Game of Thrones: "The North Remembers"

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So, where were we?

At the end of the first season of Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin's epic blood and breast-laden tale of royal succession, supernatural threats and -- oh yeah -- dragons, things weren't looking good for House Stark. Eddard, family patriarch and former Hand of the King, was beheaded, leaving one daughter (Sansa) betrothed to nasty King Joffrey (who gave the execution order), and the other (Arya) moving north disguised as a boy with recruits for the Night's Watch. Eldest son Robb has been declared "King in the North" by his bannermen, while bastard Jon Snow has gone with the Night's Watch beyond the Wall to confront the undead Others.

And Daenerys's eggs hatched in Khal Drogo's funeral pyre, so now she has three -- count 'em, three -- dragons.

Last night's season premiere introduced a few new characters, all embroiled in the dispute over the rightful claim to the Iron Throne of Westeros. Be prepared for plenty of death, sex and bad things happening to good characters (though, to be fair, bad things tend to happen to everybody).

And because it bears repeating: While I have read the five (so far) books in Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series, there will be no future spoilers in these recaps. If you leave any comments revealing upcoming events, your comments will be deleted, you will be blocked from posting, and Shagga son of Dolf will cut off your manhood (or XX-chromosome equivalent) and feed it to the goats.

The first thing you notice, from the trademark cool opening credits, is the addition of Dragonstone, seat of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), one of four current contenders (five if you count Daenerys) for the throne. We'll get to him later.

It won't come as much of a shock, but King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) is still a shit. He presides over his Name Day celebration and there's little enough to note, except for Sansa (Sophie Turner) saving the life of one Ser Dontos, who makes the mistake of showing up drunk to the tournament. She convinces Joffrey to make him a fool instead of drowning him in wine. It's something, and small consolation to the probably 50 other dudes he put to death for one reason or another.

A white raven has arrived in King's Landing from the Citadel, signifying the end of summer. Littlefinger notifies them they have perhaps five years' worth of grain, which -- going by the traditional reckoning (long summers traditionally mean longer winters) -- won't last them long enough. Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) shows up to assume the role of Hand, per father Tywin's instructions, and also to "bring the boy to heel." Cersei doesn't take the news well.

At Winterfell, Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and Maester Luwin are doing their best to hold councils. That is, when Bran's not dreaming(?) he's in the body of his direwolf, Summer. Osha the captured wildling is savvy to these dreams. and also notes the now omnipresent red comet signifies the reappearance of dragons.

This is our cue to bop over to Essos and see how Dany (Emilia Clarke) and the dragons are doing. Not well. Her meager khalasar is on the verge of starvation and she can't seem to figure out how to feed her new babies, so she sends her three bloodriders searching for...well, anything. She also seems especially fond of Rakharo. Maybe she has a type.

The Dothraki still look like a bunch of LARP-ers, not Mongols with the serial numbers filed off. I thought they'd squeezed more money out of HBO this season.

North of the Wall, the Watch has passed through six eerily abandoned villages to come to the home of Craster, a...pleasant fellow who marries his daughters and has them bear more daughters. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) pointedly asks what happens to his sons. I'm sure that'll come up later. Craster tells Lord Mormont the villagers have left to join Mance Rayder, a former brother of the Watch who's creating an army to march on the south.

Next, on to Dragonstone. where local maester Cressen is protesting the burning of the statues of the Seven Westerosi gods by Melisandre, the Red Priestess (Carice Van Houten). Melisandre worships the Lord of Light, who prophesied the coming of a great warrior who will bear a burning sword. Finally, we get a look at Stannis Baratheon, middle brother to Robert and Renly (who's also declared himself king). And look, there's even a burning blade on hand.

Cressen and another new guy -- Davos (Liam Cunningham) -- debate their next move. Davos is apparently loyal to a fault. Cressen...not so much. At the meeting where Stannis drafts the letter he plans to send to "every corner of the Seven Kingdoms" declaring Joffrey and his siblings the product of incest, Cressen attempts to poison Melisandre, which backfires and Cressen dies. I'm converting.

There's also a nice exchange between Robb (Richard Madden) and POW Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), punctuated by Robb sending Grey Wind in to make Jaime pee his pants. Okay, maybe not, but it's somewhat gratifying to see the direwolves returning so prominently. Robb sends an envoy to the Lannisters with frankly ridiculous terms, while Theon has an alternative proposition: Robb could send him to his father Balon to rally him (and his boats) to their cause. Catelyn isn't happy about bringing the elder Greyjoy into this (he led a rebellion some years earlier, recall, which is why Theon's a "ward" of the Starks). Robb, in the meanwhile, wants her to go treat with Renly, who has some powerful allies (the Tyrells, the Tarlys) and an army 100,000 strong to back up his claim.

Tyrion has (surprise) defied daddy by bringing Shae (Sibel Kekilli) to King's Landing. He warns her not to let anyone know she's there. Instructions which, given the vast network of informers in the city, are probably useless.

Cersei (Lena Headey) and Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) discuss the whereabouts of Arya. She would like him to look into her absence, and when he shows reticence, she gives him a little demonstration on the true meaning of power.

The final sequence finds the City Watch, by orders of Cersei, scouring King's Landing for Robert's bastards, which includes one rather unpleasant scene wherein Commander Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter) kills that baby girl Ned found in season one.

Season two started off with a bang, which is gratifying for folks who may have been worried about a letdown. Producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have a lot to work with in Martin's second book, and while readers might notice the truncating of several storylines and the merging of minor characters' actions, there should still be plenty of medieval intrigue, sex and violence to go around.

If I had any complaints, it's (once again) the chintziness of the Dothraki scenes and the lack of Arya (Maisie Williams). This looks to be rectified next week, as Gendry's former master has given his last known location to Slynt, and Cersei's unlikely to allow Robert's oldest bastard slip out of her grasp, whether he's bound for the Wall or not.

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