Episode Title: "The North Remembers"
Writers: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Director: Alan Taylor
Previously on "Game of Thrones":
In King's Landing, the cruel King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) celebrates his Name Day by staging a tournament in his own honor. Joffrey watches Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) aka The Hound sends his opponent to his death, but his captive bride-to-be, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) can barely muster any false enthusiasm. Sansa only speaks up when Joffrey is about to have Ser Dontos (Tony Way) killed for showing up late and drunk. Surprisingly, The Hound backs Sansa's story about misfortune coming from slaying someone on your Name Day. But Ser Dontos' survival sees him branded as the King's new fool.
Then Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) makes a big splash upon his return, as he interrupts Joffrey's tournament with Bronn (Jerome Flynn) by his side. Tyrion leaves the bewildered Joffrey to barge in on the Small Council meeting and reveal that he is the new Hand of the King in his father's absence. This doesn't go over well with his sister, Queen Regent Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), but Tyrion points out that she brought this on herself by failing to prevent Joffrey from ordering Ned Stark's execution and allowing Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) to escape… leaving Sansa as their only bargaining chip to reclaim their captive brother, Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster Waldau).
In Winterfell, Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) is clearly bored by his duties as he and Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter) listen to a lord complain about his walls and blame Robb Stark (Richard Madden) for taking his men to war. Later, Bran has a dream in which he is in the body of his direwolf, Summer. Soon after, Bran has Hodor (Kristian Nairn) and Osha (Natalie Tena) escort him to the Heart tree where they witness a comet in the sky; which Osha believes signifies that dragons have returned.
And across the sea in the Red Waste, we're reminded that Osha is right. There are three living dragons, courtesy of Daeneryes Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). Those dragons would be really helpful in reclaiming her family's Iron Throne if they weren't babies… and if she knew how to feed them. Daeneryes' followers are starving in the desert as they try to avoid those who would kill them and steal her dragons. Daeneryes leans on Ser Jorah (Iain Glen) for support and she sends three of her remaining riders out in different directions to find a way safely out of the Red Waste.
Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and the Night's Watch arrive at Craster's Keep, where Sam (John Bradley-West) is happy to see girls for the first time in months… until he learns that they are not only Craster's daughters, but his wives as well. Jon inadvertently draws the ire of Craster (Robert Pugh) himself as Commander Mormont (James Cosmo) bribes him for shelter and information. Later, Mormont confronts Jon about speaking out of turn and tells him that if he wants to lead someday than he needs to learn how to follow.
At Dragonstone, we meet Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) as a priest desperately tries to get his aid in stopping Melisandre (Carice van Houten) from burning the statues of the Seven Gods while turning Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and his kingdom towards her new religion. As the oldest brother of the late King Robert, Stannis sends out several messages declaring himself to be the true king of the seven kingdoms… and just to punctuate that fact, he reveals what Ned Stark told him about Joffrey's true parentage: he is the child of Queen Cersei and her brother, Jaime.
Before we leave Dragonstone, the priest makes a clumsy attempt to poison Melisandre and sips his own cup to prove that it isn't dangerous. But while the priest dies almost immediately, Melisandre knowingly drinks the poison and suffers no apparent effects. At the Stark Camp, Robb confronts Jamie with Stannis' message and he now knows why Jamie tried to murder Bran months ago: Bran saw Jamie and his sister engaging in incest. Back at King's Landing, Tyrion urges his lover, Shae (Sibel Kekilli) to remain hidden for her own protection.
Meanwhile, Cersei attempts to intimidate Lord Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish.(Adian Gillen) into aiding her search to find Arya. And when that fails, she uses her guards to do the intimidating for her. Back at Stark Camp, Robb summons Alton Lannister (Karl Davies) to carry his demands for peace back to his cousins in King's Landing, despite his knowledge that the Lannisters will not surrender the North or Robb's sisters so easily. After arguing with his mother, Catelyn (Michelle Fairley); Robb sends her on a mission to form an alliance with King Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) to force the Lannisters to accept their terms.
Robb's companion, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) has a different idea: he wants to approach his father, Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide) of the Iron Isles and get a fleet of ships that can attack King's Landing by sea. Theon promises that they can avenge Ned together, but Catelyn is openly against an alliance with Balon. In King's Landing, Cersei tries to get Joffrey to commit troops to finding Arya to strength their negotiating power with the Starks, but the power mad young king is more obsessed with remaking his throne room.
Joffrey has also heard the rumors about his parentage and he doesn't like them. He confronts his mother over how many bastards King Robert fathered and earns a slap in return. Stung and embarrassed, Joffrey warns his mother not to do that again and he curtly dismisses her. Soon after, Lord Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter) and the City Watch begin a brutal crackdown on all of King Robert's bastards, as babies and children are slaughtered to protect the Lannisters' secrets and prevent a more legitimate heir to the throne from emerging.
The only bastard to escape the purge is Gendry (Joseph Dempsie), but his old master, the smith tells the City Watch that Gendry departed with Yoren (Francis Magee) to join the Night's Watch via the King's Road. And in the closing moments, we see Gendry and Arya together on a wagon heading towards the Wall, unaware that both of their lives may soon be in danger.
Going forward, "epic" is going to be the most overused word to describe "Game of Thrones." But really, is there any better word to describe it? This is television on such a grand scale that it completely overshadows every other series on TV.
The production values alone are cinematic and breathtaking. "Game of Thrones" boasts a much higher budget than most TV series and it has the advantage of some fantastic physical locations. But the look and feel of this show are much more than just the pretty backgrounds. Director Alan Taylor seems to have an uncanny knack for how to stage every scene in an interesting and compelling way without letting the locations upstage the action. It's no wonder that Taylor was swooped up to direct Thor 2; I just hope that he's still able to helm episodes of "Game of Thrones" next season.
Apparently, Peter Dinklage's Tyrion Lannister is the new main character of this series following the demise of Ned Stark (Sean Bean). But it also leaves the Lannisters with the top three names in the opening credit sequence! As always, Tyrion gets all of the best lines of the episode, particularly during his face-off with his sister. The dialog in this series is generally very good, but when Dinklage reads his lines the words are scintillating. Tyrion is clearly getting a great deal of joy out of verbally putting his sister in her place. And fortunately, Joffrey appears to be too stupid to realize that Tyrion insulted him by sarcastically telling him what a great job he's doing as ruler.
Tyrion also seems to be going out of his way to upstage both Joffrey and the Queen Regent in his return to King's Landing. It's almost as if Tyrion is trying to undermine them while steadily building himself up in the eyes of the royal court and the people of the kingdom. And were those men of the Hill Tribes accompanying Tyrion and Bronn back to the palace?
While Tyrion seemed to get more screen time than the majority of the characters, "The North Remembers" did a good job of checking in with almost every major player, even if only for a single scene. We get the sense that it's been at least a few months since the end of the first season, as Robb Stark's army has had at least two more battles with the Lannisters' forces… and won both of them. Richard Madden seems more and more suited to be Ned's replacement as the defacto hero of this series. And I really enjoyed Robb's scene with Jamie and his subsequent demands for peace while flanked by his closest followers.
Among the new characters, Davos Seaworth stood out as someone the audience is going to be able to get behind very easily. But Stannis Baratheon and Melisandre are both very intriguing. Stannis has such a strong and strange commitment to the truth that he won't even pretend to have loved his brother and he insists that Jamie be called "Ser" even while slurring him as "The Kingslayer." It's not clear if Stannis really believes in Melisandre's new religion, but she's definitely more than she seems. There was no hesitation when it came to drinking the poison, as if Melisandre knew that she couldn't die that way. I'm curious to see what kind of hold that Melisandre has over Stannis and if she's got real power to back up her claims.
The ending of the episode seemed almost Biblical as the City Watch slaughtered babies and children just to eliminate any possible threats from King Robert's bastards. That seemed to deliberately invoke King Herod's attempt to kill Jesus Christ as an infant. And I'm glad that the writers of this show chose not to actually depict the first baby being butchered onscreen. I can really live without seeing that image.
Aside from people who read the novels, who would have guessed that Gendry might be in greater danger than Arya on the trip to the Wall? The entire purge makes me wonder if Gendry is going to be much more important to the story than we were led to believe by his two minor appearances last season.
There was nothing in this episode that didn't work. Everything from the writing to the direction and the performances were amazingly well done. "Game of Thrones" surprised us all last year by how terrific the first season was. It may not take us by surprise this year, but the second season is off to a tremendous start and "Game of Thrones" will likely rule the roost again this year. If you're looking for the best drama on television, this is it.