Wrapping up Game Of Thrones S2

Last updated 11:40 12/06/2012

The second season of Game Of Thrones came to a close last night on SoHo (or last week, if you've been downloading it) and while it was absolutely my favourite thing on television so far this year, I still have two gripes: there was simply too much going on for a mere 10 episodes and we could have done with a much tighter focus.

(Warning: Spoilers from Season 2 of Game Of Thrones follow - this review is written from the perspective of one who hasn't read the books; please don't post spoilers from future storylines in George RR Martin's novels. Please.)

Admittedly, those two gripes are kind of intertwined. If there was less going on in the show - that is, if we weren't following so many key characters; the writers were trying to develop no less than 16 different people - Robb & Catelyn, Jon, Arya & Tywin, Sansa & Joffrey, Cersei, Tyrion, Daenerys, Bran, Stannis & Davos, Jamie & Brienne and poor old Theon - then the focus would have been tighter.

20120612In a way, the show brought this gripe on itself by giving us the fantastic penultimate episode Blackwater, which spent an entire hour at King's Landing during Stannis' attack on the capital and gave us a glimpse at what the show could be like if it held its gaze on just one aspect of its sprawling story for more than a few minutes at a time, before returning to its rambling roots in Valar Morghulis, last night's finale which attempted to become the first episode of any TV show in which every scene was a cliff-hanger.

Can the show succeed long term with such a broad scope? Only time will tell for sure, but if the show keeps expanding the number of characters and if it's forced to jump around from storyline to storyline in each episode, and if the number of episodes is kept at 10 per year (Tim Goodman makes a good case for 13 episodes per season), and if the characters we love are only appearing for a few minutes each week, then it's entirely possible that Thrones will end up with a fan-base frustrated by rushed narratives and a perceived lack of character development.*

All of that said, crowded as it was, Valar Morghulis was definitely not an unsatisfying finale. In fact, it was probably the second best episode of a fantastic second season.

While I'm still baffled by how Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) has somehow become the fall guy in the wake of the Battle of Blackwater Bay, I thought the show did a good job with the storyline; in many ways, Tyrion has become the level-headed, rational character through whom we experience events at King's Landing, so it made sense for us to wake up with Tyrion as he faced the new reality in the capital - that Cersei (Lena Headey) attempted to have him murdered and father Tywin (the under-rated Charles Dance) has taken the credit for the battle. How poignant that opening shot of horse dung dropping to the floor before we witnessed all the "horse dung" that happened inside the throne room.

Yet, despite the misfortune that has fallen on him, he knows - just as we do - that he is a perfect fit at King's Landing. And while the future might be even uglier for the now-scarred imp, I'm hoping for more of Tyrion's particularly entertaining brand of political meddling when the show returns next year.

I've also enjoyed the way things played out at Winterfell. It was clear that poor Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) was in trouble from the moment he groped his own sister and decided to turn his back on Robb Stark, so I'm not surprised with how things turned out for the poor guy. Aside from Tyrion, Theon really enjoyed the most development this year, going from a glorified slave boy in House Stark, to an eager-to-please leader with his back against the wall in House Greyjoy. And as it turned out, Theon's time with the Stark family rubbed off more than he thought, in at least one way: he believed that Winterfell was more valuable as a seat of power than it is perhaps thought to be by many of the other major houses (including House Greyjoy), and that notion has ultimately cost him his freedom.

The bigger question, of course: who burnt Winterfell to the ground? After that hilarious speech scene - "I thought he'd never shut up", "It was a good speech, I didn't want to interrupt" - the soldiers from Pyke looked like they were just leaving peacefully. My guess: Roose Bolton's bastard son Ramsay razed the place as a strike against the Starks. On the plus side, it means that Bran and Rickon are on a road trip. Sadly, it also led to the death of Maester Luwin, one of those minor characters who makes Westeros more interesting just by being there.

Then there was that final scene, with Sam scrambling to hide from an army of White Walkers who seem set to march on the wall, even though I feel like the next season might need to start with "Previously on The Walking Dead". It is interesting how the problems being faced in King's Landing and those faced beyond the wall - essentially the opposite ends of Westeros - are as different as they could possibly be. Joffrey might be comfortable on that throne of his right now, but it sure doesn't seem like being king is a long-term proposition.

There were plenty of other great moments too: I haven't enjoyed Daenerys' time in Qarth (the greatest city that ever was or will be), though I did like her big scene in the House Of The Undying as she reclaimed her dragons and proved her resolve to take the throne. I wasn't fond of Jon Snow's journey this season either - it seemed like he spent 10 straight episodes with prisoner-turned-captor Ygritte - though the sheer size of Mance Rayder's army was a nice reveal, promising big things to come.

Arya and Jaqen H'ghar meeting one last time on the road north, Sansa grinning after being freed from her betrothal to Joffrey, followed by Littlefinger warning her that she isn't quite out of the woods yet, Brienne defending Jamie on the road to King's Landing, Robb's moonlight wedding to Talisa, Tyrion's touching scene with Shae after removing his bandages, Margaery wearing yet another extreme-plunging neckline, leading to me suggesting that her nickname should be "Boobs Tyrell", Stannis and Melisandre looking into the fire ... there was plenty to love in the finale, even if it felt a bit crowded. There's definitely more than I can cover in one review. It would take a week of reviews to cover everything.**

As I say, the second season of Game Of Thrones might have been lacking focus at times - but it was still the best show on TV this year, by quite a wide margin. And while it did seem like much of the time was spent moving characters into place for next year and beyond, I thought last night's finale wrapped things up rather nicely.

What did you think of Game Of Thrones this year? Did you enjoy the second season? Are you excited for Season 3? Remember: this is a spoiler-free blog and that is especially true in regard to Game Of Thrones. PLEASE don't post spoilers from the upcoming books in the series.

(*) Daniel Fienberg made an interesting point about Game Of Thrones, in a spoilery review of True Blood this week: "I wonder how much worse True Blood looks coming off of a second, mostly exceptional season of Game of Thrones. Seeing an HBO drama that successfully blends low-brow, potentially exploitative elements with high dramatic aspirations all within a familiar genre context and featuring a cast of dozens only puts a harsher glare on the HBO drama that fails in every way to do the same." True Blood might be Game Of Thrones' worst case scenario, folks!

(**) Don't think I didn't consider it.

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Jared Cross   #1   11:55 am Jun 12 2012

it may seem to be lacking focus but that is how the books are written. they had to follow all those characters to get a full scope of the events happening.

Megan   #2   12:00 pm Jun 12 2012

Without revealing any plot lines I can tell you that the storylines continue to get more complicated. To the point that George R R Martin split one enourmous book into two giant ones. I can't remember which books it is, maybe 3 and 4. But he only has enough space in each book to focus on half of the characters at a time. I'm not sure how they're going to handle this with the show. Maybe half of a season spent on one group of characters and the other half bringing us up to date with the others? At some point I beleive that they are not going to be able to fit a whole book into one season at any rate. There might be only 5 books right now but I think they can get at least 7 seasons out of them.

Chris   #3   12:03 pm Jun 12 2012

the books are the same, so many different things happening and so many characters to follow, it does get a bit much at times, but GRRM still manages to captivate his audience. I think it's going to be much like Lost, you have to watch every episode and only at the end will it start making sense and fall into place

best show ever   #4   12:10 pm Jun 12 2012

theres so much content in the books that cramming it all into 10 eps was always going to be tough.

it did seem like every ep was switching between alot of characters. in season 1 it would focus on one character for a decent period of time before switching to a dif character. now it seems to go through way to many each ep.

hasnt detracted from how amazing this show is, white walkers in the final scene was epic. havnt read the books but this is the only show thats makes me want to read the books to know whats going to happen.

Checuz   #5   12:14 pm Jun 12 2012

Another awesome season of G.O.T. Every monday night I have been waiting for my chance to get my copy of the next episode. I will no doubt watch seasons 1 & 2 a few times before season 3 starts, just so I feel like it never ended. As for the story of this season, so much happening and only 10 episodes for it to happen in. I totally agree that there should have been two or three more to help expand and enlighten some parts of the season. The battle for knigs landing happened way too fast, and I was really hoping to see more action from Rob Starks crusade towards the south. All in all I loved it, a bit too fast at times, but they deffinately know how to keep you guessing and spending the whole week trying to figure out what will happen next. Wont be ruining this tv show by reading the books.

Jesse   #6   12:15 pm Jun 12 2012

It was a sweet series finale. I thought the scene where Daenerys won her dragons back lacked a bit of imagination (another victim of a lack of time, I'm sure). She'd been tempted with two of her dearest wishes and turned them down only to have her dragons simply spit fire at Pyat Pree and him fall over dead. That's kind of like Sonic getting to the end of the level and just rolling straight over Dr. Eggman on his past the finish sign.

maz   #7   12:16 pm Jun 12 2012

I haven't seen S2 yet because I've decided to wait for the legal option of buying the DVD. I have pretty much have identical favourite / least favourite bits and questions as you do Chris, but about the books, not the programme, so it sounds like it's pretty good adaptation.

I just googled the release date of the DVD - it looks like it won't be until early 2013. Gah!

Kaiser   #8   12:16 pm Jun 12 2012

Coming from someone who is both a fan of the TV series and the books I have to say the finale went both ways for me.

On the plus side it was touching to see Tyrion - Sansa - Tywin - Littlefinger - and all the other King's Landing stuff, along with Arya/Jaqen's and Jaime/Brienne's moments I thought was great and moving storytelling that stayed mostly true to George Martin's work. This is what made the finale great.

On the minus however is Dany's, Rob's, Jon's material for the second season, especially toward the end and most of all this finale. While Danearys's scenes are great the books "house of the undying" is much better written and gives us some very interesting information that this show didn't. Same with Jon, his material from the book was much more interesting, and the reactions of his character to getting accepted with the wildlings was not only better written in the book but also makes his character far more honorable. In the show its as if he made that strike out of rash rage/revenge. In the book it was out of utter hopeless desperation. And Rob's stuff ...this whole season was just horrid. The choice he made to marry wasn't out of love, but out of circumstance of a mistake he made. In the series its as if he is willing to make that mistake, and this really hurts his development on a big even that happens next season/book.

Other than that I give the finale a 7 out of 10. I think the producers need to slow it down as you said. They need to extend these seasons and follow the book alittle more closely as they did with the first season. Only then will this have a chance at being one of the greatest stories ever told in TV.

Scott   #9   12:18 pm Jun 12 2012

I've read an interview with one of the producers in which he acknowledges the viewers wish for longer seasons, but he then goes on to say its simply not possible. The main factor seems to be the time it takes to make the 10 episodes a year that we do get. Which also equates to cost. The Blackwater Bay episode by itself resulted in something like a 20% budget increase for the whole season 2.

I think GoT is currently the finest television show ever made. Yes there is a huge cast. I have a hard enough job keeping track of the main characters let alone recognising some of the secondary ones. In that respect the segregation of much of the action is very good. Almost every storyline has its own set of characters, and there's not a lot of cross-over. Although Littlefinger seems to get around the countryside at something resembling the speed of light.

I don't see the lack of focus as being a problem though. At least it means if there's a storyline you can't get into, there will be another one along in a few minutes. And in fact the War of the Four Kings has been the lynchpin around which most of the second season revolved. Not including the Firegirl and Iceboy storylines, although I suspect those two are actually the overall main characters. If they survive that is.

Spiral_Chambers   #10   12:55 pm Jun 12 2012

I love GOT though I found ep10 to be quite anti climatical and over busy in comparison to ep9.

1) Glad you mentioned about True Blood. I commented on your previous blog about s5 premiere - how it felt over busy and I was a bit bored tbh. Hope GOT doesn't go in this direction and I hope TB picks itself up.

2) WTF happened with Winterfell. Don't like how that wasn't explained.

3) I like the comparison with The Walking Dead. I too, thought the same.

4) What the hell Sam?! Run you idiot!

5) Jon was disappointingly boring :(

6) More use of wolves needs to happen.

7) I love Jamie Lannister. He should keep the beard.

8) I love Bran. Little cutie.

9) Why did Sansa not leave with the Hound? That was implied she was going to end of ep 9. I am confused. Has he left? Though his little "F*ck the kings guard. F*ck the city. F*ck the king." was my fav part whole season.

10) Jaqen H'ghar <3 Hope we see more of him.

11) Daenerys was very annoying until ep 10. "I am mother of Dragons! Give me stuff! Whine whine whine."

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