Over on HBO, "Veep" premiered to reviews praising the humor but criticizing characterization and depth.
Dustin Rowles, uproxx:
"'Veep' provides a refreshing change of pace, in that it doesn’t aspire to do anything more than make you laugh your ass off. You don’t need infographics to keep up with the characters, or an understanding of English literature to follow the themes."
Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist:
"At this point you're either watching 'Veep' to keep up with the endless one liners, in order to cherish the handful that make it through and result in a good belly laugh...or you're not. One complaint that we had following season one was that Armando Iannucci often put the gags in front of any kind of characterization, and he's not changing his game plan with season two."
Eric Deggans, Tampa Bay Times:
"News that Joe Biden called Dreyfus with congratulations on her Emmy win mostly shows the vice president knows his TV comedy. And 'Veep''s second season continues the same sidesplitting style, presenting Meyer as a self-obsessed, perpetually disappointed politician with a knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory."
On rival network Starz, fans bid well to "Spartacus" but may want to welcome "Da Vinci's Demons," a historical fantasy written by David Goyer (who co-wrote Nolan's Batman trilogy) that aims to rival the mythology of "Game of Thrones" as it depicts Leonardo Da Vinci's "invention" of the future. Although Hilary Rothing wrote the pilot off as a "somewhat unimaginative play for the 'Spartacus/Game of Thrones' crowd, Joe Bendel gave the first half of the season a more positive "B" rating. He highlighted the same level of sex as Rothing, but also said that Tom Riley as Da Vinci grows on the viewer and the show itself picks up steam as it goes along.
But one must return to HBO for the big pleaser, as "Game of Thrones," in addition to "finally hitting the gas this season," included a major shocker that is drawing praise from critics. Alan Eyerly of the Los Angeles Times called it the episode's "most dramatic sequence." Others were in the same boat. The best swordsman in the Seven Kingdoms lost his title with the loss of his sword hand, a punishment for telling a lie that kept Brienne's "honor unbesmirched," but it looks like a win in storytelling.
David Chute, Thompson On Hollywood:
"It's worth cutting off that hand, in other words, just to see how Jaime will fare without it, and how his perspective will shift, over the next few weeks. In storytelling terms, that's more than enough to justify the act."
Michael Hogan, Huffington Post:
"It might be a good thing that Jaime has lost his hand -- it dims that smarmy, Bush-family-style aura of rich-boy entitlement that has made him so easy to hate. Maybe there's hope for this fellow yet."
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix:
"As it toggles back and forth between its various locales, 'Game of Thrones' also shifts between the stories of those in power (the Lannisters in particular) and those with no power at all. 'Walk of Punishment'...largely focuses on characters scrambling to find a tenable position in situations where they seem to have little to no control over their fates."
Alyssa Rosenberg, Think Progress:
"It’s an apt opening to an episode of the show that’s concerned with rituals and institutions, and that argues, often in dreadful ways, that Westeros' best institutions and traditions are frequently doomed to failure or misinterpretation, while its worst are the ones to which people adhere most rigorously."
Scott Meslow, The Week:
"Of course, people aren't just numbers on paper, and it's not always simple for the rulers to make the ruled behave...Westeros may be a land built on lineage and legacy, but violence is the great equalizer, and Starks and Lannisters bleed just as easily as the rest of Westeros."
But it wasn't all praise for "Walk of Punishment." Many were quick to criticize the film's explicit sexuality as having gone a bit too far this time.
"When Pod is offered his reward in the brothel the show runners seems to be addressing the horny 14-year-old-boy contingent in the audience," Chute wrote for Thompson on Hollywood. "'You're grumbling that there hasn't been enough nudity this season? Well how about this? And this. And this! That oughta hold you for a while.'"
At the Huffington Post, Hogan sounded a similar note. "I have no problem with gratuitous nudity," he wrote, "but something about the brothel scenes on this show always takes me out of the story and gets me thinking about how awkward it must have been on set that day. And the contortionist really took that to a new level."
As a whole, however, there's a sense of admiration for how "Game of Thrones" has managed to weave its tale together even as show-runner David Benioff says that a whole narrative could be built around an entirely different set of characters. Everyone, it seems, remains on board with the episode's big twist and its thematic drive.