Game of Thrones Season Two: The Things It Got Right

I've spent a decent amount of time on this blog complaining about the HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones. While the first season was flawed, but stuck close to the books and was generally amazing television, the second season attempted to build an arc from a book with little resolution, where characters are spread out, and where not a whole lot happens. The result was not always favorable. But all my criticisms sometimes hide the fact that I still genuinely enjoy the show and love the world, the story and the characters it presents. Perhaps I even love it too much, making me more likely to poke and nitpick and want it to reach perfection. And although some of the changes left me disappointed, frustrated, even angry, some of the changes did help to create a tighter, more compelling story.

So here's my list of the changes that HBO's Game of Thrones got right this season.

Moving forward the adventures of Jaime and Brienne

Jaime Lannister is one of the series' most interesting characters, and he spends the whole of A Clash of Kings offscreen, rotting in a dungeon in Riverrun. Although it was disappointing that Brienne and Catelyn didn't get to spend much time together before Brienne left on her mission, it was great to see more of Jaime on-screen, and to have more time to develop his relationship with the Maid of Tarth. (Yes, I'm a shipper. I feel no shame in admitting it!) They play such important roles in challenging and developing one another's world views, and their banter was one of the highlights in a couple of otherwise disappointing final episodes.

Margaery the Machievellian Queen

In the books, Margaery has always been a bit of a non-entity for me. She stands around in the background, adored by Sansa, despised by Cersei, but I never really got any sense of her character. The show made her into a major player and a major badass, an ambitious, scheming, queenly figure who knows what needs to be done and isn't afraid to do it. Kudos to the show-writers for turning an easily ignorable figure into such a compelling character in just a few scenes.

A more sympathetic Cersei

The show has been criticised for taking away some of Cersei's ruthlessness (such as her murder of Robert's bastards) in order to make her more likeable to the audience, and I think these complaints are valid. However, as a whole, the show has given Cersei a lot more depth. The books always disappointed me by failing to give Cersei the same level of character development as her brother Jaime, but the show has taken up the slack, showing us a capable, proud, intelligent woman who has to fight to get any influence, never receives any thanks for what she does, loves her children fiercely, and has become cynical and ruthless as a result. She is constantly playing the game, constantly at war with everyone but Jaime and her children, and she doesn't know when to quit, because she has been fighting her whole life. She feels a twisted kind of sympathy for Sansa (but not enough to stop tormenting her). She sees the wicked creature that her son has become, and she feels guilty for it, but she cannot stop loving him anyway. She feels overwhelmed, but would never admit it, even to herself. Thanks to the show, and the amazing acting from Lena Headey, Cersei has become one of my favorite characters, and I'm eagerly anticipating the continuation of her story next season.

Arya meets Tywin Lannister

Admittedly, these scenes eventually became a little too drawn out, and brought the intelligence of both Arya and Tywin into question (why didn't she hide it better? Why didn't he figure it out??). But what amazing scenes they were. Charles Dance brought out the best in Maisie William's acting, and the scenes not only allowed us a peek into the mind of the otherwise quite inscrutable Tywin Lannister but also showed the growing similarity between this villain figure and our supposed young heroine. They have the same ruthlessness, the same shrewd and cynical perspective on the world, and even the same Lannister fire. The show couldn't have come up with a better way of showing that the "heroes" and the "villains," the Starks and the Lannisters, are not as different as they would like to believe.

Shae becomes Sansa's maid

Another detail moved forwards from A Storm of Swords, and it's absolutely worth it. Shae is another character that I didn't really notice in the books, but adore in the show: confident, intelligent, perceptive, independent and tough, but kind-hearted and an excellent ally for Sansa. Through Shae's experience and advice, Sansa is learning how to play against the game's experts, people who can only mean her harm. She has an ally, a figure she trusts (even if she shouldn't), and, best of all, a positive relationship with another woman who can teach her how to maintain her strength. The addition of Shae also allowed us more of a chance to get inside Sansa's head and see what's going on when she isn't pretending to be the perfect loving future queen, see how her perspective on this world and these people have changed thanks to the cruelty she has seen.

Theon

Just... everything Theon. I'll freely admit that I despised Theon in A Clash of Kings. I found him utterly unsympathetic, completely vile, and his actions beyond unforgivable. I thought he would deserve any possible punishment he might receive (oh, how wrong I was...). Imagine my surprise, then, when I cried for Theon while watching the final episode of this season, when he spoke to Maester Luwin about a childhood as a prisoner, where he never belonged, and where he was expected to feel grateful because he was not treated with outright cruelty. A combination of excellent writing and amazing acting from Alfie Allen turned him from a vile creature to a lost young man, full of bravado, performing increasingly desperate and increasingly hateful acts to try and earn acceptance. He was still a horrible individual. Still hateful most of the time. But the show wove an incredible amount of pathos through his story, and I have enormous respect for that.

Coming Monday... the changes that didn't work so well. It's probably going to be a longer, sadder list.