And here we are at last. The one show I've been waiting for to return above all others. The Walking Dead? Mad Men? True Blood? None of them have anything on my very favorite show, Game of Thrones! And yet, I wasn't so sure I would get around to writing my impressions of each episode like I did for Season 1 around this time last year.
After watching the first episode of this new season, however, all doubts were erased. How could I not talk about such a fantastic show? For those not in the know, Season 2 is based largely, but not solely, on Book 2 in the A Song of Ice and Fire series titled: A Clash of Kings, and written by George R. R. Martin. ACoK is about the war of the five kings--five men (well four men and one very delusional teenager) who claim the Iron Throne of Westeros for their own. The backdrop to the second book is a strange crimson comet suddenly appearing in the skies immediately after the birth of Daenerys Targaryen's three dragons, portending many different prophecies depending on who you ask. Is it a sign for good, or an omen for evil? Again, it depends on whom you ask.
One mysterious woman arrives in Westeros from across the Narrow Sea with an answer. In many ways, although we've never met her before now, this woman will serve as linchpin to all that gets going this season. Her manipulations will lead to a repositioning of the entire map of war currently being waged between only two factions, but which will flare up to consume the entirety of the Seven Kingdoms before long.
Come along with me as we begin what promises to be a memorable season of extraordinary television unlike any seen before it. There will be much to discuss, I am sure.
So without further ado, let's get on with it!
Episode 11: "The North Remembers."
Air Date: April 1, 2012.
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss.
First things first, as usual: HBO treats us to a nearly 3-minute long recap of last season. For some people, this is necessary as there is a lot to remember from a year ago. Let's just assume anyone reading this has a good memory--or has recently watched the DVDs--and skip on ahead.
The title credits are a bit longer this time. Not only so as to include a new, never before seen locale on the overworld map--Dragonstone, baby! YEAH!!!--but also to accommodate the much expanded cast. At the rate they were dropping cast members last season, whodadunk it right? The familiar main theme gets a lot of filler notes added into the melody to stretch this baby out, and it sounds a tad weird to be honest. No doubt it will take some getting used to. Still, as befitting his increased prominence this year (not to mention the slew of critical awards he's received for his role as the dwarf Tyrion Lannister), Peter Dinklage gets top billing. So all is right with the world.
The premiere episode of the new season opens up, appropriately, in the capital of Westeros: King's Landing. This season, the production moved from Malta to Dubrovnik, Croatia for the filming of all the outdoor King's Landing scenes. And it shows! The historic city of Dubrovnik looks much more in keeping with the medieval-type citadel setting of the books.
The boy king, Joffrey Baratheon--that little shit!--is presiding over his name day ceremony. That's just a fancy Westerosi term for birthday, don't you know? The tourney in his honor is going strong, with his bodyguard Sandor Clegane, aka "The Hound," wailing away with his mace at some poor unnamed knight. The knight flips over a wall and goes splat on the pavement below. Hey, I think I spotted a red shirt somewhere beneath all that plate armor!
Joffrey tells his protector: "Well struck, dog!" Which seems to be a compliment, but then gets all pissy when his betrothed lady, Sansa Stark, doesn't share in his enthusiasm. When the king berates another knight--Ser Dontos the Red--for arriving late and drunk, it looks like certain doom for the portly slob until Sansa speaks up and appeals to the brat king's vanity, claiming that he's too clever to allow so unwise an action. Something about killing on one's name day not being an auspicious start to the rest of the year. Ser Dontos would make a better court fool than a corpse, she hastily suggests. Just as Joffrey is about to call her out on her bullshit, The Hound cuts in to agree with Sansa, thereby saving her from the king's easy wrath. Ser Dontos is allowed to be led away to don motley and become the Red Keep's official jester, a job he's just thrilled to have. But hey, beats drowning to death in pinot!
Before the tourney can continue, the half-man of the hour shows up--Tyrion Lannister! Fresh off the battlefield from last season, he's dressed in the field armor and colors of his noble House and strolls up to the royal dais as if he owns the place:
Tyrion: "Beloved nephew! We looked for you on the battlefield, and you were nowhere to be found."
Joffrey (flustered): "I . . . I've been here ruling the kingdoms."
Tyrion: "What a fine job you've done!"
Because this is Tyrion, we know he's being sarcastic. The dwarf greets his niece, Myrcella, and second nephew, Tommen, in turn. When he spies Sansa, he stops and becomes appropriately solemn, extending his condolences for the death of her father, Eddard. Joffrey does not enjoy this one bit, but Tyrion strolls away before the little shit earns himself another half dozen slaps. Joffrey, petrified, wonders just why in the Seven Hells his nuncle is in the capital to begin with.
Inside the Red Keep, the king's blonde-tressed mother, Queen Cersei, presides over the Small Council. Seated around the table are Grand Maester Pycelle, Lord Petyr Baelish, aka "Littlefinger," Lord Varys the Eunuch, and the commander of the city guard, Lord Janos Slynt. Pycelle has just received raven mail from the other Maesters at the Citadel claiming that the nearly decade long summer is now officially ended. An even longer winter is coming . . . something any Stark could tell you. Janos Slynt whines that with the war between the Lannisters and the North raging on, all the peasants from the surrounding countryside are starting to flood into the city. If winter comes, it will get much worse. Cersei quickly puts him in his place, reminding him that it's his damned job to maintain order in the city. It's clear who rules the roost here, fellas.
Just then, like a fly in her ointment, Cersei's dear youngest brother strolls in with a hitch in his step and a whistle on his lips. Tyrion sidles right up to take his place at the foot of the council table opposite the queen. Seems he's calling himself the new Hand of the King these days, ordained and confirmed by their own father, Lord Tywin. Cersei blows her top and the other little lords around the table scatter away like little, er, scattering things.
Tyrion reminds his dear sister that it is her own misdoings which brings him to court. She was supposed to have that little shit, Joffrey, on a tight leash. And yet Ned Stark got beheaded and now the entire North is allied against them. Cersei nervously tries to laugh this off, but the dwarf reminds her that Ned's eldest, Robb Stark, has won every single one of his battles. Plus, he holds captive their beloved brother, Jaime. Not a lad to be trifled with for sure. Good thing they have two other Starks to trade with.
Wait, exquise me? What do you mean we lost one? The youngest daughter, Arya? She's nowhere to be found? Oh yeah, the Lannisters are royally screwed now! Tyrion is flabbergasted at the sheer incompetence of his family members.
Tyrion: "Father would be furious. It must be hard for you, to be the dissappointing child."
Looks like he'll have his work cut out for him as the new Hand.
Over in drab ole Winterfell to the north, Ned and Catelyn's second youngest child, Brandon Stark, holds court. Ever since his crippling fall last season at the hands of Jaime Lannister he's been stuck at home with not much to do. And now that all the grownups are either gone to war or dead, it's left to him to hold the fort down until his brother and mother return. We see through the eyes of someone--or rather, some thing--prowling through the godswood just outside Winterfell. When the camera veers close to the small pond in front of the lone heart tree, we see the face of Bran's direwolf, Summer, peering back from his reflection. In his bed back in Winterfell, Bran's eyes snap open from his dream. Unable to walk anymore himself, prancing about in the body of his own pet direwolf sure beats sleepwalking!
We segue back to the godswood later that day, where a wakeful Bran is now being carried by Hodor in the special harness designed by Tyrion last season.
The runaway wildling Osha, now his appointed guardian and nurse, goes on and on about herbs and dreams, but Bran wants to talk about the fiery red comet in the sky. Some say it's an omen that Robb will win a great battle in the south. Others say it presages death, or even a Lannister victory since their heraldic coloring is crimson and gold on black. But Osha says the stars don't fall for men, oh no. The red comet can only mean one thing as far as she's concerned: the last son of Krypton has arrived!
Either that, or DRAGONS! Yeah, dragons, that's it!
Bran says he doesn't believe in dragons anymore, then peers into the pond and seems disappointed to see only his own visage staring back.
The comet in the sky cues a cute little segue to across the Narrow Sea, which the celestial wonder also presides over. The land below it is the Red Waste east of Vaes Dothrak--the last known whereabouts of our horse-lord queen, Daenerys Targaryen. The last time we saw her at the end of the first season, Dany was stepping out of a fire pit buck naked with a trio of freshly hatched dragons clinging to her form. Now her khalasar wanders aimlessly through the desert wasteland in search of shelter and more able bodies to join their ranks. At first their khaleesi seems more interested in cooing to the boldest of her hatchlings, Drogon, as she coaxes him to eat some food. Unlike dogs, though, dragons apparently only eat meat. Good luck finding that out here in the middle of nowhere.
Just then, her prized mare drops dead from exhaustion. The caravan grinds to a halt, and Dany kneels to grieve the loss of her beloved silver. Her trusted adviser--the exiled Westerosi knight Ser Jorah Mormont--reminds her that they have more pressing issues to contend with. But hey, at least it looks like meat's back on the menu, boys!
Dany sends her three most trusted bloodriders to scout ahead. She desperately hopes they can find a settlement or city soon.
The camera zooms up to the comet in the sky once again, and this time falls upon the frozen lands north of the Wall. Through a winding road in the dense snow-dusted forest, the Night's Watch--led by Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (Ser Jorah's father)--struggle to keep their sledges from buckling under Samwell Tarly's ample posterior. Poor Sam! Jon Snow trots by on his high horse, but doesn't offer to help his tubby friend. Oh well, seems they've stopped for the night anyway--at a sprawling, ramshackle of a homestead known to the Rangers as Craster's Keep. Old man Craster lives inside, and it seems his reputation precedes him.
Sam: "Are those girls?"
Dolorous Edd: "Craster's daughters."
Sam: "I haven't seen a girl in six months!"
Edd: "I'd keep on not seeing them if I were you."
Grenn: "What, he don't like people messing with his daughters?"
Edd: "He don't like people messing with his wives. He marries his daughters, and they give him more daughters. And on 'n' on it goes."
Sam: "That's foul."
Grenn: "It's beyond foul!"
Jon wonders what happened to all the boys. If Craster marries his daughters, what does he do with his sons? Best not think too long on such matters, Lord Snow.
Inside the homestead, Craster and Lord Commander Mormont have a palaver. The Old Crow inquirers of their crusty host the whereabouts of his missing First Ranger, Benjen Stark, and of the depopulated wildling villages they've passed through along the way. Craster says he hasn't seen Benjen for going on three years now. As for the wildlings, turns out that many of them have gone to join Mance Rayder, a former Ranger of the Night's Watch who deserted his post under Mormont's command many years ago and "went native." It seems Mance has proclaimed himself the King Beyond the Wall and intends to amass an army. And where does he plan to send this army, Mormont wonders aloud? Craster points out that when you're this far north, there's only one direction to go.
Great! So in addition to having to worry about disappearing Rangers and dead people coming back to life, the Watch now has a potential wildling invasion to thwart. Some days it just doesn't pay to climb out of your bearskin pajamas.
Outside the Keep, Mormont berates Jon for antagonizing their host. He reminds the pouty young lord that he's to serve as his replacement someday. If he's to be a leader of men, he must first learn to listen to men and follow.
Next, the flaming red comet in the sky takes us to Dragonstone, a new location for Game of Thrones and seat of deceased King Robert's younger brother, Stannis Baratheon. Dragosntone, an island due just northeast of King's Landing, is the former ancestral home of the Targaryens. Stannis once commanded his brother's navy and won a crushing victory against the Greyjoy rebellion many years ago. Locked away since then on this stormy island just off the coast of Westeros, Stannis is far removed from the everyday politics of the kingdoms. In recent years he's taken in cahoots with a mysterious flame-tressed priestess from the exotic eastern land of Asshai. Called the Red Priestess by many, Melisandre brings with her the religion of her homeland--the worship of R'llor, the Lord of Light. She believes Stannis is the fabled prince who will draw the legendary sword, Lightbringer, from the flames and save the world from an everlasting dark.
Stannis's court and retinue stand transfixed on a nighttime beachhead as Melisandre puts effigies of the Westerosi pantheon, The Seven, to the flame.
Melisandre: "Lord of Light! Come to us in our darkness. We offer you these false gods, take them and cast your light upon us. For the night is dark and full of terrors."
Chorus: "For the night is dark and full of terrors!"
The Red Priestess continues her spiel, this time reciting from the prophecy of the one who shall bring balance to the Force . . . oops! Wrong prophecy. The right one tells of a time after the long summer when darkness will fall heavy on the world, and the "stars will bleed." Sounds like we already got two out of the three in this episode alone, and the poetry of a comet being a "bleeding star" is pretty nifty! But as for the heavy darkness . . . any Stark will tell you, winter is coming!
Staunch defender of the old ways, Maester Cressen looks on horrified. He cannot believe the madness that has overtaken his liege lord and his bannermen. He urges Ser Davos Seaworth, Stannis's right hand man, to do something. But The Onion Knight reminds the hapless Maester that Stannis is now king, and they must be loyal subjects obeying his rule.
Stannis demonstrates that he's buying the bridge Melisandre is selling by stepping up to one of the burning effigies and pulling out a flaming sword. He only manages to stumble a few steps, however, before quickly plunging the firebrand into the sand. As if on cue, all assembled suddenly take a page out of Tim Tebow's book and bend the knee before their self-anointed king, who seems to thinks he's the legendary Azor Ahai reborn.
But with the theatrics over with, and perhaps not without feeling just a tad foolish, Stannis stiffly summons the hand of his wife, Selyse, and heads back to his castle. There, seated with his lords around the famed Painted Table of Dragonstone, we get a glimpse into the stern warlord's character via a wonderfully scripted scene involving the drawing up of a written decree legitimizing his claim to the Iron Throne. Turns out Stannis is quite the micro-manager, copy editing his own scribe even as he dictates the terms of his kingship to the world at large. Having taken seriously the evidence Ned Stark uncovered last season about the true parentage of Queen Cersei's children, Stannis makes the bold claim that King Joffrey's right to the throne is invalid. As his deceased brother's next oldest heir, it is up to Stannis to bear the heavy weight of the crown upon his humble brow.
Ser Davos urges the king to set aside his differences with his younger brother, Renly--who's also claiming the crown for himself--and join forces to fight the real enemy, the Lannisters. But Stannis hates his brother as much he does the Lannisters, and he has even less opinion of Robb Stark's plan to cede from the Seven Kingdoms. They're all just thieves, in his opinion. Thieves whom he plans to serve their just desserts.
At this point the doddering old fool Maester Cressen attempts a little coup of his own. Having drugged his own wine cup, he offers a toast to this new Lord of Light, drawing Melisandre into a trap to share his glass. But there is more to this priestess than meets the eye. She coolly watches the old man gulp down his doom, suspecting his game. Calmly, she takes the cup from his dying hands and sips, watching with interest as Maester Cressen quivers and hemorrhages blood from his mouth before dropping dead to the floor. Melisandre, on the other hand, is none the worse for wear as the poison courses through her veins.
Melisandre: "The night is dark and full of terrors, old man. But the fire burns them all away."
The ruby suddenly glowing ominously around her throat presages strong magic at play here. This is one red-headed lady not to be messing with, dear viewers!
This time the comet takes us to the camp of the King in the North--Robb Stark's field command. Unlike Melisandre, Jaime Lannister is definitely looking worse for wear. Grimy and covered in mud, he hasn't changed clothes or shaved since the end of last season! Robb's got him locked away in a cage, and pays a visit to his most prized prisoner to confront him about the news sent from Dragonstone. Seems the cat is out of the bag, and Joffrey's daddy is actually the Kingslayer himself. Oh, how gauche -- Heavens to Betsy!
Robb Stark: "Your son killed [my father] so the world wouldn't learn who fathered him, and you . . . you pushed my brother from a window because he saw you with the queen.
Jaime Lannister: "You have proof? Or do you want to trade gossip like a couple of fishwives?"
Robb: "I'm sending one of your cousins down to King's Landing with my peace terms."
Jaime: "You think my father's going to negotiate with you? You don't know him very well."
Robb: "No. But he's starting to know me."
Jaime: "Three victories don't make you a conqueror."
Robb: "It's better than three defeats."
Got you there, Kingslayer! And to add insult to . . . even more insult, Robb strolls away but leaves his direwolf, Grey Wind, behind. The pup's grown into a huge imposing adult, ready to rip the Lannister's throat out without hesitation. Niiiiice, doggy. Jaime survives, but I'm not sure the same can be said for his smallclothes.
Back at King's Landing, Tyrion Lannister has moved into Ned Stark's former quarters in the Tower of the Hand. Despite his father's warning not to bring her to court, Shae the Funny Whore luxuriates in the dee-luxe penthouse view of the city spread out below their balcony. Ahh, just smell it! That's Civilization with a capital "C" right there, she all but squeals. The shit, and piss, and dead bodies, and cum, and . . . yeah, it must be a whore thing.
Tyrion warns her to be careful, no one must know she's here. You can't trust anyone in the city--they're all liars, he proclaims. Shae points out that he'll fit in perfectly, and the two share a cozy little giggle atop the same sheets poor Ned Stark once rested his weary bones upon. How you like your foreshadowing there, lass? Subtle or blunt over the head? Nah, the writer of the book this show's based on is far more wily than that. It is known!
Meanwhile, Littlefinger wanders through the outdoor courtyards of the Red Keep when he is waylaid by the queen and her Lannister henchmen. Cersei orders Lord Baelish to redouble his efforts in finding the missing Stark girl, Arya. She insinuates she knows about Petyr's infatuation with a certain Stark matron of Winterfell, and mocks his desperate struggle to rise above his humble background. She's actually letting on that she's aware of his penchant for collecting as much dirt as he can on his lordly enemies in order to exploit the advantages such knowledge affords him. Cersei's a crafty little minx, she is!
Not to be outdone, Littlefinger proves he can give as well as he gets, performing some not-too-subtle insinuating of his own. Using the queen's own example as a launching point, he cautions the habit of boys and girls living in the same home and growing affections for one another. Particularly between brother and sister. Uh-oh, the gloves are off now! To drive the dagger home deeper, Petyr warns the danger of such knowledge becoming public, especially at the expense of a very prominent family. Knowledge, you see, is power. He says with a gleam in his eye.
It's perhaps safe to say Littlefinger greatly oversteps here. It's a huge miscalculation of his true place at court, and Cersei is all too eager to educate him on the error of his ways. She motions to her guards:
Cersei: "Seize him! Cut his throat."
Littlefinger has a near apoplectic fit just as one of the guard's daggers is about to pierce his throat.
Cersei: "Stop! Oh wait," she titters prettily. "I changed my mind, let him go. Step back three paces. Turn around. Close your eyes."
As the men follow each command without second thought, a wicked smile spreads across the queen's face. Littlefinger looks appropriately flustered. "Power is power," she corrects him, and bids him find the Stark girl or else. Message received loud and clear on that one, your grace.
As the queen sashays her way offscreen, Lord Baelish spins around to find a little boy innocuously scrubbing away at the flagstones nearby. One of Lord Varys's "little birds," no doubt. It won't be long indeed until the eunuch finds out about his rival's humiliation.
Back at Robb's camp once more, the King in the North stays true to his word and sends a Lannister cousin--Alton Lannister (never heard of 'im!)--off to King's Landing with a contract of his terms. Later, Theon Greyjoy suggests that his liege send him back home to the Iron Islands where he can negotiate with his lord father, Balon, to lend his fearsome fleet of ships to the North's cause. Theon assures him that, although he was only ever a glorified hostage at Winterfell and he does not share Ned's blood, Robb's father raised Theon as if his own. He taught him to be an honorable man. Sounds like someone's trying too hard to be convincing.
Alone with his mother, Catelyn Stark more or less tells her son that the Greyjoys are all snakes in the grass waiting to strike when you least suspect them. She doesn't want him to do anything stupid. All she wants are Sansa and Arya back. Oh, and she wants to return home to Winterfell to be with her youngest sons, Bran and Rickon, too. Robb shows that he is all grow'd up and a true King in the North by vetoing her plans. It's not worth giving up their righteous cause, not just for two girls. To be true, he does care for his sisters' well-being, but he thinks he has a plan to make everything right. He believes Catelyn will better serve their cause by travelling to the Stormlands and treating with Renly Baratheon to join forces against King Joffrey and his Lannister backers. He plans to let Renly have the south while the North remains its own separate kingdom. It's a bold endeavor, but Renly has somehow managed to get a lot of southron nobles to back his cause, having amassed an army of some 100,000 troops. That's nearly five times the size of Robb's own army! He could sorely use that sort of an alliance. Together, Stark and Baratheon forces would outnumber the Lannisters 2 to 1.
Catelyn pauses to shower her son with praise. She tells him his father would be proud of the fine man he's become.
Robb: "Give Lord Renly my regards."
Catelyn: "King Renly," she reminds him. "There's a king in every corner now."
Back at the Red Keep in King's Landing, a different sort of mother-son dynamic is playing out. Joffrey--that little shit!--is playing the game of being king once again, finding it more interesting to decorate his throne room than divert any serious thought to the war at hand. Though he does have less than stellar remarks for the bang-up job his grandpappy is doing in bringing that Stark upstart, Robb, to heel. The queen on the other hand is still more concerned with finding Arya Stark. Without her, they'll never be able to get Joffrey's nuncle, Jaime, back from the North. Joffrey's dismisses this, saying that the North is weak and places too much value on their women. Surely he's safe here on his ouchy throne of swords.
Cersei sticks to her guns and implores him to send out more men in search of Arya. Joffrey thinks this is all just the price of war. Even his uncle's life is not worth more than his own pride. He then relays a terrible rumor he's been hearing about his uncle. More specifically, about his uncle being with his mother. There's talk, too, of his late father having many bastards walking around King's Landing. And the Seven only knows how many of them there are, after growing tired of the stale old shrew living at home--
We see it coming seconds before it lands. The slap rings so loud throughout the throne room that the many craftsman and workers stop dead in their tracks to stare. The silence lasts all of two seconds as they quickly remember the Lannisters are some crazy ass bastards who will END them no problem. Pretty soon, hammers and saws are going at it even louder and with far more gusto than before.
Joffrey regains his composure quickly after crying out like a little bitch a moment earlier. Gingerly holding his offended cheek like he's going to cry, he quietly warns his mother that what she just did is punishable by death. She will never raise her hand to him again.
Of course, no one tells Cersei what she can and cannot do. But, perhaps ashamed at allowing her temper to get the better of her in plain view of the common folk, the queen holds her tongue for the time being. But the look in her eyes speaks to the terror at realizing the little monster she's let loose on the world. Gods help them all!
Segue to . . . a whore bouncing away like a champ on some young man's "pointy end." Ros--formerly the hardest working whore in all the North--is now the madame of one of Littlefinger's most pricey establishments, and she tutors the young lass in the finer points of whoring. More sensuousness, less braying like a wounded donkey! She walks around the place with an understudy under her wing, pointing out the finer points of pleasing their monied clientele. She struts around like she's auditioning for the new TLC reality show, Whore Boss.
Ros: "We do things differently here, Daisy. This isn't some five-copper bawdy house in Hastings Hall."
Daisy: "Haystack Hall--"
Ros: "Wherever you're from. Our establishment doesn't cater to plowmen and goat herders. Taste is everything here."
Daisy: "Littlefinger is a fancy man!"
Ros: "Don't call him Littlefinger, he doesn't like it."
I'll say! But before Daisy can graduate to genital licker extraordinaire, Lord Commander Janos Slynt and his Gold Cloaks come storming in. Seems they're looking for something, and they don't care who's establishment this is. Word's come down from someone even higher up than Lord Baelish. The City Guard start kicking down doors and pulling people out. They got a witness in tow who nods his head wordlessly when a screaming whore and her black-haired little babe are pulled into the viewing room.
Commander Slynt urges one of his men to get on with it, but the poor boy's gone deathly pale at the prospect of pulling his blade on a helpless babe. So Janos growls and says he'll do the deed himself. Cut-away to the Gold Cloaks kicking down doors all over King's Landing and murdering any innocent black-haired youths they come across. A truly sickening sight that cuts to the heart. No one is spared, not even a certain blacksmith on the Street of Steel from last season. A guard's got his head to the fire, and it isn't long before the frightened old man is screaming out the name "Gendry!" The same black-haired apprentice Ned Stark uncovered just before his untimely death.
But how will the City Guard know to find this Gendry fellow, the Lord Commander inquires. Well, you see, the lad conveniently carries around a bull's head helmet he made himself. He's on the Kingsroad now if you hurry. Nothing could be easier!
Cut away to a close up shot of said bull's head helmet being placed on a moving cart heading north and decidedly away from King's Landing. Gendry himself hops aboard, and lends a hand to a short-haired Arya Stark, who joins him.
The plot thickens! But, alas, the running time does not. This episode comes to a close and we are left for yet another week to see what happens next.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Crowns.
So much happened in the previous year (enough to fill an entire book, natch!), that it wouldn't be surprising if you've forgotten certain plot threads going into this second season. But aside from that awfully long recap at the beginning of the episode, the viewer's thrown straight back into the world of Westeros and Essos feet first and running. You're expected to already know that an illegitimate boy king born of incest sits on the throne of the Seven Kingdoms. You're supposed to know that there's a war brewing between the Starks and the Lannisters and their respectful bannermen. You're supposed to know that, in the east, the last scion to an ousted dynasty has lost the "moon of her life" and hatched dragons, yet is bereft of all hope. But most of all, you're supposed to know that Lord Eddard Stark has been executed, that the ramifications of this single act will echo across the land and shape destinies. For, as the title proclaims: the North remembers!
Much has been made about the perambulating nature of this premiere episode. The plot jumps from location to location, each "main" character never getting so much as a few lines in, and the camera never alighting on one focal point for too long before being whisked away to another thread and another conspiracy.
I didn't have a problem with this. Sure, certain favorite plots had barely any screen time at all this episode (Arya and Dany), while others were missing entirely (Tywin and Renly). But of the ones the writers and director did plan to focus on this ep, we got a very solid setup for the rest of the season to come. Take the running thread of the missing Arya Stark. Carted away from King's Landing last season--bob-cut and all--by the quick-witted Yoren of the Night's Watch, "Arry" as she is now called has the power to bring the Queen's world crashing down around her ears. Without her, the mess her idiotic son began with the beheading of the Lord of Winterfell will only be compounded when Robb Stark learns he has one less Stark sibling left in the capital. Without her the North will only redouble their efforts to bring the king and his Lannister backers down hard, and Cersei won't ever get her beloved twin brother back. The missing girl is mentioned not once, not twice, but in a total of 4 separate scenes peppered throughout the episode. It's curious then that we never see the child but for a split second of footage near the very end.
But this is how wonderfully layered the show is! Having chaperoned their freshman efforts to a wildly successful and rewarding close last season, Benioff & Weiss are back in full confidence of their mastery over the total tapestry this show weaves. They know what they're doing, and it shows. We do not need to have every single thread addressed in the initial showing, but what we do need is a deft hand to send us along on this next chapter in the journey. And that's what we get with veteran director Alan Taylor. He skillfully chooses just which scenes we're exposed to, and gives us just enough to whet our appetites and perhaps catch just the slightest glimmer of what's in store for the rest of the season. This is master class storytelling at it's finest. Give the viewer enough to invest his interest, keep him hanging just a little off the edge of his seat, and then throw in a big shocking whopper to knock him back against the cushions.
The big whopper this episode was what has been appropriately referenced as the "Slaughter of the Innocents," hearkening back to the biblical tale of King Herod and his killing off of all potential male threats to his reign under the age of two. The scenes that come at the tail end of the episode are chilling, brutal, and a constant reminder that this is not a fantasy world of fairies and cutesy animal companions. In this world bad things happen to bad people, and even worse things happen to good ones. In Game of Thrones, you're never sure which of your favorite characters are safe, nor who's going to make the sudden wrong move that will spell doom for his or her loved ones.
With the cold-hearted slaying of any rumored black-haired bastard son of the late King Robert, Joffrey's grip on the Iron Throne is even more secured. Yet, who gave the order? Was it really Joffrey? Does the tyrannical brat have the cold, calculated cunning to pull off such a move? Or was it the queen mother herself, Cersei Lannister?
I know the answer from reading the book, but I believe there's a specific reason why it was not shown either way this week. We're purposely being left in the dark, at least for one episode, before the secret is revealed. Janos Slynt only mentions that it was someone who doesn't much care what Littlefinger thinks. That would mean someone pretty high up at court, since Petyr Baelish pretty much owns everyone else. So once again we're left having to decide between Cersei or her son. Which one of the two would be willing to stoop so low and do the unthinkable to keep power?
And speaking of power, how awesome was that scene between the queen and Lord Baelish? Littlefinger is used to having the upper hand, but in Cersei he's more than met his match. If anything, Cersei is the master manipulator here, showing that in the end it is Old Money that has true power. The type of power that commands obedience from others. Although Petyr has come a long way from the quiet, shy little boy from The Fingers fostered by Catelyn Stark's father, he is still powerless where it counts. In this scene, Cersei shows her fangs, and Lisa Headey did an amazing job of it. Much is made of Peter Dinklage having another stellar performance ahead of him this season, but I have my eyes on the actress playing his older sister.
Based on what I remember of the second book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, Cersei has a rather prominent role this time as well. Considering some powerful scenes between the siblings are ahead of us, I for one am anxiously awaiting to see it all play out on the small screen.
Speaking of characters to look out for, I find myself strangely drawn to Melisandre. I never liked her in the books, and in fact most of the Davos' point of view chapters involving her and Stannis were the epitome of bore town for me. Strange, then, that I feel the pair of scenes most prominently featuring the Red Priestess were the strongest in this entire episode. I chalk it up to the Dutch actress Carice van Houten, who simply sizzles in this role. It's like she was born to play the cryptic priestess from Asshai straight off the pages of the book! I've read somewhere that Melisandre's motivations for helping Stannis are more political than religious. R'hllor, The Lord of Light, is only the honey that makes the bitter pill of Stannis' rule more easier to swallow for the common folk. Associating Stannis Baratheon with the legendary swordsman from the Age of Heroes, Azor Ahai, is more for the benefit of the gullible and superstitious rather than any sensible salt-of-the-earth types like Davos the Onion Knight. What her true motivations are remain for viewers to find out. If you've read the books, you already know. But I feel the show's done a very good job with her introduction thus far.
Knowing a little of where this is all going eventually, I can barely keep the excitement in check. Some of it will play out this season, but the real good stuff begins in the third book. Let us cross our fingers that HBO gives the nod to a third and fourth season, then, because that's when stuff really gets interesting.
Overall, "The North Remembers" was a solid episode. Not Game of Thrones at its best (that's still last season's "The Pointy End"), but a very good beginning to a brand new season. The pieces are set, and the Game is ready to play.
Join me next week when I review Episode 12: "The Night Lands."