Game of Thrones: season two review
Ed Cumming is very impressed by 'The Night Lands', the second episode of the new series of Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic) certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of characters. Or incest. To go with the Starks, Targaryens, Lannisters and Baratheons we already know, the second series has thrown two new locations at us, each with their own casts. Even this review has eighteen named characters in it, and there are plenty I haven’t mentioned.
Luckily the new ones are every bit as interesting as the old. Last week introduced us to Dragonstone, where the turbulent priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten) has brought a new religion for Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), and a headache for the smuggler-turned-knight Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham). Tonight it was the Iron Islands, where Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) thought he was returning to his family seat on Pyke, via some gratuitous sex on the boat over. The fishing village he landed at seemed grim enough even before he discovered that the feisty dockside wench who gave him a lift home was in fact his sister, Yara (Gemma Whelan). His father, Balon (Patrick Malahide), does not seem the sort to be easily persuaded.
North of the wall, Samwell (John Bradley) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) met Gilly (Hannah Murray), one of the daughter-wives of unspeakably grim Craster (Robert Pugh). Murray was last seen in the first series of Skins, playing the waif-like Cassie, so frumpy wildling wench was a bit of a departure.
In King’s Landing Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) was up to his old tricks, cracking puns and scheming for his self-preservation. When the eunuch Varys (Conleth Hill) suggested he had met girlfriend Shae (Sibel Kekilli) while she was working in Tyrion’s father’s kitchen, the Imp had the immediate answer. “You should try her fish pie,” he suggested innocently.
In a less salubrious corner of the city, Littlefinger (terrific Aidan Gillen) threatened prostitute Ros (Esmé Bianco) for a poor performance. It seemed a little out of character from someone who so far has prided himself on subtlety, but it was horribly gripping watching him describe human lives in terms of investment and loss.
Also good tonight were the scenes on the road north, where Arya (Maisie Williams) is trying to return to Winterfell disguised as a boy. She’s forming a friendship with Gendry (Joe Dempsie), the only one of King Robert’s bastards to avoid the gruesome cull at the end of the first episode. Arya is the only one of the characters in this strand that we care about from the first season, so a lot of dramatic weight falls on Williams’ shoulders, but she carries it with ease.
If anything, this series has begun more strongly than the first. Last year we spent quite a long time in Winterfell, being introduced to the Starks before there was any true conflict. This time around, Westeros is already like a bag full of blood-crazed, sex-fixated, Machiavellian ferrets. The only storyline that is dragging slightly is across the Narrow Sea, where Dany (Emilia Clarke) and her band of Dothraki (and dragons) are dying in the desert, and not doing a lot else. I’m sure it will pick up. All the other storylines are intelligent, gripping and brilliantly acted.
I suspect that by the end of season two Game of Thrones will no longer be discussed in the context of its fantasy genre, and instead given its real due. With respect to the new Danish masters, not to mention Breaking Bad and Homeland, I think this is probably the most entertaining programme on television right now. From the credits to the costumes, everything is made to last. What’s more, there are baby dragons. I’m looking forward to the third episode.