The North Remembers – and so do we. Welcome back to Westeros, everybody. It’s been too long.
We begin this exposition-fest in King’s Landing, where King Joffrey is celebrating his birthday by watching people fight to the death. The Hound is victorious in his bout against Anonymous Armoured Man, and next up is someone called Ser Dontos the Red. Who is late, and drunk, and Joffrey punishes him by getting the Kingsguard to drown him in wine. Sansa, robot-like up until now, forgets herself by shouting, “You can’t!” – the one thing you don’t say to Joffrey (along with “You’re a product of icky, icky incest!”) – but saves herself by claiming it would be bad luck to have Dontos killed that day. The Hound backs her up: “What a man sows on his name-day, he reaps all year,” and Dontos is spared, to become the King’s new Fool.
And in waltzes Tyrion, to play the adoring uncle to Myrcella and Tommen, offer his condolences to Sansa (sincerely, it seems) and further annoy Joffrey by ignoring him. Elsewhere in the castle, Cersei is heading the Small Council meeting – Pycelle informs them that the long Summer has been officially declared over, and Littlefinger informs them they only have enough wheat stored for five years. If the coming winter lasts longer than that, then hunger will take hold. Cersei is unconcerned about this or the unrest in the city:
Shut the gates to the peasants, they belong in the field, not in our city.
but is definitely not expecting Tyrion to walk in, surprise everyone, and announce that Tywin has made him the Hand of the King. Cersei yells, the rest of the Small Council scatter, and the Lannister siblings have a heart-to-heart. Cersei at first assumes that Tyrion has somehow tricked Tywin: but he’s there because Cersei messed up:
It must be odd for you, to be the disappointing child.
She had three Starks, but she lost one (Arya) and allowed another to be executed (Ned), and with them lost the chance to exchange them for Jaime – it’s not at all certain that Robb would exchange Sansa for Jaime. This scene is perfection: Cersei’s badly-concealed desperation for Jaime, her distrust of Tyrion, and Tyrion’s revelling in finally being the one in charge while also managing to feel sympathy for his sister. He also seems to have the beginning of a plan involving Myrcella or Tommen:
You love your children. That is your one redeeming quality – along with your cheekbones.
If you’d been keeping a close eye on the credits you’ll have already noticed we’re visiting Dragonstone for the first time, an island off the eastern coast of Westeros that’s the particular stronghold of the non-beloved Baratheon brother, Stannis. He’s busy endearing himself to even more people by burning the Seven Gods on the beach at the behest of his pet priestess, Melisandre. Her god is the god of light, who chases away “the night, dark and full of terrors,” and Stannis is apparently his long-prophesied incarnation, because he pulls a burning sword from one of the statues.
Dragonstone’s Maester Cressen tries to stop the desecration of the gods, and urges Stannis’s liege lord Davos (a weirdly-accented Liam Cunningham) to speak out. Davos won’t speak against the priestess, but he does attempt to get Stannis to ally with either Renly or Robb against the Lannisters, but Stannis will have none of it.
Joffrey, Renly, Robb Stark: they’re all thieves. They’ll bend the knee or I’ll destroy them.
Neither of them is the rightful king, and neither is Joffrey, and Stannis is writing to every castle in Westeros to make sure everyone knows it. Maester Cressen slips something into his own wine, and despite Davos subtlely trying to stop him, tries to poison Melisandre by offering her a reconciliatory drink, but while the Maester bleeds from the nose and mouth and collapses to the floor, Melisandre is entirely unaffected. Say what you like about Melisandre, but so far she’s demonstrated she’s resistant to poison and gets to dress a lot better than the Silent Sisters.
In Winterfell, Bran is having to hold court and listen to minor lords complain about the state of their holdfasts. Bran is fastidious about them giving Robb his proper title, but Maester Luwin is the one who fixes the problems, and reminds Bran that
Listening to people you’d rather not listen to is one of your responsibilities.
Bran’s been dreaming as the wolf again, even though he denies it to Osha. Out in the godswood, they watch a red comet track across the sky – some say its colour is an omen of victory for the Lannister, others say its a memorial for Ned, Bran thinks it means victory for Robb. But Osha says it means just one thing: dragons.
Which brings us neatly to Daenarys, who has her three dragons, but is otherwise seriously in trouble. The dragons won’t eat whatever meat she offers them; her horse that was a present from Drogo is dying; and she and her remaining people are lost in a desert with little food or water. They can’t head south or they’ll be attacked by Mirri Maz Duur’s people, the Lhazarene; they can’t go west or they’ll be destroyed by other, larger khalasars; and Jorah doesn’t know what lies in the other directions. Dany sends three of her remaining bloodriders with the last three horses, northeast, east, and southeast to search for anything or anyone that might help: water, cities, or other people. Jorah may be her strength, but she trusts Rakharo particularly, and he promises he won’t fail her.
The comet is also visible north of the Wall, but Jon and Sam and the rest of Mormont’s expedition have more important things to worry about, like a broken sledge, and how to stay on the right side of Craster, the only wildling they’ve found. Craster lives with his daughter-wives (yeah, you heard right) in his own keep, and when bribed with enough wine and weapons, tells Mormont that the rest of the wildlings have assembled to follow Mance Rayder, a former Watchman who’s now known as the King Beyond the Wall. He hasn’t, however, seen Benjen Stark recently, but takes a dislike to Jon who is quick to return it, which gets him a reprimand from Mormont:
You want to lead one day? Well, learn how to follow.
Jon is also the only one of the new Watchmen quick enough to wonder: if Craster marries his daughters, who have more daughters – what happens to the sons?
Somewhere in the Riverlands, King Robb goes to visit his prime captive, Jaime, who’s bound hand and foot, tied to a stake, and imprisoned in a wooden cage. Jaime wonders why Robb hasn’t dropped him off somewhere along the way:
Have you grown fond of me, Stark, is that it?
Robb has his reasons: if he keeps Jaime close, he doesn’t have to worry about Tywin trying to get him back through his jailer. Jaime tries insulting his youth, but Robb shrugs that off too, as his now-giant direwolf prowls in:
You’ve been defeated by a boy, held captive by a boy… perhaps you’ll be killed by a boy.
Or a direwolf. All options are open, really. Robb has got Stannis’s letter and now knows why Jaime pushed Bran off the tower – Bran saw him and Cersei. Jaime admits nothing more than what he told Catelyn: he pushed Bran, but not why. Robb leaves him with the knowledge that he’s sending another captive Lannister – Jaime’s cousin – to King’s Landing with his peace terms, and the direwolf gives Jaime a parting show of teeth.
Robb knows Tywin won’t accept the terms, reasonable though they seem: the return of Sansa and Arya; the return of Ned’s remains and those of the men who died defending him; and the North as a free and independent kingdom. Theon suggests another strategy: he will take his father Balon’s ships to King’s Landing to assist Robb’s army in taking the city. As Balon’s only surviving son, Theon is sure he will agree. Catelyn is adamantly against having Balon as an ally, considering his rebellion against Robert was why Theon grew up at Winterfell, but Robb knows he is now the rebel, and he needs the ships. Catelyn wants to exchange Jaime for Sansa and Arya (not knowing that Arya’s not actually in King’s Landing) ; Robb refuses that too. The girls aren’t valuable enough by themselves (hello, patriarchy, two girls < one man), and his bannermen won’t respect him for it. Catelyn is thoroughly defeated now, and wants to go back to Winterfell, but Robb forbids her that too: he needs her to negotiate an alliance with Renly. If they have Renly on their side, they’ll outnumber the Lannisters, and she is the only one he trusts to do the job.
Back in King’s Landing, Tyrion is showing Shae around the Hand’s apartments – she is delighted to be in the city even though she says it smells of “dead bodies, and shit… cum, garlic, and rum.” Tyrion warns her to be careful, because he was forbidden by Tywin to bring her here, no one must know she’s here. A bit thick of you to bring her into your apartment then, eh, Tyrion?
Cersei has given some thought to Tyrion’s dressing-down and finds Littlefinger, and indirectly asks him to find out where Arya is. He suggests asking Varys, though he says he wouldn’t trust the answer – she tries threatening him with rumours about him and Catelyn when they were young, but he has threats of his own:
When girls and boys live in the same home, awkward situations can arise. Sometimes, I’ve heard, even brothers and sisters”¦
Prominent families often forget – knowledge is power.
Cersei, however, doesn’t see it that way, and gets her Lannister guards to play with him a little before dropping her own maxim: “Power is power.” She wants him to find Arya, so he must find Arya. In the throne room, Cersei finds that Joffrey is having some alterations made: vine leaves aren’t to his taste. He’s not concerned that they don’t have Arya; he thinks Robb will exchange Jaime for Sansa anyway:
They’re weak, they put too much value on their women.
(Giant patriarchy bell goes dingdingding!) And he’s not inclined to ask Tywin for men to search for Arya; he’s the king, he shouldn’t have to ask anyone. Joffrey has also heard Stannis’s rumour about Jaime and Cersei, which has put him in a bad mood, and he starts to enquire about Robert’s other children:
How many women did he fuck when he grew tired of you?
That is too much for Cersei, and she slaps him. Not your best move, Cersei. He could have her executed for that, and warns her never again, which is an odd parallel to the Viserys-Dany scene from last season, except this time I’m wholly on the side of the one doing the slapping. Cersei has thoroughly lost control of Joffrey, and as he is her reason for being in power, this could be very dangerous for her. The contrast between this scene and that earlier between Catelyn and Robb is (ahem) stark, too : Robb disagrees with his mother time and again, but he still respects and trusts her, and she him.
In Littlefinger’s brothel, Ros is showing a new girl around and instructing her in an another very obvious parallel of her first meeting with Littlefinger. Clearly Ros has worked her way up the ladder, so to speak, as delineated by the amount of clothes she’s wearing. But the atmosphere is soon interrupted by the city guards, led by Janos Slynt, who drag out another employee and her baby – and kill the baby (who we know as Robert’s baby) despite Ros’s protests. Elsewhere in the city, other children are meeting similar fates – except Gendry, who is going north with Arya. For now, they’re safe, but Gendry’s master was tortured to reveal his whereabouts; it can’t be long before whoever sent the city guard to kill all of Robert’s bastard children will be sent after Gendry, too. No prizes for guessing who that was, eh?
So we’re left with a fragmented war which is only going to get more complex: Stannis refuses to ally with anyone; Robb wants to ally with both Renly and Balon Greyjoy; the Lannisters are concentrating on finding Arya; Joffrey is focused on interior decorating; and Cersei is in an increasingly threatened position. How is Tyrion planning to keep Shae secret and get the Lannisters out of their precarious political position? Any favourite moments, questions, concerns, predictions?
A word about spoilers: anything from the first season of the TV series is fair game and doesn’t need a spoiler warning; same with the first book. For references to all other books, please use the handy spoiler tags with the * removed: [*spoiler*] here be spoilers [*/spoiler*].