The rest of the King’s Landing scenes are filled with other great pairings, particularly Cersei’s one-on-one face-offs with the Tyrell siblings. The eldest Lannister’s dislike of Margaery finally comes out into the open, and the contrast between the two women couldn’t be more perfectly drawn: Cersei unsubtly threatens her future daughter-in-law with the story of the “slaughter” of the last second wealthiest family in Westeros, while Margaery never breaks a sweat, continuing to make eye contact with passing courtiers without batting an eye. Loras’s turn in the hot seat, meanwhile, is over before it begins; Cersei shuts it down with a single withering line, making it even more obvious just how fed up she is with being a professional bride.
“Second Sons” also continues the face-off between individual welfare and collective good that the Gendry and Melisandre plotline has become. In a nice addition to the books, the show has opted to make explicit what readers and viewers were previously left to discover for themselves: making sacrifices to gods you can’t see is one thing, but when the Lord of Light gives you continual proof he exists, doesn’t it make sense to obey him? Davos remains staunchly opposed to the idea of murdering Gendry on principle, and in a nice bit of acting from Stephen Dillane, it’s clear Stannis doesn’t either, even before Davos says it out loud. Although the audience still sides with Davos and Gendry, however, we’re finally beginning to understand why Melisandre is such a true believer — that she truly believes she’s doing what’s right to save the world. Melisandre opts to give yet another demonstration of her power, leading us into the least necessary sex scene Game of Thrones has ever seen. Of course she couldn’t simply tie him up or even just ask him to give up some blood; the show thinks viewers want a cringe-inducing seduction scene, so that’s what we get.
Finally, Daenerys scores another victory and another army in the form of handsome mercenary Daario Naharis. The trio of scenes is certainly fun to watch, with newcomer Ed Skrein quickly establishing some solid chemistry with Emilia Clarke. Ultimately, though, the episode’s namesake company of sell-swords is just another stepping stone in the larger arc of Daenerys’s development into a force to be reckoned with. She holds her own against the boorish Titan’s Bastard and even Daario, who forces his way into her tent while she’s taking a bath. And by the time Daario shows up with his captains’ heads in tow, Daenerys is 2,000 troops closer to conquering yet another city.
The final scene of “Second Sons” manages to combine both character work and one of the more important world-building developments of the season. Gilly and Sam take up camp somewhere beyond the Wall, and it’s made clear once again just how remote and sheltered the wildlings are from “real” civilization. Gilly’s as naïve as Ygritte, intimidated by Sam’s highborn background and struggling to understand the concept of surnames. Sam, meanwhile, has finally been given a backbone by the miraculous power of his crush. When a White Walker strolls into their camp to take Gilly’s baby, Sam stabs it with the crude blade he found last week at the Fist of the First Men, shattering it into ice and showing a way to defeat the would-be invaders. The episode ends in a rush, but the audience is left with a vital piece of new information and a fresh injection of fantasy into an episode that’s mostly realpolitik.