This second season of Game of Thrones has journeyed on like a bullet train capitalizing on its maiden voyage. There are still hordes of new characters and places, but the pacing needs less introduction and backdrop. It becomes less about what is Westeros and more about what happens in Westeros – which, as it turns out, is a collection of fascinating, character-building, and often depraved stuff. When you think about it, there are a whole lot of semi-bad people in this universe, and even the good ones have their touches of moral ambiguity.

The Players:

  • Director: Alan Taylor
  • Writers: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
  • Cast: Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Aidan Gillen, Iain Glen, Kit Harington, Liam Cunningham, Alfie Allen

Episode Title: “The Night Lands”

Tyrion berates Cersei following the violent purge in the capital; elsewhere, Arya reveals a secret to Night’s Watch recruit Gendry.  Theon Greyjoy reunites with his father, Balon, while Davos convinces a pirate named Salladhor Saan to join with Melisandre and Stannis for a planned invasion of King’s Landing.

The Good:

  • Tyrion Lannister: This was a showcase episode for Best Supporting Actor Emmy winner Peter Dinklage. He’s always exceptional, but his flippant wit and sarcasm – as brought out through a multitude of clever lines – were on full display. It’s hard not to laugh at the way he jollies around King’s Landing, pretending to not care about anything while surreptitiously imprinting his stamp on everything he touches. He’s the only Lannister worth rooting for, and even then, it’s still unclear what he’s actually up to. He’s a mystery and a delight – a good combination.
  • Samwell Tarly: Samwell became a crowd favorite in Season 1, but he really lived up to his popularity in “The Night Lands.” Genuine tenderness can be so hard to come by in this series, it really hits you warmly when it does. At one point, Tarly tells Jon Snow with the utmost sincerity (despite the fact that he’s traversing some of the sickest, most barbaric places in Westeros): “I can’t steal her. She’s a person, not a goat!” The person he was referring to was only the incest-produced daughter of a father who then went and impregnated her, too. In such a dark world, it’s so refreshing to have a character who sees the good in everyone.
  • The Iron Islands: We’re finally tapping into Theon Greyjoy’s history, which also introduces us to his sister Yara of the Iron Islands. There is some great banter between the two of them as Theon fails to recognize her.
  • Arya’s back!: Everyone loves Arya Stark, and – as always – she did not disappoint. Now pretending to be a boy amid a band of unsavory Night’s Watch recruits, her fiery nature shines through on several occasions. It will be especially fun to watch her interactions with Gendry, the last remaining bastard of Robert Baratheon. She shares a little heart-to-heart with him, which should pave the way for a productive alliance. Keep playing that up, HBO!

The Bad:

  • Gratuitous sex: While the no-holds-barred, uncompromising style of the show can be one of its strengths, it also doesn’t need to be flaunted excessively in a cheap attempt to get ratings. At one point, I had to make sure I wasn’t watching Showtime. Scenes in the brothel? Good. Unnecessary sex on a boat to the Iron Islands? Maybe it’s nice eye candy, but this exemplary show is better than that.
  • Lack of sentiment, landscape: With some of the more likable characters gone, I would have liked a few more heartwarming moments and scenic shots. Game of Thrones seems to revel in its bare realism, which can be wonderful, but at times it seems almost too devoid of sugar. I want scenes such as Ned Stark watching Arya swordfight, Tyrion revealing the pains from his childhood, or the Eyrie in all its harrowing majesty. Season 2 has run unflinchingly like a well-oiled machine; it would be nice if it stopped once and a while to enjoy the view.

Rating: 9/10

Final word of wisdom: Don’t trust anyone.

Game of Thrones airs Sunday nights on HBO.

What did you think of the episode?