Being so late to the game, I understand that spoilers are everywhere when it comes to Game of Thrones, and avoiding them can be a difficult task (I literally just had an event in season 4 spoilt for me while sourcing pictures for season 2).
However, due to season two of Game of Thrones building off the big events of season one, I can’t really discuss it without discussing spoilers for season one. So this is a spoiler warning. I won’t spoil anything that happens in season two, but unfortunately spoiling season one seems to be a necessary evil.
You’ve been warned.
RELEASED: April 1st 2012 – June 3rd 2012
SHOWRUNNER: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
WRITTEN BY: David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, Bryan Cogman, Vanessa Taylor & George R. R. Martin
DIRECTED BY: Alan Taylor, Alik Sakharov, David Petrarca, David Nutter & Neil Marshall
MUSIC BY: Ramin Djawadi
STARRING: Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Michelle Fairley, Emilia Clarke, Aiden Gillen, Iain Glen, Kit Harrington, Liam Cunningham, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Richard Madden, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Alfie Allen, John Bradley, Jack Gleeson, Rory McCann, Stephen Dillane, Carice van Houten, James Cosmo, Jerome Flynn, Conleth Hill, Sibel Kekilli, Natalie Dormer & Charles Dance
After the deaths of King Robert Baratheon and Lord Eddard Stark, the upstart King Joffrey Baratheon now sits on the Iron Throne, and the resulting ‘War of Five Kings’ has thrown the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros into disarray.
Robb Stark, the eldest son of Eddard, has been named King in the North and leads a brutal campaign against Tywin Lannister and his forces. Elsewhere, in the Iron Isles, Balon Greyjoy, rejoined by his son Theon, declares independence, while Robert’s two younger brothers Renly and Stannis Baratheon come to a head as they both claim to be the rightful heirs to the throne, due to Joffrey’s no-longer-secret incestuous parentage.
Meanwhile, Jon Snow and the men of the Night’s Watch venture north of the Wall to investigate the threat of the White Walkers, while across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons search for allies, an army and a ship.
Once again, like season one, there’s a lot going on in the second season of Game of Thrones.
Or at least, there appears to be.
While I found this series, like the last, to be entertaining, I did feel that it was lacking in terms of forward momentum. A lot of the plot points listed above were actually started in episode ten of season one. In many ways, that episode felt like it should have been the start of season two, as the execution of Sean Bean’s character Eddard Stark would have been a brutal closer to the first season. Instead, the season went on an extra episode, setting up the War of Five Kings, which is season two’s primary focus. And while there are some big moments seen throughout the series, the majority of said focus is on characters after the battle. The action is usually off-screen, and the first major battle we see doesn’t occur until the last few episodes of the series.
Now, I’m not saying I just want tons of action, but that lack of action made me realise, especially as the season was drawing to a close, that quite a lot of characters hadn’t really progressed all that much. There were some major events for the likes of Robb and Arya Stark. And Tyrion Lannister positioned himself as the new standout central character in Eddard’s absence. Similarly, Jon Snow and Daenerys seem to be taking important steps towards their main goals, but at the moment, it’s just that – steps. I understand there are a lot of characters to juggle here, but as the season came to a close I couldn’t help but feel like this season had been mostly set-up. Moreso than season one. Most of the characters, bar one or two changes, are in the same place they were at the start of the show, with only characters like Stannis Baratheon and Tyrion Lannister having had a truly meaningful character arc.
However, despite all that, there’s still a lot to like, too.
Once again, the character work is superb. What I love about this show is despite it’s setting, it manages to take characters and humanise them so that modern audiences can understand their thoughts and feelings, despite the fact that the situations they are often not ones we can relate to. This applies to not only heroic characters but also the villainous ones. A character can do several horrific things across a season but then have that one moment when they open themselves up to the audience, and you find yourself feeling for them, despite the fact that, ten minutes before, you were calling for someone to chop off their head.
Of course, there are some cases where this doesn’t ring entirely true, but they are few and far between. I feel that characters such as Melisandre need some more fleshing out before I can fully form an opinion on her, as most of her dialogue is repetitive or based around sexuality. There’s a lot of mystique to the characterisation, and as of yet, it’s not clear if that’s hiding a good character or a bad one.
Conversely, Gwendoline Christie shines as Brienne of Tarth; my personal favourite new addition to the series. Brienne’s is one of those stories that while you can’t relate to the setting of exact experiences she faces, the overall challenges that inform her character are ones that most can appreciate or have experienced in a more modern form.
The set design is also exquisite. This series, we’re introduced to the gleaming city of Qarth, which provides some magnificent sites from the moment it’s introduced. It’s at times like those in Qarth where you can see where the sizeable budget is going to, and it definitely feels worth it as a viewer.
Another product of that budget is the aforementioned battle that comes in later at the series. It feels very reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, particularly the scenes at Helm’s Deep. It’s dirty, brutal and messy, and allows characters to cut loose in the excessive ways fans have already come to expect after just one season.
All-in-all, while I would disagree with most publications that this series is an improvement over season one, due to its meandering plot and seemingly limited progression for a lot of characters, the season’s set-up nature makes me feel as if things are really going to kick into high gear come next season.
Although I’m pretty sure I said that last week in my season one review…
Anyway, I give it: