One blast for rangers returning. Two blasts for wildlings. Three for White Walkers...
With the final, ominous horn season 2 of Game of Thrones on HBO came to an end in thrilling fashion, leaving us with a taste of the prologue to A Storm of Swords, my favorite book of the series. Between the music, CGI of the Other/its steed, the shambling White Walkers, and Sam's cowering, it was one of the strongest scenes in the entire season for me. I immediately started reading Swords again this morning.
I've seen a lot of complaints on forums and Facebook threads about how season 2 strayed from A Clash of Kings more than season 1 strayed from A Game of Thrones, ruining its faithfulness, but I found the changes did not alter the overall story. In some cases, I thought the changes enhanced it. In particular, the scenes with Arya Stark and Tywin Lannister were enjoyable. Dany's stolen dragons added mystery and intrigue to a rather bland story. If HBO followed book 2, she would have spent most of the season sitting in the desert, thinking, making sad faces. Plus, it gave viewers an early glimpse of the type of untrustworthy, downright despicable people she's going to face off against while trying to build her army and return to Westeros.
There were a couple plots in the novels merely hinted at or insinuated that HBO decided to show rather than tell: Renly's homosexual affair, Stannis and Melisandre's affair, Margarey's desires to be queen. None of this was shown in the books, but it was heavily hinted upon through dialogue. Many readers griped...I found the stories interesting.
That's not to say I adored all the changes. Early in the season I did grumble a bit about the appearance of the white raven, which might lessen a jaw-dropping scene that occurs in book 5, A Feast for Crows. I also felt, at times, the Hound, Varys, and the Mountain, especially the Mountain, did not get enough time, while we saw an overdose of Cersei. I don't know if it was due to casting or something HBO has planned for season 3, which will split A Storm of Swords into two seasons, but the Mountain is a very influential character that went ignored. I can't recall a single scene he was in during season 2. It's understandable that they shortened and altered some of Arya's tale, but to exclude a villain such as the Mountain was a head-scratcher to say the least, most notably standing in the background when he should be out of King's Landing, butchering and pillaging.
Also, Ros is one of those added characters I could do without. Yes, she's pretty, the actress is good at her job, and offered at least one interesting scene with Joffrey, but any random "whore" from Little Finger's brothels would have sufficed. There was truly no need for her to ever leave Winterfell or be seen again, especially when the brothels and Joffrey's sadomasochism are mere character development, not a cornerstone of the story. Her inclusion also lessened the allotted time that could have been devoted to expanding the relationship between Sansa and the Hound, the Halfhand and Jon Snow, or further developing any number of important characters.
As a side note, HBO's portrayal of Littlefinger has often left me curious in what direction they are taking him. During season 2, he was very sporadic, emotional, blundering, apparently violent according to Ros' scene with Varys in the finale...unlike his calm, calculative, sly persona in the books. This is one character HBO needs to fix. Like Varys, he's a manipulator, a guy behind the scenes. His intellect should be on par with Varys and Tyrion, especially because he was cast so well. We should always be questioning what Littlefinger is plotting, guessing about his allegiance, not watching him spill his guts to Caitlyn or show his hand to Sansa (I really hated what he said to her in the finale).
The exclusion of the Reeds, Freys, Stannis' daughter and wife, and Ramsay Bolton irked me yet was understandable. For people that have not read the books, there was already a ton of character introductions. It does give me comfort that all the characters I just mentioned will be brought to the story in season 3. They are currently being cast, and splitting up the novels within separate seasons is a promising move by HBO; it should give the writers room to be more faithful and take their time, rather than cram 1,000 pages of nuances into 10 hours. After all, this will probably be the only adaptation of the Song of Fire and Ice Series--it's best to get it right.
My limited highlights of season 2, in no particular order, were Yoren's conversation with Arya, his end, Arya and Jaqen (I'm a conspiracy theorist that believes he's also Syrio and another character from later books, after all, he's a Faceless Man), Jon Snow with Mormont, "You know nothing, Jon Snow," the chats with Tyrion and Bronn, Tyrion and Varys' conversations, the entire Blackwater episode, the riot, Davos, and Brienne (I think her kill count is already at 5 or 6). Did I mention Tyrion? Dinklage is absolutely captivating in his role. And, of course, the march of the White Walkers.
And to anyone that thinks season 2 was a massacre of A Clash of Kings or that it was a dull season, I can only shake my head and ponder if we watched the same show. No one should expect an adaptation to be identical to its source on a limited TV budget, though this is close. I'll be chomping at the bit next year in anticipation of season 3 and probably end up reading A Storm of Swords again; a lot of people agree it's the best book in the series.