Game Of Thrones – Season Two
While the rampant global popularity of the likes of the Harry Potter series and Twilight have heralded a seismic shift in the way fantasy fiction is received, few amongst us can honestly say hand-on-heart that they saw this one coming. An expensive punt for prestigious, premium cable network HBO, this wholly adult blend of political intrigue, hack-and-slash heroics, and copious amounts of smoldering sex simply exploded out of the gate and soon became a bone fide global phenomenon. Everyone was talking about this show. What was previously thought reserved for basement-dwellers and guys with a penchant for large-sided die, suddenly went mainstream. In retrospect, it’s not difficult to discern why. It's bloody brilliant – impeccably written, entirely enthralling, and marked by the complete and total absence of anything approaching the kind of camp that so often serves to undermine this sort of thing.
From the top down, this is utterly absorbing television. Consider the title sequence for a moment. In an age where they are fast-becoming a lost art and network executives are keen to discard them in favor of an additional commercial break, the intro to Game of Thrones goes far beyond simple context, seizing the opportunity to define itself for the viewer with both hands. It begins with a giant eye burning like the sun; a symbol of raging, conflicting energy that is at once both the source of all life and power, and at the same time something that possesses the potential to be utterly destructive.
From there we’re gifted a clockwork, steampunk illustration of the sprawling corners of the Seven Kindoms, each carefully detailed to illustrate not just the staggering geography of the realm, but also the individual character of each location. From the decadent towers of King’s Landing, through the rustic forages of Winterfell, to the bleak, icy desolation of The Wall marking the edge of the civilized world, the character of this universe is instantly, expertly conveyed. Truly great title sequences (think Twin Peaks, or the X-Files) act as a transitional barrier, adjusting your filter in preparation of something otherworldly to come, and Game of Thrones accomplishes this better than any show in recent memory.
When last we set foot in the realm the seemingly endless backstabbing, duplicitous double-dealing, and the odd barefaced murder had left things in a state of flux and the series wastes no time is staking out its overriding arc for the season. To borrow a contemporary phrase, it’s on! With Ned Stark dead, Joffrey – surely destined to go down as one of TV’s all time great psychopaths – sits upon the Iron Throne. Jamie Lannister is prisoner to Robb Stark, whose cunning on the battlefield have put the Lannister’s on the backfoot. Tyrion has been named Hand of the King, an act that his sister, Cersei, Joffrey’s mother, feels threatens her influence.
Elsewhere, Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch have ventured north of The Wall to assess the potential threat of the mythical White Walkers, fearful rumors of the return of which persist. Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryn plots her revenge, nurturing the growth of her secret weapon – dragons!
This season introduces us to a new faction of squabbling, entitled aristocracy in the form of Stannis Baratheon, the late King Robert’s younger brother. A brooding, moralistic power-monger, backed by an enigmatic cultist of as yet unrevealed power, Stannis seems intent of marching his not inconsiderable banners to the doorstep of King’s Landing to claim the Iron Throne he views has his by right.
With it’s extensive glossary of characters, vast, expansive geography, and moment-to-moment switching of allegiances by any and all of its principle players, Game of Thrones is nothing if not demanding of your attention, but rewards you for it richly. Given how much of the show is in fact just a series of hushed, provocative conversations – the content of which are both instantly revealing of character and yet hugely ambiguous as to intention at the same time – it is a testament to the quality of the writing that such a consistently palpable sense of suspense is maintained episode after episode.
With a number of expertly crafted two-handers, many built around the theme of mothers and sons competing for the crown, the standout in this second season opener was surely between the deliciously dangerous Cercei and the mercurial Petyr Baelish, musing on the nature of power. Lord Baelish views power as an instrument of subtlety, the full extent of which should be closely guarded. Cercei, on the other hand, views it as a weapon of fear, to be wielded in full view of those who might otherwise move against you. In the moment, Cercei emerged victorious, but the game of thrones is a long one where guile is every bit as crucial as strength, and there are many rounds still to be played.