2.2 “The Night Lands”
Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alan Taylor
Commentary by Alfie Allen and Gemma Whelan
Once again, we have an episode that the specter of death hangs over, and yet only one person dies. There’s more a constant memento mori happening than blood and guts and gore and treachery, which makes it a subtle but powerful undertone to an episode that otherwise doesn’t have a lot of thematic consistency.
The one actual death in the episode is Rakharo’s, and it’s what gives the episode its name. In “The North Remembers,” Daenerys sent three of her bloodriders out to see if there was anything beyond the Red Waste and try to figure out which way they should go. Here, Rakharo’s horse comes back, riderless, Rakharo’s head in a saddlebag. Irri doesn’t take it well, crying that whoever killed him defiled his body and didn’t burn it, meaning he won’t cross over into the afterlife—the Night Lands. Daenerys assures her that they’ll have their own (small) pyre for Rakharo and make sure that he’s not stranded here as a spirit. She also gets really, really angry, as this is yet one more injustice perpetrated against her people for which she’s going to burn the entire world down later.
The deaths of the babies and children from the last episode are having a ripple effect through this one, as well. (I’m very glad they didn’t just hit this plot point and move on; they actually added scenes that show that this isn’t something the city is just going to get over and forget about.) The Gold Cloaks are hunting Gendry on the Kingsroad, which leads Arya to tell him who she is, since he’s curious as to why she thinks they’re looking for her. (It also gives us the most adorable interaction between these two yet.)
Gendry, of course, still has no idea why the Gold Cloaks would be after him; his mother’s nobody, he never knew his father, and he didn’t commit any crimes. But at least Yoren has no intention of turning him over.
The shadow of the slaughter hangs over the Red Keep, as well. Tyrion fires Janos Slynt as Commander of the City Watch and replaces him with Bronn in yet another fun scene (one of my favorites from the books, as well). Later, Tyrion meets with Cersei to warn her that her antics are not going to end well. She hand-waves his concerns about the reactions of the populace to not only the slaughter but her decision to keep refugees out of the city, especially with winter coming. She’s so generally agitated, though, that Tyrion figures out that it wasn’t her idea to have the children killed—it was Joffrey’s. And worse, he didn’t tell her. (It’s that bit that’s really bothering her, not the wholesale slaughter of children.)
The death of Joanna Lannister at Tyrion’s birth also hangs over the entire family. Cersei blames Tyrion, specifically, for Joanna’s death, for robbing her of her mother. She calls him out on his tendency to make everything into a joke, saying that his first joke—ripping his way out of their mother and causing her to bleed to death—can’t be topped. This conversation brings in a layer of characterization that permeates a lot of the Lannisters’ relationships in the books, especially Tyrion’s relationship to everyone, that Tywin and Cersei feel that he wasn’t a fair trade for Joanna.
Back at the brothel, we get all kinds of unnecessary nudity as Petyr plays the peeping Tom while checking up on his prostitutes, until one of the customers comes storming out of his room complaining that his won’t stop crying. “His” turns out to be Ros, who’s still really upset about the baby’s death. On the one hand, I’m a teeny bit annoyed that this scene didn’t happen with the baby’s mother, who’s clearly going to be far more upset than a woman who just watched it happen, but on the other, I really like Ros and I’m glad we get to see her act with her clothes on. This scene not only continues to show how people are feeling about the slaughter, but also gives us a bit more Petyr sleaziness and touches on the consent thing I talked about way back in 1.5 “The Wolf and the Lion.” Petyr refers to Ros (obliquely; he tells a story about another whore who wasn’t happy and what he had to do to recoup his losses for hiring her) as an “investment” and warns her that he really dislikes investments that don’t pay off. He gives her the night off to pull herself together, but she’d better be ready to make his customers happy again in the morning. Or else. While the show has a real problem with making all its prostitutes giggly and bouncy and having so much fun with their jobs, occasionally it does pull back and look at the implications of prostitution.
Up north of the Wall, the Night’s Watch brothers are dealing with death another way—by laughing at it. Dolorous Edd complains that death’s not really dignified, given the way the body tends to release gas and such, and he, Sam, and Grenn giggle about death-farts. The idea of death is a bit less funny when Gilly comes to Sam for help because she’s pregnant and her father/husband, Craster, will do something undefined to the baby if it’s a boy. Sam really wants to help Gilly because she called him “brave” (and because he’s a nice kid), but Jon’s more practical and knows it’s a Really Bad Idea™. However, this does get his curiosity going a bit more—he already wondered what happens to the boys, and now he’s got a vague confirmation that it’s something sinister.
So he follows Craster. And all he gets for it is a shadowy figure off in the distance and a shovel to the face.
Meanwhile over on Dragonstone, Melisandre is planning Renly’s death and predicting Matthis Seaworthy’s. She tells Matthis that a death by fire is the purest death, and when Stannis asks why she said that, she says “because it’s true.” Also because (spoiler) Matthis will die at the Battle of the Blackwater when the entire river goes up in green flame. But that’s a bit away right now. The immediate thing is planning Renly’s death, which requires Melisandre to get naked while Stannis gets to stay completely clothed. Of course. There’s some interesting symbolism here with Stannis knocking the little ship markers all over the floor while having sex with Melisandre on the Westeros-map table. It reminds me of one of Daenerys’ (book) visions in the House of the Undying that represents Westeros being savaged and consumed by the five kings. As honorable as Stannis thinks he is, his willingness to kill his own brother (or have him killed. With witchcraft) brings that honorability into question, and his actions ultimately cause some pretty massive destruction.
Theon is also dealing with death, though in a slightly different way—by the laws of the Seven Kingdom’s, he’s his father’s heir as the oldest living male child. It took the deaths of at least two brothers during Balon’s Rebellion to put him there, though. And Theon’s been gone for the last ten years and might as well be dead as far as Balon’s concerned; unlike his sister, Yara, he doesn’t have the sea in his blood anymore. He didn’t even recognize Yara when he met her and put on all his “best” moves trying to get her into bed (somehow Benioff & Weiss managed to make the scene less cringeworthy than in the books). Now Theon has to decide what part of him needs to die—the Stark or the Greyjoy. Who has his loyalty, and why?
Although the words “valar morghulis” haven’t been introduced into the series at this point, that’s definitely the sense in this episode. All men must die, and most of the men (and women) in the series will die. Mostly pretty horribly, and a lot of them for no good reason.
Next Week: Tyrion is sneaky. Theon is confused. Arya says her prayers.