Game of Thrones – season two, episode one: The North Remembers

SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read on unless you have watched the opening episode of Game of Thrones season two, shown on HBO at 9pm ET on Sunday 1 April and due to be shown on Sky Atlantic at 9pm on Monday 2 April

For the purposes of this blog we are also going to (hopefully) avoid book spoilers as well.

First, a note on the timing of this blog. We are publishing it after the US broadcast of the show, in order to give American readers a chance to discuss it as soon as it airs. We took this decision because the UK broadcast follows so soon afterwards. We massively value our UK readers and and we’re very much looking forward to your continued brilliant contributions to this blog – we’re just keen to include as many fans as possible in that conversation. So please watch out for the spoiler alerts at the top of these posts.

‘You can’t trust anyone in King’s Landing. They’re all liars’

Hello everyone and welcome back. My excitement levels are rising after a strong opening episode which gave hope that this show has avoided the dreaded second season collapse. One of the most admirable things about David Benioff and DB Weiss’s adaptation is the way in which they stay true to the source material while covering a great deal of ground – and this episode was a masterclass in how to say a lot economically. In half a dozen sharply written and cleverly shot scenes we covered everything from Tyrion’s arrival in King’s Landing as the new Hand of the King, to Dany’s desperate struggle to keep her tiny Khalasar alive. Along the way we were introduced to a host of new characters: from Stephen Dillane’s grim Stannis, to creepy Craster sitting tight in his northern smallholding with a host of cowed daughter/wives. Most remarkably this was a leanly written episode, which tackled a huge amount of exposition and scene-setting but never wasted a word.

‘Prominent families often forget a simple truth. Knowledge is power’

The key to a strong adaptation is knowing when to respect the source material and when to deviate from it – and the best scenes in Game of Thrones have often been those in which Benioff and Weiss have free rein. That was certainly the case this week with two outstanding confrontations: one between Robb and the captive Jaime, and the other between Cersei and the ever-manipulative Petyr Baelish. The first gave us a glimpse into both men’s psyches while suggesting Robb will not find making decisions as easy as winning battles, a lesson which Jaime, his reputation forever linked to the murder of a king, has already learnt.

Meanwhile the scene between Littlefinger and Cersei cleverly demonstrated their different approaches to power. For Littlefinger it’s a subtle, teasing thing, to be wielded carefully without ever fully revealing your hand; for Cersei it’s a bludgeon to subdue your enemies regardless of consequence. With her son on the throne and her father’s power behind her, she has the upper hand – something she wasted no time in demonstrating to Littlefinger, who momentarily lost his sang-froid. However, war is coming and those who survive will be those who best understand how to play the game. Cersei appears strong right now, but for how long?

‘The night is dark and full of terrors’

We heard a lot last season about Stannis, the unloved middle Baratheon brother, and now we finally met him in a series of well-conceived scenes. Stannis is the type of rigid moralist it’s hard to warm to but Stephen Dillane played him astutely allowing us a glimpse of the vulnerability beneath the steely exterior. He was aided by strong support from Liam Cunningham as the loyal Davos Seaworth, and Dutch actress Carice van Houten who made the red priestess Melisandre suitably otherworldly while allowing room for doubt as to the extent of her powers.

Additional thoughts

Joffrey continues to be the most loathsome character on screen, which takes quite some doing, while Sophie Turner remains quietly affecting as poor beleaguered Sansa. It was also interesting to see her take her first steps in the Game. She might currently be a pawn but she has the potential to be so much more.

There were some interesting mother-son dynamics this week with confrontations between both Cersei and Joffrey and Robb and Catelyn. The latter was settled more amicably than the former but there were hints of discord to come.

Jon Snow remains as amusingly bolshie as ever, picking a fight with Craster even as Lord Mormont was reminding everyone of the need for diplomacy. I was also delighted to see Ben Crompton – aka Colin in Ideal – make perfect use of a certain type of Mancunian dourness in the role of Edd Tollett.

I still can’t warm to Shae. Yes, she’s playing her own game but she’s so unconvincing a player that it’s hard to believe Tyrion would tolerate it (although I’ll allow the possibility that he’s aware how fake she is but chooses not to care).

Violence count

As if worried that we might have forgotten that this is an unforgiving world, the opening episode kicked off with the Hound forcing a knight to his death and Joffrey attempting murder by surfeit of wine before heading to Dragonstone, where Maester Cressen tried to poison Melisandre but succeeded only in sacrificing himself. But all of this was nothing compared with the bleak and brutal final moments when the city guard tore through King’s Landing, carrying out a King Herod-style massacre of the innocents in order to ensure none of Robert Baratheon’s bastards survived.

Nudity count

Amazingly it took 47 minutes before we entered a brothel this week although once we did it was for one of Benioff and Weiss’s patented “How to teach a whore to shriek” scenes. I personally feel that this show is extremely instructive should you ever wish to know the best way to fake an orgasm in a whorehouse.

Random Brit of the week

This was a good week for random Brits with appearances from the aforementioned Ben Crompton, to stage veteran Oliver Ford Davies as Maester Cressen. Best of all however was Robert Pugh as Craster. There’s something about the contrast between Pugh’s avuncular looks and the hatred spewed forth from his lips that transforms Craster from merely creepy into frankly terrifying.

What did you think? Were you thrilled to have the schemers of Westeros back on our screens? Did they get the pacing right? What do you think of the new arrivals? Is Shae really the worst character in the show – and most of all how much fun is Tyrion going to have telling Joffrey and Cersei what to do? As ever, let us know in the comments below…

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