Oh, Robb Stark. You're just not so good at this King thing, are you? A good strategist on the field of battle? That's the rumor, though we've seen no sign of it for quite some time, but the whole leadership / motivation / keeping people in line thing? Nope, not so much. It's a Stark heavy episode of Game Of Thrones
this time out and while bastard child Jon Snow rather enjoys himself and Arya gets grumpy, Sansa demonstrates once again that George RR Martin doesn't think particularly highly of teenage girls - this one in particular proving incredibly stupid AGAIN - while Robb proves to be lousy at everything other than righteous indignation while learning that righteous indignation doesn't get you very far at all.
Remember the Lannister kids Robb's forces have in custody? You know ... the unarmed squires still in their young teens? Lord Karstark certainly does. And so he takes four of his men, overwhelms the guards and kills both boys in their cell.
It's an act of treason, surely, and one that puts Robb in a very tight spot. First, his control over his men is clearly slipping and if he does nothing about it it will slip further. However, Lord Karstark is a very powerful ally, supplying roughly half of Robb's forces. And is what he did here really any worse or more treasonous than Robb's mother releasing Jaime Lannister - far and away the greatest strategic asset Robb has ever had - a crime for which the penalty has been a whole lot of nothing but scoldings and dirty looks?
If we're being honest, Robb's failure to properly punish his mother is a major factor in Lord Karstark's disregard for Robb's orders. As long as Catelyn is roaming around after having undercut her son so badly Robb looks weak and indecisive. He has
been weak and indecisive, really, and now he's about to make it so much worse by over reacting.
Karstark's assistants here? Put to death, no question. That's the right move? But Karstark himself? Robb's advisers are unanimous. He cannot be killed. Doing that will result in his forces leaving en masse. His mother sees it. His wife sees it. His uncle sees it. Even the dim witted guy who brought the Lannister kids back in the first place sees it. Karstark should be held in captivity - a hostage to ensure the loyalty of his people. So what does Robb do? He enacts some short sighted version of his father's justice and beheads Karstark personally in public. And then all of the Karstark men leave, one blow from Robb's blade cutting his army in half. Oops.
So, what to do now? Going home admits defeat. He doesn't have the forces to attack King's Landing. Tywin Lannister understands perfectly well that time is no ally to the Stark forces and refuses to meet them in the open field. Which leaves Robb with the option of attacking Casterly Rock, the Lannister's traditional home. But to do that he needs more men and the only person who can provide them is the father of the girl he was supposed to marry but didn't. Once again: Whoops.
And then there's Sansa. Stupid, stupid Sansa. Littlefinger is ready to leave King's Landing and ready to smuggle her out. And, sure, his motivations are bound to be dodgy but he's offering up a way out of the city where she has been held captive and out of the power of the family who killed her father. It's the second opportunity Sansa has had to leave King's Landing and - once again - she refuses. Why? Because Loras Tyrell is so dreamy
. Good lord, Sansa, you're an idiot. Just a plain old idiot.
Jon Snow? He gets laid - virgin no more after Ygritte leads him to a hot spring cave and has her way with him. His mock-loyalty to the Wildlings is becoming significantly more complex. Also, Tormund Giantsbane has an epic beard.
And then there's Arya, who has by far the most interesting bit of the present Starks this week (Bran is entirely absent). Remember, if you will, that when we last saw Arya she was with the Brotherhood Without Banners who have captured the Hound and sentenced him to a trial by combat. Well, that's on. And if anyone had any doubts that Thoros served the same god as Melisandre they can put that away as a prayer and some blood sets Berric's blade blazing and the battle is on.
Also remember, if you will, that the Hound has a dramatic phobia of fire. But remember also that he is very, very large and - whoops! - suddenly Berric is very nearly cut in half. As the winner the Hound is freed. As the loser, Berric is prayed over by Thoros who somehow puts him back together and brings him back from a sure death. Magic? It's the Lord Of Light who does it, says Thoros, and this is the sixth time Berric has been brought back each time - in his words - a little bit less.
It's hard to say what Arya is more distressed about: The freeing of the Hound or the fact that Gendry plans to join the Brotherhood. Regardless, she's on her way back to Robb, the Brotherhood planning to sell her back to her brother to bring in some much needed gold.
A couple of smaller bits are scattered throughout. Tyrion's encounter with Lady Olenna is a quality bit of entertainment as is the budding rivalry between Jorah and Barristan as suddenly there are two men in Daenerys' service. As for Daenerys she appoints a general for her new forces and encourages them to rename themselves but they like the names they've got already, thanks. And then there are the two big Lannister bits.
First, there's Jaime, who here completes his transformation from the evil bastard who threw a kid out of a tower window after fucking his own sister in the very first episode of the season into a completely sympathetic character who you can't help but root for on some level now. Jamie is a completely broken man now but, perhaps because of that, he's also becoming far more honest about what made him such a bastard in the first place and his hidden nobility is rising to the surface. Having had the rot carved from the stump where his hand was removed, Jaime stumbles into a bath with Brienne and spills out years worth of hurt and pain from being branded the Kingslayer, universally reviled and distrusted on all sides as a man completely without honor. But the truth? The truth is that he did what he did to save the lives of thousands of innocent people. He has been hated his entire adult life for doing something noble.
Is this going to prove to be any sort of big plot moment for Jaime Lannister? I doubt it, though it clearly cements his relationship with Brienne. But it will certainly be the defining moment in one of the most interesting character arcs in recent years and it is so well performed by Nikolaj Coster Waldau that he may have just put himself into Emmy consideration. This one scene is really that good.
And then there's Cersei who - in what she believes is a clever move to regain some of her own position - enlists Littlefinger to spy on the Tyrell family and find out what they're up to. Simple enough: Gay man in Loras' bed and, hey presto! Now Cersei knows that the Tyrells plan to marry Loras off to Sansa - you remember her, the stupid one who keeps failing to leave when she has the chance - and establish a claim to the North. Aha! This'll put Cersei back in daddy's good graces, right?
And so off she goes and sits there with a smug look on her face as Tyrion is called in and informed that he'll be marrying Sansa - and staking the Lannister claim on the North - instead. Ha ha, sister wins! Well sort of. But then not at all as Tywin continues his list of instructions by informing Cersei that she's going to marry Loras whether she likes it or not, and she's expected to breed with him to ensure a Lannister stake in the Tyrell fortunes as well. Whoopsie.
Last week's episode, directed by Alex Graves, was the best of the season to that point and now Graves is back with another that is every bit as strong. Let's keep this guy around, shall we?
[Twitch has been tracking Game Of Thrones from Season One, Episode
One from the perspective of someone who has not and will not read the
books at all until the series has come to an end so that it can all be
experienced for the first time on the big screen. Discussion of the
current episode and what has come before is welcome and encouraged but
PLEASE avoid spoiling anything that lies ahead in the novels so that
those of us who haven't read can experience everything fresh.