Game of Thrones: "The Night Lands"

Don't worry, Arya: You're not the one they're looking for.
Don't worry, Arya: You're not the one they're looking for.

Dear HBO,

I understand your desire to maintain what so far has been a fairly impressive ratings run for Game of Thrones (beating the fifth-season premiere of Mad Men as the highest rated scripted program a week ago). I'm also aware that George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series relies heavily on doing the nasty. Indeed, sex figures prominently in many plotlines and is represented quite explicitly.

But ease up on the fucking.

You have a mere ten episodes to tell an incredibly dense and multilayered story (The Sopranos at least got 13 shows a season); we don't need to pay a visit to Littlefinger's brothel every week, or go overboard on inventing sexytime scenes that didn't exist in the books (see the extended entry). You've already been forced to truncate certain stories and delete characters; quit exacerbating that problem by shoehorning tits and ass in where they aren't required, like you did with those Sookie Stackhouse novels.

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In short, quit trying to make this show into "Ye Olde True Blood." Thanks, now on to the recap.

Making up for last week's egregious oversight, we start off with Arya "making water" far from the rest of the men bound for the Watch. Here we get our first look at the three men Yoren is keeping in the cage. The first, Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha), is a deceptively polite fellow. His two companions, not so much. Jaqen notes (s)he has more "courage than sense" when Arya taunts one of them.

Two Gold Cloaks show up to harass Yoren and company, briefly panicking Arya (now going by "Arry"), but their warrant is for Gendry (Joe Dempsie). Yoren (Francis Magee) asserts his charges are property of the Night's Watch, using a dagger to the groin to emphasize his point. The Gold Cloaks vow to return with more men, to take Gendry back to King's Landing, along with Yoren's head. Gendry, we learn, is wise to Arry/Arya's true gender, but promises not to tell the other two of their foursome (Lommy and "Hot Pie"). There's a humorous exchange when Arya reveals her true identity and Gendry becomes flustered at having urinated in front of "m'lady." This, naturally, annoys Arya no end.

Tyrion returns to his manse to find Varys (Conleth Hill) chatting with Shae (Sibel Kekilli). They exchange forced pleasantries but the message is clear: Varys knows Tyrion's father, Lord Tywin, forbade Shae's coming to King's Landing and could use the information against Tyrion, who warns Varys, "I am not Ned Stark. I know how this game is played." Varys reminds him that he's outlasted several kings. And their Hands. He's got pretty big balls for a eunuch.

Now there's a pleasant group.
Now there's a pleasant group.

At the Small Council meeting, Cersei responds to Robb's terms predictably, though she drops her guard a bit when asking Ser Cleos about Jaime. And from the look on Littlfiinger's and Varys's faces, Stannis's "incest letter" has already made the rounds. They also receive Lord Mormont's request for reinforcements for the Wall, and while Tyrion would like to oblige him, the rest are predictably dubious about the dangers posed by "snarks" and "grumpkins."

Back at Craster's (5 Incest Way, North of the Wall), the Watch's ranging hasn't scared any of the randiness out of Sam (John Bradley), who shares some tales of ribaldry with Grenn (Mark Stanley) and Pyp (Josef Altin) while ogling Craster's daughter/wives.

Sam shoos off Ghost as the direwolf sniffs at one of Craster's...*cough* daughters, Gilly (Hannah Muray). Sam takes her to Jon with a sorry tale: She's pregnant and wants them to take her away from whatever horrific (yet unspoken) fate awaits the child should it be a boy. Jon says no. Sam pouts. Don't worry, Jon ends up finding out exactly what Craster does with those boys (hint: Old [Dead] Blue Eyes is back), and he gets a bash on the head for his troubles.

Across the Narrow Sea, one of Dany's bloodriders returns from his scouting mission. Well...his horse does, and his head. Guess I was wrong about them trying to stoke some romance between Daenerys and Rakharo. She assures his wife(?) he'll be riding with his ancestors in the night lands after he's properly burned. Hey, there's this week's episode title! 

Theon's homecoming doesn't go quite the way he planned.
Theon's homecoming doesn't go quite the way he planned.

Theon (Alfie Allen) is returning home to Pyke (seen in the opening credits for the first time) via ship on his mission to recruit his father to Robb's cause, and we finally get a look at the bleak Iron Islands. In what turns out to be the first of several sexually gratuitous scenes, Theon explains his people's reaving ways to the daughter of the ship's captain as he's shtupping her. His arrival is somewhat underwhelming, however. There is one young lady who appears to know his identity and offers him a ride. Theon's a randy bugger, trying to cop a feel even as she takes him to Pyke.

And here's Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide), not trusting his hostage son and not accepting Robb's offer of sovereignty over the Iron Islands. He puts more trust in Yara (Gemma Whelan), the aforementioned young lady who "gave Theon a ride" to Pyke and who just happens to be his sister. Balon also has his eyes on a target other than the Lannisters. You don't suppose...?

Littlefinger gets a chance to demonstrate his sensitive side with Ros (Esmé Bianco). Our plot-advancing prostitute is clothed for once, and mourning the murder of Mhaegen's (and Robert Baratheon's) bastard daughter by the Gold Cloaks. Littlefinger tells a heartfelt story about another "employee" of his and what he was forced to do to recoup his investment. Was the point to make him even less sympathetic? Because I'm pretty sure most people watching remember him whispering, "I did warn you not to trust me" in Ned Stark's ear.

Peter Dinklage continues to demonstrate why he won that Emmy. In one smooth exchange with City Watch/Gold Cloaks commander Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter), he confirms the Crown's involvement in the murder of Robert's bastards and sends Slynt to Wall to be replaced by -- well, what do you know -- good old Bronn (Jerome Flynn). Well played, "Imp." Bronn, it seems, would at least ask "how much" he'd get paid to murder an infant. And the look on Tyrion's face once again betrays his second-guessing himself. Is a truly mercenary ally any better than a stupidly loyal one?

Cersei is obviously not pleased by this, and Tyrion coaxes the fact Slynt murdered the bastards on Joffrey's orders out of her before she tears into him for killing their mother at childbirth. Lannister Thanksgivings must suck.

Over on Dragonstone, Davos treats with Salladhor Saan (Lucian Msamati), a Lysene pirate whose 30 ships will come in handy in the coming battle. I like Liam Cunningham in this role. He's not as I pictured Davos, admittedly, but he's winning me over.

Not so much the humpy bumpy between Stannis and Melisandre. The Red Priestess is promising to give Stannis a son where his wife has delivered only stillborns. And the supposedly "most honorable man in the Seven Kingdoms" loses no time in nailing her on top of the Westerosi equivalent of the Big Board.

So yeah: Balon and Yara Greyjoy, Salladhor Saan and Jaqen H'ghar. If you're going to go along for this ride, you better get used to new characters getting dumped on you regularly. And this is nowhere near the end, even for this season.

But as I mentioned earlier, the T&A is getting to be a bit much. For starters, what are they doing with Ros? I don't even remember if she's mentioned by name in the first novel, but Benioff and Weiss seem determined to make her a major character. And Stannis's dalliance with Melisandre, like the Renly-Loras "manscaping" scene from season one, is only alluded to in the books.

My theory? Things are about to get more combat-heavy, so they need to get the prurient bits out of the way now. Don't get me wrong, the show is still kicking ass, but there ought to be enough palace intrigue and down-in-the-dirt-level combat to keep things moving. Keep the nookie to a minimum.

Next week: The elder Greyjoy's plans become apparent, and Arya and Gendry's pasts finally catch up with them.

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