Next week on "Game of Thrones" is the big blowout episode everyone's been drooling for since before the season began. It's the one written by the books' author, George R.R. Martin, directed by "Descent" auteur Neil Marshall and featuring Stannis Baratheon's all-out assault on King's Landing. Based on the 30-second preview, it looks to be an epic hour of TV.
This week ... Did we mention next week is "Blackwater"?
Not every episode of "Game of Thrones" can be filled with thrilling plot turns, and this week's episode, "Prince of Winterfell," was one of those place-holders. As the season speeds toward its conclusion, we did another spin through the multiple story lines, giving everyone a scene or two to establish their places before the final dash across the finish line. And although it's good to give certain plot points time to breathe, there also seemed to be a lot of marking time.
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That's not to say the episode was totally without merit. There were several nice moments and key bits of setup, such as Brienne's and Jaime's canoe trip toward King's Landing and the discovery of the cache of dragonglass at the First of the First Men. But there were also several moments that were easy to see coming -- Robb Stark and Talisa finally hooking up, Stannis and Davos sailing along toward King's Landing and the revelation that Bran and Rickon weren't actually killed and strung up on the walls of Winterfell. (Did anyone really believe they'd been killed?)
Peter Dinklage continues to own every scene he appears in -- one moment putting on a brave poker face for his sister Cersei to conceal the identity of his lover, Shae, (Cersei mistakes the wrong prostitute for Tyrion's lover) and the next minute collapsing into a puddle of emotional goo for Shae herself. A few scenes later, he's strategizing with Varys on the walls of King's Landing without missing a beat.
Daenerys gets only a brief scene in the episode, in which he resolves to visit the House of the Undying to get her dragons back (as if there was any doubt after last week that she would). And Jon Snow is delivered into the hands of the wildlings (which we knew last week). Still, unsurprising as these scenes may be, they seem necessary to establish attitudes and points of view before the action in the two weeks to come.
Theon, meanwhile, earns the title of the episode, but comes across as increasingly clueless and in over his head in regard to his control of Winterfell. Even his own sister arrives to attempt to get him out of his sticky situation, but poor, clueless Theon insists on holding on to his prize. No matter what the cost. This whole campaign won't end well for him, surely.
Arya and her pals finally escape from Harrenhal, with the assistance of the extremely lethal Jaqen H'ghar. Arya's cunning and ruthlessness continue to grow week after week, and it's no surprise that Tywin Lannister took a shine to her during their time together. Unfortunately, Tywin rides off before Arya gets to fully express her feelings about him (probably in the form of a knife), but you can be sure she won't forget her debts. Though many have railed against the second season's increasing deviations from the source material, they did provide many moments of unexpected pleasure, such as the scenes between Tywin and Arya shooting the bull about ancient Westerosi history. It wasn't in Martin's novels, but it should have been.
Though "Prince of Winterfell" wasn't an exceptional episode, it was a necessary one. There's something like seven different story lines happening at the same time as we near the end of the season. Without all the talky-talky this week, the hacky-slashy-stabby of next week wouldn't carry nearly as much impact.
Now we just have to mark time ourselves, waiting for Stannis and Davos to pull up at the Mud Gate.
The sex-and-violence tally
Talisa and Robb finally admit their feelings for one another and are extremely naked not two minutes later. Meanwhile, the only blood spilled comes from some unfortunate crows and two guards at Harrenhal, dispatched off-screen by Jaqen H'ghar.
Extra-credit book report
Tyrion spent a great deal of time in "A Clash of Kings" preparing for Stannis' assault. Though you only got glimpses of the planning, all those pieces came together beautifully during the actual assault. In the TV show, Stannis is practically at the gates and Tyrion still doesn't seem to have any clue about how to repel him. Which means whatever Tyrion does to stop the fleet in "Blackwater" probably won't be nearly as complicated in the set-up as what occurred in the book.
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-- Patrick Kevin Day
Photo: Varys (Conleth Hill) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) prepare for the assault on King's Landing in "Game of Thrones." Credit: HBO