Now that’s the Game of Thrones I don’t just simply enjoy. That’s the Game of Thrones that I unabashedly love (and by proxy, think there’s a possibility I’m a terrible person for thinking it’s so brilliant). After two weeks (where by no means was the show playing it safe or holding back since one episode ended with a mass murder of babies) of re-integrating ourselves to this environment and a lot of exposition about the series many new players (which still continued even in this episode), Game of Thrones reminded you that it’s not afraid to start killing people off (even children) at any moment. Not only did the show pull out its patented pitch-black darkness, it also had Tyrion pulling one of his biggest Batman gambits yet and outsmarting virtually everyone in King’s Landing. Peter Dinklage proved why he’s going to win every Emmy until the show is over that he’s eligible for (although I still think Aaron Paul was as good as him in Season 4 of Breaking Bad). Things are moving very quickly in Westeros because this is only a ten episode season even though A Clash of Kings was about 150 pages longer (in the US paperback) than A Game of Thrones. It should be interesting to see how much storyline was cut since tonight’s episode also provided the series first instance of a practically completely aborted storyline from the novel.

The episode begins not long after last week ended with Jon Snow being knocked out in the forest by Craster when Jon’s nosiness led him to Craster’s “disposal” method of dealing with any baby boys (namely feeding them to White Walkers). Jon gets thrown bloodied and beaten into Commander Mormont’s presence (who reiterates to Jon that the Wall needs men like Craster who has saved many members of the Night’s Watch) and Craster orders that the Night’s Watch be gone by dawn. The next day Sam says goodbye to his friend Gilly (one of Craster’s daughter/wives) and gives her his mother’s thimble as a going away present (awww. this will obviously end well). Back in Winterfell, Bran tells Maester Luwin about his dreams of seeing through the eyes of his direwolf, Summer, and the tales that Nan (his milk-mother/nanny) would tell him of people who possessed that sort of magical power. Maester Luwin proceeds to inform Bran that all of the magic is gone from the world including the dragons (yeah. they’re totes gone) and giants (you probably just magically resurrected them yourself Luwin). We haven’t introduced any new characters yet and this season is full to the brim of them so time to change gears to Renly’s camp where Catelyn Stark has arrived to negotiate with Renly over peace terms with Robb so they can defeat the Lannisters. Renly has the most men out of all of the armies (but with none of the battle experience of the others) and they waste their times having tournaments. Catelyn arrives during one such tournament where Renly’s lover/bodyguard Loras has his ass handed to him by a woman in a knight’s armor, Brienne of Tarth who joins Renly’s Kingsguard as her prize. She’s not a very attractive woman (butch is an understatement), and she is mockingly referred to as Brienne the Beauty. Renly is seated next to his wife, Margaery Tyrell (who is much older in this show than the books), who is Ser Loras’s brother. Renly seems open to Catelyn’s negotiations even though she (in true Cat fashion) insults him in front of his men.

In case you didn’t realize it last week, Theon has officially stepped up as a prime time player this season (and we’re likely to see more of him in person than Robb Stark) and we returned to Pyke where we get a look at the complicated web that is sexuality in the Greyjoy household as well as Balon Greyjoy’s plan to finally enact revenge against the Starks for killing his sons all those years ago. While Robb and his army are engaged with the Lannisters in the south, Balon plans to take the entire fleet of the Iron Island to invade the North and to capture every last hold (because of how poorly defended they will be). Obviously, Theon’s life just became a bit more complicated as he has to choose between his biological father/sister who he barely knows and who look upon him with disgust and his adopted brother of Robb whose father basically held him as a hostage his whole life (though he truly loves Robb). After thinking it over, he decides to side with his real family even though he’s got a very insignificant role in the invasion with just one ship compared to his sister Yara’s 30. We get a brief scene in King’s Landing where Tyrion convinces Shae to get a job in the castle so he can be near her without everyone realizing she’s a prostitute (which would lead to her death at the hand of Tyrion’s father, Tywin). Things move to another part of the Red Keep where Sansa is having dinner with Cersei and her two youngest children, Tommen and Myrcella (who we saw very little of last season). Cersei taunts Sansa about the “inevitable” fate of Robb, and Sansa eventually goes back to her room depressed where she takes her frustration/fear out on Shae whose new job is Sansa’s handmaiden. The last scene(s) in King Landing involve Tyrion telling Varys, Littlefinger, and Maester Pycelle three different stories about plans to marry off Myrcella to secure alliances for the Iron Throne trying to discover who the mole is for Cersei that betrayed Ned Stark.

We return to Renly’s camp where self-proclaimed King Renly (though he honestly has the least claim to the throne) is getting it on with Ser Loras (all the homophobes in the audience went to the bathroom in unison) when Ser Loras is both offended that Renly gave the prestigious honor of being part of his Kingsguard to Brienne and flippant with getting it on with the man love with Renly because Renly needs to impregnate his sister Margaery (to secure the alliance with the powerful House Martell which we’ll be seeing much more of in the future). Margaery arrives to commence with the babymaking with Renly who tries to say he’s too drunk to get it up when Margaery asks if he’d prefer it if Ser Loras primed the enginges (if you know what I mean). I guess it’s no secret which way the wind blows on this branch of the Baratheon family tree. She is perfectly willing to be the world’s most powerful beard. We return to King’s Landing where Cersei flips her shit on Tyrion’s plans to wed off Myrcella (which were real, not just his ploy to discover the traitors in his midst). Tyrion’s plan revealed that Maester Pycelle was the mole and after humiliating him in front of a prostitute, Tyrion has Bron through Pycelle into the dungeon. Varys and Tyrion congratulate themselves on Tyrion’s cleverness (you really shouldn’t get chummy with any of these bros Tyrion) and then Varys asks Tyrion a riddle about the nature of power. It’s a trick question because Varys is a social constructionist (if we’re getting all academic), and Varys gives the impression that he thinks it’s time to cast his lot with Tyrion. Somehow, I have to question his loyalty here.

Once again, the recap portion of this review is spiraling out of control thanks to this show’s labyrinthine plots. However, this is actually the end so maybe I should have just included all of this in the last paragraph. We return to the Kingsroad where the ragtag group of people being recruited for the Night’s Watch are staying in a huddled mass in a crowded building. Arya can’t sleep because she’s haunted by the memories of the murder of her father. She passes her nights polishing Needle (that would have been an easy masturbation joke had she been a boy and not just pretending to be one) when Yoren (the Night’s Watch recruiter) stops by and recounts the story of watching his brother murdered in front of his eyes (and then murdering the murderer years later) to try (probably unsuccessfully) to make her feel better. Suddenly, a group of soldiers arrive outside demanding that Yoren turn over the bastard Gendry. Yoren basically tells the soldiers to go fuck themselves, takes a crossbow for his efforts, and manages to kill several soldiers before he’s finally overrun. Arya gets herself caught by helping the prisoners in the cart escape being burnt to death and convinces the soldiers that Gendry was a little boy they mercilessly slaughtered by showing them the bull’s helmet. Cue end credits.

I’ve been writing this review for the better part of an hour and I’m only going to keep writing for what is likely another twenty minutes if not more. I love you Game of Thrones but man, reviewing you takes up my entire Tuesday night. A man has to eat at some point. So, where to begin this week? How about those scenes with Peter Dinklage? I’m going to say that every damn week, but man, he can say more with a raise of his eyebrows and a sly wink than most actors can with David Milch-quality dialogue (which is to say the best) and their whole bodies. That entire scene where he intimidates/humiliates/arrests Maester Pycelle and then tips Pycelle’s hooker not once but twice is Tyrion in a nutshell (fans of the books can attest to this), and Peter Dinklage just owned it. Gwendoline Christie played Brienne and while I was initially worried when she was first cast that she wasn’t going to be able to be manly enough for the part, the show’s makeup department did a serious number on her turning her into Ellen Degeneres on ‘roids, and Christie really nailed Brienne’s gruff and hard personality. Hopefully, she’ll be able to carry the tender moments as well later on. Natalie Dormer was excellent in the very Lady Macbeth role of Margaery Tyrell. I know just what the plans/motivations are of the Tyrell family members (whose names aren’t Loras anyways [cause he really loves Renly]). She’s a lot, lot older in this show. Cause I’m pretty sure she was like 14 when we first saw her in the books, and she was totes naked in this episode. I guess the series needed to appease those who wanted to see some boobs after the dude make-out session.

Before I continue with the plot stuff, I just want to say that for being the two most hated characters in the series behind Joffrey and Cersei (among the fandom, not in-universe), Sophie Turner and Alfie Allen really steal their scenes. And while I’ve never hated Sansa as much as the rest of the series’ fandom (Theon totally deserves every inch of hate he gets), Sophie Turner makes her so much more sympathetic thanks to her fragile and vulnerable performance. She generates pretty strong opinions in people though so maybe I just have a soft heart. As to the plotting, those scenes with Tyrion as he tried to uncover the mole were so well written (and well acted by Aiden Gillen and Conleth Hill as well) and captured the political scheming that is my favorite part of the A Song of Ice and Fire universe. The scenes where the Night’s Watch recruits unsuccessfully try to fight off the soldiers from King’s Landing continued this season’s streak of ending episodes on brutal notes (that involve the death of children). Someone should start a tumblr or something that counts down the number of kids who die this season before they reach puberty. It’s going to be in the dozens. Even though there was no Dany or Robb this week, all of the scenes (except for maybe Jon’s stuff) were so compelling that I didn’t miss their presence whatsoever.

It just struck me that we didn’t see any of Stannis, Davos, or Mellisandre this episode. This show has to be a bitch to translate into television because it ignores all accepted rules of the genre (namely that there have to be main characters that we have to see every episode). Spoiler alert, but if you didn’t realize it after last season’s death of Ned Stark, everyone’s head is potentially on the chopping block in this series. Martin is much more concerned with painting as detailed a portrait of the Westerosi world (and eventually beyond Westeros) and deconstructing the basic building blocks of fantasy, that little things like regularly seeing certain characters becomes less important. You will go hundreds and hundreds of pages without seeing a character (and sometimes a whole book or two) because Martin believes in patience. It works really well in the books, but I can see how it can be frustrating to some on the show, especially those who haven’t read the books. I’m going to stop ranting now cause I’m over 2000 words and that’s the point when I know I need to stop ranting. This has been the best episode of the season so far and I know that things are only going to get better from here. Winter is coming.

Final Score: A