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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A Game of Throne: Season Two, Episode One ("The North Remembers")

Unlike last year, I have been eagerly anticipating the second season of HBO's Game of Thrones.  Now that it's here, I have some of those same mixed feelings that made season one slightly uneven.  Yet, it doesn't seem to matter much anymore.  I will watch this show until the end, even if the characters turn into giant rabbits with swords.

The first episode of the second season is a transition episode.  It's one of those "hey, here's where we've been, and here's what everyone has been up to since we left."  That means, more or less, we're inundated with a lot of information, new characters, and so on, just so we'll get a sense of
what is to come.  After all, Eddard Stark is dead, and that means a hell of a lot of bad shit is coming our way.  What follows, as such, is a somewhat disjointed review.
In this episode, we are shown the following:  King Joffrey's continued psychological abuse of Sansa Stark; the arrival of Tyrion Lannister as the new Hand of the King (and the family politics involved); Bran Stark's reluctant position as Lord in his brother's stead; Danaerys' desperate attempts to save herself in an increasingly hostile wilderness; Robb Stark's continued rise to the mantle of King of the North; Stanis Baratheon's rejection of the old gods in the hope to steal back his throne from Joffrey; Jon Snow and gang beyond the wall; and Arya Stark's trek north.

If that sounds like a lot of stuff, then you understand my apprehension to call this episode anything but a confused mess.  GoT is still brilliant, mind, but there is something to be said about the writers biting off way too much in this episode.  Who exactly are we to care about here?  It's one thing to bring back some of our favorites, crammed together in one space, but to add new ones?  There's simply too much going on here.  Sadly, the overwhelming number of plotlines impacts the casting, as so many of the new additions get short thrift here.  Stanis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) spends most of his scenes glaring at the camera, looking altogether not like I expected him to look.  Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) at least gets a few extra lines, with some emotion thrown in, but his character is as undeveloped as the rest of the newcomers (especially Maester Cressen, played by Oliver Ford Davies, who seems to come on the screen just so the writers can kill him off).  Simply put, the writers desperately need to break up these story lines to develop the characters more efficiently.
He's important.  Really.  He is.  Trust me...
That said, there is a lot to admire about the episode.  One of the most chilling moments in the entire series acts as the climax.  I won't ruin the moment, but you'll know it when you see it -- and you'll be as disturbed as I was.  What I can say is this:  it made me turn away from the screen, even though the act itself was never shown.  And it also shows us something we've known was coming for a while:  that the wicked really are wicked.

Additionally, HBO has done a fantastic job rendering the small cast of CG characters (in this case, one dragon).  The worst thing about TV is that networks make series which need a lot of CG, but they aren't willing to pay for quality material.  HBO didn't fall pray to that all-too-common weakness.  Instead, the creators have done what smart people do:  only use CG when absolutely necessary.  And that means that unlike most television, this show forces us to pay attention to characterization, which GoT usually does quite well.
Yes, I am God.  Hear me roar.
And then there's Peter Dinklage, who every single moment reminds us why he won an Emmy for his work on Season One.  What more can we say?  He's brilliant.  In some respects, he outshines everyone else who is made to work alongside him.  His expressions are nuanced in the way only a great actor can muster.  I hope we'll see more of him this season than last, but we'll see.

That pretty much sums up what I thought about this episode.  Future reviews will likely delve a little deeper into the story.  This review doesn't, in part because this episode is less a story than a giant placeholder.  Every major plot point opens up here, but there's not much that can be said about those various threads until we've seen where they are going.  That said, we're off to an interesting start, even if the first episode isn't the best of the lot.

Directing: 2.5/5
Cast: 4/5
Writing: 2.5/5
Visuals: 5/5
Adaptation: N/A (haven't read the book yet)
Overall: 3.5/5

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