Blood, brilliant red as the comet streaking in the sky above, spills forth from the slain in the stunning debut of the second season of “Game of Thrones.” After a critically acclaimed first season, the HBO adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series triumphantly returns.
Showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff waste no time in plunging the series into vicious and violent action. The first episode,“The North Remembers,” thrusts viewers back into the drama left off at the end of the first season.
Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) takes over the vacant position of Hand of the King, trying to keep the Seven Kingdoms from tearing itself apart under Joffrey’s (Jack Gleeson) cruel rule while the king’s mother, Cersei (Lena Headey), flexes her muscles as queen regent. Meanwhile, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) and his northern host march further south with the Kingslayer (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in tow.
“The Night Lands,” the second episode, takes the audience to Pyke and the Iron Islands for the first time, following Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) as he tries to win over his lord father to Robb’s war plans. Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide), however, has his own plans. Tyrion continues to cement his power in King’s Landing, tangling with the spymaster Varys and replacing the captain of the City Watch with his own man, Bronn. On the kingsroad, Arya (Maisie Williams), disguised as a boy, tries to make her way back north in the company of men bound for the Wall, including one of the late King Robert’s bastards, Gendry. Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and the Night’s Watch search for what’s become of the wildlings.
In addition, an entirely new set of characters are introduced: King Robert’s brother, Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and claimant to the Iron Throne broods on Dragonstone, while his advisers, Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) and the red priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten), discuss the right time to strike at King’s Landing.
“Game of Thrones” has not lost its edge. The cutthroat drama and deep, organic characterization, along with the merciless, violent action and gratuitous (yet not out-of-place) nudity and sex expected from an HBO production, remains. Despite losing a major character in the finale of the first season, the show maintains course with its cast of captivating characters played by some stunning actors.
Dinklage and Headey trade pointed barbs with all of the pent-up hate of two jealous siblings, while Gleeson fits his role as a young man drunk on power. It is easy to hate the monster that Joffrey is becoming while forgetting that he is just a boy with the authority and responsibilities of a king thrust upon him. Madden is quickly coming into his own as Robb just his character is coming into his own as the King in the North. And Coster-Waldau remains his charming, albeit condescending, self.
Even in just two episodes, Dillane exhibits the hard, uncompromising nature of Stannis aptly. Stannis sees the Iron Throne as rightfully his and despite not commanding as many men as his brother, Renly (Gethin Anthony), as a proven battle commander, he is a major threat to Joffrey’s reign. Cunningham is featured heavily as Ser Davos, Stannis’ most trusted servant, and a better man for the role, both actor and character, is nonexistent. Behind the Lord of Dragonstone is the red priestess, Melisandre, who claims that her foreign fire god has chosen Stannis to be the savior of the world. Van Houten plays a magnificent Melisandre with her smoldering gaze and rich Dutch accent; However, in “The Night Lands,” Stannis and Melisandre consummate a relationship that is only hinted at in the books. And this is not the only deviation from the source material.
In “A Clash of Kings,” which the second season of “Game of Thrones” is based on, Tyrion does not replace Lord Janos Slynt with Bronn. And Tyrion does not blatantly keep his whore Shae at the Tower of the Hand, but hides her in a manse in the city. Theon’s sister is called Asha, not Yara. However, these changes, for the most part, are minor. Weiss and Benioff admitted to combining the roles of several characters. It is unlikely that many fans will mourn the loss of Ironhand and newer viewers will be glad of the clarity between Yara and Osha, instead of Asha and Osha. As a reader of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, it also isn’t hard to understand the logic behind these decisions considering the limited time and resources of a TV adaptation.
The complexity of Martin’s interweaving plot is rearing its head this season. The most we see of Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and her wayward khalasar is their languishing in the Red Waste. Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) is also downplayed in the past episodes. Every episode can’t fit all of the major characters and their story arcs, so viewers are going to have to stave off their Dany and dragon fix, at least for a while.
But it isn’t all bad. By focusing on specific story arcs in each episode, “Game of Thrones” can deliver a more satisfying and visceral experience, such as the scene with Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) and Ros (Esme Bianco) in “The Night Lands,” which showcases the kind of man Petyr Baelish really is and is a splendid bit of acting on Gillen’s and Bianco’s part.
Despite differences from “A Clash of Kings,” the second season of “Game of Thrones” promises to not only reach the same thrilling climax of the first season, but maybe even exceed it. Winter may be coming, but in the words of House Tyrell, the show is still “growing strong.”
Speakeasy rating: A
“Game of Thrones”
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