The Bloody Bastards
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Despite the possibly hilarious title to this review, the premiere of Season 2 is a rather somber affair. Ned Stark’s shadow still hangs over the show and will be there presumably until the final episode and probably after the series is all said and done for a while. Such was Sean Bean’s presence. The North remembers, but as Thrones has often told us, that doesn’t make their life any better. But the final sequence of the premiere is the most harrowing sequence this show has ever done, and I’m including everything up until the end of Season 4. The bloody murders of Robert’s bastard children is so horrifying in its sheer scope and scale that for once Thrones pulls back and just allows our imaginations to complete the gory picture, complete with the screams of the baby’s mother. It is an understandable move from a purely statistical point of view, but to see a mother crying and screaming as her infant is stabbed right before her very eyes speaks volumes about the lengths people can go to protect their own power. The knowledge that this has happened thousands of times throughout actual history isn’t any more comforting.
Connected by the device of a red comet, which Osha starkly comments represents dragons, The North Remembers functions as a standard season opener, placing many of the characters on paths they were largely follow for the rest of the season and in some cases, seasons. It’s not the most exciting episode of the show but it is one that follows the previous season logically and will be remembered by myself and a plethora of others as ending with the most horrifying sequence in the entire series, and that’s saying something.
Jon arrives at a rather shoddy place known as Craster’s Keep, owned by none other than the incredible Craster. A dirty bastard, Craster weds his daughters – no one’s quite sure exactly what happens to his sons yet. The entirety of the circumstance rankles many, but the Night’s Watch stays silent. The alternative is starvation and freezing to death. Pretty easy trade when one thinks of it that way. “You want to lead?” Mormont thunders after Jon continues to voice his opposition to their situation. “Then learn to follow.” The snow swirls around them both as ominous strings of music swirl with the flakes.
We finally get to meet Stannis Baratheon, the fearsome warrior who’s as approachable as a giant fanged lion with swords in his paws that fire off automatic mini knives. Okay, maybe he’s a bit more approachable than that. In a sense it’s understandable why he’s so bitter. He fought valiantly in Robert’s Rebellion and then lost the seat of House Baratheon at Storm’s End to Renly. And now that his older brother’s dead and there’s an illegitimate psychopath on the throne, his anger is pretty justifiable from a primogeniture sense. His right-hand man, Ser Davos, is kind and inspires an incredible amount of loyalty. Stannis’s other associate, however, does no such thing. A red priestess from Asshai, Melisandre represents the branch of A Song of Ice and Fire whose magical powers garnered more strength after the birth of Daenerys’s dragons. Certainly her surviving Cressen’s rather juvenile attempt at poisoning suggests that she’s not someone to be trifled with.
Game of Thrones has an incredible attachment to keep realism within its narrative and it demonstrates that attachment palpably in Daenerys’s storyline. The Mother of Dragons finds herself in the never-ending landscape of the Red Waste with little food and water to spare. And unfortunately it’s the only direction in which she can go. There are cities that lay beyond it and the khalasar can only cross the desert to get there. The dragons that were born at the end of last season were symbols of a triumph for a goddess Daenerys and rightfully so. But it doesn’t change the reality that dragons are creatures that must be watered and fed just as much as anyone else in the Khalasar. The white mare that Khal Drogo had gifted Daenerys collapses from starvation and exhaustion, as if the final symbol of her previous life had been utterly destroyed. Daenerys breaks down but with Jorah’s help regains some of her stature. She sends a few riders off to find the closest cities nearby. She looks upwards at the red comet, exhausted yet resilient.
The best scenes of the night take place in King’s Landing and unsurprisingly they generally contain plenty of Tyrion. The opening of the episode begins with knights fighting each other and one falling onto the stone floor in bloody repose. A drunken knight named Ser Dontos Hollard stumbles in drunk and is sentenced to die. But he is saved by some skillful diplomacy on Sansa’s part and the Hound backing her up. Tyrion waltzes in, zinging Joffrey multiple times within the time span of a single second. He sympathizes with Sansa, looking at her with an expression of admiration mixed with empathy. Tyrion continues to waltz on, entering the Small Council chamber without a care in the world. Cersei is furious at his presence, before Tyrion lashes into her for her failure to stop Ned Stark’s execution and for allowing Arya Stark to escape. Now they only have Sansa left to trade for Jamie.
Cersei finds Petyr Baelish in the hallways of the castle, eager to use his spy network to find Arya Stark and increase the Lannisters’ bargaining power. The two snipe at each other with perfect dialogue as Littlefinger subtly hints at Cersei’s incestuous relationship. Cersei’s expression immediately darkens, her eyes flashing dangerously. “Knowledge is power,” Littlefinger says bitingly. Cersei immiedatley has her guards seize Baelish and nearly slit his throat. “Power is power,” she says quietly, her voice drooping with venom. In a sense both of them are correct. It is the knowledge of Robert Baratheon’s bastards that allow their names to be crossed out in red. It is the raw power in the hands of the Lannisters that allows for all of those children to be killed. It’s a terrifying, chilling montage whose effect remains for far longer after the credits have rolled. Alan Taylor’s decision to have his camera stay focused upon the woman whose infant bastard is stabbed to death before her very eyes is far more gut and heart wrenching than if the camera had focused on the infant himself. It is the single most haunting scene in the series’ history and credit is due to every individual involved. It still sends shivers down my spine, what people will do for power.
Great Moments Not Covered Above:
+Tyrion: “We missed you on the battlefield.”
Joffrey: “I was busy ruling the kingdoms.”
Tyrion: “And what a fine job you’ve done.”
+Tyrion on Ned’s execution: “That bit of theater will haunt our family for generations.”
+Bran leading the summons
+The poor child still wiping away the blood from the fallen knight at the beginning when Cersei finds Baelish
+Tyrion and Varys threatening each other over Shae is a clever piece of foreshadowing for the end of Season 4
+Tyrion to Cersei: “You love your children. That’s your one redeeming quality. That, and your cheekbones.”
+Littlefinger’s sigil being a mockingbird
Title: The North Remembers
Written By: David Benioff and D. B. Weiss
Director: Alan Taylor
Image Courtesy: HBO