There’s two kinds of fucking in Game of Thrones. There’s the fucking that advances character or story - like the scene of Theon banging the captain’s daughter as he sails to the Iron Isles - and there’s the fucking that happens in Littlefinger’s brothel, which is pretty much gratuitious and silly and feels like it comes from a Showtime show.
The Night Lands, episode two of the show’s second season, has both kinds. I’m finding myself a little irritated by the stuff that goes on in Littlefinger’s brothel, even though the scene of Mayor Carcetti wiping cum off the mouth of a whore is kind of amazing. The problems I have are largely my own fault - having read the books and knowing that Ros, who is usually the center of the brothel scenes, is original to the show, I find myself impatient. I can’t quite understand how this stuff is going to pay off in the larger context, making it feel even schlockier in the short term.
And schlocky isn’t something I want from Game of Thrones. I like when the show takes broad genre elements and makes nuanced, smart work of them. I like when the show upends expectations, the way that Daenerys’ story worked in the first season. Maybe Ros’ story will do the same - hell, maybe she’ll eventually end up across the Narrow Sea with the Khaleesi - but right now she just serves as a receptacle for sexposition scenes, and so far this season even those have been marginal.
I’m committing a cardinal sin of TV reviewing, which is that I’m getting worked up early in the season about something that may be carefully planned to play out a certain way. And I do trust David Benioff and DB Weiss, who proved they totally knew what they were doing in season one. Still, I can’t help but feel that this relates to a problem the show had last year, which is all that gratuitious sex and nudity.
But this episode wasn’t all sex and nudity (although there is a pretty big run of it right in the middle)! As the story of the season begins to creak to life things are getting interesting. Once again the writers have made Cersei more than she was in the books; the scene where she tells off Tyrion is great because it presents her as a real threat. It isn’t just that she can manipulate the Gold Cloaks, but that her tongue can be as sharp as the imp’s.
The introduction of Salladhor Saan was pretty wonderful as well. Saan’s a minor character in the books but he’s played with such joyful gusto by Lucian Msamati that I hope the show continues going off book to give him more to do. This isn’t a particularly happy story, so getting any character with a big smile on his face is a nice change of pace.
Speaking of going off book... the final scene between Stannis and Melisandre went fairly far off book, although it was hinted at on the page. I’m not sure I like it being so explicit - and I don’t mean that in a sexual way. This was a case of a sex scene that felt integral to the story, but in a larger sense I don’t know what’s gained by making a sexual relationship between Stannis and Melisandre confirmed fact. If anything it undermines Stannis’ general role as the most straight laced, dour and unfun guy in Westeros. How can he keep frowning if he gets to fuck Carice van Houten on a big Risk board?
The other big relationship being created on the show is between Arya and Gendry. Game of Thrones has done some astonishing casting, and the fact that the actors who play these young characters have such incredible chemistry feels like a blessing. I’m going to enjoy watching these two interact.
Special mention must also be made of Gemma Whelan, playing Theon’s sister Osha (Asha in the books, but they changed it to keep from having too many characters with similar sounding names). Her introduction was handled as magnificently as it was in A Clash of Kings, and I find something mesmerizing about Whelan. She has real world looks, and the fact that she’s normally a comedic actress adds a cocky edge to the character. The Iron Isles story is potentially problematic - it’s one of those things that Martin just drags out foreeeeeeever - but with Whelan in the mix I’m psyched for it.
Last week I bitched that the episode felt too short for the premiere, and said I would have liked a two hour opener. This second episode would have actually made for a nice addendum to the opener; by the end of The Night Lands it feels like the story is now in motion, the journey begun.