kimberlee rossi-fuchs gets all throne up…
HBO’s epic Game of Thrones returned for its sophomore season on Sunday night with “The North Remembers,” a strong, but somewhat expository episode that spends a lot of time playing catch up and introduces a few new characters and landscapes (including Dragonstone, a new location popping up on the impressive, mechanical map of the opening credits), but does not dedicate a great deal of time to any one particular storyline. This isn’t really a fault, as the episode manages to pack a lot of action into a brisk, 60 minute running time and lays the groundwork for what promises to be a strong and riveting season.
When Game of Thrones wrapped up its first season last summer, the king was dead, Ned Stark beheaded, Daenerys’ dragon eggs had hatched, and Westeros was a world at war. “The North Remembers,” opens on the newly-crowned King Joffrey amusing himself by attempting to have a hapless, drunken knight killed, verbally abusing Sansa Stark, and generally carrying on like a spoiled, entitled dick. Jack Gleeson is superbly loathsome in the role, a pitch-perfect blend of adolescent violence, arrogance, and idiocy. Soon after, his uncle Tyrion, newly appointed hand of the king, appears to curtail his foolish nephew and rash sister, Queen Regent Cercei. The instant Peter Dinklage walks on screen, it’s evident why his performance as Tyrion earned him both an Emmy and a Golden Globe last year. Dinklage is a commanding screen presence who, within the span of moments, conveys genuine affection towards his young niece, condescension and revulsion towards his vile nephew, and sympathy towards the captive Sansa. It’s a performance characterized by wit, charm, and complete self-possession. Dinklage’s Tyrion, despite his small stature, has the confidence to cut those around him down to size, including his icy, haughty sister, whom he chides, “You love your children. It’s your one redeeming quality. That and your cheekbones.”
For the most part, the actors’ performances are all pretty stellar. We are only briefly introduced to three of the season’s important new characters, Stannis (Stephen Dillane), the late King Robert’s older brother and yet another would-be king, his loyal, plainspoken knight, Davos (Liam Cunningham), and the powerful, somewhat sinister, priestess serving as his spiritual leader, Melisandre (Carice van Houten). Even though they are not afforded much screen time, all three actors are able to capture and quickly convey their characters’ essence, particularly Dillane who, in one short letter writing scene, establishes Stannis as the overly blunt, rigid solider who possess the ambition and sense of entitlement, but none of the social graces necessary to lead.
Each Game of Thrones episode typically covers a wide landscape and “The North Remembers” is no exception. In Winterfell, Bran serves as acting lord and we get our first, brief glimpse of his recurring dreams, which will be of great importance as the series continues. In the barren desert of the Red Waste, Daenerys trudges along with the hungry, weary remains of her khalasar and her still young dragons (unfortunately, only Drogon makes an appearance this week.The CGI for the dragons is pretty impressive and I am really looking forward to seeing all three of them together). In the true North, Jon Snow begins his journey beyond the wall and encounters the vulgar, incestuous wilding Craster.
These far-flung locales are united an ominous red comet, an angry, blood-hued streak across the sky which seems to grow more vivid with each passing scene and whose meaning represents different things depending on whom you ask. Some say it portends either Lannister or Stark victory, some say it mourns the death of Ned Stark, and others say it heralds the return of dragons. In addition to bringing together the wide-ranging geographic settings, the comet serves as a metaphor — its meaning debated and everyone coming up with an interpretation to suit their own alliances, just as there is but one Iron Throne and a clash of would-be kings who each believes his claim is just. As Catelynn Stark observes, “There’s a king in every corner now.”
Again, due to the somewhat expository nature of “The North Remembers,” some storylines are only barely touched upon. We learn that Stark ward Theon Greyjoy is headed back to his homeland, the Iron Islands, to entreat his father to take up Robb’s cause and Stark matriarch, Catelynn, is headed to negotiate with Renly, the other Baratheon fighting for the throne. Arya, the most bad-ass little girl in all of Westeros, makes just one brief, silent appearance at the very end of the episode, disguised as Arry, the orphan boy, on the Kings Road en route to the Wall.
As expected when trying to condense a sprawling, 1000-page plus novel into a ten episode season, show creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss take some liberties with author George R.R. Martin’s source material. For example, the book’s prologue, in which Maester Cressen sacrifices himself in an attempt to poison Melisandre to rid Stannis of her influence, is cut down and piggy-backed onto the beachfront burning of the Seven. Ser Dontos was quickly introduced, but I was a little disappointed to see Shireen and Patchface (admittedly both minor characters, but ones whose somewhat ghastly looks would have been fun to see) left out.
Benioff and Weiss also add several new scenes not featured in the original material, for example, Robb Stark’s confrontation of the still-captive Jaime Lannister. Robb is not a point-of-view character in the novels and we only hear about his actions through other character’s eyes, so this scene was a nice addition which served to illustrate how competent and confident the new King in the North has become and how the direwolves, only pups last season, have grown to be truly massive and menacing. These slight deviations shouldn’t bother fans of the novels, since they are still loyal to the source material and serve to flush out characters whom we don’t really get to see in action in the books. Similarly, a scene in which the late King Robert’s bastard children are murdered by royal decree is only mentioned in passing in the novel, but is here carried out on screen. It’s a gripping and chilling scene which serves to set the stage for the brutality and madness of a world at war and “The North Remembers” definitely has me excited for what’s to come.