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Game of Thrones Review: A King in Every Corner

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Last week, I enjoyed the kind of fortune that peasants residing in a Joffrey-led King's Landing will never possess: I watched the first four episodes of Game of Thrones, writing an advanced season two review in which I marveled at how this sweeping epic has incorporated new characters, while still upping the ante for our returning favorites.

Now, let's dig in specifically to "The North Remembers, an episode that reminded us that the night is dark and full of terrors...

The New Hand of The King

Often, when a series kills off a major character, it does so for the sake of shock value. The Internet explodes in outrage, water cooler discussions grow heated, many fans decree they are never watching again... and then life pretty much returns to normal.

But Ned Stark would be proud to know he did not die in vain. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the most startling development from season one informs every move and every decision we see on the premiere of season two.

The fallout of Stark's beheading is made clear both in action and in words, with Tyrion laying into his sister (what is it like to be the disappointing child?) for allowing Joffrey to rule out of emotion rather than reason. The kingdom is now in danger not so much due to Cersei's sordid, naked deeds (foul, Sam might call them) with Jaime, but due to the childish decisions of her son.

What can the Lannisters even offer the Starks now to quiet this revolution? Ned is dead. Arya is missing. Joffrey would kill his mother before he'd give up Sansa.

Indeed, when that axe came down across Ned's neck, it served as the opening whistle to the true game of thrones. And players from across the seven kingdoms heard its blow.

Robb - sorry, the King of the North!!! - is more confident than ever, taunting his enemy, ordering around his mother, making the sort of strategic decisions that, as Catelyn so rightfully says, would make his dad proud.

Stannis, who we meet here, is as gruff and as straightforward as they come, insisting that he never loved his brother and that Jaime be held responsible as the "King Slayer," but also acknowledging the respect his title affords him in the letter sent to all corners of Westeros. It doesn't seem like a man of his nature would rely so heavily on the Lord of Light, as brought forward by another new character, Melisandre. Stannis comes across as all business. Melisandre comes across as all... mysterious. It's far too early to judge, but the two make for an odd alliance after one episode.

(* It's important for me to stop here and say: I have not read the George R.R. Martin novels on which Game of Thrones is based. I will be writing these reviews simply as a fan of great television, meaning I may make comments or suggestions at which book readers will scoff. I ask that you do not spoil the story for others who simply know it on HBO.)

GoT Characters

While there are plenty of new characters on the way, Game of Thrones makes the keen decision on the season opener to merely introduce these two, one of whom has been referenced before, making the addition a natural one. The bulk of "The North Remembers" is spent with the deeply-developed individuals we got to know over 10 episodes last year, and they are each in very different places.

Tyrion may not be from King's Landing, as he's quick to point out, but he's in the perfect position, both for viewers and for those around him. Peter Dinklage is more entertaining than ever here, reciting his "remarkable journey" of pissing over edge of the Wall and fighting with the hill tribes, while still doling out actual useful advice to his sister. Tyrion may be the best source of Game of Thrones quotes, but it would be a mistake not to take him seriously. This is someone who "understands people" and also - unlike the previous, late Hand of the King - understands how the game is played behind the Landing walls.

He has the potential to get a lot more done than Ned ever did. And he won't even need to put down his glass of wine to do it.

Daenerys, conversely, is not in the prime position she thought she would be in via the birth of her dragons. They are just babies. Her people are tired and weak. There appears to be no end in sight to the desert. That's all we get of her journey on the premiere, though it's important to note the Khaleesi's strength is not yet broken.

Jon Snow, meanwhile, must learn to control his strength. He's tough and he's stubborn and he believes in doing what's right, but those traits can be a weakness if they are never reigned in. Yes, in order to lead, Jon must first learn how to follow, but he also must learn how to look ahead. He and the Night's Watch have scarcely started their trek beyond The Wall, yet another self-appointed king (Mance Rayder) is way up north and who knows what creatures lie in between.

Snow must sometimes consider the bigger picture before acting, even if that means ignoring the horrible actions of a man who marries and enslaves his daughters.

How to properly lead. It's one of the ongoing themes on Game of Thrones and it's a major focus of this episode, sometimes overly - the Master Commander giving Snow this speech - and other times subtly: viewers watching as Bran receives a rational lesson in ruling, which stands in stark contrast to the petulant Joffrey, someone who wasn't exactly reared by Cersei or Robert to listen patiently to the complaints of those below him.

We also see Petyr Baelish try to exert power, thinking it's all based on knowledge, before Cersei corrects him and makes it clear that being a self-made man can only get you so far. Connections do matter. So does one's standing. And, more often than not, power is power.

And that's what everyone is seeking on Game of Thrones: the ultimate sign of power, that iron throne. It's a saga that will take us to different lands and to many different characters before the battle even truly begins. But Ned Stark is dead, the pieces are moving into place and, thankfully, the game isn't simply back. It's finally on.

NOTE: TV Fanatic will be publishing two Game of Thrones review each week, one written by yours truly, from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the source material. And one written by Carissa Pavlica, who takes a different approach to each episode, comparing events and characters to the book on which they are based. Read her take on the season two premiere now.

Review

Editor Rating: 4.8 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.7 / 5.0 (230 Votes)

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.

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Great review!I am also one of those fans who had not read the books. So there are times I am a little confused but eventually things become clear. My assumption regarding the murdering of the infants and others was that is was carried out by order of Joeffrey (a little sociopath if there ever was one) and he was trying to get read of all the bastard heirs to his throne. One more comment - Peter Dinklage is awesome! That guy has some serious acting chops. When he enters a scene, he quickly becomes the tallest person in the room.

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Good review. Great idea to have seperate threads. I hope the book readers just STFU on this thread there must be plenty of others for them to comment on. Some people just cant help themselves. I started reading the second book after watching the first series and well, it's not exactly great literature, though the story and characters are great, so stopped reading and decided just to watch the tv series. Please patrol this thread like the Watch on The Wall against wildings wielding spoilers!

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Lord Commander, not Master Commander. We aren't on ships near South America with Russell Crowe. Good review. It's interesting to see how someone who has no idea what will happen next views the show and what insights they are able to come up with.

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I am also happy that you have not read the books. I have read them all, so I can make my own connections between scenes and events that might seem otherwise disconnected. I'm curious about how people who have not read the books are following the action - is it clear? Or not? I think whoever posted about why are they killing the children made one of those points. Sometimes it's not.

2lolo

Best Show on TV!!! Too Bad MOVIES can't do any better.

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I'm lucky enough to have a great deal of people in my life watching this show & they're all in different vantage points. I've read the first three books and watching the series for me is quite different from my father or my girlfriend. My father has read the first book and hasn't watched much of the series, but he watched the premiere with me last night. My girlfriend hasn't read any of the books, but has enjoyed the series greatly. Both of them, I find, have a hard time understanding some of the smaller details. The books being extremely detail orientated I can guide them what the series is trying to show them. But I consider them very average, as far as television watchers go. Which leads me to believe that while the screenwriters are doing an amazing job, I feel like they need to be more blatant. My girlfriend and father had no idea why they killed the baby and with Gendry being such a small character in Season 1 he is easily forgotten. But I have very little complaints as I'm a huge fan of the books and the shows. I also love the idea of having two people do separate reviews. It is great to see how much someone picks up from JUST the series and how much someone can notice the details which are left on the cutting room floor. Will definitely be coming back weekly to read the articles and comments.

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We'll be watching this, later this week, but we've read the books, so we are just looking forward to seeing them made real :P @Matt, I do hope you will make a point of reading the books, even if only one per televised season. There is just so much that can't be televised, due to all kinds of constraints--the details really add to the world-building that GRRM has commenced in the first book.

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Very perceptive and insightful review, especially considering you haven't read the books.

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There is 7 books planned for the series and Martin can only get a book out every 4-5 years. That means it will be at least 7-8 yrs before the series is finished in print form, probably more like 9 or 10. This show will probably have a shelf life of 6-7 seasons at the most, so at some point they are going to have diverge from the books. Last nights episode was quite brilliant. Stannis is quite the dour man and The Red Queen is well pretty damn creepy. I like Rob Stark as a lead character a lot. I think with this character the show does better than the novels. In the books he is never a point of view character so you only see whats going with him through his mom's eyes. Robb is a lot like Ned and people, if the fans don't already they will grow to love Robb. His verbal sparring with Jaimie was well-done. I wonder if Jaimie pissed his pants when the dire-wolf walked up to him. As usual Tyrion was brilliant, I love his I do what I please attitude. Yes him putting Cersei in her place was another highlight of the show. I can't wait to see him put those wits and witty tongue to use on Joffrey. Joffrey is such a evil and horrible character, the actor playing him does an excellent job in capturing that persona. This should be a great season.

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It's fantastic to see a review from a fan of the TV show, not a schooled expert in the novel series. I read your counterpart's review, and while informative regarding the nuance that was missing, it was pretty critical of the magnificent job the screenwriters are doing making a cohesive, interesting, compelling television series from a HUGE volume of work. I haven't read the books either, and I am thoroughly enjoying the show. I feel the pacing is appropriate, taking some time to introduce us to characters unknown, in addition to revisiting the familiar faces of last season. It's going to be a killer ride for viewers. The season two premiere was well worth the (seemingly endless) wait, HBO has outdone themselves. And really, how spectacular was Tyrion's smackdown of Cersei?