Game of Thrones, Ep. 2.01: “The North Remembers” brings new characters and a new world order

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Game of Thrones, Season 2, Episode 1: “The North Remembers”
Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alan Taylor
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on HBO

Same deal as last season: I’ve not read George R. R. Martin’s novels, so please refrain from posting spoilers from the series’ future in the comments.

Infanticide, multi-generational incest, poisoning, near-drowning by wine – yes, Game of Thrones is back.

Newly blessed with fresh blood, near-universal critical and viewer adoration, and a slightly buttressed budget, Thrones seems primed to ascend to even greater heights this season, but just like any other show, it’s got to do the legwork to get us acclimatized to the new recruits, new formations of power, and new corners of Westeros that we find ourselves in. “The North Remembers” does an admirable job of getting us up to speed with the King Joffrey world (dis)order, and makes us instantly yearn for next Sunday.

The term that best describes the new season, at a glance: sprawl. As if we didn’t have a considerable stable of characters already, there are a fleet of new arrivals. The most conspicuous is Melisandre, played with creepy intensity by Carice van Houten (Black Book). She advises the oft-talked about, only-just-now present Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), a man of great precision and little sentiment, if the scene in which he edits his statement pronouncing his claim to the Iron Throne is any indication. (Also present: ubiquitous character actor Liam Cunnigham as Davos, who doesn’t get much to do this week, but seems poised to become a pivotal figure.) Melisandre’s presence as a sort of ambassador for the Lord of Light, a new deity conjured up to take the place of the old gods, adds a new dimension of religious zealotry to the show – whatever Melisandre’s true intentions are.

Speaking of new elements, there’s a hint of potential social unrest brewing over at King’s Landing, where the still-petulant Joffrey (major props to young Jack Gleeson for making the character come across every bit as punchable as the little brat should be at every moment) throws out orders left and right like a pint-sized Stalin. With growing fears of the coming winter, Joffrey and his closest advisor, his mother Cersei, have little to no concern for the lives of the peasants who will inevitably perish from the lack of adequate shelter. This doesn’t yet appear to be of much concern to the new Hand of the King, Tyrion, who struts through “The North Remembers” very much like an Emmy winner.

The returning players are having a rough go of adapting to their current situation. Baelish nearly gets his throat cut when he finds out Cersei doesn’t like it when people bring up that whole incest thing (which appears to now be very close to common knowledge, or at least common rumor, throughout Westeros). Robb, who is still the self-appointed King of the North in command of a sizable force, still faces resistance to his legitimacy as a leader and potential king. Jon Snow, still trucking in the Night’s Watch, is hardly a natural follower of orders, and can’t help but comment when faced with a thoroughly creepy patriarch whose idea of father-daughter bonding is, shall we say, unconventional. Even the unfailingly preening Cersei oversteps and is forced to readjust when she slaps Joffrey (in a scene that, regardless of its presence or lack thereof in the books, seems like a thrown bone for YouTube-addicted fans).

The biggest question mark going forward is: who’s our hero? Is there one, and does there even need to be? The valiant but fatally naive Ned Stark is long dead. The most charismatic central character is clearly Tyrion, but he’s lined up against the noble Robb and Catelyn Stark. Or maybe Daenarys and her lil’ dragon are more your speed. (If you find yourself rooting for Joffrey, though, seek help.) In any case, the same red comet speeds across the same sky for all of these gathering forces, and the beauty of Thrones might well lie in this season with our own shifting allegiances and sympathies.

Simon Howell

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