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At long last Game of Thrones has returned to our screens and the first episode of the second season certainly pulls no punches. We have incest, poisoning, mysterious new religions, political machinations and a good old fashioned bit of infanticide to top it all off. Just another day in Westeros, really.

Unlike the first season, where I hadn’t read the book before watching it, I’ve now read a decent way into A Song of Ice and Fire. I was worried that this would potentially affect my enjoyment of the show, but thankfully that hasn’t happened. The new characters introduced in the first episode are mostly how I pictured them. Melisandre, the red priestess influencing Stannis Baratheon, is pretty much spot on. The right mixture of cunning, mysteriousness and sexiness. Craster, the Wildling north of the Wall with a penchant for marrying his daughters, is perfect, managing to be both menacing and downright creepy. Davos Seaworth, the former smuggler-turned-knight under the employ of Stannis is played brilliantly by Liam Cunningham. Though  I must say, based solely on appearance, I’d have been tempted to swap him and Stephen Dillane (who plays Stannis) around.

Handily, for those with poor memories and haven’t seen season one in a while, there’s a recap at the very beginning. Even for someone who’s read the books and has a great memory for these sorts of things, it was good to see old faces like Ned Stark. It made the scene with his son, Robb, confronting Jaime Lannister and discussing the return of his fathers body all the more powerful after reminding you of Ned’s fate.

Perhaps the least surprising thing about this episode is just how excellent Peter Dinklage is as Tyrion. Even though he isn’t in this episode an awful lot, he manages to steal every scene he’s in. Thankfully we can expect to see much more of Tyrion considering how central he is to the second book. If he carries on this way, a second Emmy is pretty much guaranteed.

Another strong point of this episode is its structure. The use of the comet to link story lines and characters together, even if they’re a continent away, is really clever. Hearing the different interpretations of what it means and how that varies from culture to culture is a great little way of showing the diversity of the Game of Thrones universe without beating you over the head with it.

One scene I can see a lot of people having an issue with is the very last one, with the City Watch seeking out and murdering the bastard offspring of the previous king in order to eradicate any claim to the throne through his legitimate children. This includes taking a baby from its mothers arms and killing it in front of her and also showing a dead child being carried by the leg by another guard.. Personally I thought it was a powerful scene, necessary to show the levels to which certain characters will go to get their way. However, it’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer and infanticide is, to put it mildly, a touchy subject.

For me, if this episode has one flaw it would be the scene involving Shae, Tyrion’s personal prostitute. Sibel Kikelli just doesn’t convince me as an actress and her lines feel forced. Yes she’s meant to be a prostitute so it’s highly likely that she is forcing herself to say these things, but it doesn’t come across that way, just just that she’s a poor actress. It’s all the more apparent when next to Dinklage, who shows her up quite badly. Unless her acting skills improve sharply over the season, I can see this being a recurring complaint.

Overall it’s a great season premiere and creates a whole host of new plot lines for the audience and some fantastic new characters for us to try and figure out. Though it’s impossible to judge a season on its first episode, if the rest of the season is only half as good we’re in for a treat.

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