Game of Thrones Season Two: Episode One eventually reviewed and a season one catch up

by Matt D

Every few years a TV programme comes along that everybody tells you you must watch, as it’s fantastic, unmissable and thoroughly awe inspsiring and this was definitely the case with Game of Thrones.

After several people I knew sung its praises, I endeavoured to work my way through the boxset of Season One before the Second Season debuted this past Tuesday on Sky Atlantic. Though I don’t think I was as taken with it as some, I still found myself entranced with the kingdom of Westeros and the various families who were trying to stake a claim on the Iron Throne recently taken over by Mark Addy’s King Robert Barethon. Though to explain all the various subplots would take many paragraphs I will try and summarise some of the major plot points.

As previously stated the Iron Throne is where the true king sits and Robert Barethon has recently overthrown Aerys II, thanks to his brother-in-law Jaime stabbing him in the back.

Aerys’ children Viserys and Daenerys are trying to win back the throne and Viserys has sold his sister as a wife to the barbarian Khal Drogo, in order to obtain an army. The main focus of the show is on the Stark family, led by Sean Bean’s Ned Stark who is the Lord of Winterfell and is appointed the King’s hand by his friend Robert. Robert meanwhile is married to the devious Cersei Lannister, who has two brothers, the handsome Jamie and the diminutive Tyrion known as the imp who is both smart and kind.

Jaime and Cersei have been involved in an incestuous relationship since they were young and all of Cersei’s children are the product of this affair rather than Robert’s true heirs. When Ned discovers this he endeavours to tell Robert, however his old friend is injured on a hunting trip and later dies, making Cersei’s oldest son Joffrey the king despite the true heir being Robert’s brother Stannis. Cersei claims Ned is a traitor and arrests him though Ned’s daughter and Joffrey’s betrothed Sansa argues for her father’s lifemhe is executed nonetheless. This execution leads Ned’s eldest son Robb along with other Stark supporters, to launch a war against the Lannisters hoping to claim the throne for their own.

Meanwhile Drogo has Viserys killed by pouring molten gold over him but later dies himself after he is wounded, causing Daenerys to lose most of her armour, however after surviving being burnt alive one of her dragon eggs hatches, in the final scene of season one, leading us to believe that dragons will be a large theme of Season Two. The final story running throughout the series is that of Ned’s illegitimate son Jon Snow, who is trained to be part of the Night’s Watch, later becoming steward to the Lord Commander and in addition follows his friendship with the overweight yet kind Samwell.

If you have followed that then well done, as I really struggled to keep up with the various houses of Westeros for the longest time.

The second season introduces another claim for the throne, as we are introduced to Robert’s older brother Stannis who has rejected his God and has fallen under the spell of high priestess Melisandre, who promises to help him reclaim the throne that is rightfully his. Meanwhile Robb Stark continues his battle against the Lannisters and has Jamie as his prisoner which he tries to use as leverage in order to get his sisters back from the Lannister family.

Tyron Lannister is sent to the court by his father to become the new king’s hand and attempt to influence the petulant and bloodthirsty Joffrey, who continues to abuse his power and delights in torturing Sansa Stark with the sight of her father’s head. Daenerys’ army is flagging and her dragons continue to reject the meat she is feeding them, so she sends off her final warriors to see what is beyond the valley they are currently travelling in. Essentially this first episode sees all of the characters trying to make alliances in order to reclaim the throne and overthrow Joffrey and the rest of the Lannisters.

Though the plot maybe hard to follow at times, Game of Thrones has many plus points including a strong cast, great exterior locations and some luxurious production design. With both Bean and Addy being killed off in Season One the most prominent member of the cast is Peter Dinklage as Tyrion, who is possibly also the most compelling character of the lot.

Dinklage, the only American cast member who also won an Emmy for this role, portrays the only morally ambiguous character who enjoys taunting his family but at the same time is kind towards others. Dinklage seems to revel in playing Tyrion and out of all the witty lines he delivers, my favourite in this particular episode was when he told his sister that her only redeeming feature was her love of her children …. that and her cheekbones.

After Dinklage, I would have to say that Aiden Gillen is great hamming it up as the court’s devious purse-master Petyr LittleFinger however there are plenty of hammy performances within a cast, that also includes some British acting greats such as Charles Dance, David Bradley and in this episode Robert Pugh. There are also some exceptional performances within the younger cast, including Kit Harrington as Jon Snow and Maisie Williams as the younger Stark daughter Arya, a tomboy with a love of sword-playing who is currently in hiding posing as an orphan boy and journeying north.

Game of Thrones also looks fantastic due to it’s real life locations, most of which are contained within Northern Ireland where the majority of the filming takes place. The scenes set within the town of King’s Landing were shot in Cyprus but in Season Two have been moved to Croatia, while some of the more snow-bound scenes were also filmed in Iceland. These multiple sets give each of the seven kingdoms a separate identity and helps the viewer to associate a certain set of characters with a different backdrop. The fact that Game of Thrones is aired on HBO means that there is also plenty of violence and nudity but this all fits within the context of the story. Most of the male characters enjoy the company of whores while the beautiful Daenerys spent most of the first season in different states of undress and indeed, she was also fairly naked in the final scene of Season One.

The violence is also demonstrated straight away during this first episode, which opens on a duel and closes with the killing of all but one of King Robert’s illegitimate children in order for Joffrey’s claim to the throne to be stronger. Again it does take a bit of time to adjust to this amount of violence but after a while it does become the norm while you’re watching an episode of the series.

Overall, the start of Series Two improves on Season One and introduces another claimant on the throne in the form of Stannis as well as his various supporters. Though more characters should confuse matters, I felt that it didn’t take that long for Stannis’ army to become another part of the plot alongside Rob’s army, the Night’s Watch, Daenerys’ dragons and the search for Arya Stark. Game of Thrones is nonetheless an enjoyable escapist fantasy drama with some strong performances, plenty of gorgeous backdrops and lots of sex and violence, which judging from the first episode of season two all look set to continue.