April 2nd, 2012
10:33 AM ET
Editor's Note: This post contains spoilers for the April 1 episode of HBO's "Game of Thrones," as well as season 1 of the show and the George R.R. Martin novel of the same name.
A little incest, a little bloodshed and a whole bunch of folks scheming to sit on an uncomfortable steel chair - welcome back, "Game of Thrones."
The season 2 premiere, "The North Remembers," starts and finishes by driving home a point most viewers probably were already well aware of: new King Joffrey is a rotten little bastard (literally).
The episode begins with Joffrey celebrating his "name day" (think "birthday in a place where they're not sure babies are going to live") by making his loyal subjects fight to the death for his amusement. After his servant, The Hound, tosses an opponent to his death, Joffrey decides aging, drunken Ser Dontos would be more amusing with a funnel stuffed down his throat, literally drowning in wine.
It's only when Joffrey's betrothed, Sansa Stark - who's at this point a glorified hostage - suggests that Dontos would be more amusing as Joffrey's court jester that he allows him to live.
The party gets soured for the snot-nosed boy king when his uncle Tyrion (the beloved, and Emmy-winning Peter Dinklage) shows up with news that he's been named Hand of the King - the kingdom's equivalent of vice president.
The news causes Joff's mom and de facto queen, Cersei, to go all "Hitler Reacts" at a council meeting, and the obvious bad blood between the two sets up one of the season's saltier conflicts.
"That bit of theater will haunt our family for a generation," Tyrion says, referring to Joffrey's execution of former Hand of the King Ned Stark. And when he notes that their hard-nosed father blames her, the black-sheep dwarf scores one of the episode's best zings: "It must be odd for you to be the disappointing child."
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys is learning that having three baby dragons doesn't help when your few remaining followers are stranded in the desert. She sends out her three best warriors to find water, a civilization that doesn't want her dead or, really, anything more pleasant than blistering heat.
We meet Stannis, late King Robert's oldest brother and, since Joffrey is really an inbred bastard (literally), the rightful claimant to the throne. We learn that he's a pinch-faced, sour dude under the influence of Melisandre, a mysterious fire priestess who starts out winning the hearts of Stannis' troops with a ceremony burning idols of their current gods.
Out in the field, Ned's son Robb Stark - the would-be "King in the North" - follows a chain of victories by menacing captive Jaime Lannister with his now CGI-enhanced (read: massive) dire wolf, and sending dubious ward Theon Greyjoy to ask his father to lend his fleet of war ships to the effort. (Despite the fact that the Starks have been holding Theon hostage for most of his life).
But the episode's real "Damn, That's Creepy" moment comes north of The Wall, where Jon Snow and his brothers of the Night's Watch have journeyed to seek out his uncle, Benjen, and try to figure out what's going on with the restless wildlings and the mysterious White Walkers (think zombies on steroids).
They enlist the help of an "ally" named Craster, who tells them former watchman-turned-"King Beyond the Wall" Mance Rayder has quelled the typical feuds between the wild folks, and is gathering them all together in an army. You know ... because what this world needs right now is one more king.
Craster also has the less-than-savory habit of "marrying" the dozens of daughters that run around his cabin like felines at the crazy cat-lady's place. And what does he do with those daughter-wives? Make more daughters, of course. So, what could go wrong when a bunch of rangers who haven't seen a woman in months, or years, bunk down at a house full of young women? And what exactly happens when Craster has a son? Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, back at King's Landing, Joffrey learns the (accurate) rumor spreading that he's not Robert's rightful heir, but instead the offspring of an incestuous relationship between his mother and uncle, Jaime. He confronts Cersei, which leads to one of the episode's finer moments - a well-placed slap across the chops. (Slapping Joffrey, it turns out, is a real fan favorite on this show.)
His response? Dispatching watch captain Janos Slynt (who already betrayed Ned Stark) to slaughter every child in King's Landing who may be one of randy Robert's offspring. The most brutal? A disturbing brothel scene in which a newborn is ripped from its mother's arms before Slynt does the honors himself.
And the show closes with a shot of Gendry, the blacksmith's apprentice who may not only be Robert's son, but a trueborn son of Robert and Cersei who was believed dead, heading to The Wall with Ned's youngest daughter, Arya, who has disguised herself as a boy.
There was a lot of exposition in this opening episode. But it's not hard to see the action cranking up again quickly. What did you think - great, good or disappointing? What was your favorite scene? Let us know in the comments.
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