Ok, after long last I’ve watched Episode 2. Here’s what I thought about it:
Unsurprisingly, with Bryan Cogman writing, the dialogue is better written even if there are some strange lapses in scene construction from a “what does X character want in this scene, what does Y character want” level, and some ongoing major issues with some characters (although not others).
However, the editing was much worse – there was far too much Season 2-style jumping back and forth (from KL to Oldtown back to KL, etc.) that really didn’t need to happen for any reasons of constructing parallels or so forth. As was discovered in Seasons 3+4, it’s far more effective to have one KL section, one Oldtown section, one Riverlands section, because it makes those locations feel more real and gives us more time to get into that storyline. Moreover by establishing a clear contrast, it would also have been more effective if the only jumping back and forth was between Winterfell and Dragonstone, since the overall arc of the episode was about whether the North would ally with Dany and vice-versa.
While not without its faults – the arrival of Melisandre seems very forced although it’s nice to hear the words Prince Who Was Promised and the whole gendered-noun thing out loud, and at this point I really feel like Ellaria should sue for libel – this was some of the strongest writing of the episode and a rare example of doing politics well on this show. Dany doesn’t trust Varys for very good reasons, but Varys earns her trust by making a case for his utilitarian idealism (link); Tyrion sees the advantage in an alliance with the North, but has also (mostly) out-thought Cersei when it comes to the xenophobia angle and his strategy of putting KL under siege and then pulling out the Lannister power base is a good one; Dany does a good job of managing her somewhat fractious team (although the “betray me and I’ll burn you alive” line landed with a bit of a thud).
The only bum notes to me in the council scene were that, while Yara seemed very much in-character, Olenna was very much not in character. Ignore your advisers, fear over love (link), be a dragon – this is not how House Tyrell has kept itself in power for three hundred years, nor how they advised the Gardeners for millenia before.
Finally, I’m just not feeling the Grey Worm/Missandei romance here. The speeches are well-written, the actors are giving it their all, but it feels very perfunctory, that it’s there to tick off the nudity box for HBO’s Producers.
Here’s where the wheels completely came off the wagon, politics-wise. Cersei talking about Dany killing noblemen? She just openly murdered not just the High Septon, but also the Lord Paramount of the Reach, his heir, the queen, and all the nobles who were in attendance at Loras’ trial, many of whom would be the kinsmen of these Reacher lords. And I hate to keep harping on about it, but Cersei has no claim whatsoever to the throne she occupies. Forget a hypothetical tyrant queen, they’re looking at one right now.
And yet no one even mentions it! You’d think that a straight shooter like Randyll Tarly (pun intended) would throw out that when Jaime offers him the Wardenship of the South to betray Olenna Tyrell.
At the same time, the fact that Qyburn has invented the ballista is rather unimpressive. While show-only viewers might not know this, the characters on the show know dragons can die, they know the history of the First Dornish War and Rhaenys’ death at Hellholt, and the Dance of the Dragons. Why not use that, Cogman?
After raging so hard during the King’s Landing sequence, I actually thought the Winterfell sequences weren’t so bad. Yes, they still have a problem with presenting politics well: the introductory scene with Jon talking with Sansa and Davos about Tyrion’s letter was good, but the council scenes are just not getting any better. There’s plenty of blame to go around here: for Sansa’s part, she’s still constantly trying to win the argument rather than trying to persuade and she still fails to grasp the idea of a pre-meeting where you find out what’s on the agenda in the main meeting and have a chance to count votes, but Jon…you have council meetings to help deliberate over an open question or to gain people’s buy-in by making them part of the decision-making process. If you’ve already made up your mind before the council, don’t have a council – just issue a decree.
That being said, the argument for the alliance between the Starks and Targaryens makes sense, even to the point of being a bit obvious and over-emphasized, and I’m looking forward to Jon’s scenes with Dany and Tyrion and a little curious as to how and when R+L=J will come up.
Where the writing really fell down was in the scene with Littlefinger. From a very basic writing level, what was Littlefinger trying to accomplish by going to the crypts and telling Jon how much he’d like to bone Sansa? It smacked of a scene that started at “Jon should choke Littlefinger just like Ned did in Season 1” and then reasoned backwards from there, rather than one grounded in actual character dynamics.
Look, Maisie Williams acted the hell out of these scenes, but the bit with Hot Pie was a pure info dump meant to clue her in on the new status quo, and they don’t really give the dilemma of King’s Landing vs. Winterfell (i.e, revenge vs. family) any time to breathe and thus it has very little impact.
Speaking of which…yes, from a purely Pavlovian angle, it tugged my heartstrings to see Arya reunite with Nymeria. But I’ll bet dollars to donuts that when GRRM writes this scene in TWOW, there’s going to be way more consequence to their meeting than this. As Ivan Hernandez is fond of saying, you don’t put a direwolf on the mantle in Act 1 if it’s not going to go off in Act 3, and having the two characters meet and then do nothing and go their separate ways is not “going off.”
So once again, a scene that’s conceptually lovely but doesn’t have a satisfying dramatic consequence.
Ok, so I wasn’t in a good mood when this started, what with the Sand Snakes being hateful little sadists, Ellaria being an exoticized bisexual parody of herself, and Yara being the broiest woman ever.
The battle itself? So-so. The fire at night was gorgeous, but we really need to see our heroes act rather than just mutely react and Yara was doing a hell of a lot of that. I would have preferred to see her trying to stave off defeat, belting out orders to her fleet, rallying her men, making it look like it might actually be ok…so that when Euron comes down on the raven’s beak, the audience empathizes with Yara. I will say though that this episode really did make Euron look good, although he seems to be coming across a bit more like Victarion tbh.
In terms of the rest of the fight…I wasn’t a huge fan of the Jason Bourne-y shakey-cam. Yes, I get that you want to make the battle feel chaotic, but you can do that and make it clear where the characters are in relation to each other. (Hell, they did it last season with the Battle of the Bastards – for all my problems with that battle from a military history perspective, it’s always quite clear where people are and what they’re doing.) I’m quite glad that the two Sand Snakes are dead – they were useless caricatures and the whip was an especially stupid weapon to have in combat, and they’re a cheap way to establish Euron as the new Big Bad. I’m less glad about the rape threats against Ellaria and the remaining Sand Snakes.
And now to the big controversy…Theon jumping overboard when faced with Euron’s axe at Yara’s neck. Honestly, I felt like he did the right thing – Euron’s men had taken the ship, he’s not strong enough to face Euron one-on-one, so he was not going to do anything other than die if he stayed on that boat. However, I think the controversy exists because of poor communication on the director’s part: had it been better demonstrated that Theon was having a PTSD episode already (instead of showing him rather gamely fighting) or even showed him fighting through it but losing stamina and then hitting the wall, I think people would have understood. Had Yara flicked her eyes over to the side, as if to say “save yourself,” I think people would have understood. But as it was, it seemed to come out of nowhere.