HBO‘s epic fantasy series, Game of Thrones, returns to our screens this week after having been away for a year, following a highly successful first season run. The fantasy series garnered impressive viewing figures and universal acclaim, including numerous Emmy and Golden Globe nominations which it rightfully deserved. At the close of the last season we saw the two major lords of the land, King Robert and Lord Ned Stark killed as well as the North and the South on the brink of war. And this is where we begin.
Following the death of his father, King Robert, the little shit Joffrey has claimed the Iron Throne, taking Stark’s eldest daughter as his queen. The 13 year old reprises his smarmy, loathsome quality from the last season. Only now his heightened delusions of grandeur and control of the throne have shot straight to his head. In the opening of the episode we see a gladiatorial match in his honour where he whoops and cheers for mindless slaughter.
It takes a lot to make a young character truly loathsome, but screenwriters David Benioff and D.B. Weiss clearly have a lot of fun with Joffrey by making him such a vile screen presence. The dominance he has over his mother and wife is painful to watch. However the audience gets their dues, when Joffrey is slapped by his mother and insulted openly by his uncle Lord Tyrion, played with scene stealing brilliance by Peter Dinklage.
Despite Joffrey’s hold over the kingdom, the right to the Iron Throne is in deep dispute. Robert’s brother Stannis, who rules in Dragonstone, is beginning to claim his right to the throne at King’s Landing by sending out a message stating that all Robert’s children: Joffrey and his siblings, the “true” heirs of King’s Landing, actually have no right to the throne. He accuses the children of being born out of the incestuous relationship between Robert’s widow Cersei and her brother Jaime, which we got a glimpse of last season. Stannis however is very aware that the throne’s true heir is in dispute but is hungered for by many people; so although he sends out that message, he sets out solely alone to seek it.
Meanwhile, Ned’s son Robb Stark has now been crowned the King of the North following his father’s death and has sought to avenge that by crippling Joffrey’s power. He is informed through Stannis’ letter about Joffrey being born out of incest and uses this on leverage against Jaime, who he has taken prisoner, to deepen the North’s independence. He also convinces his mother to travel to the court of King Renly to negotiate an alliance in order to give him more power over the Lannister army.
Robb’s half-brother Jon heads North beyond the Wall with the Night’s Watch where they reach the keep of a man named Craster, a wilding who, like the Lannisters, engages with incest in order to control his little microcosm. He marries and breeds each of his daughters, about which he is creepily protective. Though he is quite a hideous man, he could prove quite useful to Jon and Robb’s campaign.
As a result of all this going on, some characters do get restricted to only a couple of scenes. Bran Stark, the youngest of the Stark siblings, is left in Winterfell with an aid to guide his leadership while his brothers and his mother are away. The other sidelined character, Daenerys Targaryen, is travelling across a desert in order to find shelter but the horses and her dragons are growing weak and she sends out three riders in search of aid. The only interesting thing that bridges these two subplots is an ominous red mark in the sky, which serves as a nice transition between the characters but also another element to the plot which will presumably recur throughout the season.
The plot lines are interwoven pretty spectacularly, so we can see how the show is evolving. This seasons’s tagline, “War is Coming” is clearly imbued throughout the episode. A fierce three way tug-of-war emerges between the controlling egos in the kingdom. Power is forcefully demonstrated, and the audience witnesses the lengths people will go to keep it.
Power affects the kingdom’s structure on a very personal level, a theme that will continue to run over the course of the season.
The high production values: wonderful cinematography and the rich art direction remain impressive as always. No program looks as good as Game of Thrones and it’s a very welcome addition to one of the hottest schedules for original drama in recent years. May the quality continue.