Welcome back Throne Geeks!
Today we dive into season 2 of HBO’s fantastic series, Game of Thrones, leading up to the premiere of the sixth season this Sunday (check out our season one recap here as well).
What is power?
- “Knowledge is power.” – Lord Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger)
- “Power is power.” – Queen Regent Cersei Lannister
- “A man without friends is a man without power.” – King Renly Baratheon to King Stannis Baratheon
- “Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall. And a very small man can cast a very large shadow.” – Master of Whisperers, Varys to acting Hand of the King, Tyrion Lannister
- “Dragons are fire made flesh and fire is power.” – Quaith to Jorah
The War of the Five Kings is upon us as moves and counter moves are made in the name of gaining power, whatever that truly means. Many characters, old and new, continue to play The Game of Thrones as they push our story towards an epic clash in the Battle of The Blackwater. Unfortunately, despite this magnificently staged event (which takes place in episode nine), season two is sometimes considered a “weaker” season overall (though, even “weak” seasons of GoT are better than 95% of other television shows out there). But, season two is further proof that this series only gets better upon multiple viewings. Hindsight does wonders for putting pieces together without viewers feeling like they’ve “been there, done that.”
Every season is a chess game, and you can’t get to “check” without first moving your pieces around the board to get them where they need to be. Season two adds several new characters, and many of our returning favorites have split up, thus creating even more paths to follow (and more locations to see). Setup is crucial in this vast world and when you look back, everything, and I mean everything, has a payoff. Now, that doesn’t mean that some of the journeys aren’t better than others, or that some characters get meatier material to work with than others, but that’s inevitable with a story as sprawling as this.
Just to get a sense of this, here is a list of new places we see and new people we meet in season 2:
- Dragonstone: Stannis Baratheon, Davos Seaworth, Melisandre (The Red Priestess)
- Iron Islands: Yara Greyjoy, Balon Greyjoy
- Harrenhal: Tywin Lannister and Gendry (both of whom we met in season one, but get more fleshed out this season), Jaqen H’gar
- Stormlands: Brienne of Tarth, Margaery Tyrell
- Beyond the Wall: Craster, Gilly, Qhorin Halfhand, Ygritte, Mance Rayder (briefly)
- Qarth: Xaro Xoan Daxos, Pyat Pree, Quaith
- The Riverlands: Talisa Maegyr, Walder Frey
- King’s Landing: Podrick Payne
So…yeah, things get a bit more complicated (ok, a lot more complicated). The ratio of character deaths (as many and as shocking as they often are) to new ones introduced doesn’t quite balance out, so there are many more threads to follow. I argue that that only enriches the world and story…but let’s see if we can’t break it down a little more simply!
In the aftermath of Ned Stark’s death and Joffrey’s ascension to the Iron Throne (despite the fact that he’s actually Jaime’s, and not Robert’s, son), Ned’s son Robb, now proclaimed King of the North, continues winning battles against Lord Tywin Lannister (father to Jaime, Cersei and Tyrion) in the field, while Tyrion does his best to rule King’s Landing as acting Hand of the King. His efforts are often thwarted by Joffrey, whose his evil perversions become more and more pronounced, as well as his jealous sister (and Joffrey’s mother), Cersei, who waits for the inevitable attack against the city by one of the Baratheon brothers, both of whom have laid claim to the throne. The eldest, Stannis, has recently converted to the worship of The Lord of Light (in place of the common Westerosi religion of The Seven) and is aided by the mysterious and powerful Red Priestess, Melisandre. Stannis’ chief advisor is ex smuggler Davos Seaworth, who is devoted to his king but suspicious of Melisandre.
The youngest Baratheon brother, Renly, has amassed a huge army, mainly due to his charm and errantry (his followers prefer him to the taciturn and unforgiving Stannis) but also due to his recent marriage to Margaery Tyrell, whose family riches are second only to the Lannisters. Complicating matters is the fact that Renly is in love with Margaery’s brother, Loras (The Knight of the Flowers), as well as his appointment of a female knight, Brienne of Tarth, to his kingsguard.
Robb Stark sends his mother, Catelyn, to parlay with Renly in order to unite against the Lannisters, which he agrees to do…after he defeats Stannis. The night before the battle, however, Melisandre resorts to magic to give birth to a shadow monster that murders Renly in his tent as Catelyn and Brienne look on in horror. The two flee the scene and the majority of Renly’s followers join Stannis (though Petyr Baelish, having been sent from King’s Landing to negotiate a hostage trade with Catelyn: Jamie Lannister, who is Robb’s captive, for Catelyn’s two daughters, Sansa and Arya – though this is a false promise as the Lannisters do not have Arya – convinces Loras and Margaery to run). Devastated over Renly’s death, Brienne agrees to serve Catelyn as they travel back to Robb’s camp, where she secretly releases Jaime (under the orders of Cat) in hopes of getting Catelyn’s daughters back.
While Catelyn is representing Robb to Renly, Theon Greyjoy, ward to Ned Stark and like a brother to Robb, is sent to his ancestral home of the Iron Islands to make a deal between Rob and his birth father, Balon Greyjoy. Balon and Theon’s sister, Yara, however, have no interest in an alliance with the Starks. They decide rather to stay true to their pirate-like heritage and raid the shores of the north while most of the fighting men are off with Robb in the south.
Theon is forced to choose between his blood family and the one he’d lived with for nine years…and he chooses blood. In an attempt to gain his father’s respect he hatches a dangerous plan to conquer Winterfell, which is being ruled by 11 year old Bran Stark, who is paralyzed from the waist down. With the help of a wildling named Osha and a gentle giant named Hodor who is able to carry him on his back, Bran and his brother Rickon are able to escape Winterfell as Theon is, in turn, betrayed by Ramsay Snow, the bastard son of Roose Bolton…a bannerman under Rob Stark. The castle is burnt and abandoned as Bran and Rickon flee.
Elsewhere, Arya is traveling north on the King’s Road with Yoren, a recruiter for the Night’s Watch who knows who she is but demands she pretends to be a boy to hide her identity. Her group is attacked by soldiers who fight with The Mountain (a monstrous knight – brother to The Hound). They are searching for Gendry, a young smith, who is actually the late King Robert’s bastard son, but are fooled into thinking one of the dead was actually the boy they were looking for. Yoren is also killed, while Arya loses her precious sword, Needle, to Polliver, one of the soldiers. She and the other captives are taken to the ruined (and some say haunted) remains of Harrenhal, where Arya is recognized to be a girl (though not a Stark) by none other than Tywin Lannister.
She becomes his cupbearer while at the same time forming a relationship with one of the other captives, a man whose life she saved during the fight with the Mountain’s men, Jaqen H’ghar. To pay his debt to her, Jaqen offers to kill three people she names. Eventually, Arya uses this debt to help her and Gendry (as well as a boy named Hot Pie) escape Harrenhal. Jaqen then reveals that he is a Faceless Man – one who can change his appearance as if by magic. He gives Arya a coin of Braavos and teaches her the phrase, Valar Morghulis (all men must die).
Up north, Jon Snow and the men of the Nights Watch, under the command of Jeor Mormont, march to the Fist of the First Men to find out what is happening with both the wildlings, who appear to be uniting under one leader (a very rare thing to happen) and the various hints that point to the White Walkers returning after centuries of being nothing more than myth. On their way they stop at Craster’s Keep, the dwelling of an old wilding who marries his daughters and leaves his sons out in the cold as sacrifices to the Walkers. Sam falls for Gilly, one of Craster’s pregnant wives/daughters, but is unable to help her as the men move on north.
After meeting up with a legendary ranger named Qhorin Halfhand, Commander Mormont allows Jon to accompany Qhorin on a scouting mission where they ambush a group of wildlings. Jon is unable to kill one of them, a fiery redheaded woman named Ygritte, and soon finds himself her captive, along with Qhorin. Qhorin goads Jon into a fight in order to convince the wildings that Jon doesn’t want to be a member of the Nights Watch anymore. Jon kills Qhorin and is cautiously accepted by the wildings, who take him to meet their King Beyond The Wall, Mance Rayder.
In the far east, Daenarys, now known as The Mother of Dragons, wanders the Red Waste lands until finding sanctuary in the beautiful city of Qarth. She finds more enemies, however, as many lust after her dragons. Despite warnings by the mysterious Quaith, the warlocks under Pyat Pree steal her dragons and Dany must make her way through The House of the Undying to free them. After having several visions of the future, including seeing the Iron Throne covered in snow, she and her dragons defeat the warlock by burning him. They then sack the house of their supposed host, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, and find enough money to buy themselves a few ships to sail west in.
Finally, back in King’s Landing, Tyrion does his best to fight off the invasion led by Stannis. He is able to destroy much of the Baratheon fleet using wildfire and leads the soldiers himself in hand to hand combat (while Joffrey runs away to hide in the Red Keep with his mother and Sansa, who shows courage during the siege). Tyrion is nearly killed by one of his own men, a member of the kingsguard, in fact, when his squire, Podrick Payne, saves him. The battle is ultimately won by the arrival of Tywin Lannister, leading an army with the Tyrells (Petyr Baelish having convinced Maergery and Loras this was their best course of action). King Joffrey praises his grandfather’s prowess and agrees to marry Margaery instead of Sansa.
Meanwhile, the majority of the Night’s Watch who are still camping on The First of the First Men, north of the wall, come under attack by an army of the dead…
Whew. There is some seriously strong stuff in this season, but there are a few things that don’t work as well. Ultimately, it’s impossible for creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to give equal time and weight to every character. There are simply too many of them and some just aren’t as prominent…at THIS point in the series. I do think that when it’s all said and done, after the last episode is finished, everyone’s stories will have balanced out.
Or, at the very least, it’ll be clear that the part they played was crucial in those very specific moments. Was season 2 Dany’s moment to shine? Not really. There’s definitely a feeling of treading water there, but knowing what comes in season 3 helps alleviate that disappointment, I think. Jaime also has much less to do in season 2, but, on the flip side, we finally meet Stannis, Davos and Melisandre. We also meet Margaery (“I want to be The Queen”), Brienne (hell yeah!) and get to see Arya really do some great stuff in her scenes with both Tywin and Jaqen. Season 2 is also a great showcase for Tyrion and his abilities, even if they don’t end up being appreciated. I also think the final image lived up to the precedent set in season one. Then, we got dragons. This time, we got White Walkers.
“Blackwater”: Still stands as the best episode of the entire series (in my opinion). Soldiers chanting Halfman, Cersei getting drunk and belligerent, Sansa showing some courage (finally…), green wildfire, etc. etc. Simply: boom.
- “The night is dark and full of terrors.” – Melisandre. Oh yes, it is.
- “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” – Ygritte. (Nor do we, Ygritte, nor do we…)
- Anytime Arya and Tywin occupied the same space…this may be the best change from the books that Benioff and Weiss ever made.
- Bronn loosing an arrow and setting a ship alight with green wildfire. Whoosh.
- The army of the dead advancing on the men of the Nights Watch in the snow.
And that does it for season two, and be sure to continue joining us on our full recap of all five seasons of Game of Thrones throughout the next few days.
Game of Thrones season six will premiere on HBO on Sunday, April 24th.
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