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GAME OF THRONES Season 2 Review & Episode Scores

March 4, 2019

Game Of Thrones Season 2 Review

In this series, we are building toward a ranked list of every Game Of Thrones episode by combing through the series one season at a time. The episodes are broken down to a granular level, with each storyline within each episode receiving a 1-5 score in each of the following areas: Story, Worldbuilding, and Entertainment. These component scores are then combined and used as the basis for the Episode Scores. The series will continue all the way through the Season 7 Review, which can be expected around the time of the Season 8 debut. As you rewatch the show in preparation for the final season, and re-listen to Binge Mode, you can also follow along here.

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Introduction & Rationale

Season 1 Review

Without further ado…


Season One was an unforgettable introduction to the world of Westeros and beyond. The second season brought new characters to the fore, adding both depth and breadth, and culminated in a decisive battle in the War of the Five Kings. If this batch of episodes felt a little more unwieldy, slowing down the story by following characters headed in ever more disparate directions, it mostly made up for it with the sheer magnitude of compelling character pairings, expansive storytelling, and of course, the tension of a slowly building war culminating with the series’ first indelible battle episode.

[2.01] The North Remembers

The North Remembers

Episode Score: 80

Melisandre really knows how to make an entrance, and she brings the high heat in The North Remembers by drinking poison and burning infidels. With all of the “Stannis” name-drops in the first season, the addition of the elder Baratheon, along with Davos and Melisandre, feels like the most valuable development of the second season. The premiere also shows us a new side of King’s Landing at Joffrey’s name day celebration, which becomes doubly memorable when Tyrion returns to the city to take over Ned’s old job. The show’s worldbuilding is further bolstered by Jon’s and Co.’s visit to Craster’s Keep, and then Bran and Osha’s discussion of a conspicuous red comet. This episode hits all of the major storylines, but aside from King’s Landing and Dragonstone, the other key locations get little more than a quick check-in.

[2.02] The Night Lands

The Night Lands

Episode Score: 71

It’s easy to write The Night Lands off as a bottom-tier Thrones episode, but it manages to entertain, expand our knowledge of the fictional world, and deepen a number of characterizations. The problem is that most of the storylines only manage to accomplish one or two of those three goals. The standout scene, once again, occurs on Dragonstone, where Davos is rallying allies to Stannis’ cause, and Melisandre strengthens her hold over Stannis, hinting at some of her powers as a red priestess of R’hllor. Theon’s return to Pyke, and taking his first step down a dark path, is another valuable morsel from this episode. Tyrion’s exiling of Janos Slynt, and Yoren’s admonishment of a couple of Gold Cloaks provide the best comedic moments. The Night Lands is hardly a “terrible” way to spend 54 minutes, and it offers plenty of intrigue for ironborn Thrones fans; it just doesn’t feature the story lines that consistently combine all the things we love about Game Of Thrones.

[2.03] What Is Dead May Never Die

What Is Dead May Never Die

Episode Score: 79

What Is Dead May Never Die boasts two standout sequences. The first is Tyrion’s manipulation of the small council, laying a trap and waiting for Pycelle, Varys, and/or Littlefinger to fall into it. Naturally, the bumbling Grand Maester Pycelle gets caught and outs himself as Cersei’s sycophantic informer. Just one episode after banishing Janos Slynt, Tyrion has Pycelle arrested. What a champ. The second highlight depicts Theon turning his back on Robb Stark once and for all. Theon’s re-commitment to his father Balon’s cause, and baptism in the name of the Drowned God, is painful but beautifully executed. The scene in which Theon writes a letter to Robb, by candle light no less, only to burn the parchment, makes for a genius Barry Lyndon homage. Elsewhere, we are introduced to two swell new characters in Brienne of Tarth, and Margaery Tyrell. The episode packs a bit of action, and Bran begins warging, but outside of the two exemplary scenes, it’s a bit too fragmented to rise beyond the middle of the pack.

[2.04] Garden Of Bones

Garden Of Bones

Episode Score: 72

Garden Of Bones will always (deservedly) be known as the one in which Melisandre gives birth to the “Shadow Baby” (or “Stanny Jr.” for Binge Mode listeners). The scene was the most fantastical element of the show’s run to date when it aired, and meant another tantalizing look at Mel’s devious magic. Aside from that memorable scene, this episode is notable for Tywin’s arrival at Harrenhal, and the introduction of Talisa, Robb Stark’s eventual love interest. Elsewhere (and less interestingly), Joffrey’s capacity for cruelty is further explored, and Daenerys is received by Qarth’s leadership, known as The Thirteen. This episode also introduces us to Xaro Xhoan Daxos, or as he is known in our household, “Duck Sauce.” As with Game Of Thrones in general, this episode makes for great television even when shock value and the sheer magnetism of its characters eclipses the emphasis on storytelling.

[2.05] The Ghost Of Harrenhal

The Ghost Of Harrenhal

Episode Score: 73

Maisie Williams (Arya) and Charles Dance (Tywin) make for a great screen pairing. The Ghost Of Harrenhal is the second episode in which they share scenes, and their relationship is one of the standout arcs of Season 2. The Harrenhal scenes serve multiple purposes in this episode, as they begin to illuminate the mysterious Jaqen H’ghar, who promises to take three lives of Arya’s choosing in gratitude for saving his life. Even considering the exploits of Melisandre’s Shadow Baby, the goings-on at Harrenhal are arguably the finest this installment has on offer. The King’s Landing scenes also contribute, introducing viewers to the covert production of highly explosive “wildfire,” which Tyrion intends to use in the impending showdown with Stannis Baratheon. Events chug along at the usual pace elsewhere, with Dany acclimating to Qarth, Bran holding court in Winterfell, and the Night’s Watch gathering intel on Wildling movement. Overall, The Ghost Of Harrenhal is a solid middle-of-the-pack episode with an inessential placeholder Theon scene as the only real blemish.

[2.06] The Old Gods And The New

The Old Gods And The New

Episode Score: 75

The sixth frame of Season Two is loaded with the kinds of smaller moments that make the show great, even in the absence of any awe-inspiring moments that many of the series’ best episodes possess. Ygritte makes her first appearance, when she is captured by Jon and his Night’s Watch brothers, manure is lobbed at Joffrey, The Hound unveils a bit of shrouded heroism as only he can, and Littlefinger visits Tywin at Harrenhal. The biggest story driver here is in Qarth, as Dany returns to her quarters to find that her dragons have been stolen. The Old Gods And The New is a strong episode, even without reaching the series’ highest heights, instead settling for the consistently riveting. If there is one iconic portion here, it’s Theon’s bungled beheading of Ser Rodrik — just a pitch-perfect characterization showing how truly lost Theon is. The interplay between the Winterfell scenes and Robb Stark’s camp represent this episode at its best.

[2.07] A Man Without Honor

A Man Without Honor

Episode Score: 70

A Man Without Honor is a moniker that applies to a number of characters in this aptly named episode. In Winterfell, Theon takes another step in his long descent when he displays the charred corpses of two young boys the he claims were Bran and Rickon Stark in the castle courtyard. Shout out to the music in this harrowing scene, by series composer Ramin Djawadi, for the haunting cue, “Pay The Iron Price.” In the Westerlands, Jaime murders his kin and fellow prisoner, Alton Lannister, along with their jailer, Torrhen Karstark, in an unsuccessful escape attempt. In one of Jaime’s many excellent speeches that bristle against the hypocrisy of oaths and loyalty, Catelyn deplores him only for Jaime to throw it right back in her face. As Jaime, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau gives a captivating performance that elevates an otherwise unspectacular episode. In Qarth, Duck Sauce reveals his true colors, revealing that he, along with warlock Pyat Pree, arranged for the kidnapping of her dragons and murdered their fellow members of The Thirteen. Season 2’s seventh installment carries thematic power, but doesn’t offer the kind of full-spectrum Thrones experience that the best episodes do.

[2.08] The Prince Of Winterfell

The Prince Of Winterfell

Episode Score: 76

Another heavy-lifting logistical episode that positions the characters for Stannis’ impending attack on King’s Landing, The Prince Of Winterfell still manages to string together a number of strong character moments. Jon and Qhorin Halfhand jumpstart a plot for Jon to infiltrate the mounting wildling army; Sam discovers a cache of dragonglass hidden north of the Wall; Yara attempts to distance Theon from the northern vengeance that will soon be upon him; Tyrion, Bronn, and Varys scheme the defense of King’s Landing; and Robb discards the marriage pact made with Walder Frey in Season One. Once again, Arya steals the show, cashing in on Jaqen’s favors in an unexpected way to spring her from Harrenhal after Tywin marches into battle. The Prince Of Winterfell is an entertaining throat-clearing, even if it doesn’t offer anything truly revelatory.

[2.09] Blackwater

Blackwater

Episode Score: 97

The Battle of the Blackwater is the main (and only) course in the season’s penultimate frame. Tensions run high within the walls of King’s Landing, with Bronn and The Hound, ostensible allies, going toe-to-toe as Stannis’ fleet arrives. The naval onslaught is rudely disrupted by Tyrion’s genius wildfire gambit, executed with aplomb by Bronn (he of the Blackwater). The wildfire explosion, unlike anything the show has depicted so far, is an unforgettable bit of carnage. Behind the scenes, Joffrey shows that he is yellower than his own moptop in the face of battle, and Cersei chills us all to the bone with the dark places her mind goes during the siege. On the front line, Tyrion gives a memorable battle speech, and the Hound reconsiders his allegiance to the crown. The battle’s many swings of momentum create a thrilling episode from start to finish. Blackwater is very near the top of the list when it comes to action set pieces gifted to us over the course of Game of Thrones’ run. Blackwater has the advantage of being able to focus on one location for its entire run time, delving deeper into a smaller number of characterizations, but that doesn’t take away from this episode delivering on everything Thrones can be, and at a higher level than practically any episode before or since.

[2.10] Valar Morghulis

Valar Morghulis

Episode Score: 81

An unavoidable comedown from the highs of Blackwater, season 2’s finale, Valar Morghulis is still an excellent episode with a few standout sequences. Daenerys’ odyssey through time and space in the Tower of the Undying on the way to a showdown with Pyat Pree is one such sequence. The other involves Sam being caught in the middle of an advancing horde of White Walkers with an undead army in tow. It’s a thrilling way for the season to go out. Elsewhere, Tywin supplants Tyrion as Hand of the King in ignominious fashion. On their way to King’s Landing, the new pairing of Jaime and Brienne hints at how great these two characters will be together next season. The remaining character arcs conclude in ways that appropriately set them on their paths for Season 3, making for a finale that delivers the potent mix of spectacle, character, and worldbuilding Thrones fans have come to expect.

Analysis

Season Two coasts along mostly within the same range of scores occupied by Season One, with two notable outliers: The Night Lands on the low end, and Blackwater on the high end. Blackwater upped the ante considerably from every other episode in either of the first two seasons. This episode, in addition to continuing the trend of paradigm-shifting penultimate episodes in each season, exposes an interesting side-effect (feature or flaw… you decide!) of the scoring system. Because the rubric values all story lines equally, no single earth-shattering sequence will lift an otherwise middling episode to an elite episode score. In the same vein, a single-setting episode, like Blackwater, could have an advantage by virtue of not having to divide its focus among several story lines that may have a high variance in quality. As Blackwater is a nearly perfect single-setting episode, it certainly benefits from this phenomenon. I’d contend that the near-perfect score is well-deserved, though it will be interesting to compare this score with those of other fan-favorite and consensus-garnering episodes from later seasons.

Overall, Season Two scored a few points lower than Season One in terms of average episode score. A close read of the second season mostly supports this, though easy conclusions are somewhat complicated by the fact that Season Two contains the single highest-scoring episode of the show so far, and introduces viewers to a slew of new core characters. Further supporting the down-tick, no episode scored in the 80s outside of the finale Valar Morghulis (and Blackwater of course, which skipped the 80-range entirely, peaking well into the 90s).

Minutiae

Episode Averages for Season 2:

– Episode Score=76.99

– Story=74.7

– World-building=73.5

– Entertainment=83.3

Blackwater scored the highest in every scoring category, and did so handily, with a 97 Episode score, 100 for Story, 90 for World-building, and 100 for Entertainment.

Blackwater aside, season finale, Valar Morghulis, nabbed the highest episode score with an 81.

Highest non-Blackwater Story score was a three-way tie between The North Remembers, The Old Gods and the New, and Valar Morghulis with a score of 77.

Highest non-Blackwater World-building score went to Valar Morghulis, with a score of 82.

Highest non-Blackwater Entertainment score produced another three-way tie between What is Dead May Never Die, The Old Gods and the New, and Valar Morghulis, with scores of 84.

Season Two landed a whopping 8 episode scores in the 70s, with one in the 80s, and one in the 90s.

Season Two Episodes Ranked By Score:

  1. [2.09] Blackwater (96.67)
  2. [2.10] Valar Morghulis (80.95)
  3. [2.01] The North Remembers (79.08)
  4. [2.03] What is Dead May Never Die (78.67)
  5. [2.08] The Prince of Winterfell (75.71)
  6. [2.06] The Old Gods and the New (74.44)
  7. [2.05] The Ghost of Harrenhal (72.87)
  8. [2.04] Garden of Bones (71.33)
  9. [2.02] The Night Lands (70.31)
  10. [2.07] A Man Without Honor (70.00)

Stay tuned for our review of Season 3, more episode rankings, and more Game Of Thrones stuff in general as we wait out the long winter until the Season 8 debut.

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