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'Game of Thrones' recap: Heads will roll

May 7, 2012 |  6:21 am

Click here for the 'Game of Thrones' cheat sheet.
For a character who has been dead nearly an entire season, Ned Stark casts an awfully long shadow. This week we get a closer look at the effect his life and death have had on Theon and Jon, two young men who were raised as Starks but never quite got admitted to the official clubhouse.

Theon doesn't seem to fit in anywhere now, especially now that he's been reunited with his true family in the Iron Islands only to be mocked and distrusted as an outsider because of his upbringing at Winterfell. At this point, he's so desperate for acceptance (especially from his father) that he's willing to do just about anything to prove that he's a true Iron Islander. And boy does he do something: He invades Winterfell and takes the castle for himself.

Ser Rodrik, the Winterfell master-at-arms, spits on Theon in a righteous fury when he learns of the deception, which according to Iron Islands custom means that Theon needs to kill Rodrik if he ever hopes to have the respect of his men. Theon hearing the word "respect" is a lot like a dog hearing a can opener, so although he is obviously reluctant to do the deed, he ultimately gives in and carries out the beheading personally -- mimicking Ned Stark even as he betrays him.

CHEAT SHEET: All you need to know about 'Game of Thrones'

And that's the saddest part, because you can tell that Theon doesn't actually want to be vicious or cruel; he wants the respect and love of his family, and he thinks this is the only way to win it. But as hard as he tries to act the part, all his men see is the same thing we do: an insecure little boy trying desperately to impress the bad kids in school by smoking cigarettes and cutting class. Or, you know, profoundly betraying the only family he's ever really known to curry favor with a band of murderous sociopaths who will never truly accept him. It's pretty sad, really. 

Even Ser Rodrik agrees, using his last moment to give Theon a look of pity: "God help you, Theon Greyjoy. Now you are truly lost." Lost, and about to lose even more as Osha manages to sneak Bran, Rickon, Hodor and their direwolves out of Winterfell in the middle of the night, robbing Theon of his most valuable hostages (and Hodor. Sorry, Hodor).

An alternate universe version of the same scene plays out north of the Wall with Jon Snow, another pseudo-Stark son who has sworn allegiance to a power outside Winterfell. He and the other rangers ambush a small camp of wildlings, and discover that one of them is a pretty redheaded girl named Ygritte. With no resources to take a hostage, the other rangers say she has to die, and it falls to Jon to do the deed. He raises his blade and tries to do what his men have asked -- but unlike Theon, he can't, and for exactly the same reason: He is still his father's son. Ygritte runs, and although Jon ultimately catches her, the chase separates him from his men.

Arya continues to play cupbearer to Lord Tywin, and every scene between these two is an absolute treat. They spend an awful lot of time talking about fathers and sons, and when Arya says that her father is dead, Tywin asks what killed him. "Loyalty," she replies. She's been paying attention.

Oh, and then Littlefinger shows up for a confab with Tywin and 1,000% recognizes Arya, but says nothing. He's always playing his own game, of course, so I wonder what he's going to do with that valuable little piece of information?

And one of Tywin's soldiers catches Arya stealing a message about Robb's troop movements, but before he can rat her out, he quickly becomes the second name on her Jaqen H'ghar hit list. She's used up two-thirds of her assassinations on useless peons, so here's hoping she makes up for it with the last one.

Princess Myrcella sails off to Dorne as per Tyrion's betrothal plans, and as the Lannister clan heads back to the castle, they pass through a crowd of hungry, discontented townsfolk and the mood is tense. Someone (who I'm guessing is unhappy with Joffrey's policies of starvation and torture) lobs a clump of dung at the young king's face, and he responds with his usual grace and discretion by ordering his soldiers to "kill them, kill them all!" Not the best thing to yell when you are vastly outnumbered -- and it sparks a full-on riot that sends the Lannisters scurrying for the castle.

After they are safely ensconced within, Tyrion unleashes a devastating and richly deserved verbal beating on Joffrey that culminates in an even more fantastic slap across the face, a moment that might as well come with a bow on it. Truly, it's the kind of moment that makes you glad to have a DVR.

Still unaccounted for in the riot is Sansa, who gets cornered in an alley by three men who try to rape her, until the Hound appears and kills them all with great alacrity. I have a lot of problems with this scene, mostly because I'm still not sure why I just had to watch three men try to gang rape a teenage girl. The scene would work just as well if the Hound rescued Sansa without some contrived threat of sexual assault, which is exactly how it happened in the books.

But someone decided this would be better with a rape scene, because rape is a easy button to push if you want to get an emotional reaction, which is why it gets exploited all the time in fictional narratives to raise the stakes or motivate the hero. And it's super gross, because it turns sexual violence (and rape victims) into cheap props for lazy writers looking for an easy way to poke the audience in the eye with a stick. Mission accomplished, I guess!

Back in Qarth, Daenerys makes the rounds among the wealthy traders, trying to persuade someone to give her the ships she needs to journey back to Westeros, but they are sadly unmoved by her stirringly mythical origin story and still consider her a bad investment. When she and Xaro Xhoan Duck Sauce return to his sumptuous villa, however, they find all of the servants slaughtered and her dragons stolen! Possibly by someone in a tall, cylindrical stone tower! Dun dun dun!

The sex-and-violence tally

Sex: Osha strips nude and offers herself to Theon.

Violence: The beheading of Ser Rodrik, the deaths of several wildlings at the hands of the rangers, the attempted rape of Sansa, the dismemberment of the High Septon by the mob, numerous other riot-related killings, Amory Lorch's blow-dart death, Osha's stabbing of a soldier, and the murder of Xaro's servants. Phew!

Extra-credit book report:

Although Ser Rodrick was eventually killed by ironmen, it didn't happen during Theon's invasion of Winterfell; this execution was based on the death of Benfred Tallheart, who spat on Theon at the Stony Shore, and died by ritualistic drowning, not beheading. When Osha offers her pledge of service to Theon, he accepts -- but they are the services of a warrior and not a prostitute, and she never sleeps with him. Jon doesn't chase after Ygritte when he realizes he can't kill her, but willingly lets her leave, and then returns to his men. Arya chose Weese, her abusive supervisor, as her second hit-list victim, not Amory Lorch; Lorch died in an unrelated incident when he was fed to a bear. The biggest plot departure, however, seems to be the theft of the dragons, which were never stolen from Daenerys in the book.


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-- Laura Hudson

Photo: Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) Credit: HBO