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Sunday, April 8, 2012

"Game of Thrones," Season 2, Episode 2

RELEASE THE KRAKENS: Patrick Malahide and Alfie Allen as the Greyjoy father and son
  • Courtesy of HBO
  • RELEASE THE KRAKENS: Patrick Malahide and Alfie Allen as the Greyjoy father and son
Even with Wikipedia at your fingertips, “Game of Thrones” sometimes makes it a challenge to keep all the names straight. This week’s installment, “The Night Lands,” introduces a new character whose name is an anagram of one of our favorites. The episode begins with Arya (Maisie Williams), the Stark daughter turned cross-dressing fugitive. Later we meet Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan), Theon’s older sister and a sea captain in her own right. In the book “Yara” is named “Asha,” which sounds a lot like the name of Bran’s Wildling pal, Osha.

Rather than give Yara a completely distinct name like, I dunno, Edwidge, the show creators might be giving us a signal to compare Arya and Yara. Arya, remember, tomboyishly disdains the female courtly life exemplified by her older sister Sansa, and was learning to swordfight even before she went on the run. When she reveals her identity to Gedry this week, she clearly hates being thought of as a “Lady.” Her boyish disguise suggests a “Be careful what you wish for” situation.

Yara turns out to be exactly the kind of woman Arya wants to be (at least, the kind she thinks she wants). Once Theon learns who she is – more on that in a minute – he’s nonplussed to discover that Yara’s the de facto heir to their father Balon Greyjoy. She captains her own ship, The Black Wind, has apparently led men into battle and basks in her father’s approval. Balon Greyjoy may be a bloodthirsty old prick, but he’s surprisingly progressive in his attitudes about gender.

Anyhoo, I think I’ll recap based on character, a la George R.R. Martin’s original chapters.

Arya. Last week ending with a brief scene of Arya and Gedry heading North with the Night’s Watch recruits. This week opens with Arya tinkling at a discrete distance from the rest of the camp. Returning with wood from the campfire, she’s called over by Jaqen H'ghar, the smoothest and most diplomatic of the three caged prisoners. The terrifying other two scare her off. Then some of the Goldcloaks of King’s Landing ride up, looking for a fugitive, but the Night’s Watch guy threatens him and sends him away. (The nastiest prisoner and the Night’s Watch guy both make crotch-related knife threats, by the way.) Arya’s surprised to learn that they’re looking for Gedry, not her.

Later, Arya, Gedry and the other “boys” swap stories of battles, and Gedry points out that “You don’t have to be a knight to have armor. Any idiot can buy armor.” Arya quizzes Gedry about why he’s a fugitive, and he mentions that the Hands of the King were both killed for asking questions about him. So they swap each other’s secrets, although I can only assume neither knows that Gedry is King Robert’s bastard son.

Tyrion. The new Hand of the King strolls into Shae’s place and finds her canoodling with Varys – so much for keeping her a secret. Varys: “To find so lovely a creature working in your father’s kitchen – it almost beggars belief.” Tyrion: “You should try her fish-pie.” Shae: “I don’t think Lord Varys likes fish-pie.” (You know, they may be making a double entendre here.) Tyrion sees a threat through Varys’s “hospitality” and promises to throw the eunuch into the sea. Varys says that the big fish eat the little fish, but he keeps on swimming. I love Conleth Hill’s odd inflections, which make Varys’ words sound neither honest nor openly insincere.

At a meeting of the Small Council, Cersei tears up the Stark terms, while Tyrion advocates returning Ned Stark’s remains as a sign of good faith. He also sticks up for the Night’s Watch’s Commander Mormont, despite his tales of the undead (which we saw first-hand last season). Mormont’s letter also mentions “the King Beyond the Wall” and Cersei wonders, “How many Kings is that, now? I’ve forgotten.”

Later Tyrion feasts privately with his fellow councilman, Janos Slynt, and questions him about infanticide and killing Ned Stark’s men in the throne room. Slynt bristles at Tyrion’s dis, and Tyrion replies, “I’m not questioning your honor, I’m denying its existence.” Slynt is about to attack but Bronn is suddenly there, as if out of nowhere. Bronn now has Slynt’s job as head of the city watch and Tyrion ships Slynt off to the wall. Bronn admits that he’d kill a baby under orders, if the price was right, and Tyrion seems uncomfortable.

It’s worth pointing out that Tyrion mentions Ned Stark three times this week, frequently out of a desire not to share Ned’s fate. Tyrion recognizes Ned’s execution as a wrong that should be set right. He claims not to be honorable, but his moral compass makes him one of the good guys.

Tyrion has a late-night meeting with Cersei and accuses her of losing the support of the people: if anyone’s “The 1%,” it’s the Lannisters. Tyrion realizes that Joffrey ordered the massacre of the bastards, not Cersei, and she describes ruling as “lying on a bed of weeds, pulling them out one by one.” He makes a quip about her relationship with Jamie – surely he knew all along – and Cersei seems genuinely amused for a moment. Then she replies that the best joke of all was the fact that their mother died giving birth to him. Ouch.

Jon Snow. At the old Craster place, Samwell and his Night’s Watch buddies eye the daughter-wives and reminisce about sex. (It’s kind of like the post-adolescent equivalent of Arya and the boys talking about battles.) One of young woman, Gilly, panics at the CGI-enhanced sight of Jon’s direwolf, which Samwell shoos away. Gilly makes goo-goo eyes at Samwell, who promptly brings her to Jon. Apparently she’s due to have a child and worries about its fate if it’s a son. Jon argues in favor of following orders and not interfering (kind of like the Federation’s Prime Directive), but Samwell argues that they’re sworn to protect, and projects a delightful combination of naivete and gumption.

Later, Jon sees Craster take a baby out into the woods late at night. He follows the sound of the squalling infant and sees it being picked up by possibly a White Walker. Then Craster knocks him out.

Dany: Out in the Red Waste, Jorah Mormont sees a horse returning, but with no rider? And why is the saddlebag dripping? With a scalp hanging out? OH. Apparently one of the other Khals butchered Rakharo and desecrated the body so “He cannot join his ancestors in the Night Lands.” There’s plenty of keening as Dany declares that this will not stand, man.

Theon: We see Theon aboard ship, looking at the craggy, sea-swept keeps of his home-castle, The Wyck – it’s perfect for the cover of a fantasy novel. He has a little sexposition with the quite ordinary-looking wench he met aboard the ship and how “Iron Islanders” keep wives at home for breeding as well as “salt-wives” while at sea. (This, along with the brothel scenes with Ros and Littlefinger, make the nudity seem particularly gratuitous this week.)

Theon arrives at the harbor, a marvelously authentic-looking combination of location and set, where an old salt’s pointedly unimpressed at his return. He flirts with a woman who gives him a ride back to the castle, at one point groping her chest. She turns out to be Yara, giving their flirtation, in retrospective, a creepy, incestuous quality – but is it that different from Luke and Leia?

Theon’s father, Balon Greyjoy, doesn’t welcome the prodigal son but expresses contempt that he’s embraced the land-lubbing ways of the Starks. “Was it Ned Stark’s pleasure to make you his daughter?” Balon asks of Theon’s wardrobe. Balon sneers at Theon’s offer to ally with Robb and implies that, instead, the Greyjoys will attack the Stark forces.

Davos: Davos swaps memories of his old smuggling days with a pirate friend, whom he enlists to take up Stannis’ cause and lead a fleet to invade King’s Landing. (Lots of bonding over nautical talk this week. The pirate says that he’ll do it and hopes for a chance to have sex with Cersei. Davos’ crazy-eyed son is horrified that he wants to rape the queen, but the pirate replies, “I’m not going to rape her, I’m going to fuck her.” So he’s sort of a gentleman about it. Afterward the son begs to teach his father to read, so Davos can appreciate the texts about the Lord of Light. Davos finally says, “You want me to have a god. Fine. King Stannis is my god.” Despite their religious tension, they have a much better father-son relationship than the Greyjoys.

Davos and his son report about the pirate to Stannis and Melisandre, who dismiss them from the Dragonstone conference room. (Melisandre whispers to Davos’ son as they go.) Melisandre tells Stannis that he must give himself entirely to the Lord of Light, and that she’ll bear him a son. She disrobes and they start coupling on top of the big map of the kingdom, toppling the little action figures, which looks both a.) hellishly uncomfortable, and b.) a touch too obvious as symbolism.

I left out the scene in the brothel with Littlefinger and Ros, whose shocked over the recent infanticide. Littlefinger tells a story about selling an unhappy prostitute to a client “to use her in ways that… would never occur to most men.” The threat is unmistakable, but at least he gives her a personal day to finish mourning. The episode’s full of scenes about the commodification of sex, but that’s not exactly a revelation on this show.

Remember the Night’s Watch guy who said “I grew up in a place like this” last week? This week the same guy remarks, “If the gods wanted us to have dignity, they wouldn’t make us fart when we die.” I realized that this is Dolorous Edd, a recurring presence in the George R.R. Martin books and something like the Eeyore of the series. Actor Ben Crompton’s significantly younger and tougher-looking than I imagined the role from the page, but he’s got the delivery down pat.

Maybe it's just me, but I think Patrick Malahide as Balon Greyjoy looks like Atlanta actor Scott Warren in really good old age make-up.

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