“Winter is coming” was the evocative tag line in the first season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” but it’s war that is on the march as the critically acclaimed adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s epic books launches its second season on Sunday, April 1.
And really, is that any surprise? Let’s review some of the electrifying highlights of season one, which opened with King Robert Baratheon drafting his old friend, Ned Stark, to serve as his right-hand man, since he needed someone he trusted by his side. And boy, was he right.
His wife, Queen Cersei (Lena Headey), was involved in a long-standing incestuous affair with her twin brother, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who is secretly the father of Cersei’s son, Joffrey (Jack Gleeson). By the time that season ended, King Robert had died from injuries sustained in a hunting “accident,” and Ned, having caught on to the truth about the young prince’s twisted family tree, was imprisoned and subsequently — and very rashly — beheaded by the newly crowned Joffrey.
Yoren, a member of the Night’s Watch, quickly hustled Ned’s young daughter, Arya (Maisie Williams), into a caravan bound back to the girl’s family home north in Winterfell. Cersei, however, has things even worse.
Whether by inbred genetics or just sheer nastiness, the angelic-looking Joffrey is starting to act like a Nero-grade loon, riling up his subjects with his chronic arrogance and putting his mother on harsh notice that even she is not above his whims. Meanwhile, Cersei’s beloved Jaime is held captive in the far north as armies bent on revenge, headed by the families of Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon, march on King’s Landing to unseat the abominable Joffrey.
“I think Cersei is in a total panic,” Headey says of her “Game of Thrones” alter ego. “She has the pride of a man, so I think she is terrified that she has pushed and pushed for this to happen and put her son in this position, and now she does not have an inch of control over what he is doing. She loves him. He’s her son, but it is terrifying to her, and she has nowhere to turn, although she would never admit it. She talks to Tyrion about it, but that’s admitting weakness and making a mistake, and she can’t bear that.”
Her ambition — and her ambivalence toward Tyrion (Emmy winner Peter Dinklage), her dwarf brother — stem from her upbringing by her aloof father after her mother died while giving birth to Tyrion, Headey explains.
“Cersei just isn’t willing to concede that she will lose in any sense. She is a political gamer, influenced heavily by her father,” the actress tells Zap2it. “She is very jealous of her brothers in that they got to be men. She’s lost in this now, because the one person she thought was going to be her ally — her son — is not playing the game anymore that she has set up. She should be asking Tyrion, but she doesn’t want to, because of sibling rivalry, old wounds that never healed, so she’s kind of cutting off her nose right now.”
Meanwhile, the tomboyish Arya — a strong fan favorite among readers of Martin’s books — has her hands full just staying alive long enough to be reunited with her family in Winterfell.
“In the first season, Arya has had to go through so much, and she’s been forced to grow up so quickly,” says Williams, 14, a former aspiring dancer who incredibly is making her acting debut in this very high-profile role. “All of a sudden, she is completely on her own. She’s got Yoren, but she still doesn’t have anyone that she can completely trust. On top of that, she has to pretend to be a different gender and hide her true identity. Arya used to have everything she needed, but she didn’t want it, and now she has everything she wanted, but she’s found out she doesn’t really need it. She just wants her family back.”
The fledgling actress says she was able to draw on her relationships with family and friends to get into her character in her early scenes, and watching her older brothers go through karate classes helped with Arya’s fighting lessons — which the right-handed Williams mastered left-handed, in the style of her character — helped, too.
“When we started training, I decided to do it with my left hand, just because I’d never done it before and was naturally stronger with my right arm,” she says. “I’ve gotten a lot stronger in my left arm now, and I have started doing things left-handed, like brushing my hair.”
Both actresses say they were completely unprepared for the international acclaim that has greeted the HBO series, although the more experienced Headey says she felt a tingle of that back when she first read the first scripts.
“I remember last year when they gave me the scripts for episodes 1-6, and I sat out in the garden, and it was midnight, and I felt like I had seen it [in my mind],” she says. “I was so excited, and I was calling my friends and waking them up to tell them about it. I am a real fan of ‘Game of Thrones,’ and I haven’t seen anything from this season, and I am just desperate to see them.”
Similarly, Williams was caught off guard by how many fans loved Arya.
“When I finally realized how big ‘Game of Thrones’ was, I started to realize how big Arya was, too,” she says. “I always knew she was one of those different characters that I would like even if I wasn’t playing her, and I had a feeling that she would be a favorite, but I had no idea how many people would fall in love with her, or how many people would like the way I portrayed her. It was a shock, but I had no idea before all this happened.”