Game of Thrones Revisited: 2.02 The Night Lands
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Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And in 2019, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros and the rest of the world, and this time we visit the Ironborn for the first time in a less than savoury episode of Games of Thrones...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
The second episode of Game of Thrones season two is a typical of everything that is great with the show and everything wrong with it too. That may sound like it is not a good episode but that simply isn't true. There are enough character moments, plot twists and turns to make most TV pale in comparison, but there are some obvious faults too.
So let's address those issues first. The Night Lands is another plate spinner, flitting between storylines with barely a chance to breathe. The scale of the show has expanded in the space of a couple of episodes but it one that could have done with Daenerys and her people wandering in the desert in despair. As terrible as it was to have Rakharo's head returned in his horse's saddle bag, there wasn't anything learned about her situation.
Similarly for the Night's Watch in their mission beyond the Wall. There was something utterly endearing about Sam wanting to save Tilly but the final scene as Jon spied on the villainous Craster felt tacked on just to give the episode a cliff-hanger. Sure there was plenty of atmosphere as the baby was taken by a mysterious figure and Jon being attacked by Craster himself, but neither parts of this storyline were given room to explore fully.
The other problem was the sheer amount of gratuitous sex on display. Sex and violence are a big part of Game of Thrones, exploring the physical brutality of this world. I have no issue with either if it works narratively; like bad language, it can be effective if used right. But this episode felt more concerned with giving the audience titillation and softcore porn then telling a comprehensive tale. What did Theon's sex session with the captain's daughter tell us? Did the naked prostitutes in Littlefinger's brothel add anything? And Theon fingering his sister Yara gave The Night Lands an unsavoury reputation as the 'incest episode'.
However, once we got into the Iron Born stuff, things did get far more interesting. As disturbing as it might have been to see Yara play Theon by allowing him to touch her, we did see that she was a force to be reckoned with and Gemma Whelan certainly makes an impression - she's not the courtly noblewoman or whore which the majority of the female cast have fallen into so far. Their father Balon Greyjoy is equally as imposing, delivered with venomous intensity by Patrick Malahide. His disgust at Theon's upbringing and throwing Robb Stark's offer for kingship into the flames is the beginning of a turning point for the young Ironborn ward, one we all know will not end well.
There was even more sex over at Dragonstone, but in contrast to the other scenes, Melissandre's seduction of Stannis felt more central to the storyline, even if it suffered too with lack of focused development over the two episodes. It's more intriguing knowing how her 'pregnancy' will impact the season. But at this stage, the most interesting aspect of the Dragonstone setting is Davos (Liam Cunningham), who's gruff integrity acts as a refreshing change to the schemes and betrayals happening all around him.
There were more introductions this episode as Arya encountered the brutality of Rorge's words from the cage, while Tom Wlaschiha's debut as Jaqen H'ghar was very mysterious. There's also a nice double bluff as the King's Landing City Guard arrive in pursuit of Robert's bastard Gendry and not the as of yet hidden Stark daughter. There was great little scene where Gendry boldly confronts Arya about being a girl hiding as a boy and then humbly backtracks when he learns her new identity.
Yet again, the most fun is had at King's Landing and it all surrounds Tyrion; like the book on which it is based, this is one of best seasons for the Lannister Dwarf. Peter Dinklage shines in every moment, facing off against his sister and the Little Council (though failing to convince them that the message of warning about the rising dead from Commander Mormont might be real) or going head to heading with a scheming Varys who discovers the hidden Shae all too quickly. I've always loved the interplay between Varys and Littlefinger but Tyrion is equally as cunning when face to face with the Spider.
The scene where Tyrion dines City Watch commander Janos Slynt is the episode's greatest moment as the Hand of the King confronts Slynt over he brutality of killing babies at his sister's command and then exiles him to the Wall, replacing him with Bronn. It shows just how cunning and good at his job Tyrion is, taking out his potential enemies and fighting for justice while still retaining his family's honour.
The Night Lands was possibly the weakest episode of Games of Thrones so far; it's more eventful perhaps than early season one episodes but there was already a sense that it was juggling one two many storylines on screen. And that's with Robb and Catelyn and Bran absent from the proceedings. The amount of sex on screen doesn't seem justified either. But it does set up the Ironborn nicely, and shows Tyrion in his element at King's Landing. And the best, of course, is still to come.