This review contains spoilers.
2.2 The Night Lands
The situation in Westeros is rapidly declining. Somehow, the ruling boy-king has managed to turn a bad situation with multiple rebels and hundreds of thousands of people wandering around the countryside with weapons into a worse situation with multiple claimants for the throne, open rebellion in the north, and omnipresent talk of violent upheval within King’s Landing itself. All it took was a few dozen dead bastards and boom, Joffrey and Cersei Baratheon suddenly look like bad guys.
Fortunately, Tyrion Lannister is around to clean up messes, crack vicious jokes, and drink all the wine. Not just some of it. All of it. (Also, before this season is out, he needs to reunite with Ros for some more sexposition; she’s about as connected as the Spider or Littlefinger at this point, given her madame position at the brothel of nobility.)
It is impossible to commend this show any more for its casting. From unearthing random extras that steal scenes, to the regulars themselves, Game of Thrones is the best ensemble cast on television, bar none. Everyone who gets a line seems to be awesome at delivering said line, from the girl with the bad teeth who warms Theon Greyjoy’s bed on the trip back to the Iron Islands and the old fellow who greets him upon landing to more important characters like the Stark children, Game of Thrones seems to be hitting every role perfectly and complimenting the actors with great writing.
Speaking of the Stark children, are there better child actors on television? Maybe Mad Men‘s Sally Draper, but aside from her, I can’t think of any show that has better young actors in better roles. Considering how important children are in the Thrones universe, and how much screen time said kids get, the success of Maisie Williams as Arya Stark in this episode is crucial to an entire story arc. We need to like her and not want her to die (unlike Sophia on The Walking Dead); without stakes, she’s just an obnoxious little time-waster. Whenever she shows up, she’s really good. Ditto for fellow child actors Isaac Hempstead-Wright (Bran Stark) and Jack Gleeson (Joffrey Baratheon).
Arya gets the most screen time of any of the children (and most of the adults) this week, and I’m really enjoying her growing friendship with Gendry and Yoren. The show has done a wonderful job of establishing relationships between characters, and it may only take a scene or two per episode for the audience to figure out just where the new Hand of the King Tyrion Lannister and Varys the Spider stand with one another… for this week. Game of Thrones has no qualms about shaking up the status quo, and it is this fearlessness that both makes the show difficult to follow at times and endlessly enthralling.
There are a couple of reasons why I feel Game of Thrones stays consistently good, week in and week out. They don’t seem to have a large writing staff, with David Benioff and D.B. Weiss doing most of the writing work. This week’s episode is no exception. The script is as sharp as the dagger Yoren threatens the Gold Cloaks with, and as funny as one of Tyrion Lannister’s jokes. Not many other programs can cause both laughter and cringing (intentionally) within the same scene. The two have also managed to effectively balance their large cast and multiple storylines effectively over the season and change of episodes. No one is neglected for longer than an episode, and no one really gets a focused episode, either. There are little check-ins this week with Dany and her Khalasar, and a significantly nastier check-in with Littlefinger and Ros the hooker with a heart of gold at the brothel that establishes that Littlefinger isn’t exactly a nice fellow (as if there was any question about that after last season).
The producers also seem to stick to a few directors (Alan Taylor this week), and rather than giving one director an episode, Weiss and Benioff are giving directors multiple episodes to work through in a row. I cannot prove this makes a difference, but I can say that I watched the entire first season over the course of a weekend to get ready for season two, and rather than feeling like a bunch of individual episodes, everything seemed to mesh together like one very long, very good movie.
As the first season established, it takes a while for the game to really be afoot. All the pieces must be moved into place first. This week was simply establishing new characters (Stannis, Davos and Salladhor, Melisandre; Yara and the Greyjoy paterfamilias) while slowly advancing the new ones. A leisurely pace in a show with a lot going on isn’t a detriment. Even this episode of Game of Thrones merits multiple viewings to properly digest all that is going on.
We can’t all catch on as quickly as the Imp, now can we?