Season Two of Game of Thrones threw us right in the middle of The War of Five Kings established by the end of Season One. Now that a third season has been ordered and the HBO team are trudging through the task of adapting the massive third novel A Storm of Swords into two separate seasons, we can take a look back and judge Season Two on the successes (and failures) of Season One's epic introductions. How has Season Two fared at its pacing, its character development, or its faithfulness to the novel as compared to Season One? Did Season Two confirm Game of Thrones as a worthy adaptation, or verify the fear that Martin's books are too large a task?
Too Many Invites to the Party?
While Season One certainly introduced us to a myriad of characters in a relatively short time, after a few episodes we knew where our loyalties lied and who to focus on. I don't believe Season Two accomplished that as effectively as last year. Again, we were introduced to an influx of new characters (Stannis, Melisandre, Margaery, among others) and new storylines to follow. This isn't inherently a problem; new characters bring new conflicts and can lead to new heroes (Brienne!). What was unfortunate was how the development of our already established characters suffered as a result. Will less time with those characters that we love lead to wavering loyalties? Perhaps that's the point.
What We Lost
Two of my favorite characters, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), suffered a mildly dull Season Two storyline. Yet, this is one place where the show remained accurate to the novel; these two didn't have a fantastically interesting narrative in Clash of Kings to begin with. (And forget about Jaime Lannister (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau); it's a miracle that they managed to give him any screen time this season considering how absent he is in the second novel, though not without prematurely diving into his third novel adventures with Brienne.) Also, while Season One seemed to have used Book One as its very own storyboard, Season Two was much more sporadic, and the writers seemed to be following a restructured path. With events occurring earlier, as in the case with Jaime and Brienne, or Robb's wedding, what kind of reorganization do we have to look forward to in the coming seasons?
What We Gained
With such demands and time restrictions placed upon the novel's many plots, we lost a few to the sidelines, but were given some meaty stuff in its place. I'm thinking specifically about Arya's (Maisie Williams) truncated actions as compared to the novel. Her time at Harrenhal was cut short, some brave actions eliminated, and scenes with the awesome Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) simply missing. What made up for it was the subtlety and intricacy of her TV-invented scenes with Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance). Their charming conversations made us wonder: is this how he would speak to Cersei? Did she become so cunning and crafty because her father spoke to her just as Arya, with respect and intelligence? And not only that, but it made us like the guy to the point where going into Season Three, we're no longer sure if we're supposed to hate him or root for him. Also, while Dany got the bulk of the CGI budget last season with her newborn baby dragons, her Season Two closing trip to the House of the Undying was sadly underwhelming. Perhaps because most of the special effects funding went into the stunning visualization of the Season Two closing with the White Walkers.
What We Didn't Ask For
Novel fans all around the internet are still confused over (and can't stop arguing about) the role of Talisa (Oona Chaplin), the battlefield medic and new wife to Robb Stark (Richard Madden). Like Ros of last season, she's a new addition that is causing an uproar. Book fans have to ask, what are they doing with Jeyne Westerling? Is Talisa taking her place, or is it that Talisa is Jeyne incognito? Hopefully, we'll get some reliable information during the hiatus.
What Was Just Right
So many things were right on the money. Firstly, the spot-on casting of 6'3" Gwendoline Christie in the role of Brienne of Tarth and her brilliant portrayal made me incredibly excited for her development in the rest of the series. The Battle of the Blackwater was the epic, medieval clash that fans didn't get in Season One. Rightly so, considering that if they were going to omit a battle because of cost restrictions, Blackwater was NOT going to be the loss. Finally, Peter Dinklage's continued success in the role of Tyrion got even more interesting, as he rightly took over the "main character" status from Ned Stark of last season.
Much was lost, but much was gained. Both seasons had their ups and downs. I don't think the final verdict on Game of Thrones as a success or failure can be decided just yet, especially since the most challenging and most defining elements are yet to come.