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'Game of Thrones' recap: The son also rises

April 9, 2012 |  6:42 am

  "Game of Thrones"
I'm increasingly convinced that Littlefinger, Varys and Tyrion are the true triumvirate of power in Westeros, quietly pulling the strings behind the scenes while all the men in crowns are busy hitting each other with mallets by proxy. From their vantage point, watching Cersei and Joffrey rule the Seven Kingdoms must be like watching particularly stupid children kick down sandcastles. Last week, Littlefinger advised the Queen Regent that "knowledge is power," which she countered by threatening to kill him for no reason. There's Cersei Lannister in a nutshell: arrogant, inflexible and far too pleased with the use of power for its own sake. Does anyone really wonder where Joffrey gets it from?

In yet another genius stroke of domestic policy, the City Watch has been marching up and down the streets of King's Landing on Joffrey's orders and murdering King Robert's bastard babies in broad daylight. After all, why achieve your goals through subtle means when a wildly unpopular display of brutal force is also possible?

As an exercise in contrast, Varys and Tyrion conduct a master class in veiled threats after the eunuch pays a visit to Tyrion's prostitute Shae, trading quips and barbs in an ostensibly jovial conversation where nearly every word they say is an obvious lie or misdirection. Before leaving, Tyrion pauses by the door to inform Varys that a new challenger has appeared, and he is no Ned Stark: "I understand the way this game is played."

INTERACTIVE: Who's who in 'Game of Thrones' Season 2

Thank god one Lannister does. Tyrion responds to Babymurdergate by sitting down to dinner with Janos Slynt, the Cersei-appointed City Watch commander who carried out the orders, and informing him of his exciting new career in the Night's Watch, which begins immediately and lasts forever. As the guards drag him away, Slynt declares that they shall hear what Joffrey has to say about this. "No, we shan't," replies Tyrion, and puts him on a ship to Castle Black in the dead of night. And that's how you do it, folks.

In other baby-killing news, Jon Snow and the rest of the Night's Watch are still tediously fumbling around with the incest wildlings north of the wall, where Jon finally learns the terrible truth about what happens when Craster's daughter-wives have male children: He abandons the infants in the snow as some sort of sacrifice to a shadowy figure in the woods. Could this be one of the White Walkers, another wildling, or a different force entirely? Craster brains Jon before he can find out.

Arya is still disguised as a boy, and making her way north from King's Landing with yet more Night's Watch recruits, but when two gold cloaks ride up with an royal order to take one of them into custody, she thinks the jig is up. It is, but not her jig, exactly; turns out that they're actually after Gendry, who unbeknownst to both of them is another of King Robert's bastards, and that her secret is still safe, so of course she immediately reveals her true identity to Gendry after the soldiers are sent packing. These Stark children can't seem to help taking after their father, which doesn't bode well for their longevity.

INTERACTIVE: Who's who in 'Game of Thrones' Season 2

Daenerys continues to languish in the sands of the Red Waste as she waits for her three bloodriders to return from their scouting journeys, and finally a horse comes trotting out of the desert -- with no rider. Or rather, without most of him; they find Rakharo's head stuffed into a saddlebag, most likely by one of the other khals, leaving her threadbare prospects even dimmer than before.

Theon heads for the Iron Islands to broker a deal between Robb and his father, Balon Greyjoy, and somehow manages to be even more smug and self-important than usual. His comeuppance is satisfyingly swift, as he predicts huge, fawning crowds to welcome him home but finds not a single person waiting on the docks; makes passes at a girl who turns out to be his sister, Yara; and gets dressed down by his father for being weak, worthless and vain. In fairness, this is a reasonable assessment. Balon not only considers Yara a worthier warrior and heir than his firstborn son, he throws Robb's treaty offer into the fire and decides to take back his crown by paying the "iron price" and claiming it from the bodies of his defeated foes -- and he doesn't mean the Lannisters.

The brothers Baratheon continue to fight amongst themselves, and despite Stannis' massive numerical disadvantage, his fire priestess Melisandre insists that it's all good because "these armies are toys to the Lord of Light" (hereafter referred to as LoL). She says that she has seen the path to victory in the flames, and the first step is for Stannis to sex her up on top of the enormous strategic map in the war room. This doesn't make a ton of sense, but then she promises him a son (or is it sun?) and suddenly it's on and she's knocking wood carvings of enemy forces symbolically to the floor in the throes of passion. While everyone else seems preoccupied with killing children, she seems far more interested in making them, which is a very different sort of power entirely.

The sex and violence tally:
 
Bare breasts: Seven, most of which come courtesy of Littlefinger's brothel (including one side-breast), plus two from Theon's sadly tractable captain's daughter.
 
Fatalities: The death count was astonishingly low this episode, with only one fatality - Rakharo - and an off-screen death at that.

Extra credit book report:

The two significant departures from the novels also come in the form of sex and death. Daenerys' bloodrider Rakharo (who is a conflation of two characters, Rakharo and Jhogo) never died in the Red Waste, nor did her silver horse from the previous episode. The sex scene between Stannis and Melisandre is the biggest revelation of the episode, however, taking an element of their relationship that had only been theorized - and fervently denied by many fans - and making it explicit reality, with the added curiosity of a promised "son." What say you: interesting plot twist or just another gratuitous sex scene? Let us know in the comments.

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-- Laura Hudson

Photo: Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and Stannis (Stephen Dillane). Credit: HBO.

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