I’m not even sure how to review the first episode of Game of Thrones season two except to say it should have been two hours. It’s not so much that the episode had too much stuff crammed into it - the pacing was perfect - but rather that The North Remembers feels less like a full episode and more like an extended prologue.
In fact that title could be changed to The Audience Remembers; the episode flits from location to location reminding us of who the main characters are and what their stories entail. Returning to each of the characters was welcome, but in general I wanted just a little bit more. There were incremental moves forward in the stories - Robb has dispatched Catelyn to the south to parlay with Renly, Theon has pitched the idea of trying to bring team Greyjoy into the rebellion, Tyrion has popped up in King’s Landing as the new Hand - but mostly it feels like players taking the stage.
Actually, now that I think about it Robb’s story is the one most moved forward. With the momentum of three victories behind him, the eldest true-born Stark is beginning to make some bold moves, including demanding that the Iron Throne recognize him as the King in the North. What’s interesting about the way the show handles this is the fact that in the novel, A Clash of Kings, Robb has no POV chapters. In George RR Martin’s books the chapters are divvied up between characters whose journeys pull the narrative forward, all as seen through their POV (not first person). Robb’s war efforts are generally off-screen - GRRM doesn’t do a lot of big battle scenes, preferring instead to have characters discover or talk about the aftermath of war. On one hand this helps the show, which probably doesn’t have the budget for a bunch of Braveheart-sized battles, but on the other hand means the show runners, David Benioff and DB Weiss, must create new Robb material to fill in the gaps.
Or is this most of the Robb material we’re going to get this season? That seems hugely unlikely, as Robb has become a popular character in the show; I think we’ll see a lot of Robb stuff happen that occurs off-page in the original novels. None of this is a spoiler, by the way, rather musings on the way adaptations work.
The new characters introduced - Stannis, brother of dead king Robert, Davos his trusted knight and the (unnamed in the show) red sorceress Melisandre - have their scenes changed by adaptation. I fully expected the season to open as the first did, with a cold open that represented the prologue chapter of the novel. In the case of A Clash of Kings, the prologue chapter covers pretty much all of the Stannis/Melisandre stuff we saw last night, ending with the poisoned maester and Melisandre’s glowing red choker. That would have been a heck of a place to cut to the opening credits. Instead this material was moved into the body of the show, an interesting choice.
These new characters, by the way, were captured quickly and nicely. Fans who haven’t read the novels may think that after a season they finally have a grasp on all the characters, but there are still many main roles to be introduced, and new characters will be coming season after season. These scenes harken back to the first season, where viewers sat semi-confused through some scenes, trusting that eventually all of this stuff would make sense. It will.
I quite loved Carice van Houten as Melisandre. The character in the show in no way reflects my mental image of her - I always pictured her as a red-haired Asian - but this version works very well. van Houten doesn’t overplay menace, although Melisandre obviously carries some. She’s also incredibly sexy, which makes her a great counterpoint to the stony Stannis. And Liam Cunningham’s few moments as Davos ring true as well; I can’t wait to see him moving forward.
But again, this is sort of my problem with the episode as a whole - I can’t wait to see the show moving forward. Everyone is in their position and ready to go... and then the episode ends. I guess this is me being a spoiled brat more than anything else, but I was certainly ready for more when the final credits came up. I was just settling into the groove of Craster’s Hall, and I was intrigued by the ever-so quick shot of Arya at the end. I want more!
Final thought: this is going to be an interesting season because I suspect a lot of episodes will leave us feeling sort of dissatisfied. There are more characters than ever, and the characters we’ve been following have truly dispersed into the world. That means the story will have to hop around more, giving less time per episode to some characters. Ironically, the characters with the least to do this season are the characters who are among the most popular, so I bet their stories get beefed up. But at whose expense?