Theon returns to Winterfell, just not in the way anyone expects. Maester Luwin rushes to his raven’s croft to send an emergency message before he is taken prisoner. Theon bursts into Bran’s bedchamber and announces, rather pathetically, “I’ve taken your keep”. It’s almost a “look at me, look at how good I am” statement from Theon; Alfie Allen plays it well. When his first mate leaves the room he sits down on Bran’s bed and counsels him on what a “good Lord” would do, and for a moment we see the old Theon who was like a brother to Bran. We also see two boys playing at being men. Theon is more concerned with titles and status and position; he coaches Bran to get his statement to the people right and then makes every word he speaks a part of his theatre.

Osha knows what’s going on: it’s Bran’s dream come true. And then Ser Rodrick appears, and we know what’s going to happen. When Rodrick spits in Theon’s face, his first thought is to lock him up, like Ned Stark would have done; but he is an Iron Islander now, and his first mate counsels him that Rodrick must pay the iron price. Again, Alfie Allen shows his chops here. Theon’s heart is not in this; he didn’t want to have to kill the people he previously cared about, but needs to keep and maintain the respect of his Iron men.  So to keep up the theatre, he sentences Rodrick to die. Luwin cautions, and for a moment Theon doubts; but then his resolve hardens just enough, and the sentence is carried out.

Except he can’t even get that right. Desperate to prove himself a man he succumbs to Rodrick’s goading that “the man who passes sentence should swing the sword”, a direct echo of Ned’s lesson to Bran in the very first episode of the series. Rodrick goes out with class, telling Bran he’s “off to see your father” and cursing Theon with his last breaths. Then Theon can’t cut cleanly with his small sword, taking several attempts until eventually he has to kick Rodrick’s head off. There’s not many who respect him for that.

The scenes between Arya and Tywin are a highlight of every episode, and their relationship is fascinating to watch. He knows she’s a northerner but not a Stark; she knows he’s head of the Lannister family but not the evil tyrant she thought. There is even respect between them, as much as expected between a mighty Lord and his servant. The unexpected arrival of Littlefinger sends Arya into a tizzy. Baelish knows exactly who she is and will expose her. This scene is a delicate ballet of camera angles and Arya’s careful attempts to keep her face from view. Does Littlefinger see her and recognise her? We are never quite sure, but one thing is certain: if he did, Baelish would keep the information to himself, stored for later use. “Knowledge is power” he told Cersei, and if he recognised Arya then he now extra power through that knowledge.

North of the Wall and Jon Snow, Qorin Halfhand and his men fall upon the wildling scouts. Jon captures one, a girl. We finally meet Ygritte, the wildling “kissed by fire”, and once again the casting of Game of Thrones hits it out of the park. She is red haired and firey and passionate.  Internet comments have questioned by Jon’s Night Watch companions would leave him alone with her; it’s more subtle than the show normally is, but they expect Jon to have his way with her beyond he kills her, for the Watch are sworn to celibacy but as we discovered previously are not known to keep to that promise.  And like Theon, Jon struggles with this killing – raised honourably by his father, he can’t bring himself to kill a woman.

Tyrion’s decision to send Princess Myrcella off to Dorne finally comes to fruition this week, as all the royals gather at the King’s Landing docks to watch her depart, her leaving blessed by the High Septon. And we have another vicious scene between Cersei and Tyrion, the Queen promising her younger brother that one day she will have revenge.  Tyrion’s silent stare says it all.

Tyrion can smell cow dung in the air

On the return walk to the keep, the crowd of peasents at first seems respectful, but soon the catcalls turn to cries for food and denouncing Joffrey. Preparations for the war have left the populace hungry and scared. Here is there moment to express their dissatisfaction. Only Tyrion, that knower of people, sees the coming danger. A dung ball hits Joffrey in the face, and like the boy with too much power he is he calls for the thrower’s death. Then it all goes to hell.

For a moment, the riot is like a zombie movie. Tyrion sees the High Septon go under a crowd of peasants, screaming; then one rises clutching the priests bloody arm.

Once they reach the Keep, it is up to Tyrion again to “educate” his nephew, this time again with his hand. If Joffrey was a King open to change, he would learn from these events. But he is a sociopath, tied to his world view that because he is in power everyone should do as he says. It’s unlikely he’ll come away from this with anything more than an even stronger want to hate and hurt.

Sansa is lost in the crowd, and flees several men down a side alley. This is truly an agonising scene; they are going to rape and kill her. That is until the Hound arrives in dead-eyed fury and kills nearly all of them. Like a true legend, he leaves one to report what happened, as he carries the “little bird” off to safety. The Hound has a soft spot for her, it’s obvious. How will that help Sansa in the future?

In Qarth, Dany is still trying to find ships to take her to Westeros. She approaches the Spice King but he, being a businessman, lists all the negative risk that any investment in her attracts. She has no army, no allies, no support. Despite her passion and her belief in her destiny, he will not help her: “in business I trust in logic, not passion”. Emilia Clarke is great here, again, as is the guest actor Nicholas Blane playing the Spice King.

We are blessed with two scenes this week of Arya and Tywin, as they discuss their fathers and Tywin allows himself a moment’s reflection. There are two things going on in this scene; we learn more about Tywin as a son, a father and a man but we also see Arya the spy. Not being able to read was one way nobility kept the populace under control in the middle ages; a servant who can read is dangerous in wartime. Arya steals a letter and finds a place to read it. It talks of Robb and his troops and their movements. There is a spy in Robb’s camp!

Damn it's good to be a Lannister

She runs into Amory Lorch, who we discovered earlier cannot read, and he confiscates the note and wants to take her to Tywin to find out why she has it. She escapes him but he’s on his way back to the Lord; Arya has to stop him! And the only way she can is to use the second wish from her assassin-genie. In a frenzy she finds Jaqen and tells him Amory’s name, and demands his immediate action. Tom Wlaschiha has rapidly become a fan favourite and this moment does much to cement that; he rolls his eyes and sighs like “well, aren’t you a demanding little one, okay then”. And Amory Lorch drops through Tywin’s door, dead.

Finally we see more of Robb as he walks through his camp. Respected and admired by his men, like Renly, he is at ease with them. He sees Lady Tylissa and talks with her. There is a developing romance here, but also something else. When he refuses to discuss troop movements, she objects that she is not a spy; but in the previous scene we know there is a spy in his camp. Is she really the spy? We wont find out here as the arrival of Robb’s mother Caetlyn interrupts. The look on Michelle Fairley’s face as she watches Robb watch Tylissa walk away speaks volumes. She’s a mother and she knows. She admonishes him that he has responsibilities and a debt to pay to the Freys. Lord Bolton interrupts with news from Winterfell – Luwin’s emergency message.

At King’s Landing, Sansa reaches out to the only woman who has shown her any sympathy and care – Shae, Tyrion’s lover, hiding as her handmaiden. Shae quotes what could be the mantra for the entire show – “don’t trust anybody”. A lesson Theon should learn, as Osha seduces him to gain a measure of his trust but just enough for her to help Bran, Rickon and Hodor escape Winterfell. She has a big role to play in their future as she reveals where her true loyalties lie. And a direwolf sighting, two at once, as Summer and Shaggydog escape with them. The use of the direwolves in this episode has been great; more background than at the fore, they are just “there” and it’s good to see them used this way.

In Qarth, Dany and Xaxos arrive back at his villa to discover his guards and hers dead and her dragons gone, stolen and taken by a hooded figure to a foreboding tower in Qarth. Who has taken them? What is this tower? That remains for next week.

The locations used in Game of Thrones have proven to be a major feature of the series. Ireland doubles as the North, with cold, rolling hills and deep forests. Malta, sun and stone, is King’s Landing and beautiful Qarth. But it is Iceland, as the land north of the Wall, that is almost another character now. The majestic ice flows and snow-covered mountains are gorgeous but also speak about how deadly the region is. Truly people who live there are hard and if Ygritte is any example, pragmatic and unyielding.

The preview for the next episode reintroduces us, finally, to Jaimie Lannister as prisoner of Robb Stark and I cannot wait to see what they intend to do with the Kingslayer. One hopes it involves putting a sword in his hand and with he and Brienne now in the same location, some real swordplay may be on the cards. The plot, at least in Westeros, is rocketing forward. Theon cannot hope to hold Winterfell against Roose Bolton’s bastard, Arya continues to carefully maneuver her way at Harrenhal, and the Lannister family at King’s Landing is on the brink of breaking apart. For a while now it seemed Dany was running in place, but the theft of her dragons may propel her to action. Circumstances are difficult for everyone, but that’s what makes great drama.