"Game of Thrones" was recently picked up for a third season, which means that the events of "Storm of Swords" will indeed make their way to the small screen, possibly over multiple seasons. If you've enjoyed the shocking twists and turns of the show but haven't read the books, allow me this spoiler-free teaser of George R. R. Martin's third novel: You ain't seen nothing yet.
Back in the episode I'm actually recapping, Jon Snow returns from the woods with the horrifying truth about why Craster doesn't seem to have any male children: He sacrifices the infants to a mysterious creature in the woods, possibly a White Walker. Even worse, Lord Commander Mormont totally knows all about it and turns a blind eye, because Craster's strategic advantage to the Night's Watch is too important to let a little thing like infanticide get in the way. Not an easy thing for a son of Ned Stark to swallow, but one that will probably serve him well.
The goldcloaks that came hunting for Gendry last episode return as promised, except this time they've got significantly more men (and swords). Yoren tells them yet again where they can stick their orders from the queen, but the sudden onslaught of professional soldiers goes poorly for the ragtag group of failed criminals and children, claiming the lives of Yoren and several randos. The queen's men demand to know which one of them is Gendry, so Arya points at a corpse, and they believe her. Problem solved, I guess? The remaining stragglers, including Arya, are taken as prisoners to Harrenhal castle, which we are told is haaaaunted.
CHEAT SHEET: Who's who in 'Game of Thrones' Season 2
Catelyn goes to treat with Renly, who now has around 100,000 soldiers at his command, and arrives just in time to see the vaunted Ser Loras suffer a rare defeat at a tournament. The helm of the mysterious victor is removed to reveal … a very large woman named Brienne. The crowd reacts to the sight of an able female warrior in roughly the same way they would a circus freak, but Renly seems pleased and grants her request to become his personal bodyguard.
Later, in the royal bedroom, Renly's secret lover Loras reminds the king that the king's actual bride -- Loras' sister, Margaery -- remains untouched two weeks after their wedding, and people are starting to talk. Renly finally attempts to perform his marital duties, but when she arrives in his room and disrobes, he looks at her like an ill-prepared student thinking really, really hard about a math problem and pulls away, blaming the wine. Margaery is no fool, and offers to call her brother in to "get him started" without missing a beat. Gay or no, Renly needs to knock her up as soon as possible for political reasons, and if that means a three-way with her brother, then so be it.
Theon's homecoming remains icy, as his father still regards him with disgust and openly favors his sister Yara, giving her command of 30 longships for their upcoming invasion plans while Theon gets one piddling boat to attack a bunch of fishing villages. The nasty twist is that they're not sailing after the Lannisters, but rather heading back to the North to lay siege to the holds protected by Winterfell while Robb's soldiers are at war in the south. Theon has a conflicted moment where he writes Robb a letter of warning, but ultimately burns it, choosing the rejection, disdain and incessant ocean metaphors of his blood relatives over the closest thing he has to a brother.
The MVP of this episode, like most episodes, remains Tyrion Lannister, who continues to remove his adversaries from the chess board of the royal court with ninja-like political acumen. This time around, he plants three very different plots in the ears of Littlefinger, Varys and Grand Maester Pycelle, and waits to sees which one makes its way back to Cersei. The ruse reveals Pycelle as the weakest link, which lands him in a Black Cell, and also irks Littlefinger, who only enjoys elaborate manipulations when he's pulling the strings.
Varys, however, seems oddly proud of Tyrion's deft maneuvering, and poses a riddle toward the end of their conversation that encapsulates the overarching theme of "Game of Thrones" quite neatly: A king, a priest and a rich man encounter a sellsword (read: mercenary), and each of them commands him to kill the other two. Who lives and who dies? "Power resides where men believe it resides," says Varys. "It's a trick, a shadow on the wall."
Is Stannis more powerful because he possesses the best legal claim to the throne, or does Renly's popularity and superior forces render that moot? Does real power derive from birthright, the favor of the gods, the love of the common people, or simply the edges of swords? The answer to that question -- or rather, the one that most people choose to believe -- will likely mean the difference between life and death as factions splinter and more conflicted "sellswords" like Theon Greyjoy are asked to pick sides.
Who do you think possesses the real power in the Seven Kingdoms? Let us know in the comments.
The sex and violence tally:
Bare breasts: Renly and Loras provided a rare double dose of bare male chests (and some suggestive pawing at the drawstrings of pants), followed by four from the ladies: a full-frontal look at Margaery Tyrell during her doomed seduction, and a brief glimpse at Grand Maester Pycelle's bed-warmer.
Fatalities: Yoren and Lommy die at the hands of Ser Amory Lorch and his men during their attack on the Night's Watch recruits, along with several other unnamed men on both sides.
Extra credit book report:
Theon's sister was originally called "Asha" in the novels, but she's known as Yara on the show, likely because of how similar it sounds to Osha, Bran's wildling friend. The love affair between Renly and Sir Loras was never explicitly acknowledged in the books, but it's never been more explicit (or kinky) than in this episode, when Margaery suggests that Renly imagine her as her brother when they have sex, or even invite him to join in.
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'Game of Thrones' Season 2 premiere hits series high
-- Laura Hudson
Photo: Peter Dinklage is Tyrion Lannister in "Game of Thrones." Credit: HBO