Features and Columns · TV

Blog of Thrones: Returning to Westeros, Where ‘The North Remembers’ and Dinklage Dominates

By  · Published on April 2nd, 2012

Four episodes. That’s about how long I was able to remain a skeptic. For some unforeseen and completely magical reason, I was able to remain completely spoiler-free on Game of Thrones and its much talked about first season. Even though it had aired many months before, I went into reviewing the first season on Blu-ray last month with open eyes and a clear mind, completely untainted save for the layers of praise spread all over the series by many a friend or acquaintance. Having never read the books and feeling rather complacent with the iron-crusted genre of kings, lords and fools. Little did I know that I was merely a cripple, a bastard and a broken thing. My skepticism would be washed away half way through the opening series, when all hell was breaking. With one swipe of the sword (or a few, rather), I was converted into a believer. There’s more to this world of the Westeros than I had ever expected. And that’s before the first season’s final moments, where seeing truly was believing.

This has all brought us to this moment, the day following the premiere of season two. My newfound fandom of this world has not yet led me to the literature, but it might. It has, at the very least, led me to a desire to blog along with the epic second season. I write this as convert, who remained skeptical through much of the first season, unable to understand what the big deal was about until he discovered that this may be one of the boldest shows (and stories) around. I approach as novice to the world envisioned by George R.R. Martin, still learning the family trees of House Stark, House Lannister, and exactly what The Wire’s Tommy Carcetti has to do with all of it.

I will also approach each entry, all due Monday following each episode, under the assumption that you’ve seen season one and the most recent episode of season two. So no complaining of spoilers. Consider yourself warned. Consider this our own version of the Monday morning water cooler discussion, soaked in blood and seated atop the Iron Throne. I call in my bannermen, to learn with me as A Clash of Kings unfolds in cinematic small screen glory.

The fight is in progress…
In a dizzying return to the Westeros, the first episode of season two, entitled “The North Remembers,” is perhaps as fast-moving and scattershot as any episode of the series thus far. It’s a product of necessity, as so many storylines were opened throughout the ten episodes of season one and so many are yet to be unravelled. In service to its audience, this opening episode written by series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and directed by Alan Taylor (who directed the season one finale), episode one checks in all over the place. All we can do is hold on and hope that we don’t fall off the horse.

The first stop is King’s Landing for a very important tone-setting exchange between two members of clan Lannister. In the first 5 minutes, it’s established that this season will see King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) become more unbearable and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) will continue to be the core of the show’s personality. The levity brought by Tyrion’s character will ultimately be balanced with the seriousness of his ever-shifting agenda, as it was in season one, but with his nephew on the Iron Throne and his brother a captive of the new King of the North, he may just become one of the hinges upon which the door to all-out war sits. And who better to be the glue for season two than Peter Dinklage. He oozes charisma, lighting up every one of his scenes, devious as ever.

Power is Power…
“You love your children, it’s your one redeeming quality. That and your cheek bones.” If there’s one thing we learned in the first season, it’s that Charles Dance (the villain from Last Action Hero) is the perfect man to play the head of the Lannister dinner table. And the show could use more of him. We also found that a Lannister can always be trusted to (a) pay their debt and (b) be a wicked, conniving monster the likes of which everyone should fear. Cersei Lannister, as personified by the graceful yet dagger-eyed Lena Headey, continues to personify all that is frightening about Lannisters in power. Not only does the shadow of Robert Baratheon still hang over King’s Landing – especially with claims being made by Stannis, who is telling tales out of school about Joffrey being the child of some wicked incest – but it becomes clear the both Cersei and Joffrey will do anything to maintain their newfound position. It’s going to take a siege upon King’s Landing to move that woman even an inch away from the point of power. Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) found that out the hard way. Good thing a siege is being planned. By all thirty seven of the kings now residing in Westeros.

Which brings us to another interesting dynamic promised in season two’s opening frame. Soon we will be swimming in a Sea of Kings. Stannis Baratheon (the ice cold Stephen Dillane) has made his claim, his brother Renly (the one who likes boys) will make his soon enough, Robb Stark the King of the North, young Sith Lord Joffrey and a even the guy North of the Wall, Mance Ryder, all seem to be ready to kill each other to be called King. How can this possibly end any way but epically?

For the night is dark, and full of terrors…
Episode one succeeded in many ways, not the least of which was giving peeks at some of the new characters. Sure, checking in with Daenerys and her new “children” on the road in the Red Waste was important, but their time seems to be coming later on, when those children grow up to be big goddamn fire-breathing weapons. Introducing the burning screen presence of Carice van Houten as Melisandre, the priestess of Dragonstone, who seems to want to lead Stannis Baratheon into battle with only the Lord of Light at his side, now that’s an important moment. One cup of wine later and she’s a newly unforgettable character. I won’t shy away from admitting that she frightens me to my core, especially when she’s burning idols of the old gods. The night is dark, indeed.

Speaking of new terrors in Westeros, how about the guy who marries his daughters? As someone who has not read the books, I’m curious to find out what he does with his sons. It can’t be good. And the likelihood that one of this daughters is going to want the broody Jon Snow (Kit Harington) to take her “south of The Wall” seems strong.

Wolves are frightening…
And so is Robb Stark. “I will litter the South with Lannister dead,” he proclaims as part of his “Peace Terms.” It’s easy to say this with a bit of knowledge of what’s to come, but it’s nice all the same to see Stark coming into his own King of the North. The King of the North (it’s required that we say it twice, right?) Unlike the frightened young man who stood watching bannerman lift him up onto the pedestal, episode one sees him becoming a pragmatic, strong leader who can win on the battlefield. Even through his mother’s nagging, he’s becoming a cold, hard man hell bent on avenging the death of this father. There’s a star of this show in the making with Richard Madden. The hole left by the loss of Sean Bean’s incredible screen presence is filling quickly. A little bit of Dinklage, a good dose of Madden, some crazytown Carice van Houten, and I think we’ve got ourselves a great outlook for the next 10 episodes.

There’s no holding back…
Just as season one held on to its greatest surprises until very near the end, the opening of season two enters in a tame manner and goes out with a bang. The bold nature of the show shines through no more than in a scene that shows a King’s soldier carrying away a dead baby by the foot. Game of Thrones has quickly and efficiently established that if you felt that boundaries existed after season one, those boundaries will be eliminated, and how. It has also proven that season one’s success has bred a desire from the production to push the boundaries of our expectations for the scope of a television show. Episode one lays the groundwork for a second season that will present us cinematic scale in a small-screen production, the likes of which we probably haven’t seen before. Just consider this: Winter may still be coming, but so is a big, beautiful war.

This week’s final thought: What do you suppose that comet signifies? My money is with the dirty wildling girl. Dragons to the max.

Next Week: Things begin to settle in as “The Night Lands” and we meet the fierce warriors of the Iron Islands. Time to do things the Iron way…

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)