Game of Thrones Revisited: 1.02 The Kingsroad
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And in 2019, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros and the rest of the world, continuing with the second episode of season one, The Kingsroad...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
The second episode of Game of Thrones is another scene setter, moving pieces across the board slowly and building on the strong characterisation begun in Winter is Coming. It's not the most exciting episode and it is still very early in the game for anything hugely dramatic to happen, but The Kingsroad is strong stuff nonetheless.
The recent season seven saw Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister as allies and the first scenes of that kinship is established right back here as he travels with Jon and Benjen Stark to the Wall. There is still a very innocent, baby faced performance from Kit Harrington but he plays well off against the wise, sometimes cynical banter of the Lannister dwarf.
Peter Dinklage is superb here, getting a little more to do than whore and drink, as amusing as that was. His stern advice to Joffrey to pay their respects is reinforced with not one but three very satisfying slaps to the young prince for his insolence; knowing the monster he will become it is very satisfying, even if it might have seemed a little over the top first time round. I also loved his jokey uncle facade with Tommen and Myrcella at the breakfast table (both children played by different actors at this point of course).
It was an episode of farewells, which might seem odd given that it was only episode two; in retrospect, many of those are final given the numerous tragedies to come. The scene where Jon came to say his goodbye to a comatose Bran and Catelyn's anger at both him and the departing Ned were heartbreaking. Enough can't be said about Ramin Djawadi's amazing score for Game of Thrones and the piece that played over the scenes in Bran's room were beautiful and harrowing in equal measure.
As for Jon and Ned's final goodbye at the crossroads and his promise to reveal the truth about his mother when they next spoke? Last season brought the long presumed truth about Jon's parentage to light and this episode plants that first, tragic seed. And talking of tragedy, knowing what really happened made Catelyn's anger at Ned and his 'bastard' for the last seventeen years all the more sad and ultimately pointless.
The Kingsroad stuff felt more set up than plot development. Robert confided in Ned that the marriage of Daenerys Targaryen to Khal Drogo was a problem and war was coming; it's just a war neither would fight in. The irony of course was that Ned's assumption that the Dothraki army could never land in Westeros would never happen was ultimately wrong; it just took a lot longer than planned for this to be achieved.
We also started to see the glimpses of the monster Joffrey would become; his mockery of Arya's friend the butcher's boy Micah was cruel and I truly believed he would have gutted Arya if Nymeria hadn't stepped in to save her. Sansa also suffered her first loss as Ned was forced to kill her Direwolf Lady in retribution for the attack; this would not be the first mistake she made this season.
I found Michelle Fairley's angry, grief stricken performance as Catelyn a little much first time round but in light of what comes next, it felt very real. Her violent defence of her son from his would be assassin was brutal, the blade cutting her hands as she gripped the blade. The blood on her hands and face and her horrified expression felt like a grim, prophetic set up for her eventual fate. But I liked her conviction here and rushing off to Kings Landing to warn Ned shows that she is not a woman to be trifled with.
There was little Viserys this time round as he travelled with Khal Drogo and his Dothraki army, but the bond between Daenerys and Jorah Mormont was bubbling along nicely. There was also a couple of hints surrounding the gift of her dragon eggs. Daenerys' attempt to turn what was virtually a nightly rape at her husband's hands into something more loving showed her first steps towards taking control but didn't feel hugely significant at this point, not compared to what was happening in Westeros. Then again, her story has mostly been a slow burner over the course of the series.
The Kingsroad was a solid episode with plenty of great characterisation while adding some more hints at what was to come. Through Catelyn's revelation, the upcoming war Robert spoke of is already on the verge of beginning and adds a little momentum to the story which was largely about scene setting. And it is also about loss, a key theme in Game of Thrones. Sansa and Arya both lose their direwolves after the space of one episode, suggesting perhaps their fate to come and the breaking up of just established character relationships already shows that this show has a long and very windy road ahead of it.