Season two of Game of Thrones may have wrapped up over a week ago, but I’m still thinking about it. It’s been on my mind partially because I’m re-watching it, but mostly because the good stories stick with you and the series tells a very good story indeed. Breathtaking landscapes, battles, characters with twisting and turning arcs, clever dialogue –what’s not to love? Still, I wasn’t sure how this season would play out given that A Clash of Kings is longer than the first book and was still being crammed into ten episodes. I had some reservations and rightly so. My head spun during some episodes watching the show flip from one character to the next. A couple of times I feel like we’d see a character for a scene just for the sake of having him or her make an appearance.
Though seeing George R.R. Martin’s characters come to life made me happy, I definitely struggled with some adaptation decisions over the season. Continue after the break to see what I loved, and what rubbed me the wrong way. Naturally, there are spoilers ahead.
What I Disliked
Meet Dany, the spoiled brat
Daenerys Targaryen is one of my favorite characters in the books and because of that, I’m a bit protective of her. She had an incredible arc in the first season when she transformed from a timid pawn to a strong leader. I still saw glimpses of that in season two, but she reminded me of her annoying brother Viserys more than once. She needs ships and men to take back the Seven Kingdoms, but rather than negotiating for them she was all, “I’m a Targaryen, and I have dragons. Never mind that they are too tiny to do harm right now. Give me everything right this instant, or we’ll burn you down.” Granted, she’s still learning how to rule but I think she’s past acting so childish.
She did get her moment in the last episode of the season when she commanded her dragons to burn the warlock who caused her so much trouble. I’m glad she had that display of strength, but I would have rather seen her dragons take down the House of the Undying like they did in the book. Dany has a lot of ground to make up in the series next season to win me back over.
Jon Snow’s boring stroll in the North
Let’s discuss Jon Snow since we’re on the subject of my favorite characters. His romp through the lands beyond the Wall encountering dangers, trying to reconcile being pushed into the role of a double agent, and being conflicted over his developing feelings for Ygritte were all lost in translation. His travels were boring, and it didn’t make sense to me that he got so separated from his fellow Brothers. I don’t feel like his intentional betrayal of Qhorin Halfhand was made as clear as it could have been either. The weight behind his decision just wasn’t there, and the people who haven’t read the books (at least, the ones I’ve talked to) were left scratching their heads.
No chain for Tyrion
I know that by complaining about the lack of Tyrion’s chain across Blackwater Bay I may be splitting hairs. Let me explain. I liked that Tyrion had the giant chain forged because it was so outside of the box. Only he could have thought of it. I understand he got the idea of the wildfire assault in exchange, but wildfire is obvious. Trapping ships with a giant chain so they were guaranteed to burn isn’t. I felt it was an action that really demonstrated how smart the Imp is, and I was sad when it didn’t surface in the series.
There were a couple other character moments that were changed from the book which did not please me. After Renly’s death in A Clash of Kings, Loras Tyrell loses his head. The honorable knight flies into a grief-driven rage and takes lives. I felt that was a turning point for him, and you knew how much he loved Renly. Maybe the TV series felt like they already illustrated the relationship between the two enough and didn’t need that. Besides that misstep, I also didn’t like Stannis and Melisandre hooking up on the map table. A few people have told me they believed this was an obvious subtext in the book, but Stannis is painted as such an honorable and steadfast person that I don’t think he would sleep with anyone other than his wife.
Also? I hate Joffrey. I absolutely did not need to see him beat prostitutes. A few scenes this season made me feel like the writers were trying to meet some mysterious HBO quota for unnecessary sex and/or violence.
What I Loved
The man, the myth, the awesomeness that is Peter Dinklage
I couldn’t help but smile every time Tyrion appeared on screen, and I cannot imagine anyone who could play this part better than Peter Dinklage. Besides the fact that he gets the best lines, Tyrion is a remarkable character. He was thrust into King’s Landing by his father and forced to take on a job he didn’t want. Much to his surprise, he ended up enjoying the game more than anything else he’s ever done. It doesn’t hurt that he has wicked skills and can beat everyone in King’s Landing with his eyes closed. His character travels the most interesting path this season, and Dinklage’s acting hit me the hardest. He cried. I cried. He got angry, I was fuming. He makes any scene better. Though I could take or leave Shae, I’d pay money to see a buddy comedy starring him and Bronn.
Beautiful, shining Westeros
The sets, props, and effects in this series are stunning. The art department puts so much attention into making everything fit that you can’t help but ignore the characters sometimes just to stare at their surroundings. I extend these compliments to the hair, make-up, and costume departments, too. Thanks to the hard work of so many people behind the scenes, I’m able to entirely lose myself in the Seven Kingdoms and beyond.
The Tywin and Arya talk show
Now this is a switch from the book that I probably shouldn’t like but can’t help but adore. Tywin Lannister is not a nice man. I can’t picture him having a polite conversation with any of his subordinates, let alone a cup bearer. Yet he seems to take a particular liking to Arya. She impresses him with her cleverness, and I think he likes how she isn’t afraid to give him sass. He knows she’s not being completely honest about her background, but he doesn’t rake her across the coals about it. He could easily have tortured the truth out of her, but since he has no idea that she’s a Stark, I’m guessing he doesn’t think it’s worth the trouble. So, since he tolerates her, we get these wonderful interactions between the two of them.
Tywin talks to Arya about his children. He asks her about her past and how she learned to read. He seems to be amused by her. You can tell Arya considers trying to kill him a few times but wisely decides against it. We see sides of Tywin and Arya that we haven’t seen before and both actors play the scenes perfectly. I found myself looking forward to their talks even if they didn’t fit into the Westeros I know and love.
Brienne the Beauty
I am continually impressed by the spot on casting in this series, and I don’t think you could get someone more perfect for Brienne of Tarth. Gwendoline Christie towers over everyone and moves and fumbles and embodies the Brienne I pictured while I was reading the book. I admire and pity this character. She has to witness the bizarre murder of the man she loves and put up with people who think she was responsible. She ends up in Catelyn Stark’s service and eventually in charge of the Kingslayer. Her exchanges with Jamie are on the nose, and I even like that the series makes her out to be a little more brutal than the book. It wouldn’t hurt any of us to have some of her fierce loyalty and attitude.
What can I say? We finally got our big battle. We paid for in it the rushed finale, but I applaud the idea of devoting an entire episode to the Battle of Blackwater Bay. I’ve seen folks gripe about the small scale, but they have apparently forgotten this is a television series. I don’t recall ever seeing a single episode of television that offered what Blackwater did. The wildfire was beautifully added, Tyrion saved the day, and even the Hound got to shine. And it absolutely gave me chills to hear The Rains of Castamere.
Overall, I enjoyed the season. Game of Thrones at its low points is still some of the best television I’ve seen. And truly, most of my nitpicks come from comparing the series to my beloved books. I can’t stop doing that because I read the books first and that framework is in my head. It was just there first. That said, I still respect the adaptation. Reading this interview with story editor Bryan Cogman gave me some perspective on the pages.
Next season, I’ll try to focus on examining the series and the books as separate entities. However, since it will take two seasons and twenty episodes to cover the third book – A Storm of Swords – maybe it will be closer to the books (so far each season has represented one book of the series). I can’t wait to find out.