The Good: Character development, Direction, Acting, Performances
The Bad: The developing characters all seem to be headed in the exact same direction . . .
The Basics: As the powers in Westeros war, more supernatural elements enter the fray in Game Of Thrones Season Two!
Having had a somewhat contrarian view on Game Of Thrones Season 1 (reviewed here!), I doubt there are many of the show’s loyal viewers who would stick around to care about my thoughts on season two. But, for those who do . . . I did enjoy the second season, probably because it veered away from being House Of Cards (reviewed here!) in a vaguely fantasy setting. Because my main beef with the first season of Game Of Thrones really was that it could hardly be called a fantasy setting; the only thing that really touched on the magical – the dragons and the White Walkers (essentially magically-created zombies) – came up very late in the season.
Season Two of Game Of Thrones ups the ante for fans of fantasy and it gives those who are simply looking for a powerful drama more to care about. The magical elements, like the baby dragons and a killer wraith who is sent by one of the New Gods as a tool for one of the forces vying for control of Westeros, makes the show into more than simply a bunch of would-be kings plotting one another’s overthrow. Even better, now that the main forces in Game Of Thrones have been established, Season Two finds them developing. Sadly, though, the most significant characters all seem to be developing in the exact same direction.
Even so, the second season of Game Of Thrones is entertaining and shows real promise and the characters have much more human motivations than in Season One. It is, as always, worth noting that this review is a pure review of the second season of Game Of Thrones as it appears on DVD as opposed to anything that was in the books upon which the series is based. The ten episodes of Season Two of Game Of Thrones spans about a year in the history of Westeros.
Westeros, the Kingdom of seven loosely-connected territories held together under the control of the capital, King’s Landing, is in full warfare. The capital is now run by King Joffrey Baratheon, the psychopathic heir who was actually the product of an affair between his mother and uncle, Cersei and Jaime Lannister. As Joffrey displays more and more aggressive tendencies, Tyrion is sent to King’s Landing to act as the Hand to Joffrey. Tyrion is instantly upset by the brutality of Joffrey and he does some house cleaning of the guards and advisors in order to protect people like Sansa.
Elsewhere in the kingdom, the legitimate Baratheons, Renly and Stannis, go directly to war with one another. Stannis has sold his forces to a priestess of the Lord Of Light and she gives him a surprising advantage over the kind reformer Renly. With the war between the Starks and Lannisters dividing half of Westeros, the Starks take an unexpected hit from a deeply personal source. As Stannis moves toward King’s Landing, Daenerys takes refuge in the richest city in Westeros . . . where her dragons become the most sought-after prize of wealthy merchants and magicians alike.
The cast of Game Of Thrones is expanded in the second season by characters like Stannis, Tywin Lannister, and Renly (who were absent from or had only minor parts in the first season). The show is filled with (seemingly) minor characters who do very little throughout the second season, save find themselves moved by circumstance. Arya is captured with one of Robert Baratheon’s bastard sons (a blacksmith) and the two end up in the unlikely service of Tywin as he wages war upon the Starks. But, like Jon Snow, who ends up in the wilds on the wrong side of the Wall, Arya is essentially just moved around the “board” without significantly developing. What development Arya actually has, though, is interesting as she develops an interesting taste for revenge.
The characters that do develop in significant ways are Tyrion, Renly, and Rob Stark. All three have moments where they begin to appreciate the common people of Westeros and start to position themselves to be a leader who will reform Westeros for women, the poor, and the pacifists. While I was impressed by the first moments where each of these characters began to take a more liberal view than their Medieval counterparts, they all seem to be reaching the exact same epiphanies and preparing the viewer for some sense of catharsis (on the assumption that after so many despots are shown vying for control one of these more humane leaders who is rising up will eventually overthrow Joffrey).
The actor who rules Game Of Thrones Season Two is Peter Dinklage, who gets top billing for the season. While Charles Dance is wonderful in his few scenes as Tywin Lannister (who is also added to the main cast), it is well within his well-established range. Dinklage, though, who has a less well-known body of work proves himself undeniably as he (as Tyrion) emotes amazingly using his voice and (at some of the most significant, but understated moments) his eyes. He is a truly incredible actor and the second season of Game Of Thrones where his character is given enough to do to truly shine.
On DVD, Game Of Thrones Season Two features twelve commentary tracks (which are insightful and interesting) as well as featurettes on the cast and major characters. The show looks good, but the direction on some of the key moments is terrible. During the most significant battle of the season, the shots are so dark and cut so fast that it is virtually impossible to tell what is going on. Regardless, the second season of Game Of Thrones is enough to make one want to invest in the series.
For other fantasy works, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Once Upon A Time - Season 1
For other television season reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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