“The North remembers.”
As do we, so the season 2 opener of Thrones doesn’t mess about with previouslies or people who haven’t seen season 1 – it’s every viewer for himself as straight back into the thick of the Game we go.
First up is a visit to Kings Landing where appalling little psychopath Joffrey has “blossomed” into the lovechild of Caligula and Herod, with all the tender sensibilities of that bloke from The Human Centipede. He’s a keeper, that one.
Joffrey’s lady Sansa, blessed with this particular prize of a life-partner, is almost-broken but not quite; she still has the Stark wits and decency about her, as well as some pretty solid allies in The Hound and The Imp – yes, Tyrion’s back in town! And thank goodness for that. Nothing about Game of Thrones is particularly cheery, but Tyrion is funny and clever and, in a canny move by the showrunners, taking centre- stage now Sean Bean’s much-mourned Ned is gone; somebody has to and Peter Dinklage’s accent may be a bit ropey, but his performance is anything but. His irritating girlfriend aside, it’s a delight to watch Tyrion put Cersei, Joffrey and everyone else in their places effortlessly, while giving the bereaved Sansa some kind words and understanding to leaven her personal hell. If Team Lannister are to make it out of the war with anything at all, it will be thanks to Tyrion, not his blinkered father, psychotic nephew or sister who can’t control her lunatic son any more.
Meanwhile, on Team Stark, a very different mother and son march towards Kings Landing as Robb, his mum and his army advance on the South, while Bran is left to govern Winterfell in their absence. (Those Stark kids start young.) Robb is his father’s son, but blessed with the shrewdness Ned lacked, which is just as well, considering how that worked out for him. (Sorry, Ned.) Anyway, apparently Robb is kicking ass all over the place and although we don’t actually see him fighting as such, we do see him winning a crucial battle nonetheless: his coolly authoritative confrontation with Jaime is nothing short of fantastic, and Richard Madden is magnificent in every scene he’s in.
Elsewhere, the Watch are heading north, and Jon – he’s so earnest, bless him – is doing his usual smouldering in the snow. Aw, Jon. Significantly less fetching, however, is the unspeakably vile fellow they meet, but thankfully we don’t linger in the House of Incest (Yes, I know that’s not their family name) too long: unspeakably vile fellow fills the Lord Commander in on an additional plotline, everyone threatens Jon a bit, and then we head off to hang out with Team Stannis instead. Hello Team Stannis! Not sure I’m all that pleased to meet you, though. If the Watch represent the Ice side of the song, Team Stannis are all about the Fire: Stannis’s main squeeze seems to be a mad woman (lovely hair, though) partial to a) chanting and burning things and b) openly poisoning folk. Because what the kingdom needs is another psycho, natch.
Or another prostitute practice session? In fairness, we made it till the last few minutes before the random yet obligatory whorehouse scene and just a quick press of the mute button later (I don’t need to hear the moans, thanks), it turned from an excuse to shoehorn in some T & A to something far more shocking and horrible, and a clear indication that – in case we didn’t already know – neither Cersei nor Littlefinger, no matter who wins their squabbles, are in any position to stop Joffrey from doing anything any more. Better hope somebody else can, then, or life in Westeros is going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.
For the moment, though – apart from a mercifully brief visit to the desert with Daenerys, dragons and Dothraki – that is essentially it. A sprawling cast of characters, wrangled into a marvellously tightly-written scene-setter for the season – not much actually happened, but absolutely loads of stuff went on, with each scene and each storyline compellingly and breathtakingly interwoven. I loved it and, as far as I’m concerned, episode 2 really can’t come fast enough.