HBO’s Game of Thrones has fast become the surprise hit of the spring and one of the most talked about shows of 2011. Not only have the ratings consistently grown with almost every episode – 2.7 million viewers last Sunday and rising – but so, too, has the buzz. Needless to say, it’s good to be Game of Thrones.

On Friday, we learned that the highly anticipated Season 2 would begin filming next month with a slew of new actors (in addition to the old, of course), as well as a larger special effects budget, due to the more fantasy-laden storyline. Is it strange to be impatient for a second season when Season 1 isn’t even finished yet?

Tonight’s season finale will see the Stark family come to terms with the violent loss of Ned Stark (played by Sean Bean), beheaded at the behest of the rotten, inbred King Joffrey. In the preview, we saw Catelyn Stark swear revenge upon the Lannister clan for what they did to her poor husband Ned, promising her son Robb (the new Lord of Winterfell) that they would kill every last one of them.

It seems likely that we’ll see how the other Starks react to the news that Ned is dead, as well, from the bastard Jon Snow on down to crippled Bran Stark. As to whether or not the Starks will kill ‘every last one’ of the Lannisters in the finale, whether or not Khal Drogo will die from his festering wound, or whether or not the White Walkers will finally show up in full force — I guess you’ll just have to watch the season finale to find out.

If you’ve read the books – DO NOT DISCUSS THEM HERE! There are plenty of other places on the Internet for you to do that, we assure you.

Review

Tonight’s episode – “Fire and Blood” – was easily the most eagerly anticipated of the season, as it dealt primarily with the repercussions following Ned Stark’s death. Not only were fan expectations through the roof, but many a viewer unfamiliar with the books assumed that those repercussions would be swift, thorough, and explosive.

I confess that I, too, had dreams of Jaime Lannister (or, really, any Lannister but Tyrion) being bludgeoned to death with an aluminum baseball bat. Sure, it seemed an unlikely development, given that aluminum baseball bats probably don’t exist in this world, but a man can dream, right?

Alas, preconceived notions of how a TV show should or should not work are what led to viewers last week being incensed to the point that they threatened to drop Game of Thrones altogether. After all, how could the protagonist in a television show be killed off so soon, and especially before the end of the first season?

Viewers looking forward to immediate, violent vengeance on behalf of the Starks (as was referenced by Catelyn Stark in the preview for this week’s episode) will no doubt be disappointed again. There’s no revenge to be had in “Fire and Blood.”  There are no explosive action scenes, no Lannister heads lopped off in retribution, no cathartically satisfying set pieces with classic one-liners to top them off.

That’s because Game of Thrones Season 1, for all intents and purposes, is literature on TV. Whereas most TV shows are compelled to end on a climax of massive proportions or with a cliffhanger that nobody saw coming, Thrones did something even less predictable: It gave us a denouement.

If you were looking for a mind-blowing climax, take solace in the fact that you already saw it last week in “Baelor.” The beheading of Eddard “Ned” Stark was the climax of this season’s story, and it took place in the last five seconds of the penultimate episode. “Fire and Blood” was all about the settling of the pieces from the explosion that was Ned’s execution:

  • In Winterfell, we see that the two youngest Starks, Bran and Rickard, have been visited in their dreams by the ghost of their father, seemingly notifying them of his death.
  • Southward, we see Catelyn and Robb learn that Ned is dead, by way of messenger. We see their reactions: sadness, tears, anger, hatred. We see them swear vengeance upon the Lannister clan. All of them. Just as soon as they get Arya and Sansa to safety.
  • In King’s Landing, we see Arya being taken under the wing of Yoren of the Night’s Watch, who gives her a new identity as a boy named Arry. Obviously, if Arya is caught, it’s her death, too.
  • We see the oldest Stark daughter, Sansa, being held captive in the hell that is King Joffrey’s castle. Joffrey forces his future wife to look upon the severed head of her dear departed father on a pike twenty feet high, for “as long as it pleases” him. Then he orders an underling to smack her across the face, because his mother told him it’s wrong for a king to do such things to his lady.
  • On The Wall, we see Jon Snow galloping southward to flee the Night’s Watch and join his brother Robb against the Lannisters; his friends and fellow Night’s Watchmen stop him and convince him to stay on The Wall — as he promised, as is honorable.

In spite of this episode being an obvious denouement, there were major developments as well:

  • Instead of swearing fealty to Stannis or Renly Baratheon, the Northern armies decide to separate from the South and  proclaim Robb Stark the king of the North.
  • On The Wall, the Night’s Watch Commander decides it’s time to stop messing around and orders a full force of Watchmen to ride beyond The Wall and deal with the White Walker problem head on.
  • In the northbound caravan led by Yoren, Arya makes friends with the dead King Baratheon’s bastard son — though neither of them are aware of this fact.
  • At Tywin Lannister’s war camp, Tyrion is ordered to King’s Landing to serve as the new Hand of the King, and he immediately disobeys his father by bringing the young prostitute Shae with him. Could they be falling in love?
  • Far to the East, Daeneris’ baby son dies during childbirth. The witch whose life Daeneris saved two episodes prior used her son’s death – with Blood Magic – to “save” the life of Khal Drogo. But Khal is a vegetable now. He can’t move, talk, or think. The Dothraki armies ride away, leaving those loyal to Drogo behind. (“A Khal who cannot ride is no Khal at all.”)
  • Daeneris quickly realizes that the witch tricked her, so she decides to work a little Blood Magic herself – she kills Drogo by smothering him out of his misery; ties the witch to a Drogo’s funeral pyre; places her Dragon Eggs near the corpse of her husband; lights the pyre on fire; then enters the flames herself. Only, she doesn’t burn. She doesn’t die. Because she has the blood of the dragon, in the way her brother never did.
  • The next morning, after the smoke has subsided, Daenerys is covered head to toe with living baby dragons. Those long-dormant eggs have obviously hatched.

Was this the best episode of the season so far? No. But that isn’t saying a whole lot for a season full of excellent episodes, one after the other. All in all, “Fire and Blood” was a solid Season 1 ending that gave us much to look forward to in Season 2. Dragons and white walkers and civil war, oh my. Personally, I can’t wait. How about yourself?

For fans clamoring for any news related to Season 2, watch this very brief and nearly meaningless teaser for it:

Game of Thrones returns to HBO – likely Sundays @9PM – in April 2012. Remember to keep checking back with us for more Season 2 news, especially during our coverage of San Diego Comic Con 2011.

Follow me on Twitter @benandrewmoore.