*This review contains spoilers. Please don’t read on if you haven’t seen the first episode of Game of Thrones season two*
With two of their biggest shows returning in the space of seven days, you’d have thought that Sky Atlantic bosses would be overjoyed this week. Outwardly, I’m sure they are, but it won’t be lost on them that they would probably have benefited from having Mad Men and Game of Thrones not running almost in perfect step with each other. Yet the fact that two of their biggest shows belong to different networks in the States, when coupled with the new premium channel’s mantra of bringing UK audiences episodes within days of their US transmission, means that like Jaime Lannister, their hands were tied.
We could write a tome almost as thick as one of George RR Martin’s novels on the many similarities between Sky and the Lannisters, but for now we’ll just stick to this season opener, which flickers promisingly while working hard to support a vast plot. Apparently no less than seven Kings will eventually put themselves forward for the Iron Throne, so it’s no wonder that ‘The North Remembers’ felt like it was rushing us through some re-introductions.
Anyone who’s read the books will tell you (even if you never asked) how much detail they contain and with so many strands to cover here, the serial format is being stretched to it’s very limit. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and the premiere has both style and substance to burn, but while it is unquestionably a marvellous technical achievement, you know that things are going to get even better once the formalities are dealt with and these armies start moving.
You may or may not remember that the aforementioned Jaime Lannister begins this second season as the captive of Robb Stark, who has proclaimed himself King of an independent North and defeated the twinkling Tywin Lannister (Murdoch?) no less than three times in battle. Down at King’s Landing, Joffrey is running the show with his mother (now there’s an episode of Jeremy Kyle I wouldn’t mind seeing) but even she’s struggling to control the little bastard and he ends up going all Herod on us.
Elsewhere, King Robert’s brothers have learnt that the boy-king is not only a bastard, but the son of his mother’s brother, which even in Westeros, is frowned upon. Yet Jaime and Cersei are relatively normal compared to Craster, the nasty old hermit who – like Westeros’s answer to Josef Fritzl – lives beyond the wall with a harem of daughters who are also his wives.. *Shudder*. Meanwhile Arya Stark has escaped the city with King Robert’s bastard son Gendry and Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons seem to be lost in the Red Waste. Indeed the writers are so busy covering all these bases, that we don’t see our first nipple until the final scene of this evening’s opener – a statistic which speaks for itself.
Of the many characters that pass before our eyes, Tyrion Lannister is still the most enjoyable and in just three scenes he manages to steal the show again. “You love your children, it’s your one redeeming feature. That and your cheekbones..” he tells his sister, in one of the few stand-out lines. Unlike, Boardwalk Empire and especially Mad Men, Game of Thrones does not trade off it’s players, but George RR Martin’s grand imagination. The characters are there, yet they don’t have the same room that Don Draper and Nucky Thompson enjoy. The story is the real star and that star will be getting much brighter in the weeks to come.