Monday, April 9, 2012

Game Of Thrones Review: 'The Night Lands'

by Amanda Lowery


Game of Thrones is very much a show that must be taken in as a sum of its parts. With such a far reaching and complex story to tell, some episodes seem more focused on establishing character motives and providing the audience with more background information as opposed to an action filled plot focused entirely on movement. I feel like Episode 2 ‘The Night Lands’ was that kind of episode, making it no less crucial, but definitely requiring a different mode of engagement from viewers. In this episode we really needed to pay attention to the relationship between all of these characters, because how the story plays out has everything to do with their individualized emotional motivation.

I’ve read the books, but I am going to try to keep spoilers to a minimum and focus primarily on what the show has brought us. I will borrow from the more extensive background information I have from reading, but only to provide a greater sense of understanding and more insight.

The episode kicks off with Arya, now named Arry the orphan boy, as Yoren from the Night’s Watch is transporting her, some criminals, and Robert Baratheon’s bastard boy Gendry to the Wall. The plan is to drop Arya off in Winterfell to restore her to her proper place out of the hands of the Queen Regent. However, due to (as we discover later in the episode) wicked King Joffrey’s orders to purge Westeros of Robert’s bastards that may want to challenge his own claim to the throne, the Gold Cloaks have a royal decree to apprehend Gendry and bring him back to Kings Landing. Yoren refuses the decree, because in Westeros the Night’s Watch is like Switzerland minus the windmills and lederhosen. The Night’s Watch is neutral in all conflicts and once a man has taken the black all of his former transgressions are forgiven. Arya reveals her identity to Gendry, and the two become allies on this long journey north. I think this is interesting considering who their fathers were; the Stark and Baratheon bond runs deep. That bond is actually the reason why Robb Stark sent Catelyn to bargain with Renly Baratheon in the hopes of uniting their forces against the Lannisters.

Another ally is sought back in Kings Landing as Varys connives to bring Tyrion into his web of endless scheming. Tyrion, whore hungry but clever is hesitant to let himself fall into leagues with the Spider, however, what good can the acting Hand of the King do without the benefit of the whispering services that Varys has mastered, and now offered. The battle for accurate information and intel on the twisted intentions of the royal family and their council is like something out of the contemporary grappling of network news to beat out their competitors. In Episode 1 of this season we saw the mistake that Littlefinger made in educating Cersei on the delicacies of information gathering by reminding her that information is power, to which she responded that power is power through wielding the blind obedience of her bought soldiers through a display of violence to prove her point (I bet he wet himself).

Speaking of Littlefinger, he is an awful little man. Probably already hated by audiences for his betrayal of Ned Stark, he continues to prove himself a vicious seeker. His House Sigil is a Mockingbird, which to me would automatically put me on high alert that he is a man out for himself, willing to sacrifice anyone and anything to get what he wants, mocking them all as his master plan unfolds. In this episode we get to see the darker side of Lord Baelish as he floats around the halls of his whore house. We first catch him peeking in at a client’s session, while that client is voyeuristically peeking in on another client’s session. Looking in on looking in, the essence of the sequence conveying the very nature of Littlefinger’s spying tendency, and the ultimate “one up” that he always seems to have on everyone because he has eyes and ears everywhere, and nothing is ever as it seems. Littlefinger watches from afar and uses people to play out nasty scenarios to have the world unfold just the way he wants it to – he is a puppeteer, and perhaps that is why he runs a whore house and acts as the master of coin: he is a good manager. So good in fact that he threatens poor Roz whose breasts and wit we remember from Theon Greyjoy’s northern adventures. Roz is distraught that a baby was just butchered right before her eyes at the end of last week’s episode, and it is interfering with her making whoopy. Littlefinger starts to seemingly console her, but then regales her with a tale of another bad investment he made and the horrific end it held for the whore. Then he sums up his humiliating encounter with Cersei and the immoral bastard purging ordered by the King with the wonderful line, “sometimes those with the most power have the least grace.” If ever there was a man not to trust – he would be that man.

So what is Rozz’s old friend Theon Greyjoy up to now that he’s been sent back to the Iron Islands to plead on the behalf of Robb Stark for ships to help in the war? Fucking ugly captain’s daughters and feeling up his sister. Theon is so sketch! He is the guy who will roofie you at the club and never feel bad about it. That should speak to his moral character right there. So Theon returns home after being held as the Stark’s ward for ten years. I loved the reproach of his father. You really get the sense of the Iron Island culture when Balon Greyjoy asks his son how he came about acquiring his jewelry. He wants to know if Theon bought it with gold to match his outfit, the gold way, or if he took it off a man he slaughtered, the iron way. The gold way or the iron way? A collision of ideology and a wonderful way to demonstrate to the arrogant Theon that he has been a Westeros brat for more than half of his life and he really has some nerve to waltz into his father’s castle demanding ships and the right to commandeer them. This doesn’t look good to me. Never a Stark and now shamed into realizing he isn’t really a Greyjoy, Theon is being reduced to a desperate situation where he is ranked even lower than his sister, a woman (gasp), and the Drowned God only knows what he will do.

Gods. Ever so many gods in this show…it’s kinda like, well, like the real world. The Lord of Light is reaping havoc on Dragonstone as the severe and unbending Stannis Baratheon continues to rail against those who dare to challenge his right to the Iron Throne. The Onion Knight, Davos, has secured extra ships for a sea attack by forming an ally with the pirate Sallador Sanz, a wonderful character of lightness only concerned with Queen fucking. And here, we find another complex relationship between characters. Stannis Baratheon cut off Davos’ fingers when he was a smuggler (hence the Onion Knight title) as a form of punishment, and then raised him to a station that Davos could never had achieved if he had stayed a smuggler. Now Davos is so solidly behind Stannis that he compares him to a God. This is like Stockholm syndrome gone medieval on your ass, and check out that pouch Davos wears around his neck – those are the bones of the fingers he lost, he touches them to remind himself of his duty and loyalty to the man that raised him to a level that would allow his sons a respectable future. Then we watch as Stannis gives himself over to the Lord of Light, truly forsaking the Seven Gods and his marriage vows by doing it to the red lady. Melisandre is a sorceress, and I love how she has her own spooky music. The score is different in the second season, it allows for the development of these more mystical happenings to flow more organically in the pace of the show. Stannis takes Melisandre, melding his wants with her wants and the Lord of Lights wants, and they screw on the table of Westeros carved by Aegon Targaryen, the conqueror, whilst the figurines all scatter to the floor. Symbolism? You got it!

Speaking of Targaryens, where is that Danerys? Oh, still wasting away in the desert.

Oh, did you hear that? The sound of ripping paper? That would be Cersei, doing what she does best, shredding every attempt to establish order. She’s the worst! No peace for Robb, and nothing for the Night’s Watch either. Tyrion reminds the small council that the Night’s Watch is the only thing between the realm and what lives beyond the wall. Cersei doesn’t care, there is no room in her self absorbed ruthlessness to consider ancient myths and recent reports of mystical disturbances, she’s too busy creating a monster of a King and proudly pretending not to notice. At first I didn’t know what to think of Lena Headley in this role, but after Episode 1 of this season she has convinced me that there is no one else in the realm, I mean world, that could play this role. She has mastered the grown up indignantly malicious brat that she must play and she does it while looking beautiful. In a private conversation with her brother Tyrion she laughs at one of his many jokes and applauds him for his humor, but then she reminds him of the biggest joke of all: his hideous birth and the subsequent death of their mother. It’s like she had been waiting to get back at him for calling her the disappointing child in last week’s episode. Oh yeah? Well, your imp ass killed our mother. Burn. But really, if the first joke was Tyrion’s it seems likely that the last joke will be his as well. Watch yourself monster maker, there is wit at play. This relationship between brother and sister is very different from the incestuous relationship she has with Jaime. The extreme of opposites is striking, and for a family like the Lannisters you would think that they would work a little harder to play nice for the sake of the almighty family dynasty.

Another important juxtaposition to note is the speech given by Cersei justifying the death of babies and striking fear in the heart of the people. Cersei compares the people they rule to weeds they must pull out by the roots to keep from strangling them. Compare this mindset to what Danerys is dishing out on the doorstep of death. She has become one with her people, suffering along with them, building their bond and consoling them for the losses they suffer. Who would you choose? The crazy gardener or the empathetic dragon lady?

I would choose Jon Snow. Because I think he is real pretty. So now we know what Craster does with his sons. He offers them up as a sacrifice to The Others to spare his wives and home. That isn’t actually a plot point discovered in the books until much later, but it worked so well in the show. And now we are left to wonder how this discovery was made to begin with; how The Others are communicated with to establish these rules; and why the boys? The gender war in Game of Thrones is heating up, and we see that women are worth their weight in males. Is it just that Craster never wanted competition among his wives, or is there something about the male child that makes a better offer to The Others? I suppose we will discover that as the season unfolds. All in all a very important episode in further investing us in the dynamics that exist between all of these characters. We can see the storm brewing on the horizon and we are all likely positioning ourselves behind our favorites, but if Littlefinger’s scenes have reached your intellect, you probably know that nothing in this show will turn out the way that it seems like it should.


Cattle Melt said...

Very nice review! Thank you very much. I'll be back to read your next one.



Single Tina said...

A fantastic review of a fantastic show!

Anonymous said...

I have to admit, a very good review. Normally on these things there is something missed. IN your case, it is all there. What I hope to find out is what happens to the bull helm.