Episode Title: "The Prince of Winterfell"
Writers: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Director: Alan Taylor
Previously on "Game of Thrones":
At Winterfell, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) welcomes the arrival of his sister, Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan). However, Theon is clearly disappointed that she didn't bring anywhere near the 500 men needed to hold Winterfell. In front of her men, Yara berates Theon for killing Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and Rickon Stark (Art Parkinson) when they could have been useful hostages. But in private, Yara pleads with her brother to return to Pyke so that he will not be killed for what he has done. Beyond the Wall, the Wilding woman, Ygritte (Rose Leslie) brings the captive Jon Snow (Kit Harington) before Rattleshirt (Edward Dogliani); who quickly orders Jon's death.
Ygritte successfully argues that the King Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder will want to meet Ned Stark's bastard son; to whom she says that her debt is repaid. To Jon's horror, he learns that Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong) is also their captive and the only survivor from the Night's Watch rangers whom Jon accompanied on the scouting mission. Elsewhere, the King in the North, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) gets closer to Lady Talisa (Oona Chaplin) as he tells her how he is promised to one of Lord Frey's daughters. Robb then gets the bad news that his mother, Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) has freed the Kingslayer, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in the hope of trading him for her daughters.
Angered, Robb places his mother under guard and sends an additional 40 men in pursuit of Jamie. Meanwhile, Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) escorts Jamie in chains as they begin traveling towards King's Landing. At Harrenhal, Arya (Maisie Williams) is alarmed to hear that Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) plans to attack Robb's forces by marching through the night to surprise his supposedly weakened forces. To make matters worse, Tywin plans to leave Arya behind as a servant to Ser Gregor Clegane (Ian Whyte). Before Tywin departs, Arya races to find the assassin, Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). However, Tywin leaves before she can locate him.
Beyond the Wall, Jon expresses remorse for inadvertently leading to the death of his Night's Watch companions. Halfhand suggests that Jon might still serve their cause as a spy in the enemy camp and he attacks Jon to help ingratiate him among the Wildings. In King's Landing, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) pours over military strategy books in the hopes of uncovering a defense to ward off the coming attack by the forces of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane). Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) aka The Spider enters and he compliments Bronn (Jerome Flynn) for drastically reducing the level of crime by rounding up the known thieves in the city.
Despite Tyrion's objections to Bronn's methods, it's clear that Bronn is trying to get the city ready for an extended siege. They also identify the weak point where Stannis will likely attack. Beyond the Wall at the Fist of the First Men, Sam (John Bradley-West) and Grenn (Mark Stanley) dig waste ditches for the larger Night's Watch force when they discover a hidden cache of dragonglass spearheads. At Harrenhal, Arya finally finds Jaqen and she is livid that she missed her chance to have Tywin killed before he could attack her brother. When Jaqen presses her for a third and final name on her death list to repay his debt, Arya gives him his own name.
Taken aback, Jaqen demands that Arya "unname" him; which she does in exchange for a promise to help free her and her friends. Annoyed, Jaqen tells her to walk out of the front gates at midnight. At King's Landing, Queen Regent Cersei (Lena Headey) dines with her brother, Tyrion; who quickly becomes suspicious of her happy demeanor. Cersei tells Tyrion that she knows that he encouraged King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) to fight on the front lines in the coming battle. And as insurance for Joffrey's survival, Cersei says that she holds the prostitute whom Tyrion loves. But instead of bringing out Shae (Sibel Kekilli), the guards bring in Ros (Esme Bianco); a woman whom Tyrion slept with at a brothel in Winterfell.
Ros maintains her composure and does not betray Tyrion as he promises not to forget her and apologizes for her bruises. Tyrion then swears vengeance upon his sister, who in turn laughs and tells him to leave. Tyrion races back to his chambers and he is relieved to find Shae there waiting for him. Tyrion professes his love for her and she seems reluctant before she does the same. At his camp, Robb tells Lord Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) that he plans to offer all of Winterfell's invaders the opportunity to surrender and return to Pyke… everyone except Theon that is. As Bolton leaves, Talisa enters Robb's tents and they bond as she shares the incident that inspired her to be a healer.
Moved by Talisa's story, Robb tells her that he doesn't want to marry a daughter of Lord Frey and she returns the sentiment before they make love on the floor. Back at Harrenhal, Arya waits with Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and Hot Pie (Ben Hawkley) until midnight, but the gate is still guarded. However, Arya soon finds that Jaquen slaughtered the guards and made them appear to be still in position. So Arya and her friends quickly escape. At sea, Stannis reminisces with Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) and he promises to make him Hand of the King if they can take the Iron Throne.
At King's Landing, Tyrion tries to make Joffrey understand the danger that Stannis and his forces represent, but Joffrey is completely deluded. In private, Lord Varys compliments Tyrion for being an excellent Hand of the King. Varys also mentions that Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is alive in Qarth and raising three dragons. Disturbed by the news, Tyrion suggests that they focus on Stannis for now. Meanwhile in Qarth, Daenerys is in hiding with Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen); who suggests that they flee the city immediately. But instead, Daenerys convinces Jorah to bring her to the House of the Undying to retrieve her stolen dragons.
At Winterfell, Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter) spots Osha (Natalia Tena) scrounging for food and he follows her into the Stark family crypts. Osha tells Luwin that they doubled back to Winterfell after reaching the farm because no one would look for them there. They also figure out that the two dead boys killed by Theon and his men must have been the orphans that Bran sent to live with the farmer. As Osha and Luwin resolve not to tell the Stark brothers what happened to the orphans, Bran silently listens to them as Hodor (Kristian Nairn) and Rickon sleep.
As someone who has deliberately not been reading George R. R. Martin's novels in order to maintain the suspense of watching "Game of Thrones," I have to admit that I was fooled by Cersei's gambit. I was sure that Shae had been discovered, so it was a nice surprise to see Ros instead. There was something beautiful about the way that Ros didn't expose the queen's mistake and the way that she held eye contact with Tyrion. Ros definitely seems like a survivor, but there's no guarantee that the Queen will release her even if Joffrey survives the battle. After all, it was only two episodes ago when Cersei promised to take away someone that Tyrion loved.
It's obvious that Tyrion's feelings towards Shae have blossomed into love, but it's less clear if she fully reciprocates his feelings. It seemed like there was some hesitation on Shae's part before she returned his words of love. Although I don't believe that Shae is playing Tyrion. Someone that deceitful wouldn't have gone out of her way to help Sansa in the previous episode.
One of the more intriguing plotlines this season has been Arya's time as a cupbearer for Tywin; which came to an end in this episode. Maisie Williams has shown an ability to handle some of the more dramatic scenes in the series, but she also showed some great comedic chops in her scene with Jaqen. When Jaqen accused Arya of being without honor, her shrug was hilarious. "A man has patrol duty" also seems destined to be one of the funniest lines of the season. Jaqen has turned out to be one of the best new characters on the show. Although he seems quite skilled as an assassin, it's hard to buy Jaqen killing all of those guards by himself. So, I suspect that there was more than one Brotherhood member helping him out there.
Jaqen also appears to take his code so seriously that he would have had to kill himself if Arya didn't take back his name from her death list. Jaqen didn't laugh that off and he almost seemed panicked by it. It was a clever play by Arya, but it may have cost her Jaqen as an ally in the future if he's the type to hold grudges. Judging from her attempts to locate Jaqen in order to kill Tywin, Arya never stopped hating her Lannister master despite his relative kindness towards her. But leaving Arya with the Mountain amounted to a death sentence. Gregor Clegane is a monster and a sadist. It's best not to think about what he would have eventually done to Arya.
Speaking of monsters, Joffrey's arrogance about the pending battle was almost endearingly amusing. Tyrion was right, Joffrey really is both vicious and an idiot. Gomer Pyle would have probably been a better king than him. Aside from a mother's love, Cersei had no reason to get upset about Tyrion's plan to get Joffrey killed in battle so that his younger (and saner) brother, Tommen could take the throne. It's a solid plan! Provided they can survive and triumph.
Given that Stannis had to rely on dark forces to claim his brother's life and bannerman, there has to be some question as to how fit he is to rule. About the only things that Stannis has over Joffrey are his intelligence, his history as a successful soldier, his sanity… okay, scratch that thought. Stannis would be a much better king than Joffrey. But Stannis' brief scene in this episode should tell you everything you need to know about him. Even years after the fact, Stannis is still angry that his brother, Robert didn't reward him for seeing their ancestral home through a deadly siege. Stannis even seems to be amazed that Davos isn't bitter towards the nobles who mocked him as "the Onion Knight."
And when Stannis promises to make Davos his new Hand of the King, Stannis either doesn't realize how moved Davos was by the gesture or he doesn't care. A real leader would have shared that moment with his follower as recognition for their service. For Stannis, Davos was probably just the practical choice and nothing more.
I almost wish I could feel pity for Theon at this point. Even after taking Winterfell and betraying his surrogate family, Theon is still nothing but a joke to the men of Pyke and his father, Lord Greyjoy. Yara had some unexpectedly heartfelt words towards Theon that suggested her previous persona was an act to maintain her standing with the men of the Iron Islands. But there's really nowhere to go for Theon now. He can either go home as an embarrassment, run away in shame or die at the hands of Robb's bannermen. None of those options are exactly appealing. And while there was some cleverness to the way that Osha evaded Theon's men, it seems like an incredibly bad idea to bring the Stark brothers back to Winterfell when they could have been much farther away if they had kept going.
On "Game of Thrones," even the setup episodes are fantastic and next week's installment looks like it may be among the best yet. The war is finally coming to King's Landing and for once HBO isn't going to shy away from giving the audience a real battle to look forward to.