I will begin by again linking to HBO’s most excellent guide to the 10,000 characters on this show, to help people keep up with who is who.
We begin beyond the wall with Craster evicting the Night’s Watch because Jon Snow the Whiney followed him the last episode. Jon the whiny tries to tell Lord Mormount that Craster is killing all the baby boys – but Mormount already knows. But he’s too useful and too needed for them to condemn him.
We also see Sam pursuing his awkward kindness/courting of Gilly with a thimble – something from his mother. It’s actually a very strong, emotional scene and well done – I was expecting much worse.
In Winterfell Bran’s dreams continue – dreaming of being a Dire Wolf which remind him of stories of men who could ride the body of animals – though Master Luwin doesn’t believe in them or the dream he shared with Rickon about Ned’s death. We also get a nice little bit of backstory about the Maester’s chains – and showing that he has studied magic, but that magic doesn’t exist
We move to a new location – the court of King Renly and another tournament where we see the woman knight, Brienne defeat Ser Loras, the Knight of Flowers who, in return, asks for a place in Renly’s kingsguard. And Lady Catelyn the Spunky is there to meet Renly (and his new wife, Margaery of House Tyrell, Loras’s sister) on behalf of Rob, King in the North. There are some attempts to snipe at Catelyn (some particularly catty comments by Loras Tyrrell) but she holds her own admirably.
Renly has 2 of the 7 kingdoms behind him, the Stormlands (House Baratheon) and the Reach (House Tyrell, High Garden) and a huge army; but Catelyn finds them too soft and gentle people.
Later we join Loras and Renly in bed – at last, after episode after episode of breasts we have the 2 gay men in bed together. Except after 10 seconds of kissing, Loras gets pouty and whiny – and points out that Renly needs to sleep with Margaery (Loras’ sister, Renly’s wife) to consummate their relationship. So Margaery arrives and, lo, there are the breasts. Of course. It’s obvious that Renly isn’t even slightly interested – and that Marjorie is well aware of the relationship between Renly and Loras. And we learn that Margaery is far far more crafty than we imagined.
In the Pyke Theon confronts his sister, Yarna, (who shares their father’s contempt for him). Balon’s plan is to attack the north – Winterfell, pillaging and conquering the north while the armies of Winterfell are south fighting the Lannisters. Theon is bitter because he is given a single ship to raid with, rather than a fleet like Yarna. Theon tries to convince them to ally with the North – but his talk of pledging fealty doesn’t go down well with the proud and independent Greyjoys
After much deliberation and considering warning Rob, Theon re-pledges himself to the cruel, uncompromising Drowned God, the god of the Iron Isles. He also changes his wardrobe and looks 10 times rougher, it’s a really well done transformation
In Kings Landing we join Tyrion the awesome and Shea – and Shea resenting how Tyrion keeps her locked up and hidden. And Shea keeps slapping Tyrion down awesomely as he tries to use his clever words to get round her – refusing to accept she’s too foolish to understand and refusing to be regarded as a weakness.
Meanwhile Sansa is having a meal with Cersei and her 2 younger children – talking about Sansa’s wedding day. And we see what gentle, nice children Joffrey’s younger siblings are, and how impossible a situation Sansa is in.
Later Shae goes to Sansa as her new handmaiden – it seems Tyrion has found a compromise. Except Shea has no idea how to be a handmaiden and Sansa has no patience to teach her. Meanwhile Tyrion is being crafty and checking which of his advisors are trustworthy – telling Pycelle that he plans to marry Princess Marcella to the Princess of Dorne, Varys that he wants to marry Princess Marcella to Theon Greyjoy and Petyr that he plans to marry her to Robin of the Vale; all with strict instructions not to tell the queen. Notably, Petyr is someone who needs to be bribed – with lordship of the Riverlands and Lord of Haranhal.
Naturally Cersei hears this and brings her fury down on Tyrion – for trying to send her daughter to Dorne, proving Pycelle doesn’t keep secrets. Time to confront Pycelle (and his prostitute). Pycelle tries to blame Varys but it’s clearly Pycelle – and he’s sent to a cell. Petyr is also very very vexed at being used but Tyrion has other plans for him. He also discusses matters with Varys who has some extremely clever riddles and ideas (y’know, I kind of like Varys).
And we check in with Arya on the road north, and Arya having nightmares over Ned’s execution and talks with the Night Watch guide. It’s another one of those powerful emotional scenes that Game of Thrones is very very good at doing. But more soldiers have arrived – and the guide is killed, but not before he takes some down with him. The boys headed for the Night Watch are captured, Arya frees the prisoners – and saves Gendry by telling the guards that it was one of the dead who was Gendry.
Loras is whiny, sulky, moody, pouty, catty and generally more and more a walking stereotype – in case the manscaping weren’t enough. They’re not exactly subtle about the stereotyping. And, of course, Renly has to marry a woman – and we got to see the extremely unpleasant scene of him being pushed into sex with a woman no matter how little he wanted it. Ugh, if this is inclusion I could do without it
I like Brianne as a counter to many of the gender roles we’ve seen so far – but it’s also telling. To be strong and a strong fighter, Brianne has to openly reject being a lady – and physically she is taller and larger than most men (perhaps all the men we’ve seen so far except Hordor). It’s almost like to depict female strength, especially physical strength, she needs to imitate men. I find it telling when we look at Arya – who when she learned to user the sword was called “boy” by Syrio and Yarna who eschews any of the culture’s feminine clothing (even her father wears robes around the Pyke, but she wears battle leathers and padded armour all the time) – to be physically strong and dangerous these women seem to have to do their utmost to be men.
Shea is also developing a lot of strength and determination – not allowing Tyrion to reduce or belittle her. Even Marjorie is clearly much more cunning, clever and skilled than was first suspected (I see echoes of Cersei Lannister in her). Cersei, unfortunately, just becomes more emotional and less effective with every passing episode.
I think Varys is rapidly becoming one of my favourite characters. Varys for king!
At the moment I rather feel that both Jon Snow's and Theon Greyjoy's stories are somewhat irrelevent to the plot and are becoming (brief) distractions. I worry that Arya may end up the same.