Game of Thrones: “The Night Lands”
Posted by therebelprince on April 6, 2012
Cersei gets all the best lines, but there are great moments all around in The Night Lands.
(As with last week’s review, I’ll save any potential spoiler-y comments for a section after the review proper.)
“Another king? How many is that now – five? I’ve lost count.”
— Cersei Lannister
The reason I enjoyed David Lynch movies and TV shows so much as a kid was little to do with Lynch’s talent or unique way of telling stories, but with his desire to cast people of varied looks and types, only to reveal the different forms talent can take. I mean, sure, plenty of traditionally attractive people are talented (and many of Game of Thrones‘ cast members are proof of that), but I’m really enjoying the wide scope of casting done on the series. Not just the beautiful/ugly ratio but short/tall, dark/light, fat/skinny, and so on. Nowhere is this more evident than in Yoren’s band of lowlifes, destined for the Wall. I’m so glad that Maisie Williams remains both tiny and awesome, because she makes a wonderful pair with Joe Dempsie’s Gendry. I’m utterly in love with Dempsie, who has such a natural performance style (and nice arms). As they realise their lives are in danger, the two become united by fear, as Arya confesses the truth to him. The danger lies more for Gendry – both because he’s the one being openly hunted, and all the potential traitors around him know that – but at least Arya is sure of why she’s wanted! Also along for the ride are three dangerous criminals: lecherous Rorge (Andy Beckwith), disgusting Biter (Gerard Jordan), and the vaguely-accented, mysteriously attractive Jaqen Hagar (Tom Wlaschiha). Rorge and Biter are two of the most disgusting characters in history, and Jaqen is high on the list of fan conspiracy theories, so I look forward to their coming adventures. Then, there are the two children. Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey) is even more rotund than I expected, and Lommy is played by Eros Vlahos, who has the bearing and manner of a born actor. There’s a risk with any of these groupings – like those of the Wallies – that they can be reduced to stereotypes to fit into the screentime. So far, though, everyone in this crew is getting great lines and a feeling of more lurking just beneath the surface.
Increasingly, one of last season’s episode titles – Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things – has come to apply to most of our characters. Theon Greyjoy returns home to Pyke, the seat of his father – Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide) – self-styled King of the Iron Islands. Along with Joff, Robb, Stannis, and Renly, Balon makes up the “Five Kings” of the current war. I very much enjoy the little nods to the source text, such as Theon’s fling with a Captain’s daughter (Amy Dawson) and the kraken over Balon’s fireplace. Everything about this storyline is working for me so far. Alfie Allen was shouldered with a ludicrous amount of exposition last season, but he proved in the quieter moments that he’s very talented, and I look forward to seeing Theon on his own this season, dealing with the mysteries of his family. The Iron Islands are yet another example of the fascinating cultural differences in Martin’s world, with Balon unimpressed that his son has been – Gods forbid – buying his jewellery rather than taking it from the bodies of men he’s killed. There’s also Theon’s sister Yarra (Gemma Whelan), who looks to be one of many obstacles standing between him and leadership of his people. There are some who dislike Theon, the spoilt, bitter son of a bitter man. For me, that couldn’t be further from the truth. His complex heritage – the ascetic life of Pyke coupled with his confused hostage/friend situation at Winterfell – has made Theon a young man who was forced to believe that he has a destiny and a natural place ruling his kingdom. Reality has intruded on his fantasy – both the reality of his own family and that of the greater war. What lies ahead for young Greyjoy?
For the most part, the rest of The Night Lands’ storylines are brief excursions. Daenerys looks to be the character who will get the Jon Snow treatment this year, so far lingering in scattered scenes that haven’t yet indicated if they’ll add up to anything, but this is mostly the fault of the source text. I’m not against adding new material for characters to pad out their journeys, but the writers are lucky that Dany has a strong fan base who will go along with it!
Beyond the Wall, Sam appears to have lost a little weight, which has – thankfully – made him less comical. I’m confused that these guys are still camping with Craster, yet Theon has made it all the way to the Iron Islands, so I’m just going to assume that – as with the books – we’re not seeing things directly in chronological order, since otherwise my brain will explode.
“This is what ruling is. Lying on a bed of weeds, ripping them out by the root one by one, before they strangle you in your sleep.”
— Cersei Lannister
King’s Landing is uneventful this week, but they do it in style. Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey are a great combination, and I look forward to plenty more sparring as the season goes on. Cersei is beginning to realise that Tyrion is her equal and someone she could theoretically open up to (he’s already acknowledging that he knows about her and Jaime, and about how out-of-control Joffrey has become), but she is staggeringly close to the edge already. To Cersei, her brother is her enemy, and even his often sage advice is at odds with the numerous plots she’s got boiling away. Cersei’s going to have to regroup and find a new way of gaining control, because without Jaime (and, even to an extent, Robert), she’s just got a brother, father, and son who aren’t that interested in her opinion.
It strikes me that the person getting the most additional scenes (both this year and last) is Littlefinger. Psychologically, he’s a fascinating dude, although I felt like Gillen didn’t stand out much last year. For whatever reason, I have much more of a sense of Littlefinger this season (although he still seems to be putting himself in harm’s way for no discernible reason), and I’m enjoying the portrayal of him as a man who has fought his way to the top, but has now found that he has to keep fighting. Littlefinger had hoped to make a friend in Ned Stark. Can he make a similar friend in Tyrion Lannister? I expect that he’s going to organise some kind of plot against Cersei by year’s end. I can’t help wondering, though, if a lot of these extra sequences are because Aiden Gillen is important to the series’ endgame, and they need to give him plenty to do? Only George R.R. Martin knows.
Things progress at Dragonstone in two wonderful scenes. First, Davos and his son Matthos (Kerr Logan) – who happens to be a loyal follower of the Lord of Light – court a pirate, Salladhor Saan (Lucian Msamati), to help them sail up the Blackwater and take King’s Landing. Saan is a dynamic character who helps further the intriguing politics at Dragonstone. (Seriously, guys, I’m trying to be cynical, but so far Game of Thrones has effortlessly captured the books, so I’m at a loss.) At episode’s close, Melisandre convinces Stannis to give himself entirely to the Lord of Light… if you know what I mean. It’s a powerful moment, with Stannis clearly making a deal with the devil, although we don’t have enough of an idea of the red woman yet to understand what the impact of this is. Still, there’s a great symbolic image as Stannis hammers away at Melisandre on top of a map of the Kingdoms, as all the pieces fall to the ground around them.
Alfie Allen – already no slouch in season one – appears to have been working out more. Just sayin’.
Varys doesn’t like fish pie. Also just sayin’.
Dinklage’s accent slips during the beautifully tense scene in which he has Janos Slynt sent to the Wall, and installs Bronn as Lord of the City Watch. Because Bronn’s what the citizens want…
If you haven’t heard Roy Dotrice’s reading of the A Song of Ice and Fire audio books, you should. If you’re planning a reread of the series, do yourself a favour and listen to them! Dotrice does all the voices for the series’ vast character palette, and while, yes, an old man doing teenage girl voices can occasionally come off as silly, it’s a wonderful way to re-experience the series while driving/exercising/doing whatever else it is you do that I don’t want to know about. In fact, the audio books are so well loved that, although Dotrice wasn’t available for the original release of A Feast for Crows, the publishing house later spent money to have him re-record it!
[contains vague spoilers for all five published novels]
First appearance of Podrick Payne, Tyrion’s new steward although he’s barely seen. I wonder if there was originally more to that sequence that was cut, or if he’s going to remain incredibly minor.
Two characters who are giving indications of things we wouldn’t learn in the books for quite some time: Stannis and Cersei. Cersei appears to already be approaching the state we find her in in A Feast for Crows, which will add layers to my next reread of the earlier novels. The way she develops from the cool, collected woman of A Game of Thrones to the paranoid, deposed Queen of A Dance with Dragons is going to play very nicely on screen.
As for Stannis, this seems to confirm what the early books only suggested. We’ve never really seen he and Melisandre alone together, and it interests me greatly that the series is willing to open up about these things so early. Giving himself to Melisandre allows her (I assume) to birth those strange killer babies (yeah, I evidently need to re-read the books in closer detail). It also weakens him considerably over time. I don’t for a minute believe Stannis will be the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms by series’ end, and I feel like the tone the series is taking with Melisandre echoes me on that one.
Finally, there’s the fate of Craster’s sons. This is never revealed in the novels, and given Craster’s fate, perhaps it never will be. It always seemed clear that he sacrificed them to someone or something – the question was more whether he killed them before sacrificing or not. Are they used by the wights for some mystical purposes? Or by Mance Rayder in exchange for never attacking Craster? Or are they given to the mysterious tree-people whom we’ll meet in A Dance with Dragons? One of the delights of being a seasoned reader of the series is to get excited over the questions the TV show seeks to answer before the books do. Is this one of them?