Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Review: GAME OF THRONES, 2.1 – "The North Remembers"

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

I'm of the opinion that there's little point reviewing Game Of Thrones episodically. As its inaugural season showed us, this is a show where a gradual accumulation of knowledge reaps later enjoyment—and I don't have the time or inclination to read the books, or laboriously research episodes after they're broadcast, to provide reviews of sufficient depth. Like many others with a lack of foreknowledge regarding George R.R Martin's work, I adore this drama's production standards and performances, but I'm not a fan of the snail's pace. Or the fact there are so many characters, relationships, and locations that you need a glossary and chart to navigate your way through every other scene.

"The North Remembers" continued on from last year's awesome finale, but it nevertheless felt like we're at the bottom of another mountain to climb. I'm interested in the political landscape of Westeros, now that Ned Stark's beheading has caused the North to revolt against the southerners of King's Landing, and boy-King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) in particular, and it's always a pleasure to watch any scene with quick-witted Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), sly Baelish (Aidan Gillen) and icy Cersei (Lena Headey), but much of this premiere was spent introducing people and situations I feel no connection to yet. But I'm sure Game Of Thrones will once again drip-feed information so that it all starts to make sense by mid-season, much as HBO's The Wire chose to develop. I'm certainly acclimated to the show's pacing now, but I can't deny wishing Game Of Thrones was sprightlier in its storytelling, and much less opaque when it comes to explaining who people are.

But there were a handful of compelling things set in motion here: from the appearance of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), brother to the deceased Robert and therefore the rightful king of Westeros; to the prospect of Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) rising in power across the sea, now she's earned the respect of the Dothraki after her fiery "rebirth" with a baby dragon (provided she can get her people across the inhospitable Red Waste...) Plus there were some interesting new second tier characters to meet: from Stannis loyalist Davos (the always excellent Liam Cunningham); to ominous Melisandre (Carice Van Houten), priestess of a "new religion" who desires a Baratheon back on the Iron Throne. The ominous presence of a red comet in the sky also lent the premiere a sense that big things are to come. Is it an omen of Robb's assured victory over the Lannister's, or the presence of dragons? Well, it depends who you ask.

Overall, it's great to have Game Of Thrones back because the small-screen needs a big-budget fantasy epic with this level of craft and skill on display. The special effects are also consistently excellent, and I'm glad they've found a way to have the Direwolves display the appropriate size from Martin's descriptions. I have no doubt season 2 will become more engrossing as time passes, but speaking as someone who only has time to watch each episode once, am I alone in wishing its writers would give neophytes and causal viewers a helping hand occasionally? I'd hate this show to get swallowed up by its own ambition and complexities.

written by David Benioff & D. B Weiss / directed by Alan Taylor / 2 April 2012 / Sky Atlantic