The first season of HBO's Game Of Thrones took its time to flesh out the complex assortment of characters that has made the book series by George R.R. Martin such a tremendous hit. With its mature content, twisting storylines and incredible shock value, Game Of Thrones solidified itself as one of the highest-rated dramatic series on cable. The much-anticipated second season was a lot more ambitious, and built on the rich mythology of the first season by introducing a slew of new characters, locales, and of course...constricting tales of deception, murder and sin.
Following the events of season one, the sadistic young Joffrey has taken the Iron Throne after Robert's death, and the execution of Eddard Stark. This sets in motion a tremendously chaotic chain of events with several individuals openly challenging the Lannister family for the throne. At the epicenter of the storm is Robb Stark, who has taken up the mantle of his father and declared open war on Joffrey and the Lannister house for the execution of his father. Meanwhile, young Daenerys Targaryen leads her faithful Dothraki through the desert in search of an army that can lead her back to her homeland to reclaim the Iron Throne. The news of her three recently hatched dragons spreads like wildfire, and she soon finds herself the target of untrustworthy eyes who seek to use her and her dragons for their own ends. The young Daenerys is forced to adapt to a world of lies, deceit, and betrayal if she intends to lay claim as a ruler. In the midst of these key players is Tyrion Lannister, constantly spinning webs of manipulation in order to solidify his status as nothing less than the Hand of the King himself. All sides balance precariously on the edge of a knife to maintain their positions of power, while a terrible and nightmarish army stalks them all from the far North, just waiting for the darkness to fall.
Season Two makes the mistake of biting off way more than it can chew at times, but makes up for this slip with some truly amazing storytelling and grandiose set pieces. The most glaring problem with the season is the fact that so many new characters are introduced. It becomes near-impossible to remember them all, where they come from, or what they represent. Even worse are their relationships to the different kingdoms from the story's lore. Thankfully we live in the digital age when one can pop over to a Wiki site and do a bit of research, but the casual viewer will no doubt be left scratching their head and wondering just what's going on. The anchor to Season Two lies in the returning characters from Season One, and they serve as the linchpin to the entire plot. Unfortunately, their screen time tends to get cut back considerably to make way for the new crop of characters, and suddenly it becomes clear that it's almost impossible to balance them all within the course of 10 hour-long episodes. Thankfully, there's an upside. The more you watch, the more familiar you become with these characters, and they just sort of fall into place. It's one of the most ambitious casts in one of the most ambitious made-for-cable series, ever. The show has expanded more on the action and fantasy elements that were only hinted at in Season One, which feels like a welcome liftoff. One of the best things about Season One was its ability to talk, talk, talk, and talk some more, without it ever becoming boring. The writers were strikingly good at crafting intrigue and suspense, all riding on the back of some truly killer cliffhangers. Season Two is the more of the same, but doesn't shy away from action or mysticism. Daenerys' dragons are a CGI sight to behold, especially when they breathe fire just for the sake of cooking a little morsel of meat to consume. One of the season's most intense new characters is a demonic assassin wreathed in black smoke, and born from the loins of an attractive witch. There's even a warlock capable of creating copies of himself to fool his adversaries. Traditionally, sequels are supposed to be bigger and better than their predecessors, and in this area, Season Two succeeds. But it would be nothing without its characters. They've all undergone changes since the last Season, especially given its traumatic events. Robb Stark's singular goal of crushing the Lannister family and taking the Iron Throne is juxtaposed with a desire to unite the people under a banner of goodness. Tyrion Lannister, the manipulative dwarf who cared only for himself, is suddenly faced with the vulnerability of being in love with a woman for the first time in his life. Queen Cersei's cool and tempered aura comes apart at the seams as she begins to understand the error of putting her son on the Iron Throne. Jon Snow learns how to overcome adversity and become stronger, even with his shameful history. Theon Greyjoy falls victim to his own sense of inferiority and need to prove himself, and Daenerys Targaryen struggles with her compassion, which is suddenly at odds with her newfound sense of ruthlessness. It's a pressure cooker just waiting to explode, and that's exactly what happens by the end of the season. In fact, the 9th episode, "Blackwater," is so good that it outshines any previous episode of the show up to that point. The sudden shocking cliffhanger at the end of the Season only whets the appetite for Season 3.
As before, parents should be dutifully aware that Game Of Thrones is NOT for children, or even young teenagers. It's chock-full of gratuitous nudity, borderline porn, and extreme graphic violence and coarse language. In fact, HBO walks the line as close as it possibly can without triggering censor backlash. This is a very, very adult show with very mature themes, and should always be treated as such.
The second season of Game Of Thrones may confuse a lot of people, but it's a minor quibble against such an impressive series. There's a real weight, majesty, and sense of lore to the show, and it shows in every single frame. It's no less addictive than Season One, and it tries to outdo that season's remarkable performance at every turn. There's more to sink one's teeth into, and plenty of reason to lose yourself in the sprawling wonder.
*NOTE* A more in-depth review of this set will be posted once the season has been released on Blu-Ray.