Game of Thrones Season 2

Game of Thrones Season 2
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The single most ambitious project ever brought to TV screens — that isn't produced by Steven Spielberg and rooted in America's "greatest generation," at least — really let its freak flag fly in its second season. Having sensibly paced its way through a first season, whose biggest shock was the fate of Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), it wasn't until the first season's final seconds — the reveal that mysticism, magic and, yes, dragons were real and not mere peasant superstition — that Game of Thrones started to put the magic in its brand of "magic realism." Season two is even denser, with the political intrigue and claims to the throne of Westeros. New characters like Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) muddy the waters of royal ascendance even more, while spiritual and mystical issues are foremost for Stannis's chief advisor, Melisandre (Carice van Houten), who may be a prophet and definitely births a smoke monster. At King's Landing, politicking continues apace for Tyrion, the smallest and most competent Lannister (Peter Dinklage), who not only keeps inbred nephew Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) in line, but steers the political ship of the city under siege, and then literally leads its armies into battle against Stannis in the season's heart-stopping showcase episode, "The Battle of Blackwater." At Winterfell, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) scorns his adopted Stark family, only to be rejected by his biological Iron Islands clan, making very ill-considered choices as a result. For those who've reached season two, there are fewer surprises in Game of Thrones: the narrative is dense; many bearded actors look similar and are occasionally difficult to differentiate; and the fragmented, sprawling nature of the story occasionally leads to narratively necessary but less gripping asides — Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) whining about her dragons and Jon Snow's (Kit Harrington) hot north tryst with a wildling woman, in particular. (In both cases, pieces need to be moved for George R.R. Martin's tale to progress down the road; the fact that there's not a lot of meat to these stories is only a minor annoyance given the beautiful vistas showcased in each.) The primary thrust of Game of Thrones in season two is the political forces of Robb Stark (Richard Madden) and the various other contenders to the throne, culminating in the penultimate Blackwater battle. The Blu-Ray (DVD, digital download combo) extras focus primarily on Blackwater, giving it its own feature; otherwise, with commentaries, character guides, battle plans, religious outlines and in-episode factoids, there's a near-bottomless well of extra info, satisfying the deepest Westeros nerditry. (Of course, there's some irony in having such elaborate text-based info, since most people interested enough in the religious conflicts of the land have almost certainly read all five of George R.R. Martin's novels, on which the series is based.) Game of Thrones is a beautiful achievement — essentially a giant ten-hour fantasy epic every year, with remarkable production values and visual impact, filmed in Ireland, Iceland, Croatia and elsewhere. From the performances to the set design, the narrative breadth and the subtle nuance, it's filmmaking — not just television — at a very, very high level. (Warner)