This episode was really nothing but battle prep. The theme seemed to be “doing what must be done.”
Qhorin Halfhand, captive of the wildlings along with Jon Snow, told Jon explicitly that he must do what needs to be done. We don’t know exactly what that is yet (well, I think I do, but I’m not telling.)
Daenerys must go to the House of the Undying to save her dragons. This scene in the book was a twenty-page acid trip. I can’t wait.
Tyrion must mount a defense of King’s Landing, basically by himself. Everyone else is caught up in their own petty crap. Tyrion enjoys the “Game,” as does Tywin. Cersei and Jaime hate it. All three of Tywin’s children have relied on their family’s wealth all their lives, but Tyrion has had to develop the most skills in order to survive. Both Cersei and Jaime showed remarkable clumsiness–Jaime by haphazardly killing Stark men, and Cersei by threatening and hurting the wrong woman while trying to get at Tyrion. Tyrion’s only weakness is Shae.
Arya Stark recognizes how bad things will be in Harrenhal under Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane, and she uses the resources available to her to escape. (Too bad they skipped over the “Weasel stew” subplot. That alone is a reason to read the books.) We’re seeing Arya grow into a resourceful yet merciless character, which she will need to be in order to survive.
Stannis Baratheon, of course, always does what must be done. I doubt he is even capable of anything else. We saw a rare moment of almost-warmth between him and Davos Seaworth this week. Davos, a lowborn smuggler made into a lord by Stannis as a reward for his loyalty, represents Stannis’ conscience in a sense. He endures, and even defends, the mockery and disrespect of Stannis’ other bannermen because of his loyalty to Stannis. It is a fascinating relationship. Stannis could have killed him for smuggling years ago, but instead he just chopped off parts of Davos’ fingers, and Davos became fiercely loyal to him. There is a certainly an amusing verbal irony in Davos, whose hand was maimed by Stannis, getting to be Stannis’ Hand.
Catelyn Stark did what she felt she needed to do, freeing Jaime, sort of, in the hopes of getting her daughters back. They’ve done a masterful job setting up the dynamic between Jaime, perhaps the prettiest warrior in Westeros, and Brienne, the least-pretty warrior. Their river adventure ought to be fun to watch.
Theon Greyjoy’s situation is the only one where he has to face the consequences, so far, of what he thought needed to be done. I wonder how many viewers really thought the burned bodies at the end of last week’s episode were Bran and Rickon. This show is brutal, but c’mon. (Not that killing two innocent farmboys and their father isn’t brutal. Actually, that’s even worse.) Theon is confronted with a surprisingly nuanced view of piracy from his sister Yara. To her, Theon has overextended their capabilities by advancing so far from the sea, which is the basis of the Greyjoys’ strength. By appearing to kill the only two Starks left in Winterfell, he removed the only leverage he had over the other Northmen, in the name of not appearing weak. Most surprisingly, though (at least to me), was the fact that Yara seemed genuinely repulsed that Theon would kill two children. For her, the Greyjoys’ war is not so much about conquering territory as it is about taking what they need. It’s not exactly mercy, though. Yara Greyjoy is more like a parasite that cannot afford to kill the host.
As part of that same story, Bran Stark sure has a lot on his conscience now.
Robb Stark is the only character so far to blatantly thumb his nose at “what must be done.” He knows that he has to marry one of Walder Frey’s daughters, but he doesn’t know which one. He does know that Walder Frey is not a nice person, so he is understandably ambivalent about it. He carries an incredible weight, having been thrust from the role of eldest son of a lord, to the general of an army, then to lord of Winterfell, then to King in the North, and now to a king who lost his own castle. His mother betrayed him by freeing his most valuable captive, and he is losing the loyalty of his bannermen (specifically Rickard Karstark, whose son was strangled by Jaime.) (As an aside, why would the son of Lord Karstark have primary guard duty over Jaime Lannister. Hardly seems like a noble role. Just sayin’.) Now he’s in love with the noble-born nurse from across the Narrow Sea (I think her name is Talisa.) I’ve said before that she was not in the book, but the story is playing out beautifully. They could have played it as a standard forbidden teen romance (and they might still), but the show is playing it beautifully. Talisa is getting quite a bit of hate from fans, but I’m enjoying this. She’s much more interesting than Jeyne Westerling was in the book, IMHO. (Another aside: other than Catelyn Stark, Lysa Arryn, and Old Nan, are there any adult female characters we haven’t seen naked at this point? Oh yeah, Ygritte. I’m sure we’re getting to that.)
I think Sansa Stark was the only major character we didn’t see this week. We’ve already seen how she must pretend to love Joffrey in order to survive. I have long maintained that, as irritating as Sansa can be, she is one of the strongest characters in the whole story, having to go in record time from her dreams of princesses and brave knights to the nightmare she is now living.
In summary, this week we saw how nearly all the major characters have to play the “Game” in order to get what they want and/or survive. Tyrion Lannister is the only one who just wants to keep playing.
Next week, I suspect we will see the beginnings of the battle for King’s Landing. Within the constraints of the show’s budget, it ought to be epic.