Game of Thrones: The North Remembers

“Game of Thrones” is important for a lot of reasons. It’s the show that definitively reestablished HBO as the place to be for highbrow TV drama. It’s also something of a rarity on TV- a staggeringly complex fantasy show with a decent budget and huge critical and commercial success.

But “Game of Thrones” also succeeds where countless shows have failed  before- as a spiritual successor to “The Wire.” It’s not something that’s particularly overt (or even intentional), but once you realize it’s there it becomes painstakinglt obvious just how many connections there are between the two.

Seems a little far-fetched, right? Well, maybe. But you’ll have to read on to figure it out for yourself.

This is a realization I first had towards the end of the first season of “Game of Thrones,” once I figured out that…

 

 

 

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT

the execution of Ned Stark

 

END SPOILERS

 

 

 

 

was to serve as the climax of the season, and that the final episode would focus mostly on denouement and on setting up for season two. Fans of “The Wire,” will recognize this same structure in every season of the beloved HBO crime show, with the more hardcore fans pointing out that every penultimate episode was written by famed crime novelist George Pelecanos.

But the parallels don’t stop there. Both programs create sprawling worlds filled in with massive casts of characters (characters that are exceptionally well-drawn, despite having only a few minutes of screen time in any one episode), to the point where an attempt to start watching either show can become an exercise in frustration. Questions like “wait, who is that again?” and “why are these things happening?” become commonplace. However, that hard work in the initial episodes pays off once the slow build transforms into gripping, addicting, maddeningly good TV in those last few episodes. The similar structures in both shows can also be attributed to their literary backgrounds- “The Wire” was the brainchild of writer David Simon and frequently featured episodes written by famous crime novelists like Pelecanos, Denis Lehane or Richard Price. “Game of Thrones,” obviously, is a much more overt literary adaptation.

Plus, the presence of Aiden Gillen in both series certainly doesn’t hurt.

And much like “The Wire,” with its stevedores, “Game of Thrones” kicks off its second season with the introduction of a brand-new locale and those who inhabit it- Dragonstone, the home of Stannis Baratheon, Melisandre and a new god in the Lord of Light, who apparently is very into the whole flaming sword thing.

But aside from our time in Dragonstone, “The North Remembers” has one major goal, and that’s to re-introduce nearly every surviving character from season one. The episode has a very rigid structure- we get a few minutes with one set of characters, then promptly move onto the next, and the next, with only a handful of characters actually appearing in more than one scene. Episodes like these will never truly be as thrilling as their late-season counterparts, but that’s perfectly fine, as there’s enough intrigue, political scheming and brutality to keep me more than satisfied for an hour.

So where are all our characters at this point? Seeing as how the second book in the series is titled “A Clash of Kings,” much of the premiere is devoted to those men all struggling for a seat on the Iron Throne. Joffrey revels in mindless violence,  Stannis Baratheon solidifies his own play for power, and Robb plans for an alliance with Renly Baratheon while intimidating the hell out of Jaime Lannister with the help of his direwolf, Grey Wind. As much as I enjoy the political machinations of those who reside in the Seven Kingdoms, I love the fantasy elements even more- any tiny glimpse of a dragon, inhuman resistance to poison, or menacing direwolf always has me clinging to the couch and occasionally pumping my fist and yelling about how awesome direwolves are to no one in particular.

But the big standout of “The North Remembers” is and will always be Tyrion Lannister, who’s returned to King’s Landing to serve as the Hand of the King and keep a lid on Joffrey’s craziness. Clearly, the events of last season have transformed Tyrion into a much more confident figure, swaggering around in some seriously cool rust-colored armor and displaying that odd mix of disdain and affection that he has for his fellow Lannisters. Peter Dinklage just seems so comfortable and so in control as Tyrion that it’s hard not to smile just watching him onscreen, and with all the darkness and death that surrounds this show and these characters, just having someone like Dinklage (who’s clearly enjoying himself in this role) does wonders to break up some of the more dramatic elements and keep everything feeling balanced.

So before I go, there’s one last thing I’ve got to talk about, and that’s the ultra-violent montage that ends the episode. I can safely say that the poor infant’s murder is one of the more horrific things I’ve seen (well, heard, technically) on television, and it’s made all the more upsetting with that little will-they-or-won’t-they setup with the hesitating guard beforehand. Definitely had to cover my eyes (just a little) for that one.

And this is just the first episode of the season. Things’ll be getting way worse from here, people.

So what did you think? Those who’ve read the books? Those who haven’t? I sit fully in the latter category, as I’m only halfway through book one, but that hasn’t hindered my enjoyment of the show at all. Hopefully all you non-readers out there feel the same.

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14 responses to “Game of Thrones: The North Remembers

  1. We have been waiting with bated breath for Season 2 of Game of Thrones, and we were not disappointed. Haven’t read the books yet, but I’m sure I will, and my husband probably will too. So love this show, and you’re right, Peter Dinklage looks like he’s having way too much fun at work! 😉 No good can come of this.

  2. I read book one before I watched the series. As I read the book I thought to myself in several places they will have to change this on the series. But, they kept true to the book! I thought Ned was such a dominant character on TV there is no way they will kill him off this early in the TV series. Kudos for staying true to a book for a change.

  3. I watched a few episodes last season, and really enjoyed them. I was a little worried the series might be different without Ned, but it has retained its brilliant story telling and visuals.

    • It most certainly has. Something I noticed was that this premiere has a lot less of an awe-inspiring factor than last season’s premiere did, with the White Walkers and Ned performing a beheading and all that (although we do get all that heir-killing at the end of the episode).

      I figure, now that the show’s been established, having all that spectacle isn’t as necessary to draw in new viewers and “Game of Thrones” can get right to the good stuff.

  4. I love this series! Sadly I do not have cable and can’t watch it until it comes out on DVD but I borrowed the first season from the library and watched it in a few days. My hubby thinks it’s a more sex/more violence version of Rome, which is true in a sense. However, I think the characters are more interesting and more developed in just the first season.

  5. I saw the season 1 first and then started out with the books. Loved season 1! As far as the books go, I’m now reading book 4 (Feast for Crows)…and I really, really hope the tv series lives upto the books (IF it continues i.e.). I didn’t really like the season 2 opener..it was..alright. And as far as comparing it to The Wire… you’re right about the similarities! But I guess we’ll have to just wait and see if *anything* comes close to The Wire. 🙂

    • If I had to guess, I’d say that the series is definitely continuing for at least a few more years. It’s been a huge ratings draw for HBO, so I see no reason for them to give up on it. And if I may ask, what didn’t you like about the opener?

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