*This post contains spoilers for Episode 2 of HBO’s Game of Thrones. If you haven’t yet seen the episode, go watch it and then come back and read!
Last week, the first episode of Game of Thrones provided a foundation layer of exposition. The second episode, The Kingsroad, built upon last week’s setup and drove us further toward the series’ central plot.
Although the second half of the episode showcased a good amount of action, the first half was still very character-driven. Anyone who’s read A Game of Thrones knows the characterization is rich. However, for television, a good source book is not nearly enough. Great TV-from-literature requires world-class actors to breathe life into the pages, or else viewers will not believe what they see. Fortunately, Game of Thrones delivers this in certain abundance.
For a first example, let’s look at Catelyn Stark. As a reader it took me a long time to warm to her. But I’ve been behind Michelle Fairley’s Cat since day one. Her attitude toward Jon still hurts to watch, but she has grounded the character in a way I never sensed in the books. She is earthy and real and more than anything, she loves her family. Seeing her grab the assassin’s knife sealed my “I like Cat” decree with a big hot waxy direwolf seal and sent it out for all the world to read. This woman will not take any crap, and I admire her for it.
Peter Dinklage of course also stands out. He gives us so many sides of Tyrion it’s impossible to not find something to like. Drunk Tyrion wakes up with the dogs in a funny scene that soon turns sour when his nephew, Prince Joffrey, arrives. We then get a sense of which way Tyrion’s moral compass points as he TRIPLE SLAPS* Joff for not wanting to offer condolences to the Starks about Bran’s tragedy. Later on, Tyrion morphs into the fun, playful uncle with Tommen and Myrcella while simultaneously utilizing all his snark to combat his sister’s condescension. Not too long after that we see intellectual Tyrion with his books, and realistic, “face-the-facts” Tyrion when he tells Jon about the sorts of men that take the black. With this many personas, even a good actor could get befuddled with regards to his character’s true identity. But not Dinklage. He connects all of Tyrion’s roles with a depth and spirit that bring an ironic sense of grandness to the character no matter where he finds himself.
From the moment I saw Arya, Maisie Williams has been a revelation. Last night, she finally got her time to shine. First we see her goodbye with Jon, a bittersweet scene lightly peppered with comic relief (thanks in part to Nymeria). Later, Maisie lets us glimpse Arya’s core when she saves Mycah from Joffrey; as she stands over Joff and the sun shines in her eyes, we readers can briefly see all that Arya is and will become. She shows great maturity in the heart-breaking scene in which she scares away Nymeria to save her. And to complete her work, she offers the best dirty look to Cersei after witnessing Lady’s unfortunate sentence.
I don’t want to speak too much of Lady (or Mycah) because I may weep, but I do also want to mention Sophie Turner’s skill in this episode. For me, both book Sansa and show Sansa float around in their own little world. Everything is rainbows and castles and pretty white knights on pretty white stallions. Even when Sansa hurts, I never imagine her angry, but weepy. So I was definitely not expecting Sansa to give us a truly moving fit of rage in the scene before Lady’s execution. Sophie played it beautifully, and I was right in there with her shouting at Cersei, because Lady didn’t bite anyone, and Lady was good.
These few examples serve to highlight only a few of the many wonderful performances in Game of Thrones. With so much relying on the characters, incredible acting is key. Neither this episode nor the premiere were perfect. But that’s okay, because we’ve met characters we can truly care about (or despise, CERSEI THAT’S YOU), a feat possible due to the way in which they’ve been brought to life. Regardless of what happens once we get into the heavy plot of the season, nothing will matter if our relationships with the characters are not strong and solid.
*TRIPLE SLAP could have irrationally been my favorite moment of the episode. This may sound sadistic as Joffrey is only a child, but I’m not sure anything in A Song of Ice and Fire provides me with more satisfaction than seeing Joffrey treated like the vile toad he is (that’s actually an insult to toads everywhere).