Reviewed by Michael Hickerson (Slice of SciFi Editor)
Game of Thrones: The Night Lands
Another week, another king laying claim to power in the kingdom of Westeros. As Cersei points out, that makes at least five people trying to claim power in the kingdom. And that doesn’t even take into account Dany with her dragons across the sea.
A lot of time this week is spent examining how various factions within Westeros are trying to consolidate or hold onto their power. Tyrion exiles the Janos Slynt to the Wall for his role in the betrayal of Ned Stark and his role in carrying out Joffrey’s orders to have all of Robert’s bastards put to the sword. As Tyrion points out early in the episode, he can be more ruthless in playing the power game than Ned Stark was, but he still has issues with killing innocent children in an attempt to hang onto the throne and power. Clearly Cersei has less of a problem with this, confronting Tyrion on the point and challenging his ability and wits to play the game. This could just be part of Cersei attempting to play the game herself and truly rule from behind the scenes, pulling the strings of Joffrey until he’s old enough.
Meanwhile, Theon returns home after years away, hoping to consolidate power for Robb Stark and ultimately himself with an alliance with his father. Robb needs the ships Theon’s father has and Theon sees it as an opportunity to win favor with the side he’s backing and ultimately as his own way to rule over his father’s kingdom. Unfortunately, Theon didn’t count on his father not rubber-stamping the plan or that his sister, Yara, would become the leader their father wants in his absence.* The question becomes in a society so driven by male leadership, will the other kingdoms accepts Yara as a leader of the fleet and, eventually as the ruler of Greyjoy kingdoms?
*The scenes of Theon flirting with Yara as they ride to the castle were particularly creep having read the book and recalling the relationship these two share. Kind of that sinking feeling you get when you realize that Luke and Leia are siblings in Jedi and then recall the kiss she plants on him in Empire.
Meanwhile, Stannis seems to be the most realistic of the leaders shown this week, trying to find a power base through alliances with pirates all while realizing he doesn’t have the necessary forces to take King’s Landing. Stannis’ point that if had the legions and troops that should be loyal to him as the legitimate heir is a fascinating one, but it’s a wish. I get the feeling the people are loyal to those who most readily meet their immediate needs and with Winter coming, we could see those people begin to rise up and follow whoever promises them what they want and need to survive. (Something Tyrion ably points out to Cersei before she insults him as a cosmic joke).
Of course, this being Game of Thrones there’s a lot of sexposition this week with at least three scenes of it. These scenes feel a bit like producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are responding to certain complaints about the Littlefinger brothal sexposition scene last year.** What also caught my interest in each of these sequences was how in this male-dominated society, women are attempting to use their sexuality to have a stake in the game. Theon’s girl from the ship sees her sleeping with him as a potential way off the ship out and out of the life at sea, though Theon clearly sees her only a a convenient and willing companion for the duration of the journey. Melisandre is attempting to further her hold over Stannis by giving him not only the keys to power now but also sustained power in the form of son–something his wife (who Melisandre says Stannis finds repugnant) never gave him.
**The scene that jumps from Theon and the woman aboard ship to Littlefinger observing his clients’ activities in his brothel felt like it was showing the audience how we can and are voyeurs at times on this show.
It’s interesting to see an almost reversal of this across the Wall with Craster and his family. Craster values females and not males. One of Craster’s wives comes to Samwell because she’s pregnant and fears what will happen if she delivers a boy. She wants to go with them, playing on Sam’s want to save people. Jon Snow is drawn into this and it could have disastrous results not only for him but the entire kingdom of Westeros. Craster’s support is needed in order to determine what’s coming from beyond the Wall. And if he feels that Jon has somehow violated the conditions he imposed last week, that could make things not go well in the long run.
And all of this doesn’t even take into account the power of belief. Stannis believes in the new gods as does Davos son. Davos has yet to embrace this belief, instead putting his faith in the man of Stannis himself. Tyrion believes that something supernatural is lurking beyond the Wall and on its way to the kingdoms. Cersei believes that the people aren’t important in keeping her power base. Greyjoy doesn’t believe Theon is the right man for the job of leading his fleet. And then there’s the whole issue of the dragons across the sea and how that could shatter and change alliances and power bases once they come onto the scene.
It’s all about power in Westeros–who has it and how far they’re willing to go to either hold onto it or maintain it.
It’s a slower episode than last week’s but one that is setting up just as many, if not more, potential threads for season two and the rest of the series run.