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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Review: Game of Thrones "The North Remembers"

Non Spoiler Review:
Game of Thrones' second season gets off to a solid start, returning us to the wonderful world of Westeros, where paternity can be determined by hair colour, and ravens deliver messages faster than the post office. The North Remembers is a compelling new chapter addressing the crumbling political situation in the seven kingdoms. War continues between the Starks and Lannisters. Renly has his own claim, while brother Stannis is about to enter the fray given he is privy to Ned's revelation of Joffrey's paternity. 

The North Remembers expands the epic feel that made for a groundbreaking first season. The world has changed and it looks as though King's Landing is one of the few places that is trying to keep an illusion of calm (though Cersei and Joffrey are bound to end that soon enough). More ominous, it's confirmed that the long summer is over, and this is likely the worst possible time for a long winter to fall over the kingdoms.

This is a dense and busy episode to catch up on where everyone is at, but it succeeds very well—much better than the premiere, given we're at least familiar with these characters now. There are plenty of new and intriguing additions, particularly Stannis Baratheon and his mysterious high priestess. Tyrion continues to steal the show given his more important role as Hand of the King and his scenes with Cersei are memorable ones. All in all, a solid return for one of the best series on television.

Spoilers Now!
Joffrey presides over a contest on his name day, as Sansa endures his company. In typical Joffrey fashion, he has late coming fighter Dontos nearly tortured to death for showing up drunk, but Sansa warns him (and is backed up by the Hound) bad luck would follow if he killed someone on his name day. Then she (cleverly) convinces Joffrey to make Dontos his fool and saves his life.

Tyrion shows up, greeting Joffrey's sister and younger brother and sending all sorts of insincere compliments his nephew's way. He tells Sansa he's sorry for her loss, but she coldly explains her family are traitors and she's loyal to her Joffrey. Joffrey heard he was dead, but Tyrion happily replies he must be off as he has work to do.

At the king's council, Cersei is advised by Pycelle that messages throughout Westeros confirm the long summer is ending, which means a longer winter. They have supplies for five years, and that's it, and peasant refugees are already making their way to King's Landing. She orders them to shut the city gates to them—a longer winter means fewer peasants, after all. Tyrion arrives to everyone's surprise to announce he's Hand of the King in their father's absence.

A furious Cersei speaks to him in private. He informs her she failed to stop Ned's death and now Robb is winning the war. She warns him he's only there to advise Joffrey. Tyrion then learns that Arya is missing and angrily reminds his sister they once had three Starks to trade for Jaime—she's killed one and let one disappear. She's fast becoming the disappointing child, he muses.

At Winterfell, Bran and Luwin are listening to the petition of a minor lord. All their young men are sent off to fight, so there are few left to prepare for winter. Luwin advises Bran that listening to people he'd rather not listen to is one of his new jobs as the acting lord of Winterfell.

Bran later dreams of a comet and seeing through the eyes of his wolf, Summer, looking into the pool around the godswood. Later, on a walk with Osha, he muses about what the comet (which is actually appearing above Westeros) may mean. Rumor is it's an omen of victory, but she says it means only one thing—dragons. He peers into the pool from his dreams and reminds her the dragons are all dead.

The comet can be seen over the Red Wastes as Daenerys and her followers march across the desert. The horse Drogo gave her drops dead from starvation. They're further east than Jorah has ever been, and suggests they're too weak to fight should they encounter other Dothraki or any other of the many dangers they could find. She sends three of her men to ride in different directions to find out what lies ahead. 

North of the Wall, the Night's Watch arrives at a lodge belonging to Craster (an old man who marries his daughters and likely kills his sons). They learn nothing of Benjen's whereabouts. Jon speaks out of turn and is berated by Mormont for annoying Craster, who must be appeased for his hospitality. They discuss the Wildings leaving and the old man suggests they've gone north to join Mance Rayder, who broke his vows to the Watch and is gathering an army with plans to march south. Craster agrees to allow them to stay the night, but warns them all (particularly Jon) about touching his wives. Later, an angry Mormont tells Jon not to forget his place. One day he'll lead, but right now he has to learn to follow.

At Dragonstone, a priestess named Melisandre is addressing a crowd as she burns statues of the seven gods in favor of a one true god. Among them is Stannis Baratheon, newly converted to her beliefs. His councillor, Cressen, is furious they are betraying the gods of their fathers by listening to her. She explains the prophecy of a warrior drawing forth a burning sword that will be a light bringer, and tells Stannis that sword awaits him. He pulls it out as everyone bows to him and he declares their intent to take the throne of Westeros. Everyone returns to the city, except for Cressen and Stannis' advisor Davos.

Cressen laments that Stannis will lead them into a devastating war. He's surrounded by fools and fanatics and needs someone to tell him the truth. Davos, however, doesn't know what the truth is.

Stannis presides over his council as they compose his claim to the throne—he's a stickler for details, but the letter he writes denounces Cersei's children and reveals that they are the incestuous product of her and her brother, making Stannis the only rightful king. Ned told him alone, so he won't make the same mistake and sends that letter to all the lords throughout the kingdoms. Davos interjects and suggests he make peace with Renly, as some have already declared for him. If not Renly, then Robb Stark. Stannis sees no difference between any of them, naming them all thieves who will bend their knee to him.

Cressen takes that opportunity to propose a toast to honor the one true god. He offers a chalice to Melisandre after he first takes a drink. She watches his nose start to bleed, realizes it's poisoned, but still drinks herself as he collapses. She remains unharmed.

At the Stark camp, Robb visits his captive Jaime. He lets him know that Stannis has sent letters to all the high lords and everyone knows Joffrey is his bastard son. Ned knew the truth and that's why he had him executed, and pushed Bran from a window because he saw him with the queen. Jaime just mocks him for thinking himself a conqueror after winning just three battles, though Robb counters it's better than losing three.

Robb lays out some egregious peace terms to one of the Lannister cousins acting as emmisary to King's Landing—the Lannisters release his sisters, with his father's bones and those of all the dead returned to the north, Joffrey and the queen renounce all claims to the North and it becomes a free and independent kingdom, forbidden for any Lannister to enter. The Lannister boy reminds Robb that Joffrey is a Baratheon before leaving with the unacceptable terms.

Theon doesn't have to tell Robb the Lannisters will never agree to his peace. If they hope to take King's Landing they will need ships—and his father has them. Robb doesn't want to go to Balon Greyjoy, given his past rebellion, but Theon points out he's his only living son now and he'll listen to him. Ned raised him to be an honorable man and they can avenge him together.

Catelyn doesn't want Balon Greyjoy as an ally either, and encourages Robb against it. She's more concerned about getting the girls back by trading Jaime, but Robb knows that his banner men would string him up if he were to do that. She decides it's time for her to go back to Winterfell, but he tells her she can't—he wants her to ride south and negotiate with Renly who has an army of 100,000. If he sides with them, they'll outnumber the Lannisters and they'll get the girls back.

Back in King's Landing, Shae loves being in the city with Tyrion. He warns her no one can know she's there and not to trust anyone. Except him, of course, who is a slave to truth. 

Cersei is on a mission to find Arya, so goes to Baelish and asks him to put his resources behind it. He suggests Winterfell would be the logical destination but there are no reports she's there yet. Then she taunts him with vague references to his low upbringing and losing Catelyn to Ned. He (unwisely) counters about her own relationship with her brother that is now the talk of the kingdoms. Knowledge is power, he explains. She decides to prove him wrong and orders the guards to sieze him and cut his throat. Then immediately jokes and changes her mind. The guards, of course, obey. She explains power is power and advises him to locate Arya for her.

Joffrey is having the throne room redone in the more conquering style of the Targaryens. Cersei tells him they can't find Arya and need to locate her in order to secure their negotiating power. Joffrey comments that his grandfather's stupidity in battle is why they're in that bind in the first place, then mentions the lie he heard about her and Jaime. He has no claim to the throne, as he's the rightful king, he declares. But Robert had other children when he grew tired of his mother, and Joffrey wants to know how many bastards he has running around. Cersei slaps him. Furious, he tells her that was punishable by death. And she will never do it again. 

Baelish's brothel is raided by the City Watch Commander Janos Slynt, who drags out the woman who recently bore one of Robert's bastards and kills the baby in front of her. That begins a purge throughout the city of all of Robert's illegitimate children, but when it comes to the final one, Gendry, the boy's former employer tells them he's on the Kingsroad to Castle Black. That caravan is heading north, with Arya.

The Verdict:
The premiere does a handy job getting every player a bit of screen time to catch everyone up. Like last season, some the new, secondary characters get rather vague introductions (prompting look-ups of names online afterwards). The big introduction was Stannis and the cast at Dragonstone. Given he's such a major character we've only heard about until now, he gets a lot of focus. He seems to live up to his belligerent reputation. Though I'm questioning the wisdom of Cressen poisoning himself in order to kill Melisandre. It really played out as an ill-thought out scheme.

Cersei got some great scenes with Joffrey and her brother. It's clear she's terrified events have gotten so out of her control and her power is quickly slipping from her. How far will she go to protect her children at the expense of her family? She's easily become one of the villains I love to hate, and her treatment of Baelish (after what he did to Ned) was quite satisfying.

Of course, with Ned's death, Tyrion has become one of the pivotal stars of the series and one of the noblest characters at the moment (on par with Robb and Jon) but where will his priorities lie when faced with the greater good of the kingdom and loyalty to his father and the Lannisters? Will he sacrifice them if it means saving the kingdoms?

Having not read the books, I have no idea how long Joffrey lasts on the Iron Throne, but I'm suspecting he won't last the season. Unfortunately, Stannis does not appear to be a capable leader either. I'm left wondering why he wants to claim the crown now, and not back when his younger brother first took it from the mad king. It's Renly who appears to be the best choice (and seems to have a large army at his disposal) but would he be willing to let the North live free to appease Robb? Then there's Gendry, who has managed to escape the purge, but how important is he really to the succession?

The most ominous element I found was the seemingly minor plot point at the beginning—the announcement that winter was coming. With the kingdoms in absolute chaos, and Cersei sealing the city from refugees, this is the worst possible time for such a long term catastrophe to hit. Everyone seems pretty naive about it all. I'm guessing Joffrey has not yet been presented with the zombie head from the Wall, either.

There's a clear divide between the powers that be who chart the destiny of Westeros, and the average man on the street who is subject to their whims. It's effectively shown in a couple of instances with the street cleaner privy to Baelish's near execution, and the palace workers seeing Cersei slap the king (which left me wondering if Joffrey might just have them killed for that). 

It's a testament to the writing, casting and direction that all the subplots are equally interesting. Quite the achievement given the vast number of characters on this series. Season two is bound to be quite a roller coaster ride—civil war among multiple king contenders, Daenerys seeking to raise her own army, and events beyond the Wall, with not only the White Walkers, but Mance Rayder gathering his forces for some unknown end, all set against the coming of what is promised to be a devastating winter.

1 comment:

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    See more review: Jurassic World Evolution
    Smoke and Sacrifice
    Moonlighter

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