Entertainment Magazine

Review #3417: Game of Thrones 2.1: “The North Remembers”

Posted on the 04 April 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Gregg Wright

The first season of “Game of Thrones” was a triumph. I can think of no better word for it. “Game of Thrones” took a genre that was poorly represented on television and gave it the A-grade treatment in virtually every respect. That’s another key word here: “respect”. The show’s respect for the source material won over fans of the books and gave the uninitiated a fantasy experience that was, essentially, a more adult successor to the “Lord of the Ring” trilogy. Comparisons between the two franchises could, and have been, made. But whether you’re a fan of the books, or just the TV series, it’s clear that simply calling George R. R. Martin’s “the next Lord of the Rings” would be a gross oversimplification.

Review #3417: Game of Thrones 2.1: “The North Remembers”

Despite the obvious similarities, “Game of Thrones” (or “A Song of Ice and Fire”, if you wish) is very much its own entity. As a piece of filmmaking, it doesn’t approach the visionary greatness of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (which may simply be a consequence of the chosen medium), but nor does it need to. Just from the perspective of a fan of the TV show, it’s easy to see that “Game of Thrones” aspires to tell a much more grounded tale. Sure, it’s still set in a medieval fantasy realm, and there is magic, as well as dragons. But for the most part, at least in the first season, the more fantastic, supernatural elements are kept in the background while the politics and treachery over the Iron Throne take center stage.

What “Game of Thrones” lacks in sheer fantasy spectacle and style, it makes up for with its consistently solid direction, writing, and acting, and its exceptionally high (for TV) production values. Of course, I have my quibbles with the music, which was, perhaps, often more thematic and intelligent than I gave it credit for in the first season (though still disappointing). And I really can’t complain at all about the excellent intro theme, which received some minor changes this season to accommodate the changes to the extended map sequence. My complaints about the music drew their share of criticism from readers, but I’ve found remarkably little else in “Game of Thrones” that gave me cause to complain. It really is just that good. “Lord of the Rings” might not have worked as well on television as it did in feature-length film form, but “Game of Thrones” seems ideally suited to the medium, at least for the moment.

I would, however, like to point out some of my more poorly-founded complaints. I was initially slightly disappointed with the first season finale, primarily because it did not seem to perform the typical functions of a season finale as well as I’d hoped. I still think that some aspects of the finale could have been more effective, but at the time, I didn’t understand as well how season 1 was to fit into the overall scheme of things. It’s now clear that the first season was very much a prelude for what was to come. Unresolved issues from the first season may still be very much in play. I expected the first season finale to conform to the usual television standards of storytelling, which was really the result of my lack of familiarity with the source material.

Many times during the wait for season 2, I was tempted to crack open George R. R. Martin’s book series. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to be spoiled. I suppose I just felt a little left out, and maybe like less of a fan. I worried that I was missing a lot of important details that would make the TV experience even more fulfilling. So I was in a bit of a quandary. There was every reason to think that spoiling myself by reading the books would somehow lessen the TV experience, but it was also clear that many aspects of the show would be lost on me, being totally unfamiliar with the many details that fill in the extensive universe of the books.

This is never more evident than in the Stannis Baratheon dinner table scene in the premiere. Having read one or two primers before going into the second season, I understood what Stannis meant when he told Davos that he’s “always served thieves according to their deserts”. But the reference would have been totally lost on me, had I not happened to read about that particular part of the lore beforehand. It’s possible that the show will fill in those details later, but by then I might have forgotten about this brief exchange at the dinner table. My knowledge about this character’s history enhanced the experience in this case. For the moment, I’ve chosen to continue avoiding the books. But this internal debate is likely to rage on.

But on to the second season. “The North Remembers” almost effortlessly rekindles my excitement for the show, returning it to its former levels. In fact, it’s beginning to look as though this season has the potential to interest me even more than the last (for reasons that I’ll get to in a moment). The premiere is mostly setup. But there’s just so much ground to cover in such a short time, the end result feels anything but slow. First, we see King’s Landing, then we’re at Winterfell, then to Daenerys in the Red Waste, then to Jon Snow and the other Night’s Watchmen north of The Wall, then we get to meet Stannis Baratheon and his court, and then, well, you get the picture (and I haven’t even mentioned Tyrion yet!). The premiere is jam-packed, and as usual, there’s no real weak link in the story threads. They’re all interesting, and none of them overstay their welcome. It’s all a well-crafted tease of things to come.

Of all the story threads covered in the premiere, the one that seems to interest me the most is Stannis Baratheon and his band of followers. Stannis looks to be a great new character, and perhaps a force to be reckoned with. And I’m really enjoying the presence of Liam Cunningham, one of my favorite actors, in the role of Davos. The dynamic between Davos, Stannis, and Melisandre looks to be one of the most interesting elements of the new season. And, of course, Melisandre brings us closer to that other important reason for why this season has the potential to excite me even more than the last: magic.

“Game of Thrones” may always be more grounded in the human drama than “Lord of the Rings” was, but it seems likely that magic is going to be taking a greater prominence in the show in the second season (and beyond). Readers may recall that the more fantastical elements (i.e. White Walkers) were what excited me the most in the first season. So you can imagine how I feel now about where things seem to be headed. All this warring and politics is great stuff, but I absolutely cannot wait to see the Long Night return and unleash all manner of supernatural terrors upon Westeros. That would, no doubt, be the highlight of the show for me. “The night is dark, and full of terrors.” Let’s bloody hope so.

Attempting to discuss all that was covered in the season premiere seems to be a daunting task, as each of the many story threads seems to deserve significant discussion. Some of the most important developments occurred at King’s Landing, where King Joffrey is going about his usual business of being the most despicable king that one can imagine. He’s positively drunk with power and blood. Beloved fan-favorite Tyrion has just arrived with his favorite sellsword and whore. At this point, it goes without saying that his scenes are a delight. Meanwhile, Cersei is beginning to look surprisingly sympathetic as she tries to deal with the horror that is Joffrey, along with the other burdens of her new position. One brief scene involves an encounter between Cersei and Petyr Baelish, which expands on the season’s “power” theme. Petyr was instrumental in bringing about Eddard Stark’s death, but after this scene, it’s not hard to imagine him becoming something of an anti-hero this season.

Perhaps the most dramatic development to come out of the premiere was the absolutely ruthless slaughter of nearly all of the Baratheon bastards in the episode’s final scene, culminating in the reveal of Arya and Gendry on the road. For a moment, I wondered if the show would really allow a depiction of a baby being killed onscreen. And then I chuckled to myself, remembering what show I was watching. Thankfully, the director exercised some restraint by keeping the actual killing out of view, but it’s still surprisingly brutal, even for “Game of Thrones”. The meaning of this event is still a bit mysterious to me at the moment, but will no doubt be made clear soon enough. Could Gendry represent a real threat to Joffrey’s claim to the throne? If he didn’t last season, then why now? There must be something important to the timing of this effort to eradicate all of the Baratheon bastards.

“Game of Thrones” is still in top form, and this second season has the potential to surpass the first. It’s exciting to think that there’s still so much of the story from the books left to be covered. The scope of the show has noticeably widened, allowing for an even more complex and vast series of conflicts. And amidst all these conflicts, there’s the sense that very ancient, terrifying powers are slowly creeping their way back into the mortal world, ready to unleash chaos on a completely unprepared world. Perhaps that’s just the wishful thinking of a Lovecraft fan, but there’s no denying that those White Walkers are out there. And now with Melisandre’s arrival on the scene, we’re likely to find that even more powerful forces are at work in the world of “Game of Thrones”.

Rating: 9/10

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