Have I mentioned how much I really, really hate not having HBO at my apartment in Brooklyn? Having to wait 24 hours for the new episodes of Game of Thrones is pretty much the definition of a “First World Problem,” but it bothers me nonetheless. The fact that I can’t engage in water cooler conversations with my co-workers about the new episodes is a bummer (even if my office doesn’t have a water cooler or any similar style drink receptacle). Regardless, no matter how long I’m forced to wait to watch new episodes of Game of Thrones will be worth the delay if HBO continues to deliver episodes like last night’s and last week’s premiere, “The North Remembers“. Game of Thrones is poised to be one of the most expensive (without question) and complex (probably lining up right behind The Wire in terms of remembering who the fuck is who and why they’re doing what they’re doing) programs in television history just thanks to the source material alone. Yet, HBO continues to match the expectations of George R. R Martin’s rabid legion of loyal fans, and while I didn’t enjoy A Clash of Kings as much as A Game of Thrones (if for no other reason ****SPOILER ALERT***** I felt that the book lacked any “Ned Stark dies” moment), but this season is going to up the political drama and intrigue that lies at the heart of this franchise, and I can’t wait to see it all unfold.

The episode begins right where last week ended with Arya on the Kingsroad along with the rest of the new Night’s Watch recruits heading to the Wall. When a pair of Gold Cloaks arrive, Arya (who’s pretending to be a boy named Arry until she can reach Winterfell) immediately believes that they’ve been sent after her to kill her like her father. However, after the baby murder spree that capped off the season premiere, they are actually after Gendry (Arya’s new friend who also knows she’s a girl) because he is one of Robert’s bastards. While Yoren (the actual recruiter for the Night’s Watch) is able to scare them away, they were only two soldiers and they promised to return with more men. We flash to King’s Landing where Tyrion walks in on Varys having a conversation with Tyrion’s concubine Shae. Tywin (Tyrion’s father for those who have trouble keeping up with this show’s massive cast) ordered Tyrion to leave his “whore” (Tywin’s words) behind but Tyrion being Tyrion ignored him. In his own subtle Varys way, Varys makes it clear that he can reveal Shae’s existence whenever he pleases at which point Tyrion informs Varys that he’s no Ned Stark and that he knows how things work in King’s Landing and he won’t be pushed around. We’re about to find out exactly how serious Tyrion is about that statement. Not quite the moment I’m referring to but shortly thereafter, there’s a Small Council meeting where Cersei dramatically rips up Robb Stark’s terms for peace and Tyrion calls her out on being all sizzle and no steak. He’s pretty much the best.

Beyond the Wall, we join the Night’s Watch scouting party that is trying to ascertain the location of all of the missing Wildlings against the rumors of the ever-increasing army of the as yet unseen Mance Rayder. Poor innocent Sam is being taught in the ways of sex by his less mannered pals when one of Craster’s daughter/wives (we’ve entered the world of Hotshot from True Blood apparently) walks in the path of Ghost, Jon Snow’s direwolf. Sam shoos Ghost away and offers his condolences to the girl, Gilly. Since Gilly has been raped by her father/husband her whole life, this is obviously the nicest thing anyone has ever done for her. She tells Sam he’s very brave (and the audience lol’s unless they’ve read the books). Sam brings Gilly to Jon and tries to plot a way for them to help her escape but Jon has to give Sam “Life Beyond the Wall Reality Lesson 101” and say they can’t help her. We get a brief scene in the Red Waste where things are getting pretty terrible for Dany and her khalasar. They’re dying of thirst and starvation and things don’t get any better when a horse arrives with the severed head of her bloodrider Rakharo which Ser Jorah believes is meant as a warning from another Khal. Cue transition to (I need like a random battle swipe like they have in JRPGs for these moments since they happen constantly now) Pike, the home of Theon Greyjoy before he was taken as Ned Stark’s ward after Theon’s father Balon Greyjoy led an unsuccessful rebellion nine years earlier. Theon has been sent to negotiate with his father to help Robb Stark fight the Lannisters but before we get any of that, we learn that Theon is such a dick to women when he lays out his life story to a “Salt Wife” he is having very unromantic sex with.

There’s a scene at Littlefinger’s between Ros (the prostitute from Winterfell that is a TV series only addition that I don’t like because it seems like her only job is to be naked) and Littlefinger that certifies what a Grade-A douche Littlefinger is but we already knew that so we’ll move on. Back in the Hand’s chambers, Tyrion is having dinner with Janos Slynt (the Captain of the Gold Cloaks who betrayed Ned Stark to Cersei last season). After essentially bitch-slapping Slynt verbally, Tyrion informs him that he can’t have a man he can’t trust as Captain of the city guard and ships him off to the wall and names his bodyguard Bronn as the new Captain of the Gold Cloaks. Back at Pyke, Theon finally makes it back home but his expected fanfare is nowhere to be found. After having to pay a common peasant to fetch him a horse even though he’s the only living son of the Lord, a woman shows up and offers Theon a ride to the castle. Theon is a lech and feels this woman up on the ride there as she flirts with him slyly. Theon makes it to his father’s room and the father immediately lets Theon know that he hates what his son has become (which in Balon’s mind is a Northerner as opposed to a true Iron-Born [they live in a place called the Iron Islands]). After hearing Robb’s offer which is to allow Balon to be King of the Iron Islands if he assists Robb in overthrowing the Lannisters, Balon summarily dismisses the plans and insults Theon for being a glorified raven. In walks the girl that gave Theon the horse ride (who is in fact his sister Yara). So yeah, more incest on Game of Thrones. It won’t be the last time. Balon says that Theon isn’t worthy to lead Greyjoy ships and that his sister Yara will do so instead. We get another brief scene between Cersei and Tyrion where they have a verbal repartee after he fired Janos. He makes insinuations about her relationship with Jaime and she goes for the lowest of blows by blaming him for their mother’s death (she died giving birth to Tyrion).

Sweet R’hollor on a funeral pyre (going for in-universe epithets that I just made up instead of real cursing since people tend to get offended by my blasphemes) this recap is even longer than my last one. Anyways, we finally transition back to Dragonstone where we meet the first black person in the series. Salladhor Saan is a legendary Pentosi pirate that Davos Seaworth is trying to recruit to help Stannis Barratheon whose fleet is flimsy at best. After jesting that his price would be the right to bang Cersei after they sacked King’s Landing, Salladhor agrees to help Stannis thanks in part to the sheer faith that Davos has in his king (and we hear our first bit of why Davos is so loyal). Davos’ son is a true believer in Mellissandre and her religion but Davos just believes in his King. After a meeting where Davos informs Stannis of Salladhor’s new loyalties, Stannis and Mellisandre have a moment where Stannis confesses that he simply doesn’t have the men to defeat either his brother, Renly, or the Lannisters. Mellisandre offers him victory if he gives himself entirely to the Lord of Light which in this case means banging her on his strategy table so she can bear him a son. Yeah, Stannis, she’s a good person… The episode ends back North of the Wall where Jon sees Craster take a baby into the woods and abandon it. As he sees mysterious figures preying on the newborn, Craster walks behind him and cold clocks him. Cue credits.

I’m sorry readers that I devoted so much time to the plotting of each episode. However, having read the books, I know just how important even the most seemingly minor moments from this season will be, and despite devoting 1200 words to what happened alone, I’m realizing there are still things I left off like Jaqen H’gar (pictured above) and I’m sure something else will cross my mind later on. I generally try to give the most concise description of the plots humanly possible in these recaps but considering just how spread out and disparate all of these plots are, you can’t leave anything out because there is almost nothing in the way of filler anymore. The closest that we got to filler this episode was the gratuitous sex occurring at Littlefinger’s brothel but even that set up another chance for Aiden Gillan to wow us with his acting chops and to reassure everyone that Petyr Baelish is not a nice guy. This considerable complexity will be the show’s biggest strength (because likeThe Wire, this is a series that will truly be considered literary in its structure) but also it’s going to cause the series to bleed viewers who are going to have to give up navigating its labyrinthine plot. I love it, but for less hardcore fans, this is going to be the season where they will either learn to stick with Martin’s masterfully constructed world or abandon the show for something less demanding.

I think I’ll scare away readers forever if I let this carry on too long so I promise only one more paragraph (before the conclusion). Let’s give a round of applause to some of this season’s newcomers. I’m still on the fence about Stephen Dillane as Stannis who doesn’t seem to have the commanding presence or intimidation factor that I always sensed in the books, but Liam Cunningham is killing it as Davos. Davos is one of the new point of view characters in A Clash of Kings (along with Theon) and he quickly became a favorite of mine (unlike Theon who is going to go down a dark, dark path this seaosn). Cunningham bears a freakish resemblance to Jean Reno, but not even that can stop me from appreciating how well he’s selling the role of the bitter, old, and world-weary Davos. He’s got the potential to be the person to watch this season. Obviously, he can’t lay a finger on Peter Dinklage (who once again owned his scenes with Cersei and Janos Slynt) but it would get old if I sang his praises every single week. Still, actors like Lian Cunningham and Peter Dinklage (along with Conlyth Hill who plays Varys) can express so much hidden meaning and subtle ranges of intention that along with the show’s excellent script, this series return reminds me of what a ham-ridden and heavy-handed affair The Walking Dead was and may have re-ruined my ability to appreciate that show even after the good will the last two episodes of the season earned.

Alright, I’m done. I promise. The only people that should be forced to read 2000 words of anything I write are my professors and my editor at work (and I can’t imagine a single article I’d ever have to write for work that would be 2000 words long). I still find myself very excited about the direction the show is going. It’s already changed several things from the book (in the books Cersei ordered that Ned’s bastards be murdered rather than Joffrey ordering it), but other than the example, I’ve mentioned none have been especially major and it all works within the context of the series. I’m not going to be one of those fanboys who nit-picks the difference between the book and the show because I understand that each medium requires different things to succeed (unless they completely bastardize things ala the Walking Dead. then I might complain). This has the making to be another great season of TV, and there are still plenty of very, very important characters who are yet to be introduced. When Brienne shows up, I may have a fanboy attack of glee.

Final Score: A-