Each episode of Game of Thrones is topping the last, and this week the hammer goes down on plot as we get a resolution to the “whadafuk?” shadow baby plotline started last week. Just as Renly and Caetlyn reach agreement and it looks like things may be going Stark way finally, a very Stannis looking spirit runs Renly through. Remember, in Game of Thrones, no one is safe. Brienne, wonderfully played by a perfectly cast Gwendoline Christie, is despondent but not so much she can’t defend herself as two guards rush thinking she’s the murderer. Her fast and easy dispatch of them makes her a serious badass. Caetlyn quite rightly points out Brienne can’t avenge Renly from the grave, and the pair make their escape.
When Littlefinger comes to talk to Margaery and Loras and advise them to also flee, we once again see how the newly widowed queen is quite ready to play the game. This is a departure from the books, squeezing two characters together into one, but understandable at this point and makes Margaery another strong character.
Stannis is now number one in power in this clash of kings as his forces merge with Renly’s. And as soon as his army is organised, he intends to make for King’s Landing. His advisor Davos Seaworth is not so sure; he wants to discuss the “whadafuk?” shadow baby but Stannis does not want to hear it. Stannis, ever practical, does listen when Davos points out that the men are talking that it is Melisandre pulling the strings, and any victory on the capital could be seen as hers if she goes along for the attack. This is a great scene: you can see the gears working in Stannis’s mind and the near fear on Davos’s when his King orders him to lead the water assault. As Saladhor said last week: there are old pirates and there are bold pirates, but no old bold ones. Davos is more used to hiding and running and a stand up fight is not what he’s about.
Tyrion, meanwhile, continues to please the audience just by being him. When Cersei refuses to reveal what plans are afoot to defend the capital, Tyrion calls on his little spy Lancel – and does so much enjoy torturing him with words until even that gets dull. What’s wonderful about the relationship between Bronn and Tyrion is that Jerome Flynn as Bronn serves as a perfect “inner monologue” for the “demon monkey”. Much of this part of the story in the books is told from Tyrion’s point of view, complete with his inner thoughts; that doesn’t work on TV without a hackneyed voiceover but having the characters discuss their thoughts is an excellent idea. We get our first look at wildfire… and we know, in an episode or two, we’re going to see it used in anger.
Theon Greyjoy can not catch much of a break. Alfie Allen continues to infuse Theon with enough sympathy that we almost feel bad for him when his crew of the Sea Bitch refuse to give him any respect. That is, until he hatches a plan that will drive a wedge deep into the north and Robb’s war. Then…well, we remember he really is a dick.
Maisie Williams is truly a standout in a cast of excellence. She is magnificent as Arya, now Tywin Lannister’s cupbearer and really with her head in the lion’s mouth. She shares a powerful scene with Charles Dance as Tywin here, where he figures out she’s a northerner and asks her what they say about Robb Stark in the north. She answers quite truthfully, but her deadpan stare into camera (and Tywin’s eyes) as she announces “anyone can be killed” just chills and you know she’s not talking about an absent Robb. Tywin, staring back at her, knows it too. That Williams holds her own with the legendary Dance is a true testament to her precocious talent. We can expect great things of her.
Across the narrow sea, Dany attends a “welcome to Qarth” party and learns more about her hosts, including a strange warlock and an even stranger masked woman. All of them have designs on “the mother of dragons” but it is Xaro Xhaon Daxos who makes the first bold move, offering his substantial fortune to help her take the Iron Throne. To seal the deal? She must marry him. Dany is not sure, and of course consults with her trusted advise Ser Jorah, an always fantastic Iain Glenn. By this point Xaro has told her that Jorah loves her; thus an awkward conversation as she realises that all this time, all the things he says, may be motivated not only by duty but by love for her. Both the actors play this scene well, Emilia Clarke looking genuinely uncomfortable.
Arya finally starts to see a pay off for her act of kindness as Jaqen Hâ€™ghar (a superb Tom Wlaschiha, his voice just seems to be like wisps of smoke) tells her that as she saved three lives from the Red (Fire) God, together they must repay them. Give him three names and he will do the rest. Not sure if she can trust him or if he will even follow through, and contrary to what the audience is yelling at the screen (“Tywin! TYWIN!”) she names The Tickler, the man who was torturing everyone and almost Gendry. Sure enough, her wish is granted – The Tickler falls from the battlements, his head reversed on his body, and from above Jaqen gives her a signal of one finger to his cheek. As Arya stands over The Tickler’s body, a sly smile creeps onto her lips. She has some power now. How will she use it?
Things are moving fast now in Westeros, now that we’ve reached the halfway point. All the pieces are now in place, it’s time to start seeing some payoff. Already we’ve lost one King and had the balance of power shift for many people. Things are likely to get much darker before they get better.