It is taking a massive display of willpower and skills learned while being an actual entertainment journalist to not simply make the opening sentence of this review a three or four line series of exclamation points. To say that I was looking forward to this season premiere for Season 2 of Game of Thrones would be as much an understatement as to say that I was mildly excited to finally have the final Harry Potter book in my hands. Over the course of the first season of Game of Thrones, I read (and reviewed) every single book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Here are quick links to those if you’re interested. (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast For Crows, A Dance With Dragons). I was rather, rather upset that I had to wait until tonight to finally watch the Season 2 premiere but alas, I don’t have HBO at my apartment in NYC so I had to wait til today so I could watch the episode on HBOGo. Winter is coming, but it’s steady arrival will be on a single-day delay for the rest of this semester. I apologize fellow travelers through the wicked wilds of Westeros (and beyond).

With the exception of King’s Landing, very little of this week’s action ever occurs in more than one place for more than one or two scenes because as readers of the book can tell you, this is the entry in the series where everyone slowly starts to move out from each other in increasingly self-sufficient (but still cleverly interlocked) stories. The episode begins in King’s Landing where barely pubescent and completely sadistic King Joffrey is having a tournament to the death among the kingdom’s best fighters as his personal entertainment on his “nameday” (birthday). A drunken knight arrives too fat and drunk to fight and Joffrey nearly has him executed via wine drowning until Sansa steps in and convinces him to spare Ser Dontos’s life (this stuff is surprisingly important later on) and gets the surly Hound to back up her threadbare reason why. Tyrion shows up all pomp and circumstance basically insulting his nephew and when he enters the Small Council meeting where Queen Regent Cersei is lording her power, he informs her that he’s been named the Hand of the King by their father Tywin. He also manages to insult his sister by laughing at her terrible mother skills (i.e. the fact that Joffrey turned into Hitler in training). The scene quickly shifts to Winterfell where an even younger and crippled Bran Stark is in charge of the day to day ruling of the North while Robb wages his war in the South (god, there’s so much happening this season). He is the polar opposite of Joffrey and sends some masons off to help one of his bannermen repair a castle. Bran dreams that he sees through the eyes of his direwolf (what could this mean) and later joins Osha and Hodor (HODOR!… sorry) on a walk where they see a red comet in the sky which Osha interprets as meaning dragons. Cue the switch to…

Daenarys Targaryen and what remains of her Dothraki horde (a couple dozen people at best) are starving and dying as they march across a desert known as the Red Waste. Their horses are beginning to collapse from dehyrdation and exhaustion. This is Martin’s world and things are just going to continue to get worse people (though not necessarily for Dany immediately). She may have dragons but they are young and defenseless, and they are at the mercy of any khalasar (I’m really embarrassed that I remember so much Dothraki) or army that could find them. She sends her top blood riders looking for any shelter they can find as she shares long, leering looks with both Ser Jorah (also known as the most underrated character in the series) and Rakharo (jeez, Dany, your husband is a pretty fresh corpse. mourning periods. mourning periods). North of the Wall, we find the Night’s Watch (Jon Snow and Sam!) on their quest to find the Wildlings and finding nothing but empty villages. They stop at the homestead of a crass and crude man named Craster (appropriate) who has a dozen daughters who all function as his wives. Yeah, this won’t cause any problems later on down the road. He shares with Commander Mormont (Jorah’s father for those who don’t know Westerosi genealogy) news that a Wildling chief named Mance Rayder is raising an army to invade the South. Cue transition to Dragonstone where we meet our first really important new characters of the season as well as someone who is a Point of View character in the books. I’m realizing my actual recap is going to be like 3 paragraphs long this time. Jesus. Anyways, a beautiful red-haired woman in a blood-red dress is burning statues of the Westerosi gods (the Seven) and praising the need for men to accept her god R’hollor (nope, I don’t know how to pronounce it either). There, she calls out Stannis Baratheon (the dead King Robert’s brother) as a possible prophesied holy warrior of her faith who must bring the light to the heretics in Westeros and reclaim the Iron Throne from the incestuous bastardry of Joffrey. We also meet a former smuggler named Davos Seaworth who is the adviser to Stannis as well as an unnamed Maester who tries to kill this red-haired woman (Mellisandre) by offering her poison. He gets poisoned instead and she just drinks it and nothing happens to her because yeah that’s completely normal and not supernatural. She’s not going to be a potential problem down the line. Stannis sends letters to all corners of Westeros informing the world of Joffrey’s actual parentage and cue transition to….

Robb Stark’s camp and his massive army. He is currently holding Jaime Lannister hostage because they captured him towards the end of last season. Ned, Sansa, and Arya were supposed to be the Lannister clan’s big trade items to get Jaime returned, but Joffrey screwed the pooch on that one when he killed Ned and Arya escaped when they took Ned hostage in the first place. Robb doesn’t actually realize that Arya is missing and he sends a messenger to the Lannisters that he’ll return Jaime in exchange for Sansa, Arya, and Ned’s remains as well as the sovereignty of the North. He knows these demands won’t be met; instead, it’s a ploy to allow him time to offer an alliance with Renly Baratheon (Robert’s other brother, this one gay and young and very popular) to physically force a surrender from the Lannisters and an acquiescence to his terms. He wants to send Theon “I have the creepiest and most suspicious smile on the planet” Greyjoy to visit Theon’s father to try and acquire ships to increase their naval presence and in one of her rare wise moments, Catelyn thinks this is a bad idea. Finally, we end at the one place where the episode has already been. King’s Landing again. Somehow, Joffrey has heard about the rumors about his mother. After Joffrey taunts Cersei about Robert’s infidelity, she slaps him and then Joffrey threatens to kill his own mother. So yeah, he’s a good kid… Things end with someone (presumably Joffrey or Cersei. It’s definitely Cersei in the books) rounding up all of Robert’s bastard children and killing them. This is including babies and small kids. And it’s shown on screen. So, they managed to top throwing Bran out a window for this season premiere. The last shot is of the only remaining bastard, Gendry the blacksmith who is on his way to join the Night’s Watch and a certain short-haired girl (who’s pretending to be a boy climbs in the wagon beside him). Arya!!!

This review is going to be long if you couldn’t tell already. I’ve never used three paragraphs for a plot recap before, and I didn’t even feel like a ton was happening this episode. There was just a lot of scene setting. I left out things like Tyrion’s prostitute, Cersei nearly killing Littlefinger, and I’m sure there are other things I forgot plot wise. So, I don’t even know where to begin in terms of quality assessment. How about Peter Dinklage? Much like Bryan Cranston, I’m pretty sure this man is going to win an Emmy for however long this show lasts. He conveyed more information through subtle body language and snarky one-liners than most shows can accomplish in an entire season (cough The Walking Dead cough). His vicious verbal ripostes with his sister were some of the highlights of an episode that was all about letting us know where everyone stands this season, and for now, he’s close to the top. I’m a firm believer that Sansa is one of the most misunderstood and disproportionately disliked characters in the series (not every Stark can be a hero…), and young Sophie Turner adds more gravitas and complexity to the role than I think Martin had at this point in the series. Also, we can’t leave without a discussion of Lena Headey. All of the hatred Cersei receives is completely due, but damn if Lena doesn’t make everyone know why she’s such a magnetic and powerful woman. Her bitch-slapping Joffrey and nearly killing Littlefinger were some of the most impressive scenes she’s had the whole series.

If you were expecting the season to start off with a bang, you were probably pretty disappointed because this A) obviously means you haven’t read Martin’s books which generally take 3-400 pages to get around to actual action and B ) there were deaths but they were either completely meaningless characters (that first knight) or soldiers mercilessly killing children. Don’t worry. There are going to plenty of action scenes. One episode will essentially be nothing but one big war scene. And I can’t wait for it. However, most of the fun of Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire is the politics at play in this series, and we got to see plenty of power plays here and people believing they’ve moved up in the world or being forced to realize that their position isn’t so secure. Littlefinger is now officially given the title of a Lord and he has made his own sigil. Though he gets a little too cocky for his own good and pushes Cersei just a little too far who had already been shamed by her son. Cersei and Tyrion get in a pissing contest and for now Tyrion comes out ahead. Robb makes bad-ass boasts about his combat abilities to an admittedly shackled Jaime. This season is going to be defined by the people involved in the War of the Five Kings (oh wait, there’s still only four. Where is five coming in. Semi-spoiler there I guess. Now you’ll bend your brain trying to figure that out), and how their seemingly foolproof attempts at grabbing power are all going to blow up in their faces. And having read the books, so many of these initial scenes have a very dark, almost comic irony.

I’m going to stop now because I’m nearing 2000 words and that’s just ridiculous and most likely unnecessary. It also doesn’ thelp that I still have so many other things in my blogging repertoire to catch up on (a disc of Doctor Who, the first volume of the Bleach manga, last week’s episode of Justified, the movie version of The Hunger Games), plus tomorrow I’m going to do some work from home even though it’s my day off. Anyways, I definitely feel like this season is getting off on the right foot. I thought that A Clash of Kings, the book that this season will follow, wasn’t quite as eventful or shocking as Book 1. There are few “Ned Stark dying” moments, but the characterization is even richer and the schemes are even more complicated, so I’m going to be curious to see how this hold’s viewers attentions because there are only going to be even more characters introduced and even more previously unseen places to be explored. Winter is finally here, and I can’t wait to see how it goes down.

Final Score: A-