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Game of Thrones: The North Remembers

“What’s the truth?”

Knowledge is power (as Littlefinger, Foucault, and GI Joe would say). Or power is power (as Cersei and probably Joffrey would say). Or, perhaps, power is a matter of perception: not just how many forces you can marshal or loyalties you can command, but also how your enemies—and your friends—see you. Whether they choose to believe your truths or work to reveal the lies. And whether they think your form of power is worth supporting, or worth attempting to destroy.

In keeping with the tradition in the books as well as the show, Game of Thrones refuses to offer an easy answer to the question of what power is, much less claim that any one person or side has the moral right. Even our heroes make difficult, pragmatic decisions, because they know that right action can doom them to the wrong outcome. The muddiness of this show is its greatest strength on a macro level, and its greatest challenge on a micro level: this episode, like so many episodes in the first season, showed where everyone was and has been, set up complicated tension that will be resolved in various (complicated) ways, and combines complicated plotting with Big Questions. As a solitary entry, it was strong but not wonderful; as a portion of the complicated tapestry that is the world of Game of Thrones, it was fascinating.

King’s Landing

The Lannisters of King’s Landing all have different approaches to understanding and manipulating the power they hold. Joffrey enjoys displaying power, and seems to mistake the display for the force behind it. He enjoys making men fight for him rather than giving them something to fight for. His humiliation of Ser Dontos and Sansa, as well as his refusal to accept his mother’s advice, doesn’t bode well for the kingdom.

Cersei, on the other hand, wants power to avoid someone having power over here: a subtle difference from Joffrey’s sadistic psychopathy, but different enough to make her slightly more sympathetic. She sees the monster that she had a hand in creating, and wonders just how much trouble she’s gotten herself into. It’s fascinating to contrast her scene with Joffrey (the slap) with her scene with Littlefinger: Joffrey enjoyed providing the spectacle of power and showing off his dominance to the workmen; Cersei felt that she did not need to impress the guards, only Littlefinger, but spoke unguardedly in front of the workmen and didn’t notice the servant washing the tiles when she spoke to Littlefinger. Blindness on her part, or a clear sense of who matters and who doesn’t?

Tyrion, on the other hand, toys with the perception of power: no one expects him to have any or to exercise any, and that makes him at least as potentially powerful as Littlefinger ever was. Even Cersei only listens to Tyrion because he has the weight of his father’s might (and rage) behind him—he is in the stead of the Hand of the King, and that seems to be rather far removed from actually power. But he’s smart enough to see most, if not all, of the angles, and has one advantage over so many of the others at court: he wants to do what is most effective rather than what is most likely to gain him a personal advantage.

The Red Waste

Daenerys is both at the lowest ebb of her power and on the cusp of so much more. Her dragons and her ability to withstand fire have given her enormous power over her followers. But they are still a weak band with baby dragons, stuck in a wasteland. Her power is that of the messiah—mystical, all-encompassing, foretold—but messianism doesn’t feed people, and Dany knows it.

Beyond the Wall

Jon Snow’s lesson in power mirrors Dany’s: as she is learning the challenges of leading and the weight of her responsibilities, Jon has to learn the humility that is required of a leader-to-be. Although his conversation with Mormont was short, it was important. He must support Mormont and the Night’s Watch, just as Ser Jorah Mormont must support Dany and her group.

The scenes beyond the Wall also established yet another player in the clash of kings that seems to be a-brewing. Mance Rayder, former brother of the Night’s Watch, is gathering all of the northern wildlings to him in hopes of invading the Seven Kingdoms.

Dragonstone

Melisandre’s power is something else entirely. She has the ear of the most unlikeable pretender to the throne, Stannis—but among the small group of lords on Dragonstone, his word is gospel, and so her god has supplanted the Seven. As fascinating as Melisandre is, the highlight of the Dragonstone scenes were the conversations about the responsibility of those who follow, not those who lead. Is loyalty a matter of blind obedience, or of speaking hard truths? Does true power lie with those who reveal lies, or with those who can lie so effectively that their lies become truth?

(I’m sure I’ll talk more about this in the episodes to come, but let’s take a second to admire just how annoying Stannis is. He’d make a perfect bureaucrat working in the DMV or for the collections department of a mortgage company.)

On the Warpath

Robb Stark, the presumptive King in the North and heir-apparent to his father’s title of Totally Awesome Protagonist, has power and uses it as it must be used: carefully, gingerly, distrustingly. Robb seems smarter than his father, and less willing to trust people to hold to their words. That he sent Catelyn to treat with Renly speaks to his understanding of just how tenuous his hold over the North is: men might be loyal, but he knows that doesn’t mean they’re willing to risk their lives for a near-impossible peace. That he sent Theon to ask Balon Greyjoy to solicit support and 200 ships says something else.

Robb and Davos spoke of truth, Littlefinger and Cersei threatened each other obliquely with the truth, Jaime spoke of proof, and Tyrion claims that King’s Landing contains good liars, bad liars, and one or two great liars. But truth is open to interpretation just as much as the comet (that neatly tied many disparate threads together) is. Truth is whatever those in power want it to be, and whatever those jockeying for power choose to believe as is convenient for them or inconvenient for their enemies. Proof can be dismissed, ignored, hidden—or destroyed, as many of Robert’s bastards were at the end of this episode.

That scene, evocative of the Slaughter of the Innocents in the Gospel of Mark, was cobbled together from various allusions in the books, and marks a shift from the chapter-by-chapter pace of the first season to a more long-form cinematic approach to this second season. It represents both the power of the Lannisters in King’s Landing, and the tenuousness of that power. I assume Cersei ordered the slaughter; she did so because of Littlefinger’s veiled threats and Joffrey’s insults, and to protect herself, her brother and her son. If an infant represents a threat to the throne, the throne is not in good hands; if the Queen Regent can be pushed into intemperate action by her annoying twat of a son, then perhaps the Lannisters aren’t as secure in King’s Landing as they think.

Quotes:

• Littlefinger: “If [winter] lasts any longer, we’ll have fewer peasants.”

• Tyion: “You love your children. It’s your one redeeming quality. That, and your cheekbones.”

• Dany: “How do I make starvation scream?”

• Dolorous Ed: “I was born in a place like this. Later, I fell on hard times.”

• Catelyn: “A king in every corner.”

Three out of four comets.

[Reminder: We like to keep the comments section free of spoilers from the books. If you spoil something from the books, we will feed you to Dany’s dragons. They’re hungry, after all, and seem to be off their feed.]

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

23 comments:

  1. Thanks for giving us our GoT review fix extra speedy Josie! I am so so glad that Westeros is back on our screens, I've been re-reading and listening to the books during the long wait for Season 2 but it doesn't compare to seeing the characters I love coming alive on screen. The quality of the acting on this show is stellar, and there were some great lines for the them to work with.

    A few observations:

    - Robb's direwolf Grey Wind looked so much bigger and better than the ones in the few direwolf scenes we got last season.
    - Good of Sansa to save Ser Dontas from death.
    - Ros the whore is back again, and she was well used to provide some background to Petr Baelish's pimpy activities and set-up the montage of Robert Baratheon's bastards murders.
    - Bran is dreaming from his direwolf's POV.
    - Melisandre's neck ruby glowed at the end of the scene where she drank the poison. Somebody smash it, quick!
    - Joffers is a mini-megalomaniac, even Cersei can't control him now.
    - Robb and Catelyn saying goodbye got me awfully choked up.
    - Gendry the Baratheon bastard and Gilly wife of Craster were previously on Skins together, shame they're at opposite ends of the world and are unlikely to get scenes together.
    - Jon is definitely way prettier than most of Craster's wives.
    - I want Stannis' Westeros shaped table. Where to put it though?

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  2. The Westeros table was one of those images I had in my head for a long time. It was almost spot on, except I think I imagined the room to be a bit more cavernous.

    I've only read half of this season's related book. So although I know where some elements are headed, I don't know what the resolution will be. I didn't stop reading it because I wanted to watch it instead. But now that the show is here, I think I can wait nine more weeks.

    The only thing I would've changed about this episode was the old Maester on Dragonstone's desperate run to that dinner, and perhaps a minute explaining his reasons for doing what he did. But the actual scene was fascinating.

    Thanks for the thoughtful review!

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  3. Great review Josie! Excellent at highlighting how important the them of Power is in this series! :o)

    I think this is the first episode where I start to dislike Sansa a little less! ;o)

    And although I missed Tyrion slapping Joffrey, having Cersei do it - and then realise she herself is in danger from the monster she's spawned - was almost as good!

    I'm not yet 100% convinced by Melisandre... hopefully we'll get to see more of her soon. (and yeah, Stannis would make the perfect stereotypical bureaucrat!)

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  4. Nathan Fillion, my favorite tweeter, tweeted this: "Did you see the size of that Dire Wolf? Anyone? ANYONE?"

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  5. Excellent review, Josie. Boy, they really packed quite a bit in there, didn't they? Although I felt like nothing really happened even though the hour flew by. This is one show that you cannot miss one word of dialogue, otherwise you miss important information explaining what has happened off screen. I'm thinking some folks may have not quite grasped why all those dark haired children were being hauled off and killed, or who that was in the cart with Arya at the end. I even had a friend that said he couldn't wait to see what type of powers "Stannis' wife" has - mistaking the Melisandre for Stannis' wife. I wish they could spend more time on some things (the prologue in Book 2 really explains a lot), but I understand there is SO much material to cover. Overall, they did a great job hitting the points we had to know - like where everyone is now and starting to show us the different factions vying to be King. Loved the HUGE Direwolf.

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  6. I was impressed with the visual tricks they used for the direwolf, too. And I was really glad they introduced the wolf dreams.

    I agree with the Sooze that the hour flew by. I was impressed with how much they packed in, but I was still clamoring for more! The hubby is a non-book reader, and he only had a couple, "okay, bring me up to speed here" moments, including the material at Dragonstone (he wondered if we had seen those folks before, because he didn't remember them), and he did need me to explain what was happening with Robert's bastards at the end.

    Great casting again. Stephen Dillane perfectly captures the cold and unforgiving nature of Stannis, and Carice van Houten is suitably otherworldy and creepily powerful. I even liked Liam Cunningham as Davos, even though he's a bit bigger than I always pictured Davos. I can't wait to meet some of our other key new characters this season!

    So thrilled to have the show back and see the game pieces getting set back out on the board!

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  7. Jack Gleeson has to be one of the more underrated actors on GoT. I like Joffrey, even if he is a murderous little twit. But then, the personality test put me in House Frey.

    Also, Jack Gleeson's eyes terrify me as much as Asa Butterfield's do.

    I was kind of disappointed Renly/Margaery/Loras weren't in this episode, but hopefully they will be soon.

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  8. Jack Gleeson is definitely wonderfully vile. He makes me hate Joffrey even more than I already did!

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  9. So glad GoT is back. I had read the first book before watching the first series but haven't gotten my hands on the next one before this and I'm already feeling the lack! Still great though.

    I absolutely LOVED Robb Stark in this episode. He was incredible in the scene with Jaime Lannister - with a little help from Grey Wind who looked so bloody cool. It was my favourite bit of the episode. You can absolutely see why the men follow Robb. The King in the North!

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  10. Morgan, how morally ambiguous of you! Which test did you take? I took one that said I am Catelyn Stark, and am similar to Eddard Stark and Samwell Tarly.

    Warning! Soapbox is Coming!
    The test seemed to make a lot out of the fact that I'm not a morning person. Just so you know--because I know you were wondering--I work hard and I work a lot. I just don't like to work in the mornings. That doesn't make me a lazy person. It makes me an industrious person on a different schedule.
    Soapbox is Going Away!

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  11. Here you go, Josie!
    http://quizfarm.com/quizzes/westeros/LlamaMafia/which-song-of-ice-and-fire-house-do-you-belong-too/

    Ironic thing is, I pledged House Stark on Facebook by accident when I tried to pledge House Lannister. Awkward.

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  12. I'm a Stark! Thanks for the quiz, Morgan.

    I can't stop laughing at your Facebook debacle. Wars have been fought over less. (Why pledge House Lannister, anyway?)

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  13. I took the test and turns out I'm a Tully. Family, Duty, Honour and Ginger Hair!

    It is obvious from every frame that the production team is coming into this season with greater confidence than the first season. With a much larger cast and more locations to deal with this season, I'm not surprised that the writers have chosen to deviating more from the books while still being faithful to them, making the source material fit the show, rather than the other way round.

    As great to seeing what all my favourite characters are up to, I'm most fascinated by the goings on over at Dragonstone. Stephen Dillane was not how I pictured Stannis but he inhabited the role perfectly even before he uttered a single line of dialogue. Not sure yet about Carice van Houten as Melisandre, but Liam Cunningham actually managed to make me like Davos more in a few minutes than Martin has done in three books.

    I was a little disappointed that Lightbringer didn't glow. After the dragons and direwolves, there must've been no money left in the budget for a glowing sword.

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  14. Aye, cheers Morgan. Turns out I'm a Targaryen, with Lannister running in close second and a three-way tie for third between Greyjoy, Stark and Tully. Sounds about right, although to be honest I was sort of hoping for Lannister. (This is largely down to my current favourite character, a cripple who shall remain nameless for fear of spoilers.)

    May I just say how very, very glad I am to have this show back? I'll miss Sean Bean, of course, but all the remaining principals are brilliant. I'm a bit worried that as the cast becomes increasingly spread out the show may become harder and harder to follow, particularly for those who haven't read the books - though I suppose they'll be whittled down a bit as we progress.

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  15. Wow, what a comeback. Although I was thrilled and when it ended I had that feeling of "what you mean it's over already?", I must confess I expected more. I guess it has to do with the fact that no storyline was explored long enough. We had bits and pieces of each one of our favorite (anti)heroes and villains, but no storyline was explored long enough. I guess that what we needed was a 2-hour season debut.
    Other than that, I loved the acting and dialogues, especially Melisandre, despicable Joffrey, Ned Stark's sons -Robb and JOhn, so handsome, noble and pure at heart, Dany and her mission impossible...
    But why did it end so fast?
    BTW, I'm taking the quiz too.

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  16. Growing Strong, House Tyrell. Wish I had their looks too, lol

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  17. Just started A Clash of Kings a few days ago. So far, everything looks pretty solid. Of course, this is still a fascinating world. I also agree that the episode flew by.

    Don't think I've gotten to Craster yet. If he's worse in the book than he is here I will likely not look forward to it. The man seemed to be intimidating Lord Mormont.

    I do think the scenes at Dragonstone with Maester Cressen and Davos could have had a bit more clarity, but it was still good. Stannis seems to hold to duty as tightly as Ned Stark did to honor. While he is not the worst contender for the throne (Joffrey), he is still not necessarily the right one. His principles could be disastrous for Westeros.

    Can't wait to find out what Renly and the Tyrells are up to.

    Cersei has clearly lost control of her new mad king. I'd enjoy watching her squirm, if I didn't despise Joffrey so much more. He didn't even seem disturbed by the fact that he might be an inbred bastard, he just taunted Cersei with the 'rumors.' Crazy. And great acting.

    I like Sansa's new approach to survival. Subtle manipulation. A bit like Tyrion.

    Dany is still the character I probably care most about next to the Starks and Tyrion, even if she could potentially destroy all of those aforementioned characters. You can sympathize with her (pretty much all she wants is to go home) and her struggle to lead a helpless pilgrimage of sorts. She and Jorah make a good team, though, so I'm thinking they will pull through. I also don't think this series' only dragons are going to die of starvation in the desert ;-)

    And Tyrion is still this show's king badass.

    I also find it very interesting that Starks (Arya) and Baratheons (Gendry) are still working side by side. I'm sensing a theme of destiny.

    Great show, can't wait till this Sunday.

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  18. I'm a Stark, which makes me very happy as they are my favourite family in the series.

    Great beginning, but again confusing to those of us coming in cold. So glad I have this site to sort out all the characters. Watched it once, read the review, watched it again. All became clear.

    Excellent review, Josie. Really gave me a good context for the re-watch. I am looking forward to see how all the pieces on this chess board eventually come together.

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  19. It is easy to see quality, or read it :)

    Excellent review Josie, and most thorough.

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  20. Thanks for the quiz link Morgan! I'm House Martell... I can't even remember which ones they are, but I like the motto (Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken)

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  21. Hi everyone,

    I just posted a Game of Thrones book thread where we can talk about A Clash of Kings without spoiling upcoming events in the series for viewers who haven't read the books!

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  22. I'm a Stark at 70%, but I'm 65% Martell and Targaryen! Cold and Dragons. On a completely different test (http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp) I found, I ended up as Jon Snow... go figure.

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  23. So clearly it's been too long since I saw season 1 or read the books because characters kept popping up and kept being all.....who's that guy again? Oh well.

    So! Melisandre. I want to beat her to death with a golf club. She's my least favorite character of the series, including Joffrey (who I would like to drop kick off of something tall). I really can't explain why I hate her this much. I will say that the divide between The Seven and the one true God reminds me A LOT of The Mists of Avalon.

    The direwolf was awesome. For some reason I always had trouble picturing how big they were. I feel like the books made more use of the direwolves than the show does. Maybe it's too expensive?

    The Westeros table was perfect. The sets on this show are amazing. With very few exceptions, everything looks exactly like I pictured it while reading.

    PS. I'm House Tyrell (I was almost House Lannister). Yeah, that fits.

    PPS. I want Shae's dress.

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