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A Clash of Perspectives: Roundtabling Season Two of Game of Thrones (Part 2)

Posted by msunyata on Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mo Ryan and Amin Javadi are nice enough to join us for the back half of the conversation, as we evaluate the overall filmmaking quality of the season (specifically in regards to its predecessor), the importance of the Battle of the Blackwater, and, most importantly, continue to go back-and-forth over the deconstruction of Arya Stark.

Did you miss the first part?  Shame on you.  Read it here.

Forget who’s involved?  Double shame.  Here you go:
 

  • Marc N. Kleinhenz – freelancer and author of It Is Known: An Analysis of Thrones, Vol. I.
  • Elio García – co-founder and editor of Westeros.org and co-author, with Martin himself, of the upcoming The World of Ice and Fire.
  • David Barr Kirtley – author and writer at Wired magazine.
  • James Poniewozik – editor of Time magazine’s Tuned In blog.
  • Doug Cohen – author, blogger, and former editor at Realms of Fantasy magazine.
  • Amin Javadi – co-host of A Podcast of Ice and Fire.
  • Maureen Ryan – TV critic with the Huffington Post (formerly with the Chicago Tribune).

 

James Poniewozik, writer for Time:

To expand on my earlier reply a little further:  I didn't love season two without reservation, but since there's plenty of criticism of it here, I'll take it on myself to play devil's advocate for the show a little more.

I think it's a valid and strong observation that, as the series has gone on, it's been driven more by choices made because certain actors have been strong in their roles.  I would agree:  that is to the detriment of realizing the books directly on the screen, but it is to the better for a filmed entertainment trying to succeed as a filmed entertainment.  A book is the singular creation and projection of an author, wholly under the author's control.  His characters may “surprise” him, but, ultimately, that's all the work of his mind.

TV may have an author, but it's also collaborative.  Writers, directors, actors, cinematographers, and crew all work together to make meaning from it.  The show has to be able to evolve in its own way from that, or it will seem stilted and conflicted:  the narrative will literally be at odds with the performers.  So, yes, you have to have a story and a plan, but you have to be driven by what works on the screen.

Game of Thrones OshaAnd from my POV – speaking as someone who loves the books, just not uncritically – that's often been an improvement.  Osha became a bigger character because the actress who played her was so good – and it's been an improvement (counterbalancing, frankly, that I don't think Bran is nearly as compelling a character on-screen as in the books, where he has an internal monologue).  Stannis – sorry, but I don't think he came alive to me as a person (versus as a player in the game) as well over four books as he did in one season of the TV series. In the books, he's a stiff, with an attitude of intractability.  Varys on-screen owns Varys on the page, and Varys on the page is quite a character.

Now there's a tradeoff.  The mythology, the history, the cultural detail I love in the book, is not going to come across as much on the screen, nor should it.  That's what I have the books for.  An entertainment on the screen has to work as such, and that is going to mean combining characters, focusing on what is best told through action rather than narration, and streamlining pretty much everything in a very complicated world.  (For all that, I'm quite impressed with what the series has kept – the background info about the First Men, for instance.)

For that reason, honestly, I actually found I liked season two, overall, better than season one.  It was overstuffed and sometimes had to service too much in too little time, but it had its own voice all the way through – which the first season only developed about halfway through – and that's the only way it will succeed (if it does) as its own entity.

And if it's not going to try to do that, why even have a series?  It needs to be more than an illustration.

 

Doug Cohen, author:

I'm surprised you liked season two more than season one, but otherwise I agree with you 100%.

 

James Poniewozik, writer for Time:

I should maybe rephrase.  Season one is a stronger story, in the same sense that A Game of Thrones > A Clash of Kings.  But I think season two (for the reasons I talked about) was a better, more confident adaptation, though the source material has problems.  The quality of dialogue not lifted near-verbatim from the book was better, for example.  Plus, I like being able to be surprised, even in small ways, by a story I've already read.

That said, I'll agree I don't see the purpose of building up Ros so much, that Robb/Talisa didn't have the impact they must have thought it did, and that the Jon/Qhorin dynamic could have been clearer (though I didn't need all the scenes from the book).

 

David Barr Kirtley, writer for Wired:

Game of Thrones AryaI just don't buy Doug’s analogy that season two was like this intricately woven tapestry where the slightest change would cause the whole thing to unravel.  To me, it was more like a monstrous sumo wrestler who weighs 500 pounds but is missing eyes, thumbs, and a skeleton.  As I said, they could (and, in my opinion, should) have given Arya two or three times as much screen time just by cutting some of Robb/Dany/Littlefinger/Tywin flab.  I didn't even mind so much that they swapped out Roose Bolton for Tywin; I just minded that it didn't make any sense.  Give these characters something to do other than scene after scene where Tywin somehow fails to detect the incredibly important, fantastically conspicuous hostage pouring him drinks, or, better yet, film a few more scenes that are actually in the book.

 

Marc N. Kleinhenz:

I definitely think that season one is the superior adaptation, but season two is the superior production.  The pacing of the eps, both narratively and visually, is light years beyond last year.

 

Elio García, co-founder and editor of Westeros:

First, to angle back on Arya – a project from a fan on our forum informs me that between episodes six through 10, Arya had 25 minutes of screen time.  To me, that actually seems like quite a lot – but what they used it for were those Tywin Lannister scenes rather than her character development, scenes that became increasingly repetitive each time they did them, much as those Ygritte-Jon scenes did.  Like I said, I don't need weasel soup and things of that sort – what's actually needed is that her life in Harrenhal be hard and ugly.  And it's not:  when Tywin arrives and makes her his cup-bearer, her life is (compared to the other prisoners) easy.  No one abuses her; indeed, no one at all anywhere in the vicinity seems to get abused anymore.  It's just this other place, and Tywin's this pragmatic guy who thinks casual abuse of prisoners and so on is a problem.  As soon as they come up with an excuse to pair her with Tywin, they decide to drop that angle and don't seem to realize that she's treading water as a character for the rest of the season.  Myself, I'd want this to be the season of her reaching the point where she becomes a cold-blooded killer... and make the next two seasons about the struggle to learn how to use that, whether it's for justice and the law or for vengeance and hatred.

And then, the quality of the production... I can't say it's light years ahead of last year, visually speaking – I mean, really?  They did some spectacular stuff, but then they did so last year, as well.

But narratively, the second half of the season starts to go pear-shaped in their construction – decisions they make lead to weaker stories than what's in the novel, whether it's because they decide to give more time to characters who, perhaps, shouldn't have it, or because they fell in love with certain actor pairings, or because they seem to have decided that keeping a character circling the airfield (so to speak) was better than pushing them forward.  I'm sure it's a very good thing Benioff and Weiss are willing to cut and condense.  They have to.  There's no two ways about it.  They did it quite well last season, but it's a bad thing when the things they choose to cut and condense aren't replaced with something of at least equal quality to what they're replacing.  25 minutes of stasis for Arya, a trite key seventh episode for Jon and a weakening of what seemed like the most cinematic and dramatic material in the book, an aimless, pantomime political subplot to motivate Daenerys – there were other solutions to these things, I think, but they became stuck on certain ideas, certain pairings.

On top of that, there's just sloppiness on the direction side this season that wasn't at all evident last season.  It may seem nitpicky, but consider the way that Arya runs through that crowd and Lorch is calling for people to grab her, and he's just ignored... but these very same people are among those being slaughtered in the next episode, questioned about the “attempt on Tywin's life” (a conclusion which, by the by, makes absolutely no sense, given the way it was shot), and not a single one of them volunteers the fact that Lorch was last seen chasing Tywin's cup-bearer?  Why not have her escape through some deserted part of the castle?  Or how about the way that Maester Luwin, a member of the Winterfell household, is left to lay there on the ground as not one, not two, but four Winterfell extras are apparently forgotten about, so they just stand there dumbly after the Ironborn leave?  Or the way Osha is “sneaking” around with an arm loaded with bread in the middle of the day in full sight of Theon and Dagmer if they just decide to turn around?  I mean, there's quite a few of these directorial head-scratchers in there, where all it took was a couple of tweaks to make them work just fine, to maintain the reality and logic and internal consistency of the world, and it doesn't happen.

I don't know if this is a sign of D&D being overworked or what, and that, by the second half of filming, they were starting to fall apart when it came to the fine details.  It may well have detracted from their ability to recognize things that weren't working in the last episodes (barring “Blackwater”) and run some last-minute rewrites to improve it.  It's the most complicated production on TV, closer to a Hollywood film than a television show, so, to some degree, one can see why it might happen, and you can sympathize with that and admire their effort to get it done.

But as it's happened, it's there, it's part of the final product.... what else can we judge, as viewers?

Game of Thrones Blackwater explosion

To try and move things in a different direction, I think it'd be interesting to discuss a bit whether “Blackwater” has anything to show the production in regards to how to divide up the episodes.  Should they be more tightly focused on just a couple of characters or a couple of locations at a time to create stronger narrative arcs?  They did an okay job this year building each episode around some sort of theme or themes – not perfectly, not everyone fit, but, generally, you got a sense of it – but it's true that you often got just a quick glimpse at one character before moving on.

And I should add one little bit:  I like Ros, I thought she was fine last year, I think she's largely fine this year.  (See, I'm not opposed to changes – just bad ones!)

I'm a bit pensive when it comes to her last scene with Varys, but, at the same time, for the most part, her use this second season was useful and worthwhile.  The main issue I have is the way they dropped Daisy entirely.  Was she killed?  Did she leave King’s Landing?  We have no idea, and to me, that says that the show simply doesn't care and doesn't expect viewers to care.  That's a rather crass attitude to have toward a character who's given a few lines, a bit of face time, and then is the subject of horrific, mostly-off-screen abuse that's then casually referred to and forgotten.

 

Marc N. Kleinhenz:

Daisy, Daisy
Give me your answer, do
I'm half crazy
All for the love of you

For some reason, I think HAL and Joffrey would get on quite well.  =)

 

David Barr Kirtley, writer for Wired:

Totally agree on “Blackwater” showing that tighter focus can pay dividends.  Season two had way too many “checking in with this character for no particular reason” scenes.  It's interesting to consider what the show could have achieved if they'd just devoted an entire episode to Arya at Harrenhal, or an entire episode to Dany visiting the House of the Undying.

 

Doug Cohen, author:

I completely agree that Osha sneaking the bread around in broad daylight was head-scratching.  The extras standing around after Maester Luwin has been stabbed struck me as a matter of being scared to do anything more.  I made the assumption that they probably would've tried to help him when the scene ended, but Winterfell burns soon after that.

I also agree that “Blackwater” had a tighter focus, but I'd also imagine they'd want to shoot all the fighting in one episode as opposed to two for budgetary considerations.  Once that decision was made, there was probably no other choice but to shoot it as one episode; the fact that it ended up with a tighter focus may have been an unexpected bonus.

I think we'll just have to agree to disagree on Arya.  A whole episode might have been interesting way to go, but if it was just 25 minutes as you say, a lot of those minutes still have to be dedicated to her interactions with Jaqen.  So I don't know how many minutes you have left once you factor that in, but you can only do so much with what's left.  On Tywin, I'd imagine they wanted to give him extra screen time because certain things that work just fine being summarized in the books (like Tywin's presence in Harrenhal) need to be dramatized on the screen.  If Tywin doesn't get as much screen time, I suspect his entrance at the end of “Blackwater” wouldn't ring nearly as true with the general viewers.  The whole show is a monstrous balancing act, not just in adapting the materials, but also in catering to what are two distinct audiences.

I suspect we could debate back and forth on a number of points (including this one) for a very long time.

 

Elio García, co-founder and editor of Westeros:

I understand the disagreement, but are you sure you've thought it through?

That is, the problem is the way they introduce Tywin:  he stops the casual (and not so casual) brutality, whereas in the novel... he doesn't.  He doesn't really care; he has other things to concern himself with.  Would it have been difficult to show Arya having to walk in fear through Harrenhal as other prisoners/servants are abused, as she herself is casually knocked about and beaten by some nameless overseer?  Would makeup for bruising be too difficult?  You've got extras in plenty of these shots – why aren't some people in stocks, being tortured, being killed for, I don't know, stealing some food because they're underfed.

Game of Thrones Tywin

It wouldn't even mean she couldn't have a scene or two with Tywin; she could be sent to deliver food or a message or pour wine when his usual cup-bearer is ill – what have you.  I mean, that first scene was fantastic, and maybe wrapping it up with a scene where he's giving command to Gregor and ordering sharper questioning of the remaining servants... that could have worked.  I don't know, just spitballing here, but basically what I'm reaching for is that I'm not opposed to the Tywin-Arya scenes – I'm opposed to them having been there primarily to mark time as Arya just stayed put as a character.  If anything, the scenes served to develop Tywin, not her, and yet Tywin's presumably going to be featuring in King's Landing for the next season or two.  Harrenhal happens only once for Arya, on the other hand (much like the flight from the wildlings with Qhorin happens only once for Jon, whereas Ygritte will be around for a few more episodes, to say the least).

A lot of it was just the mood in Harrenhal after Tywin's arrival, and that's stuff that doesn't take time to establish.  You're setting the mood no matter what you do when you're there, so it really doesn't take that much more time to show the things that establish how Arya becomes desensitized through the terror of the place...  Even when Tywin is having people questioned to death, it's apparently only Lannister soldiers who suffer.  Which is a weird message:  Arya's screw-up leads to the death of yet more Lannisters, so I guess it's all right, then?  It's a weird thing.  What if some of her fellow prisoners had died because of her?  What if, say, Hot Pie was killed (don't get me wrong, I do love Hot Pie as an amusing side character, but, in the end, he's a character that can be sacrificed to further Arya's development)?  They seemed to be quite literally afraid of advancing Arya this season, and I question that.

In the end, I don't think it's a question about their not being able to do it, about it being too much or too difficult.  There was plenty of time to have a couple of strong scenes with Tywin and develop her character further by placing her in much more obvious, apparent danger over the course of her stay at Harrenhal.  They simply made the choice not to, substituting even more Tywin-Arya scenes for Arya's character development.

 

Doug Cohen, author:

I've definitely thought it through and have some thoughts to these points, but for fear of dominating what is supposed to be a roundtable discussion, I'm going to leave it be.  As I said already, we could go on about this for a very long time.

 

Marc N. Kleinhenz:

All Westerosi roundtables are made to be dominated. 

It is known.

 

Doug Cohen, author:

When you play the game of roundtables, you either dominate or you die.

 

Amin, co-host of A Podcast of Ice and Fire:

I’m a little late joining the conversation here.  Thanks for keeping your answers short and succinct.  =P

Seriously, it has been a great discussion so far, with some excellent points and a lot that I agree with.  I will have to pick and choose what to comment on, though.  The following is in relation to the first seven or eight pages of comments I printed out to read.  I think three or four pages were added since then that I haven’t read yet...
 
First of all, if we didn’t know it before season two, we know now the importance of accepting that the HBO series is a separate entity on the books.  I am with Doug on that it will never be as good as the books, but the question is, how good will it be?  Will it reach its full potential, or will it hit some snags on the way, like it did in season two?

I am going to start with the positives.  In our roundtable discussion before season two, I said that the Battle of Blackwater episode and description would make or break the season for me.  Well, thankfully, “Blackwater” was an amazing episode with a motion picture-type feel – not a perfect episode, but I agree that it was probably the best episode so far in either season.  “Blackwater” made me want to purge my knowledge of the books so I could fully enjoy the twists and turns of that episode.  It saved the season, as did performances from Alfie Allen and Peter Dinklage, as mentioned by Elio.
 
There were some other good episodes in season two.  Episode 10 was pretty good, although I contend that Dany, Brienne, Stannis, and Jon (for good and for bad) were taking “psycho pills” that episode.  It finished off the season strongly, but it was still a season that I found to be weaker than season one.  Using my podcast’s frequently used lemoncake scale, I would give season one 4.5/5 lemon cakes, while season 2 earns 3.5/5 lemon cakes.

Game of Thrones Dany in the House of the Undying

I understood the need for limiting the House of the Undying scenes and was never particularly attached to it, so it did not bother me that much, though I agree that it could have used a little bit more symbolism and mystery-building.  I see the fans of the book series as progressing through several stages of fandom.  They probably first enjoy the books for the great plot.  Then they move into enjoying the characters and general world-building.  The deepest level of fandom involves the prophecies, mysteries, and theories that the books have generated.  I’m not surprised Elio mentioned this, as he must experience it daily at Westeros, one of the major hubs for such discussions.  There is a lot of fan discussion and interpretations around the books, and, as Elio noted, the TV show-based fandom could benefit from a similar use of mysteries from the source material that has five or six seasons’ worth, if not more, of developed storylines.
 
In relation to Marc’s point about reading the books or TV show first, I think that may be a factor, but not always.  A lot of our current Podcast of Ice and Fire listeners watched season one first, then went on to read the books.  The majority of them, I would say, enjoy both of them but actually like the books better.  As was mentioned by Elio and others, there is a depth to the books that the TV show can never match and shouldn’t be expected to match.  But there is a wide spectrum of quality that the TV show can meet, and I feel like our complaints in relation to season two are (or should be) related to season two failing to meet or get even close to its full potential.
 
I am not a book purist, I am not against changes, I know changes are a necessity, but I am against bad changes.  Sadly, many of Elio’s predictions for season two were spot on, primarily in regards to Robb and Dany’s storylines.  Both needed some more screen time due to the demands of a TV adaption.  Fair enough.  But both were riddled with problems.  The “Robb and his men” clips were good, but I agree with Dave that the buildup to the romance was a snore fest.  Dany’s Qarth storyline was similarly troubled with plot holes and deviations that, frankly, detracted from the story.  I agree with James P. that her storyline was underdeveloped in Clash of Kings (for good and for bad), but the replacement provided here was not a good one.  By the end of episode 10, the cruel end scene that was probably meant to be a “fist-pump moment” turned into a “meh” moment for me and for a storyline gone wrong after the first few episodes.  That being said, like the second book, we are over the hump of the second season, and I expect good things in season three for Robb, Dany, and the rest of the character storylines.

In regards to Arya’s time in Harrenhal, I think it remains to be seen how she develops in season three.  Her time with Tywin was marketed as “Arya in the lion’s den,” which was quite exciting for the non-reader viewers I watched the show with.

In relation to Ros, I have to agree with Dave and Doug that I don’t mind the actress, but I don’t like the character, and I am worried how her storyline might be growing with each season.  I understand the need for her in the past two seasons, but not to the extent of the screen time she has been given and the poor quality of some of the writing involved.  Put me firmly in the anti-Ros camp.  I will flip a table if she ends up being sent by Varys to join Dany, as some fans have actually predicted.

 

Doug Cohen, author:

All right, since it is the will of the Small Council that I continue this thread on Arya ...

So, as best as I can tell, everyone seems to be in agreement that if a given season has to be 10 episodes, cuts and condensing of the source materials are in order, and sometimes rearranging of source materials take place, and even reinvention.  So with some minor deviations, cuts, and reinventions here and there, Arya's story basically is par for the course up until she arrives at Harrenhal and witnesses the initial tortures while being kept in the holding pen.

As I said before, I really believe they wanted to develop Tywin further this season to make his arrival in “Blackwater” have more dramatic impact.  So even if Tywin will feature prominently in forthcoming seasons, I think a conscious choice was made to work him into Harrenhal as much as possible.  Since Roose has been cut from Harrenhal in the HBO series (at least to this point), if materials are going to be condensed, it makes a lot of sense for Arya to become Tywin's cupbearer instead of being cupbearer to Roose.  If that's going to happen, Tywin arriving at Harrenhal is the logical place for this to happen, as this is basically what happened when Roose arrived there.

Game of Thrones Arya Stark

The moment Arya becomes his cupbearer, it becomes far-fetched to believe that people are going to seriously abuse her, because what fool would dare abuse Tywin's personal cupbearer?  That means putting bruises on her face doesn't strike me as a feasible option.  At most, you can expect an occasional cuff here or there, and Arya receives as much at one point when she's getting water and bumps into someone and drops the pail.  As for seeing the horrors of Harrenhal, this comes back to the condensing.  She witnessed the tortures early while in the pen.  I can recall at least one additional glimpse of prisoners suffering outside Tywin's council chamber windows after more “questioning” had commenced in the square outside Tywin's chambers.

There may have been other such glimpses of such horrors, though I'd have to go back and watch again to be certain one way or the other.  But it's safe to assume that Arya has seen these tortures while doing errands for Tywin.  And as Tywin's cupbearer, it's also safe to assume that she's spending a lot of time in his presence, tending to his needs, which would place the two of them together quite often.  From what I remember, she was with Roose quite a bit as his cupbearer. 

For readers, I can understand the desire to have Arya exposed to more of the horrors of Harrenhal.  For viewers unfamiliar with the books, I think the interactions with Tywin make perfect sense.  She's already seen Yoren and Lommy killed, she's seen rats eat out people's stomachs, and she is aware of the tortures going after “the attempt on Tywin's life.”  Not to mention that, in season one, she killed a boy with her sword and had the unfortunate experience of being amid a bloodthirsty mob cheering for her innocent father's death.

In the books, George has the advantage of his narrative to track each little psychological transition/hurdle the characters encounter that lead to their changes, and he can explore the abuses and horrors that Arya witnesses as much as he wants.  He doesn't have to deal with a budget or a running time (just a page count!).  That's great.  I love it.  But as far as the general viewing audience is concerned, I think they're quite aware that Arya is being exposed to a monstrous amount of violence and that she'll have become at least partially desensitized to it.  Her actions will bear this out next season, and I doubt the audience will be surprised because of what has already happened.  Things may be easier on her in the HBO series, but they've by no means been easy.  Even as the cupbearer, she must live with the constant fear of being found out by her family's worst enemies.

How things unfold are not ideal as compared to the books, but I do see the logic behind the choices made by Benioff and Weiss here, so despite Arya being my favorite character, the way things play out don't bother me so much.

 

Mo Ryan, writer for The Huffington Post:

Chiming in late here, and I'm going to start in on a very different topic, though I'll eventually circle back to Arya.

What strikes me about season two is that it has a pretty sure grasp of the themes it wanted to explore – and that might account for some of people's various objections and possibly some of what they enjoyed.

Season one, I found, was tough going in the first half, given how hard they tried to be as faithful to the books as they could and how much heavy lifting had to be done in terms of setup of the world and exposition among the characters.  The second half of the first season generally had more drive, but aesthetically and dramatically, GoT took a while to reach its potential.

Game of Thrones Theon

In season two, I generally found that the production values, the directing, and the overall atmosphere of the show was improved and more consistently enjoyable.  That's partly because I knew the characters (most of them, anyway), and I was aware of their relationships and histories in many cases, so, all things considered, easing into the new season and getting into the groove with it was relatively easy.  The deepening of certain characters – particularly Tyrion and Theon – was really enjoyable, I continue to think Varys and Bronn are the show's secret weapons, meeting Brienne and Stannis was great (though I would have loved to have spent more time with both), and even Joffrey's intense awfulness was somehow gripping, thanks to Jack Gleeson's performance.  Of course, all the performances were outstanding, and the writing more consistently had a compelling spark to it.

But I'm wondering if a fair amount of the discomfort over season two arises from the fact that Benioff and Weiss have staked out certain themes as the core of their version of Game of Thrones, and a lot of what we're seeing in the HBO version of the tale revolves around those central themes.  I absolutely agree regarding some of the storytelling problems that were simply not handled as well as they could have been this season (in particular, I agree that Jon Snow's story wasn't adeptly handled in the second half of the season).  But in the main, I think the changes have sprung from the fact that this is a 10-episode TV season, and Benioff and Weiss have had to quite literally pick their battles.

There are actually a couple of things going on, in my view:  they are trying to cut and condense the story in ways that will make it comprehensible to viewers who don't know this world, as everyone has noted.  And in TV, people have been trained over decades to expect to see the same set of characters week to week, more or less, so GoT is showing a lot of the same faces week in and week out.  I do think it might be a better idea to focus more tightly on a few characters each week, rather than trying to hit most story threads in every episode (I think one of the strengths of the terrific “Blackwater” was that it stayed in one location).  But the whole idea of them keeping certain characters around and/or giving certain characters more prominence – I really do understand why they've gone that route.  It's a sprawling narrative, and without a core group of key characters to ground it emotionally, the whole shebang can quickly spin out of control.

But the characters are just part of their distillation strategy, if you will.  In my view, Benioff and Weiss are trying to tell a story about power and how it's used, and that was the unifying thing about this season (and perhaps seasons beyond this).  There were a lot of locations, dozens of characters, and many different threads, but they chose one big set of questions to serve as a running thread throughout various parts of the story.  The meditations on power (and truth and identity) brought everything together thematically, and given that uniting everyone geographically isn't possible, I think that was a wise idea.  Characters in disparate locations and circumstances went through experiences that were somewhat similar:  they were asked how they'd wield power when it came to those above and below them in the pecking order, and the answers sometimes surprised them (and us).

The central questions of this season in particular could be summed up (very roughly) as:  who wants power and why, and if these people get power, what do they do with it?  Do they share it or keep it?  Do they have a plan for what to do with it?  Does power rest in what people think is true or what is really true?

Who we spent time with, how that time was spent, what got cut, and what got added – a lot of it revolved around those questions, it seemed to me.  And again, given that those unifying themes brought a lot of otherwise disparate elements together, I think the choice to focus on those things was wise – but I completely understand the frustration of those whose favorite parts of A Clash of Kings went by the wayside.  I really do.

In any event, Arya learned about power, both at Tyrion's table and in her alliance with Jaqen.  As far as that storyline goes, I'll be the one person to say I enjoyed it.  I didn't need to see how bad her life was – because compared to my life, it was really horrible.  As Douglas pointed out, we saw her witness many brutal things, and in Maisie Williams's eyes, I saw how that changed her.  I think she did have character growth through the season.  It was different from the books, admittedly – quite different – but again, compare her life to that of most 11-year-old girls in this day and age.  Her existence was fraught with danger, and every second she spent in Tywin's company was full of tension (would she be found out? etc.).  Maybe it's just me, but I saw her becoming harder as a result.  The way she made Jaqen speak his own name, the way she said “Anybody can die” to Tywin – those moments were spine-chilling, to me.

But the power story was probably most effectively told in the storylines involving Tyrion, Cersei, and the rest of the residents of King's Landing, and also with Theon.  We spent a lot of time with those characters, so those stories worked pretty well.  I do think there was a bit of Robb being inserted into the story just to keep him around, and (to be contrary again), I liked the Talisa story, even if there wasn't a ton of substance to it.  I think the actors had chemistry together, and I think, like a lot of the Stark children, Robb was learning about the limitations on his power, which was another big theme of the season (the lessons the various Stark children and wards learned about survival).  Dany's story was all right, if a little wheel-spinning, and I can see why the producers wanted to put her in the foreground now and again – Dany's hugely important to the story, and Emilia's a tremendous actress.

As for the Jon Snow story, I think I was blinded by the spectacular locations for a long while, and I also liked Rose Leslie a great deal as Ygritte, so that distracted me, as well.  But I'd agree that the ending of that story was a strange misfire and didn't quite land with the force that Jon's tale had in the books.  I won't repeat what most people said here about that, except to largely agree with your analyses.

Without getting into much more detail about individual stories, I think the show largely succeeded at telling interesting tales about the complexities of obtaining and using power, so, overall, the season worked for me, despite some wobbles here and there.  Having said that, I do think that 12 or 13 episodes per season would be better in terms of servicing the characters and deepening the world, and I've been saying that from the start.  But the ways in which they've condensed and distilled – like James, by and large, I'm okay with the changes (and in that arena, I'm aided by my faulty memory – I also read the books once, three years ago, and many of the details have fallen away for me).

As I said last year, I just want to be swept away by the tale and forget the comparisons to the books in my mind, and it was actually something that was said in a previous Coming Attractions roundtable that helped me enjoy season two more:  I just think of the HBO adaptation as something of a cover version, a different riff on the characters and themes GRRM created.  It's never going to be the same, and the more I let go of my preconceptions, the more I was able to enjoy this riff for what it is.  Of course, I'd never want to say that anyone else is wrong for wanting different things or more fealty to the source – given how much I love the books, I completely respect those who feel that the adaptation has left out some of their favorite material.

But my plan is, at this point, to not read or re-read any of the books (I've read the first three), and stick with the HBO show for the duration.  Then when that ends – some day far in the future, I hope – I'll go back to the books and read them all, soaking up the story straight from the source.  It'll be a different experience, but I look forward to that.
 

    More Game of Thrones coverage on Coming Attractions:

The Lore Behind the Iron Throne:

Season 2:

     

    Season 1:

[Marc N. Kleinhenz is the author of It Is Known: An Analysis of Thrones, Vol. I and a freelancer for some 18 sites, including ToweroftheHand.com and Westeros.org.]
 

Quasar
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Posts: 7588
Posted: 7 years 8 weeks ago

I was surprised that considering the amount of condensing that needed to happen, that there seemed to be so much filler. I think you hit the nail with the characters constantly spinning their wheels on screen in repetitive scenes. It was a chore for me to watch the entire season. I hope things get better (and for Ros to die soon), but I'm not holding my breath.

Faster and faster, a nightmare we ride. Who'll take the reins when the miracle dies? Faster and faster till everything dies. Killing is our way of keeping alive. - Virgin Steele, Blood and Gasoline