Well, after a week that seemed like it was never going to end, I was finally able to make my weekly journey back into the world of Game of Thrones when it’s fourth episode aired tonight on HBO. While, this week’s and last week’s episode failed to capture the manic sense of dread and paranoia from the second episode, it still managed to deliver better produced, directed, and written TV than anything that I’ve watched in a good long while. However, by my knowledge of what happens in the book combined with my confirmations from the preview for next week, I can guarantee that the show is about to kick it all into high gear and up the ante in incredible ways.

This week picks up shortly after the close of last week’s episode and it finds the characters settling into the new routines of their lives after various journeys and introductions were made in previous episodes. Jon has asserted himself as the de facto leader of his group of boys at the Night’s Watch and steps into his role as the defender of a boy named Sam Tarly, who is a self-admitted coward and forced upon the Night’s Watch by an unloving father. Ned Stark and his daughters are settling into their lives in King’s Landing with Ned as the King’s Hand, Sansa still mourning the murder of her wolf Lady at the behest of her betrothed, Prince Joffrey, and Arya, in the middle of what can only be called intense training by her new sword master. We also get peeks at Vaes Dothrak, the Dothraki capital, where Daenarys finally stands up to her brother Viserys. And, with the ultimate cliff-hanger of an ending, Catelyn Stark takes Tyrion Lannister hostage because she (falsely) believes that Tyrion was the one that tried to murder Bran.

When I was reading the book, the friendship that formed between Sam and Jon was one of my favorite aspects of the entire novel, and the show didn’t a magnificent job adapting it for the small screen. Jon might be a bastard, but he is every bit his father’s son and is as honorable and brave as any of the Stark children. I was disappointed that you only saw Arya in one scene this episode, but looking at next week’s preview, we finally get to see one of her defining moments. Watching Daenarys actually attack her brother was incredibly rewarding. Viserys is easily the least likeable person on a cast that includes Joffrey Baratheon so that’s saying something. Aiden Gillen was cast perfectly as Littlefinger, and every second that he’s on screen he steals the scene. I’m beginning to think of him on Game of Thrones as Littlefinger and not Tommy Carcetti (The Wire) and that’s a testament to Gillen’s acting abilities.

I’m about a third of the way through the second book (the books are long…) and this show is exceptional at putting my vision of Westeros on screen. It’s faithful in the kind of way that makes you wonder why so many directors butcher an author’s work. This episode might have been a bit slower and full of a little less intrigue and “wham” moments, but it was still a great episode of TV and it remained faithful to Martin’s work without being enslaved to it. All of the scenes that I recognize as being different from the show are still remarkably well written and true to the overall tone of Martin’s piece.

Episode Score: A-