Wednesday, March 28, 2012

HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ returns for more dark humor, incest and beheadings

No one is safe in a land of treachery and ice.

That’s what viewers of the first season of HBO’s highly entertaining ‘Game of Thrones’ learned when beloved Eddard “Ned” Stark (Sean Bean), the central hero, literally lost his head in the penultimate episode of season one as two of his daughters looked on at least.

Bean, who was clearly the biggest name on the show (and who did a stint in fantastical – and similar -- Middle Earth prior), was essentially being played as the moral center of a cutthroat world. Ultimately, he died because he showed mercy to a bitter queen and her ragged (and incestuous – yes, they went there) offspring.

I came to the ‘Game of Thrones’ game late – only falling in love with it recently – and I think I benefitted from seeing the show after all the hoopla had passed. Once I had slogged through the first episode – which I admit did take some effort for me – I absolutely fell in love with the premise and characters of this world.
I mean, be honest, who doesn’t love inappropriate dwarf humor, beheadings and rampant nudity in every episode? Well, that’s what this series offers fervent viewers.

On Sunday, the show returns for its second season and show runners promise that the scope is going to be even wider and the storylines more intense. I’m not sure if that’s possible, but I thought a nice refresher course for viewers might be in order.

The characters:

Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey): The evil (and now widowed) queen isn’t a straight caricature. She has moments of genuine warmth – usually with her brother or son – but she also gets off on doing damage to others. In the first season, Cersei was caught having sex with her brother Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and then watched as he threw a 10-year-old boy out of a window to protect their secret. She took Ned Stark’s mercy (he found out about the true parentage of her son) and abused it to protect that child, Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) – the one kid in the whole show you’d want to see not only smacked around a little but maybe beheaded, too. Her marriage to Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) was an unhappy one – mostly because Robert never loved her but still pined away for the woman he thought he should have married years ago but lost to death. It is Robert’s own suspicious death that opens the door for Joffrey to take the crown – and cause all out war between a bevy of different families. Despite ordering the beheading of Ned (after promising amnesty), Joffrey is still betrothed to Ned’s daughter Sansa (Sophie Turner) – who is now trapped in a loveless union with the obnoxious boy who killed her father. Season one ended with the vengeful Stark family losing 2,000 men in order to get their hands on Jaime – someone they hope they can use as a bargaining tool to get Sansa and her sister back.

Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley): The ferocious mother lost her husband – largely because a man who was still in love with her betrayed him. Catelyn isn’t aware of that betrayal yet – but I don’t think I’m alone when I say that her vengeance on this man will be great. Now she is separated from two daughters and risking the life of her eldest son in a war effort to bring the girls home. Catelyn is level-headed and fiery at the same time – that’s a particularly deadly combination. The difference between Catelyn and Cersei, though, is that Catelyn is fair minded. While Catelyn does want to avenge the death of her husband, what she wants even more is to bring home her two daughters. I’d hate to be the one standing in the way of that goal.

Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke): Daenerys was one of my favorite characters from the minute I saw her. She has a certain ethereal quality that practically makes her float off the screen. Daenerys was probably the character that showed the most growth over the first season, going from being a bargaining chip for her demented brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd), to the unwilling wife of Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) and finally embracing her future as a warrior and leader. Daenerys was one of those characters that had no image of herself until she started actually learning things about herself – and what she learned was that she could love her husband, help lead his people, and ultimately transcend everything her brother always told her she was. When we last saw Daenerys, she had burned alive the woman who turned her husband into a (kind of) zombie and had just emerged from a raging inferno (untouched) with three baby dragons in her arms.

Arya Stark (Maisie Williams): The youngest daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark fled her captors in the wake of her father’s death. A tomboy at heart, Arya is aided in her attempts to flee the city (and escape notice). With all her hair chopped off, Arya is now passing for a boy and facing an uphill battle to reunite with her family and get home. Arya is carrying her sword needle – a gift from her “bastard” brother Jon. Not your typical girl, not only does Ayra fancy herself a strong warrior – she’s even killed someone already with her strong blade.

Jon Snow (Kit Harington): Ned Stark’s illegitimate “bastard” was raised with his legitimate brothers and sisters but treated abominably by Catelyn Stark. Jon is loyal to his siblings – but it becomes apparent in the early goings on that there is more to Jon Snow that meets the eye – and maybe Ned Stark wasn’t his father after all. Jon Snow joins the Night’s Watch as a way to get some form of respect – despite his lineage. When we last saw Snow, he was torn between joining his brother in war and doing his duty in a barren wasteland that is seeing people actually (at least appear to) rise from the dead.

Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage): The third Lannister sibling is also the best. Tyrion doesn’t have any of the hate in his heart that his two scheming siblings do. He also seems to suspect something about their relationship – even though he doesn’t voice those concerns. Tyrion is not only the funniest character on the show, but he’s also now moral compass to the group in the wake of Ned Stark’s death. Tyrion is someone who tries to help the poor and disadvantaged. Of course, he doesn’t do it at the detriment of himself, though, which makes the character utterly compelling. Tyrion’s greatest strength is his wit – and the fact that he’s managed to grow up with what others see as a handicap and he just merely sees as his lot in life. When we last saw Tyrion, he was fighting (and barely surviving) on the frontlines -- before returning to the city to help aid the kingdom in his brother’s Jaime’s absence.

There are (of course) are lot of other colorful characters that pepper the ‘Game of Thrones’ world – but these are the main ones we will be focused on when the series returns Sunday.

What do you think? Are you looking forward to the return of ‘Game of Thrones’?


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