“Did you pay the iron price for it or the gold?”
The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros have collapsed into civil war with more and more claimants emerging for the Iron Throne. Each has their own aims and ambitions, variously to be The King in the North or The King beyond the Wall or the ruler of the whole world.
Meanwhile, the capital of King’s Landing has become a hotbed of dissent as the people lose faith in their distant, disinterested overlords. While they should be preparing for the long winter, the nobles are more interested in scheming for position, or fighting for their very lives.
Season two of Game of Thrones is all about power and where it lies. It is a theme that recurs repeatedly as character after character proclaims their right to rule: some by blood, others due to intelligence, and some by fear alone.
The second series is much more claustrophobic than the first, which took in a vast sweep of George R.R.Martin’s world. Now the focus is clearly on the characters and the harsh choices they are forced to make.
A particular strength of the series is that the characters often have an ambiguous relationship to the people that are nominally their enemies. I particularly like Arya Stark’s relationship with her captors: people who have slain her closest relations, but whom she can’t help liking when she meets them at close quarters.
Other characters are growing up fast and suddenly facing terrible life-and-death decisions. Worst among them is the villainous Theon Greyjoy whose inferiority complex leads him to ignore all sage advice and plunge his friends and allies into chaos.
Pyke, the land of the Greyjoys, is a sort of hommage to H.P.Lovecraft with their octopus sigil and their chant to the sea god of:
What is dead may never die
It has clear echoes of the cult chant of the followers of Cthulhu:
That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.
I also suspect that Martin is using Theon Greyjoy to have a bit of fun at Tolkien’s expense. As the leader of a warband, Theon often makes preposterous speeches about how bards will sing songs of their deeds for centuries to come, something which is an ever-popular theme among the men of Middle Earth just before they head off to slaughter orcs.
In the second series, we get a further taste of how magic affects the lives of people in the Seven Kingdoms, mostly through the wonderful sorceress Melisandre (played by Carice van Houten). She has cast her spell over the rightful heir to the throne, Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), although he hates himself for bowing to her charms.
Magic is used sparingly but it when it does occur, it is awesome to behold. There are moments in Games of Thrones that will stay with you for your whole life, and there is a birth scene here which may be the most extraordinary thing that I have ever seen on film or television anywhere.
Series 2 Unusual guest star: German actor Tom Wlaschina is extraordinary as the sinister assassin Jaqen H’ghar.