“The Night Lands” is another highly entertaining installment of Game of Thrones. Much like “The Kingsroad”, the second episode of the first season, “The Night Lands” set up characters on their journey, establishing their motivation, the conflict they must overcome and what’s at stake. Every scene is designed to help the audience understand the inner monologue of each character and to build towards the major events of the season to come.
If there is a quibble in how Game of Thrones episodes are structured, is that very little of note actually happens until the final scenes. Although the story moves from location to location touching base with characters, one never gets the feeling that the episode itself is moving towards a revelation, turning point or resolution. Something important does happen (more on this later) but it serves as a cliffhanger to give the viewer a reason to watch what happens in the next episode rather than something the character has overcome or confronted. Unlike a procedural crime show where the episodes are self-contained and have an immediate resolution, Game of Thrones is incredibly ambitious, challenging viewers to invest in the journey and in hopes that the endgame will payoff.
In the season premiere, a red comet served to connect the multitude of storylines and characters spread across Westeros, Essos and Isle of Dragonstone. Without an overt narrative device, “The Night Lands” relies on the core themes of power, identity and finding one’s place in the world to provide cohesion to this episode.
This is exemplified in the scenes with Arya, who is first shown squatting down in a creek relieving herself far away from the other boys because she cannot reveal her true identity. For much of Season One, Arya was constantly telling people she was a girl. Now that she has assumed her secret identity as Arry, she’s been successfully convincing her companions she’s a boy, except for Gendry who is not easily fooled. Arya and Gendry have developed a friendship that is both endearing and amusing especially when Gendry tells her to pull out her cock and take a piss to prove she’s a boy. The scene with Hot Pie and Lommy discussing if wearing armor defines a person as a knight brought some levity but also brings into question what makes us who we are. Arya had to overcome the expectations what a young noble girl of House Stark should be and as a result of her actions has redefined its meaning.
Many inexperienced young actors call attention to the fact that they are acting and take the viewer out of the moment. However, actors Maisie Williams (Arya) and Joe Dempsie (Gendry) are doing an amirable job for bringing their characters to life so naturally and effortlessly. An entire episode could be focussed solely on Arya or another fan favorite character like Tyrion.
In King’s Landing, Tyrion is showing he knows how to play the game and that he is born to play it. When Varys says he knows Twyin Lannister disapproves of bringing Shae to court and it is fortunate such knowledge is only known by friends, Tyrion quickly identifies it as a threat and calls Varys out on it. Like maneuvering pieces on a chess board, Tyrion banishes Lord Janos to the Wall. In doing so, he removes someone who could potentially turn on him and one less person to do King Joffrey’s dirty work. He also puts his right-hand man, the mercenary Bronn, in charge of the city watch as a replacement. In his new-found power as Hand of the King, Tyrion is not without compassion by suggesting they should return Ned’s bone to Winterfell as a gesture of good faith, something that is lost on Queen Cersei. He’s also extremely perceptive, reading into Cersei’s silence as an admission that it was in fact King Joffrey who ordered the execution of King Robert’s bastards.
Another potential challenger to King Joffrey’s claim to the Iron Throne comes from Lord Balon Greyjoy in Pyke of the Iron Islands. The shot of Theon Greyjoy on the ship sailing towards Pyke was perfectly captured in actor Alfie Allen’s expression as he comes home for the first time in almost a decade. Much in the same way living in the North has influenced the Starks, geography informs the identity and culture of the Ironborn. The Ironborn are cold, fierce, independent people who believe in their right to pirate and to take from others; including taking “saltwives” from the people they have conquered. When Theon arrives in Pyke, he expects to be recognized and treated like a Lord. However, the common people do not know him. Also, Theon did not recognize his sister Yara, who he was feeling up as they rode on the horse. His father Balon, who literally and verbally undresses him, disapproves of how weak Theon has become and does not identify him as an Ironborn. To pour salt on his wounds, Balon tells how his sister has proven herself as a capable leader and worthy successor. In these scenes we have a strong understanding of why Theon feels he needs to prove himself to his father and earn his rewards by conquering the inferior.
A couple of the mysteries from Season One that have not been answered yet is who sent the killer to finish off Bran while he was in a coma and who is Jon’s real mother? In contrast, the mystery of what happens to the newborn sons of Craster’s daughter / wives is quickly discovered by Jon as he sees Craster leaving a baby for the White Walkers. This leads to another question of what exactly are the White Walkers doing with the babies. Which brings us full circle from the season premiere which also ended with the unsettling fate of a baby.
Watch the Game of Thrones Season 2 Inside the Episode “The Night Lands” with series executive producers giving insight on key scenes.
Other interesting tidbits and brief thoughts (These are not intended to contain any spoilers):
• The three prisoners in the wagon cage are named Jaqen H’ghar, Rorge and Bitter. Ned Stark allowed these dangerous prisoners to be sent to the Night’s Watch as recruited by Yoren in Season One.
• The Iron Islands are a bunch of several small islands on the northwest coast of Westeros. The leading house of the Iron Islands are the Greyjoys of Pyke.
• Yara is the only daughter of Balon Greyjoy. In the books, her name is Asha, but the show’s producers thought the viewers may get her confused with Osha, the wildling.
• Hot Pie is a son of a baker. He earned his nick name by shouting out “Hot Pie!” when selling baked goods to the people of King’s Landing.
• The scene with Littlefinger started out like he was trying to comfort Ros who was mourning the death of the baby. However, we got to see a dark sinister side to Little Finger which gives us some important insight to his character. I thought the dialogue could have used a little touching up in this scene.
• I did not enjoy the sex scene with Melisandre and Stannis. It’s more interesting to me if they kept their relationship non-sexual. Melisandre has a mysterious power and can see visions in the flames which should be reason enough for Stannis to align with her. He’s supposed to be a man of honor. Why would having a bastard son be his motivation to sleep with her?
• It appears that Davos Seaworth is an atheist. In the books he is a firm believer in the Seven. His scene is not terribly interesting but it is important to know that he recruited 30 additional ships to Stannis’ fleet for the attack on King’s Landing.
• Samwell is the compassionate heart to Jon’s rational soul. Last episode, Jon was scolded by Mormont to follow orders including not to interact with Craster’s daughters/wives. Now that he knows what happens to Craster’s baby boys, he has a moral dilemma in whether or not to help pregnant Gilly.
Dialogue To Die For
• Tyrion: I’m not questioning your honor, Lord Janos, I’m denying its existence.
• 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 shouldn’t insult people who are bigger than you. Arya: Then I wouldn’t get to insult anyone.
Let me know what you thought of this episode by leaving a comment below.