My attempt to catch up with the Game of Thrones phenomenon is trundling along. I'm now half-way through season two, and I admit it's an improvement on season one, not least script-wise. It's sharper overall, and Tyrion's lines are funnier, so Peter Dinklage gets more to work with. Also, as this is the season where the actual "game of thrones" starts in earnest - a number of would-be kings are fighting each other for the throne, or more properly speaking two thrones - the stakes are higher. The characters are fleshed out and on the whole well-acted, not least because the series is full of British thesps for some reason (not all of them have very rewarding parts, though).
However, much remains the same. The script can still be ponderous, with enigmatic monologues that neither bring the story forward nor illuminate the characters to a great extent. The villains are still reassuringly, plot-functionally vile. Joffrey - now king - behaves predictably nastily in every single scene where he appears. Charles Dance in armour has shown up by now and looks a treat, but is no threat to my peace of mind so far. As Tywin, the head of the devious Lannister clan, he is introduced skinning an animal while talking about family honour, and then spends most of his time warlording. That's hardly shrewd villainy of the Tulkinghorn class - any thug can fight. In one episode I recently watched, Tywin did recognise at one glance that the disguised Arya Stark is actually a girl dressed as a boy. Now that's more like it. If, before long, he also twigs that she happens to be the lost sister of his enemy, he might still be going places villain-wise.
The one I should be rooting for most among the numerous GoT cast, though, is Lord Baelish, aka Littlefinger, who's not really that much more villainous than most of the rest of the characters. One pleasing feature of this series is that it doesn't put bravery and heroism above intelligence - Tyrion gets by on his wits, and he's easily one of the most likeable protagonists. Baelish, for his part, is a political survivor and schemer who'll ally himself with whoever lets him stay in power. Now, I truly love political schemers, but for the second time in a relatively short time period I find myself underwhelmed by a character who, on paper, looks tailor-made to be an object of my villain-loving affections. First, it was George the dishy banker in Poldark. Now it's Baelish, who somehow fails to gives me that "wow, he's like the Joseph Fouché of Westeros" feeling.
Maybe it's because I don't really get where they're going with this character, and it's not an enigma I find especially intriguing. Aiden Gillen certainly looks the part as Baelish - like Machiavelli, only handsomer - but I can't make out the way he underplays it. Now, I realise I'm spoiled at the moment in the villain-snarling department, but shouldn't a back-story monologue full of seething resentment be acted with a little bit of, well, seething resentment? Also, Baelish is saddled with one of those unrequited passions that have lasted a lifetime, where his loved one has never given him a word of encouragement. It's a ticklish motivation to carry off - if you've been stuck on one chick since boyhood without getting anywhere, even a villain-sympathetic audience like myself will sooner or later wish you could just get over it and find another girl - but Alan Rickman nailed it as Snape in the Harry Potter films. In contrast, Baelish's supposed devotion to Catelyn Stark never quite convinces. Honestly, you have to be able to do the Wounded Villain Heart Routine - if there were a Bachelor's programme in being a good villain, this would be second-semester stuff. Maybe my tastes are too unsubtle, but if Baelish is supposed to be a man who buries his bitterness beneath layers of bland courtesy I, for one, can only see the bland courtesy.
But that's fine. I confess that I still enjoy Game of Thrones partly because I don't care too much about the characters. Though more fully realised than in the first couple of episodes, they still retain a certain chess-piece quality, and I'm fully prepared for them to be taken off the board at any moment. Perhaps it's because I read reviews of the series beforehand; although, luckily, I don't remember who will die, I remember that a lot of the main characters are heading for the chop, and also that one character will eventually be castrated and kept as a slave. Most likely, it's some defence mechanism that keeps me from getting too attached to anyone that may be heading for a gruesome fate. So much for raising the drama stakes by throwing in random killings and maimings - but I'm not complaining, as long as my heart remains un-squeezed.