Game Of Thrones: "The Lannisters Send Their Regards."

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Weddings, right?

I mean, it's bad enough making proper seating arrangements and trying to hide those crossbows from prying eyes, but what the hell gets arterial spray out of fine linen? Does Heloise even have a hint for that?

Here's your good news/bad news introduction to "The Rains of Castamere," the penultimate episode of Season 3 of HBO's often unbearably cruel hit series, Game of Thrones. The good news (if you're a non-book reader and made it this far without some dickbag on the internet spoiling things for you)? You just saw what is arguably the most powerful installment of the series since Ned Stark got his extreme shave-and-a-haircut back in the first season.

And since I'm assuming most of you aren't big Joffrey fans, the bad news is: he and the rest of the Lannisters are really the only ones who come out sitting pretty. The number of sympathetic characters on the show has dropped by quite a few (give or take, but we'll get into that after the jump), and the political ramifications for Westeros will be just as significant as the personal stakes for the survivors.

Locations Highlighted in the Opening Titles (* =new): King's Landing, Dragonstone, The Twins, Winterfell, The Wall, Yunkai, plus a flyover of The Inn at the Crossing.

Ser(s) Not Appearing in This Episode: Stannis, Davos, Melisandre, the Brotherhood, Joffrey, Cersei, Tryion, Sansa, Tywin, Theon

A normal recap doesn't make a lot of sense in light of last night's episode, which was notable not only for obvious reasons, but for how much took place aside from the so-called Red Wedding. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) managed to seize Yunkai using only Ser Jorah (Iain Glen), Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), and Daario Naharis (Ed Skrein), who were able to take the city by, uh, going in the back door (think of it as the medieval equivalent of Matthew Broderick's hacking of WOPR in WarGames). Watching Ser Friendzone's reaction when he saw the relief on Dany's face that Daario was still alive was like that moment in The Simpsons when Bart paused the video to show Lisa the exact point where Ralph's heart ripped in half. Also Jon Snow (Kit Harington) finally broke loose of the wildling raiding party, killing Orell (who is now a pissed off eagle) but also leaving Ygritte (Rose Leslie) behind.

Meanwhile Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and company get probably the most screen time they'd had all season, as the second-youngest Stark demonstrates his "warg" abilities, possessing Hodor to quiet him and then his direwolf Summer, who -- together with Shaggydog (finally some fucking wolf action) -- give Jon the opportunity to escape to Castle Black. Bran then makes a hard choice, sending Rickon (Art Parkinson, who had more lines last night than in the previous three years) with Osha (Natalia Tena) and Shaggydog to see shelter with the Umbers, while he goes with Hodor, Jojen, and Meera to seek the three-eyed raven beyond the Wall.

Oh, and Sam the Dagger Dropper and Gilly head for the Nightfort, where Sam claims a secret portal will allow them to travel through the Wall. It must be true; he read it in a book.

In short, a lot of shit went down. Yet the last 20 minutes of last night's episode were enough to make you forget most of it. Hell, I had to watch it twice for reference while writing this.

Even leading up to It, show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss helped maintain the illusion that Robb (Richard Madden) might yet strike a fatal blow at the Lannisters by taking Casterly Rock. He even uncharacteristically asked mom Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) for advice and, in spite of the various potentially fatal hypotheticals, she agreed. Though from her comments it was as much vengeance for Ned, Bran, and Rickon (everyone still thinks Theon killed them, remember) talking as it was military strategy.

So if you haven't read the books and somehow managed to come into last night unspoilt, you might still have believed all Robb would have to do is eat some of Lord Walder Frey's (David Bradley) crow and endure him leering at wife Talisa (Oona Chaplin). So it turns out Edmure's (Tobias Menzies) new bride isn't too hard on the eyes after all. Let's just get through the reception and ... hey, why are they closing the doors?

Even knowing what was coming, that was rough. I will say this: I'm sorry I ever suspected Talisa of being a traitor. Her death stands as one of the most brutal of the series, and we barely have time to process it before Robb himself, sprouting crossbow bolts, is finished off by Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton). And though I haven't been a big fan of Michelle Fairley in the series, watching Catelyn's rapid transformation from calculating (seizing Lord Walder's young wife) to pleading for Robb's life to finally accepting the breadth of Frey and Bolton's treachery was impressive. And then, for good measure, Frey's son Black Walder (Tim Plester) cuts her throat as well.

So now Robb and a large portion of his army are dead. Using World War II analogies, the North has gone from "Soviet Union" to -- I don't know -- "Belgium" in terms of fighting effectiveness. With only a weakened Stannis to deal with, the Lannisters would appear to have won the war (man, Joffrey is going to be insufferable next week). The remaining Starks all face uncertain futures, as Bran and Rickon have split up, Sansa is still married to Tyrion but essentially a prisoner in King's Landing, and Arya (Maisie Williams), so close to reuniting with mom and big brother (though in retrospect, she's lucky they arrived late), now little more than a hindrance to the Hound (Rory McCann). It'll be interesting to see how their relationship plays out. And it's worth mentioning that Williams still gets some of the best dialogue in the series. Her (few) scenes with McCann were highlights of the episode.

Stuff That Will Piss Off Book Purists: The point of Robb and company eating the bread and salt when they arrived at the Twins (conferring protection upon guests, oops) wasn't made very explicit; there was actually a battle to take Yunkai, though Daenerys' losses were about the same as in the show; Catelyn actually kills Lord Walder's grandson, not that it made a difference in the book either.

Next Week: The North has something else to remember, but will it matter?

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