Never is the struggle of goodness and innocence against selfish ambition thrown into greater contrast in Game of Thrones than when the Stark children are featured. We didn’t get to see Arya or Bran in the season premiere, but all five Stark children, as well as their half-brother Jon Snow, are featured in the second episode, “Dark Wings, Dark Words.”
The dark wings refer to the three-eyed crow of Bran’s dream, and we finally meet the boy he sees in the dream, Jojen Reed, and his sister Meera—two young Crannogmen who’ll help make sense of Bran’s role in the greater scheme. Bran and Rickon continue their journey northwards through sparsely populated country.
Arya is more in the thick of things after her escape from Harrenhal with Gendry and Hot Pie. Her meeting with the The Brotherhood Without Banners results in a hot meal and a release on their way—the Brotherhood claims to be fighting simply for the good of the kingdom. But things get complicated when members of the guerilla army capture
Gregor Sandor Clegane, the Hound, who immediately recognizes the young Stark girl.
Sansa falls under the spell of the the Tyrells of Highgarden, who seem determined to enjoy life, even in the midst of war. The handsome Ser Loras escorts her sister Margaery and their grandmother, Olenna Redwyne, The Queen of Thorns, the most refreshingly witty character since we first met The Imp. Olenna coaxes the truth about Joffrey’s nature out of his former fianceé, but Margaery is much better equipped with the savvy and subtlety to deal the monstrous young king.
Robb is trying to hold his rebellion together after his own rash marriage and his mother’s decision to free Jamie Lannister in an attempt to reclaim her daughters, but that plan looks to be failing with Robb’s bannermen finding Brienne and Jaime on a bridge. Robb learns of worse news—that Winterfell was put to the torch with Bran and Rickon missing, and that his grandfather (Catelyn’s father) has died in Riverrun.
Most telling, though, is the story Catelyn tells of praying for the death of her husband’s bastard son Jon Snow. When Jon became ill, she begged the gods to spare him, promising to be a mother to him and treating him as a Stark. She was unable to fulfill that promise, though, and blames herself for all the evil that’s happened to her family since. It’s her rejection of Jon that led him to take the black of the Night’s Watch, a duty that now has him pretending to serve the King Beyond the Wall.
Each of the Stark children are involved in their own difficult adventure, a long way from the idyllic world we saw in the series premiere. That these six tales are but a sliver of the overall story was part of what made the books so gripping. The challenge of the TV show is to hold our attention with small snippets of each journey while touching on everything else happening at King’s Landing, at Dragonstone and across the Narrow Sea. The screenwriters should take care introducing new characters—fortunately Diana Rigg makes Lady Olenna a worthwhile addition every minute she’s on the screen.