Game of Thrones Review: “The Night Lands” (Episode 2.1)

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<i>Game of Thrones</i> Review: &#8220;The Night Lands&#8221; (Episode 2.1)

Since I’ve not yet read George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, I can only assume, based on the HBO show by the same name, that every single chapter contains a sex scene. This week’s episode managed to squeeze in at least a half dozen if you include Theon Greyjoy’s under-the-tunic groping of a maiden who doesn’t reveal she’s his sister (incest is another recurring theme in the show).

Buried in between the battle-map-clearing sex, the depressing-brothel sex, and the in-a-boat sex is a good story with compelling characters—a few of whom have even earned our empathy. The most lovable at this point is young Arya Stark, on her way to Winterfell if her caravan isn’t taken over by royal guards first. A pair of scouts have already been sent away at knife point—more specifically a knife pointed at one of their groins. They were looking for Gendry, the bastard son of Robert Baratheon who doesn’t know he’s the son of a king. Spunky Arya reveals her identity to the good-natured Gendry, who’s already realized she’s a girl.

Daenerys Targaryen has also earned our empathy as she’s only become stronger through her difficult journey. A pawn used by her arrogant power-hungry brother Viserys, she was given away to rough horse lord, Khal Drogo. But she more than acclimated to the strange culture of her husband; she became a leader of her people and keeper of dragons, surviving both brother and husband and enduring exile in the Red Waste. Things aren’t going so well for her right now as one of her scouts returns with his severed head in a saddle bag.

Poor Jon Snow has found himself having to endure his host, a wildling who marries his daughters (there’s that incest again) and kills his sons, a truth he stumbles into at the end of this episode, taking a club on the head for his troubles.

Even the womanizing, egotistical Theon has our sympathies in this episode, as his homecoming to the Iron Islands is not the triumph he expected. His father mocks his aristocratic clothes, bought with gold instead of the steel of his blade. Instead of leading his father’s armies in battle alongside the Starks, he’ll have to see his sister lead them alongside the Starks’ enemies. His allegiances have only become more muddled.

But while this show isn’t about “good guys” and “bad guys,” Tyrion Lannister stands alone as our window into the world of Westeros, a pragmatic, sympathetic figure with vices to match his wit. “I’m not a man of honor,” he tells Varys after the whispering eunuch discovers his secret concubine. But later we see the captain of the guard defending his own honor to Tyrion after overseeing the slaughter of babies—Robert’s many bastard children—at the bitter end of last week’s season opener. Honor is an overrated and poorly understood virtue in Game of Thrones, the rewards of which have been meager so far.

In its place is a Machiavellian quest for power, and with six candidates to that big chair in King’s Landing gathering armies and allies (heartless Prince Joffrey, proud Daenerys, honorable Robb Stark, ambitious Renly Baratheon, zealot Stannis Baratheon and the mysterious King Beyond the Wall Mance Rayder), the battle is just beginning. And since it’s on HBO, the violence is bound to be as gratuitous as the sex.

But it’s not the battles or the trysts that make the show compelling—it’s the maneuvering in courts and councils, the power game turning vices, secrets, lies and betrayal into trump cards. Well, that and the show’s lone American cast member, Peter Dinklage. More Tyrion, please. And more dragons.

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