The early previews for season two of HBO’s newly crowned (yet another king) flagship series promised war. They did not disappoint, delivering not only the change amongst factions and banner men rallying to their ever-changing lieges and legions, but also the introduction of mysticism and religion, which chunks of war hammered into the machina. Plus lots of blood and sex.
If you want to make God laugh, make a plan, as the old saying goes…
In the case of Westeros and the seven kingdoms, the laughter echoes from the seven gods that most seem to worship, the old gods, and now the Red God. It is from here that one of the five kings, the severe Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) derives his strength via Melisandre (Carice Van Houten), a priestess with the power to see the future, drink poison, and sire demon assassins. Stannis is a serious man, even redacting the word “beloved” from a message about his own brother, “I never loved him,” and with the sagacious ex-pirate Lord Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) in his ear you wonder at the aby to his soul for forsaking the old gods in favor of this “foreign” influence.
Though mysticism plays a role, the essence of the scheming amongst the factions is chiefly through politics, marriages, deceptions, murder, and of course, sex. Whether by one’s own volition or incest or coin, some find and fear their power between their legs. In the case of poor Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), she has great reason to fear womanhood as she is betrothed to the vile and sadistic King Joffrey Baratheon/Lannister (Jack Gleeson). One scene in particular we see Joffrey force one prostitute to beat the other with a cudgel as he watches with a gleeful smile. This was due partly to make a point to his brother Tyrion, who gave them as a name-day gift, and partly because he simply enjoys it. Though the product of incest between his mother Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), who uses who womanly wiles like a great knight uses a battleaxe, and her twin brother Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a captive of King Robb Stark (we’ll get to him later), Joffrey has the best claim to the throne. One- he actually sits on the Iron Throne, and two- most still believes he is the son of the late king Robert Baratheon. But his narrow single-mindedness to his autocracy started all of this mess when he called for Ned Stark’s head at the end of season one. Joffrey does not like to get his own hands dirty, and his cravenness may affect the outcome of the entire war, once he sees the fires burning and the arrows fling. Which is why Joffrey’s uncle, Cersei’s brother, the dwarf Tyrion Lannister is named the new hand of the king, to reel them all in, though they spend as much time strategizing against each other as they do planning for the inevitable war coming to their gates (this includes the aforementioned whore clubbing).
Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) was once again a joy to watch, as he plays the game better than most. But Tyrion is only in power until their father returns, and Cersei has promised great retribution for the actions he has taken during his tenure, despite their well-meant intentions to protect his family in case the city is taken by the coming armies.
One thing I found actually refreshing with this season, though I am not sure what others may think, is the deviations from the source material. It was nice to not see everything choreographed for me, and the changes made did not affect the overall story, they may have even enhanced it. For instance the building of Robb Stark’s (Richard Madden) love story, which was unceremonious and sudden in the book, was given due dignity and believability. Also, Daenerys’ experience with the warlocks and Qarth with the theft of her children was different, but surprisingly welcome and well done, and the same satisfying results, depending on where you stand with her. Of course with the focus on the major plot lines and characters, small sacrifices had to be made. A few items from the books that I was looking forward too had to go by the wayside which is understandable. Even Peter Jackson had to cut lovely little moments from “Lord of the Rings.”
I would implore anyone who loved this series and wants to know more about characters like Samwell, Bronn or Brienne the Beauty to read the books. Aside of course from the fantastic Peter Dinklage as Tyrion- who deservedly won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his work in the first season- Maisie Williams as Arya Stark (who went through the veritable wringer) especially impressed me this season. Escaping King’s Landing, fleeing north, pretending to be a boy, recaptured and made a water bearer for Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), then escaping again, and finding her own fagin in the faceless man Jaquen H’ghar(Tom Wlaschiha. Ms. Williams had some incredible scenes with some fine actors and despite her youth and relative acting inexperience was able to hold her own).
If there was any theme to this season, aside from the tides of war, it was movement. Movement intimates change, different scenery, and new revelations. This season, which followed most of the second novel, is perhaps the tamest of them all. Yes, some people died, perhaps even a king or the like, but this was foreplay, setting up the chess pieces to the larger horrors such as the one we are left with as the final image of the season. Remember what I said in my last blog regarding what they find north of the wall. More than just a few wildlings and someone else calling themselves king. Something else that begins with “W” is coming.