Our Spoiler-Free Verdict On Game Of Thrones Season 2

Game of Thrones returns to HBO this Sunday, and at last our burning questions will be answered. For some of us, those questions include, "What happens next to Arya and Sansa in the wake of their father's death?" For others of us, they're more like, "How can a television show possibly capture everything that happens in George R.R. Martin's A Clash of Kings?" Either way, we're happy to tell you that we've seen the first four episodes of the season, and we don't think you'll be disappointed.

We've seen the first four episodes, and here's our spoiler-free preview of Game of Thrones season two.

And as usual with our spoiler-free previews, we really do mean spoiler-free... we're assuming you've seen Game of Thrones season one, but there are no plot details about what happens in season two or A Clash of Kings below.

It really is an epic

We've been wondering how this TV show could possibly include the huge cast of characters and wealth of incident that Martin crams into the second book of A Song of Ice And Fire. And indeed, the first episode does jump around in a way that might give you whiplash — we visit a whole slew of subplots one after the other, and they barely seem to interact with each other at first. I was left wondering, in places, whether people who hadn't read the book would know what to make of some of the new storylines.

But the relentless pacing does pay off, eventually, as we start to get a complete picture of the sweep of the war that's engulfing Westeros. The following episodes feel a lot more coherent, partly because some subplots are placed on the back burner and partly because the show does a great job of showing how everything connects up. And one of Martin's central concerns in the series — the way in which war affects ordinary people who are caught up in the struggles of nobles and leaders — shines through again and again, in many scenes that are both horrifying and thought-provoking.

Also, you have to admire the deft job the show's makers have done of condensing and combining scenes, to the point where characters seem to be colliding a bit more than in the books. There are some very well-choreographed sequences that manage to cover a lot of ground and handle a bunch of incidents all at once.

And even if you do end up having to rewatch some episodes a couple times to pick up on everything that's happened, it'll be a pleasurable task — this show really is rewarding close attention, and the zingy dialogue and attention to minor characters that made the first season such a stand-out are very much in evidence again. This show really is pulling off "epic" in a way that's never been done before.

The heartbreak doesn't stop

The death of Ned Stark hangs over this season like a shroud, and people refer back to it over and over again. It's one of the lodestones that all the events revolve around, and it comes back in ways you might not necessarily expect. But also, in keeping with the wartime theme, we're confronted with heartbreak and loss over and over again. Death is all around, and the show makes us feel it, and the effect it has on all the people around it.

It's much more dystopian.

Sure, season one wasn't exactly a basket of kittens. But season two is much more horrifying — there's less sex and more brutality this time, although the "sexposition" is definitely back in a few places. This time, it's clearly a world where wicked people often prosper, and good people are often killed or ground into the dirt. A lot of this comes from the book, but there's also a lot of casual brutality, and the show lingers on some bloody, horrifying sights here and there. Not only that, but there's a relentless pragmatism to all of it — we see good people tolerating or supporting foul situations, because the greater good demands it. It's not just that the Seven Kingdoms are at war, it's that life is harsh everywhere, and casual cruelty is the norm. When we do see someone try to do the right thing or make a difference in the world, he or she usually winds up paying a horrible price. Oh, and the gender politics get even more fascinating, as we get more examples of women being terribly victimized — as well as women being strong leaders and fighters, in spite of the scorn that's tossed at them.

A lot is resting on Peter Dinklage's shoulders.

Because of the aforementioned juggling of a million subplots, Tyrion still has to share screen time with a ton of other characters. But he's clearly the show's leading character now, and Peter Dinklage has top billing now that Sean Bean is gone. And without giving anything away, Tyrion gets a lot of the coolest moments in the first four episodes, on a par with your favourite Tyrion scenes in season one. Now that Tyrion has clearly been anointed as a fan-favorite character, just as he was in the books, he's like a spark of brightness in the midst of otherwise terrible gloom — both because of his sense of humour, and because of his strength of character. He's one of the most fascinating characters on television, and in season two he goes to town.

Dinklage is being asked to carry a lot of the show's humour and warmth, with a lot of the real standout scenes in these opening episodes — and he mostly pulls it off. Mostly. There were a few moments where I felt like the show might be asking too much of the awesome powers of Peter Dinklage, and a few of his "hero" scenes fell just a tad short of convincing me. But he's still immense fun to watch.

Fans of A Clash of Kings will notice a few delightfully clever changes

Again, without giving anything away... none of the changes I noticed bothered me, and some of them made a lot of sense, especially with the limited running time and resources. Some of the relationships between the characters are quite different, and also a few new coincidences and connections are introduced that may pay off wonderfully down the line. Also, the decision in season one to foreground the sexual relationship between Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrrell inevitably means a lot of fascinating new elements are introduced to Renly's story in season two, and it makes his character infinitely more interesting.

Bottom line

We called Game of Thrones season one an astounding achievement — and this continues to be true in season two. This show is continuing to redefine what's possible on television. Some of the leaping around from subplot to subplot may get a bit dizzying, but you see pretty quickly how it's going to pay off, and the show is continuing to do a great job of developing minor characters and strengthening the connections between them. Most of all, this is a great political epic, in which the nature of power and government is questioned, over and over again, and it's left to the audience to come up with its own disquieting answers.


Comments

    It's not spoiler free if you give away a big thing that happens in Season 1 right in the opening paragraph that can be read on the front page.

      Hence why the piece was titled "Our Spoiler-Free Verdict On Game Of Thrones Season 2", as opposed to "Our Spoiler-Free Verdict On Game Of Thrones Season 1". :p

        I know, it even says they assume that people have seen the first season but seems a bit dumb to put a spoiler to the first season on the front page when a lot of people have only just been able to get access to the show.

          Well the fact that Ned Stark is played by Sean Bean should give people enough indication how his character is going to fare.
          Sorry if that spoiled it for anyone, seeing as I've ruined that, I might as well give away the ending to the whole series - the whole thing is Bran dreaming while he was in a coma from being pushed out of the window. it never happened and in the end he wakes up, and all the characters get together in a rousing song and dance finale.

            Sean Bean at his best http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEhtsgu6bJg WARNING MANY SPOILERS!

              I lol'd.

              I feel sorry for any up-and-coming actor who ever gets the title 'the next Sean Bean.'

                Sorry, no-one will replace the Beanster

                No one man should be as good as Sean Bean at dieing.

            I also think S1 spoilers are fair game, especially when one of HBO's marketing posters has Ned Stark's head on a spike with "The King Does What He Wants." We shouldn't have to baby everyone, that season is a year old, it's not like we're discussing the parentage of Jon Snow here...

              The season is a year old, sure, but it only hit shelves here less than a month ago.

                Sure, it had its home release (DVD/Blu-Ray Boxset) a month ago, but the series finished its Australian run on cable several months ago (even by Australia's heavily delayed standards). That's on top of the book being well over a decade old and the HBO series a whole year in the ground.

                There are some things we should wrap in spoiler warnings but I think with something like this, there's a statute of limitations. I should be able to assume people know that Darth Vader is Luke's father, Snape kills Dumbledore and Starks have no instinct for self-preservation.

                  But - and here's the main thing: Spoiler-free. The problem isn't that he spoiled it, but that he said it was spoiler free.

                  WHAT THE FUCK DARTH VADER IS LUKE'S FATHER YOU MOTHERFUCKER YOU'VE RUINED STAR WARS!!!

                  Next you're going to crush my fragile soul even further by telling me that WWE is all fake.

                  Fair enough. I didn't know it had aired at all over here. I assumed the DVD's were the first time most people would have seen it. (granted, they could also have read the books, but shhh)

            Holy shit my life is over now that i know the ending!

            "the fact that Ned Stark is played by Sean Bean should give people enough indication how his character is going to fare." - Could you imagine if Sean Bean and Michelle Rodriquez did a film together? It'd be 15 minutes long!

          people have had almost over a year to watch it, get over it

    As someone who doesn't really care for the books, I still strongly disagree that forgoing the relationship between Renly and Loras is an acceptable change, I guess mainly because I don't see what purpose it serves, but then I'm not really a viewer of the show so meh.

      It wasn't as 'in your face' in the books, but if you read between the lines, it was definitely there. The sheer number of hints makes you wonder if they weren't cornholing each other every time a PoV character wasn't there. But for a TV series, you really have to spell it out, or that sort of subtext is completely lost.

      Sam - You've said "forgoing", meaning to omit, whereas the article says "foregrounding", meaning to give direct attention to. Very, very different things.
      Second, you didn't care for the books, and yet you don't agree that doing something to the relationship between Renly and Loras (whether that's omitting, it or giving it more attention). Considering the fact that they have a relationship at all is only in sub-text in the books, and never actually confirmed, someone who doesn't care for the books is unlikely to have even noticed the connection.
      Thirdly, you're not a viewer of the show, nor a fan of the books - How can you have an opinion at all, other than "tried the books, not a fan"?

      Shitty dude.

    I have a strange thing where by when actors use modern swear words in fantasy settings, for some reason it just breaks the entire illusion for me. But obviously i will still watch this and enjoy it.

      Modern swear words ARE in the book...

    Biggest complaint with characterisation in the show is that they've turned Renly into an insufferable douchebag. The scene where he offers to support Ned after Robert's death isn't quite so self-serving in the book, nor does he sneer and mock Stannis in book 2. He seemed genuinely regretful that he would have to clash with his brother while in the TV series is basically gloating.

      Would definitely disagree with that. Not going in to spoilers but he turns up to a parley eating a peach. It's pretty indicative of how he sees Stannis' claim, and pretty casually condescending to his brother in general.

        Potential spoiler upcoming...

        But the peach is the limit of it. He specifically asks his lieutenants that his brother be treated fairly and fighting Stannis is definitely a last resort. but in a Season 2 Promo it basically has Renly sitting with a shit-eating grin going "tomorrow, I'm going to destroy my brother's army!" I think there's a fine line between that and... Renly simply being Renly.

        Plus I never got the impression in Book 1 that he planned to declare himself as king when he pledged 100 men to Ned. It seemed like a genuine attempt to disarm Cersei and keep power out of the Lannister hands, instead of him going onto a egomanial spiel about moi, Renly, being the best king in all the land. Those additions rubbed me the wrong way.

    total dick move headline. lucky i saw season 1 on blu ray. dick move.

      once again people have had over a year to catch up, get over it.

    If you're going in to Season 2 without having watched Season 1, wouldn't you WANT spoilers to help you catch up? And if you're in the process of watching Season 1, why would you be reading anything at all about Season 2?

    WHERE IN THE HELL DID YOU GET THE EPISODES?

      This is something I would like to know

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