NOTE: This review/recap contains spoilers for “Game of Thrones” Season Two, Episode Two. I have also added a batch of seven images from this episode at the bottom of this post.
To channel Salt n’ Pepa for just a moment, episode two of “Game of Thrones'” sophomore season basically shouts “Let’s talk about sex, baby!” No type of hanky panky is “off limits” or superfluous, adultery is broached, incest is hinted at, and of course the normal prostitution angle is roundly considered. Sex goes down on a boat, is talked about while riding on horseback and a table is put to good use in a crucial scene involving one of the contenders for the crown. All in all, it’s a very racy episode, though it doesn’t add up to an exceptional iteration of the show.
Mercifully, we open on Arya (Maisie Williams), everyone’s favorite mighty mouse. She’s absconded from King’s Landing, and none too soon, but The Lannisters have their eyes on another prize, the death of each and every one of the late (great) King Robert’s bastards. But where did this monstrous order come from? That’s the narrative arc of this episode, though the show closes on a cliffhanger far to the north.
Now let me get back to the amount of flesh contained within these 50 minutes, and why it doesn’t totally add up. The issue with all these sexy-times is they risk derailing the narrative in favor of pure salaciousness. The pleasure of “Game of Thrones” comes from figuring out who is on which side, individual motivations, and where the momentum resides in the constantly shifting political landscape. Romps are eye candy, sure, and make sense for lesser series, but the back-to-back-to- back sexcapades are at best a random aside and at worse eye-roll inducing for a story the level of “Game of Thrones.” I get where the instinct comes from, as “True Blood” and “The Borgias” often go to the well effectively, but it does come off as rather tawdry here. Does it make for a “bad” episode overall? No, of course not, because the rest of the action is basically flawless, but it does allow for a few off minutes, which is more than happens most of the time when we watch “Game of Thrones.”
To be fair, great scenes and quips can be found throughout as well. Varys and Tyrion share an early “stare down” involving Shae. Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) mentions to Cersei how great she is at diplomacy. Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) has a scene where he shows just how brutal he can be, this was especially welcome after he came up short against Cersei last episode. Tyrion and Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter) also face off, and it’s over before it even starts. We get a new location, The “Iron Islands” of Pyke and the “iron or gold” standard is our newest theme from which viewers can start to piece together how hard a place Pyke is to inhabit.
We’re introduced to a bevy of new characters, Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan), Gilly (Hannah Murray), and Jagen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). All are considered fluidly; though sadly you could blink and miss Jagen, This is where “Game of Thrones” remains exceptional for non-readers of the series, every person who appears onscreen could be a lion or a lamb, never to be seen again, or a prominent rising star. You’ve got to pay attention to every moment, because they all hold the potential to be crucial.
The great hidden truth of our most beloved modern series (“The West Wing”, “The Wire”) is that the good guys often come up short, it’s largely a Greek Tragedy instead of the Hero’s journey, and episode two of season two of “Game of Thrones” is no exception to this rule. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is having a tough time just staying alive, and Theon’s (Alfie Allen) character flaws can be measured on an industrial scale when he travels home expecting adulation. Arya is up against it just trying to get back home, and Jon Snow is on the verge of discovering something truly sinister.
All of the characters on “Game of Thrones” struggle, nothing comes easy, and this mirrors the demand on the audience’s patience and intellect. But the struggle is well worth it, because our effort is continually rewarded with reciprocal thoughtfulness on the part of the storytellers behind “Game of Thrones.” Bring on episode three!
Below is a gallery of seven images from this week’s episode. Click on any one of them to begin browsing.