*Spoilers ahead. Although I’ve seen the first three seasons in their entirety I try to avoid any spoilers from beyond season 2. But if you’re super risk averse, I’d avoid reading this until you’ve completed season 3*
I ploughed through Game of Thrones‘ second season in roughly 5 days. I’ve realised that this is a good way for me to watch the show. The faster I watch, the less time I have to build things up in my head, the less disappointed I feel when certain plotlines don’t go anywhere or progress fast enough for my liking. For all the moaning that the show is all table setting that I did in my review of season 1, I do very much enjoy GoT. Purely from a production standpoint, the series represents the pinnacle in TV craftsmanship and polish, and the storytelling choices are often quite bold and outside of what is expected in TV, as per its source material. My main issue with season 1 was its lack of pay off.
To paraphrase respected TV critic Alan Sepinwall, ‘a good TV show teaches you how to watch it’. This is especially true of GoT. I’ve now seen all three aired seasons of the show and I can say that season 2 is probably the weakest season. Having said that, I enjoyed it a lot more than season 1 because I had learnt to enjoy the show more on a level of an extended chapter in a larger story, where stories are mid-flight at both the beginning and end of the seasons. I’ve also learnt to try and enjoy the journey and not try to predict or wish for a conclusion to any given storyline or character arc – because realistically, there won’t be one. I still feel as though the show spends too much time introducing elements and not doing anything with them, or merely introducing something in one season to prepare for their role in the following season, which seems to be wilfully playing with our expectations of follow through and narrative progression. It’s my understanding that in the books, certain characters are either more minor (because the story is never told from their perspective), or in fact that they sit out of certain books entirely. Now I understand the desire to create fuller characters out of the entire ensemble and I appreciate that characters like Cersei and Robb are given more to do than they are in the book, but I’d be much happier if characters that aren’t important to the current story sit out a few episodes. If we see them once or twice every season, just to set up the next season or to let us know what they’ve been up to while other events are taking place, I would find that perfectly sufficient.
As season 2 (and 3) are so spread out in terms of action, I thought it best to break down my ‘analysis’ by character storylines (the major ones at least):
Tyrion: Let’s be honest, this was Tyrion’s season. If you weren’t already in love with this character and Peter Dinklage’s smart, funny and conniving portrayal of the well-endowed (with money of course) imp, then you will after this season is through. In a series filled with clever conniving characters like Baelish and Varys, Tyrion trumps them all while simultaneously earning their respect. He isn’t going to suffer the fate of Ned, a man who had absolutely no idea how the play the ‘game’.
Joffrey: Please die.
Do I really have to say anything more? Fine. If someone’s already an entitled sniveling little shit, don’t make him the most powerful man in the realm. There. Done.
Catelyn and Robb: They both do very stupid things this season. Catelyn releases Jaime Stark for incredibly under-rationalised reasons and Robb falls in love and breaks his marriage oath, just as his army is becoming unstoppable. I’m sure that won’t bite them in the arse (SARCASM). On a more serious note, even without hindsight those actions seem completely non-sensical and uninformed.
Theon: Okay, I doubt that Theon is anybody’s favourite character. A man-whore with an inferiority complex the size of his……anyway. However I do appreciate the way his character is fleshed out this season. He makes a lot of stupid decisions but they are always understandable and justified from a character perspective. His terribly inept decapitation of man-goat (I rarely know the names of the secondary/tertiary characters) in Winterfell was heart wrenching. We see a young man who only wants to make his father proud and who fails spectacularly, crossing a line that turns him into a tormented murderer. I also enjoyed the ambiguity of the end of his storyline which isn’t truly wrapped up until the last episode of season 3.
Daenerys: WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS? Even with some of the storylines that I’ve looked down upon in the past (anything to do with Jon Snow), I’ve understood why those storylines are necessary. They either serve to position a character for a more important role in the following season, or to simply strengthen or weaken a character’s nerve or inner strength. I can honestly say if Daenarys’ storyline skipped from season 1 to season 3, completely missing her time in Qarth, nothing of great worth would be lost. What did she learn this season? Don’t trust bald people? She was already a strong character at the end of season 1. Did breaking her down in season 2 greatly inform her actions in the following seasons? Maybe on paper, but that doesn’t really carry over on the screen.
John et. al: John and the night’s watch consistently get the draggiest of plots. They actually spend 3 or 4 episodes at Craster’s house in order to set up what could easily be done in 1 or 2. I know they have to drag this stuff out over a season, and I know certain characters and ideas have to be introduced but it doesn’t make for enjoyable viewing. Things do pick up somewhat when Ygritte is introduced and Jon breaks away from his merry men.
Stannis: I got very excited in the season premiere during the introductory scene on the beach. Not because we finally get to see Stannis but because Carice Van Houten was there, the star of Blackbook, one of my favourite foreign films. Both Stannis and Melisandre are difficult parts to play. Stephen Dillane (who I’ll always remember as the guy who screams at Virginia Woolf) is particularly strong and does well to make the most boring man on earth sympathetic and human. Van Houten is less successful but grows in her role, bringing an assured, down-to-earth focus to someone who could have easily been a crazed caricature of a religious nut.
Arya: Like Jon’s storyline, Arya’s plot only becomes interesting when she’s paired up with Tywin. This is a masterful coupling where two of the strongest characters and two of the strongest actors of the cast get to bounce off each other. It allows Tywin to let down his guard a little, but there is always an element of danger to Charles Dance’s performance and there is an underlying tension that someone as quick-witted as Tywin could find out Arya’s identity. Arya also has a great rapport with the enigmatic and mysterious Jaqen, but let’s face it, Maisie Williams and a wall could have great scenes together.
What I Likes:
– Yeah I’m going back to this conceit because honestly all the episodes tend to run together.
-Ygritte. I’m not saying Jon needs to get laid but…….okay yeah he kinda does.
– Blackwater. Let’s face it, if this episode wasn’t completely awesome the season would have been a bit of a bust. it’s not that there weren’t some good elements throughout, but there are only so many times people can say ‘we are at war’ without the audience screaming (or me at least) ‘Then show us some bloody fighting’.
-Jaqen. At first the actor seemed so soft spoken I had no idea what he was saying but considering his slight screen time, he was certainly a strong presence. One of the best scenes of the season was where Arya’s plot to send off stolen messages from Tywin was discovered and she coerces Jaqen to quickly be rid of the guard. Not only was this a particularly nail-biting sequence but his eye-roll at Arya’s stubborn demands was particularly hilarious.
– Renly. I liked the idea that a strong leader could simply be someone who respected his constituents. Of course that didn’t pan out very well. He also represented a strong gay character which was good to see. Also good to see that his death had nothing to do with his homosexuality but rather his poor fraternal relationship.
What I Don’t Likes:
– Demon Stannis or whatever Melisandre birthed. It comes and goes so quickly. Could it really only perform that one act? Its birth was the introduction of the truly fantastical into the show (well….after dragons) and then it disappears twenty minutes into the next episode.
-Sam……I don’t care for him. I like earnest characters but seriously, he is such a hopeless character that I wish they’d leave him alone north of the wall to toughen him up.
-Qarth was actually a pretty cool place and represented a cityscape that was completely different from King’s Landing. But its potential was squandered with a storyline that simply went nowhere.
– Totally forgot about Sansa. I honestly can’t even remember what she did this season.
Overall Grade: 7.5 Absinthe Explosions