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.