Game of Thrones makes its triumphant return with a season premiere that kicks off with senseless bloodshed and never lets up from there. We're finally introduced to Stannis, the brother of the deceased Robert and yet another contender for the throne, who seems to have allied himself with a scary new fire monotheistic fire cult. Joffrey's doing his usual dickery, but now Tyrion is back in town to slap him some more while Cersei takes out her frustrations on…well, everyone. Robb continues to fend off the Lannisters and is beginning to plan strategic alliances with former enemies and Daenerys is making her way across the desert with her people, albeit in a less than luxurious fashion. But at least she has dragons. And Jon Snow meets the world champion of incest.
Paul Brian McCoy's Brew of Choice for the Evening:
In honor of Cersei's return, this week's Game of Thrones Brew of Choice is Flying Dog Brewery's Raging Bitch. An 8.3% ABV Belgian-style IPA. It's pretty with a sweet start, but ends bitter and will kick your ass and murder your bastard offspring if you don't tiptoe around it.
Game of Thrones Episode 2.01- "The North Remembers"
Dylan Garsee: Even though I hate Joffrey "Baratheon" more than Zack Snyder, the recent zombie trend and the words "epic," "fail," and "this," I'm happy to see the return of Game of Thrones. Even if the opening scene is of the little snot-nosed bastard.
Nick Hanover: In a lot of ways, Game of Thrones' second season premiere is all about Joffrey, which is something I think he'd be proud of. We're immediately treated to a glimpse at what life is like under Joffrey's rule, with all the psychopathy that entails and in a sense it's intended as a vision of what the world of Game of Thrones could be like on the whole if the Lannisters aren't toppled. It's a nice way of introducing the stakes of the season, as well as reminding everyone — in case they forgo t– that Game of Thrones is brutal as fuck.
Paul Brian McCoy: I don't know. The Lannisters are all pricks, but even they all know Joffrey needs to be reined in. But yes. Game of Thrones is brutal as fuck.
Dylan: What other show has massive baby genocide? You're not going to see that kind of brutality on Mad Men.
Paul: If you did, then I might watch Mad Men.
Dylan: Well, Joan Holloway did just have a baby. So we just need to protect him from Cersei.
Paul: But really, I think one of the things that this episode established is that it's not just the Lannisters that are bastards. They're just the most visible. There's not a single person (with the notable exception of Robb and maybe Daeny) who would make a good ruler. Possibly Tyrion, but I imagine he'd be swayed by the trappings of power when it was all said and done. There's a lot of pent-up hostility that could leak out into unchecked violence if he could get away with it.
Nick: I'm more optimistic about Tyrion. I feel his years of being regarded as something less than human would enable him to sympathize with the commoners more than anyone else. I believe that's a big part of why he spends so much time amongst the common people, because at least with them he's on relatively equal ground. He also seems to be a genuinely good character, as evidenced by his charity to Bran and Sansa. But it's a moot point since he'd never be allowed to rule anybody.
But your point about pretty much everyone else being a bad fit for ruler is spot on. That said, I loved the introduction to Stannis in this episode, which also conveniently introduced us to the cult that he's allied himself with in a gorgeously shot sequence that saw the old gods literally burned down in a dark ceremony.
Dylan: This episode was beautifully shot, even the slightly strange first person wolf dream scene. The effigy scene, Daeny in the desert, even Joffrey's rooftop gladiator fights were beyond cinematic, and I'm happy to see HBO using Sean Bean's salary to shoot on location.
Nick: I may be reading too much into this, but there were a few key shots focusing on spreading pools of blood. We had it right at the beginning, with the (literally) fallen knight. And then we had it shortly thereafter with Stannis' Maester, who attempted to poison the (potentially) sinister fire priestess Melisandre with a glass of wine he drank from first in an effort to trick her. I'm not sure what kind of poison would make you exhibit symptoms of ebola, but that poor Maester probably should have reconsidered his approach.
Dylan: Considering how the scene in the beginning of last season, where the Starks found the dead direwolf, foreshadowed Ned's beheading, you may be onto something with the blood.
Paul: I'd say you're definitely onto something. There's going to be blood spreading all across the map before things are said and done.
Nick: I'm curious to see how this fire cult storyline plays out and whether it intersects with the development of the dragons. When Dylan and I discussed what our predictions were for the season over on the wildly popular Paranoid Video (PLUGPLUG), I thought a team-up between Daenerys and the Starks was an inevitability, but now Stannis' association with a fire cult and the fact that he lives in Dragonstone, of all places, is making me question that.
There is the possibility that Stannis' fire priestess might even encourage a different kind of union between the two as well. The best way to get your sword on fire, after all, is to shack up with a dragon lady. Or forget to use protection with one of Littlefinger's ladies, whichever.
Paul: Interesting. Technically they're all usurpers and Daeny is the only one with a legitimate claim to the throne. I'm sure Stannis wouldn't hesitate to use that symbolism. But I can't really see the Fire Priestess teaming up with anybody. She's all about her One God. How absurd!
Nick: Oh, I don't think she'd encourage a marriage between Stannis because she thinks they'd be a good match. I think she'd do it because it'd play into the rituals and doctrines she's spreading. I imag
ine that her cult has some connection to the dragons, and it stands to reason that someone like Daenerys could potentially ruin whatever she's up to since she's, you know, actually connected to dragons.
Paul: Could be.
Nick: So, what better way to impede that than by forcing her into being your ally?
Dylan: Honestly, I have no idea if the fire cult is going to play a major part of the upcoming season. However, if you'd like more of our theories on the GoT Season Two, give Paranoid Video a listen or two!
Nick: Now here's that keg of Old Rasputin we promised you, Paul…
And speaking of awkward alliances, what did you two think of Robb's decision to reach out to the Greyjoys?
Paul: Nothing says good idea like reaching out to the people your father conquered by sending the son your father kidnapped and held hostage his whole life.
Dylan: I don't think that Robb has thought everything through, like all of the other new rulers throughout Westeros. Everyone is acting on impulses, and everything is falling apart.
Nick: All the more reason to elect Bran the ruler of all.
Dylan: BRAN/HODOR 2012
Nick: Crap. Now I have to make a design for that. THANKS DYLAN
Paul: I assume there will be Hodor dick…
Nick: It will just be a wolf's head and a gigantic dong.
Dylan: If anyone were to cause destruction by penis, it would be me.
Paul: So basically, knowledge isn't power, and power isn't power. Penis is Power.
Dylan: THE GUN IS GOOD. THE PENIS IS EVIL.
Nick: And thus the entire conversation was derailed as all three members drowned in penis puns.
All joking aside, I feel like Robb stands the best chance here. Partially because his demands are relatively reasonable (he doesn't want the entire kingdom, just the area his family already controls), partially because unlike the others, he's willing to compromise and to learn. Everyone else seems completely unwilling to reach out to the other players, at least Robb understands his position is weak without numbers and I can see the season developing towards a finish where Robb has tried to ally himself with everyone who isn't a Lannister. And there's no reason for the others to not consider that offer, since the Starks only want independence for the north, a terrain that seems to have no real strategic value anyway, especially with White Walkers and wildings on the horizon.
Paul: That kind of logic can end up making him seem weak. It's not about breaking up the kingdom. It's about ruling the whole goddamn thing. I've got a feeling if anything is going to draw people together it's going to be learning that dragons are back. I'm kind of hoping they all just beat each other senseless and then Daeny comes riding in on a huge motherfucking dragon and sets them all alight. Dragons on one side, White Walkers on the other.
Dylan: Hodor in the middle.
Nick: Speaking of those pesky White Walkers, what'd we think of Mr. Snow this week?
Dylan: Jon Snow's plot got a little more exciting/disgusting, compared to last season at least. I still am very bored with Jon overall.
Paul: It was nice to get a little action. Although the only real action was sitting around chatting with that perverse freakshow. I think Jon's got so much potential storywise. I want them to really dive into what's going on beyond the wall.
Dylan: I'm really hoping his plot picks up, because I have to really force myself to read his chapters.
Paul: It does. But… nope. No spoilers.
Dylan: Don't you dare spoil this show.
Paul: Dr. Girlfriend was right there with Incesty McDaughterfuck with regards to Jon's looks. She almost said it before he did.
Nick: I get that Snow is meant to be our moral compass, but it's difficult to care about that when he's not really given much conflict. I assume that what they were hinting at in this episode was that he was trying to figure out whether to free the "daughters," which could potentially be interesting, but he's held on such a tight leash that I doubt we'll get to see him try to put his morals into action. I'd love to see Snow's black and white interpretation of the world get shaken up some more, but I suppose we'll be waiting a while until that takes place.
Paul: I'd say that rather than being our moral compass, he's there to establish for the viewer that black and white just isn't going to cut it. I don't know if there really is a moral compass on the show now that Ned's dead. There are no good choices and nobody's going to come out of it unbloodied. Without that main character to focus on, it's hard to tell who's the audience's go to viewpoint.
Nick: Fair point, and I agree that above all, Snow is meant as an indication that normal ethics don't apply here, with pending world war and all. Perhaps that's why the focus is shifting to Tyrion, who is still a "good" character, but sees everything in distinct grayscale.
Dylan: Tyrion seems to be the character that the audience is gravitating toward.
Paul: He is an amazing character and a brilliant performance.
Dylan: He's the only one that seems level headed, relative to the rest of the characters on the show. Plus, Peter Dinklage was awesome in the Station Agent and as Liz Lemon's boyfriend.
Paul: Did he get top billing this week?
Dylan: Yes he did. Hopefully that doesn't mean Joffrey will behead him
Paul: It's all about the Hand.
Nick: Dylan and I have been speculating that top billing (from far left) is a bad thing on this show, since the two top billed actors saw their characters last season meet unfortunate ends. Speaking of impending dooms…how about that Cersei?
Paul: Love her cheekbones.
Paul: That felt like an improv. And a great one, at that.
Dylan: Cersei's eyebrows seemed to be working extra hard this season, ranging in emotions from angry to irritated to scared. They should win an Emmy for Best Facial Hair.
Paul: I really can't wait to see how close they stick with the book for Cersei. There are some interesting things in there that flesh out her character a little more. Plus, she should smack Joffrey some more.
Nick: So you're saying this will soon become Game of Slaps, Paul?
Dylan: A Song of Slaps and Smacks.
Paul: I'd watch that. Everybody just lining up and slapping the shit out of Joffrey.
Dylan: I think that was a porno I watched once.
Paul: Only once?
Dylan: You only need to see it once.
Paul: It keeps playing in your mind over and over?
Dylan: It's my Vietnam.
Nick: I'm glad that my prediction about Cersei realizing she's in way over her head is immediately coming true. One of my favorite scenes of the evening was when Joffrey basically threatened to have her executed. It was a great way of making the stakes clear, but it was especially effective thanks to the superb acting on both ends, with Leana Headey's icy unflinchingness finally getting thawed a bit. The look on her face was pitch perfect and instantly communicated more than any dialogue possibly could.
Paul: First to have her father send Tyrion to right the ship and then that. She's definitely on the verge of losing her position. But what better way to shore up your position than to call for a healthy dose of Baby Genocide? Nothing says "I'm qualified to rule" like killing babies and kicking the common-folk out of the city.
Nick: Well, let's not forget she also immediately went about fucking with Littlefinger. It was like a whole waterfall of assholes getting what they deserved in this episode.
Paul: I loved that.
Dylan: Nothing would bring me more satisfaction than to see Littlefinger get killed. He annoys me more than Joff. At least Joffrey provides for more entertaining television; Littlefinger is just a dick.
Paul: A dick with a line of high-class brothels.
Dylan: Brothels/baby killing symposiums.
Nick: Granted, the baby killing was, to quote our friend Ryan Usher, "highly Biblical," but the Littlefinger standoff was perhaps even more terrifying, because it showed just how unstable King's Landing is right now in a different way than random infanticide does. Babies can't fight back. But all these dicks with armies and assassins and incest at their disposal? You bet they'll go down spilling blood.
Paul: Honestly, the only thing that I was disappointed by with this episode was the lack of Arya.
Dylan: The ten seconds of her at the end didn't satisfy you?
Nick: That was kind of necessary though, wasn't it? That makes the stakes higher, considering Cersei (or Joffrey, I'm not sure which is more likely to be behind the baby killing yet) knows where she is, even if they don't yet realize they know that. Minimizing her time this episode enabled that last shot to have far more impact, as there's no reason to believe she's safe or even has any hope of escaping the Lannisters.
Paul: Oh, structurally, I get it. Holding her and Bastard Boy off to the end worked perfectly. I just missed her. She's one of my favorite characters in this show. She's kind of like the Shane (Walking Dead) of Game of Thrones. She says what she's thinking and fucks shit up. Only without murdering innocent people for the good of the group.
Nick: I think what you mean is she is the Inigo Montoya of Game of Thrones. Minus the moustache and long, luxurious curly hair. Or, at least she doesn't have either of those features yet. But there is time. Oh so much time.
Nick: The more I think about it, the more I can get behind Joffrey as Prince Humperdinck too. Yes, it's all clicking into place.
Paul: Nah, she got her hair all cut off, she blurts out inappropriate things, and didn't she kill a fat kid to escape the city? Maybe I'm imagining that.
Nick: Hey man, you don't know what Inigo Montoya got up in his teenage years. Maybe he cut all his hair off once. Maybe he killed one or two fat kids.
Paul: What did you guys think of the structure of the episode? Was the comet enough of a link to connect the several hundred different storylines?
Nick: I thought the structure was done well. It was a nice, relatively unobtrusive visual element that connected everything without being too in your face about it and the way the different factions interpreted what the comet meant was intriguing. The fact that there are comets of fire and ice certainly didn't hurt either.
With this likely being the only time Game of Thrones is going to go easy on the viewers for quite a while, I appreciated that they handled it in a relatively artistic fashion rather than beating us over the head like some shows might. But then again, what do I know, I'm probably some Dungeons & Dragons obsessed basement dweller.
Paul: Hah! Am I right that neither of you have read the second book?
Dylan: I've read the first book, and I'm about to start the second.
Nick: I've only read the first book. I had to hide the second book from myself in order to not ruin the show.
Dylan: And the book made me hate Jon Snow and Sansa, only because their chapters are so boring.
Paul: The previews look like they're sticking very close and I'll just say that there's not a lot of resolution when that last page hits.
Is this season only ten episodes again? 'Cause there's just too much good stuff coming to cram into ten episodes.
Dylan: Aren't they splitting up the 3rd season into two seasons?
Paul: I think I heard that. But that's the third book, if I remember correctly.
Nick: I love how much this show crams into each episode though. I know the New York Times doesn't like that as much, because us viewers of < i>Game of Thrones are too stupid to keep track of how many characters there are, unless we have no lives and instead spend our days staring at headshots on the HBO site, in which case we're probably [insert nerd stereotype here]. But honestly, that relentlessness on the show's part is a big draw for me, and I say that as someone who has largely avoided fantasy for most of his life and definitely hasn't ever played D&D (not that there's anything wrong with either of those things, I can't believe we live in the 21st century and people still have to defend their interests). I've described this show to people as a medieval version of The Wire, and I think that's why (despite what the NYT thinks) it's got such a large cross appeal.
So your concern that there's too much to fit into this season positively excites me, Paul. And not just in a Hodor way.
Dylan: It excited my almost as much as Khal Drogo's alter ego, Karl Druglord.
Nick: Well, you do know a lot about horses, Dylan.
Paul: That review was atrocious. I get it if you don't like something, but that was just insulting on so many levels.
Nick: It's funny, because last year the NYT did almost the exact same thing, in regards to making one gigantic presumption about the show's audience, and I wrote about it for CB, particularly how condescending that attitude was and how I was just one of many people who don't fit the NYT's hilariously outdated stereotypes about this show's alleged audience.
So, I'm glad they've learned their lesson. [Ed. Note- Today it was announced that Game of Thrones' season premiere did phenomenally well…so maybe the NYT will learn after all?]
Paul: Some people just can't see outside of their own experience. I knew a guy once — a douchebag — who claimed that nobody really liked Tom Waits. That it was all just people trying to be cool by claiming they liked Tom Waits. Like he was the one saying the Emperor had no clothes, when, in fact, he just had no clue.
Nick: That guy has clearly never experienced the thrill of riding around late at night listening to nothing but Heart of Saturday Night on repeat.
Paul: Seriously. With Game of Thrones, as with Tom Waits, if you can't keep up, then that says more about you than about the show.
Dylan: For realzies.
Paul: Luckily there a gazillion CSI shows for people like that to watch.
Dylan: And The Big Bang Theory.
Paul: "They said, invoking their own stereotypes and condescending snipes." But I don't mind sniping when I'm clearly right.
Nick: I can't help but find it laughable that an institution like the New York Times is stubbornly clinging to such antiquated notions of how people consume pop culture. Not coincidentally, we recently covered a documentary about how the NYT is struggling with its continued descent into irrelevance in the world of New Media and it's articles like this that help illuminate how far these institutions are falling. Not because they don't "get" Game of Thrones, or any other program, but because they don't understand that audiences — be they audiences of "low brow" shows like Game of Thrones or audiences for publications– no longer fall into convenient, easily distinguishable categories. There's no reason why you can't love both Game of Thrones AND Rimbaud. Or why you can't play D&D AND also appreciate and debate the merits of La Ronde and its ushering in of a new post-modern sexuality in theatre. LOOK NYT I CAN READZ
Paul: Rimbaud? La Ronde? Are those elves?
Nick: I would love to see an elf La Ronde. It could be friends with that other, lesser known elf, Salò.
But seriously. We're reviewing Game of Thrones on a technically comics-focused website that has been home to several published authors, a McSweeney's contributor, a handful of music and film critics, a nuclear physicist, a few philosophy professors and a ridiculous number of engineers. Who even gives a shit if we like or play D&D? What does that have to do with anything about our intelligence or ability to process culture? We are clearly not cavemen.
Paul: To be fair. There are dungeons AND dragons in this show.
Dylan: But mostly boobies.
Nick: I know that's why Dylan watches this show. He loves him some boobies.
Paul: It's got something for everyone! You hear that NYT?
Dylan: To quote myself, "I'll shave Lord Renly of Storm's End's chest, if you know what I mean." -Dylan
Nick: And now that we've turned this into an angry discussion about how the New York Times is so stupid it probably doesn't even know how babby is formed, let's rate this thing.
Dylan: I rate it this gif:
Which is the equivalent of about
Paul: Dammit. it is. I hate starting the season out so high. I'm afraid I'm gonna rate every episode 4.5 or 5.
Nick: I can't wait until I get to rate an episode with this gif, which is what I'd like to retroactively give episode 1.09:
And yeah, I'm completely on board with unanimous
Or 4.5 Hodor wangs. How's that for high falutin?
Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he's not winning trivia nights at pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can't afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter @garseed a>.
When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set and functioning as the Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and has contributed to No Tofu Magazine, Performer Magazine, Port City Lights and various other international publications. By which he means Canadian rags you have no reason to know anything about. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot, Streaming Pile O' Wha?, and Classic Film/New Blu, all here at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at@PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.