The North Remembers (Season 2, Episode 1, Game of Thrones)

1 The North RemembersDirected by Alan Taylor
Written by David Benioff, D. B. Weiss

“When Eddard Stark learned the truth, he told only me. I’ll not make the same mistake.” Stannis Baratheon

Game of Thrones Season 2 begins in a post Ned Stark and King Robert Baratheon world. There are multiple players jockeying for the throne on the basis of either birthright or fitness to rule. Power and truth hang in the balance, and with winter coming, the stakes are high and the margins for error are very thin for all of the characters in the seven kingdoms.

But what is the truth? It’s a question that multiple characters wrestle with in ‘The North Remembers’.

Everyone is aware that the political climate is uncertain with war looming, but nature’s climate change is also looming, “winter is coming” and as we hear at the Small Council meeting, there is only enough grain to feed the population through five years. If winter lasts any longer, there will be famine. Nature has manifested another surprise in a red comet blazing across the sky – whether it is harbinger of good fortunes or bad, no one really knows.

Always loathe-able, always quotable, King Joffrey Baratheon

‘The North Remembers’ opens, appropriately, with more violent excess from King Joffrey. It is his name day and he is celebrating in his signature bloody and sadistic style by having men fight to their death. He has Sansa at his side watching, and, amazingly, young Myrcella and Tommen.

When Ser Dontos Hollard appears for his combat a bit drunk, Joffrey orders Meryn to pour a barrel of wine down Hollard’s throat. Sansa reacts with, “You can’t!” and quickly has to repair her statement to ‘you can’t because it’s unlucky to kill someone on your name day’ than to have it stand as a question of Joffrey’s authority. When Joffrey sneers that it’s superstition, the Hound backs Sansa up (no doubt saving her from physical abuse).

But it’s not until his second scene in the episode where Joffrey gives us such quotable pearls as “They put too much value on women” regarding the Starks and, commenting on his own paternal and maternal grandfather, Lord Tywin Lannister, “My grandfather’s stupidity in the field of battle is the reason Robb Stark has Uncle Jaime in the first place.” Oh, what I would give to see Joffrey share this opinion within earshot of Tywin!

Last season, Lord Varys asked Ned Stark, “What madness led you to tell the Queen you’d learned the truth about Joffrey’s birth?” The truth is a razor sharp sword. Stannis Baratheon has penned and distributed multiple copies of a document (the scene where he dictates the letter is pretty funny), which announces that since Joffrey (and Myrcella and Tommen) are the children of Cersei and Jaime Lannister (not Robert Baratheon) Joffrey is not the rightful heir to the throne. With Robert having no legitimate heir, Stannis is next in line.

The message has reached Joffrey, and he let’s Cersei know that he knows.

When Ned Stark and Jon Arryn were investigating, the proof that Joffrey was not Robert’s son was that every one of Robert’s bastards had black hair (“the seed is strong”). Now someone else is picking up the trail, visiting all of Robert’s illegitimate children with horrific results.

“Loyal service means telling hard truths.” Maester Cressen

We are introduced to characters at Dragonstone, meeting Stannis Baratheon for the first time, as well as the short-lived Maester Cressen, Davos Seaworth, and Melisandre, the Red Priestess, whose mantra is the ominous “the night is dark and full of terrors.”

Maester Cressen is disturbed by the influence Melisandre has on Stannis, including convincing him to burn the statues of the Westerosi Seven Gods to signify his devotion to the Lord of Light.

Maester Cressen shares his concerns with Davos, and hopes that by sharing the ‘hard truths” with Stannis he may reject Melisandre. Davos has a more realistic view of how open Stannis would be to such advice and replies, “What’s the truth?”

Melisandre’s influence is more powerful than Maester Cressen’s and her magic is stronger. Willing to die in order to share a poisoned cup of wine with her, Melisandre drinks deeply of the cup without the deadly result Maester Cressen endures.

Truth is part of the discussion between Tyrion and Shae as well. He warns her to be careful, that no one must know that she is in King’s Landing. Tyrion comments that everyone here is a liar: many good liars, and a handful that are exceptionally good liars. When Shae teases him, Tyrion responds that he is “a slave to the truth.” Shae responds, “Truth? You’re the biggest little liar I’ve ever met.”

Even Cersei and Lord Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger) discuss the truth. Cersei wants Baelish to find Arya Stark. When Cersei jabs at him about his humble beginnings and his self-made-man success in accomplishing everything he desired except winning Catelyn Tully Stark’s heart, Baelish snaps back saying that growing up in the same house “awkward situations arise. Even brothers and sisters develop certain affections” and the simple truth that knowledge is power.

Three victories are better than three defeats

Tyrion has laid out the truth of the Lannister’s position to Cersei, “Do you understand we’re losing?” It’s the reason Tywin has sent Tyrion to serve as the Hand. Cersei asks Tyrion how he tricked Tywin into making such a move. Tyrion is amused by the idea noting “If I were capable of tricking father I’d be emperor of the world by now.”

Tyrion lays out the beginnings of a strategy, noting that “our enemies hate each other almost as much as they hate us” and it gives some light as to how Tyrion will approach the political situation they find themselves in while Tywin leads the battle effort.

On the other side of the battle, Robb Stark makes some moves to strengthen his position, sending the captured Alton Lannister back to King’s Landing offering peace if the Lannister’s meet his terms of releasing Sansa and Arya; return Ned’s remains along with the remains of everyone of the Stark household that went to King’s Landing, and renounce their claim to dominion of the North. Well aware that they will reject his offer, he’s buying time so that he can dispatch Catelyn to Renly’s camp to propose joining forces.

Further reading:

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Watch along with me:  Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season