We're now two episodes deep into the new season of "Game of Thrones," and a couple of trends are beginning to emerge. For one, incest appears to be a popular theme in Westeros. For another, killing children is a heck of a way to end an episode.
Season two's second episode, titled "The Night Lands," once again claimed the life of an infant, proving that the world beyond the Wall is just as cold and unforgiving as Westeros itself, if not more so. But it wasn't all doom and gloom: There were heroic moments as well, particularly for Tyrion Lannister, and the introduction of Salladhor Saan was a welcome moment of levity as well. But again with the incest — uch!
We covered all that and more on our latest episode of "Watching the Thrones." Check it out in the video below, and keep reading for more of the good, bad and ugly from the latest episode of the HBO fantasy series.
» Welcome back, Arya Stark! The Needle-wielding not-a-boy made an all-too-brief appearance at the end of the season premiere. In "Night Lands," she was firmly in the spotlight, on the Kingsroad headed toward the Wall under Yoren's protection. Three observations: 1. Frances Magee is utterly fantastic as Yoren, one of my favorite side characters in the books; 2. Gendry and Arya make for a great pair onscreen, and fans who agree can look forward to a lot of shared time between the two throughout the season; and 3. Jaqen H'ghar! Jaqen H'ghar! Valar morghulis, it's Jaqen H'ghar! He's a bit of a slow-burn character for those of you who haven't read the books, but let's just say he's got lots of fun stuff to do in the future. Stay tuned.
» It's nice when bad people get what they deserve, an occasion that happens far too rarely on "Game of Thrones." So it was wonderful to see Tyrion Lannister get the upper hand on City Watch commander Janos Slynt in a scene that was beautifully adapted from "A Clash of Kings." It's the last time you'll see Slynt for a while, but not the last time period. Just wait — it gets better.
» Speaking of Tyrion, his scenes with Varys and Cersei were particularly memorable this week. With Varys, Tyrion has finally found an intellectual equal to wrestle with; their battle of the wits will be one to watch all season long. And with Cersei, it's fantastic to see the two Lannister siblings getting so much time onscreen together. Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey play their parts wonderfully and are as close to perfect as it gets when pitted against one another. Plus, a big reveal came from their scene: Joffrey was the one who ordered the execution of Robert's bastards. In the novels, Cersei gives that order; on the show, it looks like they're trying to make Joff even more deplorable than he is in the books, which is no easy task.
» "Night Lands" introduced another new character into the mix: Salladhor Saan, a pirate pal of Davos Seaworth's who dedicates his service to Stannis Baratheon. Salladhor never quite popped off the page for me in the books, but on the show, Lucian Msamati brings him to life brilliantly, queen-ogling quips and all. Excellent casting.
» Staying on Dragonstone, I remain unconvinced on how the Stannis story line is unfurling. The middle Baratheon brother's sexual relationship with Melisandre was always alluded to but never fully shown. It was the same case with Renly and Ser Loras in season one, so there's a symmetry there, I suppose. But as I said last week, there's a supervillain quality to both Stannis and Melisandre that's starting to develop. Them having raunchy sex on a table shaped like Westeros only fuels that fire, so to speak. Maybe that's the right first impression to give a viewer who knows nothing about where their story goes, but for me, this week's only Stannis/Melisandre scene was a disservice to the characters I'm familiar with in the books. We'll see where it goes, but I'm just not convinced.
» Also something that grinds my gears: the continued prevalence of Littlefinger, whose actions mostly take place off page in the books, and for good reason. It's best not to know too much about where Petyr Baelish stands in the grand scheme of things; there's an unknowable quality to him that makes him very, very dangerous. Besides, we already know he's a sleazeball, so watching him emotionally wound the grieving Ros didn't really further his character in any meaningful direction. Like his careless encounter with Cersei last week, Baelish's latest tiff with Ros just came across as a needless time-waster.
» There are some people who claim that incest is best. I do not agree with this claim. But you can't say it doesn't make for compelling television from time to time, at least on "Thrones" (and perhaps on "Maury"). The latest entry to the Great Incest Hall of Fame on "Thrones" is Theon Greyjoy, who returned to the Iron Islands hip-deep in one woman and his hands all over another object of his desires — an object that just so happened to be his sister Yara. That scene happens in the books, yes, but the show took it to another level, as it tends to do. Nausea aside, getting Theon to the Iron Islands is a big step toward the big things lurking in Theon's future. Big, I say, but not necessarily great. I will say this: You might not like him now, but Theon Greyjoy is one of my very favorite characters in this entire story. Keep on watching and you'll (eventually) see why.
» Finally, we get to the return of the baby-killing. This time, it's in the polar opposite of King's Landing: North of the Wall at Craster's Keep, the incestuous wildling sacrificed one of his baby boys to the mysterious Others, as is his usual custom. Jon Snow, himself a bastard with abandonment issues to spare, was none too pleased to see this sacrifice but found himself knocked unconscious by Craster himself before he could take any action on the baby's behalf. Make that two straight episodes of infanticide in a row — and just a warning, the ruthlessness towards children does not end there.
What did you think of the latest "Game of Thrones" episode? Tell us in the comments section or hit me up on Twitter @roundhoward!