Review: Game of Thrones S2E02 “The Night Lands”


“You shouldn’t insult people bigger than you.” — Gendry

Tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones saw some major power plays from old stalwarts fans have grown to love since season 1 and from newly introduced character from this season’s premiere episode. The show has continued to go on its own pace with some episode bereft of action and heavy on character interactions and exposition. Tonight’s episode was one of them.

“The Night Lands” was tonight’s episode and it comes from the Dothraki term for death. It’s interesting to note that the title itself didn’t lead to much death with tonight’s episode. What it did was set-up plans that would lead to the death of hundreds, if not thousands, and also reveal that all the power plays all the self-proclaimed kings and queens south of the wall will be for naught if the true danger posed by the gathering wildlings north of the Wall doesn’t get it’s due focus. Then there’s the problem of a long winter arriving and with it the prospect of the Others (renamed White Walkers for the show) posing the greatest danger to everyone on Westeros, if not, the world itself.

Tonight’s episode gave quality time, some of it brief, to several characters. We got to see the continuing hardship being felt by Daenerys and her khalasar as they travel the Red Waste. Their very privations would get compounded by the dangers posed by rival khals led by the very commanders who once called Daenerys’ husband, Khal Drogo, their liege. She had the briefest time during tonight’s episode but we got to see some growth to her becoming a true leader as she refuses to run from the very people hunting her for just being a leader in a land where men have always held power.

We also get an exercise in personal power from Littlefinger who was rudely disabused by Queen Regent Cersei that for all his talk about knowledge being the source of power in the end he held no more than what’s allowed him by those who are of higher station and of noble birth. Littlefinger gets back a semblance of his personal power by telling quite a horrific tale to his favorite whore in Ros. One who has earned his disfavor by not doing well what he has trained and paid her to do. The quiet way Littlefinger tells the story of another whore of his in the past who failed to do her job and thus forced him to have her used and abused was chilling and definitely gave Ros the hint that she better shape up or the same would befall her.

A power play of another sort involved the plans and machinations of Ser Davos Seaworth has he successfully gets the pirate captain Salladhor Saan to commit his fleet of 30 ships to fight for Stannis Baratheon when they make for King’s Landing. While his loyalty towards Stannis is borne out of gratitude and one well-earned his son looks to be more loyal towards the new religion sweeping Dragonstone and Stannis followers. Even Stannis has begun to tire of Melisandre’s talk of faith in the Lord of Light to grant him the victory he so wants, but knows he cannot achieve unless he pries the 100,000 or so men who have pledge loyalty to Renly into his own army. Melisandre’s own move to cementing her influence and power over the elder brother plays upon Stannis’ longing to have a son his sickly wife hasn’t been able to give him. For all his talk of black-and-white when it comes to the realities of the world Stannis is still more than willing to deal with cutthroats and pirates. He’s even willing to forgo his marriage vow if it means Melisandre will give him the son he wants.

But tonight’s episode was about two men whose attempts to tip the balance of power in the kingdom and in the war was met with success for one and abject humiliation and defeat for another.

We finally get to see the Iron Islands from whence Theon Greyjoy’s family holds power and where he is returning home to offer King Robb Stark’s terms for an alliance against the Lannisters. Theon (played by Alfie Allen) has always come off as the wanna-be hanger on who thinks the leftover crumbs left by the Stark boys meant he has power and influence. He’s disabused of this notion when he gets a less than ostentatious welcome when he arrives on his land of birth. His penchant for bragging about his self-importance has made him into a lecherous joke when his initial encounter with his younger sister Yara (who he doesn’t recognize as such and thus his lame attempt at seduction makes for a very funny and uncomfortable scene) shows him to be soft, no iron in his make-up and a fool as well. His father, Balon Greyjoy, further insults his western ways and attire and parades Yara as his new heir and one worthy to lead the Greyjoy fleets. A fleet Theon had hoped would fight with Robb against the Lannister, but instead strike at a much more inviting and less defended target (not said but implied that Winterfell will soon get a visit from the men of the Iron Isles).

Farther south, we see Tyrion further cementing his power in the role his father has appointed him. While Tyrion has always seemed the one person in the whole series who sees the joke kings, queens and lords have made of themselves and the kingdom, he seem to be perfect in the role of the new Hand of the King. As he proclaims to Varys during their brief weighing of each other at his room in the castle, Tyrion is not Ned Stark. He knows how to play the game of thrones and he’s not honorable to fall for whatever plans Varys and others may have for and against him. He even exercises his new found power by banishing the Lord Commander of the City Watch (the Goldcloaks) Janos Slynt for his role in the massacre of King Robert’s bastard sons. Tyrion may be an imp who no one takes seriously and, who himself, doesn’t take his role as seriously as he thinks he should, but he draws the line when it comes to the slaughter of innocent babes and children. The fact that he has correctly guessed the pulse of the people has made him Cersei’s biggest ally in the Royal Court in reining in the power-mad King Joffrey, but familial resentment between sister and younger brother means Tyrion will forever by trying to clean up after his family and it’s a job that he knows he cannot hope to win.

Tonight’s episode was once again helmed by Alan Taylor who also directed the season premiere. Like that episode, tonight had the show moving from different points on the map. We go from North of the Wall to King’s Landing then to the Iron Isles, the Red Waste and Dragonstone. Taylor seems able to juggle these different threads that could easily have made tonight’s episode hard to follow. It’s a testament to Benioff and Weiss as writers to have been able to cram all these scenes together and make them easy to follow.

Next week’s episode sees a new director at the help and a new writer. It’d be interesting to see if the show can continue such a high level of execution without Taylor, Weiss and Benioff manning the till.

Notes

  • Tonight’s opening title sequence gets a new location added to it’s clockwork mechanism with the inclusion of Pyke on the Iron Isles.
  • It was great to see Arya getting some screen time as she deals with hiding as a boy with the rest of the caravan being led by Yoren to the Wall.
  • We get our first introduction to someone who will have a major impact in Arya’s future with the mysterious prisoner Jaqen H’ghar play by Tom Wlaschiha.
  • The elder brother-little sister dynamic growing between Arya and Gendry was also good to see especially with Arya’s whole world being turned upside down and her not knowing if her own brothers still live.
  • Bronn appear briefly to take over as the new Lord Commander of the City Watch and his brief dialogue between himself and Tyrion was a welcome sight. If they ever made a spin-off series about the adventures of Tyrion and Bronn it would be well-watched.
  • North of the Wall, Jon’s direwolf Ghost makes an appearance that looks better executed than the CGI used to enlarge Robb’s Greywind.
  • The introduction of one of Caster’s young daughter-wives (a piece of detail that’s sure to make many viewers disturbed for even knowing) and Sam as her potential savior is another brick laid down for the show’s future.
  • Interesting to note that Salladhor Saan is played by a black man instead of the fair-skinned man of Lys as originally described by Martin in the novels. I’m all for the change, but I’m sure the less-educated fans of the books would find the change none to their liking. I call it the “Hunger Games Rant”.
  • Great turn by Gemma Whelan as Yara Greyjoy (Asha Greyjoy in the books). Her manipulation of Theon was pitch-perfect especially during their disturbingly inappropriate horse ride to Castle Pyke.

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