Directors: Alan Taylor, Alik Sakharov, David Petrarca, David Nutter, Neil Marshall
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Nikolai Coster-Waldau, Michelle Fairley, Emilia Clarke, Iain Glen
Minor character Tywin Lannister (father to fan-favourite Tyrion Lannister) sums the series’ encompassing theme when he says to his servant “Your legacy is what’s left of you when you’re gone.” This is indeed the over-arching theme of Game of Thrones; the tenacious quest of each of the many characters to live up to their legacies. This same struggle to live up to expectations exists for the show itself in its largely successful second series.
The righteous cause of vengeance for Eddard Stark’s death continues, and we find that his son Robb (Richard Madden) is surprisingly adept at leading his Northern army against the forces of the despicable Lannisters. His half-brother, the bastard Jon Snow (Kit Harington) also is forced to grow as he encounters evils while in his service in the Night’s Watch. Robb’s companion Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is sent back to his home in the Iron Islands to raise support for the war, but his sense of duty comes into conflict with his family; a betrayal follows, and Theon’s true colours are displayed. The competition for the Iron Throne enlarges, and the late King Robert’s younger brothers, the humourless Stannis (Stephen Dillane) and the inexperienced but earnest Renly (Gethin Anthony), are both contenders for crown. Meanwhile, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) has assumed the title of ‘Mother of Dragons,’ but struggles against both desert heat and nefarious plots by the leaders of Qarth, a rich and exotic city across the sea from the Seven Kingdoms. All the intrigue and excitement comes to a head at the impressive Battle of the Blackwater, complete with a full-scale sea assault and magic napalm.
Fans of the first series of Game of Thrones will be delighted at the embellishment of the storylines, the addition of new characters and, of course, lots more graphic violence and sex. The show’s beautiful cinematography continue to balance the often grim subject matter. And for all the crudity and death, the series provides ample moments of heartbreaking joy and humour. Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister continues to entertain immensely, and the lusty-but-loveable imp becomes the heart of series two.
A minor weakness for the series lies in the plot-line of Daenerys Targaryen. As relentlessly as most of Game‘s characters live in the earthy, brutal world of Westeros, the travails of the princess-turned-savage Khaleesi remain mostly disconnected. And no matter how many practical and likeable characters she encounters, she retains her fantastical notions of wielding the power of dragons to claim the Iron Throne. Unlike most other characters, whose own illusions are broken in evocative ways, Daenerys cannot seem to come to terms with her own reality. Our expectations of a great showdown or redemption are built up to the last episode, but the results are underwhelming. At the same time, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) becomes the hero of the series. The young lady, misplaced and forgotten by most other characters, proves to be up for many challenges. She has the chance to prove her cunning and strength: will she choose vengeance and death, or forgiveness and hope? Game of Thrones may be highly moral after all.
It’s true that the show deals in stilted, quasi-archaic melodrama, occasionally enough to induce a cringe or two. But for each cringe, the narrative is cut with several moments of emotional clarity, carried by the strength of the cast, old and new, major and minor (including the sadly underused Davos Seaworth and Gendry, played by Liam Cunningham and Joe Dempsie).
In spite of some arch moments and a few cases of wooden inhumanity, Game of Thrones’ great triumph in its second series is its ability to deepen its already intricate web of characters and plot-lines without being crushed under the weight of it all.