What is the world coming to when smugglers must vouch for the honor of kings?
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Alan Taylor
"The Night Lands" is a Game of Thrones episode that is all about its conversations. Tense exchanges of dialogue are used to create dramatic encounters between several characters, as well as fuel additional character and story development. Some of the conversations were hyped up during "The North Remembers", while others happen sort of spontaneously. Regardless, this dialogue-heavy episode makes for a satisfying follow-up to the season premiere, keeping everything exciting even when there are no swords swinging or slashing.
It's tough to pick which conversation is the best one in this episode. I would give the trophy to Theon Greyjoy talking with his father Balon (Patrick Malahide), because we've heard a little bit about Theon's family here and there, and Catelyn Stark, insisting in "The North Remembers" that Balon Greyjoy cannot be trusted, guarantees that this will not be a pleasant "welcome home" for Theon. Balon derides Theon for accepting the culture of the North, while sharing his intention on taking the North for himself. There's also the mini-twist of Yara (Gemma Whalen), the woman who takes Theon to see his father, actually being Theon's sister, and she will stand by her father during his quest to capture the North. Remember all of those times up until this episode that people like Tyrion and Osha were questioning Theon for his loyalty to House Stark? Well, Yara and Balon really push Theon to decide where his true loyalties lie, and Theon is now walking a very thin line between House Stark or his own family. In a series that gets major mileage out of inner family turmoil, this is an especially precarious situation: will Theon continue to side with the family he grew up with, or will he show that his true loyalty lies with his actual family, despite having been separate from them for almost a decade?
Meanwhile, family turmoil continues to be a reason for drama in King's Landing, as we can already tell from "The North Remembers" that Tyrion and Cersei are probably never going to get along. It's always amusing to watch these two Lannister siblings discuss matters with one another; Cersei detests Tyrion not because he's a dwarf, but because she blames Tyrion for their mother dying while giving birth to him. Cersei also considers Tyrion to be a threat not only to her own well-being, but also to the well-being of her children (especially because Tyrion currently serves as Hand of the King). Cersei will do anything and everything to protect her children and maintain her own position of power, so it should end up as no real surprise that she is secretly plotting to undermine Tyrion and ensure he will never get the chance to influence Joffrey and affect the current state of the Realm.
Well, after this episode, we might as well scratch that last thought. Tyrion has Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter) arrested and banished to the Night's Watch, although he does so for reasons that aren't entirely clear. I guess it's for refusing to reveal who ordered the purge of Robert Baratheon's bastard children from the previous episode, but I can't say for certain. The episode leaves it incredibly vague. Tyrion eventually discovers during a conversation later on with Cersei that Joffrey ordered the purge and not her. I don't know what it is that Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey do beforehand to prepare for their scenes together. The two play off each other so well, with this conversation serving up more rich dialogue that not only assures Tyrion's ability of sticking up for himself in front of his sister, but suggests that Tyrion may be a smarter political figure than her. I personally take a lot of joy out of these conversations because it is my favorite character in the show (Tyrion) versus my most hated character in the show (Cersei, but oooh boy, is there a close second that we haven't met yet).
The only other conversation in "The Night Lands" that I feel the need to bring up is that between Arya Stark and Gendry Baratheon, the bastard son of Robert Baratheon who was able to escape the purge. Arya has been forced to pose as a boy going by the name Arry, but Gendry reveals that he knows Arya is a girl. Arya doesn't try to hide the truth, instead telling Gendry that she is Arya Stark and her father met with him just a few weeks before he was executed. I love the way that Arya gets annoyed when Gendry calls her "my Lady", proceeding to shove Gendry to the ground and him responding, "well, that was un-lady like." Arya's tomboy-ish personality is a crucial element to her character arc, and we'd like to think she's perfectly okay with doing manual labor among all of the other boys that are there too. She also has shown no fear towards getting into a fight with one of the boys, which is perhaps the only thing she should be thankful neither her mother nor her sister are around to see. If Sansa was in Arya's situation right now, she'd probably throw herself off a cliff.
The episode concludes with season two's first appearance of the White Walkers, as Jon Snow discovers that Craster is delivering his male newborn children to the White Walkers in the woods during the middle of the night. Like the opening scene in "Winter is Coming", we can just roughly make out what exactly it is we are seeing through the trees, though we can definitely see a pair of bright blue eyes that you wouldn't want to have a staring contest with. In these early stages of the game, the White Walkers are still relatively a mystery, and this obscured sighting from Jon Snow keeps it that way.
There's certainly a lot to be excited about right now for season two, but "The Night Lands" doesn't have anything that would keep you feeling impatient about what the next episode will have to offer. It's an episode rooted in dramatic conversations, some of which create an ominous air around certain characters, as well as broaden our knowledge of the Westerosi landscape. It's a perfectly functional episode of television, and this early into the season, that's all you can ask for.
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