While on watch duty, a pair of Lannister soldiers chat about the most dangerous men in the Seven Kingdoms. One has the utmost confidence that their commander, Ser Gregor Clegane, the horse-slaughtering Mountain that Rides, is the be-all-end-all of knightly death dealing. The other poses Jaime Lannister and Loras Tyrell as possible contenders when a noise in the darkness cuts off their discussion. Robb’s direwolf Grey Wind tears them to shreds after some flatulent humor.
In the aftermath of the battle that followed, the victorious King in the North roams the carnage accompanied by Roose Bolton, a powerful northern lord who’s fond of flaying the flesh of his prisoners. What, you though everyone loyal to the Starks was a saint? A wounded soldier’s leg needs to go. Robb helps a pretty but harsh girl with the amputation. She thinks his war is brutal and pointless, and he falls for her instantly.
Speaking of young love, Joffrey aims a crossbow at Sansa in a crowded throne room. He’s none too pleased with the way Robb is besting the Lannisters on the battlefield, and figures he might as well take out his frustration on the nearest Stark at hand. Joffrey has one of his Kingsguard beat and strip Sansa in front of everyone, because he’s awful. Luckily Tyrion shows up before things get even less civilized, and chastises the young King for the less than chivalrous treatment of his fiance. Manderly, the guard who delivered the beating, warns Tyrion against threatening his Grace. Tyrion responds that he’s educating, not threatening. Then he tells Bronn to kill Manderly the next time he speaks. “That was a threat. See the difference?” The Imp completely owns this season. He and Bronn walk off, and wonder if perhaps getting laid would make Joffrey less of an evil shit.
They test the theory with a late name day gift for the King: A couple of whores. But surprise, surprise, Joffrey is a sadist. Didn’t see that one coming. He has Ros beat the other whore and probably do a lot worse offscreen. Charming. The worst part is that he flat out says it’s just to send Tyrion a message (not that Joffrey doesn’t really enjoy watching the infliction of pain).
Lord Baelish arrives in the Stormlands and makes a bid to Renly to save his own skin in the seemingly inevitable assault on King’s Landing. If it’s in Littlefinger’s best interest, who knows? Maybe the gates would be wide open when they arrive.
Outside Petyr talks to Margaery Tyrell about her unconventional marriage. She doesn’t back down; her king is her king, regardless of his sexual orientation.
One of Dany’s bloodriders returns with good news: The city of Qarth is willing to receive her. Mormont doesn’t know much about the place, except that they’ll die for sure if they make the trip and aren’t let in.
Arya and the rest of the surviving prisoners arrive at their destination, the ruined and supposedly cursed Harrenhal that Tyrion promised Littlefinger under false pretenses last episode. The once great fortress, long ago melted by dragonfire (yeah) is now the base of operations for Ser Gregor Clegane’s contingent of Lannister forces. The prisoners are being tortured. Arya tries to sleep, reciting the names of all the people she wants dead.
Littlefinger sees Catelyn for the first time since Ned’s death and his own betrayal. She isn’t too pleased, but he still makes an honest go at getting her in bed. Shut down immediately, he switches gears and discusses trading Jaime for Sansa and Arya, the latter of whom he of course couldn’t possibly deliver. Cat knows there’s no way to trade the Kingslayer for two little girls, but Petyr encourages her to follows her motherly instincts. As a sign of good faith, some silent sisters bring in Ned’s remains. Catelyn kicks Baelish out and opens the box to see what’s left of her husband. Heartbreaking.
Arya wakes up in Harrenhal for the day’s torture ritual. Every morning Gregor Clegane (recast, unfortunately. The first guy was perfect. This one…too soon to tell. He’s certainly tall, but he could stand to be a bit more massive) chooses a prisoner. Hot Pie makes eye contact, having noticed that while everyone shies away from the Mountain, the one other man who stares him down hasn’t been selected yet…until today, that is. The point being: No one is safe. The unlucky fellow is taken before a man we’ll come to know as the Tickler. Some soldiers put a rat in a bucket and press the lid to his bare chest. As the Tickler asks questions (is there gold in the village? Where is the Brotherhood?) another man puts a flame to the bucket. The man screams as the rat tries to escape. Anyone else feel like they need a shower?
It’s a Baratheon reunion! Stannis, Melisandre, and Davos meet with Renly and his forces. The brothers bicker and posture until Catelyn butts in to point out how she’d treat them if they were her sons. She’s somewhat underestimating the seriousness of the situation. At his most amiable, Stannis offers very fair peace terms provided the immediate concession of the younger Baratheon. Renly calls the bluff. His army is bigger and no one wants Stannis for king; Renly doesn’t have to buckle to anyone. Stannis rides off, promising a night’s reprieve before he takes what is rightfully his. Melisandre warns of the dark, terrible night.
Dany arrives at the gates of Qarth, where the Thirteen, the city’s ruling council, have come to meet her. Their representative corrects Dany on her pronunciation (Karth, not Quarth) and asks to see the dragons. Dany refuses (not in the budget). They’re almost left out to die when one of the Thirteen steps in: Xharo Xhoan Daxos. He puts his life on the line so that the last of this struggling Khalasar is let into the city.
At Harrenhal, Gendry is selected for torture. He doesn’t know the answers to the questions (who is this brotherhood, anyway?) but it’s not really about that. He’s saved by the arrival of the Warden of the West himself, Tywin Lannister, making his first appearance this season. Tywin chides his men for murdering the prisoners and instantly realizes Arya is a girl. He makes her his cup bearer and walks away like he owns the world. Not hard to see where Tyrion gets it from.
Lancel Lannister (Robert’s meek squire from last season) knocks on Tyrion’s door to demand Pycelle’s release. Tyrion has more pressing concerns, namely that Lancel has obviously been sleeping with Cersei. Tyrion won’t tell anyone, provided Lancel informs him of everything he can about the Queen’s activities.
Stannis is in need of Davos’s skills as a smuggler for a clandestine mission. The ever loyal Onion Knight agrees, despite his reservations.
The cargo turns out to be Melisandre. She asks if Davos is a good man, and he says he considers himself a mixed bag. In one of my favorite lines from the book, Melisandre says that a partially-rotten onion is all bad. Perhaps the most succinct argument for dealing in absolutes that there’s ever been. The Red Priestess considers herself righteous, naturally. They arrive onshore, and the two make their way through a cave, presumably towards Renly’s camp. A gate blocks their way. Not a problem, though. Melisandre drops her cloak to reveal her naked and very pregnant body. She lies back, spreads her legs, and starts to scream. Davos is terrified, and with good cause, as Melisandre gives birth to some kind of shadow creature in the most blatantly fantastic act of sorcery we’ve seen on the series so far. That’s right, magic is real. And it’s coming back in a big way.