Pre-credits, we get a black screen and the sound of a mighty battle being fought. Or something being slaughtered, by the sound of it, and when the lights come up there’s Samwell running through a blizzard like there’s a zombie army nipping at his heels. Which there is, so fair enough. He finds a fellow Blackwatcher crouched in the snow, but when he approaches him he finds he’s dead, cradling a severed head. Perhaps his own, it’s a little hard to tell what with the blizzard and all. Samwell turns and sees a White Walker coming towards him with an axe, but as the WW goes to swing it, it’s dragged back by a direwolf (Jon’s wolf Ghost, I believe), and then set on fire by a band of Blackwatch men led by Mormont, who asks Samwell if he sent off the ravens he was meant to. Shamefaced, Sam shakes his head, which gets him yelled at, because that was his only job. Mormont tells the others they have to get back to the Wall and warn everyone of what’s coming.
Steampunk credits! Natalie Dormer’s in the opening credits, so I guess she’s sticking around for a while. Also, Winterfell’s now a smoking ruin (thanks a lot, Theon) and we have yet another new location: Astapor, which is across the sea.
Back north, Jon’s being marched off to meet Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall, still accompanied by Ygritte. As they walk through the encampment, Jon takes a minute to stare at a giant just moseying on by. Ygritte warns him not to stare. The walk continues, and Jon gets pelted with rocks and things by some of the more obnoxious kids, because he’s clearly a Ranger, not a Wildling. Ygritte continues to bait Jon as he’s shown to Mance’s tent. Or yurt, I guess.
Inside, a man with a big red beard asks what the Crow’s doing there and he’s told that not only is Jon a formidable fighter, but that he also wants to be one of them. Mance doesn’t seem so welcoming, so Jon humbles himself, kneeling before him and calling him ‘Your Grace.’ Mance laughs, and then Ciaran Hinds breaks in, telling Jon to stand because they don’t kneel for anyone up there. He’s the real Mance, of course, and he knows exactly who Jon is. He sends everyone out except FakeMance, whose name is Giantsbane, which is a pretty kickass name that you’d better be able to back up. Mance is glad to hear that Halfhand’s dead, since he was their enemy, though back when he was Wholehand he and Mance were Rangers together. Mance asks why Jon wants to join them and Jon says he wants to be free (and it sounds pretty honest, so I’m thinking there might be more than a grain of truth to it). Mance thinks Jon really wants to be a hero. Jon tells him about Crestor leaving his baby in the woods and how he saw something take the baby, and when he told his commander he already knew about it. He wants to fight for the people who are fighting for the living. Mance is cool with that and goes to find Jon a new cloak.
In King’s Landing, kids play on the beach while Bronn’s being entertained in one of the whorehouses. He gets down to taking off his girl’s loincloth with her teeth, but before the fun can really begin, in comes some poor kid to fetch him on Tyrion’s behalf. Bronn is not pleased, as you can imagine.
Up at the castle, Tyrion checks out his badass scar in a mirror, which isn’t nearly as bad as it is in the books, where I understand he lost most of his nose. Cersei knocks on the door and, after some hemming and hawing and arming himself with an axe, Tyrion lets her into his…well, it’s a cell, by the look of it. He can come and go freely, but it’s a horrible little cell for all intents and purposes. Cersei sweeps in and examines his face. ‘They say you lost your nose, but it’s not as gruesome as all that,’ she observes. Heh, nice nod to the readers, writers. He reminds her that the man who cut him lost more than his nose. She pretends not to be aware that it was one of Tyrion’s own men who tried to kill him and takes the opportunity to sing her father’s praises for a minute. She knows that Tyrion’s meeting with Tywin later that day and wants to know what they’re meeting about. Tyrion wants to know why his father’s giving him a total cold shoulder. She doubts it’s just that—she’s afraid he’s going to slag her off to their dad, since he did so once before, when she was nine years old. Jesus, this woman holds a grudge. He asks her why she’s so nervous about what he might say and she calls him a liar and says she’s worried he might tell lies about her and Joffrey. Lady, he wouldn’t have to lie. The truth is bad enough.
Bronn shows up in the hallway outside the room and gets his swagger on for the benefit of the two knights Cersei’s brought along. Bronn proudly bandies about his new title: Ser Bronn of the Blackwater, but they’re unimpressed. One calls him a jumped up cutthroat, a title he’s proud to bear. He goes to enter the room, but the knights threaten to cut off his hand. Fortunately, Cersei comes back out before things can get bloody.
Tyrion collects Bronn and his page and they go for a walk. Tyrion says he needs Bronn to protect him, and Bronn says that’s fine, but he needs to be paid more if he’s going to continue in this profession. He demands double what he was being paid.
Hey, look at that, Davos is still alive! Surprising, considering the last time we saw him he was being blown right off the ship into an ocean on fire. He’s washed up on some desolate rock somewhere, looking rather hopeless, but then he spots a ship and manages to flag it down. When the ship sends a boat out to collect him, the men aboard ask which king he’s serving. After some hesitation, he admits he’s with Stannis, and luckily that’s the right answer. He’s brought onboard the ship, which is captained by that pirate buddy of his we briefly met last season. The man says he’s sorry to hear about Davos’s son, and that he understands the grief, having lost a son himself. Davos asks to be taken to Dragonstone, but his friend isn’t interested in diverting to Dragonstone, since the last time he did Davos a favor he got nothing out of it. Furthermore, rumour has it Stannis is a bit of a mess, shutting himself away with only Melisandre whispering in his ear. And she’s keeping herself busy burning her enemies alive. Lovely. Pirate thinks Dragonstone’s a pretty bad place for a pirate and a smuggler to go. Davos begs, because he’s now hellbent on stopping Melisandre.
Robb Stark and his army are marching on Harrenhall, and Robb’s annoyed because he and his men want a good fight, but the Lannisters keep running away.
Inside the keep, they find a right old bloodbath—bodies of men and horses stacked up gruesomely. One of the men helpfully notes that these are 200 northmen. Cate sweeps in and walks around, looking sad. She recognizes one of the men as being one of her father’s bannermen. After a moment, Robb remembers that he’s pissed off at his mother and tells his men to find a chamber that can serve as a cell for Cate. As she’s led away, Robb’s wife, Talisa, comes over and quietly reminds him that this is his mother they’re talking about. He reminds her that Cate released Jaime Lannister, prolonging this slaughter.
One of the supposedly dead men starts to cough, and Talisa and Robb hurry over. She begins to tend to him.
Back in King’s Landing, Tywin keeps Tyrion waiting while he writes a letter. Tyrion notes that the badge of the King’s Hand looks good on him and asks if his dad’s enjoying the position. He recalls rather liking being the Hand. Tywin snipes that Tyrion was sent to advise the king and was given real power and authority, and he chose to spend his days drinking and whoring around. Excuse me? Where did Tywin get that news? Because Tyrion seemed to spend a lot more time saving Joffrey’s ass than doing any of those other things. Tyrion points out that he ran the city and bled on the battlefield while Tywin hung around Harrenhal and Joffrey quivered with his mummy, so he’d appreciate a little gratitude. Tywin tells him only performers get applause, not Lannisters. Now, he’s a busy man, so he wants Tyrion to get to the point. Tyrion does: as Jaime’s in the Kingsguard, he’s not allowed to marry or inherit anything. So, Tyrion wants what’s rightly his: Casterley Rock. Tywin agrees to give him a better room at court and a position fit for his talents, but he’s not giving him the family estate. Tyrion can’t understand why, which seems a bit thick for someone so clever. He knows that Tywin hates him and views him as a canker on their lovely family, does he really think he’ll just hand over the estates and titles? I’m not saying that’s fair, but that’s clearly how Tywin thinks, and Tyrion knows that. Tywin essentially says the same and sends Tyrion away, with a threat to hang the next whore he catches in Tyrion’s bed.
Down on the beach, Sansa’s relaxing with Shae, guessing where all the ships are going. Shae’s bored. Fortunately, Littlefinger shows up to speak with Sansa alone and make things a little more interesting, Shae gratefully escapes, waiting a few yards off. Littlefinger tells Sansa he saw her mother and her sister not too long ago. Sansa reminds him that he offered to take her home. He reminds her that she turned down that offer, and furthermore, she’s crown property, so stealing her would be treason. She promises she wouldn’t tell anyone and begs him to help her. He says he might be able to take her with him when he leaves on some assignment to come soon, but she’d need to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
Meanwhile, Shae’s cooling her heels with Ros, who accompanied Littlefinger to the beach. Good to see that she recovered from (and even survived) the beatdown Cersei had administered last season. Ros, who, remember, came from Winterfell, remembers that the day Sansa was born they rang the bells from sunrise to sunset. Ros observes that both she and Shae have done well for themselves, as it’s not easy for girls like them to dig themselves out of their beginnings. Shae says she always manages to.
Looks like Dany’s managed to get herself a ship, and those baby dragons are getting big. They’re flying around and everything, diving into the ocean for fish, which they toss in the air, barbecue, and swallow smoothly. Well, if this taking over the seven kingdoms thing doesn’t work out I think Dany could have quite the catering business going. BBQ fish and horse jerky? It’s the new surf ‘n’ turf! She watches her babies dreamily and pets one as Jorah notes that they’re growing fast. She says it’s not fast enough; she needs an army. Jorah knows that, which is why they’re on their way to Astapor, to collect some slave soldiers known as the Unsullied. Dany doesn’t like the idea of employing slaves to fight for her, but it looks like she has little choice.
From the deck below comes the sound of retching, as one of the Dothraki loses his lunch. Jorah grimly notes that it’s another fine day aboard ship, but Dany scolds him for making fun of them, when they’ve followed her far beyond anywhere familiar to them. Jorah reminds her that the Dothraki follow strength, and she needs to truly prove herself strong. I feel like she got a good start on that when she locked Xaro in his own vault for betraying her. That was pretty cold.
Looks like Davos wore his friend down, because now he’s being dropped off at Dragonstone. He makes his way inside, where he finds Stannis sitting in what used to be that meeting room with the giant map. And yes, Melisandre is there as well. Stannis does not greet Davos with open arms. Davos tries to give him a little inspirational speech, but Stannis won’t be roused, and Melisandre’s only interested in how Davos would punish ‘the infidels.’ Davos is uninterested in punishing people for the gods they worship, stating that, if that was his line, he’d have tossed her in the sea long ago. She mildly says she’s not his enemy but he begs to differ. She says she had nothing to do with the wildfire that killed all those men, and that if she had been there, she could have stopped it. Yeah, it’s easy to say that well after the fact. She recalls that she wasn’t there because Davos convinced Stannis to leave her behind. She goes on to say that, as she told Davos’s son, death by fire is the purest death of all. Yeah? I don’t see you volunteering, lady. That’s Davos’s new berserk button, so he pulls a knife and goes to attack her, screaming to Stannis that she’s the mother of demons, but Stannis just tells his guards to lock Davos in a cell. Now, Davos, aren’t you glad you went to all that effort to get back here?
Joffrey, holding a handkerchief to his pearly nose, is being carried in a litter through the streets of King’s Landing, with Margaery in a litter behind. When his litter stops, Joffrey demands to know what the holdup is. One of his guards tells him Margaery’s making a stop. Sure enough, she’s climbing down from her litter, despite one of her maids begging her not to. Dragging her gown carelessly through the mud, she makes her way into what appears to be a Westros daycare, where she meets with some orphans and gives them some toys. Margaery sweetly charms them, as her maids hand out snacks and Margaery promises to take care of all of them. As she goes to leave, she tells the woman in charge to come to her for whatever she needs to feed and clothe the kids. She seems sincere, too, so well done there, Margaery. Joffrey watches from behind the bars of his litter, confused.
At dinner that night, Joffrey escorts his mother in and compliments Margaery’s gown. Cersei wastes no time snarking that Margaery must be cold in her barely-there clothes and Margaery gives as good as she gets by lavishing praise on the heaviness of Cersei’s gown, particularly noting the fact that she appears to be wearing some kind of armor. Cersei says she finds it helpful and brings up Margaery’s visit to the rough districts earlier that day. Margaery says she visited an orphanage, and Loras, her brother, pipes up that Margaery did a lot of work for the poor back home in Highgarden. Margaery continues that one must approach the poor with an open heart, but Cersei warns her that that’s just what you can wind up with in that area, if you’re not careful. She goes on to tell her about how they were attacked in that area not long ago, despite having a full compliment of guards. Joffrey counters that their lives were never truly in danger and that his mother tends to exaggerate as she grows older. Cersei just barely winces at that. Margaery goes on to say that hunger makes men into beasts, but how wonderful that her family’s been able to help in that regard, thanks to their excellent harvest. Joffrey seems pleased, but Cersei knows just what Margaery’s doing—subtly reminding them all what they owe her. She’s a clever one, this girl. I think I like her.
Dany sails towards a rather cheesy painted backdrop that proves HBO blows a lot of their budget on the opening credits. She’s arrived in Astapor. Shortly after, she’s being shown around by an Astaporian who speaks a different language from Dany, but luckily she has a translator who tells her that the Unsullied have stood in place for a day and night with no water, and they’ll stand until they drop, they’re so obedient. They enter a courtyard filled with soldiers all lined up. Dany asks about the soldiers’ training and the woman translates, adding that Dany offers no praise, probably because she’s hoping to be able to barter on the price. The man tells the translator to tell her what she wants to know. The girl tells Dany that they train all day every day, and that only one in four survives. They are afraid of nothing, but Jorah says even the bravest man fears death. The man says to tell Jorah he smells of piss. The young woman is, understandably, reluctant to translate that. Instead, she says that these aren’t ordinary men. The guy tells the others to pay close attention, and then walks up to one of the soldiers and slices his nipple off. Aaaaand, we’re back! We’ve had superfluous boobs and now gratuitous violence and unnecessary bloodshed. I’m only surprised the language has been so clean this hour. Dany says this is totally unnecessary, but the guy sniffs that she’s so worried about their nipples and seems to have forgotten they’ve cut off these men’s balls. The translator says that men don’t really need nipples. True, but it’s still painful to have them sliced right off. It’s worth noting that the soldier didn’t even flinch when that happened. The guy continues that, to earn their shields, each of the men is sent to the marketplace with a silver coin and instructions to kill an infant in front of its mother’s eyes, to make sure there’s no weakness left in them. Jesus, is there not a better way to ensure that? Dany’s grossed out by that, which makes the man think she’s weak. Dany gets ready to pay ball and asks how many he has to sell. Eight thousand, and she only has until the following day to make up her mind.
Afterward, Dany walks with Jorah and contemplates the idea of 8,000 dead babies. She wonders what it would make her, being the owner of an army of slaves. Jorah says she’ll be fair to them and won’t mutilate them to make a point. Basically, she’ll be their savior. Dany, as he talks, has been eyeing a little girl who’s running around with a ball. Neither she nor Jorah notice that a very menacing, black-cloaked figure has been stalking them. As she starts to play with the little girl, who gestures for her to open the ball, someone grabs her hand. A second later, Jorah’s got the cloaked figure in a headlock, and Dany’s on the ground, face to face with a really scary looking, giant bug that’s climbing out of the ball. The bug—a scorpion, actually—charges her, but it’s stabbed by the cloaked man, who chases the little girl, who jumps off a dock and vanishes into thin air before appearing several yards away and disappearing again. The man tosses back his hood, revealing himself to be Barristan Selmy, former member of King Robert’s Kingsguard. He tells Dany he wishes to serve her now, promising not to let her down as he once let her father down. Dany seems to be considering it.
Mostly exposition and catching up this week, but hopefully now that we’re all caught up (well, with most of the characters. No word yet on Arya or Theon.) things will start advancing soon. Knowing this show, we’ll have some seriously packed episodes coming up.