TV Review – Game of Thrones Season 2 (2012)
Game of Thrones thankfully avoids a sophomore slump managing to successful build upon the foundation so lovingly crafted in the first season. Nevertheless, Season 2 feels very much like the middle chapters of a very long book, intent on focusing even more on character interaction while slowly building tension till the final few episodes and, as a result, the pace feels decidedly more sedate even though there are literally a ton of twists and turns hurled at viewers in every single episode.
While the first season mirrored the events seen in George R.R. Martin’s first book the second season stays true to his follow-up, “A Clash of Kings” and the title could not be more apt. Beginning almost immediately after the first season’s finale the narrative this time around focuses more on the aftermath of King Joffrey’s (Jack Gleeson) ascension to the throne and, more specifically, the various factions who oppose him. There are numerous points in the season where characters specifically make note of how the word “King” has suddenly lost its power merely because there are now so many candidates for it that the title has become almost meaningless.
Though many actors and their characters have departed the show after the first season’s tumultuous events the series adds many more for the second go around and once again each newcomer turns in solid work. At the same time many characters who were prominently featured in the first season suddenly find themselves in supporting roles this time around such as Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who basically spends the entire ten episodes cooped up by his lonesome in a prison cage.
Some supporting characters from the first season see a huge boost in screen time most significantly being the duplicitous Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) who has a clearly defined character arc that will probably send some fans reaching for a nearby hatchet as he slowly unravels due to his own shortcomings. Yet this is part of the series’ charm as seemingly pointless or sidelined characters suddenly are thrust into the limelight in a way that is both organic and logical, basically validating their inclusion in previous episodes.
This will undoubtedly annoy some fans who might have latched on to certain characters but the new arrivals are certainly just as, if not more, colourful as well. Topping the new cast is undoubtedly Stephen Dillane as the late King Robert’s oldest brother, Stannis, as well as Liam Cunningham as his loyal second in command, Davos. . Other new cast members such as Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Carice Van Houten as the mystical witch, Melisandre, have their own moments to shine but one also gets the impression that they might play a bigger part in future seasons.
Once again the show’s bread and butter comes from the way it focuses on character interaction and political machinations over overt action although, to be fair, the series’ new fame and fortune have certainly provided a visual boost. This means that large clashes between armies are now possible and it certainly reaches its climax with a fabulous penultimate episode which recalls the best medieval siege sequences ever filmed. This particular episode also gets merit because it completely goes against the episodic structure of virtually every episode before it by transitioning between many different storylines that highlight characters from around the world. This time the episode stays firmly glued in one location and those involved in the transpiring events and the result is a fabulously taut and adrenalin-pumping hour that marks the season’s emotional climax.
Although it would not be fair to say that the second season is more unfocused than the first, the fact remains that like any other show, the longer they go on the greater the chance that the narrative grows till it becomes unwieldy. To the credit of the showrunners the overall season still manages to excite hearts and minds but the three pronged narrative seen in the first season now feels as if it has exploded into about 5 concurrent plots.
Additionally, Season One had a main through line binding the entire 10 episodes where nearly every plot element had some relation to Ned Stark’s unraveling of the mystery behind the throne that is simply not present in any form in Season Two. At best, one might say that the rise of Stannis through political machinations to cobble together a massive force bent on retaking the capital, King’s Landing, from the Lannister forces represents Season Two’s “main focus” but it simply is not as apparent as Ned Stark’s adventures in the previous season.
With the departure of many actors and their characters after the events of the first season, Peter Dinklage takes over as being top billed and thankfully, his portrayal of the imp, Tyrion, is still as mesmerizing as it was last year. Through a series of events Tyrion finds himself in a position of power as the new Hand of the King and though he never once dreamed of being in this role finds himself relishing and succeeding in “playing the game,” in a way that previous Hands failed to comprehend. As always, Dinklage provides Tyrion with equal parts wit and steely resolve and it is always a joy when his segments are on screen.
It comes as no surprise that Tyrion gets virtually all the best comebacks and one liners and he transcends even the most mundane of scenes such as the moment where he and new Captain of the Kingsguard, Bronn (Jerome Flynn,) both can’t pronounce the name of a book’s writer properly. In the hands of lesser thespians the scene might have become too comedic but everyone nails their delivery with precision letting tension out of the scene, yet never so far as to devalue the enormity of their task.
The other Season One standout was Emilia Clarke playing Daenerys Targaryen but although she continues her strong work her character arc this time around is nowhere as compelling as before. Part of the issue here that was not readily apparent in the original season is that her seclusion from the bulk of the characters and action taking place to unseat King Joffrey is all the more felt this time around. Without Jason Momoa as her lover, Khal Drogo, or most of the colourful cast around him, Clarke is essentially left to work with only Iain Glen playing her trusted advisor, Jorah Mormont, for the entirety of the season.
That isn’t a jab at Iain Glen who once again nails his role but because his character essentially morphs completely into her loyal sidekick thus giving Clarke no one to really play against who is actively antagonistic. At the same time, her overall arc to save her people and retrieve her dragons now feels almost as if it is an entirely different show as there are virtually no hooks linking her to the ongoing war which engulfs every other major character. No doubt her narrative eventually intertwines with the other plot threads but not this season making it stand out in all the wrong ways.
The one plot thread that certainly was surprising in how well it worked was the entire time spent with the youngest Stark daughter, Arya (Maisie Williams) and her sworn enemy, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), as it really felt like a dysfunctional family relationship where the two learned more about the other and as such the viewer gains added depth to both characters in the process. Certainly their verbal jousting was unexpected and Charles Dance nails his character’s apparent surprise and amusement that he has stumbled upon an intelligent girl from a supposedly low class upbringing.
I mentioned in my review for Season One that the series contains nary a line, scene or character that ever seems superfluous and the same applies to Season Two. Time is of the essence thus every included element needs to be thoroughly justified. Nevertheless, one element though needs to be pointed out and that is that the sex quotient seems to have been increased and not in a very convincing way. Being a HBO show one certainly expects both ample amounts of both sex and gore, yet unlike Season One there were a few moments this time around when the sex seems a bit over the top, not in its portrayal but in its very inclusion. Seeing people succumbing to their carnal desires is always titillating but you don’t really need to linger too long on it as even making them a few seconds shorter would give the showrunners an opportunity to allocate them to needed exposition.
In terms of gore the season is par for the course with tons of blood and severed limbs flying around as needed yet unlike the sex, there is always a reason to show it. Viewers might squirm at some of the more gory torture sequences but to the show’s credit it needs to really pound home the lack of humanity because it inevitably pays off later in the narrative.
Production values remain universally excellent and the environmental palette surprisingly gets even richer this time around with the inclusion of Iceland for nearly all of Jon Snow’s adventures North of The Wall. The foreboding icy scenery is simply breathtaking to behold and it adds rich texture to the entire world of Westeros. Add to this the locations in Morocco and Croatia that were featured in Daenerys’ arc and the myriad environments really accentuate the global epic nature of the show.
In the end the second Game of Thrones season proves once and for all that the first season was no fluke providing its parent network, HBO, yet another feather in its cap for making quality entertainment primarily aimed at a more mature viewership. At the rate HBO is going it is not inconceivable that they keep closing the gap between TV shows and feature films yet the very fact that they provide many episodes per season allows them enormous latitude and opportunity to craft truly compelling multi-faceted plots and characters that cinema just cannot replicate.
If I might be so bold, as a Star Trek fan it makes me wish someone with serious gonads makes a push to craft a new show with equal parts ambition that rivals what one finds on HBO as the franchise is in serious need of a fresh take on a now creaky concept. Yet that is neither here nor there in terms of Game of Thrones and I’m proud to report that the show is still firing on all cylinders and is the very definition of, “must see TV.” I still prefer Season One, yet the difference in quality between that and Season Two is miniscule to say the least. Once again, highly recommended although, it has to be said, that new fans really should start with Season One as they will be completely lost without knowledge of previous events.
***1/2 out of ****
2012, USA, 600 Minutes, HBO, R
Screenplay by D.B. Weiss, David Benioff, Bryan Cogman
Based on the books by George R.R. Martin
Produced by Mark Huffam, Frank Doelger
Executive Producers David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
Created by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
Series Original Music by Ramin Djawadi
Series Cinematography by Matthew Jensen, Alik Sakharov, Marco Pontecorvo
Peter Dinklage: Tyrion Lannister
Lena Headey: Cersei Lannister
Maisie Williams: Arya Stark
Emilia Clarke: Daenerys Targaryen
Michelle Fairley: Catelyn Stark
Iain Glen: Jorah Mormont
Kit Harington: Jon Snow
Sophie Turner: Sansa Stark
Kristian Nairn: Hodor
Alfie Allen: Theon Greyjoy
Jack Gleeson: Joffrey Baratheon
Richard Madden: Robb Stark
Isaac Hempstead Wright: Bran Stark
Rory McCann: Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau: Jaime Lannister
Aidan Gillen: Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish
Charles Dance: Tywin Lannister
John Bradley: Samwell Tarly
Conleth Hill: Lord Varys
Jerome Flynn: Bronn
Joe Dempsie: Gendry
Stephen Dillane: Stannis Baratheon
Liam Cunningham: Davos Seaworth
Carice van Houten: Melisandre
Sibel Kekilli: Shae
Gwendoline Christie: Brienne of Tarth
Rose Leslie: Ygritte
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