Saturday, May 7, 2011

Game of Thrones 2 "The Kingsroad" (Review)

Spoilers ahoy!

When last we left our heroes, pretty much everyone was getting ready to hit the road--with one major exception.  Young Bran Stark is unconscious, probably crippled following a "fall" (i.e. being pushed, although no one knows that) from a tower in the great castle of Winterfell.  His mother Catelyn, staggered with grief, refuses to leave his side--and shoots daggers with her eyes when Jon Snow (her husband's bastard) visits his brother to say goodbye.

Jon is headed north to the Wall--300 miles wide, 700 feet tall, made of gravel and ice to protect Westeros from what lies beyond.  He is to join the Night Watch, proud guardians of the realm for eight thousand years.  Or at least that is how he sees it.  Accompanying him to see the place is Tyrion Lannister, aka The Imp who just wants to see the thing.  He's also the one who makes his ghastly nephew Joffrey express condolences to the Starks over their loss.  It says a lot about him that it takes a strong cuffing to make him do as much.

Soon Lord Stark joins King Robert on the long trip by horseback to King's Landing, capital of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.

Meanwhile, the last of the deposed Targaryans are headed inland across the Narrow Sea on the continent of Essos.  Pretender Viserys accompanies the Dothraki whose leader has married his sister, eager to begin the war which will put him on his father's throne.  Said sister Danaerys' focus proves both more narrow and far more wide.  While adjusting to the constant horse-riding and the sexual appetites her husband, she asks her handmaidens about Dothraki beliefs and one in particular about how to please a man.  Rather than merely endure her life, she seeks to gain control.  Before long, she proves successful.  Khal Drogo rather likes her interesting notion of sex face to face.  We can see this marriage becoming stronger, no matter how it began.  Danaerys, the daughter of kings and bride of a tribal lord, starts to show her mettle.  She also finds herself ever more fascinated by the dragon eggs given to her as a wedding gift.

Contrast this with Viserys, who wants to know why the Westeros knight Jorah Mormont who's joined them had to leave.  He was caught selling poachers into slavery.  The Pretender almost laughs, assuring him such nonsense will end when he is King.

One of the things I so love about this show is how vividly each character emerges.  The two siblings on the road east make for a perfect example.  Viserys eyes are totally on what he himself wants, displaying all the ethics of rat.  His sister wants to find a way to be happy, to learn, and sees beyond her own desires to the unfathomable--these dragon eggs and what they might mean (keep in mind the book series itself is titled A Song of Ice and Fire, with the next book called The Dance of Dragons--with luck we'll be seeing that dramatized in about four years).

Likewise we're getting a real notion of King Robert, who loved Ned's late sister very much.  He and Ned Stark were boys together, trained by Jon Arryn, the Hand (Prime Minister/Shogun) whose death has prompted Robert to appoint Ned to take his place.  But this King doesn't like being on the throne, longs for earlier, simpler days.  One can see why Ned looks worried.  Here is not a man who wants to be King, seems to have precious little talent at it, yet sits upon the throne.

Can we say "recipe for disaster?"

Before Jon Snow left for the Wall, he gives to his sister Arya her own sword--not a heavy broadsword but something a lot closer to a rapier.  We can see the two are close, which in turn gives a pretty strong hint of what this household is like much of the time.  She names her sword "Needle" because all great swords have names.

As Jon and his father parted, the former asks (evidently far from the first time) for some information about his mother.  I'll spoil you and say that speculation on that question is rife among the fans.  Ned promises to tell him all the next time they meet.  Methinks we can safely say that won't happen for a long while.

Back at Winterfell, an assassin tries to kill Bran, but gets his throat ripped through by the boy's dire wolf (much to Catelyn's astonishment).  More disturbing--why would anyone pay to have a boy murdered?  The blade involved is extremely good work, Valyran steel.  Catelyn believes her husband needs to know about this but distrusts regular communication.  She heads for King's Landing, leaving Robb in charge ("There must always be a Stark at Winterfell").

On the road, the vile Joffrey has turned the charm on for Sansa, Ned's eldest daughter.  He lets the mask slip however in an encounter with Arya as she practices swordplay with a butcher's son.  Arya's dire wolf Nymeria bites his wrist when he attacks her for defending her friend.  The girl wisely disarms the Prince, then runs into the woods with Nymeria, whom she frees in order to save from Joffrey's vengeance.  Methinks we have not seen the last of that creature.  But sadly, we have seen all we ever will of Sansa's dire wolf.  To placate his Queen--who reacts in righteous fury at anything going wrong for her beloved child--King Robert orders that dire wolf killed in place of the one that got away.  That Sansa actually lied for Joffrey's sake means nothing.

Ned carries out the killing himself.  It is the way of the North.  He who passes judgment should wield the sword.  Along the way he learns the scarred warrior Sandor the Hound (so-called for his distinctive helm) has found the butcher's son and killed him.

At the very moment Lady (Sansa's dire wolf) dies, Bran opens his eyes in Winterfell.  That is two episodes in a row that end with him.  Coincidence?

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