The end of the Game - until next spring

Okay, the second season of Game of Thrones on HBO is over, freeing up an hour of my time on Sunday nights to do...something else. At least until another HBO show comes along to claim my attention. It won't be True Blood which takes the time slot next Sunday. Not my cup of blood - er, tea.

I had wondered how the writers were going to manage to squeeze all of the remaining action of the book into one episode and the answer was, they didn't. This season the writers and directors made significant changes to the stories of many of the characters. Moreover, some characters and several of the events of the book were dropped altogether. I suppose at least some of that was necessary to fit the time frames allowed by ten one-hour episodes. Which brings up another point. The books they are dramatizing are very, very long, and I really would like to see them expand the seasons a bit more, maybe to twelve episodes, so that there is a bit more time to spend on each character's story. But I suppose there is something to be said for leaving your viewers wanting more.

There's a lot of discussion today in the blogs that follow the series about who the winners and losers among the characters were this season. Obviously, the biggest loser was Renly, since he's now dead. Probably the second biggest loser, at least for the moment, was Tyrion, injured in the Battle of the Blackwater and all his power as Hand wrenched from him by the triumphant return of his father. Or you could make a case for Stannis as the second biggest loser since he actually lost the big battle, along with his fleet and much of his army, and has had to retreat to his stony castle.

Winners? Well, Tywin Lannister, of course. The Tyrell family which has now cast its lot with the triumphant Lannisters and will marry their widowed daughter Margaery to King Joffrey (and what a prize that is!). Robb Stark continues to be undefeated on the field of battle. Arya has escaped her captivity with a little help from Jaqen H'Ghar, a man of Braavos.

But for my money, the biggest winner of the season (and I must admit my opinion may be colored by the fact that I have read all the books) is Danaerys Targaryen.  Danaerys' story may be the one most drastically changed by the series dramatists, but even though the events are different, the arc of the story remains true to the Dany of the books. At the end of season two, she has regained her dragons and enough loot to buy a ship. Her prospects are definitely looking up.

The riveting thing about George R.R. Martin's stories is not the swashbuckling or the dragons or the magic or the bloodletting. The riveting thing is the characters themselves and the constant choices which they must make. They then suffer the consequences or reap the benefits of those choices. There is an internal logic and an integrity to the individual stories, regardless of all the hocus pocus of magic and cultic religious beliefs that are integral to their telling. The outcomes may be as infinitely variable as human nature itself, but looking back from the vantage point of the end of book five, A Dance With Dragons, it seems to me that events happened much as they should have, given the choices made.

Though I found some of the changes made in season two discombobulating, the series has stayed true to Martin's overall themes of power and its uses (and abuses) and of the clash between personal loyalty and one's community obligations. And that is why, I think, it was a very satisfying, if extremely short, season, and why I will be looking forward to season three. A Storm of Swords, the third book in the series, was, for me at least, the best of the five. It'll be very interesting to see how the television people handle it.


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