First thing’s first – the music for the opening credits was in a different key. I didn’t mind too much and the music still sounds good, it was just odd. If they’re going to alter the music for the second season, it would make more sense for them to start with the first episode rather than the second.
OK, let’s start with what I’m moderately disappointed in – Stannis and Melisandre getting it on. I’ll admit that after the last episode, I was (perhaps naively) hoping that, unlike in the book, that maybe, just maybe, she wouldn’t be Stereotypical, Magical, Sexy Woman who’s also aiding and abetting a dude. I was hoping her power and sexiness could be mutually exclusive, but that was definitely asking for too much. I’d forgotten that in A Clash of Kings, it’s implied that Melisandre slept with some guy, presumably Stannis, so she could give birth to the shadow that killed Renly. But even if she did have sex with Stannis in the book, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Just last episode, they were emphasizing as hard as they could Stannis’ ironclad observance of the law and the truth. He’s like iron – he’ll break before he’ll bend. But Melisandre’s able to convince him to sleep with her because she says she can give him a son. OK, that’s tempting, but would that really be enough to make Stannis, the guy who can’t even include common courtesies in his letters if he doesn’t mean them, disregard his marriage vows? Apparently that’s the case in the TV show, because he’s all, “OK, I’ll totally dishonor myself with you and ignore my marriage vows. Oh yeah, and you know what’ll be even more awesome? I’ll fuck you on my giant table-map of Westeros! It’s so symbolic you know, representing my dominion over an entire land through fucking a woman on top of a map. Everything about this is completely appropriate!” This isn’t entirely the show’s fault. I disliked the implied sexual nature of Melisandre and Stannis’ relationship in the book as well. Here, it was just placed into the forefront, which means I got to see it in action and be grumpy about it.
Other thing I’m not OK with – how Ros has been used as a character. In previous episodes, she was used as a foil for other characters to reveal more about who they were and give them development. Fine, not a wholly bad idea. But I did not understand why this scene with Littlefinger was necessary. He already has a lot of development and Robert’s dead bastards have no more bearing on the story after this. So what was the point of having her cry over the dead baby and have Littlefinger threaten her if she didn’t buck up and smile? I mean yeah, it shows he’s suave, greedy, ruthless, etc. But we already know that. Again, what was the point of the scene?
There were good things in the episode though. Arya was as wonderful and captivating as I knew she would be. I am in love with Maisie Williams and her acting ability – she IS Arya. Brave, upfront, headstrong, and just a little bit snippy. She’s excellent. I’ve also already fallen in love with Jaqen H’Ghar. The rapport between him and Arya is going to be beautiful to watch. The way he phrases his sentences, the manner in which he speaks… gah.
Also, there was more Sam in this episode! I appreciate Sam, I really do. He’s so earnest in trying to be gallant and noble when attempting to save Gilly. And when he says he could deliver her baby, exclaiming, “I’ve read about it! I have!” – I want to give him a hug. He means the best in the world and truly wants to do right by Gilly and rescue her from Craster and her potential son from some horrible fate. Also, you know society and gender relations inside Westeros and on the other side of the Wall are truly fucked up when Sam saying he wouldn’t be stealing Gilly because she’s a person and not a goat makes you want to elevate him to sainthood. I was reading somewhere else on the internet about how Salladhor Saan identifying what he wants to do to Cersei as “fucking” rather than “raping” because he has powers of persuasion serves to draw a line between male characters who view women as people and those who don’t. Yeaaaahhh…try again. Persuasion and rape are not mutually exclusive,and pretending or ignoring otherwise is not cool.
Also present in the episode was the first introduction to the Iron Islands, and I thought they did a good job. In just a few scenes, they managed to convey exactly what it means to be from the Iron Islands and how the people act upon those values. I really liked seeing how ruthlessly Balon Greyjoy dressed down Theon for paying the gold price rather than the iron price and shoeved in his face all the ways he’s not truly Ironborn anymore. Yara was also a lot of fun to watch, and she played Theon so hard, it was brilliant. I know Alfie Owen-Allen is a good actor because I feel the same exact way towards Theon in the show as I do in the books. He’s simultaneously full of himself (especially when it comes to women) and insecure about his place as his father’s heir and this is going to lead him to betray Robb and capture Winterfell. Even knowing all of those things and how horrible of a person he’s going to become, I still manage to feel a little bit sorry for him because of his own perceived inability to fit in anywhere. Doesn’t excuse his attitude or anything he’s going to do, but I get it, a bit.
As usual, Peter Dinklage is excellent and the way in which he delivers his lines is pure gold. I’m particularly interested in the scenes he shares with Cersei. In this season, we get to see her with her guard down and her weaknesses exposed more so than before, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that’ll continue to affect her interactions with Tyrion.
So yeah. The issues I had with Melisandre and Stannis’ scene significantly colored my opinion of this episode, largely because it was the second-to-last scene, and also because this episode featured a lot of other discussion/action towards women that was less-than-complimentary, what with Sam actually having tell John that Gilly’s a person, Theon being a douche to the captain’s daughter and Yara, Littlefinger threatening Ros, and Salladhor Saan’s whole “I’m going to fuck her, not rape her” schpiel. Yes, Westeros and the rest of this world in general is a shitty place for women, but it makes it even worse when in one episode, almost every single female character who gets screen time is reduced to their body and/or their sexuality. Don’t get me wrong, I hugely enjoyed any scene that had Arya, Jaqen H’Ghar, Tyrion, and Balon Greyjoy. But it is definitely difficult to fully enjoy anything in which the majority of female characters shown over the course of a 50 minute episode are treated like shit. (My thoughts about female character and gender in both the books and show are complicated and conflicting and I don’t want to go into them now.)
Final thought – I am loving the direwolves this season. Ghost was so huge and white and fluffy!