I know the following can leave the impression that the author is either overly inspired by Game of Thrones, or too crazy. Don't get me wrong - the second season of the show is still full of problems, far from the perfection of other HBO classics like The Sopranos, The Wire and Deadwood (or the ongoing Boardwalk Empire). However, along the countless faults and miscalculations (wrong casting decisions, at times unbearable overacting, story-lines that are either too dense or too diluted, strange deviations from the source material, compromised battle scenes, horrifying musical score...) there are glimpses of true inspiration throughout the season. Even when Game of Thrones stumbles, it is still a colossal TV event. Below are 50 of those particular glimpses. The order is not completely random, but with the exception of the first place, it should be not taken too seriously. Enjoy!
Many thanks to Beast and Roland, who helped me to put together the English translation.
50. What's that smell? - Dead people
Harenhall. Quite an impressive matte painting. The stone melting under dragon fire is left to our imagination, because... because this is the way it's written. No TV-fantasy could do such a destruction justice. The horror of this place is perfectly matched by the horror in the scenes to come.
49. The slash of Tyrion
Despite how badly the battle at Blackwater is handled towards the end, there is still a nice attempt at atmospheric sound mixing and POV-cinematography, somehow making Tyrion's fall, Cersei's little drama and the entrance of Tyvin affecting.
48. I, Robot
Just pick a random scene with Brienne. The character and acting are so absurd, that at some point they become cute. What I really like about Brienne, is that despite the awkward appearance, she is much more feminine than the other viragoes in the show. It must be her voice, or her tendency toward theatricality and hysteria. I really have no idea...
47. A very small man can cast a very large shadow
Varys glamors Tyrion. As always, a performance so toadying, that it makes you feel like taking a shower immediately after the scene.
46. Robb's wedding
I don't really care if Robb's crush on Dr. Quinn drags most of the time; or if it represents inaccurately the events from the book; or where this story-ark will go the next season. I only care that this vow somehow carries the right mood. As simple as it is, this is a real fairytale, dressed in real fairytale words.
45. Uniquely unfit for constraints
Pity there is not enough of this Jaime - devious, cunning and cruel. Facing Catelyn later on he hits her where it hurts the most. She can only blink and grind her teeth when the topic is "cheating husband making bastards".
44. Two quick deaths
Brienne deals efficiently with some scouts, sent by her former employer in front of a stunned Jaime. Most importantly though - it all happens under the swinging corpses of three women.
43. Valar Morghulis
The Jaqen-Arya connection sometimes works, sometimes it doesn't. The ending is great though - it could be because of the opening with the disappearing Jaqen, or it could be the golden light of the setting sun... I don't know.
42. Bran is alive
Osha and Luwin talk quietly about how Bran should never know the farmer's children were burned because of him. The camera slowly faces Bran, the sad Winterfell theme starts playing and we understand that he knows. I always liked those nice transitions to the end credits (Rome was full of them, why Thrones doesn't do them more often?)
41. The Drunken Cersei
It seems Lena Headey is more tolerable when intoxicated, spilling out words of wisdom in the face of the nearly fainting Sansa. In those circumstances, yet another fake display of loyalty to Joffrey seems a bit too much, and Cersei loses it:
Sansa: You were Robert's queen...
Cersei: And you'll be Joffrey's. Enjoy!
There are moments when this woman really nails it - rarely, but she does.
40. Stanis' fleet emerges from the fog
The opening long shot is not bad at all, especially when it ends in a bowl full of vomit. It's like the place was the shores of Normandy instead of King's Landing, and the time was D-day instead of B-night.
39. The fart of Rennick
Technically speaking, this shot should have been in Top 3 of the most ridiculous excuses for not showoing battle scenes in Game of Thrones. Last season this budget-saving anti-cinematic tool was called "Tyrion's migraine", in this one it's "Rennick's fart". On the other hand, this is yet another anal exhalation in the face of the typical fantasy epic [and, as a bonus, it contains a few bursts of clever jokes in the face of Renly], so the actual place of this scene is in this Top 50.
38. The dumbest cunt alive
Alan Taylor really knows how to start an episode - with a bag of slaughtered crows. Then Yara comes in Winterfell to ask her brother if he struggled more with the cripple or with the 6 year old (in front of a quite large audience, of course). After this humiliation, a dramatic turn happens: the irony disappears with the audience, being replaced by a touching brother-sister conversation. In the wrong hands this scene could have become awfully fake. Here however, both the actors and the director flawlessly carry all the drama all the way. "Don't die so far from the sea..." Sure - that's why I love this series so much.
37. Melisandre conceives Stannis' son
Eva Green would kill as a redheaded fire priestess, but what we have is not bad either. Our attention here is captured not only by the nice pair of tits, but mostly by Stannis' look - full of quiet madness, wandering and focused at the same time. Oxymorons much? Maybe, but that's the definition of "perfect casting".
36. The bells are ringing
They ring for horror, a dead king, a city under siege... A wedding... "Exactly" - says Varys. Along with so much doom and gloom his dialogue with Tyrion is sparkling. Bravo Martin!
35. Tyrion vs. Cersei, part I
Despite the fake British accent and hyperactive eyebrows being a sad constant in this (and every other) scene between Tyrion and Cersei, it's also a prime example of the spontaneous brilliance in Benioff/Weiss' adaptation. Tyrion's brutal wit is smashed in a matter of seconds by the very same Cersei, who several episodes later (and one scene below) will show herself again as a mentally-challenged hen. Extraordinary dynamics.
34. Tyrion vs. Cersei, part II
Schemes and plots are the same thing! So much coolness in only 4 feet (and some change)...
33. Tyrion vs. Cersei, part III
Apparently, since a vagina is blossoming between her legs instead of a hanging cock, Cersei comes to the conclusion that she can checkmate her brother. The joy of yet another scene, featuring her missing the boat completely (not without plenty of self-confidence in this particular case) and showing herself as being dumb as fuck, is guaranteed. Too bad Dinklage is a disaster in the next few minutes with Shae.
32. Tyrion vs. Lancel
Oh, Lancel, tell my friend Bronn to please kill you if anything should happen to me... And a kick in the ass.
31. Sansa - First blood
Just woken up from a nightmare about a rape, Sansa falls into another one. Her first bleeding means that she is finally ripe enough to start producing Joffrey's clones - the blond princes with blue eyes she so passionately dreamed of. Shae tries to cover the spots, but – fuck! - The Hound (ironically her savior an episode ago) smells where the blood is. And then comes the cynical Cersei: "Shouldn't I love King Joffrey?" - "You can try, little dove..." The woman knows her little spawn quite well.
30. The Red Comet
Putting a red stain on the sky is not that difficult, but the very idea to raise it up to a tying link between the scenes in the entire first half of the episode is actually great. Not to mention the constant ominous feeling that only bad things can happen in Westeros.
29. Daenerys sends her scouts
The attention stealer here is the little dragon on her shoulder. The in-the-face CG in these series is scarce, considering the genre, but it's always extremely well done. Of course, Emilia Clarke is still a bad casting choice, but in this particular scene she somehow conveys the necessary mix of uncertainty and almost ridiculous confidence in her success. It's amazing what a pair of dry lips can do.
28. One of Daenerys' scouts is coming back
More precisely - his head. The horse is painted red, the plait is cut, the music is adequate. In other words: the drama works. And two episodes later, the entrance of Daenerys in the civilized world begins with this shot (pity I can't post it in motion):
(Speaking about entrances - Clarke is horrific at the gates of Qarth. One of the exemplary moments of truly bad acting in the series. Shame on her.)
27. Two and a Half Man
The show rarely relies on such obvious cinematic tools (the editing in this case), but here they work nicely as the most economical way of presenting Tyrion's search for the rat. The best part is saved for the end:
Tyrion: "Cut off his [Pycelle's] manhood and feed it to the goats."
Shaga: "No goats here, Half-man."
Tyrion: "Well, make do!"
26. I want to be THE queen
Margaery is one of the best casting choices in the second season, even she wanders through the sets dressed as a flowerpot for two episodes.
25. Catelyn receives Ned's remains
With just one "Get out" Michelle Fairley compensates for the helplessness as an actress in some of the scenes to come.
24. Joffrey's nameday
This little prick decides to drown Ser Dontos in wine to celebrate his nameday. After all that happened towards the end of the previous season, it was to be expected the second one would start with a scene of mindless cruelty. (As a bonus, it demonstrates that even the third-rate characters/actors do just fine in their five minutes of fame.)
23. Renly + Loras + Margaery
Renly tries to fuck Loras (btw, Lafayette from True Blood should take notes from those to two guys, because his attempts at homosexuality are just pathetic):
Then (probably because those things can't really stay in the closet) Margaery is fucking with him ("Do you want me to call my brother to warm you up?"):
and then it ends with "You are a king." Great sequence!
22. Joffrey's present
It was about time to make Joffrey a certified sadist in the pure medical sense - a person who is turned on only by the thought of physical violence. What makes this scene really unsettling is the fact that the audience is fully aware of how the things will turn out from the very beginning. The easter egg here is that the poor whore (the one raped with a scepter) is actually the same one that Tyrion paid twice (for her troubles) in the previous episode.
21. You're just like me... only smaller
Quiet but tension-filled confrontation between Bronn and The Hound. It's a real pleasure watching those two actors together and fortunately we have one more occasion to do that later in the episode (see below).
20. Theon returns to Pyke
In about two thirds of the second episode someone fucks with Theon - the uber-ugly whore on the ship, the peasant at the wharf, his sister, who allows him to put his hand where he shouldn't, etc.
At first look his transformation from Robb's brother to а son who wants to come back home is a bit too rushed for all the seriousness it requires. On a second look though everything is just fine - all the little things that push Theon to the edge are still there, just waiting to be noticed. And Alfie Allan is just terrific walking/raiding/sailing towards the cliff with whatever the opposite of grace is. More on this subject - later.
19. Sansa and Shae
The reflection in the mirror serves as a disarming beginning of this scene, but it is consequently outshined by the unspoken understanding that blossoms between Shae and Sansa.
18. You're too smart for your own good
One of the last scenes with Arya and Tywin starts with this view through the window:
...and ends with Arya trying to outsmart the old dog. Perhaps this story-ark dragged for too long and most of the time it relied on simple stimulants for the audience ("Omg, won't Tyvin/Petyr actually recognize who is serving his wine?"). At the end it doesn't matter - the perfect chemistry between the characters can compensate for so many little problems...
17. Petyr vs. Sansa
"Look around - we're all liars here. And we are all better than you." Another hit at Sansa - more brutal than ever. Mostly because just a second ago we saw her smiling for the first time.
16. Bran + Rickon + Osha + Hodor
There is something strangely tragic in this bunch of misfits - a crippled kid, a 6-years old who never got out of his bedroom, a savage girl with where's-the-latrine? written all over her forehead, and an extra-large halfwit with a single-word dictionary. Those four are just trying to survive a little longer in a world filled with so much cruelty.
15. Bran + Rickon + Osha + Hodor
Going through the ruins of Winterfell accompanied by this tragic version of the main theme is truly heartbreaking. So is the last scene with Luwin. And the departure with the burning castle in the background. Sometimes I think that Alan Taylor should be the only person allowed to direct Game of Thrones.
14. Fuck the King!
Even dying can be a complicated thing to do in Westeros. "Any man dies with a clean sword, I'll rape his fuckin' corpse" - the growling Hound delivers probably the best battle speech ever. Then we get the usual stuff: a bloody massacre with lots of bodies cut in half. (As a really great bonus to all that we see the continuation of the tavern scene - Bronn saves The Hound's ass.) Fine. But then, amid all this fire The Hound loyalty melts and he loses it. All that is left is the hatred for Joffrey and everything that surrounds him. Fucking the king is undoubtedly the highest point in the otherwise weak battle of Blackwater
13. Theon vs. his father
The climax of Theon's fall and the moment of his ultimate choice (burning Robb's letter) are so good in both setup and performance, that the only thing preventing him from becoming a real tragic Shakespearean hero is the somehow steep gradient in his later bursts of violence.
12. Arya takes a piss
What a great beginning! The camera moves towards a squatting Arya, something rustles behind her and the sound of the stream abruptly stops. So it wasn't the stream after all... Arya looks around, puts her pants and goes back to the camp praying no one has seen that she was a little girl and not a little boy with a little weiner. Till the end of the season Alan Taylor will use once more such a wonderful crane shot with a scent of a WC.
11. The dragons are taken
Daenerys is dumbfounded by the massacre and the missing dragons, which is really not such a big deal. The hooded figure with the stretched arms, carrying the basket, is really effective though, with the music accidentally hitting the spot and the dramatically low rotating camera, revealing the tower. Fantasy in the right proportions.
10. The night is dark and full of terrors
A little bit of CG but really well executed. Pity Djawadi wrote such a boring theme for Melissandre and Stannis. Not as pitiful as the look on Renly's face in his moment of demise, though. He seems more concerned about his haircut than about his own death. What the hell is that:
Tywin enters and his horse shits almost on top of the camera. The heroic music to this moment makes everything look even more hilarious. Yet another dear-fantasy-fuck-you-very-much scene, which could have been better than it is now, only if Alan Taylor had decided to make it the opener of the episode in place of the eye of the lost Tyrion.
8. Daenerys' hallucinations
Apparently the extremely untalented Ramin Djawadi finds his inspiration when the adventures of Daenerys are in their ultimate moments (remember Fire and Blood?). Extraordinary beginning of this scene (Jora suddenly loses her) with some rather extraordinary music. Then all of the next scenes with the wandering Daenerys are a prime example of what TV fantasy should look like - not boosting grandiose special effects, but subtly creating a grandiose atmosphere. The ruined Iron Throne room under the falling snow (or dust?) is something every high-class fantasy would like to have. Even Momoa's cameo was not able to ruin this sequence. (Well, the dragon barbeque later on almost did, I have to admit...)
The most epic scene in history of TV fantasy begins with a hilarious exchange between Joffrey, The Hound, Tyrion and Lancel. Then Bronn lights up the Olympic fire and THIS happens:
"Finally!" - the fans are pleased. The most important thing, however, is that in the eyes of Tyrion and Co. one can see as much horror and awe as in those of the victims. And of course - the face of Stannis when he says "Thousands [will die, not hundreds]" is priceless!
6. Theon's speech
The best part in this joke is that till the very end the audience is actually lead to believe that Theon will pull this one off. What we have here is yet another slap in the face of LOTR-like fantasy. Well, apology accepted (for the pathetic Tyrion's speech just an episode ago).
5. The world is built by killers...
...so you'd better get used to look at them. Amazing end of The Hound's story-ark. After 10 episodes of being Joffrey's right hand, enduring silently all the abuse the inbred twerp heaps on Sansa, he finally transforms into Sandor Clegane, and self-liberated from his duties in the most brutal way (see scene 14), decides to help her get to Winterfell. The real hero in Blackwater.
4. Theon storms Winterfell
Bran is half asleep, and thinking that all this is some kind of a nasty joke. Then suddenly he realizes what is happening - this ungrateful prick, raised as a brother of his, is trying to take the castle out of the hands of a crippled 9 year old boy. Two minutes later Theon has to demonstrate his power by decapitating Ser Rodrick. He succeeds at that after 5 swings and the help with his foot. Maester Luwin is devastated by the grotesque turn of events. So are we.
3. The White Walker
So, they did it. The scene as a whole, and this specific shot in particular, seem like they're literally taken straight out of a Blizzard cinematic during their greatest times. Incredibly competent CG, with so much subtlety around the eyes, that it's hypnotizing. What better way to end the second series than this shocker?
2. Robert's bastards massacre
A scene with killer dynamics - it begins quietly and slowly in Littlefinger's brothel. Then a baby is slayed almost in front of the camera. And what follows lacks only the great music to beat the fuck out of the equivalent scene in Episode III (yes, I am looking at you, StarWars). And just when I thought this couldn't have been handled better, we cut to Arya and Gendry, escaping with Joren:
1. The Rains of Castamere
Nothing could make Game of Thrones more special than this performance by Matt Berninger. There is more soul and heart in those final credits than in the entire Blackwater episode.
- And who are you, the proud lord said,
that I must bow so low?
- Only a cat of a different coat,
- that's all the truth I know.
- In a coat of gold or a coat of red,
- a lion still has claws,
- And mine are long and sharp, my lord,
- as long and sharp as yours.
- And so he spoke, and so he spoke,
- that lord of Castamere,
- But now the rains weep o'er his hall,
- with no one there to hear.
- Yes now the rains weep o'er his hall,
- and not a soul to hear.
P.S. And finally, some more eye-candy: just a collection of nice-looking shots: