If we’re to take the title ‘Game of Thrones’ literally, I suppose it’s inevitable that some episodes of the show will focus mainly on moving the players around the game board. Such is the case with this week’s episode, which spends more time maneuvering the characters into position for big events to come than letting them actually do anything.
That’s not a complaint, necessarily. ‘The Night Lands’ is still a pretty good episode. However, with such a short season length of only ten episodes, it’s kind of frustrating to get a whole episode where, quite frankly, not much of anything happens. Even in terms of character development, I feel like the episode doesn’t devote a whole lot of time to anyone in particular.
The character who gets the most attention is Theon Greyjoy, who’s been sent by Robb Stark to visit the Iron Islands and negotiate with his estranged father, Balon (from whom Ned Stark had taken him as a boy), to join forces with Robb’s army. Of course, because you can’t have Theon Greyjoy in an episode without at least one scene where he bangs a wench, we first meet up with him en route, screwing the daughter of the ship’s captain. Later, upon arriving on the main island, he tries to seduce a swarthy warrioress, only to discover that she’s his sister, Yara. She takes entirely too much delight in letting him feel her up before revealing her identity.
It turns out that Balon isn’t exactly thrilled by the triumphant return of his long-lost son. He considers Theon a pansy who’s been turned soft by the Starks, and gives him a chilly reception. Balon’s octopus fireplace is pretty stunning, though.
This episode introduces a new character, the pirate master Salladhor Saan (Lucian Msamati from ‘The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’). He’s recruited by Stannis Baratheon’s chief advisor, Davos Seaworth, to pledge his contingent of 30 ships to Stannis’ cause. Salladhor agrees not out of political loyalty or even the promise of riches, but because he wants to personally invade King’s Landing and fuck Cersei Lannister. He seems like a fun character who will probably play an important role in the story later. For now, all we get is an introduction.
Speaking of Stannis, despite his intentions to stay faithful to his crazy and unloving wife, the self-proclaimed king allows himself to be seduced by his priestess Melisandre, who promises him a son and fucks him on his battle map.
The episode ends north of the Wall, as Jon Snow witnesses the incestuous Craster sneaking off in the middle of the night with a baby (presumably a male baby). Craster appears to leave the child for a White Walker, and then sneaks up and knocks Jon Snow out. This is a fairly limp cliffhanger. I think the episode would have better ended with Stannis and Melisandre on the battle map.
A few other characters shine in brief scenes, but aren’t given much screen time. Tyrion dismisses the commander of the City Watch and names his retainer Bronn to replace the man. Tyrion also makes it clear to the eunuch Varys that he won’t play games or tolerate his sneaky behavior. Baelish tells one of his whores a creepy story about what he did to a prior girl in his employment when she wouldn’t stop crying. Robert’s only surviving bastard, the blacksmith’s apprentice Gendry, tells Arya that he knows she’s a girl. She in turn trusts him with her true identity.
The episode title, ‘The Night Lands’, comes from the only brief scene we spend with Daenerys and the Dothraki. The phrase seems to be a term for the afterlife. We learn this after Dany’s “bloodrider” Rakharo is murdered (presumably by a rival Khal), and his horse is returned to Dany with Rakharo’s head in a pouch.