Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review: Game of Thrones "The Night Lands"

Non Spoiler Review:
Attention turns to Arya and Gendry on the Kingsroad, while in the north, Jon and Sam are faced with an ethical decision in Craster's lodge. Back in King's Landing politics and machinations continue, as Tyrion spars with both Varys and Cersei and begins to secure his own position, in stark (haha, pun intended) contrast to Ned's naive tenure as Hand of the King. The key to victory is sea power, and Theon returns home after many years to face off with his father, while Davos negotiates to secure a navy for Stannis.

With a shift in focus away from Robb, The Night Lands furthered intrigue and schemes, adding even more variables to the coming attack on King's Landing. Other plots and characters were serviced, as well—notably rounding out Gendry's character a bit more, and introducing the Greyjoys, who are all quite the piece of work. 

At this point, it goes without saying that the sets and location shots are stunning. Pyke is brought to life, just as much as King's Landing or the beaches of Dragonstone. Even Daenerys' brief scene in the Red Wastes hammers home how isolated and desperate their situation is. As usual, even the most minor character gets a bit of the spotlight with clever dialogue. Robb and the majority of the Stark's absence aren't even felt given the compelling introduction of the Iron Islands and catching up with Arya.

Spoilers Now!
On the Kingsroad, Arya is asked by some of the prisoners to get them water. She doesn't take kindly to their threats and goads them with some swordplay through the cage, though one of them, named Jaquen H'gar, is much more eloquent and seems out of place with the other criminals. Gendry warns her she should be scared of them. Then soldiers arrive, and she fears they're looking for her.

Yoren greets them and is given a royal warrant, but explains his men belong to the Night's Watch, so are beyond their reach. He doesn't take kindly to threats and disarms the two soldiers and sends them home to tell their masters they didn't find what they were looking for. The soldier calls out to the rest they are after a boy named Gendry and offer a king's reward if he's turned over. And they'll return with more men.

Tyrion finds Varys keeping Shae company. He's aware his father didn't want her to come, but is good at keeping secrets for his good friends. Tyrion warns him if he threatens him again he'll be thrown in the sea. He knows how the game is played, unlike Ned Stark. Varys isn't so concerned about his threats, given he's managed to survive this long.

At the council meeting, Cersei has received Robb's peace terms. Tryion wants to send Ned's bones back, at least as a gesture of good faith. The envoy did see Jaime so she asks him to tell her brother he hasn't been forgotten. Meanwhile, Pycelle has received a raven from Castle Black—the Wildings are following Mance Rayder and Mormont needs more men to man the wall. The dead are rising with the cold wind and Mormont claims to have been attacked by one. Despite the others mocking the superstitions, Tyrion warns that Mormont doesn't lie. He advises them the Night's Watch is the only thing separating them from what lies beyond the Wall.

Sam stops Ghost from bothering one of Craster's wives, Gilly, and asks if she's all right. She says they shouldn't talk but tells him he's very brave. Sam brings her to Jon, because she does, indeed, want help. She's pregnant, and wants to go with them when they leave. Jon says it's not possible. She's worried that she may have a boy, but won't tell them why. She runs off and Jon is angry with Sam for wanting to take her with them. They're going north, and who would deliver a baby?

In the Red Wastes, one of the horses returns absent its rider, but with Rakharo's head in the bag. Jorah suspects one of the other Dothraki. His wife is distraught and Daenerys attempts to  console her. 

Theon is on a ship to Pyke and arrives expecting fanfare, but there is no one there to greet him. A woman finally arrives to take him up to the castle. She knows who he is, and on horseback he manages to feel her up promising she can spend the night with him.

He greets his father, Balon Greyjoy, for the first time in nine years, but Stark had him longer than Balon did. Theon wishes to explain his proposal from Robb, but Balon mocks his attire, saying he's dressed as a whore. The Greyjoys believe in the iron way (taking things by force) rather than the gold way. The Starks have made him theirs, and Balon will not hear him talk of Robb as a brother—his true brothers were killed by the Starks.

Balon reads the proposal. If he destroys Robb's enemies, Robb will make him king of the Iron Islands again. Then the woman who brought him walks in and Theon is mortified when he realizes it's actually his sister Yara. Balon says she would lead the attack rather than Theon, given she took over her elder brother's ship, and has since commanded and killed men. But Balon burns the proposal, as he has his own ideas. He will take his crown—by paying the iron price. No one will give it to him. Theon warns he'll never stand a chance against the Lannisters, but Balon muses that he never mentioned the Lannisters.

Baelish has to deal with a distraught Ros, who is still upset about the baby's murder. He subtly warns her not to become a bad investment that he would have to dispose of.

Tyrion has dinner with Slynt, asking about Littlefinger's brothel and the killing of the baby, which has spread through the city. He assumes the order came from Cersei, and of course he's heard the rumours. It was also Slynt who gave the order to slaughter Ned's men in the throne room. Tyrion enrages him by commenting his honor was already bought, so Janos reacts angrily and calls him a dwarf. Bronn is standing behind him. Considering he betrayed the last Hand of the King he isn't comfortable with him being about. He orders him put on a ship bound for the east watch, and then on to the Wall. Janos demands his men help, but Bronn is now the new commander of the watch, and they take Janos away. 

Bronn sits down with Tyrion, who asks if he told him to murder an infant girl, would Bronn do it without question? Bronn muses that he would ask a question—how much? Tyrion seems pensive.

The Watch recruits are considering the offer the soldiers made for Gendry. Arya wants to know what the soldiers would want with him. Gendry says no good ever came from asking questions—like Lord Arryn before he died, and Stark before he died. That piques Arya's interest, and he says they were both asking about his mother who worked in a tavern. And who was his father? He's a bastard, for all he knows.

Gendry asks why she thought they were after her...and he knows she's a girl. Gendry's not stupid. She admits it, and he assures her he won't tell. She confesses she's Arya Stark and she's being taken home to Winterfell. Gendry says Joffrey is a liar about his father being a traitor. Gendry teases her by apologizing for behaving in such a way before a highborn lady.

Davos Seaworth and his son meet with a pirate, Salladhor Saan, to enlist his aid in Stannis' war. He offers him the opportunity to plunder King's Landing. Salladhor will sail—all 30 of his ships—but wants to have the queen. Davos can promise gold and glory, but can't promise the queen. But he believes Stannis can win.

Cersei is furious with Tyrion exiling Janos, but he counters that she's losing the people and will find it difficult to rule over them when winter comes. Slaughtering babies doesn't help. But Tyrion realizes it wasn't her who gave the order—Joffrey didn't even tell her. She balks that everything has fallen on her as he and Jamie don't take it seriously. 

Tyrion continues to make quips, but she says none of his jokes will match his first one—when he was born, and ripped their mother open on the way out. She died for the sake of him, which is no bigger joke in the world. She leaves him with that. 

Stannis and Melisandre learn of the Salladhor deal. Stannis realizes he can't defeat Renly in the field, nor can he take King's Landing without his men. Melisandre tells him he must give himself to the lord of light. She offers herself to him, even though he has a wife who is sick and weak. She promises him a son, so they have sex on the council table.

At night, Jon sees Craster taking a newborn baby out into the woods, so follows and finds a shadowy figure retrieve it. It looks to be a White Walker. Craster appears behind him and knocks him out.

The Verdict:
What to say about Balon Greyjoy, aside from everyone's worst fears are true. But what is his game? Throwing in with Stannis or the Lannisters? Who will he betray? And when faced with the choice, will Theon choose loyalty to the Starks over his own family? Yara is also an interesting addition, given she's a powerful woman in a very misogynist society who has managed to rise among her male peers.

Getting some screentime for Gendry was overdue, and he and Arya make a great team. I'm curious as to who this Jaquen is, given he obviously warrants some attention. I wasn't sure if Arya's storyline would prove interesting, but now I'm certain it will be just as exciting as all the others. And surely her wolf must show up again at some point.

Craster's made some deal with the White Walkers, which explains why he's managing to survive in the wasteland. I get the impression all the events beyond the Wall are going to be on a slow burn for a lot of the entire series, so I guess we'll just have to be patient with that.

There was some great, snappy dialogue this week—Tyrion's comment about Shae's fish pie? And the light/dark banter with his sister and the death of their mother. He seems to believe Mormont's report about the White Walkers, which is a vast change from his earlier mocking tone last season. I guess the zombie head hasn't reached King's Landing yet. It was amusing that he's being chided for putting his faith in Mormont, when he was doing the same thing to the commander last season.

This season is really pushing this slow build up to what must be an epic battle for King's Landing. The only piece we haven't seen yet is Renly, with his vast army coveted by all sides. It's interesting that only he and Daenerys present as true rulers of the seven kingdoms. I'm wondering if Daenerys' only course of action would be to marry into one of the other families. That is, of course, if she and her dragons make it out of the Red Wastes (another plot I'm guessing we'll have to be patient with).

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