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Season 2 Episode 2 – “The Night Lands” Review

Game of Thrones has always been packed to the brim with characters and settings, but perhaps no episode has exemplified this more than “The Night Lands.” It ignores some major protagonists and jumps to an impressive number of less-familiar locations without as much explanatory dialogue as the previous episode, and I imagine casual fans could be completely disoriented. Of course, Game of Thrones isn’t really a show written for casual fans, and the sprawling nature of the story is a big part of what makes it so appealing to those who really immerse themselves. There are violent characters and subtle characters, creepily atmospheric scenes and wryly funny scenes, all of them woven together in a dark, bloody tapestry. “The Night Lands” isn’t the most thematically cohesive episode, and it is uneven in parts, but the show still has its trademark irresistible characters and dialogue, and it introduces some promising new aspects of the show. Season 2 is off to a good start.

As in most of the best episodes, Tyrion gets a lot to do. He sits on the council when the Lannisters learn of the North’s declaration of independence. He verbally jousts with Varys (whom he accuses of threatening him over Shae, whose presence goes against Lord Tywin’s orders). He also exiles the greedy commander of the City Watch, Janos Slynt, to join the Night’s Watch, and puts his own greedy mercenary Bronn in command. Then he deals with Cersei’s anger over the decision and over his very presence. This all provides a venue for Peter Dinklage’s considerable comedic talents, and the fine actors around him, but more importantly it’s a nice, familiar center for the episode, when so much of the rest is with newer characters in unfamiliar settings, and most of the Starks are absent.

Another fan favorite who we see this episode is Arya, and although her storyline is slimmer it’s also quite enjoyable. When men of the City Watch arrive at the Night’s Watch camp, she tells Gendry they’re looking for her, only to discover they’re actually looking for him. Her slip leads to the revelation that she’s actually Arya Stark, which results in some lighthearted mockery by Gendry. The trusting, playful dynamic between those two seems like it should provide something of an emotional core as well as comic relief, and the hapless bully Hot Pie (who thinks two men in armor makes a battle) provides some laughs as well. Then there are the three men chained in the cart, the mysterious Jaqen H’ghar and the brutish Rorge and Biter, whose roles aren’t quite yet clear, but who certainly aren’t there for comic relief. It’s a diverse crew heading for the Wall, and their little squabbles are, as I was hoping, already providing a nice contrast with the grand scheming of the high lords.

Apparently when you grow up in a castle they don't teach you how to use your words.

Not that that scheming is absent. Theon attempts some of his own as he brings Robb Stark’s offer of an alliance to his father Balon Greyjoy, though things go awry right from the start. First, Theon’s lechery hits the wrong target immediately, when he fondles the woman he thinks is only a servant taking him to the castle on horseback. She turns out, unfortunately, to be his sister Yara, whom he hasn’t seen in years (she is called Asha in the books, a much better name in my opinion). Yara’s teasing and manipulation of her brother are reduced from my recollection of the novel, which makes the scene play slightly less funny and more creepy, but Yara’s smirk when he finds out her identity is priceless. More pertinently to the plot, Theon’s father also doesn’t show much respect for him, and after criticizing his “womanly” nobleman’s garb and accessories paid for with mere money (rather than pillage), immediately rejects the possibility of an alliance with the Starks. He’d prefer to carve out his own kingdom, with Yara leading his forces, and not against the Lannisters… The casting in the Greyjoy plot thread so far seems excellent, and Theon should become a much more interesting character as a fish out of water within his own brutal family than he was as a Stark lackey.

We’ve all made that “I just realized I touched my sister inappropriately” face at one time or another.

The other major new plotline in season 2 is in Stannis Baratheon’s court. His loyal knight, the former smuggler Davos Seaworth, recruits the pirate Salladhor Saan and his fleet to aid Stannis in attacking the Lannisters. Salladhor’s genial, flamboyant mercenary personality is a welcome addition to the mostly grim proceedings surrounding Stannis, and I hope he recurs often. We also see Davos, who is all about loyalty and practicality, and his son Matthos, who is a fervent convert to the new Red God, clash over their beliefs despite their obvious love for each other. Davos might fill the “family man” role vacated by Ned Stark, and this is probably good, as Stannis definitely isn’t a family man. He wants to win even more than he wants to be honorable, and the red priestess Melisandre seems to seduce him with her power. And her rack. That helps. In any case, we see this affair begin which was only subtext in the book, and it will be interesting to see how prominently the relationship plays out, and whether Stannis’s family will play much of a role.

Daenerys has a smaller role in “The Night Lands,” although it is poignant. The horse of Rakharo, the rider who wielded a whip in Dany’s service and had developed a rapport with Ser Jorah, returns with a head in a bag. We don’t actually see the face, but Jorah’s reaction indicates that it is Rakharo, and Irri mourns his death and lack of a proper burning. The character does not die in the novel, and Dany seems primed to avenge his death, so it is possible that this plotline will head in an entirely new direction. I will be disappointed if Rakharo is actually dead, though, as he was one of the few Dothraki characters with any development, and Dany’s khalasar would seem rather faceless without him.

The final plot thread in this episode is that of the Night’s Watch in the camp of the wildling Craster and his daughter-wives. Sam takes pity on a pregnant girl named Gilly (and perhaps likes that she thinks he is brave for telling off the dire wolf Ghost); Craster’s male children meet with some mysterious fate, and he wants to help her escape with her unborn child. Jon reproaches Sam for the impracticability of the plan, but at the end of the episode he witnesses the disturbing sight of a baby being taken by what looks like a White Walker, before Craster appears and strikes him. After Mormont already upbraided Jon for getting on Craster’s bad side, this can lead to no good.

“The Night Lands” won’t stand as one of the series’ very best. It has few setpiece events or major twists. But it is filled with cracking dialogue and interesting moments, and builds on the last episode to put season 2 on the right trajectory. The stage is being set, and it looks like we’ll have some big revelations and confrontations in short order. In the mean time, I’m happy with episodes like this, that move things forward competently while building an engaging, entertaining world to live in for an hour.

Rating: 4.5/5 daggers to the groin

I just felt like this article needed another picture. Why not a dagger to the groin?

Random thoughts and quotations:

- Dolorous Edd Watch: Our favorite dourly funny Night’s Watchman gets some good dialogue tonight. “If the gods wanted us to have dignity, they wouldn’t make us fart when we died.”

- Tyrion: “I’m not Ned Stark. I understand the way this game is played.” Poor Ned is still getting dumped on in the grave.

- After Cersei tears up Robb’s treaty offer, Tyrion remarks: “You’ve perfected the art of tearing up papers.” I’d noticed that as well, after her dramatic tearing up of Robert’s final testament last season. Does she practice in front of a mirror?

- Cersei, on Mance Rayder, the new king of the wildlings: “Another king? How many is that now, five? I’ve lost count.”

- I’m not generally a huge fan of the added scenes with Littlefinger in his brothel, as they remove a bit of his mysteriousness, but I thought this one worked pretty well, when he quietly intimidates Ros the prostitute into getting over her grief for the murdered baby before she becomes a “bad investment.” It does show something of how calculating and ruthless he can be, and it’s always fun to see Littlefinger be calculating and ruthless.

- Janos: “That your new squite? We’ll need to find you a proper lad.

Tyrion: “Myself, I prefer the improper ones.”

- Tyrion: “If I told you to murder an infant girl, say, still at her mother’s breast, would you do it without question?”

Bronn: “Without question? No. I’d ask how much.”

- Gendry: “You’re a lady… all that about cocks, I shouldn’t have said that. And I’ve been pissing in front of you and everything. I should be calling you m’lady.”

Arya: “Do not call me m’lady!” *shoves him*

Gendry: “Well that was unladylike.”

- Matthos: “We’re not going to King’s Landing so you can rape the queen.”

Salladhor: “I’m not going to rape her, I’m going to fuck her.”

Matthos: “As if she would just let you!”

Salladhor: “You don’t know how persuasive I am. I never tried to fuck you.”

The pirate’s little jump toward Matthos and his scared reaction are hilarious.

- Cersei: “You want to be Hand of the King? You want to rule? This is what ruling is. Lying on a bed of weeds, ripping them out by the root, one by one, before they strangle you in your sleep.”

- This episode had more divergences from the books than any other I can remember. For those of you who read the books, do you like or dislike the changes?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • DanOhh April 9, 2012, 2:27 pm

    I didn’t care for any of this episodes divergences from the book. I just think they really didn’t add anything to the character development. In the books it’s implied that Stannis/Melisandre are getting it on but it’s still a mystery.

  • lily April 11, 2012, 2:13 am

    I thought this episode was a bit disjointed, but maybe it’s just a build up for the rest of the episodes. And I didn’t like the idea of Stannis actually having an affair with Melisandre. If I remember correctly the book didn’t actually show that. Their relashionship was mysterious and it is so out of charachter for Stannis himself.

    • Skyler April 11, 2012, 11:52 pm

      I’d agree it was rather disjointed. That’s sometimes a problem with shows that have season long arcs rather than merely episode long arcs. But I thought there was a lot of good writing and individual scenes in the episode.

      And yeah as you and Dan mentioned the books don’t show Stannis/Melisandre. Many of the more implied elements have been brought to the surface it seems, like with Renly/Loras.

  • LaTone April 11, 2012, 5:23 pm

    I haven’t read the books, love the show and I was a big fan of the Starks but after this episode I like the Greyjoy’s more! “Did you get it the iron way or the gold way ?” – CLASSIC

    • Skyler April 11, 2012, 11:54 pm

      Great line indeed! Balon is a fun character, and the actor is great so far.

  • Luis April 15, 2012, 2:13 pm

    I’ve also been pretty disappointed by the diversions too. I feel like they’ve changed Littlefinger’s character. Like when you flat out threatened the queen in the first episode this season. That’s not Littlefinger, he’s way more crafty than that. And all of his brothel scenes are feeling more unnecessary and annoying than helpful. I feel like there are other ways they could’ve character developed him without resorting to just sexy scenes and open threats. And also the Stannis and Melisandre thing. I’m not completely mad about it, but I would’ve liked it better I think if we saw that scene unresolved like Stannis was contemplating it but we don’t know what he decided to do maybe? I also think they’re starting to change Tyrion a little too much too. He’s pretty much the lead male role replacing Ned Stark from the first season, and I think they got him mostly right. He has his own sort of nobleness that they like to show off, but even though he’s a generally good guy, he’s also pretty damn conniving and kind of a dirty slut, lol. But I think his scene with Janos made him seem too just as opposed to having that bit selfishness that Tyrion has. And his scenes with Shae are too …proper to say the least. Like Tyrion is a dirty horny man, lol. But I like him that way. And then of course there’s that whole stuff with Dany where people who don’t die keep dying. They did that least season too. It might not matter, but who knows with future books still coming out? I guess overall so far I don’t hate the changes they’ve made, but I’m worried that there will be a butterfly effect down the road and the show just won’t be as good anymore. I’m hoping against all hopes I am wrong though. :/

  • Walter April 19, 2012, 6:20 pm

    I really like the Game of Thrones and am a newbie when it comes to the series since I have not read the book. However, it is looking more and more with each passing episode that depsite having a brilliant story at their disposal, the producers of the show seem keen to litter it with nudity and violence that is UNRELATED to the story. For the record, I am not one of those nay-saying conservative creeps who is disgusted by nudity and was impressed that they showed Ned Stark’s beheading as well as the beheading of the ‘deserter’ from the Night’s watch in the very first episode in Season 1. I didn’t have a problem with them showing the brothels in King’s Landing, the naked prostitutes, intercourse in the brothels and what roles the prostitutes play in power politics there.

    But I think the producers are simply trying to go for shock value now and indulge in stunts just for the sake of it. It seems to be escalating with each episode. The cutting of a singer’s tongue on Joffrey’s orders added NOTHING to the story. Same with Ros, the prostitute, flashing Theon in an earlier episode that did NOTHING to further the storyline. Yes, we know she is a whore. We get the idea.

    I hope the show does not come to be plagued by such instances in the future.

    Lastly, also intriguing is their use of the word ‘fuck’ and ‘fucking’. I am again confused because I didn’t think that those words were used in medieval times. It’s inconsistent with the show’s overall theme and demeanour that usually relies on victorian terms and phrases in addition to well crafted verbose and circuitous answers. Again, if that’s the way it is in the book, then who am I to tell them to change it. But I mention this since this is a television show now and not just a book. To me it is akin to breaking the fourth wall when they do that since everything shown on the show suggests otherwise.

    I hope they rectify these issues.

    • Skyler April 19, 2012, 8:24 pm

      Interesting thoughts, Walter!

      On the F-word however, we do know that it was used at least in the late medieval period in English (possibly earlier), and related words have longer recorded histories in other Germanic languages. So on that point I do actually like that the book and show try to get away from a “sanitized” version of medieval life.