In almost every instance, I'm a book girl first, adaptation fan second. It's been a long-standing tradition of mine to visit the original source material for the main course, and then follow up with a nice movie or TV show dessert. But I came to "Game of Thrones" long after the final episode aired last season, when I happened on it On Demand the day after Christmas. I'd been meaning to watch it, but I wanted to read the books first (I owned the first two already, so I had no excuse). But tempted by boredom and the lure of episodes in crystal-clear HD, I decided "what the hell?" and watched anyway. And watched… and watched with a fervent interest reserved for my favorite things in the world; terse television and pretty people in dirty garb fighting and having sex. I was in trouble.
And now, having seen the first two episodes of season two, I can say the formulaic catch-hold that brought me in with those first twelve episodes is just as alive as before. Whether you watch simply for the fantasy elements – like direwolves and dragons – or are more interested in the family politics and historical resemblance to the England of Long Ago, the first episode of "Game of Thrones" season two, "The North Remembers," is a tasting plate of all the goods the show has to offer. We're catapulted into Westeros, the fictional world created by author George R. R. Martin, like we've never left; on the brink of a country-encompassing war and in the middle of a bloody saga with no happy ending in sight.
We pick up in King's Landing, with the smuggest little creep this side of the Wall: Joffrey Baratheon, the blonde and obnoxious, happy as a clam watching a jousting match aside his betrothed, Sansa Stark. Never mind that the newly minted King Joffrey murdered Sansa's father in a brutal display of power late last season. She spits out pledges against her father to the king's new hand, his uncle Tyrion Lannister (the now top-billed Peter Dinklage). Tyrion is back and quippier than ever (he marks his entrance with the line: "Death is so boring, especially now with so much excitement in the world."), and his position as Hand is sure to bring delight, given how much he truly loathes his nephew. But poor Sansa, tethered to the family that wish only to destroy her own. She's perhaps the most sympathetic and tragically distraught character on the show, which is saying a lot, given how tragically distraught most people in Westeros are.
Joffrey's mother, Cersei, somehow creeps her way into my list of favorites after this premiere, now that we see just how irrelevant her role in the kingdom is now that her husband is dead and her evil bastard son is reigning supreme. Joffrey is quick to put her in her place when she slaps him for bringing up Robert's bastard children. It's strange to see her shoved to the sidelines, and her power struggle is one of the things I'm most looking forward to this season, especially after her exchange with the always conniving Petyr Baelish. "Knowledge is power," he tells her during a spat about the whereabouts of the missing Arya Stark. "Power is power," Cersei spits back.
Cersei's actions appear to be the driving force behind the episode's brutal end, when the deaths of all of Robert's bastard children are ordered. It serves as a stakes-raising capper to a shrill intro episode, proving once again that "Game of Thrones" is no "Lord of the Rings" copycat. Try imagining a world where baby killings and Hobbiton exist in the same sphere. Bet you can't.