The Blog Formerly Known as Rebel Prince

Cult TV, Gen Y rants, and endless opera.

Game of Thrones: “The North Remembers”

Posted by therebelprince on April 2, 2012

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

Welcome back to Game of Thrones. Is there a more hyped series of 2012? Hot on the heels of my rewatch of season one, below are my thoughts on the second season premiere, The North Remembers.

[For ease of reading, the review proper will be spoiler-free – beyond events of this episode, obviously. At the very end of each week’s review, I’ll post any thoughts for those who have read the book series.]

“It must be hard for you… to be the disappointing child.”
— Tyrion Lannister

Game of Thrones has an unusual burden to bear. A fair chunk of the audience have read the book and its successors, and expect to see everything rendered perfectly on the screen. The rest of the viewers are undoubtedly hearing from their better-read friends how amazing upcoming events are, so even they’re expecting perfection. The North Remembers is very clearly a season premiere, with swathes of exposition and occasional jolting shifts between storylines, but the craftsmanship involved is still first-rate.

Things seem to bode well for this season, given that the best plots from last year remain fascinating, and the ones I disliked have already upped their game. In King’s Landing – the heart of the show’s fascinating politics – Joffrey is now ruling. Well, it seems that anarchy is the true leader these days, since it’s clear that the Small Council have a dozen different allegiances between them, but you’d be wise not to cross the gangly blond one. Ser Dontos (Tony Way) learns this the hard way, when – for the crime of, essentially, being there at the wrong time – Joffrey orders him dead through the unusual (and pointedly ironic) method of drowning in wine. Sansa saves the day, and the Sansa/Joffrey relationship – he’s forever finding excuses to abuse her, but she’s very quickly picked up on ways to reply that don’t incite anger, which just makes him angrier – is just one of the many captivating elements in the capital. Tyrion returns to claim his place as Hand of the King pro tem, and Cersei is not impressed. The scene between Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey was the episode’s highlight for me. There’s no wonder Dinklage is the de facto leading man of Game of Thrones, and Headey was every bit his equal, particularly in her nuanced reaction to his less-than-subtle implication about her relationship with their brother.

Then, there’s Cersei and Littlefinger, who are attempting to one-up each other (although the Queen may just have the upper hand). I feel like Littlefinger’s snide remarks to the Queen were a little out-of-left-field – why on earth would he provoke her like that? – but I enjoyed the tenor of their conversation. Meanwhile, it appears that Cersei’s doubtful look in Fire and Bloodwas indication that she’s not convinced Joff is ready for the throne. In yet another firecracker scene, the little shit earns himself a slap on the face, before threatening to have his own mother sent the way of Ned Stark. I hope that Lord Tywin comes back soon, because the kid mocked his grandfather’s battle skills, and I can’t imagine anyone who dares mock Lord Tywin. The kid’s also heard about his mother and his uncle, which is going to prove awkward if he ever gets proof.

It’s all leading up to a viscerally unpleasant scene in which Joff (assumedly) orders all of Robert’s bastards found and eliminated. I’m not sure who told him where you could find them – maybe there’s a support group for former one-night-stands of the great Baratheon? – but it looks like Gendry is gonna be in trouble out there on the Wall. This is yet another scene that we only get to hear about second-hand in the books, where we have access to Tyrion and eventually Arya’s role in this, but no-one else. It’s much more satisfying to see the horror up close.

Carice Van Houten as Melisandre

“The stars don’t fall for men.”
— Osha

I made no bones last season about my dislike of the Wall storyline. Moreso than any other plot, Jon Snow got lost in the shuffle last year. While there was a surprising depth to the tales of Tyrion, Dany, Arya, et al, the events of the Black Brothers seemed like the worst example of a fantasy adaptation. We were given merely the headlines – boy hates family, boy finds friends, boy has a mean teacher, boy has a fat-little-friend-who-could, boy saves boss from zombies – and asked to fill in the blanks ourselves. Particularly in the less tightly structured episodes, when we’d just drop in on storylines at random, it felt like we were following a cheap version of Harry Potter. Things have picked up this year already, even though we only see the Wallies for five minutes. There’s a foreboding atmosphere beyond the Wall; Sam – who can be oft annoying – was utilised less; and Jon’s pretty face suggests some nice burly dude is gonna make him his bitch soon. No, but seriously, even if that doesn’t happen, I suspect I’ll enjoy this season’s exploits beyond the Wall. There just seems to be more of a forward motion for the characters already. We meet Craster (Robert Pugh), an old coot who lives in a cottage with his daughter-wives, and is one of the few allies the Wall have up north. Clearly, he’s not much of an ally, since he’s inclined to kill anyone who looks at the ladies, but he provides some helpful exposition. Mance Rayder, self-styled “King of the North” is massing an army, and it looks like they’re heading south. I actually thought this would be revealed to us in dribs and drabs, so I was surprised to see all the exposition dealt with in episode one. My only concern is Hannah Murray as Craster’s daughter (and assumedly soon-to-be wife) Gilly. I’ve always found Murray a very mannered actress, but benefit of the doubt, I suppose.

Linked by that most intriguing comet up above, we have the adventures of Dany and her Dragons. Not much happens this week, but it appears that they’re not doing too well. Not a surprise, really, given they have no food, few horses, and a plan that basically involves going in the opposite direction to anywhere. Of all the re-introductions, this one felt the most like a giant signpost to drop us into the story, but there’s a tantalising plot here already. Dany and her team are alone and purposeless. Mormont’s in love with her, but Dany’s affections seem to lie elsewhere. I doubt it will be long before someone rises up against her, and the Mother of Dragons is going to have to sink lower before she can rise.

Iain Glen as Jorah Mormont, and Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen

“There’s a king in every corner now.”
— Catelyn Stark

I can understand what the New York Times is getting at when they comment negatively on the sprawling, shallow nature of the characters. Watched as an individual episode, it’s easy to feel that there’s not much complexity here. With the heavy exposition required for a season premiere, and that feeling of picking one scene out of a series of novels, some of the moments – Robb threatening Jaime, Craster explaining Mance Rayder’s movements – feel like an overeager fan explaining the plot to a workmate.  Some of the complexity of the novels is lost, of course. The storylines for Sansa and Bran last season were anemic imitations of their novel counterparts (although both managed to cleverly convey much of the characters’ internal narratives in simple scenes). This year, I suspect much the same will be said of Catelyn. However, Game of Thrones is one epitome of cable television at present. The best cable TV is that which rewards the viewers in a very different way to the best network TV. Mad Men or The Sopranos or, now, Game of Thrones may be primarily puzzling to someone who drops in for an episode. (The AV Club’s review of this episode points out that the series must have very few casual fans.) Be it character motivation, layers of nuance, thematic resonance: these are all things that the series gains with time, and I think it’s unfair to reduce the complexities of Cersei Lannister or her brothers to crowded moments in an already crowded hour.

Lest I come across like a cold, impassive reviewer, let it be said that my heart leapt in my chest at the return of the theme song, and the introduction of Dragonstone to the credits. (Although I’d love to see some updated location information for Dany and Jon, mind you!) I utterly adore every facet of this storyline and, while we didn’t get to see much yet, I’m impressed. Robert’s older brother Stannis (Stephen Dillane) is sending out letters to basically everyone with a post box with the gossip that Joffrey is not Robert’s son. His maester Cressen (Oliver Ford Davies) and his advisor Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) aren’t entirely convinced by Stannis’ new confidante though. The red-headed Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) is a priestess of this fancy new Lord of Light, a kind of “one true God” opponent to their polytheistic religion, and she appears to have won Stannis over with her Sword-in-the-Stone mythology. Cressen doesn’t survive the episode – failing in a battle of Poison Chicken with Melisandre – but there’s some intriguing dynamics here. Van Houten is not what I expected from Melisandre, yet I think she’s captured the character’s cold but self-righteous personality perfectly. She’s a slow burn this one, but it’ll be worth it: this is a woman who seems to truly believe in her cause, so much so that she’s willing to burn the gods of these people right in front of them. Meanwhile, Dillane doesn’t get much of a showcase as Stannis, but I did enjoy his dictation of the letter to his followers. He reminds me of Coriolanus: Stannis will never be loved by the masses. He’s not Renly or even Robert. He’s too honest, direct, and ascetic. Yet, I suspect that’s going to make him a great character: “Make it Ser Jaime Lannister the Kingslayer. Whatever else the man may be, he’s still a knight.”

Finally, there’s Robb Stark. We actually spent a lot of time with the young wolf, but most of it’s going to pay off down the road. Suffice it to say, after sending his latest demands to the Lannisters via their young relative Alton (Karl Davies, as if this show didn’t already have enough in the way of attractive dudes), Robb is considering his potential allies. One is Theon’s dad, Lord Balon Greyjoy of the Iron Islands, but the downside is that no-one really likes the dude. Other option is Renly Baratheon himself, so looks like Cat is going to have to put on her negotiator’s hat again. Last time she did that, Robb wound up engaged to the daughter of a wizened old dolt. This does not bode well.

And that’s Game of Thrones. I hope to report back each week throughout the season, and hopefully my comments will eventually plumb below the surface level once the season reveals its hand. The source text has a lot of amazing moments, but the word on the street is that there’ll be a stronger presence of original material too (somewhat necessary, since several characters all but sit the book out), so it’s going to be a fascinating ten weeks. Below are my stray thoughts on the episode, followed by the spoiled-only section.

Stray observations:

Oliver Ford Davies as Maester Cressen

Ha! Ros has now become a trainer to other prostitutes. Meanwhile, Theon’s still playing second banana to Robb. Clearly, all the best career development options are in King’s Landing.

Myrcella and Tommen are growing up fast. So are the wolves, although they have the benefit of CGI.

Speaking of CGI, that shot of King’s Landing from Shae’s balcony looked surprisingly fake. The show has usually been stunning at that kind of stuff.

You just know that that little cleaning boy watching Littlefinger’s argument with Cersei, is bound to report back to Varys asap.

I hope that the recent cancellation of Luck due to horse deaths won’t affect the atmosphere of the third season of Game of Thrones. I know they’re not using anywhere near the same number of animals, and horses probably become less important as the series goes on, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Twice, I wrote “Davros” where I meant to write “Davos”. I don’t know why I admitted that.

I was a bit disappointed in the Cressen/Melisandre confrontation. It has more power in A Clash of Kings, where it occurs as the book’s prologue (i.e. the equivalent of the zombie adventure beyond the wall in Winter is Coming) during a banquet. Particularly given they hired the wonderful Oliver Ford Davies, I would’ve liked to spend a few more minutes on the importance of Cressen’s opposition to her.

I demand more Varys. Conleth Hill’s little facial expressions are utterly gorgeous.

In a good way, Richard Madden looks really wolflike during the sequence where Robb interrogated Jaime.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau still managed to be attractive and talented under layers of filth. Damn him.

Spoiled observations:

[contains spoilers for all five published novels]

There’s a bit of a moment there between Dany and Rakharo. Emilia Clarke and Elyes Gabel are both damn fine, but this one caught me by surprise. We always jabber to our non-book-reading friends about how exciting the Battle of the Blackwater or the Red Wedding are going to be. (For me, it’s the Purple Wedding, but the same holds). The real elephant in the room, though, must surely be Dany. I can’t imagine that a single newbie would assume that Dany won’t be in King’s Landing by the end of season five. She doesn’t appear until about a quarter of the way into A Clash of Kings, and others like Jaime and Robb barely make their presence felt at all, so I’m not surprised that the writers have felt the need to bolster her storyline. Here’s hoping it doesn’t feel like a pointless diversion, since the Daenerys chapters are certainly one area that work better – narratively speaking – on the page than on the screen.

Given the more human side of Melisandre that we see in A Dance with Dragons, do we think it likely that she’s taking various medicines to protect her against poison? Or that she’s developed a high tolerance over time? On first introduction, it seems supernatural, but I wonder…

So, does that white bird indicate they’re changing to autumn? The winter bird doesn’t go out until the end of A Dance with Dragons, but I don’t recall any previous announcements about the change of season.

I know she wanted to see her other sons again, but it’s a damn good thing for Cat that she doesn’t go to Winterfell, since she would undoubtedly be brutally killed by the end of… oh. Wait.

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