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.
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