The big reveal at the end of Sunday night's episode of "Game of Thrones" is that the Stark children, Bran and Rickon, are not only alive, but hiding right beneath Theon Greyjoy's nose in Winterfell. So much for Greyjoy's relentless hunt.
Theon should have to duel Joffrey for the title of "World's Second Most Incompetent Leader."
Anyway, the news that the Stark children are alive was the biggest piece of plot development that happened in "The Prince of Winterfell," the eighth episode of Season 2. Other than that (and Jaime Lannister's escape, which I'll get into below) it served better as a set-up to the show's climax in the next weeks, rather than a stand-alone episode.
Still, the plot advanced incrementally, setting up Season 2's penultimate episode, which will be the looming battle between Stannis Baratheon and the Lannisters at King's Landing. (Note to the writers: Can Stannis please capture and torture Joffrey? Or at least can you make Tyrion slap Joffrey again? Thanks. Sincerely, Everyone.) The ninth episode is where the HBO show spent most of its budget for the season and hopefully will live up to the drama of Season 1's penultimate episode (you know, when scumbag Joffrey ordered Ned Stark's head chopped off. And, yes, I'm still mad about that).
The episode covered a lot of geographic ground -- from south to north to really, really north and, finally, to the east for Dany's prerequisite two minutes of screen time. Here's a rundown of what happened at each location.
Winterfell: The insufferable Theon Greyjoy (who holds Winterfell captive) is paid a visit by his smarter, tougher, more capable older sister Yara, whose name is Asha in the books. (Why the show's writers chose to change it is beyond me.) Within minutes of arriving Yara/Asha mocks her brother with a series of insults stemming from his supposed slaughter of the Stark children ("Which one gave you the greater fight? The cripple or the 6 year old?" / "You are weak and you're stupid." / "Every man in the north wants to see you hanged"). But then she shows a more tender side, imploring her brother to leave, saying "Don't die so far from the sea." The episode ends with the revelation that Theon has not actually killed the Starks, but slaughtered two completely innocent farmer's boys instead in an act of deception. (This is perhaps even worse and more cowardly than killing the Starks, but I'm glad the boys are alive. As a viewer, you have to root for the Starks.)
North of The Wall: Ygritte presents her captive Jon Snow to wildling officer, Lord of Bones, nicknamed "Rattleshirt" (who wears a giant's skull as a helmet, which one must admit is pretty badass). It turns out the wildings have also captured legendary Night's Watch ranger Qhorin Halfhand, who was taken while searching for Jon. "He runs, I'll chop his balls off," Rattleshirt says of Jon. As the wildlings march their captives through the mountains, Qhorin devises a plan to have the wildlings accept Jon Snow as one of their own, and begins to quarrel with Jon, shoving him down an embankment. Meanwhile, Samwell and the other men of the Night's Watch hit upon a useful find in the snow at The Fist of the First Men. Samwell finds, wrapped in a Night's Watch cloak, dragonglass and a horn, both of which one suspects were buried there for an important reason. (When watching "Game of Thrones," one must assume that anything that has to do with dragons is going to matter later on.)
Robb Stark's camp: Robb is finally getting some more screen time. (He gets very little upclose character development in the books.) Robb learns that his mother, Catelyn Stark, has let the captive Jaime Lannister go free and sent Brianne to escort him to King's Landing in a trade for Sansa and Arya. (She is hoping Arya is at King's Landing, when we know she's not.) This treasonous act would mean a quick beheading for anyone else, but since Catelyn is the king's mom, she just has to stay in her tent. "Jaime Lannister has played you for a fool," Robb says, before sending 80 men after The Kingslayer. Later in the episode, Robb falls for Lady Talisa, as expected, and prevents "The Prince of Winterfell" from becoming the second "Game of Thrones" episode in a row not to have a sex scene. (In the books, Robb falls for Jeyne Westerling -- which, again, is a detail I'm not sure why the writers changed. Anyway, the key plot development point is that he's not going to marry a Frey girl, which is perhaps a tactical error, since the Freys have provided him with a good amount of his army's strength.)
Harrenhal: Lord Tywin Lannister rides off, apparently to meet Robb Stark in battle, and leaves the certifiable psycho The Mountain Who Rides in charge of the old, dragon-ravaged castle. Unfortunately for Arya, Tywin leaves the city before she can find Jaqen H'ghar to order the elder Lannister's death. Since she can't kill Tywin, Arya decides to leverage her final promised killing from H'ghar, outmaneuvering him into killing multiple guards so she and Gendry can escape. (My girl's wicked smaht. An aside: In the books, Arya plays a much larger role in her own escape, tossing boiling hot soup on many of the guards and later cutting a guard's throat.)
King's Landing: While he prepares for Stannis' impending attack on the city, Tyrion has appointed the sellsword Bronn to head the City Watch, and he's already had all the known thieves in town killed. Tyrion seems to have some plan that involves the wildfire we saw being created by the pyromancers earlier this season, but that will apparently be revealed next week. Cersei doesn't want her precious Joffrey fighting on the front lines, so she tells Tyrion she's captured his whore and will torture her more if Joff is harmed. The problem is, she captured the wrong whore: Ros, not Shae. "I will hurt you for this," Tyrion tells her. Meanwhile, foolish Joffrey is boasting that he will kill his uncle Stannis, himself. "They say Stannis never smiles. I'll give him a red smile, from ear to ear," the boy king says. "Imagine Stannis' terror," Tyrion deadpans.
Stannis Baratheon's ship: Just days away from attacking King's Landing, a bitter Stannis recounts the story of how Davos Seaworth saved him and his men at Storm's End during Robert's Rebellion against the Targaryens, which ousted The Mad King, Aerys II, and crowned the elder Baratheon king. Davos did this by smuggling in onions, potatoes and salted beef to prevent starvation. In telling the story, Stannis shows he's still salty that Robert gave Storm's End to Renly instead of himself. (Note to Stannis: Both Robert and Renly are dead. Holding a grudge at this point is kind of, um, pointless.) Anyway, Stannis names Davos his future hand once he becomes king.
Qarth: Not much of an update here: Daenerys Targaryen is still looking for her dragons. (I was hoping the writers would feature the creepy House of The Undying on this episode, but I guess they are saving that for the season finale.) "They are my children and they are the only children I will ever have," Dany says. This is a sad but true sentiment. We saw what happened the last time Dany tried to give birth. The dragons are the closest thing she may ever have to offspring. They are also her greatest power, and the only true chance she has to toss that worthless punk Joffrey off the Iron Throne.
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