Previously on Game of Thrones: Ned Stark got recruited by his friend, King Robert, to be the Hand of the King and to engage his daughter, Sansa, to the king’s son, Joffrey. So Ned and his two girls headed south, while his illegitimate son, Jon, went north to join the men on the Wall, where a whole lot of strange and creepy things are going down. In the southland, Ned managed to piss everyone off, and then Robert died and Joffrey took the throne and had Ned killed. All that did was enrage Ned’s eldest son, Robb, who kicked off a revolt. Meanwhile, across the sea, the last of the Targaryens, Daenerys, lost her husband but took control of her very own Dothraki tribe and hatched herself some cute little baby dragons.

Oh, steampunk credits, how I’ve missed you. Nobody really beats HBO for awesome title sequences, do they? We’ve got several new additions to the cast, but we’ll address them as we go. There’s also a new location on the map—Dragonstone, home of Stannis Baratheon.

Two knights are beating the hell out of each other in front of an appreciative audience. One of them—the Hound—kills the other, and the crowd and Joffrey cheer. Joffrey asks Sansa how she liked it, and she half-catatonically tells him it was great. The next pair of contenders arrives, and one of them is a total mess, dropping his armor and apologizing for being late. Joffrey asks the man if he’s drunk, and the guy denies it, so Joffrey invites him to enjoy a little wine. Several of his men grab the poor guy and start force-feeding him a whole barrel of wine. Sansa objects, which pisses Joffrey off, but she’s gotten clever in the interim and seems to be learning how to work him. She adds that it’s unlucky to kill a man on one’s name day, and the Hound backs her up. Joffrey agrees to kill the guy the next day, and Sansa strokes his ego in just the right way to get him to name the man his new fool, sparing the guy’s life. Well done, Sansa.

In comes Tyrion, who wastes no time calling his nephew out on skipping all the battles. He adorably greets Joffrey’s younger siblings, whom he actually likes (and who actually like him and seem like fairly nice kids), and then soberly tells Sansa that he’s sorry for her loss. Under Joffrey’s fierce look, Sansa woodenly says her father, mother, and brother are all traitors and she’s loyal only to Joffrey. Tyrion, of course, immediately reads the room, agrees, and heads off to work, ignoring Joffrey’s inquiries as to why he’s even there.

Cersei, meanwhile, is meeting with the council—Petyr, Varys, Pycelle and another guy I don’t remember. They talk about the weather—this is the longest summer anyone can remember, which often means a very long winter to follow. Petyr’s not worried about it, but some of the others are concerned about refugees coming down from the north, driven by the weather and all the horrors up at the Wall. Cersei tells unknown guy to lock the gates against them, because peasants belong in the field, not the city. Tyrion wanders in, whistling merrily, tells them to carry on, and takes his seat at the table. Cersei asks what he’s doing there, and he gives a quick rundown of his adventures last season and tells her he’s serving as Hand of the King in his dad’s stead. He’s got an official letter and everything. Cersei’s incensed and sends the others away before accusing her brother of tricking their father into this. Tyrion says she brought this on herself by failing to control Joffrey. She scoffs that Robb Stark is just a boy, but Tyrion reminds her that Robb’s kicking their asses. He says they need to be careful if they ever want Jaime back. That gets Cersei’s attention. She asks how they can do that and Tyrion reminds her of her love for her children. “It’s your one redeeming quality. That and your cheekbones.” HA! Love him! The Starks love their kids too, and Tyrion thinks they can use the Stark girls to barter with, so Cersei’s forced to admit that Arya escaped. Tyrion can’t believe her incompetence but he’s happy not to be the family disappointment anymore.

In Winterfell, Bran’s holding a sort of court, accompanied by Luwin as advisor. They’re listening to some guy complain about how his walls are in poor repair and Robb took all the workers away. They finally get rid of him by agreeing to send some masons to fix the walls. Bran’s bored and annoyed but Luwin tells him that part of ruling is listening to people you can’t stand.

In the woods, we get what seems to be some animal’s POV of that red tree Ned liked. The animal looks up and sees what appears to be a comet trailing red in the sky, and then it looks into the pool by the water and reveals it’s a direworlf.

In bed, Bran wakes, apparently from his latest animal-related dream.

The next day, he’s in the woods with Tonks (oh, all right, I know her name’s Osha) and that big, strong guy who carries him around. They look up and see the comet, which Bran says is said to be a good sign that Robb will win a great victory. Osha doesn’t think so, because others say it’s red for the Lannisters, and still others say it’s red for Ned’s death. She thinks the color red means dragons, but Bran says the dragons have all been dead for centuries.

Oh, not so, for now we join our Dothraki tribe making its way through a huge desert. Daenerys is on foot, one of her baby dragons on her shoulder. Her slave asks what her brother said about the eggs and Daenerys derisively says her brother didn’t know anything about dragons or anything else. As she goes to put her pet in a cage, one of the horses up front collapses. Daenerys hurries over to it—it’s her horse, the beautiful white one Drogo gave to her. She and Jorah talk about this plan to cross the desert, which seems to be the only route that won’t result in someone taking her dragons, which are still too small to fight. Daenerys sends a few of the other men off to scout and see if they can find settlements or the edge of the desert or something. She goes to one man and tells him he’s her last hope. He promises not to let her down. There’s clearly something between them, and he looks familiar, but I can’t quite place him. Daenerys looks up at the comet…

…which takes us up to the land beyond the Wall, where Jon, Sam, and the others are arriving at some wildling settlement. Sam’s all excited to see a few girls about and one of the more senior men tells them to look away, because those girls are both the head guy’s daughters and his wives. Ew. Sam and the others think that’s gross. Senior Man says that this guy (Crofter, I think his name is?) is one of the few head men left around, so he must be doing something right. As he leaves, Jon wonders aloud what happens to Crofter’s sons. I think we all know they don’t face a great fate.

Inside the main cabin, Mormont and some of the others warm themselves by the fire with Crofter and ask about Benjen Stark, who was supposed to stop there when he was last through. Crofter says he hasn’t seen Benjen in an age. He then gets annoyed when Jon inserts himself into the conversation and warnss Mormont not to allow Jon to talk to his daughters. Mormont says he won’t, and can they get back to the subject at hand, please? They’ve been through six villages on the way and they’re all abandoned. Mormont asks where the rest of the wildlings have gone, and after plying Crofter with wine, he tells them the wildlings are all heading north to join yet another army that’s much, much larger than anything the Southernors can raise and will be heading south soon. Mormont knows the man who’s leading said army—it seems he might have been a member of the Watch at some point and broke his vows, getting himself banished north (or escaping there). Mormont warns Crofter that life is pretty dangerous beyond the Wall these days, and Crofter pulls one of the girls over to say that this is their home and they won’t be leaving. Everyone gets ready for bed and Crofter says anyone who lays a hand on one of his wives loses the hand. And Jon will have his eyes gouged out if he looks too long.

Outside, Mormont pushes Jon against a wall and tells him if he wants to lead someday, he’s got to learn how to follow. Translation: keep your trap shut next time, kid.

Along the sea at Dragonstone, a bunch of bonfires have been lit and a red-haired woman (Melisandre) calls for the Lord of Light to come to them in their darkness and accept their burnt sacrifice—statues of the old gods, presumably. As she preaches, a man with impressive sideburns runs up to another guy (they take forever to give him a name—he’s Davos, who seems to be Stannis’s right-hand man) and says they have to stop her, but Davos tells him to wait reluctant to do so. So, Sideburns addresses the crowd himself, attempting to shame them for burning their idols and turning their backs on their ancestors. Melisandre is not cowed and invites the man to stop her, if he wants to so badly. He backs down. She addresses Stannis, who’s watching this stoically, and invites him to take his sword. He pulls a flaming blade from one of the burning idols and the others bow before him. As the statues burn, Stannis and the others leave, while Davos and Sideburns remain behind. Sideburns is worried that this woman will lead Stannis into a war he can’t win, and though Davos may agree, he says Stannis is their king, and they follow where he leads. Sideburns scoffs at the idea of Stannis being king, along with everyone else in the kingdom, apparently. He tells Davos they need to tell Stannis the hard truths, but Davos isn’t really sure what the truth is anymore.

At Stannis’s home, he and his advisors are drafting a letter declaring Stannis king and Joffrey a bastard, in every sense of the word.  He orders copies sent to every corner of the kingdom. While they’re making edits, Davos catches sight of Sideburns adding something mysterious to a glass of wine.

Davos gently suggests Stannis make peace with Renley, so they can unite against the Lannisters, but Stannis won’t be buddies with Renley while he’s calling himself king. Melisandre says Stannis will be fine, because the Lord of Light is behind him. Oh, she’s one of those types. Davos is a bit smarter and asks how many soldiers and ships this Lord of Light has to offer, and of course she has no answer to that. Stannis isn’t worried, though, because he thinks he’ll just go out and destroy everyone. Sideburns  gets up and sucks up, offering to drink a toast to the one true god. He takes a sip, then hands it to Melisandre, who watches as he starts to waver and collapse. Did he seriously just drink from the very cup he just poisoned? Isn’t that, um, kind of stupid? She drains the cup as he begins to bleed from the mouth. He falls, dead, and the Idiot Brigade gains another member.

At his camp, Robb makes his way to Jaime’s cage, where Jaime asks him why he doesn’t just leave him at one of his followers’ castles along the way. Robb says that if he left Jaime with one of his bannermen, Jaime’s dad would probably manage to get him out within the month. Robb takes umbrage at the fact Jaime still calls him boy, but Robb points out that this boy has taken him hostage and may still kill him. He’s joined by his direwolf, which menaces the prisoner as Robb goes on to say that Stannis has sent out ravens declaring Joffrey Jaime’s bastard son, which means Jaime’s kid was responsible for killing Robb’s dad, which only serves to increase Robb’s ire towards him. He correctly figures out that Ned figured out the truth and Jaime threw Bran out the window because he caught him with Cersei. Jaime tells him that three victories don’t make him a winner, but Robb keeps his cool and says that’s better than three defeats. He’s sending a Lannister cousin to King’s Landing with his peace terms.

In King’s Landing, Shay observes that the city stinks, but she still loves cities, and this is where she belongs. Tyrion warns her that nobody can know she’s there, and she has to be careful, because everyone is a liar. She archly asks if he’s a liar too, but he says he’s not from King’s Landing, and he’s so short because he’s crushed under the weight of all the truth. They’re kind of cute together.

Elsewhere, Cersei intercepts Petyr and talks about Arya—she wants her back so she has another bargaining chip. He suggests she ask Varys where Arya went, because if anyone knows, it’s probably him. They talk a little bit about how Petyr worked his way up in the world and she rather obliquely refers to his crush on Catelyn Stark, so he slings back a reference to her ongoing love affairs with Jaime. She has the soldiers seize him and tells them to cut his throat. But then she laughs and says she’s changed her mind—clearly this was just a power play. She tells him to find Arya Stark quickly. As she leaves, Peyr glances over at some young servant who’s scrubbing the floor nearby. We can’t see said servant very clearly, so I have no idea of it’s Arya or not. Though I guess it isn’t, because last we saw her, she was being smuggled out of the city.

Robb’s got some Lannister cousin in front of him to hear the peace terms he’s to deliver to King’s Landing. 1. Release Robb’s sisters, 2. Return Ned’s bones so he can be buried at Winterfell, and return the bodies of the others who have died so their families can bury them, 3. Joffrey and Cersei must make the North a free and independent kingdom (his followers love that). Robb tells the guy to get on the road at daybreak, then lets everyone go.

The others leave, but Theon remains and tells Robb there’s no way the Lannisters will give up until they take King’s Landing, and to do that, they’ll need ships, which Theon’s dad can provide. Theon offers to talk to his dad on Robb’s behalf.

Robb goes to Cate for advice, and she’s not at all keen to have a Greyjoy for an ally. Robb tells her they need ships but she reminds him that Greyjoy’s been a problem in the past, having started a rebellion and all. Robb points out that he’s the rebel now, and his father was before him.

Cate mentions the girls, and Robb wearily tells her that if he trades Jaime for two young girls, his bannermen will have his head. Cate’s enraged by the idea that he’ll leave the girls in Cersei’s hands and wonders what they’re fighting for, if not for the girls. Robb snaps that it’s far more complicated than that, which she knows, but she’s a mother who’s already lost so much, and she just wants her remaining family together.

Cate says she wants to go back to Winterfell, but Robb has a job for her—he wants her to go talk to Renley Baratheon, who’s got an army of his own. If he joins with Robb, they’ll be in a much better position to get the girls back. Cate reluctantly agrees, for her daughters’ sake. Now calmer, she tells Robb he’s done a great job and his father would have been very proud.

Cersei joins her son in the throne room, which he’s redecorating. She tells him they need to try and find Arya and it would be really helpful if he could ask his grandpa for some extra men to help. Joffrey doesn’t care enough about Jaime to ask for help getting him back. And speaking of Jaime, Joffrey tells her he heard a rumor about his mother and Jaime and she says their enemies will say anything to undermine them. Joffrey really pushes, asking if Robert was having affairs and bastards after he tired of Cersei, which earns him a slap. He tells her that what she just did is punishable by death, and she won’t be doing it again. Cersei looks a little scared.

Soldiers start hitting the city, killing all of King Robert’s bastards. They start with the baby at Petyr’s brothel, killing it right in front of its mother, who collapses, completely hysterical. Others are stabbed and drowned as horrified people watch. The soldiers start to look sickened by the endless carnage—and man, Robert really got around, he’s got kids everywhere!—but they still head up to that blacksmith’s shop and torture him into telling them about his former apprentice, who’s on the road north. Off they go to hunt him down, not realizing he’s in the company of young Arya Stark.

Nice episode! I wish they’d done a better job at giving some characters names a bit earlier in their scenes, but that might just be my frustrated recapper self talking (well, you try recapping a scene between First Guy and Other Guy). Otherwise, good pacing, nice job catching us up with all our major players from last year, and I liked how they tied everyone together with that comet. A fairly elegant way to move through the different areas of this world.

More please!

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