Ned Stark can't catch a break.
Executed last season, with his head stuck on a pike outside the Red Keep, the former Lord of Winterfell continues to get his name dragged through the mud. First there's Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), insisting to Sansa that dear old dad enjoyed killing just as much as he does, and then Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), making a rare season-two appearance to needle Catelyn about Jon Snow. Come on, people, hasn't Sean Bean suffered enough?
Ned's honor is offered in stark (heh) contrast to the actions of Theon and Jaime, who each demonstrate in their own way how far they are willing to go to achieve their ends.
Theon (Alfie Allen), the new lord of Winterfell, is displeased at Bran and Rickon's disappearance, and takes it out on Black Lorren (the bald guy who gave him grief two episodes ago). He sets out with hound and hunters (and Maester Luwin) to track them down. His nonchalant "it's just a game" comment seems at odds with what could be unpleasant consequences for him should he fail to recover the boys, but that attitude will reverse itself as the trail turns cold.
Jon has improbably survived a night of subfreezing exposure and has his hands full with Ygritte (Rose Leslie), and not in a good way. She taunts him about his vows of chastity and tries to tempt him to the wildling way while he clumsily defends himself against charges of repressed homosexuality. It brings to mind Janeane Garofalo's line from Reality Bites: "Oh, would you two just do it already and get it over with?" He blows his chance, however, and she leads him into a wildling trap. She's right, he should have had his fun while he had the chance.
At Harrenhal, Lord Tywin has questions. Gregor Clegane (Ian Whyte) thinks the infiltrator is from a rebel group known as the Brotherhood Without Banners. Tywin (Charles Dance) sets him to burning the villages and farmlands of the riverlands. So, in essence, Arya's haste in naming Amory Lorch to Jaqen has doomed thousands to death.
I kid. Sort of.
Whether Tywin is honestly concerned about Arya (Maisie Williams) getting enough to eat or he just wants a food taster in the wake of a perceived assassination attempt is unclear. He seems garrulous enough, talking to Arya about his hopes for his legacy (and giving us a history of Harren the Black's folly), using Aegon Targaryen as his example. Arya expresses admiration for Aegon's warrior sister, Visenya, and when Tywin remarks he reminds her of Cersei, I'm surprised she didn't go for his throat right there.
But he's right. Cersei and Arya -- and Danaerys -- are all female characters struggling to get over in a man's man's man's Westeros. I just don't know that I'd be so blasé about turning my back on my obviously scheming Northern cupbearer.
Tywin suspects something, to be sure. He knows she's highborn, but obviously doesn't realize who she is. I know it can't last, but for me the interplay between Charles Dance and Maisie Williams remains a high point of this season.
Sansa tries to thank Sandor "The Hound" Clegane for saving her from the King's Landing lacrosse team, but he's having none of it. He even tries to besmirch dear departed dad Ned by implying he enjoyed killing as much as he does.
The eldest Stark daughter has problems of her own, as she's just had her first period. It's somewhat less humorous than Judy Blume described. Sansa is terrified at the prospect of bearing Joffrey's children and Shae (Sibel Kekilli) tries to silence the other handmaiden in attendance, but the Hound -- for some reason -- shows up in Sansa's bedroom and sees everything.
Cersei attempts to have "The Talk" with Sansa, but it goes somewhat less magically than expected. It seems King Robert preferred to go hunting when she was about to give birth. Pfft, I wish. She counsels Sansa to love no one but her children. Later, in a rare moment of weakness, Cersei admits to Tyrion that she doesn't know what to do with Joffrey. It's fleeting, and the look on her face when she realizes she's let her guard down to her brother is great, but allows her some humanity.
Speaking of dragons (just go with it), Xaro (Nonso Anozie) reasserts his noninvolvement in their theft. Dany (Emilia Clarke) doesn't want to hear much about it, or his repeated bitching about his hard-knock life. Jorah returns to hear Dany's laments. She commands him to find her dragons, and he goes to Qaithe (Laura Pradelska), who informs him the thief is close to Danaerys after asking if he'll betray her again. Oh snap.
So big surprise, for all his talk of honor, Xaro was working with Dean Pelt...er, Pyat Pee (Ian Hanmore) all along. The warlock makes short work of the Thirteen and extends Dany an offer to visit the House of the Undying, where her dragons are currently residing. I guess you could say she can't refuse.
Alton gives Robb Cersei's response and is sent to Jaime's pen for "safe" keeping. Kills Torrhen, son of Rickard Karstark (John Stahl). Talisa wants Robb to get supplies from the Crag (they're surrendering), and is a bit surprised when he invites her along.
Jaime makes a rare second-season appearance, but it's a memorable one. In his way, he's the most intriguing character on the show. Punished for doing the right thing (killing the Mad King) and obviously chafing at the name "Kingslayer," he nonetheless doesn't balk at killing Alton to engineer his own (temporary) escape. I guess "Kinslayer" isn't a problem? The "best" part is how he lures the young man in by coaxing his squire story out and complementing it with his own tale of squiring for Barristan Selmy.
Jaime is recaptured, and Rickard wants to behead him (Jaime killed Torrhen during his escape attempt) and Robb's at the Crag. What's Catelyn up to?
Good question. Jaime, charming to the last, taunts Catelyn about Ned's infidelity (and Brienne about her looks, but that's to be expected). While the Karstarks and Robb's guards argue outside Jaime's cage, Catelyn commands Brienne to "give me your sword."
And finally Theon. Bran and Rickon's (and Hodor's and Osha's) trail leads them to a farm, but the trail goes cold after that. With night falling and his precious reputation at stake, Theon does what any person with borderline personality disorder and a severe inferiority complex would do: He presents the bodies of the farmer's young sons (or so I assume, they dropped enough hints) to the good folks at Winterfell to show the price of disobedience.
Hey, "It's better to be cruel than weak." Surely there's no way this will backfire.
Notably Absent This Week: Stannis and Melisandre (second week in a row), Jaqen H'ghar
Next week: Danaerys has a choice to make, and is Arya about to use Jaqen's last name on her new friend?
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