Clashing Kings: The Ghost of Harrenhal

Given the insanity of last week’s cliffhanger and the hugely optimistic goings-on in the first moments of this episode, no surprise things are about to go horribly wrong. And it’s all so promising, too. Renly and Catelyn reach an agreement to unite his and Robb’s forces into an army that would end the war and depose the Lannisters for good. No such luck though, as the Stannis’s shadowy offspring slithers into the tent and skewers Renly. The would-be king collapses, dead, and guards run in. They assume it was Brienne, the most imposing figure in the room and therefore the only non-magical explanation. Enraged, she kills the men in a frightening display of strength. She and Catelyn flee together.

The next morning Littlefinger looks upon the Baratheon fleet (gorgeously rendered) and plots his next move, as Loras and Margaery discuss the same. They’re  not going over to Stannis’s side like the rest of Renly’s bannermen, that much is certain. Littlefinger talks to Margaery about what she wants now that Renly’s out of the picture. Is she still looking to be a queen? No, she answers. She wants to be the Queen. Petyr smiles. This, he presumably thinks, is someone I understand.

Word has spread about Renly’s demise has spread to King’s Landing; Cersei and Tyrion figure out what to do now that Stannis outnumbers the Lannisters on land and sea. Cersei is none too forthcoming about plans for the city’s defenses. No problem for the Imp, though, now that he has Lancel feeding him information. The meek, horny idiot reveals that Cersei has the city pyromancers making wildfire, the Westerosi equivalent of napalm, only more flammable.

Davos wants to know what the hell was up with that whole “Melisandre giving birth to a shadow assassin” thing, but Stannis isn’t in a very conversational mood. Not to say he’s upset; on the contrary he’s happier than ever before with most of his brother’s forces now under his command. Davos urges him not to bring Melisandre when they attempt to take King’s Landing. The rumors are bad enough already, and if she’s there when Stannis wins the Iron Throne the people will view it as her victory. Perhaps in an attempt to appear more free from her influence than he actually is, Stannis agrees: They’ll sail for King’s Landing without the Red Priestess.

Tyrion and Bronn walk the streets of King’s Landing and see a man ranting to a crowd about Joffrey’s status as a horrible inbred little bastard. Tyrion finds no fault with his claims until Bronn points out that the “demon monkey” controlling the new, mad king refers to Tyrion. Now that’s just sad; he’s the only one in charge who gives half a damn about the good of the people.

Theon meets his crew. They don’t respect him, and he passes up on the opportunity to murder the guy being the most insubordinate. That may cost him. Yara shows up to mock him as well. The first mate seems to tolerate him though, and they have a chat where Theon realizes that if he took a certain Northern stronghold, Winterfell would likely send their forces out en masse to defend it. Hmm.

Tywin meets with the Lannister military high command, refreshments courtesy of one Arya Stark. He sends an unhelpful cousin back home to Lannisport, and emphasizes that Robb is a force to be reckoned with. They have to beat him, not wait for him to fail. He asks where Arya is from. Nowhere near the North, she lies, and Tywin catches her. A less bold lie then, she claims to hail from closer to her actual home. Tywin wants everyone to hear what the northerners say about Robb. Arya obliges: He rides a direwolf to battle and turns into one himself. He’s brave and strong and he can’t be killed. Does she believe that, the Warden of the West asks her? No, she says icily. Anyone can be killed. In regards to Robb that’s the answer Tywin was looking for. He clearly doesn’t like what it implies about his own mortality, though (namely, its existence).

Later, Jaqen H’ghar, now with a fancy golden cloak, catches Arya’s attention. She’s none too pleased that he’s fighting for the enemy. Ah, but she’s serving them drinks, is she not? Fair point. He has quite an offer for her: She saved him and those other two prisoners from burning to death. As such, she caused an imbalance. The Red God is owed three deaths, and Jaqen will help her pay her debt. She clarifies that he’s saying what she thinks he is, and oh yes he is. Anyone three people Arya can name, Jaqen will kill. She goes with the Tickler, the delightful fellow in charge of torturing the prisoners. That’ll do, he tells her.

The Night’s Watch forces (on location in the stunningly beautiful Iceland) arrive at the Fist of the First Men, an ancient outpost thousands of years old, to meet up with Qhorin Halfhand, ranger extraordinaire. What were these First Men like, some wonder? Scared, thinks Jon. Running from something (like ice zombies).

Tyrion and Bronn meet the lead pyromancer to confirm that indeed, this order of pseudo-magicians has been hard at work. They’ve got thousands of bottles of the dangerously unstable incendiary, in fact. Tyrion thinks that’s far too dangerous a weapon in Cersei’s hands, so from now on he’ll accept the burden in her stead.

Dany’s dragon cooks meat with its fire breath. It’s super cute. The last Targaryen and her closest allies attend a lavish Qartheen party. The Dothraki impulse to take anything that’s not bolted down almost leads to a few party fouls. Good old Xharo is chatting up Dany, only to be interrupted by a warlock. Yep. This guy looks way more dead than the White Walkers, it’s hilarious. He offers Dany a place at the House of the Undying, if she’s interested, and projects himself across the room with his magicks. Or maybe he has a twin. Oh, and then Jorah talks to a ridiculously bizarre woman, her face entirely encased in gold. Think Viserys, but alive and for fashion’s sake.

Catelyn and Brienne make their way through the forest, trying to wrap their heads around what exactly murdered Renly. Brienne thinks the shadow looked like Stannis, and vows revenge. It’s not that hard to see she was hopelessly in love with Renly. In the meantime, though, she swears fealty to Catelyn. It’s the most genuinely honorable display since Jon took his vows last season.

Bran’s doing an admirable job as the tiny, crippled lord of Winterfell, when men come in with news of an attack on the same place Theon was discussing with his first mate. Bran sends Rodrick Cassell and most of the available soldiers to defend it.

Outside, Bran tells Osha of his dreams. He saw the sea coming to Winterfell, drowning everyone. What could that possibly mean, do you think?

Qhorin Halfhand spots a fire in the distance, and proposes that, with former Night’s Watchman Mance Rayder teaching the wildlings how to war more civilly, perhaps it’s time for them to adopt a few wildling tactics and stage a small raid to see what they can learn. Jon wants in, and Mormont lets him go.

Xharo proposes marriage to Dany, and no one tears up. Sure, they may not be in love, but with his vast wealth she can take the Seven Kingdoms right now. Jorah thinks she should make her own way, but he actually is in love with Dany, so how unbiased can his advice possibly be? Although I’ll grant he’s got a point. They just met this guy after all; who knows what he’s after? Jorah says they just need one ship, and Dany sends him to get one if he’s so sure that’s the way to go.

A sexy and shirtless Gendry does some smith work. Like seriously, damn. Arya…well she’s not quite ogling him. Anyway, that’s interrupted by the Tickler’s death. It appears he took a nasty fall. Arya looks up and sees Jaqen calmly staring back at her from the parapet. One down, two to go.

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