This review may contain spoilers.
Can the Stark family catch a break? Forced into a war they didn't want by young King Joffrey's (Jack Gleeson) ruthless execution of Ned Stark (Sean Bean), the family has since been scattered into some shocking plights.
Now it's clear that the Greyjoy family of the Iron Islands and their sizable naval force are looking for some payback. Could they be eyeing the Starks? As Lord Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide) said, "Who said anything about the Lannisters?" It makes sense. The Iron Island's failed rebellion many years before left Balon's only surviving son Theon (Alfie Allen) as Ned's hostage. That said, it seems Robb (Richard Madden), who is just too trusting, has just made a major blunder by releasing Theon. His leverage is gone. And his mother, Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), had warned that Balon is no friend.
As for Balon, he seems as hard and determined as Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane). I'd love to see those two face off in a steel cage match. Wow.
Theon's homecoming, needless to say, doesn't go well. Not only does he face immediate derision from his father regarding his time integrating with the Stark family, but he also mistakenly gropes his sister Yara (Gemma Whelan), who is in charge of Balon's fleet. Like Robb, Theon has a lot to learn.
Meanwhile, the Lannister's search for Gendry Waters (Joe Dempsie) -- the bastard son of the late King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) -- results in a brief standoff with the Night's Watch caravan and a pair of Gold Cloaks. But Yoren (Francis Magee) has no patience with the city watchmen and their warrant, and he sends them back to King's Landing after stripping them of their swords. It's a bold move that seems destined to backfire.
Events in King's Landing continue to heat up too. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) faces off with Varys "the Spider" (Conleth Hill) over Shae's (Sibel Kekilli) presence in the city after Tywin (Charles Dance) warned Tyrion not to bring her. Seeing these two intellectual powerhouses trade jabs is a fascinating moment.
Tyrion, feeling a bit apprehensive with the shady nature of King's Landing, later demonstrates his knack for the game of thrones as he smartly dismisses the captain of the city watch and replaces him with his bodyguard, Bronn (Jerome Flynn).
Finally, a number of other interesting events play out, including Melisandre (Carice van Houten) seducing Stannis after Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) successfully recruited a sizable pirate fleet, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) facing the death of one of her key warriors and Jon discovering the shocking truth of what the wildling Craster (Robert Pugh) does with his infant sons.
POINTS OF INTEREST
1. The White Walkers finally make another appearance. We last saw them in the opening scene of the Season 1 premiere, "Winter is Coming."
2. Balon's living room looked striking. Nice set design, especially with the kraken carved into the fireplace.
3. Like Robb's direwolf, Jon's direwolf, Ghost, has grown impressively since we last saw him.
4. Podrick Payne, Tyrion's squire, briefly makes his first appearance in the series.
5. The episode title, "The Night Lands," refers to the Dothraki land of the dead.
Tyrion and Cersei's (Lena Headey) clash over the dismissal of the city watch captain and Joffrey's purging of King Robert's bastards is one of the episode's highlights. Cersei's dig on Tyrion's birth causing their mother's death is particularly wrenching. Dinklage is certainly well positioned for another Emmy.
Davos, like in the books, is shaping up to be another likable character that serves one of the competing kings of Westeros. Whether you see these kings as heroes or villains, it's George R.R. Martin's use of such characters that make choosing sides so difficult and the series so compelling.
And Cunningham is another example of fantastic casting.
On an amusing note, Arya's (Maisie Williams) admission that she is actually a Stark lady briefly lightens the mood as Gendry scrambles to apologize for his vulgar behavior. It'll be interesting to see their relationship develop, especially if Arya learns that Gendry is highborn too.
Speaking of vulgar, "Game of Thrones" reaches new heights in nastiness as Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen) quickly wipes the mouth of one of his girls before she moves to the next client. Enough said.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK
I would have loved to see some more warships anchored off the Iron Islands, but that's the extent of my quibbles. HBO has delivered another solid episode this week!
GIVING CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
"Game of Thrones" stars Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Michelle Fairley, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Harry Lloyd. "The Night Lands" was written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. It was directed by Alan Taylor.
"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
See our previous Season 2 review of "The North Remembers."
See our Season 1 episode reviews for "Winter is Coming," "The Kingsroad," "Lord Snow," "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things," "The Wolf and the Lion," "A Golden Crown," "You Win or You Die," "The Pointy End," "Baelor" and "Fire and Blood."
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