There's no denying that episode 8, "The Prince of Winterfell," was a set-up episode. Tonight's installment was a bit scattered, and it lacked the heart-stopping action one typically finds in a late-season Game of Thrones episode. But a good television season abides by the natural ebbs and flows of storytelling, and "Prince" did make one thing abundantly clear: War is no longer coming, it's already here. Cersei can drink and giggle to her heart's content, but in episode 9 she will find the formidable Stannis Baratheon right at her doorstep. And remember what happened in Game of Thrones' penultimate episode last year? Of course you do. Next week is going to be amazing.
Of course, the Lannisters aren't the only ones facing imminent danger: Arya must escape Harrenhal under the terrifying rule of Gregor Clegane, and Robb's camp will soon face an attack from Tywin Lannister. Meanwhile, Jon Snow is now an honorary wildling, and Ser Jorah Mormont is an honorary slave to Daenerys Targaryen's sexual whims. For the third week in a row, the action began in…
Theon's long-awaited reinforcements finally arrived, but he didn't get the 500 men he was hoping for. Instead, he was faced with a mocking and disdainful Yara, who verbally tarnished his accomplishments with a good old fashioned truth-bomb: "You're the dumbest c**t alive." Yara and Balon understood what Theon did not -- taking Winterfell and "killing" Bran and Rickon didn't help their cause, it made them the number one target of every able-bodied man in the North. And since Winterfell was miles inland, the Greyjoy family would be ill-equipped to take on the Northerners -- boats are kind of their thing. Balon wanted Theon to leave Winterfell at once, and Yara agreed -- Theon was rotten to the core, but he was still her brother. She didn't want to see him killed. Theon was predictably crushed, as his thick head had never entertained the notion that seizing an enemy's castle with no thought of consequences or a follow-up plan was a bad idea.
Theon argued that killing Winterfell's ravens would keep word of his betrayal from the Starks, not knowing that Maester Luwin had already somehow warned them. This meant that for Theon, much like everyone else, trouble was on its way: In the form of Stark bannerman Roose Bolton's son, known in the books as The Bastard of Bolton. HBO is yet to announce the Bastard's casting, so I doubt we'll meet this pivotal character this year -- but still. He's coming. Get psyched.
Beyond the Wall:
After last week's brief respite, the king of pouts and brooding was back and better than ever, chained to the vicious wildlings. His group, led by the masked King of Bones (Named for the many bones attached to his cute costume) also included Qhorin Halfhand -- the only survivor from their little gaggle of rangers, who had all perished while searching for Snow in the snow. Great -- something else for Jon to feel sad about. Anyway, King Bones (who I believe was influenced by Dry Bones of Super Mario fame) wanted Jon dead -- one ranger was enough. To settle her debt, Ygritte came to the rescue by telling Bones that Jon was the bastard child of Ned Stark. This would be of interest to "King Beyond the Wall" Mance Rayder, so Jon would live to see another day.
Later, as Bones and his gang trudged through the snow, Qhorin whispered to Jon that one ranger as a spy in a wildling camp was worth 1,000 fighting against them. So he freaked out at Jon for being a traitor, then pushed him in the snow and asked for his death. Jon didn't seem too pleased about his latest assignment, but Ygritte certainly perked up at the news. Who knew Qhorin Halfhand was such a good actor?
Elsewhere, Sam and some of the other brothers we haven't seen in weeks found a deeply buried cloak, that had previously belonged to a man of the Night's Watch. It contained several treasures, including a dagger of obsidian. And that was the end of that.Camp Stark:
Robb was enjoying a leisurely stroll through the woods with Talisa when he heard the bad news: The Kingslayer had escaped. Remember that giant sword Catelyn flung in the air when he insulted Ned's honor last week? Well, she used it to cut chains, not flesh. She had ordered Brienne to take Jaime to King's Landing, in exchange for the girl(s). Hopefully she likes Sansa a lot better than I do, because she's about to get a whole lot less than she bargained for. Robb doesn't have much patience when it comes to the Lannister family, and he had planned to use Jaime as a future bargaining tool, so he quickly put his poor, long-suffering mother under house arrest, and sent a small army of men to bring him back.
Later, when Robb retreated to his tent to sulk in silence, he was pleasantly interrupted by Lady Talisa. To get the King's mind off of his many troubles, she finally revealed her backstory: She was raised to be a lady in Volantis, until a slave rescued her little brother from drowning. "I decided two things that day," she said. "I would not waste my years planning dances and masquerades with the noble ladies, and when I came of age, I would never live in a slave city again." (Aside: Talisa is officially much more interesting and likable than the books' Jeyne Westerling.)
Talisa's Stark-brand morality was a huge turn-on for Robb, who promptly announced: "I don't want to marry the Frey girl." Talisa didn't want him to either, but she tauntingly reminded him that he needed that damned bridge -- just not enough to give up a night of passion. Theirs was definitely the hottest Game of Thrones sex scene we've seen so far, as it actually included two kind, madly in love people -- with chemistry -- who weren't trying to seduce each other for political gain. (Sorry, Margaery.) They took their time disrobing, and naturally showed way more of Talisa than they did of Robb. Damn.
Jon and Ygritte: It's your turn. Try to improve on that. Please.
The Odd Couple:
This Jaime and Brienne pairing came just in time, since it would appear that the Arya/Tywin dynamic is coming to a close. The two soldiers made their way through the woods, with Jaime taunting an ice-cold Brienne the entire time. "You're as boring as you are ugly," he said with his typical apathetic amusement. Brienne did her best to keep silent, as the worst insult to the loyal Brienne of Tarth was one that Jaime had flung at him nearly every day: Kingslayer. "Why do you hate me so much?" Jaime asked with a smirk. "Have I ever harmed you?"
Brienne noted that she could absolutely kick his ass, in a fight that Jaime would undoubtably enjoy. This was all we saw from these two this week, but I'm hoping for a lot more in the very near future: The Jaime/Brienne relationship is one of my favorites in the book. Jaime and Brienne are largely made from the same stuff, but their vastly differing paths and circumstances has them absolutely hating each other. Putting them together completely changed my view on Jaime (in the best possible way), so expect fireworks if these two actors can pull off that dynamic. It's a tough one.
Tywin's war council predicted that Stannis would take King's Landing, but Tywin insisted that Joffrey and Cersei stay in town, as "a king who runs will not be king for long." Arya listened in horror as Tywin announced that he would march on Robb's camp instead -- not only because her beloved brother would be attacked, but because Tywin was re-assigning Arya to The Mountain, The Hound's twice as psychotic, horse-slashing brother. This is like when you're on the show Community and Dan Harmon gets fired, leaving you with a Friday night timeslot and two unknown bosses at the helm. Okay, no it isn't. But it's a huge demotion, nonetheless.
Panicking, Arya looked for Jaqen H'ghar in the yard. Gendry hadn't seen him. Hot Pie, neither. When she finally found him, the highborn lady in her scolded him for his absence. "A man has patrol duty!" he said. Jaqen H'ghar: You funny. Arya clearly wanted her third name to be "Tywin," but a man has his limits. So a girl, annoyed, gave him a name he wasn't expecting: Jaqen H'ghar. "Not joking," she said. "A man can go kill himself." Jaqen looked insulted, and asked her to take it back. She would only do so if a man helped a girl and her friends escape from Harrenhal, which would require multiple deaths. This was cheating, and even though Jaqen looked mildly disappointed, he said he would do it if Arya would listen to his instructions. "A girl will obey," she said. (Try the third-person speech for a while. A recapper thinks it gets addicting.)
I don't know what those instructions were or will be, but Jaqen is really, really good at his job. Later that night, Arya, Hot Pie, and Gendry walked to the gates of Harrenhal -- where all of the guards had already been killed.King's Landing:
As Stannis and co. inched their way further, Tyrion and Bronn had their first lovers' quarrel -- over Gold Cloaks and proper hygiene. But where the two men really differed was on their war preparation tactics: Bronn used his street smarts, killing the city's known thieves so that when the gates were closed, they wouldn't have to worry about them stealing all of the food. Tyron hit the books, ultimately realizing that Stannis would likely hit King's Landing at the Mud Gate. So he knew where Stannis was going, but had no clue how to defeat him. This was a problem.
Of course, it was a problem that Cersei was too drunk and disinterested to solve. Later, Tyrion and Cersei shared a contemptuous meal, where they argued over the pluses and minuses of sending Joffrey to battle. ("Send him!" cried all of America.) When Cersei -- the Real Housewife of King's Landing -- flashed her wicked smile, Tyrion knew something was up. "Do you know why Varys is so dangerous?" she asked. "Because he doesn't have a cock." Cersei, ever the one to value human life, had taken Tyrion's "little whore" hostage, thinking that hitting Tyrion in the cock would put him in line. Unfortunately for several parties, she had taken the wrong whore -- the beaten woman who emerged was Ros, who is now 100 percent wishing she had never left Winterfell.
If Joffrey was killed in battle, Cersei would make sure that Ros would pay the price. "There isn't a man alive who could devise a more painful death," she said. Ros didn't say a word in protest, and the Lannister Lion necklace around her neck made it pretty clear that Tyrion had somehow set her up as a decoy. What goods he offered her to take those beatings is unknown, but it had to have been pretty good given the nasty marks on her face.
Even though Ros was not the whore he loved, Tyrion was extremely upset, and this was the definitely the first time we've seen him emotionally vulnerable. Undoubtably shaken by the eight million threats surrounding him, he ran to Shae's chambers for comfort. "I would kill for you," he said to his willowy whore. "You know that. I expect I'll have to before this is over." He told her to promise him she loved him, which she of course did. Whether we can trust Shae is yet to be determined, but Tyrion sure is putting a lot of trust in a woman who has sex with him for clothes and jewelry.
Things were getting heated in King's Landing, so kudos to Jack Gleeson for a last-minute entrance that lightened the mood. The King and his Hand journeyed to the gates to discuss the upcoming battle, where Joffrey pompously declared that he would great Stannis as soon as he arrived. Yes, Joffrey -- please do. Both Tyrion and Varys struggled to hide their laughter as the clueless King went on: "They say Stannis never smiles. I'll give him a red smile, from ear to ear." ("Imagine Stannis' terror," Tyrion said to Varys. "I am trying," the eunuch replied. Hee.)
After Joffrey left, Varys took the opportunity to tell Tyrion that his little birds had told him of a certain exiled princess who now had three baby dragons by her side in Qarth. But Tyrion had enough on his mind, and the dragons still needed years to grow. So this -- much like the White Walkers -- would have to wait for a later date. "By then there will be nowhere to hide," Varys remarked.
The S.S. Stannis:
Much like Tyrion and Bronn in King's Landing, Davos and Stannis were preparing for battle. In a bit of exposition, we learned why Stannis loves Davos so much: While Ned and Robert were off stealing thrones and fathering bastards, Stannis and his people were starving as they held Storm's End. They started eating kittens and Chihuahuas, so Davos' smuggled beef and onions were a welcome surprise. In exchange for Davos' loyal service, Stannis would make him Hand of the King once they seized the Iron Throne. This was a nice scene that showed a human and kingly side of Stannis, but Hand of the King is still a terrible job. It's up there with Gregor Clegane's cupbearer.
We didn't see much of the Khaleesi this week, but it was enough to definitively say that Ser Jorah -- much like Tyrion -- can be a total slave to his own cock. Jorah wisely wanted to leave town, but Dany insisted that they enter the House of the Undying to rescue her dragons. "They are my children," she said. "And they are the only children I will ever have." She caressed his face as she said this, effectively turning the man to butter. Remember the innocent child who balked at the idea of marrying and bedding a Dothraki warlord? Yeah, she's gone.
Back to Winterfell:
Theon decided to stay after all, and wanted to cut down the burned bodies that littered Winterfell's courtyard. Is that guilt we're seeing, Theon? Luwin spotted the missing Osha sneaking food, and followed her to the underground crypts -- where Hodor, Bran, and Rickon were waiting. Osha and Luwin agreed that the boys could never know that Theon had burned the farmer's boys in their stead -- Bran could never live with himself. But the question of the week is this: Do we hate Theon less, more, or the same for burning two innocent children who weren't even the innocent children he was trying to burn, just for the sake of showing that he was capable of burning two innocent children?
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[Photo Credit: HBO]