Welcome back to the wacky, warring world of Westeros, fellow Game of Thrones fanatics. Now that we have all of that 'Where are they now?' exposition out of the way, it's time to sink our direwolf fangs into the juicy heart of A Clash of Kings -- a truly cuckoo bananas book that introduces some of the strongest characters and most intriguing plot lines in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Plus, its central character is Tyrion! Fun times and many flames await us. Praise R'hllor.
One major item of note: This episode was completely void of several main characters. As the Thrones world expands, I'd expect to see a lot more of this down the road. Absent this week were Jaime (Who, by the way, was largely absent from the entire book), Catelyn, Bran (Woohoo!), Sansa, Sandor -- and, most notably, Joffrey. I know you all hate him, but you have to admit that this cracked out version of Draco Malfoy adds a lot to the equation. Plus, there's always that small chance that he'll get slapped in the face.
If you're anything like me, then you closely watch the show's frequently changing opening credits for hints at the episode's various characters and locales. This week, we were treated (for the first time) to an interactive map view of the island of Pyke: The stronghold and seat of House Greyjoy, and just one of the seven zany Iron Islands that ne'er-do-well sex fiend Theon used to call home. Before he became a hostage of House Stark as a peace token when his father Balon rebelled against the Iron Throne. Got that?
Here's a little bit of background on the Iron Islands, for all of you non-readers out there: The Iron Islands are terrible. Everything is grey, they hate the mainland, they dress like villains from the Pirates of the Caribbean films, and they love to drown themselves. I would much rather live in sunny, wine-drenched Dorne (Err, wait for a later season) or even the Eyrie (Hey, it has a great view!) than be a "salt wife" on this island craphole. Heck, I'd even settle for the portrait of Seattle painted by everyone's favorite disappointment, The Killing. That's how bad they are. The monarchial system of Pyke does have one major thing going for it, but more on that later.
Let's start with the center of the action -- the den of iniquity known as King's Landing. In an episode rife with daddy issues, Tyrion clearly had his tyrannical father Tywin on the brain when he found his kept whore, Shae, giggling with Varys the Eunuch in her chambers. The Spider, as always, offered thinly veiled threats under the guise of gentle words. "Unfortunate that your father didn't want her to come," he said. "But rest easy, my lord -- I am very good at keeping secrets for my good friends." Smirk smirk, batting eyelashes, knowing smile. Tyrion is vastly smarter than your average hand of the king, so he -- unlike the sensibly lobotomized Ned Stark -- was troubled by this, knowing that Varys doesn't actually have any "good friends." Varys does what's good for Varys, and somehow always remains miles ahead of everyone else.
Indeed, Tyrion is slightly more at ease with characters like Bronn: At least with the sellsword, he knows that Lannister gold will buy him a temporary but true allegiance. With men like Varys -- and Lord Janos Slynt, commander of the City Watch -- he could never control their integrity. So, as retaliation for the bastard baby murders of yester-week (and the betrayal of Ned Stark), he instated Bronn as the new commander of the Watch, sending Slynt straight to the significantly less desirable Watch up on the Wall. "I'm not questioning your honor, Lord Janos," he said. "I'm denying its existence." Cersei, naturally, was not happy with the decision, though it was revealed that Joffrey had been the one to order the brutal executions. He gets more lovable every week. As does Cersei, who mercilessly taunted Tyrion for killing her mother during his birth.
In other King's Landing news, Cersei quickly tore up Robb Starks letter when she saw the demand for a separate kingdom, sending her cousin-hostage straight back to Direwolf country with a "Hell no" and the following message for Jamie: "If you speak with him, tell him he has not been forgotten." But the terms of House Stark weren't the only issue on the small council table this week -- King's Landing received a raven from Castle Black, asking for manpower to fight the frozen walking dead. Cersei pooh-poohed Jeor Mormont's demands because of the war between the kings, and the seeming ridiculousness of his claims. Frozen white walkers don't feel like a threat when you're drinking Dornish wine in sunny King's Landing, while the whole starving city thirsts for your crimson lion blood. It's kind of like asking Obama to focus on the Mayan Calendar with this terrible unemployment rate. Tyrion insisted that Mormont would never lie, but the Knight's Watch would get no more rangers from Cersei Lannister. This is why Jon and Sam's POV chapters can be so infuriating when you're reading the books: The men on the Wall know that Westeros' version of 2012 is about to go down, but everyone Winterfell and below is unreasonably focused on the comparatively trivial fight for the Throne. Out of sight out of mind, I suppose.
Jon and Sam didn't meet any walkers above the Wall this week, but they did have to deal with the equally disturbing Craster. Our favorite men of the Knight's Watch already noticed that the man with a million wives, daughters, and granddaughters all in one didn't have too many male spawn running around, and their suspicions were confirmed when Sam met the adorable and pregnant Gilly, who begged for a first class ticket out of incest iceland. "You're very brave," Gilly said when Sam "saved" her from Jon's direwolf, Ghost. The look in his eyes gave away the first happy erection that Sam had had in years, so he definitely had to save this one.
Jon, however, wasn't too convinced. He'd heard the rumors about cray cray Craster, and wasn't about to go dipping into his forbidden daughter pool. But when Gilly quietly announced her pregnancy, nervously saying "And if it's a boy…" he perked up. "If it's a boy WHAT?" (Jon Snow is sympathetic to the plight of the unloved male child.) His question, unfortunately, was answered at the end of the episode, when he heard a crying baby in the dead of night. Jon followed the cries, then was knocked out cold by Craster after he saw a white walker wandering off with the offered baby. So, now we know where the boys run off to!
But at least Jon's head wasn't given the same treatment as Daenerys' trusted bloodrider. The Dragon Queen and her starving Khalasar received a very strong message from one of their rival Khal's -- the man's severed head in his horse's saddlebag. It would seem that the noble Dothraki don't like the idea of a woman-led Khalasar. Daenerys promised a proper Dothraki burial, but the camp's abysmal morale was significantly lowered.
Meanwhile, Theon eagerly made his way to the aforementioned Iron Islands. He managed to befriend the captain's daughter on the journey over, if friendship means having animalistic sex with someone while verbally degrading them. "They say hard places breed hard men, and hard men rule the world," he said as he disrobed. His casual relationship with this plain women resulted in some good old fashioned, Game of Thrones patented sexposition: He told her that he wanted to be king, and that the iron studs of House Greyjoy used women for breeding, keeping "salt wives" as their concubines on the side. Sadly, this over-eager woman was never going to be one of Theon's salt wives. She's better off, I'd reckon.
Interestingly, despite the hardness and the salt wives, the Iron Islands is one of the only kingdoms in Westeros that is comfortable with female rule. Theon took a hilarious ride to House Greyjoy with a beautiful and ballsy young woman, feeling his way down her blouse and offering royal one-night-stands the whole trip. When they arrived at the cold and bitter castle, it was revealed that this woman was his long lost sister, Yara (Changed from Asha in the books to distinguish her from Osha, the slave of House Stark). The charismatic toughie was sizing up her brother to see if he was fit for rule, and Theon was properly embarrassed when he realized he'd made an ass of himself. The general consensus between Yara and their father, the cruel and merciless Balon, was no: Theon had become a fancypants mainlander with fancypants clothes and a fancy official letter from "King" Robb Stark, which Balon burned right away. (Everyone is dismissing Robb's letters this week! Poor guy can't catch a break.) Theon's daddy issues became instantly understandable and apparent, as he realized that Yara was the Greyjoy spawn that Balon wanted for rule -- she would command his fleet when they rebelled against the king for a second time. Theon would stay home and play with his dolls, or whatever.
This interesting brand of feminism has not yet made its way to King's Landing (Or, as seen above, to the Dothraki Sea, or to Craster's cabin, or to anywhere else in Westeros), where every woman but Cersei is treated like direwolf s--t. Ros the hooker-slash-madame from Winterfell still mourned the death of her colleague's Baratheon bastard child, and Littlefinger wanted nothing of it. He told her the story of a similarly sad girl who had worked in a Lysine whorehouse, and, from the sounds of it, was viciously murder-raped for a large sum in a Hostel-esque situation. This was all we saw from Littlefinger tonight, but it was enough to see that the sneaky bastard was still on his game after being threatened by Cersei last week.
Over on Dragonstone (Home of the infectiously charismatic Lord Stannis), Davos Seaworth and his son (One of them -- in the book, he has seven. Let's see what casting budget allows for here) convinced known pirate Salladhor Saan to offer his ships to Stannis' fleet. Davos the former smuggler pitched wealth and Stannis' nobility, but Salladhor was mostly interested in the possibility of sex with Cersei. "I'm not going to rape her, I'm going to f--k her," he said matter-of-factly. Well, then. Salladhor also enlightened viewers to a commonly know Davos fact for readers: Stannis had cut off the tops of his fingers as a punishment for smuggling. In turn, Davos gave up smuggling and offered Stannis his loyal service. This makes perfect sense to Davos, but for Salladhor (and me) this detail was puzzling. Regardless, Salladhor would join the cause, effectively making him the first important black cast member on Game of Thrones.
Stannis himself wasn't too appreciative when Davos returned with the good news, as he didn't want a pirate slandering his noble cause. Still, Melisandre (Who cryptically told Davos' son that fire was the noblest form of death) got him all riled up when she offered the married man a son -- and, of course, her body. They had sex in the war room, to please the Lord of Light or something. Interestingly, much like with Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrell, the sexual relationship between Stannis and Melisandre is only hinted at in the books. They are never seen in the throws of passion as they are on the show.
Finally, in the degenerate caravan frat house bound for the Wall, Arya (Or, as she's currently called, Arry) made two very notable acquaintances. First up was Jaqen H'ghar, one of the three criminals being escorted to the Knight's Watch in chains. The other two ruffians were brash, grizzled, child molesters who verbally assaulted Arya and the gang whenever they wandered by, so you knew that handsome Jaqen was going to be the special one. Arya didn't take their lewd insults standing down, and Jaqen seemed to admire this. "The boy has more courage than sense," Jaqen said with a smile.
But Arya's more significant moments came with Gendry, the blacksmith apprentice slash bastard of Robert Baratheon that Ned Stark approached last season. Gendry realized his days might be numbered when Joffrey's henchmen approached Yoren, offering a Lannister-sized reward for anyone who could give away his whereabouts. When Arya asked why the men might be looking for him, Gendry said he didn't know -- but he had been asked suspicious questions before. By the Hand -- scratch that, Hands -- of the king. Both Ned Stark and Jon Arryn had asked him questions before they died, so he assured Arya that she would probably be dead soon. (Ha!) When she kept poking around, Gendry told Arya that he knew her secret, too -- she was a girl. Accepting defeat, Arya admitted that she was a card-carrying member of House Stark, leading to an adorable sequence where Gendry freaked out that he had acted so crass (And pissed!) in the company of a highborn lady. Arya doesn't take kindly to being called a lady, so she responded with a very unladylike shove. Oh, to be a woman in Westeros!
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