And the long wait is over. Game of Thrones is back. I’m certain that, as it did for me, that first sight of Joffrey’s face filled you with a warm feeling, like the return of an old friend.
“The North Remembers” is a quiet episode, comparatively. Until near the end, the only death we see is that of Dany’s horse, and much of the run time is taken up with setting the stage for the major conflicts of season 2. While season 1 was primarily the story of the rift between the Starks and the Lannisters, with other conflicts on the periphery, this season is bringing a complicated mess of alliances and rivalries. These take time to develop, and there are new characters to introduce; “The North Remembers” accomplishes these tasks in a reasonably entertaining way, without many particularly compelling moments.
In King’s Landing, Joffrey continues his reign of terror. Sansa manages to protect the drunken knight Ser Dontos from the King’s brutality, and the knight is made the new court jester. Even Cersei seems to have little control over her son; after she slaps him when he makes mention of the rumors of her incest, he responds with a threat to her life. She should probably be happy that her son is turning out so like her (later in the episode she threatens Littlefinger… perhaps not the wisest idea). Of course, the recklessness of these two is why Lord Tywin sent Tyrion to take over as Hand, and the dwarf relishes his arrival in the city, and his sister’s hilariously upset reaction. The goings on in the capital should be entertaining as we see how the dynamic among the new Hand, the King and his mother, and the members of the council shapes up, with Sansa caught in the middle. She appears somewhat more likable now that she is pitted against Joff, and if that continues she should make a relatively sympathetic surrogate for the audience over the next few episodes.
The storyline in the Stark camp is simpler so far, but should continue to serve as the emotional core of the show. Robb and Catelyn still have the safety of Sansa and Arya to worry about. Their argument over whether to trade Jaime Lannister for Sansa, and Robb’s decision to send his mother to forge an alliance with Renly Baratheon, allow Richard Madden and Michelle Fairley to show more of their acting chops, both strength and vulnerability, and a relationship that sustains them both. Theon also convinces Robb to allow him to seek the help of his father Lord Balon Greyjoy, a former enemy of the Starks with access to all-important ships. Catelyn and Theon’s expeditions will allow us to see two new courts, it seems, which means more scheming than ever.
The biggest new addition to the story is of course the much-anticipated court of King Stannis Baratheon, younger brother to Robert, elder brother to Renly, and the rightful king according to Ned Stark. This plotline is dark. Stannis is a man whose emotions so far seem to range between serious and grim. He has accepted the council of Melisandre, a red priestess from the east, who burns the statues of the Seven Gods and has Stannis pull a burning sword from the fire in the name of her Red God. The local maester tries to poison this priestess (and himself in the process), but she is unaffected, whether due to her god or the ruby around her neck or some inner strength. Stannis sets out to send his claim to the throne around the kingdoms, in his council with both Melisandre and Ser Davos Seaworth, whose seeming skepticism about the priestess is overridden by his loyalty. This aspect of the show is not yet fully developed, but it should prove an interesting counterpoint to the noble Starks and scheming Lannisters; so far it could best be described as creepy.
Jon Snow and the men of the Watch face some creepiness of an entirely different sort this episode, when they meet the wildling Craster and his many daughter-wives. Craster tells of Mance Rayder, a former Watchman who is now King-Beyond-the-Wall, with an army of wildlings ready to head south. Jon Snow lets too much of his sympathy for Craster’s intimidated daughters show, and Mormont upbraids him; they need Craster’s shelter and information. Next episode we should see whether Jon takes the advice and keeps his mouth shut, but otherwise we get little sense of how the Watch’s story will shape up this season; we’ll need to wait until they start seeing more of the wildlings or the White Walkers.
The other two stories that get some attention before the end are connected by a red comet in the sky; Bran first sees it as he dreams of being his wolf, and Osha says it must mean dragons. In the East, Daenerys sees it too, as she seeks to feed her dragons (who won’t eat the meat she provides) and find supplies for her tired followers. She sends her riders out to find cities, or the sea, or anything useful. We don’t learn much in either of these plot threads, but we do see some examples of the seemingly increased use of CGI in the show, with Dany’s dragon and Bran’s wolf. Robb’s massive wolf also appears, as well as shots of army camps and King’s Landing spreading into the distance (which I had wanted to see all of last season). The effects are solid for television and never distracting, though once again the standout visuals come from the sets, costumes, and makeup; Dany’s soiled clothes and parched lips immediately give a sense of her ordeal.
After all of this complicated setup, we see a scene of violence, though it is more sickening than exciting. After Joffrey remarks on his concern about the rumors of his mother’s incest and his “father” Robert’s other possible heirs, the King’s Landing City Watch murder suspected illegitimate children of Robert, including babies. They also learn that Robert’s bastard Gendry is traveling North with the Night’s Watch recruits. Of course, Arya is with Gendry, so the Lannisters may have unwittingly found where she has fled as well. We only get a brief shot of Gendry and Arya, but this is one storyline I’m greatly looking forward to being expanded. Their rough travel and constant physical danger should inject some urgency into the proceedings when so much centers around squabbling lords.
“The North Remembers” is not the most memorable episode of Game of Thrones, but, like the first episode of the first season, it introduces the necessary characters and plot lines without being boring. There aren’t many classic witticisms, but the writing is, as always, solid, and the usual impressive production values are enhanced by some good CGI and interesting new sets. Perhaps this is a sign that the budget has increased, and we’ll see more of the epic battles of the books in the upcoming episodes. I wasn’t in love with “The North Remembers”, but I’m at least as excited about season 2 as I was before.
Rating: 4 out of 5 blood red comets
Random thoughts and quotations:
– I might be mistaken, but I believe we get our first bit of Dolorous Edd, the Eeyore-like Night’s Watchman who is a fan favorite from the books. At the sight of Craster’s crude hut, he remarks “I was born in a place like this. Later I fell on hard times.”
– Jaime: “Three victories don’t make you a conqueror.”
Robb: “It’s better than three defeats.”
– I loved watching that .gif of Tyrion slapping Joff in the first season. I imagine that will quickly be intercut with Cersei slapping Joff as well.