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After the first season and the many events that arguably looked more like preparatory steps, the new season premiere of Game of Thrones felt like a positioning of the pieces. It paved the way for "The Night Lands," an episode in which the game of thrones seems to have truly begun. Whether it was Daenerys Targaryen receiving a message from a rival Dothraki Khal, or Tyrion making his way into the politics of King's Landing, or even Theon Greyjoy's trip to the Iron Islands, the episode seemed to show the first open moves toward the clash of kings.
Unlike last week's episode that featured a largely unsophisticated Tyrion in his bickering with his nephew and the almost soap opera-esque showing during the small council, "The Night Lands" showcased the imp at his best. Take his opening scene: Tyrion whistles while walking toward his apartments and opens the door, only to find Shae—the prostitute he smuggled into King's Landing against the explicit orders of his father—with "Lord" Varys, the master of whisperers. What follows is a conversation in which "fish pie" has nothing to do with a meal and "fisherman" has no connection whatsoever with fishing and where threats are cordially veiled until Tyrion's "I am not Ned Stark. I understand how this game is played."
Later, events seem to lend credence to Tyrion's statement as he skillfully dispatches the commander of the city's watch, responsible for carrying out the order to kill all of Robert Baratheon's illegitimate children, including babies. One of the most significant moments is when Tyrion asks Bronn (the new commander of the city's watch) if he would follow an order to kill a baby without question. The answer, though somewhat amusing, only draws a poker face from Tyrion, who could have been looking for a moral anchor or simply testing the loyalty of his new commander. His particular way of playing the "game" is also on display when, during the small council, he seems to side with the Night Watchmen who want more people to man the Wall. However, nothing gets us more into the Lannister family internal strife as the conversation he has later with his sister, Cersei. Insults are exchanged and we get to the root of her hatred for him which, to me at least, appeared rather immature and a weak response to his allusions on the incestuous relationship. "The Night Lands" showed Tyrion embracing his role as hand of the king and using his newfound power to change things his way. At this point, his actions speak volumes on his fierce determination to survive his stay at King's Landing, and to do it with some level of dignity and a lot of fun.
Because of the ongoing search for Gendry, Robert's blacksmith "bastard," we saw a bit more of Arya on her way to the North. The engaging young girl seems to have found a friend in Gendry who has discovered her secret but still doesn't know who he is. Daenerys also appeared for a brief moment without her dragons. After receiving the severed head of one of her envoys on horseback, the amazing Khaleesi—who could barely stand and seemed to be at the head of a Khalasar without resources—found the strength to make threats that, strangely, didn't sound as empty as they should have, considering her circumstances.
Besides Arya's refreshing appearance, Daenerys's determination and Cersei's bitterness, the episode featured a lot of female nudity, prostitute intercourse, sexual innuendos and even a bit of voyeurism, just as it brought forth two strong female characters. Melisandre, Stannis Baratheon's advisor and priestess of the one god, offered herself to her lord in, what was to me, the weakest moment of the hour. Stannis' pride and "virtue" had been praised before and he himself mentioned his vows before rushing to accept her offer after the promise of a son. The sex is not the issue here. The problem is him seemingly leaving his moral high ground because of the promise of a son. Stannis has been portrayed as man who thinks he is above his company, so if fathering a son was that important, it stands to reason he would have done something about it before. The scene would have been better off just using the lady of the light's lustful appeal.
The other female character, a newcomer, probably had viewers forgive the show for keeping the Khaleesi away. Theon Greyjoy made good on his promise to go and seek the help of his father, Lord Balon Greyjoy, the head of House Greyjoy. There were many reasons to laugh during the episode, but few matched Theon Greyjoy being ignored by the man he tried to dazzle with his position as "sole" heir of the Lord Reaper of Pyke. Unmoved, the old man just wanted payment in exchange for any service. The introduction of Yara Greyjoy was as funny and very revealing. Theon Greyjoy doesn't have the gravitas of a leader and that was made even more obvious by his sister's self-assurance and playfulness. The new recurring character has an understated charm that fits her position perfectly. The time spent at Pyke also shed more light on Theon's past, the nine years away, the family resentment against the Northerners and the fact that he obviously turned into somebody who is more a Stark than he would admit. With the introduction of Yara Greyjoy and the Iron Islands, the show has shown a lot of potential for growth for Theon Greyjoy, something that could start very soon with his father's next move, which is not likely to please Robb Stark, King of the North.
In some ways, "The Night Lands" was slightly better than the season premiere. It had more drama (of the good kind) at King's Landing and featured several interesting moves that will only pay off later, including the furtive gift to the blue-eyed beings beyond the Wall. I found its first half flowed more naturally, using dialogue, context and even nudity to transition smoothly from one storyline to another. Unfortunately, not all storylines are the same or maybe they are often stopped at a point where the short "chapter" feels incomplete.