I’m rewatching Game of Thrones Season 1 in anticipation of Season 2 beginning April 1 2012. This is the second post in this series. As before spoilers for the whole of season 1 and the book “A Game of Thrones” will follow so please don’t continue if you haven’t watched the whole first season. I will avoid spoilers from later in the book series though so if you are only watching the show have no fear that I will spoil events still to come in the adaptation

I love the opening sequence variance, this time taking us across the Narrow Sea to Vaes Dothrak rather than the city of Pentos. Using the sequence to give a sense of the relationship between the locations shown is a fine idea and very well executed.

Michelle Fairley makes Catelyn’s grief palpable. It is interesting that Cersei claims to have had a true born son and that she did not understand Robert’s grief when she lost the child. I think it adds some depth to the troubled back story of their loveless marriage. The coldness of her feigned sympathy was well played by Lena Headey. Catelyn’s venting on Ned for his past misdeeds relating to Jon and his decision to go South once again is believable but the friction with Ned and her neglect of her other children runs the risk of making the character less likeable. Of course she is rehabilitated by fighting back against the assassin (who was suitably creepy). The sequence also gives us the first bit of great direwolf action, here done largely as a physical stunt as they have not yet reached full size. Her realisation that Bran did not fall and conviction to get the news to Ned also helps to make her dynamic.

Catelyn’s small character arc from dejection to action is mirrored within the episode in Daenerys’ scenes. Emilia Clarke does a good job of showing Dany’s dejection and I commend her for being able to convey her finding hope in the promise of her dragon’s eggs during that rough sex scene. I’ve read a lot of criticism of the series use of sex / nudity (some of it valid) and I think in this case it was used appropriately and to good effect. Dany finding her confidence and making a connection with Drogo through sex is something you need to be on a cable network to depict but was not solely done for the sake of including nudity.

I don’t think I said too much about Iann Glenn’s Jorah Mormont in the first episode; he has a very brief scene only. I think he is excellent in the role and instils more likeability than the book character. It helps that Daenerys is older in the show so he doesn’t have to struggle with age inappropriateness related creepiness! I also think I gave short shrift to Harry Lloyd’s Viserys last time. He does bring warranted creepiness to his scenes with Dany along with a fine portrayal of arrogance and entitlement.

Speaking of arrogant and entitled it is good to see Tyrion’s distaste for Joffrey and unsurprising that the slapping sequence became an internet meme. I think Tyrion really is trying to correct some of the malaise he sees in Joffrey and shows political acumen with the advice he forcefully bestows on him.

The confrontation between Joffrey and Arya by the river is a showcase for Jack Gleeson as Joffrey. He gets to play Joffrey’s charming side, his cruelty and his cowardice in quick succession and the young actor does a fine job with all of them. The subsequent interrogation of Arya and Sansa is a well written piece of injustice and obfuscation that foreshadows later events in the series and establishes that this is not a world where fairness and honesty win the day. Sansa’s failure to support her sister brings grim consequences to her door – her teenage crush on Joffrey is not hard to understand but is difficult to sympathise with. Her growth as a character is again sometimes difficult to connect with but is certainly tragic over the course of the whole season. Speaking of tragedy, poor Mycah the butcher’s son another indicator of how little true justice there is in this world.

I love the Lannister family breakfast that follows Tyrion’s scene with Joffrey; it clearly illustrates Tyrion’s distance from Cersei and closeness with Jaime. Jaime’s derisiveness regarding the Night’s Watch is well written – it serves the dual purpose of forewarning us that it might not be all that Jon’s hopes and gives insight into the kingdom’s disregard of the threat posed by the White Walkers, now thought to be mere myth. It was nice to see a brief cameo for Mikken the blacksmith too, that’s the attention to detail that I like about the season. Jon gets another memorable scene straight afterwards; giving Needle to Arya. The closeness of these two has little time to be established and both Kit Harrington and Maisie Williams do a great job of instilling it into this exchange. It seems this might be Snow’s episode as he gets to show his closeness with Bran and his fraught relationship with Catelyn. He also gets brief farewells with Robb and Ned. The latter includes one of the series brief allusions to the mystery of Jon’s lineage. Jon’s roadside discussion with Tyrion also helps to prepare for his disillusionment with the Night’s Watch. Tyrion gives him sound advice and is somewhat more gentle with him than Jaime was, although just as derisive about the necessity of the Watch. Their first glimpse of the wall is suitably daunting and a nice mirror of the shot from the other side in the prologue of “Winter is Coming”.

The production design team does a good job dressing tables and feasts with realistic and interesting looking medieval food. Added to the fantastically detailed costumes, the heraldry and the locations the show is an immersive experience. I also appreciate that the show makes subtle references to the religions of the seven kingdoms; in this episode Catelyn weaves an emblem of the seven for her son and Cersei references praying to the mother.

I never doubted that Addy would be able to pull off the jovial machismo of Robert given his past work in comic roles but I am constantly impressed by the depth he gives the character. Darker notes like his deep seated hatred of the Targaryens and grief over Lyanna are equally well handled by the actor. His fear regarding holding his crown is palpable as is his uncertainty regarding how to do so. The argument Robert has with Ned over the threat of the Dothraki neatly foreshadows their falling out in “A Golden Crown” as well as giving us more exposition about the past history of Robert’s rebellion.

Overall the second episode is weighed down by the difficult task of continuing to fit in exposition and history. Nevertheless they managed to construct an hour of television that is enjoyable in its own right by finding space for character development for both Catelyn and Daenerys and a little bit of action between the assassin, Arya and Joffrey. The ending with the pairing of the death of Lady and the reawakening of Bran hints at more mystical activity and is a neat reversal of Bran’s near death at the end of the pilot. Not the shows best episode but a worthy addition nevertheless.