Game of Thrones' cast may be the largest on television, but most of the second season was filled with characters wandering aimlessly or shut in rooms for intense one-on-one yammering between sworn enemies and/or close family members, who were sometimes one and the same.
As the potential rulers clashed, oblivious to the dangers of the coming winter and the monsters of the North, the HBO epic's second season felt like a rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic, only to find after the frenzied deck redecorating all the chairs wound up exactly where they began.
There were so many plots and clashes this season, maybe this is not one game of thrones but a tournament. So let’s fill out the bracket sheet and see who's ahead in the second round.
The Lannisters still rule Westeros. Danenerys Targaryen is stuck in Essos as her dragons grow. Robb Stark is winning his side of the Westeros wars. Stannis Baratheon is still a man without a throne or a sense of humor. The Stark children are scattered to the winds, and Arya is still cooler than her older brothers.
Tyrion Lannister is the smartest and most underappreciated guy in any room. And the Night’s Watch army is wandering the land north of the Wall searching for a clue as to what the hell is going on up there.
Only in the final minutes of the last episode did ever-a-sidekick Samwell Tarly find that clue in the shape of a massive zombie horde and White Walker, zombie-horse-riding masters.
Nevertheless, there were so many plots and clashes this season, maybe this is not one game of thrones but a tournament. So let’s fill out the bracket sheet and see who's ahead in the second round.
Renly Baratheon vs. Stannis Baratheon
Besides fighting each other, the brothers of dead king Robert Baratheon were both involved with fertility plots. In a quest for an heir, Renly was lying back and thinking of Westeros as he attempted to impregnate boyfriend Loras Tyrell’s sister. Meanwhile, sex on a giant map with weird Red Priestess Melisandre conceived for Stannis a magical shadow baby who grew up fast and killed Renly.
I’ll miss you Renly. Your bedroom-comedy scenes were some of the only few minutes of fun we got early in the season.
Robb Stark vs. Tywin Lannister
Tywin was fighting two fronts this season, which gave Robb the edge initially; however, since viewers only saw the back end of some skirmishes, we’ll have to take the show’s word for this win.
Stannis Baratheon vs. Joffrey Baratheon
King Joffrey, bastard son of Queen Cersei and her twin brother Jaime, won this seasons' sole spectacular on-screen battle, the Battle of Blackwater. The psychopathic and idiotic Joffrey took the glory for himself but won this round only thanks to his uncle Tyrion’s brains, his grandfather Tywin’s army, and an angry and grieving Loras Tyrell.
Theon Greyjoy vs. Bran and Rickon Stark
Winner: Brothers Stark
Theon managed to bash down the doors and take Winterfell, using only his twin weapons of massive daddy issues and low self esteem. Yet by the end Bran, Rickon and their dire wolves made it out alive while Theon got hit over the head and shoved in a sack by his own men. My theory is that one day my favorite, 6-year-old Rickon, will vanquish all these other drama queens and kings and rule Westeros with his iron nut-cracking fist.
Danenerys Targaryen vs. Plotlessness
Winner: Dany by a dragon’s breath
Dany spent half the season wandering around the desert and the other half looking for a ride to Westeros and turning down marriage proposals. Somewhere in the middle she must have made time for a spa day because her hair is perfect once more. After her baby dragons were kidnapped, she wandered around a hallucinogenic tower, did battle with some magician monks, shoved her double-crossing potential fiancé to his empty treasure vault, and took all his goldware. Plotlessness lies bleeding and defeated in her wake.
Whores vs. Cartographers
Winner: Whores, because maps don’t exist in Westeros except as tables for conceiving shadow babies.
I understand HBO doesn’t have the money to stage a Blackwater-sized battle every episode, but I’d trade one or all scenes of the girls from Littlefinger’s best little whorehouse in Westeros for five minutes of Robb or Tywin talking to advisors while pushing model soldiers across a map. I’m beginning to resent having to consult the HBO online guide just to know where characters are located or what battles have been waged off-screen.
Tyrion Lannister vs. Ennui
Winner: Tyrion, by a nose.
Once Ned Stark died and Sean Bean exited the show, Game of Thrones became the property of Peter Dinklage and his Tyrion Lannister. The character’s intellect and the actor’s prowess were sometimes the only bit of light in each dark episode populated by some very unpleasant characters. He makes wading through the endless palace intrigue and wars worth it for those of us who want more zombie hordes, dragons, and dire wolves in our War of the Roses reenactments.
But by the last episode even Tyrion’s sword sharp wit has dulled by the direness of this game. I know your pretty, pretty snarking face has been scarred, but don’t let the bastards drive you down, Tyrion. You're still the only one having fun in this muddy mess.
Jon (Dead Ned’s bastard) Snow vs. A Hell of a Lot of Snow
While Season Two remained tightly focused on the players in the game, the real threat north of the wall was shrouded in snowy mystery until the final few minutes. A former night’s watchman has declared himself king of the Wildlings but he stayed annoyingly off-screen the whole season. Finally a blizzard brought in proof that the show’s promise that "winter is coming" is indeed a threat.
Good luck to the ice zombie hordes as they move up to the third round of the Game of Thrones. I'm rooting for the defeated cartographers to draw them a map straight to Joffrey’s brain.