9
Apr
2012
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 2
The Night Lands
Michael Richardson
Season 2, Episode 2
The Night Lands

What kind of king would you be, ideally or in actuality? There's Joffrey, whose decadent tastes require reigning in by his mother or uncle. There's Robb Stark, whose dedication to family and country drives him to war. There's Balon Greyjoy, bred hard into thinking that war and conquest are the only options in a world without mercy. There's Renly, who we have not yet seen this season but through personality has amassed an army of 100,000 men, but whose actual leadership abilities are very much in doubt. And then there's Stannis, whose unbending honor makes him a leader, if not a leader people look forward to serving. You could even count Craster, if you'd like.

Or, of course, you can choose to be a queen. Daenerys' broken Dothraki horde, which continue their exodus though the desert. Or Queen Cercei, who holds all the power though cannot be recognized for it. Or even a potential queen like Yara Greyjoy, raised as a reaver, to act as a replacement for lost sons through bloodshed and violence.

It's rare for Game of Thrones to have an episode dedicated to a single theme. As much as I joked last week about its sometimes languishing pace, it's a show that has to do a lot of rhetorical lifting and foreshadowing, and cramming it all in can prevent a single episode from congealing together nicely. Much as the books begin to run together, so do episodes. But tonight offers a number of vignettes about power - about its source and its effects. After last week's regrettable line "Power is power," intonated by the forever tone-deaf Cercei, we begin to see all the tiny variations that prove this totally incorrect. There's the pull of a mother over her son, for the Starks and Lannisters. The relationship between God(s) and men for Davos. The power of information, expressed last week (and this week) by Baelish but proven starkly in Varys' assurances that men like him always seem to get by when the heads start rolling. And the power of sex, for Stannis-the-usually-Upstanding.

By the way, a note on sex: it's pretty much the party line to say about GoT or other HBO shows that the violent intrigue is one thing, but sex?! How juvenile. I don't buy into that at all - the people claiming that depictions of sex are juvenile are the same people who are offended to their core by the naked body but know you can't admit so while still looking culturally literate. And in a show about both the machinations of power and the deep disparity in power between women and men in this universe, sex needs to get addressed as a means of control and influence. I imagine that tonight's episode upset a lot of moral guardians, whether they care to admit it or not, but it might be the series' thesis statement on the relationship between lust and politics.

At the risk of making predictions a couple of episodes into the season, if season one was about an individual's nature - think of Ned's honor, which quickly becomes stupidity - this season is about what happens when that nature is forced into conflict with power. Each of those leaders listed above have tendencies in desperate need of curtailing (perhaps except Robb Stark, who because of his Mary-Sueness is quickly becoming a bore), and rule differently than their instincts because of advisers and advice. What would Stannis be without Davos and Melisandre? The reason I like Stannis is because he rules like Ned Stark would rule - that is, not very well. But with a little help from his friends, he might manage to actually take and hold power. Without Tyrion on his small council, how long would Joffrey last? Rob trusts Theon to win him allies, but it only takes a brief conversation with his father to turn him traitor. Even Arya has to grapple with an identity she's always been uncomfortable with, letting Gendry in on her secret. Last season, no one was to be trusted. This season, it's about finding the only people you can trust, lest your nature drive you over the edge.


Grade: A-

Miscellaneous:

In my discussion of power and politics, I've totally omitted talking about the Night's Watch. Still at Craster's place, Jon finds out exactly what the old man does with his sons - he sacrifices them to the Others. On one hand, it's nice to remind the audience of the real threat in the north - after all, we haven't actually seen them since the first episode of the first season. On the other hand, Jon was pretty stupid to be totally unable to figure out what happened to those kids short of beating it out of Gilly.

As I noted last week, the character of Ros continues to be a total mystery for me. She's a character invented for the show who manages to be present for a bunch of important character monologues, and gets more scenes than actual important characters (seriously, where the hell is Renly?). The cynical part of me thinks that you can only pay so many actors for speaking parts, so they need a throwaway character for more important people to bounce ideas off of. But seriously, their budget is so astronomical that you could probably spare a couple of dollars for some minor speaking roles.

An extended riff on fish pie convinces me that an hour where Tyrion and Varys just trade lewd jokes and innuendos would be incredibly entertaining. Maybe make it a recurring segment on the "Tyrion And Bronn" spinoff I keep writing letters to HBO about.

This week in "I sure hope somebody got fired for that blunder": Much has been made of changing the name of Theon's sister from Asha to Yara (surely a fireable offense), so I will not comment on it. But to suggest that Bronn, a common sellsword, could become the head of the Gold Cloaks? Preposterous. I demand that the show offer a full apology.

Tags: Game of Thrones
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