Way back in another career, I covered the NBA and an annual rite was assigning grades to players at mid-season. Nowadays, the only seasons I obsess about are those of HBO’s Game of Thrones or as the late, great Khal Drogo once put it, “Trrhones.” Had I been swept up in the show last season the way I am now, I would have graded Daenerys’ Sun and Stars a B, for badass. Alas, the heralded horseman suffered a death by pillow which, combined with the beloved Eddard Stark’s death by neck trim, shocking for those who didn’t read George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, means two central and interesting characters down in Season 1 alone (I don’t count the sniveling Viserys, whose death by helmet was a welcomed comeuppance, as a central character). Fortunately, Westeros is teaming with players begging to be graded with five of the Season 2’s 10 episodes down.
The Clash of Kings season was meant to be epic and vast in comparison to the first, and so far it has been. There’s already been a great episode with a great name, What is Dead May Never Die, that sounds like the Bond film that should have come after Goldeneye. Westeros and beyond this season reminds me of the U.S., circa spring of 2008. Back then, the winter of Obama was coming, but the country still was ruled by the enfant terrible George W. Bush, and Obama and Clinton and McCain (he being the Balon Greyjoy of the bunch) were vying for power, with the land under siege by the likes of Al-Qaeda and Wall Street and wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then as now in Westeros was a great time to be a blogger, only now we don’t have to employ ravens as a delivery system. Speaking of media, if the Trrhones got commentators, ala The Hunger Games, let them be A.Ron and Mad Brew from The Night’s Watch, the smart and funny, best unofficial Game of Thrones podcast of the bunch.
Digest the following over Dornish game hens and sweet summer wine. I picked what I consider the most currently significant characters from the show; there are of course those, such as Qhorin Halfhand, Lord Tywin or Margaery Tyrell, who may grow in significance down the line. If you disagree with the selections, leave your grades and rationales in the comments section.
(By the way, I am reading Clash of Kings, but trying to stay a little behind the show, so I don’t trip any spoilers for myself. So far, so good).
Arya, Bran, Catelyn, Sansa, Team Stark: I know, I know. They’re all major characters in their own right, but I think they’re all also corollary to others, especially in the musical chairs over the Seven Kingdoms. Arya seems destined for a primary role in this game, but for now serves as one of the more interesting characters, partly because of the company she keeps keeping. She could change the whole story by choosing Tywin Lannister to suffer the next freaky accident, but we know how GoT rolls, so that ain’t happening. Bran is the backup lord of the House of Stark, which we know could mean he’ll be taking his big-league cuts sooner than later. I’m getting a little tired of the wolf dreams; I realize there is some implication that he has some dreamy prescience, but I wish it would start manifesting itself. Cat’s a lot more interesting this season as she plays Hillary Clinton and lends the show a strong-woman presence. She also earns points for bringing Brienne the Beauty into the Stark fold (I assume people, like me, are rooting at least a little for the Starks because, in a really crooked world, they are the closest to good and honorable). I didn’t really like Sansa for a while because of her supposed attraction to the jackal Joffrey, but I’m starting to admire her doing her Bee Gees thing (“ha … ha … ha … ha … stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive”). Grade: A-minus, admitting some sympathy grading for their losing Ned.
Lord Balish, Team Fingers: Lord Varys is pitted as his kingmaking equal, but prickly Petyr has a more established power base, that being the coin and sway over the King’s Guard, which he already has wielded to far more duplicitous effect, as well as an alternative, often equally powerful hold over men through his whores. At mid-season, Littlefinger seems to be reeling, which in grand GoT style probably means he is not. Even if he made a deal with Renly, Renly can’t really hold to it anymore, can he? He was rebuffed in his clumsy, love grab (and planting seeds about a Jaime-for-Stark-girls trade) with Catelyn. But, ah, he has an opportunity play with the Tyrells when Margaery says she wants to be the Queen (not “a” queen). King’s Landing has an unwed king, but Balish would have to usurp Cersei, betray Sansa (which would get back at Cat) and somehow overcome the incest rumors (though war ultimately will quiet those). The Tyrells are the biggest free agents in the evolving war, so we’ll get to see what Littlefinger is made of the rest of the season. Grade: C, but he has the extra-credit assignment.
Queen Cersei, Team Lannister: She’s had a couple highlights this season — getting a lick on son-nephew-king Joffrey and her “power is power” moment with Littlefinger. However, she allowed Joffrey to spin out of control and has been outmaneuvered by younger brother Tyrion, and rendered herself rather pathetic with booty calls from cousin Lancel, the poor facsimile of part-time lover, part-time brother Jaime. Her power has been limited to slapping faces or ripping up papers. As Tyrion uttered in the season opener, “It must be odd for you … to be the disappointing child … “ Grade: It should be a B, for obvious reasons, but let’s not go there and just make it a D.
Khaleesi Daenerys, Team Targaryen: Being a feminist Dad and someone who works to empower females, I love the idea of Dany as a character because she really is the one and only Girl Power candidate in the Game of Thrones (throwing out Cersei as a dunderhead and until Margaery emerges, as I suspect she will). I also like that her story arc is the one that pulls in alternative races – ie., the Dothrakis and the X-Man, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, who is black and gay (at least in the book). However, I’m not so sure her character has been very compelling this season, certainly after the transformation she treated us all to during Season 1. Ser Jorah Mormont is my second-favorite sidekick on the show, and Dany does have the dragons, so I’m certain the payoff to her character is a bit down the line. Grade: B, and betting on the come.
King Joffey, Team Lannister: The first hyphenated, yuppie kid in Westeros (Baratheon-Lannister because he is parading as one and really the incestuous product of the other) is the creepy, know-it-all kid who sits in the back of every class all school year, but transforms into an empowered bully during his summer job as a glorified security guard. Has there ever been a more unrelentingly diabolical and sadistic villain on television? People seem to expect him to receive a comeuppance that goes beyond the occasional bitch-slapping he receives from his uncle Tyrion, but the smart money in GoT always gets played on bad over good, so don’t hold your breath. Just thank the gods, the old and the new, that the line, “Take this scepter and stick it up your arse,” was not uttered by the kinky king during Episode 4. Grade: E, for evil, so very evil.
Bastard Jon Snow, Night’s Watch: Hey, the majors have titles on this show and it seems obvious what everyone calls Ned Stark’s illegitimate son. With Ser Jaime confined to cage and cameos, the brooding, impetuous but loyal Snow has emerged as the show’s heart throb. His unobtainable nature will only add luster to that role. He is a virgin, it seems, because of his indifference to women (thus his balking at a disrobed whore who sounded a lot like Ros), and that’s the reason the much hornier Samwell appears as if he’ll eventually hook up with Gilly of Craster’s Creep … er … Keep. Snow already gained some swashbuckling cred by taking down a White; I got a feeling he’s going to add to his rep while north of the Wall. Plus I just like the dude. Grade: B-plus, with more to come, it seems.
Lord Renly, Team Baratheon: First off, no one gets the King title unless they sit on the Iron Throne like Joffrey or were “elected” by bannermen like Robb. The fact that he was fairly openly gay made Renly a very interesting character and he had the second-most good lines, after Tyrion. In fact, my favorite of the season came, during the Renly-Stannis smackdown, after Melisandre said of Stannis, “He is born of salt and smoke.” Renly replies, “Salt and smoke? Is he a ham?” Renly actually was more of a ham than his dour older brother, but he made the mistake of equating an overwhelming numbers advantage to victory in war. Grade: D, unfortunately for dead.
King Robb, Team Stark: My spine tingles every time I hear, “The King in the North!” Yet my dream scenario would have Robb win and actually accept the Iron Throne, his being reunited with Jon Snow, who would be released from the Night’s Watch to take over as Hand of the King, and Snow’s friendship with Tyrion Lannister creates a seat for a dwarf on what would be an utterly appropriately named small council. Alas, GRRM has a Joffrey-like sadistic streak and the good guys almost always seem doomed in GoT. I fear we are just being teased with good King Robb’s string of victories on the field. I also don’t think his making googly eyes at Talisa, the medieval Florence Nightingale from Volantis, is going to turn out so well. First off, there’s the matter of Robb’s deal to marry a daughter of Walder Frey. There’s also the GoT trend of love poisoning things for major male characters (Ned-Cat, Jaime-Cersei, Drogo-Dany, Renly-Loros). Grade: A, for ay, I hope I’m wrong about where I think this character is headed.
Lord Stannis, Team Baratheon: I have to admit, I’m rooting against this guy. He is so sour and rigid, if he took the Iron Throne, it would be like pulling the needle off the record and everything going to crickets on GoT. Boo-ring! And isn’t this supposed to be a guy so by-the-books, he rivaled Eddard Stark in the honor department? Pooh on that! How honorable is resorting to black magic, cheating on your wife and killing your brother? I daresay his list of majorly despicable acts rivals that of the jackass Joffrey. Plus he’s just being an opportunist. Ned and Jon Arryn were the ones who uncovered his claim as king, yet he is acting all high and mighty about it, whereas back then he didn’t want anything to do with anybody. I wish it would have stayed that way. Grade: D, for I wish he were dead instead of his brother Renly, or even his other brother Robert. Come of think of it, being a Baratheon doesn’t make one long for this show, so there’s hope yet.
Theon, Team Greyjoy: The fact that Theon is barren, in terms of title, is an indication that he is a “minor” major character, so far best known for not fitting in, unless it’s screwing maidens or whores. Speaking of screwing, Greyjoyless seems on the verge of doing just that to Robb Stark, the closest person in his life to real family. Oddly eager to please a father who surrendered him, Theon appears to have bumbled into a scheme of drawing the Starks to Torrhen’s Square, so he can walk into a poorly defended Winterfell and take it. But the way things tend to go for this Iron Butterfly, I’ll bet Bran and his wolfly self are enough to rebuff Theon. Grade: G, for just give it up.
Lord Tyrion, Team Lannister: As he himself said, everyone should have stopped at “dwarf.” So far this season, GoT now stands for Games of Tyrion. He not only gets the finest women and the best lines, but as Hand Wringer of the King he’s getting the better of, at least, the crew at King’s Landing. Just look how much smaller he’s rendered the small council. He’s put the smack down on Joffrey, literally undressed Maester Pycelle and has Lord Varys almost giddy with admiration. Plus in Bronn he has the baddest-ass sidekick on the show (sorry to Hodor, Jorah, Samwell and, for now, Melisandre). For part of the first season, I couldn’t help think of “angry elf,” Miles Finch, whenever Tyrion entered a scene. Now I’m thinking he could be the most beloved TV character since The Wire’s Omar Little. He’s the same soft-hearted, non-mainstream, redeemable schemer and proof that a very small man can cast a very large shadow. Grade: Mid-Season MVP.