Tuesday, 3 April 2012

North And South

We're diggin' a foundation
For a future to be made
There's gonna be a killin'

It's back!  At long last, winter is once again coming.  But should we care?  How do - and should - we judge "The North Remembers."

(Season 1 spoilers throughout)

I suspect a lot of that comes down to how one views season openers. A decade and more of year-end cliffhangers and immediate (or near-immediate) resolutions have perhaps led us to certain expectations regarding how the action should resume once we settle around the television once again.  Even shows that are, comparatively speaking, more interested in using an opener as an on-ramp for the year to come (think X-Files, or middle period SG1) tend to at least resolve the immediate situation, in order to bring some closure whilst teasing about what comes next.

"The North Remembers" doesn't work that way.  Which is no surprise, of course; books have their own rules.  What it means though is that for anyone (which includes me) who recently re-watched "Fire and Blood" (or even watched it for the first time) as preparation for this new bushel of episodes have found themselves going from an expert ramping up of tensions - Robb's crowning, Dany's dragons, the Night's Watch sallying forth to face the White Walkers, the potential three-way war between King Robert's two younger brothers and the boy he mistakenly thought his son, and the fates of Sansa and Arya - to a full episode of breath-catching; of being told "this is where we are now."

Once you get over the gear shift, which is no less sudden for happening over a period long enough to create and receive a child in, the only relevant questions are this: how well is the new status quo presented, and how much is included in addition to make future viewings anything more than an aide memoire?

The most obvious answer to those questions are these two words: Tyrion motherfucking Lannister.  With Sean Bean busy looking for other projects to get himself "killed" in, Dinklage now gets top billing, and it's not even slightly undeserved.  There are six, seven or even eight locations visited this episode (depending how you want to split up the Red Keep, King's Landing, and the Kingroad just north of the capital), and Tyrion is the only one to receive three whole scenes, with three completely different groups of characters (Cersei comes close, but loses out due to two scenes with Littlefinger).  And why?  Because he's awesome.

Not just as a character, either.  Fantasy films and television always require their actors to walk a fine line, between making their characters believable, and making them too much like this world (see Natalie Tena, for example, who's accent as Osha makes her difficult to imagine as being from a realm beyond our world, and Alfie Allen who, well, is just shit.  Again.)  Like many others, I found Dinklage's take on the Imp too mannered at first, but over the first season he felt less and less like he was out of step with the rest of the cast and more and more as though he was the only one who entirely got it.  There's no sign, based on his appearances this week, that this is going to change.  Indeed, the only complaint I have about Tyrion is that there isn't enough of him.  Which, to be fair, is a complaint one could level against A Clash Of Kings in any case.

Beyond that, there isn't a great deal to say, only to note that the show is now sufficiently over its teething troubles to deliver a season opener that's stronger than last year's "Winter is Coming", despite it not having a prologue (though I'm not sure anyone would disagree that Game of Thrones has by far the better opening of the two books in any case - fucking Patchface is Martin's very own Tom Bombadil), and it's conclusion, for all it's horrific violence, lacking the same heft as Jaime pushing Bran from the tower.

The past and present has been summarised.  Onwards, then, to Westeros' future.

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