(This Game Of Thrones post is written from the point of view of someone who has not read the books the series is based on. As such, spoilers are strictly forbidden. Any spoilers in comments will be deleted on sight. If you see spoilers, please mark them as best you can and e-mail todd at vanderwerff dot us or contact Todd on Twitter at tvoti, and he'll take care of them as soon as possible.)
As Game of Thrones ground to a close, I began to feel vaguely unsatisfied. This had been a great season, and the promise for season two and all the fighting was tremendous, but we were getting served an awful lot of shots of people going off somewhere. Arya and a bunch of rapscallions are going off to the wall. Tyrion and Shae are going off to King's Landing, Robb's lot are going off to war, and the black watch are going off into the north. It's all very exciting, but very dangly. And just as I was starting to get itchy, well, dragons. Yes, Daenerys ends the season the same way she began -- naked -- but this time she's got a trio of dragons crawling on her. One might say that's just as dangly a plot as the rest of them, but it brought a sense of everything coming full circle that was sorely needed, as well as leaving absolutely everyone salivating for season two. At least, I certainly am.
"Fire and Blood" was a mostly satisfying romp, but if you're looking for loose ends to be tied up, this wasn't the show for you -- it's almost cavalier how much they know they're getting a second-season pickup. We essentially check in with everyone and see what direction they're facing in season two. Robb is looking pretty good as a newly-proclaimed King for the North; Joffrey, on the other hand, doesn't really seem to have a taste for the affairs of state, and King's Landing is crawling with usurper-types. As it was for most of the reason, we're still spared any large-scale battling; but season two, with the kingdom now fully at war, promises an even more epic scale, providing that HBO pony up the cash.
Let's start with Daenerys, the only character to really have a whole arc this episode, as she woke to the news that her baby was dead and her husband was catatonic, but ended with a new army of followers and the promise of an invading force better than thousands of horsemen -- three sexy dragons. I'll admit that I was not quick to the take on all of her flame-retardant powers, but once Viserys got crowned, I began to get the idea that her talk of being the dragon was supposed to be more than just talk. Still, the eggs were teased at best through the season, making this cliffhanger a major surprise. Not quite as major as Ned's death, perhaps, but still pretty darn major.
Since we're ending the season with many people claiming a right to the throne (including the unseen Stannis), let's imagine what kind of a Queen she'd be. Daenerys can get pretty scary (the witch Mirri's demise was not too nice) but there's noble intention to a lot of what she does, as her new tribe of freed slaves shows. I'm not sure if we're supposed to see her as a hero, though. As Mirri points out to her, there's not much worth in Daenerys saving her considering Drogo's men had already pillaged and raped her community to nothingness. And dragons, a symbol of scorched earth more than anything else, do not suggest her invasions would be any different. But since Daenerys is from a sort of bondage, being sold into marriage by her horrible brother, she has an empathy that none of the other would-be kings, all lordy types, possess.
Joffrey, the lordliest of them all, is already proving to be the horrible brat he always was, except now he has the power to command death. His dealing with the singer who composed a nicely flowery fuck-you song about Cersei was wonderfully creepy. This court, as we're reminded, has already dealt with a king who's insane. Joffrey might not be crazy, but his whims seem to be along the lines of a kid who lights ants on fire, and he doesn't have a terrific way with women. His scene with Sansa (featuring the best work yet by Sophie Turner) was horrible stuff, not only for his behavior, but for how it dawns on poor Sansa that as the only Stark remaining in the castle, she's going to have to put on a brave face and submit to this horrible boy, as the Hound advises. Arya, bundled off with one of Robert's bastards and a bunch of idiots to go up north, is hardly in a good position, but it's enviable compared to Sansa, who will have to stand in court and watch the boy who killed her father on the throne.
The rest of the Lannisters are appropriately disgusted with the kid, though. Cersei, who has begun an affair with another flaxen-haired kid, the squire Lancel, looks mostly out to lunch. Tywin, with Tyrion advising him, admits that without Ned, they've lost their biggest bargaining chip and now have Robb, Stannis and Renly all breathing down his neck. And Jaime, well, he's got to be wondering if Robb will ever get mad enough to take out his frustration on his neck, rather than a tree.
Tywin's scene with Tyrion was wonderfully touching in a dry, funny sort of way. Tywin is now recognizing his son's usefulness, and he's insightful enough to realize that he's better in court than in the field. Tyrion's victory in battle, of course, was not that he led his men tactically -- it was that he got them on his side at all, when he was at their mercy. Dinklage plays the scene well, mixing in the right amount of sincere surprise at his father's words ("You're my son") along with the usual dry wit. Bringing Shae along may not be the best judgment call, but as we now know, Tyrion doesn't have the best judgment around women, particularly women of the night. But the idea of him as Hand of the King is honestly too perfect for words. While Ned the honorable soldier was everything wrong for the role, Tyrion the insightful schemer is perfect. Plus it'll give him a chance to slap Joffrey in the face repeatedly again, and god knows Joffrey needs a good slapping.
Robb and Catelyn (and, even more briefly, Bran) didn't get much time for grieving before the separatist talk started up. The "King in the North" stuff makes perfect sense -- Winterfell has always been positioned as being close to its own country as it is, and Robb is cutting a rather dashing, warrior king figure. But what I liked most about these scenes (apart from Michelle Fairley doing a good job with the emoting) was that brief shot of the serfs and soldiers in the north's tents gazing on as Robb is being proclaimed king by his lords. Sure, as an audience, we're on their side, but that shot reminds us that he's not quite a hero of the people yet, and it's not like Westeros is close to seeing the founding of a republic. Maybe I'm reading too much into one brief shot, but Game of Thrones is very good at nicely undercutting any hero moment that might seem naïve or one-sided, and this was a great example.
As for Renly and Stannis, I assume they'll be more in play next season, with Stannis an opportunity for the show to find another name actor to replace the dearly-departed Sean Bean. Hell, just cast Bean in the role -- that guy can be versatile if you let him! What's most exciting to me about season two is that, with civil war, and the Starks scattered around the country, and dragons, it promises to be an entirely different beast from the first season. Game of Thrones delivered on its promise of all its table-setting, its backstories and monologues and attention to detail. You could complain that the whole thing was a set-up for the tale of war, but with the focus on the Starks, and the decline of Robert and Ned and the rise of Daenerys and Robb (and others), the season told a complete story, and a very satisfying one.
- A couple of the court scenes (Varys and Petyr conferring; Pycelle chatting to a prostitute I figured had to be Ros) seemed somewhat superfluous. Pycelle's scene especially told us things we already knew. But I think we were just being reminded of who the major players in King's Landing were at the end of things.
- Rickon, we learn, has the same prophetic dream-power than Bran has. Just a little less mature.
- That brief glimpse of Ned's head on the wall was heart-breaking. Poor Sansa.
- Drogo's end was pretty sad too. You just know that guy wanted to go out in battle, not being smothered to death by his wife as he fails to resist.
- "Do you lie awake at night fearing my gash?" Varys has heard it all before.
- We'll be back in Spring 2012! See you then, newbies!