Much to all our dismay, the second season of HBO's enormous fantasy series Game of Thrones came to a close last night, ending what was a satisfying, if transitional, season. Or at least it felt that way to us.
Like we've said before, we sometimes have a hard time separating the experience of reading the books from that of watching the show, and so a lot of the second season, which largely covered the events of the second book in the series, felt like an entertaining game of waiting. Y'see, the third books is, well, f-ckin' nuts, so while the battle of the Blackwater and the attack of Theon and all that stuff was perfectly interesting to watch, knowing how much more interesting things are going to get was its own kind of, if not agony, at least anxiety. So yes, it felt transitional. But maybe to you it did not! Maybe GoT season two was its own, contained success. In that spirit, let's look at the things the season did best.
1. The best, most surprising dynamic of the season was the one between Arya and her ostensible captor Tywin Lannister. Charles Dance and Maisie Williams were thrillingly well-matched, instep scene partners, despite the considerable differences in their levels of acting experience — the scenes were both paternally sweet and tinged with menace, a difficult balance to strike, but one they managed to hit dead-on in every one of their scenes. One of the best plot points invented for the show.
2. While the whole Game of Thrones story succeeds in part because most of the characters are nuanced enough to never be true villains or heroes — you end up rooting for almost everybody while still finding them flawed — the tale needs at least a few true villains. In that spirit, by so boldly highlighting the sadistic prat that is Joffrey Lannister this season, the show has given us one of the most gleefully detestable characters on television. We knew that Joffrey was a little sh-t last season, but he gloriously bloomed into a full-on monster this year. Jack Gleeson, another one of the show's startlingly capable young actors, brought such sniveling wickedness to the role — he's both a pathetic weakling and a terrifyingly effective tormenter — that we're happy to see him every time he pops up, even though he's likely about to do something horrifying. We may have our soft spots for the supposedly "bad" Jamie, or even Cersei (who they've smartly softened up on the show), but Joffrey is all pure maleficence. And it's great.
3. In a more general, overarching sense, this season did an admirable job of introducing us to a bushel of new characters without losing major threads or giving short shrift to any of the principals. Sure the narrative sprawl and high population could at times be confusing, even for folks familiar with the books, but by season's end everyone's individual place in the world had become mostly clear (or at clear as they need to be at this point), all starting to fit together to create significant chunks of a (much) bigger puzzle. The task of adapting this show, wrestling such a big thing into TV format, is unenviably difficult, but this production proves not only diligent and faithful, but also smart and forward-thinking about what to change or excise for expediency and clarity's sake. Nearly all of the elisions felt justified and the omissions understandable, while the additions maintained thematic consistency while also giving us, y'know, a little more to watch on TV. Sure in the books we don't really see much of Robb Stark's romance and that's OK, but on television we kind of need to see it, need to feel the true wait of it, so we can [MILD SPOILER] eventually understand why what happens happens. Ah! That alone is saying too much. Anyway, well done, all.
Though, OK, to be fair, there were a few things this season that stuck out like sore thumb mistakes. They were:
1. Those White Walkers at the end looked fairly ridiculous. When glimpsed in the first scene of the first episode of the first season, they appeared to be eerily silent frozen knights or monks that stalked the Northern woods. That's creepy! But now they're screeching tribal old man monsters? That doesn't quite work for us. And, really, the whole Beyond the Wall aesthetic is far from what it should be, we think. We should be in a dark and shadowy evergreen forest, not on a barren and treeless glacier. Obviously eventually that's what you get the further north you go, but for now it would make more sense (and look a little better) if the Night's Watchmen were roaming the taiga rather than the tundra.
2. Daenerys' journey this season felt a bit arbitrary and listless. Though that's unfortunately true of her story in the books, too, the TV still plot felt like it could have been tighter and better mapped out. Either a hurrying along or a slowing down. The city of Qaarth didn't really resonate the way it could have, especially Dany's journey into the House of the Undying, which should be prophetic and telling rather than just spooky for a few minutes. Even if you are not a reader of the books, I'd imagine her journey to the House felt a bit, well, nonsensical and pointless. More so than any other character, Dany returned basically to status quo at the end of season two, when she should be moving forward, imbued with new knowledge. Dany has a long way to go in this story, and I just don't know that the show has armed her well enough for the trip.
3. Really there should be a lot more Theon sex scenes. That's all.
So that's it! Another season done. Such a cruelly short ten weeks, isn't it? And now we must wait for god knows how long to rejoin the story again. But when we do... Oh boy, you guys. Oh boy, oh boy. Happy waiting!