Ned Stark was a good ruler, a good military leader, and a good man. He was not, however, good at politics. In Westeros, it’s abundantly clear that if you want to be good at the game of thrones, it helps to be kind of a prick. Season one was all about Ned losing the game by trying to do the right thing. In season two, it’s kind of a pleasure to see a bunch of conniving (but likable) jerks slither around each other in the dirty morass of fictional politics. Tyrion, Varys, Littlefinger, and Cersei all want to be effective, and they know that being nice isn't going to help them. One of the best things about the series is that it completely embraces the fact that being a good politician and doing what's morally satisfying are not at all the same thing.
Spoilers aplenty, after the jump.
Probably the most satisfying part of last night’s episode was seeing Tyrion brusquely dispose of the upjumped toady Janos Slynt. In the game of thrones, Janos Sylnt is a pawn who thinks he’s a player. Everything he had as a lord was given to him strategically- Cersei knew that he’d be a loyal dog. Tyrion also knew that, and had her glorified henchman unceremoniously carted off to the Wall. Ned Stark would have tried to reason or work with Slynt- Tyrion is much smarter, and just eliminated his opposition.
The episode also gave us our first glimpse of Greyjoys who are not Theon. I'm a huge fan of Westros' bloodthirsty, metal-as-fuck Cthulhu vikings, but what we saw of the Iron Islands looked downright idyllic. I'm sure the show will go more into why the Greyjoys are are a force to be feared, but they looked a just tad on the provincial side. I quite enjoyed seeing Theon's daddy issues play out, though, and hope that HBO expands on that angle. I didn't think that the insane and unreasonably proud Balon Greyjoy got nearly enough stage time in the books.
Editing! At one point the show cut from the blue-and-black filter of the frozen North, all the way over to the washed-out palette of the Red Wastes, jerking the viewer way over to the opposite side of the color wheel. There was also scene of Theon sexing up a girl which cut over to more sexy times at Littlefinger's brothel. Both edits were kind of on-the-nose; it was as if the director jumped out and said "Hey, look at this juxtaposition!" However, I do appreciate how well the show segues from differing parts of the world. Even if the edits do have a bit too much of a "ta-da!" quality to them, the fact remains that a series with zillions of characters, locations, and story threads is sewn together pretty nicely. Here's hoping they can keep that up as the plots get more convoluted.
OH HI, MELISANDRE’S BOOBS! In the books, I thought it was great how ambiguous Stannis and Melisandre’s relationship was. As a reader, I’ve always taken the numerous inferences to mean that they have, in fact, been making the beast with two backs for the entire time. HBO, though, has made subtext text and just gone and showed them doing it. I'm not sure how I feel about the show ruining the sense uncertainty that I had about those two. One of the last things in the episode was Stannis and Melissandre getting busy on a giant Westeros Risk board. Huh, I wonder if that’s symbolic of anything.
OMG, THEY KILLED RAKHARO! Sure, he was never that important a character, but I did not expect that.
Yara? I can understand why they changed Asha’s name for the show, as there already is a character called “Osha.” Depending on a given actor’s accent, the names could sound a good deal alike. Still, it was a little grating. She’s one of my favorite characters in the series (again, a big fan of the Greyjoys here) and so far I’m pretty pleased with how she’s being portrayed, other than having her name switched. Maybe I'll get used to it. Grudgingly.
Riverrun? Is the show ever going to go there? I won’t be wholly disappointed if it doesn’t- the Tullys are pretty much the Hufflepuffs of Westeros, but I’d be amazed to see a whole house pretty much cut out of the series.