DISCLAIMER – I’m writing these posts having read all five books of A Song of Ice and Fire and having watched all of the first season. Therefore, there will be spoilers both for that last season AND probably for the rest of the series as well, if that’s where my thoughts lead me. So if you haven’t A) read the entire series and B) watched the first season, do not read these posts, so as to protect your innocent eyes. (Needless to say, I will ruthlessly spoil each and every individual episode I write about).
First off, I thought the recap was well done and got across all the key parts that were necessary to contextualize the events in this episode (though really, how on earth could we have forgotten Ned Stark’s beheading?) Similarly, I thought the transitions between the various POVs made a lot of sense, story-wise. This first episode was similar to that of the pilot – the goal was to introduce and re-introduce characters, set the stage, and slowly begin to prod some plot threads into motion. Which means I’m going to cut to the chase and state my biggest disappointment – WE ONLY GOT THE MOST TEASING GLIMPSE OF ARYA EVER. I mean, in terms of how they structured the episode with the city watch hunting every single one of Robert’s bastards they can find and killing them all, it makes sense to see Gendry escaped, alive, and well, and Arya happens to be with him as well, which then solves the question Catelyn, Cersei, and Tyrion were asking the entire episode – “Where is Arya?” There’s nothing to fault, structurally. I’m just greedy and want my Arya-time.
Even though little happens in the way of concrete action, what we do see occurring makes me so excited and happy for the rest of the show, even though I know soon everything is going to go even more to hell and I’m going to cry. Rob! Oh my god, Rob is perfect. He’s settling in so comfortably in his role of king, commander, and warrior. That scene with him and Jaime was so tense and SO GOOD. Jaime’s sitting there tied up and taunting Rob for all he’s worth, but Rob’s having none of it and instead sics Grey Wind on him. And this is the first time we see how truly dangerous the direwolves can be and just what they might be capable of doing. I know they had to use CGI to get the affect, but at least right now, it doesn’t bother me. But then we see how tightly bound Rob is in his duties and obligations and how he’s caught between being a king, winning a war, and saving his family and he can’t do it all and it’s heartbreaking because all Catelyn wants is her children back home safe and Rob can’t promise that. Rob, my heart goes out to you. And then when Theon offers to ask his father for ships to fight the Lannisters – well, I could almost believe Theon was actually a nice person and *wasn’t* going to betray Rob entirely and fuck everything up. Almost. Which makes me want to stab Theon even more than I normally do.
For me, the other standout is Joffrey, simply because Jack Gleeson is doing him PERFECTLY. He is the most power-hungry, stupid, sadistic, childish ruler you can possibly imagine and it is beautiful. In the books, I read Joffrey as being more like a playground bully who yells a lot about how he’s in charge and how everyone should do what he says because he’s yelling the loudest. Here in the show, the actor gives Joffrey, not intelligence, but a sense of cunning. He has more finesse in how he uses his power and his cruelty over others. The way he just baldly asked Cersei if Robert was fucking other woman because he’d grown tired of her… well, damn. I love watching Joffrey, which might be a strange thing to say, but it’s so much fun watching him reach whole new levels of douche-tasticness.
OK, this is my last favorite scene – an added interaction between Cersei and Littlefinger where each demonstrate just exactly what they think gives them the advantage over the other, while also showing how each of them operate. Littlefinger’s work is subtler, insidious, and more dependent on charm, while Cersei just straight up shows him how clearly she can end him right there and then. But also you start to see that Cersei’s beginning to crack; she doesn’t have the control or handle on things she appeared to have last season. She feels threatened so she responds the only way she knows how – a blatant display of power. Same thing is demonstrated in her exchange with Tyrion.
Stephen Dillane, who’s playing Stannis, is doing a good job, but I’m really into Carice van Houten’s portrayal of Melisandre. She wears her power like a cloak and just naturally assumes it – why would the poison Maester Cressen attempted to give her actually kill her? Don’t you know she’s a priestess of the Lord of the Light? Such foolishness to assume he could kill her. However, I wasn’t too keen on how they framed the destruction of the Seven Gods and Stannis’ acceptance of Melisandre and the Lord of the Light. In A Clash of Kings, it’s Stannis’ wife who becomes enamored and gets the rest of Dragonstone participating; Stannis mostly goes along with it because she assures him success in his kingly endeavors. This didn’t really come across in the episode, making Melisandre’s presence appear more random than it should have been.
One of my bigger gripes with the first season was how there was barely any attention paid to Bran’s dreams and his awakening magical abilities. My main thing is that Bran still hasn’t named his direwolf, and I’m not sure where in this season they intend to have him do so. And it’s kind of important (or at least I think so). Obviously, they’re going to continue Bran’s storyline with him dealing more and more with his ability to bond to his direwolf (and they do so in this episode as well). I just hope that Bran names his direwolf sooner rather than later.
Last couple of thoughts. Dany’s section was alright, but not overwhelmingly interesting, nor did anything of much import happen. (Also, why the hell was she wearing an armored shoulder-piece?) The scene at Craster’s keep was suitably eerie and Craster himself is a creep. I can’t decide who’s worse, him or Lord Frey. The only other thing I thought felt “off” was where Sansa saves Ser Dontos’ sorry ass from being drowned on land by a happily sadistic Joffrey, and that was because, again, it didn’t have the importance I felt it should have. My reaction could be colored by the fact that I have foreknowledge of the fact that Sansa is going to put her trust in Ser Dontos to get her out of King’s Landing, but right now he just seems like an extra, not a character who’ll have a bigger part to play.
But aside from two things, the episode was full of good stuff. Granted, not much has actually happened yet, but again, it’s only the first episode and there are more storylines than before, so it’s best to cover all bases and ground each one firmly before tearing off and setting things in motion. But it’s good set-up. Hell, even the Iron Islands storyline is introduced through Theon’s offer to recruit help from his father. All in all, I think this first episode achieved what it intended to do. I’m definitely looking forward to a presumably meatier second episode.