Several would-be kings stepped up and made claims. Renley got killed by a creepy SmokeStannis; Stannis lost most of his army and got defeated. Sansa got a little less naïve and a little more savvy. Cate got a great sidekick and lost her mind a little. Robb got laid. Cersei got meaner and drunker. Tyrion got to prove he’s not just a half man and that Jaime isn’t the only warrior in the Lannister family. Daenerys got played. Theon got in over his head in a very big way. Joffrey got to explore his sociopathic side a bit more. Arya got captured, hung out with Tywin, and tricked her way out of captivity. Jon got embroiled in a series of rather dull subplots north of The Wall. Winterfell got trashed.
Phew, have I forgotten anything? Oh, whatever, it’s all in the recaps. Let’s get to it.
An eye slowly opens and takes in the noise and chaos of the battlefield, but with a blink, that’s all gone, replaced by Pycelle, who’s looking awfully smug. The eye belongs to Tyrion, of course, and he’s all bandaged up. He yells for someone to run and find Bronn, which someone does. When asked, Pycelle tells Tyrion that Tywin defeated Stannis and the utterly crappy room he’s in is his now, because he’s not the Hand of the King anymore. Ok, I know that Tyrion isn’t the family favorite by a long shot, but I find this kind of bizarre, considering how much the Lannisters owe him for the Battle of Blackwater. And it seemed like Tywin was starting to at least give him some respect, if not affection, while Cersei was swiftly falling from grace for sucking at, well, pretty much everything, so whose decision was this and why was it allowed? Just seems stupid to me, since Tyrion is quite obviously an asset to the family. Pycelle gets a few digs in, now he’s restored to favor and Tyrion’s fallen, and then leaves.
Close up on a horse taking a dump. Subtle, show. Said horse is then ridden into the throne room by Tywin, whom Joffrey pompously proclaims Hand of the King and savior of the city. Tywin accepts the Hand’s pin, thanks his grandson, and rides on out.
Next up is Petyr, who’s given Harranhal in thanks for bringing the Tyrells over to the Lannisters’ side. I guess the lands must be pretty valuable, because the castle’s definitely nothing to write home about, unless you like burned-out buildings full of corpses.
And finally Loras Tyrell is called forth so Joffrey can tell him he’s free to ask for whatever he wants. Loras says that Margery really, really wants to be queen—she’s still a virgin and everything! Joffrey asks Margery—who’s all boobs, as usual—if this is what she wants and she lays it on THICK about how much in love with Joffrey she is. She knows how to push the right buttons with him, I’ll give her that. Joffrey smarms that he’d love to hook up with her, but he’s promised to someone else. Cersei speaks up and tells him that the contract with the Starks was made before Ned and Robb rebelled, and under the circumstances, it’s null and void. Sansa watches this, stonefaced. There are a couple of ways to take this: Cersei may actually be protecting Sansa by getting her out of a marriage she knows the girl no longer wants (Cersei, after all, knows what sort of creature her son is) or she may be taking some pleasure in humiliating and potentially ruining a member of the Stark family. Or maybe it’s both. Pycelle speaks up in support of the broken betrothal, so Joffrey’s sold. He accepts Margery, who has the grace to glance over at Sansa and look a little ashamed.
Sansa turns to leave and quickly starts laughing in relief. Petyr catches up with her and she slaps on a solemn expression. He expresses his condolences, which she doesn’t really understand until Petyr tells her she’s not at all safe there, just because she’s slipped the marriage noose. He offers to help get her home but she says King’s Landing is her home. Oh, Sansa, don’t be stupid. He tells her everyone there is a liar, and they’re all better at it than she is.
Varys goes to see Roz at the whorehouse to try and talk her into working for him. He thinks she’s being wasted where she is and reassures her that those who work for him don’t get abused or passed along to some crazy ass royal to become a punching bag. She seems to be considering it.
On the road, Jaime’s still trying to get a rise out of Brie, who still won’t rise to the bait. He notes that she’s not listening, because she’s staring up at the bodies of three women, one of whom has a sign on her that says: They Lay with Lions. Jaime sneers that this must make Brie proud to serve the Starks and she says she doesn’t serve the Starks, she serves Cate, as she ties him to a tree and goes to bury the women. Before she can get started, though, three Expendable Idiot Douchebags come around the corner and absolutely crack up when they realize Brie’s a woman, and if they think this is so insanely funny, they must be really easy to please at a comedy club. Brie goes to leave, which sobers up the EIDs, who ask who Jaime is. Jaime puts on a commoner’s accent as he says he got a bum rap, and Brie plays along, saying he was stealing and she’s taking him to Riverrun. EID 1 thinks he recognizes Jaime, and Jaime tries to play it off as Brie starts to bundle him off toward the river. EID 2 smirks and asks Brie what he thinks of their decorating scheme. She only says she hopes he gave them a quick death. “Two of them we did, yeah,” he responds, smirking in a way that makes every viewer hope to see Brie take them all apart really, really slowly in the near future. Suddenly, EID 1 recognizes Jaime—what, does he have the trading cards or something? Oh, no, he was apparently there when Jaime was captured. The first time, that is. Jaime and Brie keep trying to play it off, but EID 2 orders them both to say Jaime’s name at the count of three. Instead, Brie kicks the three men’s asses at the count of three, killing two quickly, and killing EID 2 rather slowly by driving her sword through his belly like a kebab. Now that was rather satisfying. Jaime observes that they were Stark men and she repeats that she doesn’t serve the Starks, she serves Cate. And then she goes and cuts the three women down. Jaime seems to be looking at her with newfound respect, now he’s seen her fight.
Meanwhile, Robb goes to his mom to tell her he wants to marry Talisa. Cate gently tells him Frey’s a dangerous man to get on the wrong side of. She tries to talk up the idea of falling in love gradually after marriage, because that often works out. And Cate, I think it helps when the woman involved looks like you and the man involved looks like Ned. Robb feels the same way, and he doubts he’ll ever be that turned on by a Frey girl. Seriously. Cate switches tactics and tries to appeal to his sense of honor, but honor is part of the reason he’s doing this. Robb’s mind has clearly already been made up, so I’m not entirely sure why he bothered to talk to his mother about it at all. Guess he just wanted to keep her in the loop.
Stannis is somehow back at home—they didn’t capture him after the battle? That’s sloppy. He reminds Melisandre that she saw his triumph in the flames and she says she still does. He points out that he just got his ass handed to him in a major way, and when she remains confident, he gets mad and starts to throttle her, tauntingly asking where her god is now. She tells him her god’s inside Stannis and he releases her. She recovers and tells him this war is just beginning and will last for many years. Over the course of it, Stannis will betray everyone he knows and cares about, and it’ll all be ok, because he’s the Lord of Light. Yeah, that’s a good reason to be a selfish tyrant. She urges him to look into the flames and asks him if he sees it. Since flames are a lot like clouds or inkblot tests in that you can see just about anything if you try hard enough, Stannis eventually sees what he wants to see. I’m going to assume it’s him putting Joffrey’s head on a pike. I think we’d all like to see that.
From that we dissolve to Theon looking into the flames at Winterfell, getting mighty pissed off at one of the Stark bannermen outside the walls, who’s constantly blowing on some horn and evidently has been for some time. He’s in a bad position—he’s entirely surrounded and can’t sleep because of the horn and probably because of the stress. He asks Luwin if there’s word from his father—Theon, there was word, and it was: get your ass home right now. You ignored it, so here you are. Theon tells Luwin to send more ravens and Luwin tiredly reminds him he killed all the ravens. Theon remembers when he first came to Winterfell and Luwin essentially tells him he should be grateful, because the Starks went out of their way to make him comfortable. Theon bitterly says that nobody likes to be told how lucky they are to be a prisoner, and he’s got a point. And to add insult to injury, he went home and got rejected by his real father. I didn’t really like this character much last year, but the actor’s giving a hell of a performance here and in the past several episodes.
Luwin advises him to get the hell out of Winterfell before it falls, and fall it shall, because Theon’s seriously outnumbered. Theon says he’ll never escape, and even if he did get back to the Iron Islands, he’d be ridiculed as a coward. Luwin instead advises he go north and join the Night’s Watch. Somehow I don’t see Theon doing well with enforced celibacy. Luwin winds up by telling Theon he’s not the man he’s pretending to be. Not yet, anyway. Theon agrees but says he’s come a bit too far to pretend to be anything else.
In the morning, Theon goes out and addresses his men. Apparently, he carefully studied the Tyrion Lannister Guide to Inspiring Speeches, because he does much better than he did the last time we saw him talk to these guys, but then at the end his lieutenant knocks him out cold. The men put a hood over his head and get him trussed up as Luwin comes out and asks what they’re doing. In response, Lieutenant stabs him in the gut. Lots of gut stabbing this episode.
Varys has come to see Tyrion, who doesn’t believe that Cersei would be behind a plot to kill him—see, the guy who slashed Tyrion’s face in the battle was apparently on Tyrion’s side and was ordered by Cersei to kill him. He thinks Varys is trying to sow discord between himself and his sister. “Where before there was only love,” says Varys. Heh. And really, Tyrion, why wouldn’t you think Cersei would try to kill you? After everything you’ve seen her do, that surprises you? Tyrion finally buys it and sends his squire to get Bronn and have him post goldcloaks outside Tyrion’s door. Varys interrupts and says that Bronn is no longer in charge of the goldcloaks, and also Tyrion’s hill tribesmen have been sent home by Tywin. Does Tywin want Tyrion dead too? Why? Varys says he won’t be coming around too often from now on, and then goes to leave as Shae comes in. Before he goes, Varys tells Tyrion that many know what a debt they owe him, and they won’t forget.
Shae sits on the edge of Tyrion’s bed, looking concerned, but he freezes her out. She overcomes his protests and undoes his bandages, and he doesn’t look that bad, honestly. Yeah, he’s got a slash running diagonally down his face, but in the book he lost his nose, and frankly he’s lucky to not have lost an eye. What’s a scar? Chicks dig scars. Tyrion tries to play mean, telling Shae that, now he’s a monster and a dwarf, she should charge him double, but Shae will not play this game with him and calls him out on his self-pity. She urges him to leave King’s Landing with her, because they’ll come back and try to kill him again. Tyrion unbends and tells her he’d love to go with her, but he can’t, because this crazy life at court is something he’s actually good at. He belongs there, and he likes it. His voice breaking slightly, he asks her if she’s going to leave and she tells him no. Awww. He starts to cry and she leans in to embrace him.
Robb and Talisa get married in a secret ceremony at Robb’s camp.
Daenerys, Jorah, and one of her Dothraki men approach the enormously phallic hideout of the creepy blue-lipped warlock. Daenerys realizes there’s no door and starts walking around the tower, eventually vanishing altogether, to Jorah’s confusion and consternation.
Daenerys, meanwhile, has been magicked inside, where she grabs a torch and goes off in search of her dragon babies.
Arya and her little band of brothers hike through some hilly terrain and spot Jaqen on top of a rocky outcropping. Arya leaves the others behind and goes to talk to him alone. She asks how he killed all the guards and he replies that it was as easy as taking a new name, if you know how. Arya desperately asks him to teach her how and he urges her to head to his homeland of Braavos, which is also where her fencing teacher Syrio was from. They make them pretty badass in Braavos. Jaqen is one of the “Faceless Men,” which are apparently extra badass, and he tells her that, if she joins them, she could learn how to get rid of all the people she hates. She wants to go, but she needs to find the rest of her family first. Jaqen gives her a coin and tells her that, if she ever needs to find him again, she just needs to give the coin to any man from Braavos and utter a Braavosi phrase. She repeats it back to him, and he turns away for a second, then turns back and has a totally different face. Creeeepy! And with that, he’s off and we’re done with Arya for the season.
All is quiet at Winterfell, so Osha emerges, trailed by Hodor and the boys and finds the place burned down and everyone dead. The two direwolves are still alive, though, probably because everyone was too scared to try and kill them, and they lead the unhappy party to Luwin, who’s managed to stay alive long enough to drag himself to the Starks’ praying tree. Man, those gut wounds really are a slow death, aren’t they? Rickon and Bran are horrified; Rickon cries, but Luwin says he’s fine and the boys need to get the hell out of there and go north to The Wall, where Jon can look after them and tell Cate they’re ok. They don’t want to leave him, but he urges them to, and they know it’s hopeless, so they go. Luwin calls Osha back and tells her she has to protect the boys, even from her own kind. He winces in pain and she offers him some painkillers, but he doesn’t want that, he wants a mercy kill. Osha pulls out her knife and obliges offscreen.
The Stark boys, Hodor, Osha, and the direwolves get on the road, leaving the smoking hulk of Winterfell behind them.
Daenerys is still looking for her dragons, who do not sound happy. She enters a room with a large pedestal in the center of it and opens a door on the other side, emerging into a huge, cathedral-like space with a broken down roof that snow’s falling through. She wanders about for a bit and is briefly tempted to touch something, but pulls away at the last minute. She finds another door, and it opens, revealing a vast white expanse beyond. It actually looks like the door in The Wall. Daenerys shields her eyes from the snow and sees something out in the blizzard: a large Dothraki tent. She goes inside and finds Khal Drogo sitting there with a very cute baby in his arms. He greets her as Moon of his Life and she wonders if this is a) dark magic, b) a dream or c) if she’s dead. She and Khal have a nice moment and he tells her how much he loves her. Daenerys looks down at the baby—at the life she might have had, and tearfully tells Drogo she loves him too, before she turns and walks out of the tent and right back into the room with the pedestal, where her three dragons are shackled with teeny tiny chains. Creepy Blue-Lipped Guy appears, becomes two Creepy Blue-Lipped Guys, and tells her the dragons missed their mom. He further reveals that his magic returned when the dragons were born, and they’re strongest when she’s around, so she’s going to be staying a while. Come play with us, Dany. Forever…and ever…and ever… Suddenly Daenerys finds herself shackled and strung up, so she calmly utters the word she used a few episodes back to order the dragons to barbecue their food (Drakaris, I think). One of the dragons—the red one, which I think is her favorite, gets started, and soon all three babies are shooting flames at CBLG, who burns to death. I think the message is clear: you do NOT mess with my mommy! The chains disappear.
North of the Wall. Ygritte taunts Jon a bit, and Halfhand decides that now’s a good time to pretend to be mad at Jon again, in the hopes he’ll be able to integrate into the Wildlings’ tribe or whatever. He surprises his guard and pulls the man’s sword, running at Jon. The guards pull them apart, but then the guy in charge—who’s wearing a part of a skull as a mask—tells them to let the two guys fight, so Ygritte hands Jon his sword and the two men go at it. Halfhand taunts Jon the whole time, and Jon finally manages to disarm him, and then really sells it by running Halfhand through with the sword. Damn, Jon. That’s some hardcore infiltration right there. Skullface takes the sword back and cuts the ropes binding Jon’s hands before telling the others to burn the body. Ygritte gently tells Jon to come along and leads him to the top of a hill overlooking a HUGE camp. Jon looks conflicted for a while before following her down.
Daenerys, cuddling the dragons, wakes Xaro, who’s asleep with one of her handmaidens (the one who survived the Dothraki slaughter, obviously). One of the Dothraki steals the key to Xaro’s vault, which he wears around his neck and the handmaiden begs for clemency, but Daenerys is so over it all. They open the vault and, after all of Xaro’s boasts about what’s inside, it’s not all that shocking that they find it empty. Daenerys thanks Xaro for teaching her this lesson, and then she locks him and her sobbing handmaiden inside the vault. Damn, Daenerys, that was cold. Really, really cold. But finally her Dothraki men get to plunder Xaro’s place, just as they always wanted to. They start doing so with gusto.
Oh, great, we end with Samwell and the two other latrine diggers. Today, they’re on poo duty again, but this time they’re out collecting it for fuel. Lovely. Sam won’t shut up, and you know what? I used to rather like this character, but he’s been so annoying and useless this season I wouldn’t be sad to see him go. They hear the horns blow three blasts, which is the signal for White Walkers, and take off running. Sam, being fat, gets left behind and loses the other two in the snow, so he hides behind a rock when he sees something coming towards him out of the blizzard. From his not-so-hidden hiding place, he watches an army of the dead wander past, complete with White Walker horses, one of which is ridden by, I guess, a White Walker general, which is all white (naturally) and creepily skeletal, armed with an ice-tipped spear. It looks right at Sam and lets out a velocoraptor-like noise and urges the zombie army forward. And that’s it.
Eh, I have to say, as cliffhangers go, that’s not a great one. In fact, I feel strangely meh at the end of this episode, with nobody’s story leaving me anywhere near the edge of my seat. Oh my god, will the Stark kids manage to get to The Wall? Will Jon meet Mance Rayder? Will Brie and Jaime make it to King’s Landing? I…don’t really care. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s just kind of a letdown after all of last week’s excitement. How do all of you feel?