisters still remains to be seen.
In terms of running time we saw very little of Jon Snow or Daenarys Targaryen who perhaps represent titular clash between ice and fire better than anyone in the show. Snow is beyond the wall, meeting with wildlings and seems absolutely disgusted that the wildling Craster marries and impregnates his own daughters. Why he should be surprised that this kind of thing goes on in the unruly land beyond the wall is beyond me. But it seems that no one told him what to expect beyond the wall. Though, that could also be due to the fact that no one really seems to know what’s going on beyond the wall at all any more given the first season started with cold ones and this season informs us that there’s an army vast enough to conquer the Seven Kingdoms lying just ahead. Maybe that’s where all Craster’s sons go.
As for, Daenarys, well, she’s just lost. This is the other side of realism that makes this show rather unique. Many fantasy series’, if they were to introduce the concept of dragons and a lost heir to the throne, the moment dragons came into the equation any notion of needing an army would be thrown out the window. But her Dothraki followers are weak and her dragons are still too young to take on whole armies. So she still has to wander across some barren wastelands in search of an army strong enough to help her take back the Seven Kingdoms. And she’ll need ships too. In terms of capturing the throne, it seems the Targaryen line has the longest journey.
Overall, it was a strong, if static, opener for the second season of Game of Thrones. It wasn’t action-packed but it was strategic in both story and direction. The episode essentially teases the viewer. Just enough is on display here to whet our appetite and show us a few signs of things to come but holds out on directly stating what may or may not happen. The viewers who haven’t read the books are left guessing, and those that have get to watch the slow build towards their favourite battles and fights. And, if nothing else, it left me wanting more.