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Game of Thrones Season Two Review

on Tue, 02/26/2013 - 00:00

“Power resides where men believe it resides,” Lord Varys tells Tyrion Lannister during the second season of Game of Thrones. “It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall. And a very small man can cast a very large shadow.” It is a fitting observation as the question of “power” serves as the centerpiece of the sophomore installment of the HBO drama—not just in terms of Tyrion Lannister but for the other characters as well.

Game of Thrones is based on the series of fantasy novels by author George R.R. Martin. Although the setting is the fictional land of Westeros, the series has a medieval texture and is loosely based on the Wars of the Roses historical era of Great Britain. During that factual time period, the British Isles were thrown into chaos as competing families laid claims to the royal crown, resulting in a civil war that lasted hundreds of years. In Game of Thrones, meanwhile, multiple civil wars likewise emerge as competing kingdoms that had previously been under one role fight for both independence and a seat on the Iron Throne.

Season one of Game of Thrones was ultimately about “honor,” as Eddard Stark, lord of Winterfell in the North, relocated to King’s Landing at the behest of his friend, King Robert Baratheon, to serve as the administrative “hand” of Westeros. In reality, however, Stark entered a “den of thieves” where he became at odds with the elite establishment and discovered a secret that had led to the death of his predecessor. Unwilling to play the political game of lies and deceit, Eddard Stark took the honorable path only to see King Robert die during a hunting expedition and himself imprisoned for treason and eventually executed. Those two events set the stage for season two, as competing factions claimed the throne vacated by Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark’s son Robb leads his own revolt for both independence and revenge.

With multiple storylines spread out over an entire continent and at least four individuals claiming to be the rightful king, many of the characters are given limited screen time during the sophomore installment of Game of Thrones. Because season two required such a narrative juggling act, the story wisely focuses on Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage)—the imp offspring of family patriarch Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) and brother to Queen Cersei (Lena Headey)—as the centerpiece of the narrative. Tyrion’s diminutive size, as well as the fact that his mother died in childbirth, inevitably made him the “bastard” of the Lannister clan. “My brother was the youngest king’s guard in history,” he confides to Lord Varys (Conleth Hill). “My sister became queen at the age of nineteen. When I reached manhood, my father put me in charge of all the drains and cisterns in Casterly Rock.”

Because Tywin Lannister is busy fighting Robb Stark (Richard Madden) on the battlefield—coupled with Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) being held captive by the Starks and Cersei’s teenage son Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) proving ill-equipped in his new role as monarch—Tyrion is appointed acting “hand of the king” until the political situation stabilizes. “Ned Stark was a man of honor,” Lord Varys tells him, to which Tyrion replies, “And I am not.” It turns out that Tyrion Lannister has indeed learned from his predecessor, immediately exiling and imprisoning potential enemies while manipulating the remaining political advisors with both deft and efficiency. Tyrion understands how the game is played, and realizes that it is also a game that must be played if he is to retain his power.

The many competing factions within Westeros, meanwhile, have their own varying opinions as to what power actually is and how one best welds it. Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen), for instance, controls the purse strings of the kingdom and believes that his position transcends that of the king. “Knowledge is power,” he tells Queen Cersei, who immediately tells her guards to seize Baelish and slit his throat. She then changes her mind and orders the guards to take three steps backwards, turn around and close their eyes. As they obey her commands, Cersei looks at Baelish and says, “Power is power.”

King Joffrey, meanwhile, believes that power resides within him, but his cruel and stubborn nature only leads to the residents of King’s Landing holding him in contempt. During season one of Game of Thrones, Eddard Stark discovered that Joffrey was not the actual son of Robert Baratheon but was conceived from an incestuous relationship between Queen Cersei and her brother Jaime. This revelation in effect means that King Robert’s older brother Stannis (Stephen Dillane) is the rightful heir to the throne and not Joffrey, but younger brother Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) decides to also lay claim to the land of Westeros. Equipped with a large army, Renly is in the best position to overthrow Joffrey, but military might does not always equate with power. “Calling yourself king doesn’t make you one,” Renly’s wife later remarks after Stannis has his brother killed and claims Renly’s army for himself.

Although Game of Thrones is rooted in the actual medieval history of Great Britain, it also contains elements of the supernatural within its narrative. This aspect was hinted at during season one, with brief mentions of the “walking dead” Others who live beyond the Wall in the North and the birth of three dragons during the season’s final moments. The supernatural plays a more significant role during season two, however, with the mystic Melisandre (Carice van Houten) giving “birth” to a shadow creature that sticks a sword in the back of Renly Baratheon, and the dead again rising from their graves after a millennium of silence. Then there’s Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), whose family held the Iron Throne of Westeros for three hundred years before her father was overthrown by Robert Baratheon. Daenerys believes that she herself is the rightful heir to that throne but currently waits in exile on the continent of Essos.

Legend has it that the Targaryens came to power with the assistance of dragons capable of leveling entire cities with their breath of fire, but the creatures became extinct centuries earlier. Three fossilized dragon eggs “hatched” at the end of season one, however, and Daenerys proves herself to be an effective leader with mystical powers of her own during season two. “When your dragons were born, our magic was born again,” the warlocks who take both the dragons and Daenerys Targaryen prisoner explain. “It is strongest in their presence, and they are strongest in yours.” It turns out, however, that their magic is no match for the abilities of their captive.

Many claim to have power during the second season of Games of Thrones, from King Joffrey to Stannis Baratheon to Robb Stark. In the end, however, the power of those mortals may prove to be ineffective against the power of the supernatural, adding yet another dimension to the award-winning HBO drama.

Anthony Letizia (February 26, 2013)

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