Note: The post discusses at length seasons one and two of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Please do not read this if you are not caught up. And if you’ve read George R. R. Martin’s novels, please do not spoil any future plot points in the comments.
The second season of “Game of Thrones” will conclude this Sunday, leaving a direwolf shaped hole in the hearts of its fans. While this season has shown viewers gruesome violence and dazzling battles, to me it’s the characters who have made the HBO show the most compelling series on television. In that spirit, I decided to evaluate where some of the most interesting residents of Westeros began in season one and what they’ve become.
To do this, I re-watched both seasons (yes, my eyes hurt after watching nearly 20 hours of TV in two days) and I’ve selected pertinent quotes that demonstrate these characters’s transformations.
You’ll notice that many of our players are not included on this list. This could be because they joined the show during the second season, like Stannis Baratheon, or perhaps they didn’t see a lot of action, like Jaime Lannister, who spent most of this season as a prisoner.
But enough explanation already. Check out the character studies, as well as a preview of the season finale, below.
Cersei (Lannister) Baratheon
“When you play the game of thrones you win, or you die. There is no middle ground.” (“You Win or You Die,” episode seven)
“This is what ruling is: Lying on a bed of weeds, ripping them out by the root one-by-one before they strangle you in your sleep.” (“The Night Lands,” episode two)
“The gods have no mercy. That’s why they’re gods.” (“Blackwater,” episode nine)
Cersei spoke the season one quote to Ned Stark shortly before he learned the lesson the hard way when Ser Ilyn chopped his head off. But while the Queen Regent may have won the game temporarily, her grip on the seven kingdoms slipped during season two.
Indeed, at the end of season two’s penultimate episode, Cersei was a drunk mess who had nearly poisoned her youngest kid because her spoiled, horrid King child did such a poor job protecting King’s Landing from Stannis Baratheon.
It almost seems that with her brother/lover Jaime a prisoner, Cersei sort of gave up this season.Or maybe Joffrey was so beyond her control, she was resigned to almost certain doom. Either way, it was unnerving to watch Cersei’s decline.
But will she crumble now that Lord Tywin has saved her? Will Cersei lay down and die? I sincerely doubt it.
After the death of his father, crying to his mother, “I’ll kill them all. Every one of them. I’m gonna kill them all.” (“Fire and Blood,” episode 10)
“I have no desire to sit on the Iron Throne.” (Garden of Bones,” episode four)
“How can I call myself king when I cannot hold my own castle? How can I ask men to follow me?” (“The Old Gods and the New,” episode six)
Robb went from Lord of Winterfell in waiting to King of the North after the death of Ned Stark, an event that forced transformations for many of our characters.
After learning of his father’s death, Robb chopped away at a tree with a sword and wept to his mother, like a child. Now, he’s become a man, a pragmatic and honorable one who is a proven warrior.
Indeed, even when it comes to his own family, he doesn’t seem to have a fatal weakness. He didn’t trade Jaime Lannister for his sisters and didn’t rush home to Winterfell after Theon captured it. He also wasn’t afraid to imprison his mother after she released the King Slayer.
His only weakness thus far has been Talisa, the pretty nurse of noble birth whom he slept with. If anyone will be Robb’s undoing, it may be her.
To Robb as he was named King of the North, “Am I your brother, now and always?” ... “My sword is yours, in victory and defeat, from this day until my last day.” (“Fire and Blood,” episode 10)
After Bran and Rickon ran away from Winterfell, “If I find them soon enough, I won’t hurt them. Well, I’ll hurt them, but I won’t kill them.” (“A Man Without Honor,” episode seven)
“I’m looking at spending the rest of my life being treated like a fool and a eunuch by my own people. Ask yourself: Is there anything I wouldn’t do to stop that from happening?” (“A Man Without Honor,” episode seven)
Theon has been my favorite character this season because of his startling transformation: the Stark ward has gone from annoying, kind of awful friend of the family to their extremely terrible enemy.
He betrayed the only family he ever knew in favor of a biological one that treated him like a buffoon and outcast. Sure, he technically was a prisoner of the Starks. And of course, Robb did tell him things during season one like, “It’s not your duty because it’s not your house.” Which was way harsh, Robb.
But Theon got way in over his head when he took a trip to the Iron Islands and went turncoat. He could have been a somebody in Robb’s army, a leader perhaps. But instead he’s seemingly signed his own death warrant by going rogue and burning children he tried to pass off as Bran and Rickon.
Ser Rodrik put it best (shortly before Theon hacked off his head) when he said, “God help you, Theon Greyjoy. You are truly lost.”
“Syrio says every hurt is a lesson. And every lesson makes you better. Tomorrow, I’m going to be chasing cats.” (“Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things,” episode four)
To Jaqen, “A man can go kill himself.” (“The Prince of Winterfell,” episode eight)
Arya was always high spirited and smart. But since her father’s death, she has been forced to stop chasing cats and start proving herself. And she’s come through with flying colors. Of all the Starks, is any as cunning or as quick on her feet as Arya?
“I must do my part for the honor of my house, wouldn’t you agree? But how? Well, my brother has his sword and I have my mind. And a mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.” (“The Kingsroad,” episode 2)
To Bronn, “Though I would treasure your friendship, I’m mainly interested in your facility with murder. And if the day ever comes where you’re tempted to sell me out, remember this: I’ll beat it. I like living!” (“The Pointy End,” episode eight)
“The Council has a reputation for serving past Hands poorly. I don’t mean to follow Ned Stark to the grave.” (“What Is Dead May Never Die,” episode three.)
“They say I am half a man. But what does that make the lot of you? … Don’t fight for your King. And don’t fight for his kingdoms. Don’t fight for honor, don’t fight for glory. Don’t fight for riches because you won’t get any. This is your city Stannis means to sack and your gate he’s ramming. If he gets in, it will be your houses he burns, your gold he steals, your women he will rape. Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them!” (“Blackwater,” episode nine.)
In season one, Tyrion may have known he was the smartest Lannister, but he wasn’t using his brains for anything except bedding prostitutes and saving his own hide. As Hand of the King to Joffrey, whom he declares “a vicious idiot ,” Tyrion has had to use his smarts for the greater good.
Yes, he’s still very concerned with his personal well-being, but he’s also got a ladyfriend he actually loves to look after. He’s more than just comic relief — he’s now a leader of men.
To Sansa, “I fear I have behaved monstrously in the past few weeks. ... Will you forgive me for my rudeness? ... I’ll never be cruel to you again.” (“A Golden Crown,” episode six)
Again to Sansa, “I’ll tell you what. I’m going to give you a present. After I raise my armies, and kill your traitor brother, I’ll give you his head as well.”(“Fire and Blood,” episode ten)
“You can’t talk to me like that. The king can do as he likes!” (“Garden of Bones,” episode four)
“A king doesn’t discuss battle plans with a stupid girl.” (“Blackwater,” episode nine)
Clearly, I’ve included Joffrey on this list as a joke. Because the only thing that’s changed about the terrible boy King is he’s stopped trying to pretend like he’s not a sociopath in public.
As Tyrion said, “It’s hard to put a leash a dog once you’ve put a crown on its head.”
Watch a preview of the season finale below.