When George R.R. Martin says he's created a universe, he isn't joking. The series of books that Game of Thrones is based on, A Song of Ice and Fire, is an intimidating beast, housing thousands of characters (no exaggeration) who are headed in different directions and overlapping. It takes a brain full of sticky traps to keep all the information straight, and only those with high-definition photographic memories can retain everything on one pass.
The HBO series isn't going to challenge its viewers like the books challenge their readers—TV audiences are notorious for their iffy attention spa...hey what's that over there?—but it will branch out both geographically and charactorially (you know what I mean). And that's what was happening in tonight's "The Night Lands." The episode was far from the "Welcome back!" installment that was last week's Season 2 premiere, giving more screen time to characters we thought were secondary and focusing more on the "main" characters' surroundings than on their own endeavors.
And that's what is going to separate the devoted fans of the series from those without the constitution to handle a project like this. (This doesn't apply to people who've read the books; they should be delighted to see everything laid out so well on television.) We'll be spending a lot of time with new characters by either seeing them from a "main" character's point of view (Gendry, Lommy, Hot Pie, Jaqen H'gar) or from a new point of view altogether (Davos, Stannis, Melisandre). But instead of faulting these new characters for taking time away from the ones you want to see, it's best to get wrapped up in their stories as well. And because Martin is such a good storyteller, that shouldn't be a problem. Don't worry, I'll hold your hand through all of this. And if you ever have questions, the best way to reach me is through Twitter!
"The Night Lands" also reminded us that this story has a lot of boinking in it. I wonder how many 14-year-olds are learning the Reverse Cowgirl from this show? I haven't been keeping count, but I'm pretty sure this episode had the most exposed boobs and simulated sex acts of the series so far. Puritans will say the sex is gratuitous, explicit, and oh-so naughty. Fans of the series will say it's necessary to the show's storylines, characterizations, and emphasis on power (power is often portrayed through bow-chicka-wow-wow). I'll go on the record by saying I like boobs.
But the way the sex is handled on this show is very telling. Have we ever seen sex portrayed as romantic in Game of Thrones? Catelyn never led Ned out on the balcony. Tyrion hasn't covered a bed in rose petals for a two-bit whore. The only time we've seen the act in a romantic sense was when Dany finally tamed Drogo, and that was a huge part of her story. The sex, as graphic as it is, goes hand-in-hand with the violence, and it's here to remind us how this world works. This world is simple, brutal, and unforgiving.
Now let's cover what happened in "The Night Lands."
"The boy has more courage than sense."
After a peek at Arya last week, we finally caught up with her on her way to the Wall with Yoren, recruiter for the Night's Watch. And the first thing we saw was her peeing. Like a girl, obviously. But it was a great choice for a first scene because her life depends on convincing everyone else she's a boy—and since she doesn't have a lizard to drain, she has to squat out of view of everyone else. This show makes such great decisions with its shots; just a tiny detail can make such a big difference in the storytelling.
Gendry is becoming an instrumental character in this storyline. As Robert's bastard son, Gendry doesn't exactly have a claim to the throne. But a bastard who's got part of the former king's gene pool is closer to king than Joffrey, the spawn of Lannister-on-Lannister action. The Goldcloaks, who serve as the cops of King's Landing and are under command by Joffrey, traveled all the way up the Kingsroad in search of Gendry. Thankfully Yoren wasn't intimidated, and convinced them to be on their way with a simple dagger to the groin. But something tells me that when the Goldcloaks go back to Joffrey and say they couldn't find Gendry, the little brat is going to say, "Well go out and look for him again."
After the Goldcloaks left, Arya admitted to Gendry that she's a Stark, and Gendry seemed both impressed and indifferent, apologizing for telling her to take her dick out but also engaging in some good old-fashioned horseplay. Gendry's a good kid and might be the older brother she needs in Jon Snow's absence.
Arya also has some new frenemies—the two kids, Hot Pie (the fat one) and Lommy, who were introduced at the end of Season 1. And there's also that cage holding three of the worst criminals in Yoren's caravan. The eloquent one told Arya his name is Jaqen H'ghar, one of the series' most difficult names to remember. The other two are much scarier, and I'm partial to the one who looks like a test patient from the British School of Dentistry. Appropriately, his name is Biter. Why do I get the feeling these guys won't stay in that cage for long?
Was it Ned Stark's pleasure to make you his daughter?"
What's this? Now we have to follow Theon around the globe? Yup. Theon traveled home tonight to visit dear old dad to ask for support for Robb's war. A lot of people hate Theon because he's cocky, he's constantly boasting about his sexual prowess, and he shows us his dong on television. But I think he's great because he's so strongly defined.
Did you see the way he treated that chick on his boat? She was his "why not?" for an entire voyage, and all the woman could do was take it and pray that he'd take her with him onto the island. But Theon is such a sleaze he all but laughed in her face. This is Theon Greyjoy, grade-A asshole.
But for every grade-A asshole in Game of Thrones, there's at least one person ready to remind the asshole that he's an asshole. Balon Greyjoy, Theon's dad, welcomed his garishly dressed son with a parade of disses, stopping just short of asking Theon if his vagina was sore. And the young lass who escorted Theon back to Pyke on that touchy-feely, gropey, hands-down-the-pants horse ride? That's Yara, Theon's sister (in the books she's named Asha, but GoT producers thought the name was too close to Osha, the Wildling woman who hangs out with Bran). Just when you thought families couldn't get more effed up in this series, Yara let her brother get to third base just to see the look on his face when he found out who she was. And now she's their dad's favorite son. Theon, you just got ultimate burned, bro!
Don't forget Theon's background. The reason he was raised by the Starks was that he was handed over to them as a tribute after Balon Greyjoy's failed rebellion. Balon had to offer Ned his youngest son to be Ned's ward, but Ned was such a good guy that he raised Theon almost like a son instead of a servant, and Robb took him on as his best friend. So you'll have to excuse Balon for being so disappointed when Theon showed up looking like a Stark, because the Starks crushed Balon's rebellion. The Starks may not be flashy, but they're not grungy like the sea-sprayed Greyjoys. Remember where you're from, Theon.
"I wish I had a God."
More time with new characters! Davos set out to gather troops for Stannis's impending assault on King's Landing, so he went to see his old pirate buddy Salladhor Saan. Yes, there are black people in Westeros. Saan is a cheery fellow who thinks with his penis. His one condition for joining Davos and Stannis was simple: When King's Landing is overthrown, he gets to bang the queen. This is my kind of guy.
Those of you looking for a replacement for the honorable Ned Stark might want to latch onto Davos. He was a smuggler in his past life, but he's a practical man who knows what needs to be done.
Back at Dragonstone, Stannis wasn't exactly overjoyed to find out he'll be working with an armada of sex-crazed pirates, but he doesn't really have a choice and must take what he gets. However, he was overjoyed when Melisandre gave him a look that belonged in a Cialis commercial. In case you didn't pick up what they were saying during their sexy talk, Melisandre vowed that she would birth Stannis a son because Stannis's wife, who is currently dying a slow death in a tower on Dragonstone, only gave him girls and dead babies. So bam! Melisandre let him take her right there on the table for one of the hottest old-people-sex scenes in a long time. And then things got symbolic as their table-rockin' knocked a bunch of pieces off the great war board. Were those Stannis's pieces that tumbled onto the floor? Will this union portend the doom of Stannis or his foes? Were you expecting Melisandre to get naked? She's trouble, but she's also magnetic. Big round of applause for actress Carice van Houten, who has really captured the character's mystique.
"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."
Back at King's Landing, Varys was hanging out with Tyrion's chica, Shae. They call Varys the spider for good reason; instead of sinking his fangs into you and sucking your insides out, he slyly gets all the information he can. Varys's power is knowledge, and if you ever come home to find him in your crib chattin' with your girl, it's not a good thing. No wonder Tyrion was so prickly.
But the juicy stuff that made me gasp were the daggers thrown between Cersei and Tyrion. These two plain don't like each other. While Tyrion was busy setting things up to go his way (his dismissal of Janos Slynt as commander of the Goldcloaks was a big power move), Cersei was whining about how running the realm has fallen to her. Oh, you poor thing. The tough decisions she's making are with no regard for the people. She's totally the Westeros 1%, and has forgotten the Gladiator recipe for being loved: Win the crowd. Instead she sees the people as doggy doo on the bottom of her diamond-encrusted stilettos. I smell some sort of Occupy King's Landing movement coming on.
Elsewhere, the council ignored Commander Mormont's warnings about trouble from the undead beyond the wall. Tyrion was all in favor of an Anti-Zombie Committee, but Cersei was all like, "Whatevs, bro. Let the rapists and thieves of the Wall handle the problem." Littlefinger, who likes to watch people watching people have sex (ultimate fetish!), had a nice chat with a weepy Ros, telling her to stop crying at get back to work. It was the Game of Thrones equivalent to a backhanded pimp slap. You tell her, Petyr. We also got our first look at Podrick, Tyrion's clumsy new squire who pours wine like a blind barkeep.
"They will like it far less when I am done with them."
Not much to report from the sandbox, as Dany's struggles continue. One of the bloodriders she sent out for intel came back without his body. Dany's group is a lot smaller than the other Dothraki tribes out there, and none of them are cool with a woman in the role of a leader.
"If the Gods wanted us to have dignity they wouldn't make us fart when we died."
Up in Coldsburgh, of course Samwell wasn't going to keep his nose out of Craster's daughters' business. But that's just who Sam is, he can't help trying to rescue every little thing who needs help. He probably lets homeless people shower at his house and has a collection of lost puppies stashed somewhere, too. Understandably, Jon was so hot over Sam's stupidity that the frozen snot on his boy-beard started to thaw. Remember, Craster said he'd cut off Jon's wang if he so much caught the handsome fella checking out one of his daughter-wives. I don't see how this ends up with the two of them running off with Gilly, who eventually fell for Jon in some sort of budding sitcom scenario.
Later, Jon saw Craster hoofing through the woods with what we have to assume was one of his baby boys. I have no idea what happened next, only that there were some weird grumbling noises, there may or may not have been a baby sacrifice, and Craster popped Jon in the face for snooping. I don't think Jon can blame Sam for this mishap!
Aside from that, what did you think of that good look at Ghost, Jon's direwolf? If Ghost isn't your favorite direwolf, there's something wrong with you.
And just for reference, the quote at the top of this section came from Dolorous Edd, one of my favorite characters from the books and new friend to Grenn, Jon, and Sam. He's such a malcontent and has some of the best lines, all indicative of his morbid point of view.
Here, I'll be ordering the 10 episodes of Game of Thrones' second season from first to worst in terms of quality. But remember, it's just, like, my opinion, man.
This Week: I didn't appreciate "The Night Lands" on my first viewing as much as I did on my second. The Arya scenes were fantastic, as were Theon's and Davos's. But I still think Episode 1 was better overall. Maybe it was the excitement of the show's return, maybe it was the grand feel of the episode. But I think it was the baby-slaying. Baby-killing > baby-making. "The North Remembers" set a pretty high bar, but I don't see it staying there for much longer.
1. "The North Remembers" (Episode 1)
Annnnd we're back! Joffrey orders death for Robert's bastards; Melisandre, Davos, and Stannis make their grand entrance; Robb sends an
all tomato ultimatum to the Lannisters.
2. "The Night Lands" (Episode 2)
The Goldcloaks set out to find Gendry (and Arya); Theon gropes his sister and disappoints his dad; Jon sees something strange in the forest.