It has been a few years since I have read A Clash of Kings, book two of George R.R. Martin’s brilliant series. The second season of HBO’s adaptation follows the book rather closely and while the magnitude of Martin’s world has been tamed, the series has delivered. Unlike the books, the Starks’ direwolves play but a passing role and battles fought with armies of horses are now combating on foot. But even with budget limitations, the story is delivered in a real and powerful way.
It is refreshing to see speculative fiction receiving such a big stage with this series. Horror has found moderate success and one cannot ignore the popularity of Star Trek and Stargate. But I cannot think of any epic fantasy series receiving such acclaim. On the coattails of Rome and The Tudors, A Game of Thrones starts off as a period piece. Inspired by Wars of the Roses, Martin’s series at first glance appears to be mostly set in real life, albeit a completely fictional locale.
The second season is where the fantastical element of Martin’s series really starts to take off. Daenerys Targaryen travels through the barren desert to the trading city of Qarth with her three dragons and encounters dark magic in the House of the Undying. Midway through the second season, a dark shadow commits the assassination of a prominent figure. While would-be kings battle for the throne, an army of undead White Walkers approaches the wall of the north.
The brilliance in Martin’s series lies in the characters. There is no good and evil — there are just people who do good and evil things. Like real life, each character is flawed in their own way. My favorite character, Tyrion, is played flawlessly by Peter Dinklage. It is a difficult task, as Tyrion is a complex character with a sense of cunning, responsibility, and debauchery. But don’t let his indulgences or small stature fool you — he can command armies and convince kings to follow his methods.
Jack Gleeson (who plays King Joffrey) is effective in making me hate his brutal, cowardly character; Emilia Clarke (Daenerys) gets me to the edge of my seat with her bold courage in the face of danger; and Lena Headey (Queen Regent Cersei) is cold, but composed in her selfish and morally ambiguous pursuits.
What HBO’s series has done is given me the desire to read the entire series again from the beginning, but as Martin fans know, this is a game of patience. It has taken fifteen years for the first five volumes to come out and we can only hope he can write the last two books before HBO catches up with him (that gives him about four years to get the last two out). The first three books are by far the greatest in the series, but there is enough excitement still to be unraveled that I am hopeful of a complete and satisfying conclusion.