on July 7, 2013
I've been a huge fan of the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin from the beginning, and was a little worried when I found out it was going to be adapted for TV, as the story is so rich and complex, I wasn't sure how well it would translate to a television series. But Benioff and Weiss have done an incredible job. And the casting has been nothing less than perfection. I rarely buy television series, but every season of this show is a must-buy for me. Amazing acting, very well-written scripts, incredible set locations, and no expenses spared for every aspect of each has made for some of the best television I have ever seen. I highly, highly recommend this series.
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.
Let's start with the actual DVD extras as otherwise why bother and just go watch this On Demand. There are usually two different commentary tracks to each episode so if that turns your Twinkie, go for it. Before you even start Episode 1 you can see a review of Season One to remind you how we got there. There're also reviews of previous episodes and previews, if you want, before you begin each episode.
On Disc 5 there is an over 30-minute look at how the assault on and defence of King's Landing was filmed. It's actually better than what shows up onscreen to be honest. There's also a 20-minute plus round table (Knights Of?) discussion with the creators and a few of the main actors (and surprisingly Emilia Clarke with her natural dark hair is far cuter than the weird shocking white old lady hair of her Dragon Lady persona in the series). Finally, there's an explanation of the religions in the series which, frankly, helped me as I completely tune out this sort of worshipping of imaginary friends for adults (not that I find religion uninteresting, but I'm with the black dude pirate when it comes to religion).
Speaking of color, we finally see the world of Game Of Scones actually is not so Wonderbread white as it was in Season One. I found the city of Qarth (that's Q pronounced as a K so again with the is it Jamie or "Hi-me" spelling of Jaime) wonderful for the eyes from the dark and dreary white people lands to the west. Gold Goalie Mask Lady I want way more of. Even weirdo Bald Magic Chemotherapy Michael Stipey Looking Man/Men are worth their screen time. It's too bad things went sideways there because all the adults are pretty much dumbos even in this gorgeous city.
Anyway, there's still the annoying editing choice to cut scenes off abruptly, move to another location's storyline then return right back where we got cut off. So D- for editing really. Plus Fake Denis Leary, the Kingslayer Hi-Me Lameystair, is captured, escapes...and gets recaptured but we never see how. Why would they not film this? I mean, any prisoner escape and subsequent chase is perfect for building tension. Then of all the tall people in the series, if Jammy is going to be held prisoner, have him onscreen way more than the boring Starks or Bariumtheorys.
Then I'm getting sick of seeing the Watcher dudes by the Wall wandering around in obvious winter conditions with heavy pelt coats but no toques. Do your heads all have built-in heat sources?
It's also pretty obvious that the Scottish Iceland zombies (White Johnny Walkers) are the real threat but even so the stories around brooding boreface Jon Snow and the Wall are still way way too dull. Other than Scarlet Head Captured Woman who rips off some excellent flirtatious lines, I could do with almost zero True North Strong And Zombie World.
Then the flatchested British women whose breasts are apparently vitally important to the story are becoming tiresome. Is this a series made for people who can't use search engines? We get it--sex drives men crazy and sex gets women what they want. I'm going to have to say the "SNL" sketch pretty much nailed the nudity--a 13-year0old must have been hired as a "sex scene consultant."
The series totally jumps the sharks for those of us who have seen decades' worth of stuff like this when Scary Redhead Lady (Carice van Houten which you should see in Black Book--a beyond excellent movie about the Nazi occupation of Holland that has way more interesting twists in its 145 minutes than a season of Game of Poems) gives birth to a Shadow Smoke Monster who kills one of the two gay dudes in the series. If there are now Satanic black magic forces available, why aren't these being used to end all this nonsense? Just send a few of these Smoke Monsters out to kill off the right people and done like dinner you're queenie on the throne.
The animated intros are similar but different as lands are added as the plotlines start to include them in. It's a pretty cool yet effective trick.
Lastly, what is up when you have a roomful of people often in the middle of a meal and some person comes and wants to have a private conversation with another person? Given these are castles with a zillion rooms, every single time, EVERYONE but the two people who want to converse privately must leave the room. Baffling.
Anyway, Season Two is far more entertaining than One as we get some sunny climes and far less reliance on rapes and beheadings. The political intrigue is great but, in the end, the dopeys in this you know are just wasting their time fighting because the zombies from the North are going to kill everyone in the end. (And, no, I have not read the books nor looked ahead online other than to know about the non-Billy Idol Red Wedding coming up in the next season.)