Episode 12: "The Night Lands"
Air Date: April 8, 2012.
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss.
This week we get a new addition to the title map sequence. After Dragonstone, last week's newcomer, we're sent on to Pyke and the Iron Islands, the seat of House Greyjoy. My, but those bridges swaying back and forth between each fortified crag sure do look DANGEROUS!
The episode opens up where last week's closed--on Yoren of the Night's Watch transporting his "recruits" northward on the Kingsroad, en route to Winterfell and the Wall. We find our little caravan of misfits breaking camp, with Arry having gone well away from sight of the others in order to tinkle behind some bushes. Her secret still intact, she wanders back to camp and comes across those three caged criminals we got a brief glimpse of at the tail end of last season's finale. The two unsavory fellows are Rorge and Biter, but the third man is the only one with manners. He calls himself Jaqen H'ghar, and claims to hail from the Free City of Lorath across the Narrow Sea in Essos. He also has the annoying habit of referring to himself in the 3rd person. "A man has a thirst." "A man does not choose his companions." Arry is rightfully wary of Rorge and Biter, but this man . . . she is off-put by his polite approach. Jaqen H'ghar might well become the friend he professes to be, but unless something goes horribly wrong on their journey she'll probably never have chance to find out. Surely nothing will go wrong.
As if on cue, a couple of Gold Cloaks show up suddenly. Arry thinks they're looking for her, but in fact they're searching for her blacksmith companion, Gendry--the young lad who, unbeknownst to him, is one of Robert Baratheon's bastards.
Having not killed their fill of black-haired babies last episode, the City Watchmen apparently still need to tidy up a few loose ends. But before one of the besaddled Guards can ask again nicely, Yoren has his blade out and pressed against the man's femoral artery:
Yoren: "It's a funny thing. People worry so much about their throats that they forget about what's down low. Now I sharpened this blade before breakfast--I could shave a spider's arse if I wanted to! Or, I can nick this artery in your leg, and once it's nicked there's no one around here who knows how to un-nick it."
The guard thinks long and hard about this. Probably trying to remember if he saw any bald-assed spiders on the way up. Then he and his companion turn around and leave, but not before promising to return with more men for both Yoren and this Gendry fella's head. Thanks for the heads-up, good Ser Fore Shadowing.
At the Tower of the Hand, our Notorious IMP strolls into his bedchamber . . . to find Shae the Funny Whore laughing it up with King's Landing's favorite eunuch and spy master, Lord Varys. Since nothing Varys the Spider says or does is without pretext, Tyrion is rightfully on edge at seeing the perfumed courtier in so private and intimate a setting as his personal quarters. The dialogue that follows is some of the best writing you'll ever find in books or television, ripe with double-entendres and barely veiled threats between two master rhetoricians:
Varys: "To find so lovely a creature working in your father's kitchens. It almost beggers belief."
Tyrion: "Strange things do happen. You should taste her fish pie."
Shae: "I don't think Lord Varys likes fish pie."
Varys: "How can you tell?"
Shae: "I can always tell."
Tyrion: "Men like Lord Varys and I can't let our disadvantages get the best of us. We'll make a fisherman of him yet!"
Uh, something tells me they're not actually talking about fish here. Is this conversation really happening? Only on HBO! As the scene winds down, the threats become more pointed and direct. Finally, Tyrion lays down his pIMP hand and lets the nosybody bald eunuch know that he's not one to be trifled with. He is not Ned Stark!
Good to know, because we all saw what happened to him . . .
On this week's episode of "Eight Is Not Enough," the boys at Craster's Keep beyond the Wall cannot keep their eyes off the old man's daughter-wives. Grenn and Dolorous Edd are helping Sam prepare the night's stew, but Sam has eyes for the one named Gilly. He saves her from the interests of Jon's fearsome direwolf, Ghost, and she compliments him on his bravery. Sam has clearly never heard such words come of out of the mouth of a sincere young woman before, and she has probably never seen another man before him save her own father. It's a match made in oddball heaven, and Sam is smitten! Too bad she comes with strings attached.
Turns out Gilly wants Jon to save her unborn child from certain danger, but won't go into details. Now would be a good time to remember your earlier questioning of Craster's missing sons last episode, Jon---you know nothing! Still smarting from Lord Mormont's drubbing down earlier, Jon tells Sam it's impossible to take her with them. He points out to the erstwhile Lord Tarly that he cannot go around stealing other men's wives, daughters . . . er, whatever!
Sam: "I can't steal her. She's a person, not a goat!"
Aw, Sam! This is why we love ya! And . . . you still know nothing, Jon Snow!
Off across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Stormborn and her broken khalasar play Where's Waldo within the large expanse of the Red Waste. In fact, they seem to have given up and are now playing dead in the sand. Dany sent three of her bloodriders off last episode to search for a way out of their hell, and now only one horse has returned with its rider . . . minus a body below the neck. It's the most dearest of Dany's riders, Rakharo! Ser Jorah notices his ponytail has been cut off, which can only mean another Dothraki did this heinous deed. He surmises that Rakharo had a run-in with another Khal's tribe and paid the ultimate price for his allegiance to his khaleesi. One of Dany's handmaidens from last season, Irri, weeps uncontrollably when she learns that her beloved will not be able to ride with his ancestors in the Night Lands so disfigured.
Dany promises her that they will give a proper sending off. To Jorah she promises that these other khals will pay for their insult.
Off the coast of northwestern Westeros, Theon Greyjoy's ship has arrived in the cold and forbidding Iron Islands. The capital, Pyke, is ahead and his father's castle rises out of the water on three craggy promontories off the port bow. Ah, it feels good to be home at last!
Down below, Theon engages in a little old fashioned sexposition with the rather homely daughter of the ship's captain, who believes herself lucky for bagging an honest to goodness Lord. But Theon could care less, explaining that his arrival like the prodigal son after so many years abroad will be the most exciting thing to happen to the islands. In fact, he's expecting a flashy grand homecoming at port.
Immediately we segue into even more HBO sexy time, but at Littlefinger's pricey Brothel O' Fun. In a nifty, complicated camera shot, a patron being pleasured is spied through a peephole by another patron receiving, er, oral ministrations--who in turn is being spied upon by Littlefinger himself! No doubt so he can use this information for some later blackmailing purpose.
Oh, Petyr Baelish--you fiend!
He's interrupted when yet another patron storms out of his room complaining of his plaything's constant crying. Petyr quickly passes off to him the previous whore who's just finished orally pleasuring her fella (uh, EWW!), before taking matters into his own hands and confronting the source of all the tears.
Why lookie-see, it's Ros again! Who could've guessed? Turns out she's still not recovered from all that nasty business of infanticide that blew up on her watch last episode. Littlefinger comes off as the consoling friend at first but, being Littlefinger, finds some way to turn his heartwarming tale of compassion into a veiled threat. Turns out bad investments end up still benefiting Littlfinger in the end. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the investment herself. Ros puts two and two together and smiles mechanically in return. Sheesh, and you think your boss is a slave master!
At the Tower of the Hand, Tyrion has invited the architect of last week's bastard killing spree over for dinner. Commander of the City Watch, Lord Janos Slynt, thinks he's there to exchange pleasantries and enjoy a good meal. But the new Hand of the King has other plans for him. Turns out Tyrion doesn't sit well by the idea of a civic servant betraying the former Hand in an act leading to his execution. He's also not a big fan of the whole baby-killing thing, either. Lord Janos tries to claim he was only following orders, but Tyrion takes even more offense at this. If the Commander can so easily be bribed with money and a title to betraying someone in a higher office, then what good is he to have around? Good question. In a stunning coup sure to delight viewers everywhere, Tyrion places his sellsword companion, Bronn, in charge of the Gold Cloaks now. And the man's first order of business? Taking the former commander out in chains and shipped away north for the Wall. Yikes!
Tyrion asks Bronn if he would ever follow through on an order to kill an infant without question. Bronn says not without question . . . but perhaps for the right price. The Hand does not look pleased by this answer, and regards his harshly honest employee in a new light.
Back on the Kingsroad many, many leagues north of King's Landing, Yoren's band of Night's Watch recruits are settling down to camp again. We see curly Lommy Greenhands and tubby Hot Pie at long last, the two boys Arry "befriends" at the end of last season. They debate the merits of what makes a battle a battle, and a knight a knight, before Gendry the apprentice armorer shows up and puts the debate to rest.
Later, Gendry reveals to Arry that he knows she's a girl and is okay with it. But what does give him a mighty shock is when she reveals back that she is in fact Arya of House Stark. Abashed at being in the presence of a genuine LADY all this time--a term Arya takes umbrage with--Gendry promises to keep her secret just that.
Back at Pyke in the Iron Islands, Theon rows his boat ashore, but to no hallelujahs from an adoring public. In fact, no one is there to greet him save a crusty old wharf rat who looks at him like something he should hock a loogie at. Not impressed with the lad's high-fallutin lordly airs, it's only the promise of gold that gets him hopping in search of a horse for the Greyjoy heir. He needn't bother. A sassy young lass promises to take him to the castle herself. And unlike the old fool, she seems to appreciate the importance of Theon's station. While sharing horseback, Theon's hands naturally gravitate to the lady's boobs and nether regions whilst talking about how great he is. She smirks and doesn't say much. Something more seems to be at play here.
At the castle, Lord Balon Greyjoy doesn't even get up from his cozy seat by the huge Kraken-engraved fireplace to give his son a hug. He's still smarting over his naval defeat nine years ago when the Iron Islands tried to secede from the rest of the Kingdoms under King Robert's rule. Theon having become Ned Stark's ward as punishment for his own temerity, Balon fears his son is more landlubber than salty iron sea lord after all these years. The Greyjoy's House motto is: "We Do Not Sow," which gives you some idea of the low estimation they place on their landed neighbors to the east. Balon continuously mocks his increasingly flustered son, calling him a woman and a whore and other endearing terms of affection. Then to add insult to injury, the young woman who brought Theon safely to the castle suddenly enters the room and stands by her father's side, smirking with contempt. Like a punch to the gut, the little lordling realizes with horror that he had just been feeling up his baby sister, Yara! Yeash, how long is nine years away from home anyway?
Balon implies that Yara is twice the man he'll ever be, and that she--not Theon--will command his fleet. The old coot also laughs in Theon's face at his son's presumptions that the Iron Islands would supply a fleet of ships to Robb Stark's campaign in return for the restoration of his own kingdom. Balon Greyjoy doesn't need a crown handed to him that he'd rather take by might and iron instead.
Theon: "You won't stand a chance against the Lannisters on your own!"
Balon: "Who said anything about the Lannisters?"
That's a lot of food for thought to chew over.
Over on Dragonstone, Davos Seaworth meets with an old smuggling buddy he knew back in his pirating days, Salladhor Saan. As an ex-pirate turned knight, Davos promises his friend a similarly favorable transcendence if he would but lend his fleet of thirty ships to Stannis' quest for the Iron Throne. Davos' son, Matthos, is along for the conversation, but doesn't much care for the flamboyant pirate Saan. Especially when Salladhor boasts of his plan to sail into Blackwater Bay and have his way with Queen Cersei.
Matthos: "We're not attacking King's Landing so that you can rape the Queen!"
Salladhor: "I'm not going to rape her, I'm going to fuck her."
Matthos: "As if she would just let you."
Salladhor: "You don't know how persuasive I am, I never tried to fuck you."
That sends the self-righteous Matthos running off, and the two old pirates share a laugh. Davos is one strange father. Salladhor Saan--a good name for a song!--agrees to help Stannis, and the deal is set. Later at the castle, Davos relays as much to his liege the king. Stannis and Melisandre suddenly want the war room to themselves, though, so the ex-smuggler and his son make their exit. But not before the Red Priestess whispers something into Matthos' ear about dying in fire being the purest of deaths. Did Ser Fore Shadow make another appearance? My, but he does get around!
Alone together, Melisandre promises Stannis victory against even the seeming insurmountable numbers of his little brother's forces if he would but just give every last bit of himself over to the Lord of Light. Stannis demands to know what else he can possibly give that hasn't already been given. Meli simply drops open her robe by way of reply, revealing that--yes Stannis, the rug does indeed match the tapestries! By way of foreplay, Meli reminds Stannis that his wife is sickly and barren; she'll never give him the heir he so desperately needs! She promises him a son, and that's all Stannis needs to hear. Boom-whompah-wah-wah!
Back yet again in the Tower of the Hand, Queen Cersei is airing out a little tiff with her dwarf brother. Seems she's none too pleased that he axed her man on the City Watch, Lord Commander Janos Slynt. Tyrion reminds her that he is the Hand of the King and has every right. His sister counters back that he only enjoys such station until their father, Tywin, arrives at King's Landing himself. Tyrion switches gear and starts admonishing her on that debacle involving the slaughter of her dead husband's innocent bastard sons. Even for her that is a new low, one that will fly back in her face as the common people are already growing testy upon hearing the news.
But Cersei reacts as if hearing this all for the first time. Tyrion and her both realize that this is King Joffrey's doing--that little shit! Cersei goes off on a little tirade about how hard it is to rule the world. No one takes it seriously. He doesn't, nor does their brother, Jaime.
Cersei: "It's all fallen on me."
Tyrion (smirking): "As has Jaime, repeatedly, according to Stannis Baratheon."
In a remarkable show of emotion, Cersei's features undergo a transformation. She's confused, hurt, let down, defiant, angry, and finally dangerously cold as she lets out a little laugh, eyes glinting in the candlelight.
Cersei: "You're funny. You've always been funny. But none of your jokes will ever match the first one, will they? You remember, back when you ripped my mother open on your way out of her and she bled to death?"
Tyrion (quietly): "She was my mother, too."
Cersei: "Mother's gone, for the sake of you. There's no bigger joke in the world than that."
Damn, that was cold hearted! Now we know why these two hate each other so much. Growing up with that for a big sister must have been torture for poor little Tyrion. At least he still has Jaime. Oh wait . . .
The episode comes to a close on one final scene up north beyond the Wall. It's night and Jon Snow is keeping watch outside Craster's Keep, when the old perv himself comes bustling out of the house with a wee bundle wrapped under his arms. Jon naturally follows him into the woods, but hides when Craster returns minus the package. Suddenly Jon hears a baby wail and sets off running, drawing Longclaw in one fluid motion as he does. He arrives just in time to spy a tall shadowy figure scooping up the infant from the snow and walking away. But for just the barest of moments, we see the creature's eyes burning bright blue in the dark.
The night is dark and full of terrors.
Before Jon can act to save the child, old man Craster appears out of nowhere and cold clock's him viciously. Nighty night, Jon Snow. You still know nothing!
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Crowns.
Well, I'm a bit ambivalent on this episode. Through no fault of the directing or writing, it still left me wanting in the excitement category. Even in the books, though, there are whole blocks of chapters that are a bit on the boring or filler-ish side, so I can't really fault this otherwise excellent show for not always being the high-caliber entertainment it often is ALL THE TIME. These episodes are, after all, more or less following the lead of the book they're based on. And as this is still early in the season, I will cut it some slack and expect the pacing and relevance to pick up mightily in the next handful of episodes. However, the rating above reflects more the fact that there were equal parts exciting and impactful moments as there were meandering and useless ones in this week's showing. I'll get to the good points later, but let me first address what didn't work so well for me and get it off my chest.
1) The scene between Stannis and Meli getting it on atop the Painted Table. I preferred it better in the books when their relationship was merely hinted at, or insinuated outright even, by the reactions of other characters as they nodded and winked to one another behind Stannis' back. In the second book which this season is based on, Stannis doesn't have his own POV chapters. Everything he does or say we get through the eyes and ears of his trusted Hand, Ser Davos. In the book, that scene played out with Stannis dismissing Davos from the room. Davos is then left to his own suspicions regarding the close bond between his liege and this Red Priestess whom he doesn't trust. I understand that the show has to operate on different priorities, but still this scene left me feeling unsatisfied;
2) While unlike most people on the Internet I did not have a problem with all the gratuitous sex in the Littlefinger brothel scene (I absolutely loved the peephole within a peephole conceit the director set up for that), I did find the conversation with Ros to be much ado about nothing. We already know that Littlefinger is a conniving, heartless, selfish SOB. And I never did like Ros to begin with. So for me that entire scene in the bedroom was annoying, and I just wanted it done with;
4) While everyone is praising to high heaven the CGI of the direwolves this season, I actually have problems with it. To me they look less like what I imagine direwolves to resemble and more like what they really are -- captive wolves filmed in front of a green screen and magnified to unreal size before being inserted into a scene with human actors. The shot of Ghost confronting Gilly for her squirrel meat looks like an oversized puppy manipulated with photoshop or something similar. His stance and posture and total bearing are more in keeping with a "wolf" of normal size than an animal more than half as tall as the grown adult humans he's standing next to. I had this problem with Grey Wind in last week's episode as well. Admittedly, this is really a small nitpick as I'm perfectly happy to look past it and still enjoy the show;
5) However, if you're going to have direwolves--bad CGI or not--then at least remember to include them when lack of their presence renders a made-up scene less believable. By all rights, Craster never would have had the chance to sneak up on Jon and knock him out . . . because he would have been too busy having his throat ripped out by Ghost! This scene never happens in the book, because if it had Ghost would have been by Jon's side as the man wandered into the woods. He would have especially sensed a White Walker nearby. I generally applaud the changes that have been made from the book, but this one is hard to swallow when they continue to ignore the importance of each Stark child having a direwolf to call their own. They're not in the books just for window dressing, you know? It's one of the few areas where the show continuously fails to live up to my expectations; and
6) By this point in the show's progress--12 episodes in--we're getting too many characters thrown in our face. This was always a problem with the books, too, but at least there the reader had the benefit of actually seeing the names written down for better commitment to memory. No such luck with the visual medium I'm afraid, especially if you're terrible with faces like I am. Luckily I have read the books, so none of the new characters this season are a source of confusion for me. But I worry about the newcomers. Those fans who did not read the books, how are they faring? My wife is one, and I can say this has not been an easy two episodes for her. I'm having to constantly pause the DVR so that she can ask me a question about just who the hell this black pirate guy is, and why is the young man dressed in black in that same scene being such a righteous prick for no reason? She also had no idea what the guy in the cage was mumbling to Arya--neither his name nor where he came from was easy to make out. This was what I feared the most when Thrones was first announced as coming to the small screen. How the hell were audiences going to keep up with the cast of players? Add to the fact that many of the actors portraying these characters speak with exotic accents or in whispers, and I truly have to sympathize with newbies. Yes, this is one of the major reasons why I write these lengthy recaps--but still! I really hope people don't get discouraged and that they try to make it work. I do believe that it will all start to make sense by mid-season. Just hang in there!
2) I'm so stoked that they got Lucian Msamati to play Salladhor Saan. While the pirate was never a memorable character for me in the books, I love Lucian as an actor. Genre fans probably know him best from the very memorable Doctor Who episode "The Vampires of Venice," yet I will always remember him from another HBO series, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. He's an awesome actor and he brings such appropriate charm and vitality to the role of Saan that it's like a match made in Hollywood heaven, despite looking nothing at all like his literary counterpart. The scene between him and Davos reminds me in a way of Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, both being smugglers trying to go legit after all. While Salladhor Saan will be a recurring character, it's sad that he doesn't appear often enough in the series to make this a truly breakout performance for Msamati. He deserves greatness;
3) Two scenes in particular make this otherwise pedestrian episode stand out and really shine, bumping up the score as high as it currently is. The first is the Varys/Tyrion verbal duel in the Hand's quarters. What's so important about this scene is that Tyrion is making it quite clear that he will not end up as Jon Arryn and Ned Stark did before him. Despite his size, he is a rather large player on the scene; one who knows exactly how the "game" is waged. Varys, however, is not dumb. He does in fact respect Tyrion's intelligence. He just wants to let the son of Tywin know that he must be on his toes. Varys is not exactly a villain in this show. Nor is he altogether selfless. But he and Tyrion are more alike than either care to admit at this point. My take of this scene is that Varys is genuinely trying to feel Tyrion out and judge whether or not he'll make a useful ally against enemies both present and future. . . or a useful pawn to further his own power play. Or both. Time will tell, but expect more excellent confrontations like this one in the future between these two;
4) The other amazing scene that makes, not breaks, this episode is the chat between Tyrion and his older sister, Cersei. This one is so wonderful due entirely to the sublime performances of both Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey here. My eyes actually moistened at the way the former delivered his line: "She was my mother, too." There is so much hurt and pain behind those words. It completely sells the strained relationship the siblings share. But what really blew my mind was Headey's portrayal of Cersei's reaction to the small jest regarding rumors of her more-than-sisterly relationship with Jaime. That strikes a nerve and then some! Watch her face closely during the long pause after Dinklage delivers that little coup de grace. The range of emotion is so deft and yet fleeting, and that little laugh at the very end absolutely nails it! The way she all but bites her words as, like a wounded lioness, she falls back on the one primal topic that will ALWAYS get under her baby brother's skin and wound to the quick: their mother's death in childbirth. These two will never love each other, that much is obvious. But yet in many ways they are very much alike. Both understand better than the brother who's love they share how the game of thrones is actually played. Both are crippled by their perceived physical and emotional limitations: Tyrion by his stature and familial browbeating; Cersei by her gender and lack of compassion. Their burdens have made them forces to be reckoned with in life. In other words, both are true Lannisters to the core. If not for the bad blood going back to the cradle between them, they would make an unstoppable team. But alas, as this scene shows, look for these two to continuously butt heads from here on out. It will get nasty, it will get brutal. It may even get deadly;
5) While Arry revealing to Gendry her true identity happens a little too quickly and conveniently this early in the season, it cannot be denied that actress Maise Williams and actor Joe Dempsie have great chemistry together. The two play off each other effortlessly like brother and sister, and I particularly enjoyed the moment when Arya shoves Gendry to the ground for calling her "m'lady." Arya and Gendry are alike in that they are both outcasts now. And that they are both being hunted by the Iron Throne, albeit for different reasons. Arya in particular is at a very vulnerable stage and will need all the friends she can get, as the worst is yet to come. Her scenes are the ones I look forward to the most in future episodes, and what we've seen so far has only increased my anticipation ten-fold for what's to come; and
Ultimately, this episode does far more right than it does wrong. And in retrospect, after all is said and done when the finale's end credits roll, I might want to return and revise the score a little higher. However, by the same light, it wouldn't surprise me at all if this ends up being one of the worst episodes of the season. Not so much because it failed at any one big thing, but because it underwhelms in its mediocrity. Of course, Game of Thrones at its worst is still leaps beyond most shows' best . . . I just wish I didn't have to have the flames of my ardent excitement doused so completely by what turned out to be a glorified filler episode in my mind. I'm sure it's my own knowledge of the books that is to blame for that, though. I'm so rearing to get to the really good parts waiting in the wings, that I forget the same sort of foot dragging occurred in the novel as well. In some ways you fans who have not read the books are lucky, as I'm sure the episode rates higher in your estimations than mine. If so, please let me know in the comments below.
And, as always, stay tuned next week when I bring you my recap of Episode 13: "What Is Dead May Never Die."
Previous Game of Thrones Season 2 episode reviews:
Ep. 11: "The North Remembers."