This season was one of many triumphs and a parse few set backs that nevertheless lived up the standard of quality that the brilliant first season laid out. In many cases, it ever surpassed it.
BEWARE: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!!!!
Picking up where season 1 ended, season 2 recounts the second book in George R. R. Martin's series, A Clash of Kings. Following the death of Ned Stark and the capture of Jamie Lannister, Westeros has been plunged into a bitter and unrelenting war. From the North, Robb Stark, now King in the North, rides against Lannister forces, seeking revenge for the death of his father and hoping to win dominion over all his lands.
In the South, King Joffrey sits the Iron Throne, ruling over King's Landing with a iron fist. He is still betrothed to Sansa Stark, who is more hostage than guest. At the request of his father, Tyrion Lannister arrives in the capitol to serve as Hand of the King. As he contends with his nephew's cruelty and ineptitude, as well as the machinations of his sister, Cersei, and the rest of the small council, the Imp readies the city for the eventual siege.
At Dragonstone and at Storm's End, Stannis and Renly Baratheon, brother's to the late King Robert Baratheon, have called their banners and are marching against King's Landing, and each other. Each declares himself the rightful king, and will not bow to the other's will. Renly takes up with the influential Tyrell family, gaining a bevy of support. Stannis, meanwhile, enlists the help of a red priestess from Asshai, one who worships the "Red God". Stannis is enthralled by her promises of victory, but her foreign religion and ghastly powers are cause of great concern to his right hand man, Ser Davos Seaworth.
Beyond the wall, Jon Snow is marching with The Night's Watch against the wildling horde that is gathering. As he gets deeper and deeper into unforgiving and harsh lands, he is faced with true tests of character and duty.
Arya Stark, having escaped King's Landing, is now headed North to the Wall. The war finds her first, and she is sent on a journey that brings her very close to the enemy.
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen is the mother of the first three dragons in many centuries. As she continues to pursue her desires of returning home and reclaiming the Iron Throne, she is beset on all sides by those who would seek to use her and her dragons to the their own advantage.
In Winterfell, Bran Stark is busy trying to be Lord, and finds that he shares a deeper connection with his direwolf, Summer, than anyone thought possible.
Theon Greyjoy finally returns home to the Iron Islands, only to receive a less than loving welcome from his remaining family. Though he is dedicated to Robb's cause, Theon craves the love and admiration of his father and sister, leading him to make a terrible decision that leaves much of the North reeling.
And winter is coming. And the White Walkers are still out there, waiting, beyond the wall, for the moment to strike.
This was a packed season, to be sure. Whereas in season 1, everyone was in one of three/four places, here, all the characters are spread all over the land. This, unfortunately, led to some episodes that were too busy. A few times, we were treated to short scene focusing on a major character, and then we wouldn't see them again for the rest of the hour. This was particularly noticeable with Daenerys, who, after her beautiful arc in season 1, was kind of given the short end of the stick.
Be that as it may, the show was always focused on what matter most at any given time. Tyrion was the real star this season. I mean, he totally stole the show last season, but this time he is front and center. His story is fascinating, as he evolves from the witty, intelligent, badass we knew into a cunning and devoted tactician, both on the field of battle and in the halls of King's Landing.
And even though Tyrion was the the clear focus this season, everyone is given their just deserves. When the season finale ends, you will feel horrified, elated, depressed, or whatever, at where each of the characters has ended up. Though some are prioritized, everyone is developed.
And now, the rankings!!!!
A bloody masterpiece, this was! Bundled into what is, quite possibly, the best hour of television I've ever seen, we had the usual excellent dialogue and character moments that the series is known for, in addition to the most carefully conceived, sprawling, epic, brutal battle ever seen in a TV show. Stannis lays siege to King's Landing, and the course of many of the character's stories are changed in one night! The wildfire scene, and the ensuing carnage, is spectacularly chilling!
2. Valar Morghulis
This episode had a lot on its shoulders. Not only did it have to close out the season in a memorable fashion, but it had to adequately follow up on the groundwork laid by "Blackwater". It succeeds in both. Following the Lannister victory, Tyrion is recovering from his assassination attempt, only to find that he has been removed from power by his father, Tywin. Robb forsakes his vow to the Frey's and marries Talisa. Daenerys finally gets her dragons back and gets revenge on the denizens of Qarth who murdered her khalasar and almost killed her. Jon is forced to kill Qhorin Halfhand to fool Ygritte and the rest of the wildlings into believing that he is with them. Brienne and Jamie run into some trouble on the road, and Theon is betrayed by his men. Winterfell is destroyed, but Bran, Rickon, and Osha survive and begin the long journey north to the wall. This was a packed episode, but one the wonderfully tied up all the loose ends of the season. I was already to go for season 3 with the final scene with Dany, but after that last scene with Sam and the Night's Watch, that shows the White Walkers beginning their assault... FUCK!!! I CAN HARDLY CONTAIN MYSELF!!!!
3. The Old Gods and the New
The first real triumph of the season, The Old Gods and the New is powerfully wicked. As Myrcella is sent to Dorne for her safety, the public's dissatisfaction with Joffrey's rule comes to the boiling point, inciting a huge riot that almost results in Sansa getting raped and killed. Theon, having joined with his father and renouncing Robb, attacks and seizes Winterfell. Nevertheless, Bran and Rickon, with a little help from Osha escape. Jon Snow meets Ygritte, a wildling woman with fire red hair, who takes great pleasure in messing with him. Arya continues to serve Tywin, who continues to take interest in her. And Daenerys, having settled in Qarth, now turns her sights on Westeros. But someone in Qarth is not keen on her leaving just yet, leading the slaughter of most of her followers and the kidnapping of her dragons. In a season full of stomach churning moments, this was an episode defined by them, from Theon reluctantly and messily decapitating Roderick Cassel, to the mob literally ripping the High Septon to pieces with their bare hands.
But hey, Tyrion slaps Joffrey again. All is well.
4. Garden of Bones
Game of Thrones is already a dark show, but it goes to untold depths in this one. Tyrion is getting increasingly perturbed by how Joffrey tortures Sansa. In an attempt to calm the boy, he sends him two whores. Things don't really work out the way he intended there, with Joffrey turning what should have been a nice roll in the hay into a twisted scene of perverse agony. Arya has been captured by Lannisters and is brought to the sprawling castle of Harrenhal, to await interrogation. Littlefinger returns Ned's bones to Catelyn as a gesture of good faith. Stannis and Renly meet, but negotiations quickly collapse. Stannis sends Davos and Melisandre into the heart of Renly's camp, where Davos is made aware of how powerful Melisandre truly is! Apart from the scene with Joffrey and whores, which just might be the most fucked up scene of the whole series, this episode was a real turning point. It was the first time we saw real sorcery at work. It's easy to forget, amongst all the political backstabbing and tomfoolery, that is really a fantasy series, and if anything is going to remind us of that, it's seeing Melisandre give birth to a slimy shadow baby! Twisted stuff!
5. A Man Without Honor
Cersei finally talks openly with Tyrion about her relationship with Jamie, and revealing that she believes Joffrey's sadism is a punishment from the gods. Jamie makes an escape attempt, only to be brought back, having incited the wrath of the Stark bannermen. Sansa finally bleeds, causing her to enter into hysterics because she can now have Joffrey's children. Jon has his hands full with Ygritte, who really knows how to push his buttons. Dany sees Xaro what he really is, and flees into the bowels of Qarth as Xaro and Pyat stage a coup and take over the city. Theon hunts for Bran and Rickon. And Arya continues to be of great interest to Tywin, who is on to the fact she is not who she says she is. Though there were no crazy moments, the scenes of 1-on-1 dialogue in this were so good it more than makes up for it. Arya and Tywin are a match made in heaven. We saw something resembling affection between Tyrion and Cersei. We Jon begin to doubt his Night's Watch vows and be swayed by Ygritte. And Jamie proves to be the most practical man in all the land. It was a pleasure to see him shatter every insult sent his way with his blunt logic. Beautifully done!!
6. The North Remembers
As a kick-off, "The North Remembers" couldn't have been much better. Tyrion arrives in King's Landing, immediately asserting himself and setting to work. Dany is trapped in the Red Waste with what remains of her Khalasar and her three newborn dragons. Robb has the Lannister's worried. Not only does he have Jamie as a prisoner, but he has yet to lose a battle and doesn't show any signs of stopping. The Night's Watch receive the generous hospitality of Craster, a man who lives beyond the wall with his daughter/wives (ick), with whom Jon Snow is immediately at odds. Stannis makes his claim and begins his war effort. And Joffrey, none to pleased with the rumors circling around about his mother, orders his guards to do something truly despicable. It was everything we had missed, and as the final montage showing the City Watch massacring all of King Robert's bastards played out, we are welcomed back with cold, open arms.
7. The Night Lands
Things get up to steady head here. Theon returns home to Pyke, intending to persuade his father to join with Robb's cause, though he's in for a surprise when he gets there. Dany is still trapped in the Red Waste, and loses a member of her Blood Riders. Arya meets Jaquen H'ghar, a prisoner going north with the caravan to the wall, and befriends Gendry, the only one of Robert's bastards to make it out of King's Landing. Jon Snow discovers something chilling about Craster. Davos enlists the help of some of his pirate friends for the war effort, and Tyrion continues to gain footing in King's Landing. It was a solid episode, though nothing major really happened in it.
8. The Ghost of Harrenhal
Catelyn and Brienne witness something foul, causing the death of Renly and forcing them to flee. Renly's bannermen flock to Stannis, while Littlefinger persuades the Tyrells to join the Lannister's. Tyrion discovers a dangerous but effective method of defending King's Landing. Jon Snow heads out into the wastes with Qhorin Halfhand on a mission to assassinate Mance Rayder. Davos confronts Stannis about what he saw, and Jaquen gives Arya a proposition as a reward for saving his life. Dany realizes Jorah's feelings for her, leading he to doubt his trust. There was some craziness in the beginning, to be sure, but after that it calmed down. Again, a fine episode. Just not a stand out.
9. What Is Dead May Never Die
Jon confronts Mormont about what he saw happen to Craster's baby, but doesn't get the response he expected. Catelyn travels to Renly Baratheon's camp to negotiate with him and is introduce to Brienne of Tarth, a maiden with more interest in wielding a sword than bearing a lord's children. Arya and the recruits are attacked, leading to their capture and the death of Yoren. Theon makes his decision on Pyke, and joins with his father against Robb. Tyrion continues on his war path, engineering a scheme to weed out who on the high council is spying for his sister. And Margaery Tyrell reveals the lengths with which she will go to to help Renly keep up the façade that he is in fact not sleeping with her brother. A lot of good stuff happened in this episode, but the only that REALLY stuck out was Yoren's death. That dude was a badass, and to see him go out so valiantly was a real bummer.
10. The Prince of Winterfell
As the siege preparations continue, Stannis' fleet inches ever closer. Theon's sister arrives at Winterfell, but not with the reinforcements he asked for. Arya twists the agreement she had with Jaquen in a clever way, clearing a path for her and her friends to escape Lannister controlled Harrenhal. Robb is forced to arrest Catelyn after she releases Jamie, and finds comfort in the arms of Talisa. Tyrion declares his love for Shae and finds uncommon common ground with Varys. As an episode, there was a lot of set up here. Most of it had to do with the upcoming battle, and was thus important, but apart from Arya being a badass and Robb sleeping with Talisa, nothing really happened.
Let me tell you, the final 5 in that list were hard to sort. It's because there wasn't a single bad episode. There were some that were weaker, sure, but none of them could be considered bad. It's a testament to the absurd level of quality that the series maintains that an episode that is considered weak would still rank as one of the best hours of TV to air that week.
And when it was on top of its game, Game of Thrones could not be beat. "Blackwater" especially, is a good example. The potential influence that that episode could have cannot be overlooked. Not only is it sure win the series a ton of Emmy's, including another Best Supporting Actor for Peter Dinklage, it presented something that had never really been seen before on TV. Oh sure, we've seen battles on TV, from the likes of Spartacus, to Rome, to Camelot, but never at this scale. In those, the action was always close up, focusing on small pockets of men. In Spartacus' case, the big battles often took place in doors or on the sands of an arena. But with "Blackwater" we saw a full on siege with a scope on par with Lord of the Rings, on a TV budget. It was true marvel, and one that I think will have a legacy down the road.
The writers continue to be masters at adapting Martin's books, while adding in stuff where it's needed. A lot of the fantastic 1-on-1 conversations that pepper the season are the writers creation, and they do loads to deepening your understanding of the characters. Even if you've read the books, which I have, you'll still be surprised with some of the things here, which I was.
Oh, what's the point? Really, what I can I say that you don't already know? If you've been watching the show, you know how brilliant it is. If you haven't been watching it... well, what the hell is wrong with you! Torrent that shit ASAP!!!!
ON A WHOLE NEW LEVEL!!!