‘Game of Thrones’ vs. ‘The Killing’ — Which show has a better second season?

Mireille Enos stars in AMC's 'The Killing' — Photo courtesy of Carole Segal / AMC

For Sunday-night TV fans, there is a terribly difficult debate on which shows should be watched live and which shows should be saved later for repeats or DVR viewings. On AMC, we have The Killing, a murder mystery that enthralled audiences during its first season, but lost that support in its somewhat controversial season finale. On HBO, Game of Thrones dominated ratings in its first season and continues to lead the cable pack in its second outing.

Now that both shows are nearing the end of their second installment of episodes, it’s time to look back and see which hour of television has proved the most rewarding.

It should come as no surprise that expectations were quite high for Game of Thrones. Based on a series of successful books by George R.R. Martin, the fantasy show has woven a convoluted, but fascinating tapestry of colorful characters all in search of power. It features some of the best supporting work on television, and the plot is always surprising and original (at least to viewers who have not read the books).

Season two is enjoyable, but a step down from the inaugural set of episodes. With Ned Stark (Sean Bean) gone and Westeros in tumult, the show has taken a 180 and focused on different characters and a variety of new plot lines. Fans of season one will likely be dismayed that so much has been thrown out the door.

The Starks are all split apart, with Sansa (Sophie Turner) stuck in a violent relationship with the young King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), Arya (Maisie Williams) posing as a young boy on her way to the Wall, Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) keeping watch over Winterfell, and Robb (Richard Madden) trying to fill his father’s large shoes. Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) tries to keep everything together, but she is pulled in one too many directions.

The Lannisters are not faring any better. Joffrey is a maniacal, sadistic king who enjoys his power a little too much. His mother, Cersei (Lena Headey), adores her children but can’t help scheming behind everyone’s back. Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is still the best character of the entire series. His temporary position as the new hand of the king is the most welcome development of the second season, and Dinklage still knows how to make this forgotten Lannister intriguing and interesting. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is a prisoner of Robb’s and serves as a bargaining chip for the great war between the Lannisters and Starks.

Courtesy of HBO

Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) may be dead, but his brothers are still vying for their piece of the crown. Renly (Gethin Anthony) has the forces, while Stannis (Stephen Dillane) has the magic. Spoiler alert: Only one brother makes it out alive.

Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is stuck beyond the wall in the northern reaches of this fantasy land, while Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) just continues to complain across the Narrow Sea (with her three dragons by her side).

Season two is supposed to be about war and strategizing, but the series never displays any of the action. We are left with the build up and aftermath of the battles, but very little fighting makes it onto the screen. Staying true to its title, the HBO series is much more interested in the “game” of who will earn the throne.

If season one was a solid “A,” then season two deserves a solid “B.” It’s still better than most other shows on TV, but hasn’t reached the same heights as last year.

Best Development: Tyrion becoming hand of the king.

Worst Development: Arya coincidentally becoming the assistant of Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance).

On The Killing front, many viewers have left the AMC series, upset that the Rosie Larsen case continues into the second season. I count myself as one of the few fans who enjoyed the season one finale, and that’s mostly because the Larsen family is filled with some interesting characters, people I didn’t exactly want to see leave the show.

Season two has continued the excellence of the first season, and, in some ways, surpassed last year’s efforts. The show is still one of the undeniable joys of primetime television. They don’t make police procedurals like this one, and they probably never will again. Here’s hoping AMC comes to its senses and renews the murder mystery for a third season.

Detectives Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) are still on the case to find the killer. Their investigation has taken them in many directions, and their finger-pointing has had consequences. When they accused mayoral candidate Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) of killing Rosie, the politician was shot in the back by Belko Royce (Brendan Sexton III). This has left Richmond paralyzed and severely down in the polls (I’m not sure what makes him more upset).

After Linden and Holder settle a few differences they had at the end of season one, the detectives team up and turn a microscope on an Indian reservation that runs a casino on Seattle’s waterfront. It appears that the answers to Rosie’s whereabouts on the night she was murdered can be found somewhere on the reservation. But the two detectives are facing insurmountable obstacles. When they cross Seattle city limits and enter the reservation, they are tracked down and beaten up. When they continue to pry, their department pulls the plug on the investigation.

All of this happens while Linden continues to struggle with her son’s safety and upbringing. She’s obviously a devoted mother, but hasn’t figured out how to balance her duties to the job and her duties at home.

Enos and Kinnaman are two of the finest actors working in television. The fact that they don’t receive more praise for these performances is television sacrilege. The Killing is still one of the best shows on TV, and these two central characters make the series an absolute must-see event week after week.

It’s a tight race on which show is better, but for my money: I watch The Killing live every Sunday night and catch up with Game of Thrones on reruns.

What say you?

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

10 thoughts on “‘Game of Thrones’ vs. ‘The Killing’ — Which show has a better second season?

  • May 26, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    Ha. Comparing the best tv series (Thrones) to the absolute rock bottom of the barrel. Veena Sud may be the worst writer to come down the pike in ages(and that’s saying something!). John, the show is going to be cancelled because no one liked it. It simply sucks toilet water. Nothing like watching a couple of pasty faced inept moronic detectives(one a re-covering white boy meth-head and the other a baggy sweater-wearing woman who when not neglecting her child in episode after episode, is staring vacantly off in the distance chewing nicorette! Wow! What truly fascinating characters!).. Seriously, how many red herrings can you count on Thrones? That’s what I thought. If “The Killing” wanted to stay on for a 2nd season, then I would expect it should have bothered writing a script. I actually feel bad for the actors on The Killing. Can you imagine having to explain 20 something red herrings and fake endings to people ? How can anyone so badly screw up a re-make? Lol!

  • May 26, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Oops.. I meant “stay on for a 3rd season”.. But there really was only supposed to be 1 season (AMC’s biggest advertising blunder,ever). Honestly, I cared about Laura Palmer, not Rosie Larsen. The Killing (Christ, Kubrick’s rolling in his grave), like Linden’s smelly un-washed sweater, STINKS.

  • May 26, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    Wheez – Are you kidding me???!!? The Killing is a FANTASTIC slow burn series – When you say too many “red herrings” I suppose you mean encompassing more plot depth than just a quick attention deficit formula procedural approach? Why the Laura Palmer comment? The point is not about who killed Rosie Larsen anyway. :0 I agree the storyline maybe does not quite do justice to what the hugely talented actors bring to the mix, but the way you attack Veena Sud’s interpretation of what was a wildly successful European makes you sound like someone who has only eaten a MacDonald’s Big Mac complaining that your finely seasoned rare steak does not have ketchup on it. I would like to thank Venna Sud whole heartedly for bringing this story to TV in North America, and all things considered, The Killing is a great piece of welcome drama for millions of people with good taste, maybe just not right for you.

  • May 26, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    R u serious? Game of Thrones all the way, the Killing sucks

  • May 26, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    Wheez said it all and said it best. Game of Thrones is King.

    • May 26, 2012 at 11:46 pm

      Game of Thrones is a great series, but the Killing is also great, the comments from wheez are ridiculous, and Bob is eating greasy fries with wheez obviously, so carry on, pearls in front of swine comes to mind.

      • May 27, 2012 at 4:02 pm

        No Mr.Rabbit, I’m not kidding you. The Killing is truly one of the biggest disappointments in modern television broadcasting. The main characters are some of the dumbest, shallowest, detectives I’ve ever seen. I was excited when the show originally came on in it’s first season(even telling my Mom to tune in)…Never has a cast of good actors been completely squandered with abysmal writing. Comparing Game of Thrones to The Killing is like comparing The Treasure of Sierra Madre to WaterWorld. Veena Sud has eaten a Big Mac, washed it down with a Slurpee, and regurgitated it into your lap. You should probably wash it off before it stains your khakis you bought at Wal-Mart completely. Remember “Don’t eat stuff off the Sidewalk”

  • May 27, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Sorry, but not only is Game of Thrones a far superior show on nearly every level from The Killing, I almost entirely disagree with all of your criticisms of GoT.

    I think this season has been on average much more streamlined and successful in creating a natural flow between its many storylines. Arya being with Tywin has resulted in some of the best scenes in the season so far! Sure it is a departure from the book, but that list is getting to long to pay much attention to any more. The only things that have bothered me have been changes in a character’s morality they’ve made from the book (Jaime Lannister’s storyline being the most egregious). Still, very good show and far better than The Killing which is looking like might not even get a 3rd season.

  • May 27, 2012 at 11:48 am

    All interesting comments so far. … Here are a few more thoughts:

    I’m not sure if there’s any plausible way to justify Arya’s presence with Tywin. He’s the head of the Lannister army and she’s a key pawn in this convoluted ‘Game of Thrones.’ Having them come together as a case of mistaken identity is almost like a contrived Shakespearean plot line. It cheapens the entire story, and I’m not sure if much is learned in their interaction. Sure, Arya is getting secret information, but she can’t do anything with it. And Tywin is showing a fatherly side, but when a relationship is built on such a far-fetched origin, it’s tough to appreciate anything.

    I’m open to the argument that Game of Thrones has had a better second season than The Killing, but I’m not sure that everyone who hates The Killing is truly looking back at the episodes this season. There are three scenes in recent episodes that floored me:


    • Linden having to say goodbye to her son in the airport. That was a perfect scene that balanced the emotional resonance of their relationship with the mysterious history of Linden’s character.

    • When Stan Larsen tried to gather tips from the public on Rosie’s murderer, he had a sit-down with a woman who appears to be genuinely concerned. As the conversation slowly morphs (she’s actually a “medium” who would like to contact Rosie on Stan’s behalf), the camera focuses on this father’s pained face.

    • I agree there are too many red herrings, but the show has finely focused on one vein: The Indian reservation and its uneasy relationship with the city of Seattle. The final minutes of last week’s episode, when Linden is searching in the hotel construction site, felt like a quality horror movie. I will be the first one to say: If the Indian reservation/casino has nothing to do with Rosie’s murder — then we have been led down too many paths.

    It’s a tomato-tomatto debate … Right now I’m excited for The Killing’s finale. That’s not to say I’m not hyped for Game of Thrones.

    What say you?

  • May 30, 2012 at 4:14 am

    The Killing is far superior!

    I’m guessing those that aren’t writing favourably about it only watch the show to find out who the killer is and are not invested in the characters. Also, they’re probably writing based solely on the first season. This season has been much more focused. Each episode builds on the last and it’s all coming together now.


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