"The Night Lands" is the second episode of the second season of HBO's medieval fantasy television series Game of Thrones. The episode is written by the showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, and directed by Alan Taylor. It was first released on April 2, 2012 via the online service HBO GO in some European countries, including the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia. Cable television first broadcast it on April 8, 2012.
The plot continues with some of the storylines from the season premiere: the Night's Watch caravan heading to the Wall is interrupted by a pair of City Watch guards looking for Gendry, the Small Council receives the terms proposed by King in the North Robb Stark, Daenerys waits in the desert for the return of the three riders she had sent out, and Theon Greyjoy returns to his homeland of the Iron Islands.
"The Night Lands" was positively received by critics, who noted the many pivotal character moments as a highlight in the episode. In the United States, the episode achieved a viewership of 3.76 million in its initial broadcast. The episode is titled after the Dothraki language term for death.
Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) arrives at his quarters to find his mistress Shae (Sibel Kekilli) and Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) conversing. Varys and Tyrion subtly threaten each other: Varys that he could reveal Shae's presence against Tyrion's father's instruction, and Tyrion that he would kill Varys in return. During a Small Council meeting, Queen Regent Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) reads Robb Stark's peace terms, ripping up the letter after reading it, as well as a letter from the Night's Watch Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, asking for more men to man the Wall and warning of the Watch's encounters with the undead. With the exception of Tyrion, the Small Council doesn't take Mormont's letter seriously. Later, Tyrion has dinner with City Watch Commander Lord Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter), discussing the purge of King Robert Baratheon's bastard children. When Janos refuses to reveal who ordered the purge, Tyrion has Janos arrested and exiled to the Night's Watch, with Bronn (Jerome Flynn) taking over his position. Cersei later confronts Tyrion about exiling Janos, and Tyrion realizes that it was King Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), not Cersei, who ordered the purges. He warns his sister that "it will be difficult to rule over millions who want the Queen dead."
Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) and his son, Matthos (Kerr Logan), manage to convince Davos' old friend, the pirate Salladhor Saan (Lucian Msamati), to bring his ships and join them in the war. In exchange, Saan will get to ransack King's Landing, but Davos cannot promise his second request – to bed the Queen. Both Salladhor and Davos express displeasure at Matthos' devotion to the Lord of Light. Later, Davos tells Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and Melisandre (Carice van Houten) of Saan's willingness to aid their army with his 30 ships. Stannis orders Davos and Matthos from the room, at which point Melisandre seduces Stannis and promises him a son if he will give himself completely to the Lord of Light.
Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) returns to his homeland, but is not happy with the greeting he receives. Shortly after, he is greeted by a young woman, Yara (Gemma Whelan). They share a horse ride to Pyke, during which Theon attempts to physically seduce her. Later, he receives a cold welcome from his father, Balon (Patrick Malahide), upon arrival at the castle. Theon presents Balon with the offer from Robb that will make Balon the King of the Iron Islands, but Balon refuses while insulting Theon for his adoption of Northern customs. Balon instead wants to take his crown with Yara, who turns out to be Theon's sister, at the helm of his fleet, but does not intend to fight the Lannisters, which causes Theon to realise that Balon's intention is to take the North for himself instead.
Rakharo's (Elyes Gabel) horse returns to Daenerys Targaryen's (Emilia Clarke) camp, carrying his head in one of its saddlebags. Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) tells her it is a message from one of the other khals, none of whom like the idea of a khalasar ruled by a woman. Daenerys vows revenge as she prepares a funeral pyre for Rakharo.
Two City Watchmen arrive at the caravan with a royal warrant, searching for Gendry (Joe Dempsie). However, they are turned away by Yoren (Francis Magee), after he threatens their lives. Later, Gendry reveals to Arya (Maisie Williams) that he knows she is a girl, after a conversation about why the City Watch would be hunting him. She in turn also reveals to him that she is actually Arya Stark after learning her father met Gendry several weeks before he was executed.
Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) helps Gilly (Hannah Murray), one of Craster's daughter-wives, when she is confronted by Jon's direwolf, Ghost. Sam asks Jon Snow (Kit Harington) about taking her with them, but Jon refuses since they aren't supposed to be involved in Craster's family affairs. Gilly, who is pregnant, refuses to reveal why she wants to leave, but the conversation again arouses Jon's suspicions about what happens to Craster's sons. Later that night, Jon witnesses Craster taking a newborn child into the woods. He follows Craster, only to see him returning empty-handed. Hearing the cracking of ice, he rushes to the aid of the child where he sees a White Walker retrieve the baby. Before Jon can pursue it, Craster hits him over the head, causing Jon to black out.
The episode was written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, based on original material from George R. R. Martin's second book of the series, A Clash of Kings. It includes most of the plot from chapters Arya II, Tyrion II, Arya III, Theon I, part of Daenerys I, Tyrion III, part of Arya V, part of Tyrion V, part of Jon III and part of Theon II (chapters 6, 8–12, 19–20, 23–25 respectively).
One of the main deviations from the books was the removal of the character of the new commander of the City Watch, Ser Jacelyn Bywater, his role merged with the already introduced Bronn. Another character that was excluded was Aeron Damphair, who was not present to welcome his nephew Theon at the Iron Islands. Instead, he was received by his sister, in a scene that took place much later in the books.
Also, some scenes that are only subtly implied in the original were made explicit in the episode. The scenes depicting Craster delivering a newborn son to the White Walkers and the sexual relationship between Stannis and Melisandre were written into the show by the producers.
The episode was directed by Alan Taylor, making it the fourth episode he directed for the show. Taylor would direct two more episodes of the show, both in Season Two.
Theon Greyjoy's family is cast in this episode. The role of his father Balon Greyjoy, Lord of the Iron Islands, went to the English actor Patrick Malahide. The character of his sister was renamed from the original books (from Asha to Yara) in order to avoid confusion with the already established character Osha (the wildling captive at Winterfell), and Gemma Whelan was chosen to play the role. After seeing Whelan and Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy) acting together, the show creators assured that they made "an insanely good pair of siblings." Alfie Allen's sister, the English pop star Lily Allen, asserted that she had been offered the role of Yara Greyjoy, but had turned it down due to some scenes potentially being awkward to film. Alfie Allen, however, vehemently denied his sister's claims.
Also introduced in this episode are the three caged recruits traveling with the Night's Watch caravan. The three characters were briefly seen in the last season's finale, played by uncredited extras. For this season they were cast by Andy Beckwith as Rorge, Gerard Jordan as Biter, and the German actor Tom Wlaschiha as the mysterious Jaqen H'ghar of the free city of Lorath. Wlaschiha had not heard about the show before auditioning for the part on tape from Berlin, but when he was able to screen a few episodes in a few spare hours during a meeting with the producers and director Alan Taylor, became an enthusiast and even read the first books of the series in a couple of days.
Finally, the part of the Lyseni pirate Salladhor Saan went to Lucian Msamati. Msamati's physical appearance, a British black actor of Tanzanian descent, contrasts with Sallahdor's portrayal in the books, where he is described with the typical fair-haired and fair-skinned look of the free city of Lys.
The episode introduces the new location of Pyke, the Greyjoys' seat of power on the Iron Islands. Scenes set there were filmed at Lordsport Harbour, Ballintoy, in Northern Ireland's County of Antrim. The filming at the Harbour took place on August 18, 19 and 22, 2011, and from August 15 there was a limited public access to the zone. The local shops and fishermen, who had to temporarily berth their boats at the nearby town of Ballycastle, were compensated by the production.
Other locations in Northern Ireland were used once again, including the interiors in the Paint Hall studio in Belfast.
The ratings of the episode remained steady with the last week's season premiere. The number of viewers of the first airing reached 3.76 million viewers, with a rating of 1.9 in the relevant 18-49 demographic. Being just a little behind the series record of 3.9 reached in the last installment in what commentators considered a strong accomplishment. In the United Kingdom, the episode was seen by 0.851 million viewers on Sky Atlantic, being the channel's highest-rated broadcast that week.
The day after the release of the rating of this second episode HBO announced the renewal of the show for a third season.
"The Night Lands" received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes surveyed 12 reviews of the episode and judged 83% of them to be positive. The website's critical consensus reads, "Moodier than the premiere and full of dark intrigue, 'The Night Lands' introduces viewers to exotic new locations in Westeros and delivers some pivotal character moments." Matt Fowler of IGN rated the episode 8 out of 10 and called it "a satisfying follow-up to the premiere filled with less-than-monumental happenings." He referred to the episode as "a great place-holder episode", comparing it to the first season episode "The Kingsroad". In a review targeted at those who have read the source novels, The A.V. Club's Todd VanDerWerff gave it an A- and remarked: "This is a strong and confident episode of the show, and it takes us easily enough from the Red Wastes to Beyond the Wall to Melisandre and Stannis having sex on a giant exposition table, seemingly without breaking a sweat." He also commented positively on the themes of the episode, which he believed were the definition of good leadership and the negative side of patriarchy. In addition, the reviewer thought that the episode was indicative of the series turning from "a ridiculously entertaining show" to "something on the level of Breaking Bad or Mad Men.
On the other hand, WhatCulture's Patrick Koch was more critical of the episode. In his ranking of the first 40 Game of Thrones episodes (seasons 1-4), Koch placed "The Night Lands" at number 40, calling the Greyjoy plotline on Pyke "supremely non-interesting." Simon Abrams, writing for Slant Magazine, gave the episode a mixed review compared to the premiere, referring to "The Night Lands" as "a bit of a let-down" and "not as thematically cogent as last week's episode." In his episode recap for Entertainment Weekly, James Hibberd noted that the amount of sex in the first season of Game of Thrones was "probably the biggest point of debate among viewers" and observed that this episode "might have been the most sex-focused hour yet." Indeed, the episode was cut short by the Dubai-based broadcaster Etisalat during its initial airing due to concerns about nudity. According to The National, previous episodes had been aired on Etisalat with "minimal editing."