Series Breakdown Rating:
Overall Plot: 7
Spoilers: Fuck yes
Audience Assumptions: Some familiarity
Season Two – **
Part One: If You Promise Dragons, You’d Better Deliver Dragons
Now that the basics have been addressed, I can offer a more critical take on the series as a whole. The second season is very middling in my opinion – there are elements to appreciate, and elements taken beyond the scope of the first season, particularly surrounding Tyrion’s subplot, but the elements that drag also begin to rear their heads here frequently, and more than anything I find this season especially forgetful. I’ve seen it three or four times now, and aside from those first and last two episodes, I think I would struggle to name most important events that happen outside of the ending.
While it isn’t the worst of the series (oh, we’ll come to that), I still consider it worse on the whole than the first season, which while perhaps the most narratively coherent season of the bunch, doesn’t have much to push it beyond the average of its constituents. The first season promises the audience that impressive payoff is soon to come; the second season delivers on almost none of these promises. In some cases, it goes a step further to deliver things the audience likely wouldn’t have wanted if the producers bothered to ask.
Part Two: The Night Is Dark and Full of Bullshit
The main conceit of the second season of Game of Thrones is that there are five or six kings (plus one queen) vying for power, each with different degrees of legitimacy and capability. Stannis Baratheon is introduced, unfortunately, and thus begins one of the most tedious and unpleasant of the series’ subplots. Technically this subplot follows one of Stannis’ right hand men, a smuggler turned lord called Ser Davos Seaworth (and you can thank the books for the series’ inability to understand vowels and their use in words like “sir”). I actually don’t mind Davos – he comes across as a well-crafted character with an interesting past and a complex relationship to his king. He’s well-regarded by Stannis because he smuggled food onto Stannis’ island during a siege, single-handedly saving several men including Stannis himself. As a smuggler and criminal, he was punished by having the fingers of one hand chopped off, but then pardoned and given a noble position for saving the island. He considers this treatment tough but fair, and carries around his disarticulated finger bones in a sack around his neck as a good luck charm. To complicate the character, he lacks faith during a time when his king has made a deal with a creepy religious cult leader, the Red Woman Lady Melisandre, who insists on burning people alive for her god.
Much as I find Davos watchable, the religious cult is where the Stannis subplot becomes exceptionally frustrating. Many fans of this show hate Joffrey. I think I despise the Red Woman more. It isn’t necessarily for what she does – she is a seductress, a murderer, and very closed-minded when it comes to deities – but rather, I loathe the way this character is presented. Every third line out of her mouth seems to be “the night is dark and full of terrors,” which is taken up as a sort of chant, though I still have no idea what for. Are the showrunners trying to imply that she knows about the white walkers? Is she trying to coerce people into following her like a will-o-the-wisp? Is her god supposed to be in control of said terrors and threatening to unleash them on the world unless people bow down to him? All of the interpretations are equally stupid. Of course the night is dark and full of terrors, you idiot – it’s the fucking middle ages. Even without the zombies and giant wolves, this show is eager to point out how ruthless life in medieval Europe could be.
That the Red Woman has convenient magical powers that are never really explained, and always seems to be in the right regardless of how logical or noble other persons’ actions may be does not lend her much sympathy in my book. Maybe the way she’s written wouldn’t be so much of a problem if her appearance and presentation worked within the series, but she fails in this respect too. I’m sure her actor is a lovely person, but there’s something about the way she moves in particular that irks the hell out of me and pulls me back to reality as soon as she waltzes onscreen.
Part Three: The Silver Lining on a Cold Front of Idiocy
So now that I’ve ranted about the Red Woman, is there anything else to note about this season? I mean, Joffrey’s an asshole, the budget still isn’t quite capable of handling CGI dragons and very obviously makes every effort to hide them from view, and none of the new characters (with perhaps the exception of Davos, if you want to be generous) are valuable additions. I can’t remember any of them dying, even though I’m sure several of them do, which says something about the value they add to the series.
That said, it isn’t without its positive moments too, especially toward the end of the season. Theon’s betrayal, perplexing as it may be, goes dark pretty quickly and will sufficiently satisfy the proto-George R. R.s in the audience who revel in blood and misery. The wolves are bigger, though the same cannot really be said for the dragons that I so eagerly anticipated. Arya’s subplot is surprisingly compelling, especially once she teams up with a professional assassin.
By far the most central subplot is that surrounding Tyrion as he acts as Hand of the King to Joffrey. I almost feel like I should make a compilation of the number of times Tyrion slaps the latter in the face, because it happens fairly often and is quite satisfying to watch. Joffrey himself, of course, is just as unpleasant to endure as ever, though a lot of people may find him a character they love to hate (unlike, for instance, the Red Woman, who is just annoying). Tyrion’s Hand of the King subplot ends after a visually stunning second-to-last episode fight, which employs the first major battle choreography in the series and showcases a few clever twists to keep it engaging. While nothing compared to some later fights, the Battle of the Blackwater is probably in my top three or four battle sequences in the series so far, even if the series does insist on making Greek fire green for some godforsaken reason.