Game of Thrones Season 2I adore the Game of Thrones miniseries on HBO. I study medieval swordfighting and the pseudo-medieval environment of the show is dense with sword fighting, sword training, and sword making. Game of Thrones also features superb acting, great dialogue, gorgeous costumes, and beautiful scenery. Here is my review of the second season, which I've seen fully through three times. Note that this review does include spoilers.
It would help if you read my Game of Thrones Season 1 review first, as I cover some basic issues in that write-up.
In season two of Game of Thrones, our main sword-wielding heroine, Arya, barely uses her sword at all. She does attempt to run at the men who take on the Black Watch group, but is quickly disarmed. She then does not do anything at all weapon-related throughout the rest of this season. She simply is a cup-bearer. She uses her intellect, certainly, verbally sparring quite nicely with Lord Tywin Lannister.
It's a shame that she doesn't somehow continue with even some small amount of effort. I think the only time in this whole season that she even thinks about her skills is when she sees Gendry practicing with a sword. She suggests to him that he stand sideways in relationship to his opponent, to provide a smaller target.
She does also briefly contemplate stabbing Tywin Lannister with her food-eating knife, but it's only a glimmer of an idea. She does not follow through primarily because he is clearly much stronger and well trained than she is. The opportunity is just not right - she can see that he would stop her in an instant.
Instead, the person who takes over the banner-carrying for women with swords is now Brienne of Tarth. This tall blonde is as tall as other great male fighters in this series, including Jamie Lannister. We first see her when she fights the Knight of Flowers in single combat. This Knight is well known for his incredible talent, and yet she manages to best him. She's soon a personal guard of Renly Baratheon. But he dies, so she pledges herself to protect Lady Stark.
Fairly quickly in, the Lady gives her an important mission. Her task is to take the prisoner Jamie Lannister and ensure he gets back to his sister. During that transport the two run into a trio of Stark soldiers. Brienne kills all three of them to defend Jamie, and he is quite impressed with her skills.
While Arya's interest in swords was tolerated in the Stark household, we see much more plainly with Brienne how the world treats a woman with a sword. Of course, Brienne gets extra hassle just because of her size. As she discusses with Jamie, she grew up being harassed and attacked. She was pushed to be a "proper lady" - but she loved swords from an early age. She became so good at it that it became a reasonable path for her.
But even so, when the Stark soldiers see her with a sword, their reaction is to burst into uncontrollable laughter. It is beyond belief, to them, that this woman holds a sword and pretends to have control over a male prisoner. In that fight with Loras, he is furious when she's rewarded with a position in the personal guard. After all, she is only a woman and hardly deserving of that honor. This despite the fact that she beat him.
We have another woman who at least shows a bit of spunk - Ygritte, the wildling of the north. When Jon Snow attacks her party, she almost is able to get away from him and to her axe. She seems quite capable of taking care of herself. But we never get to see any of that in the show. Instead, her talent is in wriggling her rear end, to try to distract Jon from his captor duties.
A honorable mention goes to Sansa's handmaiden, Shae. During the attack on King's Landing, Sansa expresses worry for her maid's health. Shae pulls up her dress, showing that she wears a dagger on her leg - and that she's quite ready to use it. Similarly, when Cat is upset by Baelish, she deftly pulls a dagger on him.
Also, there's a great scene with Cersei Lannister when the castle is under siege. Cersei is talking with Sansa about the way she was raised. She explains that while growing up, Jamie and her were often confused because they were twins. Cersei grew up at first thinking they could be equals. But quickly Jamie was sent off to learn sword and mace, while she was told to learn dancing and singing. It didn't matter what she wanted - this was their task in life, based solely on their sex.
So yes, there is progress here compared with the first season. I enjoyed some of those investigations. I loved Cersei's talk with Sansa. I loved Brienne's encounter and fight with the Stark soldiers.
It's starting to become closer to the reality of medieval life - that women had to be incredibly tough, strong, and aware of self-defense in order to survive.
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