Episode Title: "The Night Lands"
Writers: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Director: Alan Taylor
Previously on "Game of Thrones":
On the King's Road, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) travels with Yoren (Francis Magee) of the Night's Watch while disguising herself as the orphan boy, Arry. While gathering wood, Arya comes near the three caged prisoners as Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) politely introduces himself and asks for water. But his companions roughly demand beer, so Arya whacks their hands with a stick, impressing Jaqen with her bravery. Suddenly, two Goldcloak riders from King's Landing arrive, causing Arya to hide before she tells Gendry (Joseph Dempsie) that they are looking for her.
Instead, the Goldcloaks announce their search for Gendry, but Yoren easily sends them packing before they warn of their return… in greater numbers. At King's Landing, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) discovers Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) aka the Spider talking with Tyrion's lover, Shae (Sibel Kekilli). But a veiled threat to expose Shae's presence only angers Tyrion ahead of a Small Council meeting. Soon, Queen Regent Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) rejects the peace terms of Robb Stark (Richard Madden) despite Tyrion's attempts to be diplomatic.
Cersei and the Council also ridicule a letter from Commander Mormont (James Cosmo) warning them about the threat beyond the Wall, with only Tyrion taking it seriously. Beyond the Wall at Craster's Keep, Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) befriends Gilly (Hannah Murray) after she is scared by Ghost, the Direwolf of Jon Snow (Kit Harington). Sam and Gilly ask Jon for his help in getting her away from Craster (Robert Pugh), but Jon's refusal causes Gilly to run off. Across the sea in the Red Waste, Daeneryes Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and her starving people await for word from her riders.
Unfortunately for them, the only horse to return is without a rider. And in a satchel on the horse is the head of Rakharo, one of Daeneryes' most loyal followers. Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) suggests that Rakharo was killed by one of the other Khals and Daeneryes vows vengeance against her enemies as she promises a funeral pyre for Rakharo. In King's Landing, at the brothel of Lord Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish.(Adian Gillen), Ros (Esmé Bianco) cries uncontrollably as she mentally relives the murder of the baby in the previous episode.
However, a thinly veiled threat from Littlefinger dries Ros' eyes as she realizes the kind of man she is working for. In Tyrion's private chambers, he shares a dinner with Lord Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter), the commander of the City Watch who carried out the purge of King Robert's bastards. Tyrion mocks Janos' honor as non-existent and has him shipped out to the Night's Watch by force. In his place, Tyrion installs Bronn (Jerome Flynn) as the new commander, but he seems disturbed by Bronn's attitude towards the hypothetical slaughter of children.
Later, Cersei confronts Tyrion about his power play and in turn, he accuses her of ordering the children purged. But to his surprise, Tyrion realizes that it was King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) himself who ordered the purge without her knowledge. Tyrion makes an offhand joke about Cersei sleeping with their brother, Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster Waldau); but it is Cersei who gets the last word when she reminds Tyrion that his birth caused the death of their mother and his capture led to Jamie's ongoing captivity.
On the King's Road, Arya gets closer to Gendry as he reveals that both her father and the King's Hand before him came to visit Gendry to ask him about his dead mother. Gendry also states that he knows Arya is a girl, so she reveals her true identity and he promises not to tell anyone. But Gendry never promises not to needle her about it before teasing her. At sea, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) has his way with the Captain's daughter (Amy Dawson) as he predicts a warm welcome back to the Iron Islands as the only male heir to Lord Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide).
But Theon's hopes are dashed when only a young woman seems to recognize him and offer him a ride to the castle. On the way there, Theon fondles the girl and orders her to stay for the night. Inside, Theon is disappointed by his father, Balon again as he mocks Theon as if he is more Stark than Greyjoy. The young woman then enters and reveals herself to be Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan), Theon's sister. Balon rejects Robb's offer of an alliance and hints that he may attack the Starks instead of the Lannisters to reclaim the independence of the Iron Islands.
At Dragonstone, Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) and his son, Matthos Seaworth (Kerr Logan) meet with the pirate, Salladhor Saan (Lucian Msamati) to get his support for Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) in a planned siege of King's Landing. Oddly, Salladhor insists that Queen Cersei be his prize, but Davos only promises him the riches and the glory. When Davos and his son report the news to Stannis, he dismisses them in favor of council from the priestess, Melisandre (Carice van Houten). Stannis knows his forces are badly outnumbered, but Melisandre convinces him that he needs to fully surrender himself to her religion.
Stannis initially resists Melisandre's attempt to seduce him, but when she promises him a son, Stannis takes her on the war table. Beyond the Wall, Jon witnesses Craster (Robert Pugh) sneaking out late at night with a baby in his arms. Jon follows and sees Craster leave the baby behind where it is soon claimed by a strange creature. When Jon is distracted by the noises, Craster sneaks up on him and knocks him out.
Thus far, one of the few complaints about the second season of "Game of Thrones" is that some of the main characters only get a few minutes of screentime in each episode. But what do you expect when the primary cast includes over twenty actors this year? As much as I'd love to see every episode of "Game of Thrones" run 90 minutes or more, it's just not feasible to show everyone in every episode each week. David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have done a remarkable job of juggling the narrative of this story and all of the threads have been entertaining so far.
Tyrion's story remains the most interesting simply because Peter Dinklage has such a riveting presence on this show. It's sometimes difficult to tell if his scenes are so good because of his performance or because of the writing. But Tyrion's verbal interplay with Janos, Varys and Cersei were all standout moments. It's also become clear that Tyrion has a heart, unlike the majority of his family. Cersei's comment about Tyrion's mother visibly affected him in a way that few insults could. And Tyrion seemed to find the purge of Robert's bastards particularly distasteful.
There was also a great moment when Tyrion realized that Bronn isn't much better than the man he replaced as commander of the City Watch. Bronn's already acknowledged that he's only loyal to whoever is paying him more, and if Tyrion continues butting heads against his sister and nephew then he probably can't count on Bronn to have have his back.
"Game of Thrones" has played the incest card a few times, but the reveal of Yara's relationship with Theon was the first time that it made me laugh. The Greyjoys almost make the Lannisters look like a fully functional family. For most of this show, Theon's been an arrogant ass whose lone redeeming quality has been his loyalty to Robb Stark as a brother in spirit. But that may be because Theon never seemed to realize that his place as Balon's heir was in jeopardy. If Theon is disowned by his father and he's not a Stark, then he doesn't really have many options. That dynamic is intriguing, especially if it is going to pit Theon against Robb, who has been his only true friend.
Regarding Littlefinger's veiled threats towards Ros, I can only predict that he'll eventually make someone very happy… as a corpse at their feet. Littlefinger has a lot of charisma, but he has no redeeming qualities and the underlying menace in the story he told Ros was chilling. And I don't doubt his account, either. I wouldn't have predicted that Varys would become my favorite member of the Small Council outside of Tyrion. But there's a certain charm to Varys even during his subtle threats to Shae and Tyrion.
It was also good to check in with Gendry , Yoren and Arya on the King's Road, but I'm less enthusiastic about the kids who ate up some valuable screentime debating what makes a battle. It was a lot more fun to see Gendry teasing Arya about her identity and Yoren making cracks about shaving a spider's ass while dispatching the Goldcloaks. Jaqen appears to have some potential and I liked the character's strange, third person description of himself.
But the standout among the new characters remains Davos Seaworth. Liam Cunningham has to feel fortunate that he's gone from "Camelot" on Starz to "Game of Thrones" in the space of the year. And Cunningham brings a sense of humanity to Davos that helps ground the series and allows us to understand his devotion to Stannis. I also loved the way that Davos made a slight joke about not trusting Salladhor that freaked out Stannis because he doesn't have a sense of humor.
At this point, the pacing of "Game of Thrones" season two is a little slow, but I fully expect it to pick up as the season goes on. The cast and crew of this series have more than earned my trust with their collective work to date. This is no exception.