Game of Thrones seems to have been able to almost reinvent itself from one season to the next. The first season was a slow and steady game of political chess, and while the second season follows a similar path we also begin to see the beginnings of an epic fantasy series. When the series first aired I was skeptical that the second season could match the first after the loss of Ned Stark (Sean Bean) and King Robert (Mark Addy); looking back now I can see just how far off the mark that I really was.
One of Game of Thrones’ biggest strengths is it has a huge array of characters to draw and for the most part they’re all interesting and sympathetic. The thing the series has managed to do well so far across all seven seasons is to live in the shadows, in the shades of grey, eschewing the normal structure that we’ve come to expect from our stories.
Something that Game of Thrones Season 2 is not short of in its opening episode is kings. We’re now well into the War of Five Kings with Stannis (Stephen Dillane) and Renly (Gethin Anthony), aka the Baratheon Brothers, the King in the North Robb Stark, the salty King of the Iron Islands Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide), the King Beyond the Wall in Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds) and of course the worst king of all time, Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson). This is all without considering the Queen lingering in the East. Although Season 2 is basically just a season of traipsing around the desert for Daenerys.
Watching Game of Thrones Season 2 again, with all the knowledge of the next 5 seasons under my belt, I really felt like the overriding theme of this season was how even the smallest decisions can change our lives forever.
- Robb falls in love with Talisa (Oona Chaplin), after a random encounter on the battlefield as she is removing limbs from injured soldiers. It’s not exactly your standard meet-cute but it works nonetheless, and more importantly, it marks the beginning of the end for Robb, his rebellion and his family (at least for the next few seasons). It really shows that you shouldn’t break your word to a Frey…
- Jon Snow meets Ygritte (Rose Leslie) while north of The Wall, and enjoys a trip south of her wall, a move that really changes his outlook on the Wildlings. Arguably this sets him on a path that will ultimately lead to a knife in the heart and sex with his auntie.
- While on the road from King’s Landing to Castle Black, Arya makes the decision to save Jaqen H’gar (Tom Wlaschiha). It’s a decision that sees her escape from capture and sets her on the path to becoming a face swapping assassin.
- Tyrion finally gets a shot at some real power as The Hand of the King. Despite being very good at his job he doesn’t exactly make many friends. Some of his decisions pretty much seal his fate when Joffrey is murdered in Season 3.
- Catelyn decides that the only way to save her daughters is to release Jaime Lannister so that she might be able to do some sort of trade. In doing so she absolutely seals the fate of Robb when he’s forced to execute Rickard Karstark and consequently loses a big part of his fighting force.
- Stannis Baratheon decides to put all of his faith into Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) and the Lord of Light. He was someone who would have probably made the best king – he might be a bit rigid but he was fair. Well, until he started burning people alive and sending shadow baby demons to kill his brother.
- Theon (Alfie Allen) wants to prove to his father that he is a worthy son and heir to the throne so he decides to bite the hand that had fed (clothed, sheltered and trained) him by taking Winterfell. It’s a dark path, which has already led to some redemption, that seems him losing a lot of vital parts of himself.
I’m sure there are more but I think it’s a really interesting concept for the season; we set up these pebbles into the water that ripple out across all of the seasons to come.
Game of Thrones Season 2 establishes a tradition of a huge action-packed episode (usually in the penultimate episode of a season) and the Battle of the Blackwater is a hell of a way to kick things off. It’s an epic battle sequence without ever actually showing too much. There are establishing shots of ships and then expansive segments of the destructive power of wildfire, but it’s still on a relatively small scale. The Battle of the Blackwater is a huge episode in terms of nearly anything else that’s been on TV before and its only Game of Thrones’ insistence on one-upping itself that gives up bigger and brasher battles.
While I have seen Season 1 the most, and so it’s the season that I remember the most fondly, I think Season 2 manages to improve on it in most ways. It still manages to retain the tight character work and politicking of the first season and still finds time to sow the seeds of the action-heavy fantasy series that Game of Thrones ultimately becomes.
Best philosophy to live by: It’s fair to say that Joffrey is a bit of monster and only gets worse as Season 2 and 3 progress. Perhaps one of my favorite lines in Game of Thrones is Bronn summing up Joffrey (and so many other people) so succinctly:
“There’s no cure for being a c**t.”
Best takedown: Game of Thrones manages to get a lot of plot miles out of Tyrion’s love of w****s, and Season 2 sees him trying to defend Shae, his favourite prostitute of all, from the clutches of his sister. Cersei manages to get her hands on the wrong w***e, Ros sadly, and has her beaten to send a message to her brother. His response is one of the best lines in the season and also comes back to haunt him later on:
“I will hurt you for this. A day will come when you think you’re safe and happy, and your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you’ll know the debt is paid.”
Character(s) that most looked like Richard O’Brien: When Daenerys visits Qarth and begins her tedious desert adventures, she gets to meet the Warlocks and visit their Tower of the Undying – a terrible hall of mirrors-type funhouse with dragons waiting for her at the top. The only warlock we ever actually see is Pyat Pree (Ian Hanmore) and every time he’s on screen I expect him to break into The Time Warp. Again.
Best murder by a shadow demon born of blood magic: The death of the utterly fabulous King Renly was a shocking one. He might have had a shoddy claim on the Iron Throne but he was a good man and I can only imagine that under his rule Westeros would have had far more parties and far fewer wars. Everything seemed to be going his way until Stannis used blood magic to end his brother’s claim (and life).
Best sex scene on a big wooden map: In order to birth the shadow monster that killed his brother Stannis had to have sex with Melisandre on a big wooden map of Westeros. I’m not sure whether the map was actually required in order for the magic to work, it’s a rather specific spell if it was, but the scattering of pieces adds some excitement to Stannis’ stoic thrust-work.
Best tautology: When Petyr Baelish gets a bit too cocky with Queen Cersei, telling her “knowledge is power”, she’s ready with a great tautological comeback (with the help of some muscle to emphasize her point):
“Power is power.”