When I began watching Game of Thrones last year, I had never read the books, I had no idea what the series would offer and I was still feeling odd about Sean Bean being the 'star' of anything. As the Second Season began, things had changed. Now I was reading the final George R R Martin book, Dance with Dragons, having torn through the preceding tomes, and I was looking forward to watching how HBO's writers and directors would deal with the level of complexity the books present. I had also the novel feeling of missing Sean Bean.
The HBO series proves to be consistently better than the books. It cuts through Martin's meandering plotting, gets rid of the flab that gives the books both a sense of the epic while at the same time an aimlessness. Martin can be forgiven, having invented such a compelling fictional universe, for wanting to linger there and explore all corners regardless of the needs of the narrative. This is one of his indulgences. Another is his endless descriptions of what people are eating, something he has no doubt picked up from Dickens, or perhaps the historical novelist par excellence, Patrick O'Brian. Perversely, by narrowing its focus, the HBO series seems more epic. Its characters are involved more as they take over roles that are given to subsidiary characters in the book. Geography feels more centred. Geography in the series is actually climate. We know where we are by the weather: balmy King's Landing, arid Qarth, the frozen North and the wet midlands. One could be forgiven for thinking this all simple minded: does Jon Snow have any choice but to go to the Frozen North? But visually it works well. We always know where we are, despite the sprawl of the story.
The big introduction of this year has been Stannis, Robert's elder brother and the rightful heir to the throne. An unprepossessing mixture of religious fanatic and pedantic grammarian, he is a good argument against the hereditary principle. But there are no straight forward goodies and baddies. Joffrey is an easily (gloriously) hateable character but Tyrion is in his camp and he is by far the most likeable of the bunch (Peter Dinklage gets top billing now, having won several awards for his work in the first season). The character who has changed the most is Theon Greyjoy, who in pursuit of his father's approval, betrays his old wards. Other characters have spent the season travelling in relatively straight lines. Danys, Jon Snow, Robb, Catlyn, Arya, Joffrey, Cersei and Tyrion all end the second season, a little further on from where they began it, but the in-between stuff, the violence, sex and the wonderful dialogue which sometimes represent short stories, mini-plays all on their own--is what makes this such compelling television.
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.