“The night is dark and full of terrors.”
With the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones beginning this month we’re reviewing each season. You can read our Game of Thrones 101 here, and our season 2 recap here. For now we’re going to look at season 2 as a whole, and whether the hype surrounding the show is merited.
Based on the popular book series by George R. R. Martin, A Song of Fire and Ice, Game of Thrones centers on the fictional land of Westeros. The land is ruled by whoever sits on the iron throne, and through the years the leaders of the seven main houses have fought for the right to rule the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. The series became an immediate hit for HBO, and helped define the idea of peak TV.
The second season honestly benefits significantly from the fact that Ned Stark (Sean Bean) is gone, and we now have an entire Kingdom to examine. While the first season was an ensemble piece, it relied heavily on the story of Ned Stark. Season two fully takes on the ensemble and begins to expand on the things that made the first season great. We get more time with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Robb Stark (Richard Madden), Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), and to an extent Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). The second season does feel as though it lags in terms of Jon and Daenerys’ stories, but there is a lot to take care of with the war between the Lannisters, the Starks, and the Baratheons.
Another element the second season does well is its introduction of new characters. We see new members of the Night’s Watch. We finally meet Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and those that follow him. We meet Theon Greyjoy’s (Alfie Allen) family and their people, the Ironborn. We’re introduced to the land of Qarth. The world continues to get bigger and in doing so helps define the characters as much as it does Westeros. We begin to understand why these characters we met in season one feel the way they do about certain people and places.
One of the biggest additions in season two is Stannis and his armies. We’ve heard about him repeatedly in season one, but had no idea what kind of man he would be. And honestly, he’s not exactly the man you would hope Ned Stark would help put on the Iron Throne. Stannis is cold, and harsh, and his reliance on dark magic through Melisandre (Carice van Houten) is unnerving, especially when the extent of her powers are shown. Yet it’s a perfect example of how this world works, and where things are headed. On the flip side, we meet Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), who is essentially Stannis’ Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen). A dedicated servant to the potential ruler of Westeros, with a dark past, but doing his best to redeem himself, and in turn becomes a loveable addition to the ensemble.
In terms of expanding upon the characters we already know, the show does an excellent job this season of matching people up in ways that help progress the overall narrative while also advancing the character’s individual stories. No part feels unnecessary. No interaction is without meaning. Everything is there for a reason. We see Arya stark spend time with Tywin Lannister, pretending to be someone she’s not. There’s a question to be had as to whether Tywin actually knew who she was or not. But her being in close quarters with him shows us the start of her true training to become who she needs to be: someone who can hide in front of the face of her enemy, ready to attack at any time.
Tyrion and Cersei are also played with well this season. We see that Tyrion may be the best of the Lannisters, and we truly root for him to succeed, despite the fact that the Lannisters are clearly evil. But if he succeeds amongst them, and for them, then he can succeed later on, against and away from them. Cersei is one of his biggest combatants, and through her we see how he can play everyone around him and her to his benefit. We also see the true aspects of Cersei in this season. Where the first season didn’t highlight her as much in the earlier episodes, this season shows how conniving she can truly be and begin to get an idea of her true ideals. She may be cold and heartless in some ways, but Cersei does at least love her children, and would do anything for them. Even if Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) seems to be a pawn in her game for power, she does love him. Maybe the least of her three children, but there is love there.
This season reminds us that the story isn’t always going to end happily. We’re not going to see everyone we love survive. We’re not necessarily going to see the outcomes we desire. Our heroes may win a battle and then wake up the next morning in a small damp room with one of their enemies looming over them, and a scar across their face. Once again we see that these characters, and their paths are worthy of following, but to not expect happy endings. Because the night is dark and full of terrors, and all men must die.
Be sure to check back as we continue covering each season leading up to the final season of Game of Thrones which begins on April 14th on HBO. Check out all our previous coverage below.