'Game of Thrones' recap: 'Leave her face; I like her pretty'
This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.
At this point, I think it's fair to say that Joffrey is, hands down, the most hateable character on television. You're welcome to add your counterpoint in the comments, but after seeing him gleefully order his knights to strip Sansa Stark and and beat her like a piñata in front of the entire royal court, I can't remember the last time I yearned for the death of a fictional character so fervently.
Sansa's "punishment" for her brother's recent military victory is cut short by the arrival of your hero and mine, Tyrion Lannister, whose booming voice shames pretty much everyone in the room for their tacit participation in the torture of a 12-year-old girl. Joffrey reacts like a spoiled child who's just been scolded for smashing his toys together, and after Tyrion speculates that Joffrey's cruelty might be fueled by sexual frustration, he dispatches two prostitutes to the young king's bedroom. Unfortunately, the moment Joffrey learns who sent them he sees an opportunity to both resume the sadistic fantasy Tyrion so rudely interrupted and flip his uncle the finger, so he forces one of the women to torture the other with an escalating series of objects while he sits in a chair and smiles.
That video of Joffrey getting slapped on loop for 10 minutes straight is right here, by the way, just in case you need it.
Robb, meanwhile, wanders the battlefield in the aftermath of his triumph and meets a beautiful woman named Talissa tending to injured men. After amputating a man's foot with a hacksaw, she drops some cold truth on Robb about the steep price the smallfolk are paying for the war, and then disappears like a sassy, blood-soaked angel on the back of a rickety cart headed in the opposite direction. Considering the googly eyes Robb gives her as she recedes into the distance, I'm guessing this won't be the last we see of her.
After weeks of tediously wandering the desert, Daenerys finally finds herself at the gates of Qarth, a wealthy port city governed by a group of merchants called the Thirteen. They demand to see her dragons, and when she refuses, they invite her to die in the sand outside their gates — until one of the Thirteen intercedes and vouches for her personally. His name is Xaro Xhoan Daxos (whose surname I cannot stop hearing as "duck sauce"), and I believe he's one of the first characters on the show so far played by a black actor outside of Salador Saan and an "exotic" prostitute at Littlefinger's brothel who had no lines. So that's ... something, I guess.
Arya and the rest of the captured Night's Watch recruits get herded by Lannister soldiers into Harrenhal, a grim, supposedly cursed castle where Arya gets to watch a different person get tortured to death every day some new, creative way. It seems like Gendry's number is up until Lord Tywin rides in unexpectedly and demands to know why they're slaughtering able-bodied men for no apparent reason. He immediately recognizes Arya as a girl, and appoints her his new cupbearer. It's a oddly kind and paternal gesture, particularly from someone who routinely humiliates and demeans one of his own children for no reason, but if it gets Arya out of the deathpen, I'll take it.
Littlefinger shows up at Renly's camp, where he returns the remains of Ned Stark to his grieving widow Catelyn, makes an inappropriate pass at her, and offers to trade Sansa and Arya for Jaime — a secret offer he tells her not to share with Robb. Then he heads over to Renly's tent and offers to betray the Lannisters and leave King's Landing open to Renly's siege in return for political favor when he takes the throne. What a busy day for Lord Petyr Baelish!
Renly is still fighting on two fronts, though, and his sibling rivalry with Stannis has reached a breaking point. Stannis offers his brother one final chance to bend the knee before things get ugly, but Renly keeps preening like a high school quarterback who just knows he's going to get elected Prom King, and Stannis has had enough. He sends the Red Lady to perform some dark sorcery in an underground passage that I'm guessing leads to Renly's camp. She takes off all her clothes in the damp, grimy tunnel (like you do) and we learn that she is 1) very pregnant; 2) pregnant with some sort of weird shadow-monster that 3) climbs out of her vagina and into my nightmares with its black, unctuous fingers. Was this the "son" she promised Stannis in a previous episode shortly before their sexy rendezvous on the tactical map? And if so, did he know she was promising to give him demonic womb smoke and not an actual baby? Because it's going to be super awkward if he's already decorated the nursery.
The sex and violence tally:
Violence: Countless Lannister soldiers die at the hands of Robb Stark's men (and direwolf), the public beating of Sansa, the torture of Joffrey's prostitute, and numerous off-screen deaths by torture at Harrenhal.
Sex: Amazingly, the show had a canonical reason to show more boobs and actually shied away from it; in the book, Sansa was stripped to the waist during her beating, rather than just baring her shoulders. Granted, it's hard to imagine what a more explicit sexual humiliation of a child would have added to the show, but considering how gratuitous so much of the nudity is, it's a pleasant surprise. We still get two naked ladies, the ill-fated prostitute and the very pregnant Red Lady, for a total of four breasts.
Extra-credit book report:
Talissa, the healer from Volantis, is an all-new character for the show, and particularly fascinating because Oona Chaplin, the actress playing Talissa, was originally confirmed as Jeyne Westerling. If Talissa is taking the place of Jeyne, what will that mean for the spoileriffic events in "Storm of Swords" to come in Season 3? Also, Arya was named cupbearer to Roose Bolton in the novels, not Lord Tywin, and since next week's episode promises more Jaqen H'ghar, it'll be interesting to see how events unfold with Tywin at the helm in Harrenhal instead. Finally, while the Red Lady's "shadow" played a pivotal role in the Stannis/Renly conflict, the birthing scene with Davos is taken from a separate incident involving Storm's End.
[Updated at 11:30 a.m. April 23: This post originally suggested that Xaro Xhoan Daxos was the first black character on the show, omitting Salador Saan; the post has been corrected.]
— Laura Hudson
Photo: Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) begs for her life. Credit: HBO