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'Game of Thrones' recap: The tent is dark and full of terrors

April 30, 2012 |  7:20 am

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The night before the Baratheon battle royale, which Stannis seems certain to lose, Renly and Catelyn discuss the future of the Seven Kingdoms, a conversation that goes quite well once Catelyn says the magic words: "My son has no interest in the Iron Throne." Renly cheerfully declares that they should all be great friends, and Robb can even keep calling himself "King in the North" so long as he bends the knee, much as Ned Stark did for Renly's brother Robert years ago. After Stannis is defeated, they can join forces and crush the Lannisters, and lo, there will be much high-fiving.

For a brief moment as Renly speaks, you can almost start to believe the lie that so many of the characters surely tell themselves in order to keep going: that somehow, everything going to turn out all right. But as the show is intent on teaching us over and over, it probably won't.

"Together, we could end this war in a fortnight," Renly says. Seconds later, he is dead.

CHEAT SHEET: Who's who in 'Game of Thrones' Season 2

The Red Lady's shadow sweeps into the tent, materializes in an oily human shape that looks like Stannis, and stabs Renly brother through the heart. It happens almost too fast to understand, the way life-changing accidents often do, and just as quickly the shadow disappears. Brienne catches Renly's falling corpse, and the knights who flood the tent immediately assume that she's the assassin and attack her. After cutting them to ribbons, she reluctantly agrees to flee with Catelyn, realizing that "the shadow did it" is going to sound like a pretty terrible murder defense, and also that it will be rather difficult to avenge Renly's death if she hangs for it.

The political landscape looks very different by the time the sun rises, and rather than crushing Stannis' approaching fleet, Renly's men prepare to join it and serve the last Baratheon brother. Ser Loras is inconsolable over the death of his lover, rightly blaming Stannis and swearing revenge. Margaery and Littlefinger have the same conversation with him that Catelyn has with Brienne, ultimately convincing him to leave so that he can live to stab Stannis in the face another day. We also get our first glimpse of Margaery as something more than Renly's dutiful beard, when Littlefinger asks her if she still wants to be a queen: "No. I want to be the queen." They exchange the look of two people who understand each other perfectly.

Back in the sunlight-dappled rooms of Kings Landing, Tyrion tries to put the fear of god into Cersei about Stannis, whose combined forces are now superior on both land and sea, and she blithely replies that they can simply outspend him. Money is a simple metric, in many ways; you always know exactly how much you have, and whether you have more than someone else. This is the only kind of power that Cersei understands, and the only way how she understands power, as something as simple and absolute as the bottom line on a ledger.

Here's another sad truth about Cersei: Despite probably being the most powerful woman in the world right now, she still feels desperately powerless, paranoid, and insecure. Yes, being born a woman means that she spent her life being treated kind of like chattel, but as much as she might want to blame institutional sexism (or Tyrion), there's an even better reason why she can't make it as a player in the game: She's really bad at it. She isn't crafty, like Margaery or Arya, or strong like Brienne or Yara. She's more like a cruel, petty version of Sansa -- well-bred, banal, and simmering with impotent rage. It's hard to decide which one of them that comparison insults the most.

Anyway, Cersei gives Tyrion a sick, secret smile when he presses about military planning, and says not to worry about Stannis because "the king is taking personal charge of siege preparations." Those are scary words indeed, and Tyrion soon learns that their secret weapon is wildfire, a very powerful and combustible substance that can melt steel and stone, which will be flung at the enemy via catapults. With over 7,000 pots of incredibly dangerous and volatile chemicals already stockpiled at King's Landing, what could possibly go wrong?

Everyone else takes baby steps: Theon takes command of his first ship, Jon joins Qhorin Halfhand as a ranger, Davos convinces Stannis to leave Melisandre behind when he attacks King's Landing, Xaro offers Daenerys ships if she marries him, and Bran dreams that the sea will come to Winterfell and drown them.

Back at Harrenhal, Arya runs into Jaqen H'ghar, who is now dressed in Lannister armor and quite possibly the dreamiest murderer ever. He tells Arya that by saving his life and the lives of the two other prisoners, she "stole" three deaths from his Red God (yes, the same one Melisandre worships) and now he wants to repay Arya in a rather unusual way: by killing three people of her choosing to even out the balance. Under normal circumstances, asking a child to mark three people for death would be pretty horrifying, but given that Arya is surrounded by monsters and has already made a detailed list of people she wants to kill, it's more like the best Groupon ever.

Which three characters would you want to take out if you were offered the service of Jaqen H'ghar? Or to be more specific, which two characters and Joffrey? Add your hit list to the comments.

The sex and violence tally:

Violence: Renly's death by shadow magic, two of Renly's men killed by Brienne in self-defense, and the death of the Tickler, who falls off the walls with the help of the enigmatic Jaqen H'ghar.

Sex: I can't believe I'm saying this, but ... none?

Extra-credit book report:

The first name Arya gave Jaqen in the novel was Chiswyck, a Lannister soldier who bragged about gang-raping a girl and aided the Tickler in his tortures, but not the Tickler himself. Bran didn't dream about the sea coming to Winterfell, but rather Jojen Reed, a friend with similar extra-sensory gifts. While Xaro did propose marriage to Daenerys, ships were never part of that offer, and he did not want her to retake the Iron Throne. Also, the novels tell us that the fashion in Qarth is for women to leave one breast exposed, but at Xaro's party, all of the breasts remain covered, which is frankly amazing.

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— Laura Hudson

Photo: Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) Credit: HBO

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