April 2, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Bend the knee, everyone:  GAME OF THRONES is back.
WHERE WE WERE:  Reeling from the decapitation of Eddard Stark, who until the loss of his head had seemed to be the stalwart hero of the entire saga.  It was sociopathic teenage King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), supposedly the son of dead king Robert Baratheon but actually the issue of an incestuous union between his icy mother Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and her brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who abruptly ordered the execution. Earlier, when the siblings were accidentally discovered by Ned Stark’s 8-year old son Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright), Jaime threw him from a tower window, crippling the boy for life.  Joffrey still plans to marry Stark’s daughter Sansa (Sophie Turner), who once worshiped her groom-to-be and now dreads him.  Following Ned’s death, Sansa’s younger sister Arya (Maisie Williams) has gone on the run from the Lannisters, masquerading as a boy.  Her brother, the oldest Stark son Robb (Richard Madden), now head of the family, has carried the day in several early battles–even capturing Jaime–against the Lannisters, who are led by cunning scion Tywin (Charles Dance).  The other Lannister, easily underestimated Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), whose small stature belies his very large brain, has managed to survive captivity, battle, and the contempt of his father.  And across the sea from all of this, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), all that remains of the bloodline of the previous dynasty, widowed with the death of her savage Dothraki husband, has walked into the middle of a raging inferno and emerged with… 3 living dragons, the first to exist in a thousand years.

WHERE WE ARE:  At war!  There are many kings claiming the right to rule Westeros, but a shortage of crowns.  Aside from Joffrey and Robb Stark, both Stannis and Renly Baratheon, brothers of the late king (they would be Joffrey’s uncles if he actually shared their blood) have competing armies, and Daenerys isn’t raising those dragons for nothing.  That doesn’t even mention the lower order of nobles, like Kingdom treasurer, brothel owner and all-around schemer Lord “Littlefinger” Baelish (Aidan Gillen), who would be happy to take the throne if it happened to be momentarily empty  And a different kind of war may be coming in the north, where Ned Stark’s bastard son Jon Snow (Kit Harington), is a member of the Watch, which protects the border from ungovernable bandits and the occasional zombie.
As all this suggests, the challenge of Season 2 for Game of Thrones is going to be keeping an enormous number of balls spinning in the air, particularly because it doesn’t seem as though any single figure is going to supplant Ned Stark as the show’s focal point and center of gravity.   Much of the season premiere, written by series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (based on the novels by George R.R. Martin) and directed by Alan Taylor, is taken up with simply re-introducing us to all the characters and settings.  
This is narrative on a genuinely epic scale, and it only works because the characters, as created by Martin and translated to the screen by Benioff, Weiss, and their writing team (which sometimes includes Martin himself), are so instantly distinctive, with goals and points of view that are clear and compelling.  Compared to the parched characterizations that are the bread and butter of most television, Game of Thrones is a buffet (or perhaps, this being HBO, the better word is orgy) of fascinating, witty, powerful personalities.   Even though the massive parade of plotlines and settings means that each character gets limited screen time, performers like Dinklage, Headey, Clarke, and Gillen are able to make strong impressions.  
When HBO announced it was entering the sword-and-sorcery game, there were groans from all directions.  Fans of the network’s prestige projects dismissed Thrones as an attempt to chase after True Blood ratings with tawdry sex and violence, while genre devotees expected a dull exercise in misplaced classiness.  Game of Thrones, though, has turned out to be one of those times when the network can truly claim a distinction between mere TV and itself:  a gorgeously visualized, unfailingly smart and complex piece of work (which happens to be one of the most respectful literary adaptations in recent memory) that delivers edge-of-the-seat excitement and no small amount of pay-cable level sex and violence.  With plenty of books left in Martin’s saga, long may it reign.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."