HBO’s Game of Thrones returns with “The North Remembers.” Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) arrives at King’s Landing, much to Cersei’s (Lena Headey) dismay, and says he is there to get the reckless Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) in line. Elsewhere, the various others who claim to be King of the realm amass their own forces, and plot to take Joffrey down. And beyond the Wall, the Night’s Watch learns of another gathering force, who may also be soon causing trouble.
To no one’s surprise, Joffrey is a terrible king. Sansa (Sophie Turner) is walking on pins and needles, and Cersei has no control. After Cersei smacks Joffrey in “The North Remembers,” he threatens her, too. It’s clear that this boy is too arrogant and not nearly wise enough to serve as leader of the realm. So he probably won’t be in that seat for long.
Joffrey’s best hope is to listen to his uncle, Tyrion. Tyrion is unafraid of his nephew’s power, but smart enough not to directly challenge him in ways Joffrey can justifiably strike back against. Tyrion is a master politician, and surprisingly honorable and honest. This makes it clear who should be in charge. But is Joffrey too far gone to listen to sound advice? Probably.
It’s interesting to see Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) serving as Lord of Winterfell in “The North Remembers.” He is a bit younger than Joffrey, and just as ignorant in the ways of leadership. However, Bran has an advantage because he listens to Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter). Luwin served Bran’s father faithfully for many years. Bran has had a lifetime of watching his dad, a great example of how person in charge should act. Knowing that his father relied on Luwin, Bran does, too. Which will keep him on the straight and narrow.
So does that mean Joffrey’s problem is a lack of good role models? After all, King Robert was a philandering drunk. Joffrey’s mother, Cersei, isn’t much better, having an affair with her brother, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who is the biological sire of Cersei’s children. In fact, the only good role model Joffrey has has is Tyrion, is looked down upon by his entire family. No wonder Joffrey doesn’t know how to behave!
But one can only blame bad parentage as an excuse for so long. Tyrion finds a way to overcome it, and so, too, can Joffrey, should he put his mind to it. Besides Tyrion, Joffrey could also listen to Sansa or the Hound (Rory McCann), and both would likely provide him with credible counsel. But in a viper’s pit like the capital, the unearned self worth Joffrey has, combined with the slimy machinations by many around him who also hold power, will likely prove too much for this youth to overcome. Making his reign finite, indeed.
Plenty are ready to unseat Joffrey, when the times comes. Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane, The Hours, John Adams) has the most legitimate claim, being Robert’s eldest surviving brother, and thus, the next in line by lineage. That is, unless one of Robert’s bastards comes forward. But Stannis has a problem. Namely, that people don’t like him. Little is seen of Stannis in “The North Remembers,” but he does appear gruff and stern and not very personable. This hurts his cause, which is why the people of the Seven Kingdoms are not flocking to support him.
By contrast, Stannis’s younger brother, Renly (Gethin Anthony), is extremely popular, and is already putting together a large force of supporters. Renly’s homosexuality will likely weaken the hold he has over his followers should it ever be exposed. As long as that stays a secret, he looks to be a more likely monarch than Stannis.
But Stannis has a secret weapon, revealed in “The North Remembers.” Melisandre (Carice van Houten, Black Book) is a priestess for the Lord of Light. She seems to have some kind of supernatural ability. She can drink poison without ill effect. She sways Stannis to abandon his gods in favor of hers. In exchange, she promises him victory. Does she really have enough force to single-handedly unseat Joffrey? And what price will she demand for such a thing? She does not seem the generous type.
Should Melisandra fail, Renly is still well positioned. Which is probably why Robb Stark (Richard Madden), hailed as King of the North, is sending his mother, Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), to meet with Renly. If the two of them combine their efforts, than the Lannisters do not stand much of a chance. Robb considers other allies, including the Greyjoys, whom own a fleet of two hundred ships, but thinks Renly is his best bet. Considering Robb is leading with wisdom, his faith in Renly does much to lend the younger brother credence in the eyes of viewers.
The lingering question in “The North Remembers,” though, is if Renly might ask Robb to rescind his title as King of the North in exchange for an alliance. Robert’s kingdom includes the Starks’ realm. But as Robb rebels against the Lannisters, his people bow to him as their ruler, renouncing King’s Landing’s control over them. Will they be willing to swear allegiance to Renly if Robb does? Or will Renly agree that it’s worth giving up part of the world to a trustworthy ally?
The other leader who would seek to control the Seven Kingdoms in “The North Remembers” is Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). Her claims may even be more legitimate than Stannis or Renly’s because her father was king before Robert. Robert fought in an army that overthrew Daenerys’s dad, thus removing her family from the line of succession. She would like to take the Iron Throne back.
Did they have the right to kick out Daenerys’s father? That’s unclear. Certainly, Robert and his ilk believed they were in the right. Then again, the king at the time probably saw them as troublemakers. Without being shown the full story, it’s impossible to tell. This is made more complicated by the fact that Daenerys has proven herself wonderfully, and become a popular character. Just because viewers want the Lannisters taken out of power doesn’t mean that one of Robert’s brothers deserves to rule. Any chance of a future Robb / Daenerys alliance, since they are the two just leaders in the story, at this point?
Of course, any talk of Daenerys taking the crown is premature. She is leading a small band of followers through the desert, starving and thirsty. She is barely surviving, let alone mounting any sort of attack. Her horse dying, a wedding present from her husband, is not a good omen. Her dragons will make her formidable, but only if she lives long enough to see them grow. As of “The North Remembers,” Daenerys’s journey as a true Queen is only just beginning, and she is in no position to make a play for power. Nor will she be for some time.
North of the Wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and his fellows venture out. They want to know why the Wildings have disappeared, and what happened to Jon’s uncle’s party. Fans may assume that the strange, dead creatures the haunt the north may be to blame. But “The North Remembers” uncovers a new threat.
The Night’s Watch stops to visit a disgusting man named Crestor (Robert Pugh) in “The North Remembers.” Crestor tells Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo), Jon’s boss, that the Wildings are organizing an invasion force. The question here is, why? They are seen as backwards people, not civilized enough to be a threat. The Wall is supposed to keep something more dangerous at bay, not defend against the Wildlings. So have they harnessed the supernatural? Or are the strange creatures leading them through fear? Those are the only real two possibilities that make sense for this development.
In summary, “The North Remembers” sets the stage for a major battle to occur, with far more than two sides involved in the struggle. It’s a masterful beginning to a second season, and does not give away its hand too much, so what’s to come remains a mystery. Great start!
Watch Game of Thrones Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.