Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 2 of HBO's "Game of Thrones," entitled "The Night Lands."
"This is what ruling is: lying on a bed of weeds, ripping them out by the root one by one before they strangle you." Cersei Lannister
Sexy times at Westeros High! This week, "Game of Thrones" returns with extravagant quantities of jiggling naked flesh, but no one's really in the mood. The unrest in Westeros is spreading, as the War of the Five Kings rages on. Drama and plot were a little thin this episode, but there were machinations nonetheless.
Let's get down to it.
The Power Rankings
Using a complex algorithm that takes into account each player's wealth, military might and dominion over lands, along with a "bonus" factor that adjusts for unquantifiable assets that could influence events, we've surveyed the lay of the land to figure out who's winning the game of thrones at this point of Season 2.
1. Robb & Catelyn Stark (Stable)
We don't see anything of the Starks this episode; we can only assume that Robb's forces are still marauding around the West and that Catelyn is en route to Renly's camp in the Stormlands. Really, the only Stark-related news we get concerned Theon Greyjoy, a longtime ward of the Starks', who goes home for the first time in a decade to propose an alliance between the Iron Islands and Winterfell. It's disconcerting to see Balon Greyjoy reject the offer so vociferously -- so much for the naval support Robb was hoping for -- but the look we get of the Iron Islands makes it seem like the Starks aren't losing a great deal. Their best hope still rests with Renly.
2. Tyrion & Tywin Lannister (Up from No. 3)
Tyrion stars to show his mettle as stand-in Hand of the King this episode. When he encounters the ever-wily Lord Varys chatting with his mistress Shae in her bedroom, he isn't pleased -- and he informs Varys that he'll throw the Spider into the sea next time he threatens him. "I'm not Ned Stark," Tyrion explains. "I know how this game is played." It isn't just idle bragging. Tyrion's master stroke later in the episode is upbraiding (and exiling) the newly appointed commander of the City Watch, Janos Slynt, a bought man of Cersei's. He replaces the corrupt and immoral Slynt with his own bought man, Bronn, the sellsword. There's no question Tyrion is a capable manipulator -- though it's not yet clear that he'll be able to manipulate his way out of being outnumbered and outgunned by the Baratheons and the Starks.
3. Renly Baratheon (Down from No. 2)
We were hoping we'd get a glimpse of the Renly's famous 100,000 this episode, but it hasn't happened yet. Can they really be as mighty as everyone seems to think?
4. Stannis Baratheon (Stable)
Stannis doesn't have the 100,000 men his baby brother Renly's managed to rally, but he does have Melisandre, the freaky red haired witch lady. After opening up her dress, Melisandre bats away the married Stannis's wan resistance to her seduction, promising him a son, and the two do the nasty right on top of the war table. Meanwhile, Stannis's pet smuggler Davos Seaworth gets the pirate, Salladhor Saan, to pledge his mercenary services to the cause with the promise of gold (and the possibility of plundering the treasure between Queen Cersei's legs). While the illiterate Seaworth isn't a devotee of the Lord of Light, Stannis is the god he chose to follow, as he tells his devout son, Matthos.
5. Joffrey & Cersei Lannister (Stable)Most tween hissy fits don't end in baby massacre. But Joffrey is still the king, and, as we find out this episode, the bastard bloodbath was his decision -- and he never told his mother. Still, as Tyrion tells Cersei, killing infants isn't exactly the best way to wage a PR campaign, and unhappy peasants do not make for good allies come civil war.
Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish: Back at the brothel, Ros upsets a customer by breaking into tears. In another long, coded monologue, Petyr makes it clear he doesn't tolerate weakness from his subordinates. His failed showdown with Cersei seems to have left this crafty whoremaster feeling a little shaky.
Daenarys Targaryen: Over in the desert, the rider Rakharo returns, or at least, his lifeless head does, strung up in the saddlebag of a riderless horse. "They killed his soul!" sobs one of Daenerys' ladies. And no wonder! Rakharo was the cutest of all the Dothraki!
Theon Greyjoy: The prodigal returns, but he doesn't get the grand welcome he deserves. In his nine year absence, Theon's forgotten what it means to pay the iron price -- the necklace he wears wasn't torn from the neck of a corpse, and so his father tears it from his neck. Theon's assumed he's his father's only heir, but he's forgotten about Yara (Asha, in the books), who lets Theon feel her up before humiliating him in front of daddy. Aren't there any siblings who love each other in Westeros (who aren't also sleeping together)?
Jon Snow: Back at Craster's, Samwell rescues one of Craster's daughter-wives, Gilly, from Jon's direwolf. She asks him to help her flee, with her unborn child, but when Sam brings the idea to Jon, he refuses. But his curiosity's piqued. What exactly does Craster do with his male children? That night, Jon follows the sound of a crying baby -- and is knocked out by an unseen man.
Arya Stark: Still on the road, Arya (Arry) is buddying up to Gendry, the one Baratheon bastard whose throat has not yet been slit. When two Gold Cloaks appear to remedy that oversight, Yoren responds by jabbing his knife into one of their groins. The two depart, promising vengeance. Gendry's realized that Arya's no boy -- and she reveals that she's no peasant either. Of note: Arya meets Jaqen H'ghar, who says of her, "The boy has more courage than sense."
Sansa, Bran & Rickon Stark: No-shows this episode...
How's HBO doing on the Game of Adaptation?
We noticed in the premiere that HBO was diverging from the plot of the second book more than it did from the plot of the first book, but we chalked it up to the necessity of getting rusty viewers back up to speed. "The Night Lands," though, made it clear that the show won't be quite as faithful to the books going forward. So whenever we notice significant differences, we'll enumerate them at the end of our post. Let us know if you spot any big ones we missed. Here's what we found thus far:
- Shae lives in a villa outside of King's Landing in "A Clash of Kings," and Varys showed Tyrion -- with whom he has a rather friendly rapport -- a secret passage to get there, behind a closet in a brothel.
- Rakharo doesn't die in the books!
- Theon is greeted by his uncle, the pious Aeron Damphair in the books, and only meets his sister (there named Asha) a little while later.
- Bronn is definitely NOT made commander of the City Watch after the deposal of Janos Slynt in "A Clash of Kings."
- In the books, Stannis has a sickly daughter, Shireen, who features fairly prominently, but Melisandre reminds the HBO Stannis that his wife had given him "only stillborns." And the affair between Melisandre and Stannis was only hinted at in the books -- there definitely wasn't any passionate lovemaking in the war room of Dragonstone.
As Varys the eunuch pointed out in nearly every promo trailer for Season 2 so far, "Power is a curious thing." So there's bound to be some disagreement surrounding the rankings. If you think we misjudged the situation, say so in the comments! And look out for our next installment of the "Game of Thrones" Power Rankings every Monday morning through the finale.