Apparently, HBO’s new ‘Game of Thrones’ series such a big deal that, not only has the network already picked it up for a second season, now the show is even inspiring violent arguments over which character will “win.” Sadly for the two dimwits at the center of that altercation, the show’s second episode doesn’t answer that question yet. But it does provide plenty more intrigue in the fantasy land of Westeros.
Episode ‘The Kingsroad’ is filled with much coming and going. Just about everybody’s heading somewhere. King Robert and his entourage (including Ned Stark, newly appointed the king’s “Hand”) are en route back to King’s Landing. Ned’s even bringing his two daughters with him. However, his wife Catelyn has stayed behind to tend to their kingdom of Winterfell and care for their youngest son, Bran (more on this shortly).
Meanwhile, Ned’s bastard son Jon Snow is headed in the opposite direction. He’s going north to the Wall, where he will join a monastic order called the Night’s Watch that has manned the Wall for millennia in order to guard the seven kingdoms from the threats on the other side. Those threats would include the White Walkers glimpsed at the beginning of the first episode, which most people on the safe side of the Wall believe are long gone, if not mythical. The king’s brother-in-law Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is also tagging along on this trip, but he has no intention of joining the Night’s Watch. As he tells his siblings, “I just want to stand on top of the Wall and piss off the edge of the world.” Tyrion is a very fun character, and Dinklage is just plain awesome in this episode. He’s the real breakout star of the show.
There’s movement afoot on the other side of the Narrow Sea as well. Creepy exiled prince Viserys Targaryen and his new Dothraki army march toward King’s Landing to stage their invasion. As this happens, his sister Daenerys finally starts to find her backbone. With the help of a slutty slave girl, Daenerys learns how to use sex as a tool to manipulate her brutish husband, the Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo. It’s already clear at this point that Daenerys is going to have a very interesting story arc over the course of the show.
The biggest plot development in the second episode is the early revelation that Ned’s son Bran didn’t die when Jaime Lannister tossed him off the tower. He’s gravely injured and left in a coma, but still alive. After they leave, Jaime and his sister the queen arrange for an assassin to finish off the boy. Unfortunately for them, the assassin’s timing is bad. He shows up while Ned’s wife Catelyn is still in the room. They quarrel, and he badly cuts her hands, until the boy’s pet dire wolf leaps into action to protect them and tears out the assassin’s throat. Catelyn immediately starts putting the pieces to this puzzle together, and figures out that the Lannisters must be behind this plot. Leaving her eldest son in charge, she then sets off to catch up with her husband to warn him.
Dire wolves play an important role in the king’s camp as well. When the king’s snotty son Joffrey (the one engaged to Ned’s eldest daughter Sansa) picks a fight with Ned’s other daughter Arya, the young girl’s wolf bites his hand. Joffrey goes whining to daddy that Arya was the aggressor and the horrible wolf attacked him for no reason. The king orders the wolf destroyed, but Arya had already sent it running for its protection. Conniving queen Cersei (Lena Headey) offers up an alternate proposition that the Stark’s other wolf (Sansa’s pet, which had no part in the fight) be sacrificed as a substitute. Rather than let some random henchman slaughter one of his family’s totems, Ned reluctantly agrees to take care of the deed himself. As he does so and his daughters scream, son Bran back in Winterfell suddenly wakes from his coma.
I can foresee some viewers complaining that an episode like this moves a little slowly, and is more about set-up (a lot of set-up) than action. I think that’s probably a necessity in order to give the audience enough time to keep all the characters and their various motivations straight.
I was listening to the Slate Culture Gabfest recently, and the hosts took to complaining (as they are wont to do) that ‘Game of Thrones’ doesn’t “reinvent” its genre enough for their liking… as if, aside from ‘Lord of the Rings’, the epic fantasy genre was so pervasive in film and TV that it already needed reinventing. I doubt that was anyone’s master plan here. Rather, the show (and presumably the book series by George R.R. Martin) tries to offer up a really good example of the genre to prove that it’s worthy of being taken seriously. That’s enough of an accomplishment right there, and I’m liking what I’ve seen so far.