King Robert Baratheon, ruler of the Seven Kingdoms and resident of the Iron Throne of Westeros, is dead.
His son – in name only – reigns as Boy-King, strings tugged by the villainous family he unknowingly owes the entirety of his incestuous bloodline to; Robert’s brothers lay dormant, yet assuredly plotting in city-states half a continent away; his old enemies conspire across a northern sea in a country forgotten by the current, imperiled kingdoms; a young man commands a kingdom at war in the north newly receded from the governance of the Iron Throne; and a new queen rises across a second sea in the east, mother to a rediscovered power that tore Westeros apart a century before.
It’s suddenly plain to see why the second season of Game of Thrones draws on source material entitled, A Clash of Kings.
The game resumes in the second season of HBO’s incredibly rich adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s series of novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, and it starts again tonight. The show took for its name a version of the first novel’s title, A Game of Thrones, and HBO has plans to continue churning out one season per novel for as long as possible.
The fifth novel in the series was published last summer, coinciding with the launch of the HBO production, and Martin has two more novels planned for the series that began conceptually as a trilogy sixteen years ago.
It’s staggering to believe the show a television success when the various contenders to the Iron Throne enumerated above make up a mere fraction of the vital tapestry of characters that populate Martin’s rich fantasy world. A cast this large is often suicide for most stories, never mind for oft-addled television audiences that can’t keep things together from one act to the next.
HBO has been generous – almost out of necessity – guiding their viewers with rich supplemental details online, including a necessarily-consulted House family tree (visit their site for more) and a guide to the many faces, old and new, in this magnificent saga.
The critically acclaimed show left us at the start of summer last year with the promise of an immense power struggle over the vacuum Robert left in his wake, not quite justly filled by the child Joffrey, 2011’s favorite villain in the pop-culture zeitgeist.
We’re here now to reflect on the events of the first season, and remind ourselves where all our major players have been, where we left them, where they might be going, and what minor sideliners may ascend to center stage in the season to come.
King Robert Baratheon is a corpse, riddled by wounds a wild boar inflicted on him during a hunt. The story we were told lay blame on the man’s drunken state, over-indulged by a wine-bearing Lannister squire. Whether it was just too much wine, or poison, the matter was probably out of his hands after the first few swigs.
A victim of the court he kept, made up largely of members of House Lannister, as well as a small council teeming with conspirers and traitors (depending on one’s viewpoint), he was assuredly murdered by his wife, Queen Cersei, working to further Lannister interests and, as a distant second motive, to escape an utterly loveless marriage. The real shame is that the character’s death took one of the first season’s most talented and entertaining actors with him. Mark Addy will be missed, and we can be sure no man with quite the same bellow could conceivably capture our interests in like manner. Seven Hells.
Everyone’s favorite little shit of 2011 now sits the Iron Throne. Joffrey Baratheon, television’s favorite villain of the year; the product of an incestuous relationship between his mother, Cersei and her brother, Ser Jaime Lannister of the Kingsguard; the blonde, spoiled, accusatory fart-nugget that solves every problem with classic Lannister aplomb – cut off its head! —— and demonstrates that the Lannister seed is indeed strong within him —— his dear mum and family pull the boy’s strings and command from a distance in most matters —— that’s our man/boy, Joffrey.
But another blonde bombshell who almost shouldn’t have any power is the one that’s learned how to truly seize it.
Daenerys Targaryen, the last living heir of the Mad King Aerys that Robert rebelled against and unseated years before, has been outcast across the Narrow Sea to the wilds of the free cities, the open deserts and the unknowns far beyond the reach of the Seven Kingdoms.
Dany had a busy year. Married, impregnated, ‘dis-impregnated’, widowed and made ‘Khaleesi’, and now, the sole leader of what remains of Khal Drogo’s once mighty horde of Dothraki —— with her overzealous brother Viserys crowned in molten gold and forgotten, her first real enemy Mirri Maz Duur burned at the pyre, and Westeros’ equivalent of nuclear power newly resting in her clutches, Dany and her drakes might be poised to make the greatest advances in power this season.
On the losing end of power and overall sanity, the discussion turns to the Starks.
House Stark, wardens of the northern kingdom of Winterfell and once the only recognizably stable and well-functioning family unit in Westeros, has been shattered, scattered and scarred.
Lord Eddard ‘Ned’ Stark’s head sits a pike at King’s Landing. Arguably the most central and sympathetic character of season one was taken in the shock moment of last year. Hats off to the ASoIAF book fans that kept that under wraps for the rest of us for sixteen years.
It may have taken a long road to get to war between the first of the new ‘kings’ —— from Bran spying Jaime and Cersei together, to attempted murder on Bran, to dwarf-napping Tyrion to the Aerie, to Jaime assaulting Ned in retribution in a public square in King’s Landing (still with me?), to Ned putting the Lannister pieces together into one solution, to his imprisonment for deducing the truth —— but it’s assuredly his execution that set off the war drums for Ned’s family. Ned was the compass for the Starks and the show in general, and we can assume his family will continue to follow it. They certainly won’t be doing it together though.
Lady Catelyn and Ned’s heir, Robb, now the new ‘King in the North’ – along with a drunken ale-hall’s worth of advisors – captain a Stark-led alliance in a war campaign against House Lannister, likely architects of Robert’s demise and firm custodians of the Iron Throne.
Robb is still young, sixteen or seventeen at the most. And while he leads the war campaign against the Lannisters, Cat’s attention was last seen focused heavily on the Starks’ chief prisoner of war, Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer. After deftly crushing his jaw with a rock, we glimpsed some intense fury in the newly widowed Stark matriarch. She has ample reason to be on the edge of her sanity; her husband is gone, her children are scattered across the continent, and the only one she can see alive before her is the one that’s leading men off to yet another war. She doesn’t even rightly know if the others are alive to begin with.
Bran, Ned’s second-youngest and the ceremonial prince of Winterfell in his family’s absence, sits the northern throne in waiting. He spied the secret between Cersei and Jaime, and was crippled by the Kingslayer to preserve it. Both he and his little brother have begun experiencing dreams that may have a prophetic slant to them —— one of the first hints of the supernatural in Martin’s story.
He doesn’t seem to recall the secret he nearly died for, and for which his own father paid the ultimate price. Other members of his family seem to have put things together though. Ned came to the secret through deduction, and Cat at least found her son’s assailant in her captor, Jaime.
Ned’s daughters are lost to the Starks; Sansa sits in custody of the Lannisters in King’s Landing. She is still forcibly betrothed to the boy-King Joffrey, and in the finale last summer, we saw her resist this former fantasy of hers for the first time in one of the most neatly packaged and retaliatory lines of dialogue the series had seen. She has the most growing up to do of all the Starks, despite being one of the oldest, and the new hatred of Joffrey and the court around her may speed that growth considerably.
Arya is robbed of all security, stripped of her father and family, her ‘dancing master’ Syrio, and most crucially, her identity, as she is set in secret to the Kingsroad in the custody of Yoren of the Night’s Watch, out of Lannister hands. She finds herself in the company of other Night’s Watch candidates; murderers, rapers, and thieves. Though most surprising of all, is the presence of Gendry, the secret bastard son of Robert, the armorsmith’s apprentice we merely glimpsed in two or three scenes last year. They ride north past Winterfell to the Wall that sits the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms.
Jon Snow, Ned’s own bastard and squire to Commander Mormont of the Night’s Watch, awaits at their destination, though in preparation for another war altogether. Mormont intends the rangers of the Watch to head out past the Wall en masse to discover the meaning of the new restlessness of the Wildlings and Free Peoples that inhabit Westeros’ arctic unknowns.
Jon nearly abandoned his charge at news of his father’s execution, but in a moment drenched in emotion and sentimentality (almost overly so), his new brothers called him back and reminded him of the Oath he took, the commander they now serve, and the battles they may have to fight past the Wall far away from the coming Clash.
Whatever’s lying past the Wall is one of the greatest places to begin speculation on the second season of Game of Thrones.
Old Nan, Bran Stark’s grandmotherly old babysitter imparted some dark imagery at Bran’s bedside, talking of the horrors beyond the Wall. White Walkers, giants, spiders so large you could ride them, and a hint of the zombified undead that we watched Jon vanquish last year. Between Bran’s dreams, the walking dead in the north (a wonderful combination of White Walkers and zombies, perhaps?) and the rebirth of three young dragons from eggs that turned to stone, the supernatural is alive and well in Martin’s saga. We can be assured we’re going to see more of it this year.
What we know is beyond the wall for certain, are the Free Peoples, the Wildlings, those, who Tyrion Lannister described last year, as the ones whose ancestors were on the wrong side of the Wall when it went up. They’re led by a man only mentioned in passing once or twice last year, one Mance Rayder.
We’ve met a few of these wildlings, including the Starks’ new prisoner, Osha, who’s already taken a liking to Bran. Watch for that relationship to grow and deepen. With most of his family gone, Bran has to build a new one around him, and Osha might be an eye-opening place to start for a prince in training.
Another figure in the North that escaped too much attention last year, was Theon Greyjoy. Robb’s best bud after Jon took off for the Wall, he was actually a captive of the Starks from a young age. Ned took him as a squire during the rebellion led by Balon Greyjoy years before against Robert Baratheon. He’s grown up as a Stark in many ways, but he’s worth keeping an eye on now that his captor, Ned, is out of the picture. He’s older than Robb, more ambitious in a surprising number of ways, and Martin rarely seems to spend time building up a character without a reason.
Watch too for developments with good old Jamie; don’t count him out because he’s locked up in Catelyn’s shackles. The Kingslayer is too prized a character to write off as another POW. Though at the same time, by axing Ned in his first book, Martin deftly proved that absolutely no one is safe in his saga.
Arya, now ‘Arry’, forced to masquerade as a boy on a long journey north, might be the least safe of all. She has her new skills as a swordsman, freshly instilled in her by Syrio, as well as Robert’s bastard son Gendry to protect her. But her path is a massive unknown. If she heads north to the wall with Yoren and company, she’s bound to come across her family one way or another, right? Her brother and mother fighting in the northlands, Bran and Rickon back at Winterfell, or even Jon at the Wall should she get there.
About one of the only characters in King’s Landing that ever seemed to give a piss about northerly concerns was Tyrion Lannister. Peter Dinklage’s masterful turn as the dwarf brother of twins Cersei and Jaime may take center stage in the King’s Court. There’s been a lot of upheaval there after Ned’s death, and Tyrion’s responsibilities and allegiances will require the most puzzling out and deduction. He’s got Joff making childish demands of him, he has his father Tywin breathing down his neck, half-expecting him to somehow stand as tall as his brother Jaime, and his siblings are incapacitated or veritably robbed of power; Cersei couldn’t even stop her pre-pubescent offspring from chopping off the head of the King’s Hand. Tirion’s probably in the mood for some power plays; watch him.
The big question for Sansa and the rest of the King’s Court is, who’s going to have the balls to try anything before the real contenders show up? Sansa exhibited the first signs of rebellion with her classy retort last year. Varys and Littlefinger are pulling everyone’s strings, while the rest are just worried about Joffrey and the throne. The whole place may undo itself before any clash even arrives at King’s Landing.
And just who are the contenders?
HBO’s previews may have given you ample hints. Robert’s brothers, Renly (seen first above) and Stannis (seen second) are dormant for now, but will come to attention soon enough. Renly stormed out of the Red Keep late last season and made for the south. Stannis has been in Dragonstone, not terribly far from the seat of power in Westeros, though a place we haven’t seen yet on screen. He’s a gigantic question mark at this point in the series, but one worth watching. Robb is tearing up the north with plenty of Lannister prisoners in tow. And while he’s only been mentioned once or twice, Balon Greyjoy calls himself the King of the Iron Islands. We’ll see where that gets him.
And finally, the newest challenger, and one only Robert ever seemed to recognize as a threat last year, the girl Dany, suddenly a queen, and suddenly sitting on the Ring of Power. I’m sorry, I mean, three dragons, recently awakened and probably thirsting for man-flesh. HBO’s CG department has a ton of work cut out for them if they want these things to come alive and stick around for a bit in realistic fashion.
Daenerys experienced the greatest amount of growth last year, and after vanquishing her enemies and rising to power so quickly, I’d expect stunning things from her story this season. All one could take issue with last year was that her story was the farthest removed from the action in Westeros. It was a side-story, something Martin was building for the future, but that had no immediate, serious consequences on the main action (save one critical moment, where the question of what to do with Dany drove Ned and Robert apart). It’ll be fascinating to see if Dany wishes to pursue her brother’s dying dream in earnest this year; she teased as much to Drogo before his death. She wants the throne now and suddenly has the means to get it, even if a mere ten episodes ago, she was just an innocent girl that was bartered and traded around like so much garbage.
The second season of Game of Thrones airs tonight on HBO. Visit their site for links to numerous resources, including family trees and house maps to make sense of the dizzying amount of characters and their relationships.
And every week, likely on the Monday, come back to Omega-Level for a recap of each week’s episode of Game of Thrones. We’ll pick apart what’s happened and speculate wildly on where we’ll be going in the future.
As a final helpful hint to guide you: attentive viewers may have noticed the week-by-week changes to the opening theme and introduction to the show in Season One. The beautiful music might have distracted you, agreed, but if you were paying attention, the areas of Westeros depicted changed every week to reflect where the action was happening in every episode. With new locations and settings for action this season, I expect this beautiful trend to continue. Don’t bail for snacks from the kitchen while this intro plays tonight; it’ll assuredly help set the stage for the evening.
Enjoy everyone, and until tomorrow!
Budrickton, First of His Name, Warden of the Actual North (Canada)