This review may contain spoilers.
With the age of dragons unexpectedly rekindled and political intrigues reaching a dizzying frenzy, "Game Of Thrones" makes a glorious return with its Season 2 premiere, "The North Remembers."
The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros seems destined for an apocalypse with all the competing threats gathering on the horizon following the death of King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) last season. Everyone wants that damn Iron Throne.
In the north, Robb Stark (Richard Madden), who has been crowned king of the north, is winning battle after battle as he clashes with the Lannisters. Peace isn't an option, after all, especially with the stunning decapitation of his father, Ned (Sean Bean), courtesy of ultra-bratty King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson).
And across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) -- daughter of the late Mad King Aerys -- seeks to reclaim her rightful place on the Iron Throne. The birth of her three dragons in the Season 1 finale may give her just the power she needs for victory. She just needs to find some water first.
Meanwhile, the Sworn Brotherhood of the Night's Watch faces perhaps the greatest peril presently -- the White Walkers. All the armies of Westeros should be marching north to combat this supernatural scourge, yet the show wouldn't be titled "Game of Thrones" if they did. Naturally, everyone is too consumed with making power grabs to notice. In the end, it may only be Daenerys' looming invasion of Westeros that may send the White Walkers running for the hills.
Did you get all that? Well there's more to add thanks to Season 2's developments.
King Robert's brother Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) seeks the crown too. He is Robert's rightful heir (when you factor in the dark secret that Joffrey is actually Jaime Lannister's son). Melisandre (Carice van Houten), a mysterious priestess from a more mysterious religion, hopes to help Stannis achieve that goal. And Robert's youngest brother Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) is also in the game. But he isn't backing Stannis. Renly, who's supported by the powerful Tyrell family, wants the crown for himself, seeing his brother as too aloof and unlikable to unite Westeros.
Then you have to wonder about Theon Greyjoy's (Alfie Allen) homeland, the Iron Islands. Theon is the son of a powerful lord who possesses the region's largest naval force. A rebellion by the Iron Islands years before had forced Theon to be Ned's ward -- or better termed, hostage. What will be their reaction to the chaos unfolding on Westeros' mainland? In this series, it can't be good.
Lastly, in addition to the White Walkers, the human wildlings are on the move north of the great ice wall. According to a wilding informant Craster (Robert Pugh), these tribes are forming a large army lead by its own king. They plan to march south. The Night's Watch faces deep odds now.
It's the details of this dense political landscape and its fascinating relationships among its characters that help make George R.R. Martin's books shine. Thankfully, the series has somehow managed to translate all this to the screen without getting bogged down. That's no small feat. I remember reading the first book years ago and being thankful that it contained a detailed appendix of the various families and characters.
During "The North Remembers," a number of other setup scenes for the new season play out too, including Daenerys struggling to lead her people across a dry, barren wasteland; Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) arriving in King's Landing to rein in Cersei Lannister's (Lena Headey) blunders; Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) ruling Winterfell while having unusual dreams of direwolves; and Robb dispatching his mother, Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), to negotiate an alliance with Renly. Oh, and Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) is slapped by Cersei! I only wish they could have slapped each other at the same time.
POINTS OF INTEREST
1. Dinklage receives top billing in the opening title sequence. Nice to see!
2. Melisandre, who knowingly drinks poison as her red jewel burns brightly on her neck, brings another surprising moment of the supernatural to the series, which unlike most fantasy tales does not flaunt magic.
3. In one of the episode's best scenes, Cersei has a nasty confrontation with Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen) over the topic of power. And once again, Cersei makes a boneheaded move as she theatens Petyr, who appears -- along with Varys "the Spider" (Conleth Hill) -- to be a true master of the game of thrones.
4. Gendry Waters (Joe Dempsie) looks to be the final survivor of King Robert's bastard children as the crown seeks to eliminate those who could claim the thone. With Gendry moving north with Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) in tow, the dangers for them are snowballing.
5. Robb's direwolf has grown nicely since Season 1; it will be interesting to see how big it gets when fully grown.
6. Daenerys' dragons only appear briefly, but once again they are rendered in outstanding detail. This is feature film quality work.
7. The soundtrack for Season 2 will be interesting to hear. Composer Ramin Djawadi ("Iron Man") was rushed onto the series at the last moment for Season 1. The added time he has had to compose this year should give us some memorable tracks.
HBO gave us a wonderful adaption of a remarkable novel last season. The cast is impressive -- with Dinklage winning an Emmy and a Golden Globe -- and the music, directing and writing cemented the show as one of television's best offerings.
Season 2 appears poised to deliver on all those counts as well. In fact, it seems the series is well positioned to deliver a superior season and more awards, especially when considering the developments in Martin's second "A Song of Ice and Fire" novel "A Clash of Kings," which this is based on.
"The North Remembers" seamlessly builds on the events of last season and presents a wide canvas of beautifully filmed locations, which gives the series the epic tone so necessary for Martin's books. HBO should be applauded for the use of actual locations.
Once again, Tyrion steals a number of scenes as he makes his surprise appearance in King's Landing and announces that he has been appointed Hand of the King by his father, Tywin (Charles Dance). Cersei's dismay at this announcement is particularly amusing. Later, as he chastises her for Ned's death and the escape of Arya, he clearly demonstrates why Tywin has placed so much trust into him to clean up the mess unfolding for the Lannisters. Unlike his sister, Tyrion is sensible and ruminative. And he has charisma. Perhaps the Lannisters will escape this mess after all.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK
Last season I noted Season 1 was just too short; ten episodes doesn't cut it. And some scenes from Martin's book just sail past far too quickly. I imagine Season 2 will suffer from this too. However, so far this is a great start -- albeit short on action -- to a promising season.
GIVING CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
"Game of Thrones" stars Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Michelle Fairley, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Harry Lloyd. "The North Remembers" was written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. It was directed by Alan Taylor.
"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
View a preview teasing the rest of Season 2.
See our Season 1 episode reviews for "Winter is Coming," "The Kingsroad," "Lord Snow," "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things," "The Wolf and the Lion," "A Golden Crown," "You Win or You Die," "The Pointy End," "Baelor" and "Fire and Blood."
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