Game of Thrones – The Night Lands
In case you were wondering no, i’ve not returned from the future only to write a review of next week’s Game of Thrones – if that were the case then we would of course be talking Mad Men – instead the earliness of this new post is predominantly due to the Netherlands. For some reason some European subscribers were accidentally awarded the opportunity to watch this episode a little early vie HBO GO, something that would come as a shock were it not for the fact that we saw the same thing happening multiple times last year as the networked attempted to debut their new peripheral platform.
So from before the very get go this second episode seemed very reminiscent of last years show – more so than the season premiere did earlier in the week – but this is because of its controversies rather than its content. The other topic of internet interest that built up around the show last year was that of ‘Sexposition’ and the role played in the show by sex; while last weeks premiere was fairly prudent (nary a nipple in sight if I recall correctly) here the banter was again oft adorned by breasts and/or banging. Did I have a problem with it? No, not particularly, though neither did it bother me last year. It is certainly both noticeable and unneccessary – if you need something like nudity to keep you entertained during the speeches than I wonder why you are watching in the first place – but the latter fact ensures that it is easily ignored by those who aren’t on the look out for adult entertainment.
There were signs in this weeks episode though that told of how the show was changing in its second season; all that sex ten odd months ago is starting to bear fruit in the fully literal sense with nearly every story being based around a baby, past or present. Theon returns to his father no longer a child, Jon Snow is forced by honour into assisting in the birth of what will now be another bastard, Cersei taunts Tyrion about his own slide out the cervix and of course the mass infanticide that closed The North Remembers reverberates through King’s Landing’s many social spheres. The second departure is that this almost-theme – something that the show had mixed success with last season – is the only thing tying together the episodes many, many elements.
That and of course the constant vague vying for the upper hand in this obtuse ongoing conflict. Should we at this stage have any idea whatsoever about who is where and how well they are doing? Because I certainly don’t. Graphically including the armies in the opening credit sweep or introducing a Battlestar-esque soldier/casualty count would certainly be nice.I understand the budgetary reasons for banishing the actual battles to the background – even this expensive a show still has strict limitations – but simply showing the several armies as they march around after a fight isn’t exactly the most compelling approach; even if I do agree that the most compelling part of the conflict is the part that occurs behind the scenes. There need be a balance between the two because ironically enough giving too intense a focus to just one actually robs it of any importance: what’s a sword hitting a shield matter if you don’t know who wields either and what’s a pledge of allegiance or betrayal of banner when you don’t know where the battlefield is? This is actually the problem that I am currently having with the show as a whole.
I wrote of this week’s premiere that it wasn’t the cleanest or most concise beginning to a story but this episode has explained to me why I was wrong; you see, the show doesn’t actually have a story, not at this stage. The first season began with the guise of one: The King’s Hand had been killed over some secret truth and our heroic protagonist, Ned Stark, set out with the what in hand to discover the why and then punish the whom. We all saw how well that worked out for him. Pardon the pun (which is entirely intentional) but since his shocking departure the snake has been bereft of head and as such the show simply jerks and stutters where its death spasms take it.
There are so many different stories in play and so few of them connect each week in what could be construed as a meaningful way; See: the plight of the Dothraki whose sun-drenched destiny looks set to be teased out over the season a few seconds at a time. If there is a master plan at play here then it is the longest of cons, something which won’t likely play out properly for seasons to come; an admirable but perhaps not a perfect approach for us unread plebs.I argued for the merit of character centric episodes all through last year and that theoretical approach is another old thing that this episode revived.
Now that I’ve got all of that out of the way I will say this: Game of Thrones remains one of the best and most compelling shows currently on television and it has all but already confirmed its place in my Top Ten for the year, as ludicrous a statement as that is to make now. I criticise it so much though because it feels so close to being one of the best period, but falls short perhaps only because of its pacing. I do want to make it clear though that I’ve never felt the show was spinning its wheels, though thanks to their shared motion the to styles do look similar from afar. See the show instead is a series of spinning gears; each element simply sliding up against the next with one facet and from that connection there they share their motion, moving each other along. This is startling for us because these days our stories are told in the instant and obvious digital format, which differs greatly from what we get at Games.
Long, rambling story short it doesn’t much matter how well your threads all tie together when they are each as elegant as these ones: the dialogue, action, character, costumes and direction are all top class in the moment, it’s just that I’m greedy see and what I want is more; that is after all why I watched this episode early instead of waiting with the rest of the world.