Game of thrones s2e1 review
|REVIEWS - TV|
Let the Game begin ...
I'm just going to say it right off the top - it’s hard for me to not be gushing about Game of Thrones. As someone who first read the books 9 years ago, it's more than a little surreal to see it being the latest literature phenomenon, following in the footsteps of the Millenium Trilogy and Twilight before it. I get a little grin on my face every time someone asks me "Have you heard of Game of Thrones?" and try not to be one of those insufferable goons who act like they have some kind of extra special credibility because they knew about it before it "sold out". But I am and I do and I can't help loving Game of Thrones, my one saving grave being that I, unlike many batshit crazy fans who would rather their favourite franchise remained an underground secret, emphatically encourage, endorse and promote the series as much as possible, because it deserves it.
People probably wouldn't know about A Song of Ice and Fire were it not for HBO, and that alone is testament to the strength and scope of the series. There was a time when I'd be too embarrassed to tell people I read - let alone write - fantasy fiction. No longer. These days I'm readier than ever to pick up the mantle of "fantasy fan" and wear it with pride. People I know who I never in a million years would have imagined giving fantasy the time of day cannot get enough of Game of Thrones.
And it's easy to see why.
This was an incredibly busy episode introducing new characters and very quickly establishing the current main players and catching us up on just where everyone stands – this felt very much like a new season rather than a simple continuation of the last episode. With so many elements in play, it’s not difficult to imagine TV show fans and non-book readers feeling slightly overwhelmed by the barrage of information they’re given to digest, yet the writers have done an excellent job of moving things along in a way that never ceases to be engaging.
Opening with Joffrey continuing to be the truly sinister evil little shit that he is was a good place to clearly establish that the boy King is wildly out of control. Fortunately Sansa, who in the space of a few minutes instantly becomes a sympathetic, likable character, has learned a degree of tact and what one might go so far as to say manipulation, managing to change Joffrey’s mind about killing Ser Dontos by convincing him it would be bad luck to do so on his nameday. The naïve girl with her head full of songs from last season is a million miles away from the Sansa we saw tonight. The exchange in the throne room between Cersei and Joffrey was yet more evidence of his crazed tyrannical reign – even his own mother can’t control her son’s flights of fancy and though her slap was reminiscent of Tyrion’s in season one, it lacked the comedic value and immediately put the audience on edge. Despite Cersei’s protestations against Tyrion acting as Hand of The King, it’s clear that at this moment in time he’s the only person in the Seven Kingdoms who has even a chance of controlling his monarch and nephew.
North in Winterfell, it was quite obvious how much Issac Hempstead-Wright has grown over the course of time between the two seasons, but fortunately this was something that lent itself to Bran’s character – dealing with the subjects of the North and his brother’s liege lords, it’s obvious that Bran has matured quite a bit. The sequence involving his wolf, Summer, was done very well. It was always something that was going to be difficult to bring across the screen effectively while it works so easily in the books, but the producers did an excellent job of introducing Bran’s warg dreams whilst simultaneously using it to show us the red comet, a symbol much discussed throughout the book, and all the interpretations of varying characters across multiple continents were all succinctly wrapped up into a few short scenes.
This episode also finally gave us our first meeting with Stannis, dead King Robert’s younger brother and now, heir to the throne. It was certainly exciting to see Dragonstone come to life along with Davos, Melisandre and Stannis all stepping into the TV show for the first time while they’ve been in the minds of fans for years through the books. The casting choices all seemed suitable when they were first announced, but I have to admit my cautionary approach to them now having seen them in action. They certainly look the part (although Melisandre should be curvier and more buxom, closer to a redhead Monica Belluci for my money), but it was in their portrayl that I felt something was lacking. Stephen Dillane was superb as Thomas Jefferson in John Adams, but I’m not sure he’s quite angry enough for Stannis Baratheon. Stannis is a man who clenches his jaw as readily as others laugh and though Dillane expresses his rigidness and uncompromising sense of justice, as yet I don’t see the driving anger that lies deep at the heart of Stannis. Carice van Houten does a good job of stepping into the mysterious shoes of Melisandre of Asshai, though my biggest reservation about her is the somewhat monotonous way in which she preached her sermon, dead-eyed and distant, a far cry from the rousing passionate speeches you imagine when reading the books. Last is Liam Cunningham as Davos. He certainly has the look of a well-grounded, sensible man among men whose station far exceeds his own, though as Davos he is slightly skewed from how I’d imagined him – not quite as deferential and more able to speak to his mind freely to Stannis than in the books.
These are of course rather fast judgements based on little more than ten minutes of screen time, and the remainder of the season will show whether or not I’m jumping to conclusions.
There was so much to pack in to this episode that it’s almost unfair to be upset by the low amount of screen time for our three “main” characters – Jon, Dany and Tyrion, but their absence was noted. To their credit, they shone in the scenes they did have, particularly Emilia Clarke as Dany who is dealing with what is likely her nadir having lost her husband and her khalasar. For these particular characters, this was more of a setup episode, and I’m here to tell you that the build-up will absolutely pay off.
Robb Stark’s exchange with Jamie Lannister was entirely new and one of the best written scenes of the night. Although I was buzzed to hear a lot of lines taken directly from the book in this episode, it goes to show that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were the perfect team to bring Westeros to life when they can so readily script a scene between two characters who we never witness directly interacting in the books. Yet, this scene felt so in sync with the rest of the world that it flowed seamlessly and if you hadn’t read the books you’d be none the wiser. I’m not sure I can say the same thing for the exchange between Cersei and Littlefinger. Cersei flexing her Queen muscles was undeniably entertaining to watch, but Littlefinger’s blatant in-your-face teasing of Cersei in regards to his knowledge of her and Jamie’s relationship didn’t ring true at all and felt deeply out of character. Lord Baelish is not a stupid man – he’s subtle, intelligent, a schemer and a man with more secrets than money. For him to so baldly tell the Queen that he knows the truth felt highly counter-productive for his character not to mention outright idiotic, and it’s extremely difficult to imagine the Littlefinger of the books making such an obvious, miscalculated move.
When Roz first appeared again, I groaned inwardly. Fans of the books have long questioned Roz’s purpose, as she was made specifically for the TV show seemingly for no other reason than to show some tits and arse while other characters monologue around her. She was never much more than a character vehicle for people who actually mattered, so I felt a degree of dread when she turned up again so late in the episode. It put me in mind of Star Wars Episode III when we almost managed a whole movie without Jar Jar Binks, but then he showed up again right at the end. Perhaps I don’t need to expand on my sentiments towards Roz, though I was considerably relieved when the writers actually gave her a reason to be in the scene. The slaughter of Robert’s bastards is something mentioned but not seen in the books and to see it on display so unscrupulously in the show was bordering on the shocking and controversial, even for HBO. But it was an interesting link to Gendry and Arya’s current location, as well as bringing back several very small parts from season one that stands as a credit to the attention to detail taken with the production – both the bastard baby’s mother and Gendry’s old blacksmith master were the same as before, and for such miniscule parts it was a great little easter egg and definitely earned them points for attention to detail.
With so much going on, this is one incredibly busy hour of television and I’m wondering once again if HBO have made the right decision by sticking to only ten episodes per season. As the story unfolds, the world of Westeros only continues to get bigger with new characters, new places and new cultures; and the producers run the risk of cramming too much in at once if they don’t give themselves – and the audience – a little breathing space now and then. As someone who has read the books multiple times, this doesn’t pose a problem for me, but for uninitiated I do wonder how they’ll cope with so much going on. I suspect the producers will quash those doubts deftly over the course of the season, but for the time being, it’s something that plays on my mind. Given the size of the third book which the next season would be based on (it had to be split into two separate books for publication as did the fifth book), I think for HBO to realistically maintain the quality they’ve established, they need to expand the length of the show’s seasons or, as has been rumoured, give an extra season altogether wherein the third book plays across two seasons rather than one.
Overall, this was an excellent episode and a fantastic way to kickstart the new season and as I’ve said many times in past articles, this is really where the story begins. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
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