Game of Thrones Season Two: A Retrospective
Unlike season one, I went into Game of Thrones season two with three full books worth of knowledge under my belt. I was a bit pickier, a bit salty at the changes, and a lot less surprised at many of the twists. But I still enjoyed the hell out of it.
As I was reading the first book, I could picture scenes from season one in my head clearly. It stuck to it extremely closely and it was an interesting experience. I looked forward to experiencing the opposite, where I went into the show with the book imagery in my head and got to see it come to life on screen. So imagine my surprise when season two rolled around and it started to dramatically shift away from the source material. While I never got to live the joy book readers likely felt with the first season’s close accuracy, I did get to watch the crushing disappointment during the second season in real time. Message boards were a minefield for the entire season.
This shift from the source material was most apparent with Daenerys’ storyline in Qarth, though many other plot threads also changed. This one was the most universally panned and caused the more ire on the boards I frequented. In fact, the scenes in Qarth were so poorly received by book fans that they became memes that have endured in fandom for the past six seasons. WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?
Not all changes were bad, though. Adding Arya as the cup bearer for Tywin Lannister was a great move in my opinion, albeit one that complicates her strong stance against anyone who helped the Lannisters. This double standard is brought up to her multiple times, however, especially by Jaqen H’Ghar whom she tries to guilt trip when she finds him wearing Lannister armor. Despite this narrative complication, I can see why they made this change. You don’t hire Charles Dance and not use him to the fullest you possibly can. Pairing him up with Maisie Williams, who is an incredible actress at the start of her career, also makes sense. She goes toe-to-toe with one of the greatest actors out there, so why not switch things up a bit and give them a chance to play off each other? The scenes were very enjoyable, and much more interesting than a boring battle strategy session likely would have been without her scheming in the background.
Another difference I generally enjoyed was giving Robb’s love interest a more in-depth personality and backstory. In the books she’s barely mentioned, and we are just meant to believe in their love because we’re told that it’s true. In the show, she has a full backstory and fleshed out character and we see exactly why Robb fell for her. Whether you like Talisa is a matter of opinion, but you can’t deny she has a much larger presence in the story on the show and Robb’s temptation to go back on his vow makes more sense. Despite Talisa being more interesting than her book counterpart, the whole plot is still frustrating and, eventually, devastating. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. This is about season two.
Season two is also the first time that we hear The Rains of Castamere, which becomes incredibly important for another terrible Bolton-related moment later on. We are first introduced to the tune when Tyrion enters the small council, though even book readers may not have recognized it at that moment. It’s displayed even more predominately in the Battle of Blackwater, where Bronn is seen singing it with the Lannister soldiers, then played again over the closing credits of the episode. At that point we are given both the lyrics and the context of the song. This is one of those things that’s important for everyone, both book readers or show only folks. We needed to hear that song. We need to get it stuck in our head. This seed needed to be planted early so that the impact of certain season three moments would hit harder.
Season two also proved to me that maybe not all battle scenes are terrible. Let’s be real, here. I’m not a big fan of action. I usually avoid films that rely too heavily on them and grow bored with the ones I’m forced to watch. But the Battle of Blackwater was incredibly interesting from the start. From the moment Matthos Seaworth shouted ‘drums!’ and sparked the sick beats the Baratheon army used to set the pace of their siege, to the moment the Tyrells road in and saved the Lannisters from certain doom, I was on the edge of my seat. That entire sequence became the most watched part of the entire season for me. As soon as it concluded I rewound it and watched it again. And again. And again.
Narratively, it also sets up the concept of Wildfire, which comes into play a lot in later seasons. We see the devastating impact first hand and understand just how horrific this weapon can be in an attack. It wiped out the majority of the Baratheon army with one flaming arrow to the sea. It’s quite pretty too.
And speaking of visually appealing moments, this season had some of the best settings north of the wall. The conditions for filming were harsh, but the results are spectacular. Sometimes it’s hard for me to judge if I enjoy the aesthetics above the wall or the plot more. There’s not much in the way of the supernatural elements north of the wall in season two, but we get some much-needed insights into the region and get to peek at the brutal lifestyle led by the residents. The season closes with the army of the dead, however, reminding us that the true threat to our characters is still out there and making their way towards the Seven Kingdoms.
Despite how terrible the Daenerys plot felt to me, I did overall enjoy the season. And the cliffhanger was almost too much for me to deal with. Thankfully I still had two more books in the series to read, so the hiatus wasn’t as terrible as the rest would be. I still had more plot to explore before I hit the same wall as all the other long-time book readers. And I was so new that I still had faith that we might get the next book before the show caught up with us. And yeah… I was quite wrong about that.
Author: Angel Wilson
Stephanie “Angel” Wilson is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3.
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