I’ve officially come to a conclusion about this season of Game of Thrones. I don’t have any official capacity or weight to make these kinds of judgment so my official conclusion means about jack squat but I’m going to make it anyways. Game of Thrones has quickly become one of the three most complex television series of all time. Along side The Wire and Lost, Game of Thrones is now making zero concessions to casual viewers and assumes you’re in for the long haul and is basically telling you to kiss its ass if you aren’t. The fact that it’s become this complex even though it’s had to considerably dial down the scope and ambition of George R. R. Martin’s original source material makes this fact all the more impressive. This season is going to ultimately be a defining moment for the series (and the one where HBO may ultimately rue its decision to invest so heavily in this series [not because the quality will worsen but because its mainstream appeal will become considerably less viable]), and while I prefer my Game of Thrones to be labyrinthinely complex, I’m a weird kid, and it’s going to be interesting to see how deep this rabbit hole the series goes.

There was a shit ton happening this week so I know I’m going to be spending a lot of time recapping the episode. Please bear with me. At Renly’s camp, King Renly (one of five) strikes up a nighttime deal with Catelyn Stark to allow Robb to still be King of the North if he allies himself with Renly to defeat Stannis and the Lannisters. As he’s taking his armor off to retire for the evening, the shadowy smoke monster that Mellisandre birthed last week appears in his tent and stabs him through the chest. In the chaos afterwards, Renly’s Kingsguard blames Brienne for the attack and she has to fight her way out. She wants to stay and guard the body of Renly but Cately convinces her that she’ll be murdered by Renly’s men if they catch her and they flee together.  The next day, Loras and Margaery mourn the loss of the King (one his lover, the other his Queen) when Littlefinger convinces them that siding with him (which I’m assuming/know means the Lannisters) saves their lives and implies to Margaery that she could still be Queen yet. Back in King’s Landing, Cersei and Tyrion hear the news of Renly’s death which means that Stannis now has all of Renly’s bannermen (which means he outnumbers the Lannisters on land and sea). Tyrion is the only one who seems to understand how serious this situation has become (and why sending Myrcella to Dorne is actually in her best interest). Still, Cersei insists on keeping Joffrey’s battle strategy a secret from Tyrion despite the fact that Tyrion is obviously smarter than everyone else in the capital. After interrogating/humiliating Lancel some more, we find out that Joffrey wants to use the Westeros equivalent of napalm against Stannis’ forces. It’s called wildfire and it can burn through steel and melt flesh. One false move and it could easily destroy King’s Landing as swiftly as Stannis’ army. Obviously, Tyrion steps in and takes the reins from his nephew and places himself in charge of the defense of the capital.

At Stannis’ camp, Davos has a terrifying story for his lord about the macabre birth he witnessed and how that caused the death of Stannis’ brother, but Stannis doesn’t want to hear it. He would much rather just sit back and enjoy the fruits of his success than think about where they came from. The only thing that Davos is able to accomplish is to convince Stannis to leave Mellisandre behind at the forthcoming battle for the capital. In Pyke, Theon meets the crew of his ship, the Sea Bitch, and they have about as much respect for Theon as his sister does. However, Theon (thanks to his first mate) has an idea about trying to capture a Northern town which leads to a brilliant moment about their potential ability to capture Winterfell itself. Ruh roh roobie. At the hellhole known as Harrenhal (voted #1 Most Likely Place for a Rat to Burrow Through Your Chest in Westeros), Arya is Tywin Lannister’s cup-bearer and is privy to his war meetings where he plans to find a way to crush her brother. Twyin didn’t just realize that Arya is a girl. He also figured out she’s a northerner and grills her about the people’s opinion of Robb. It’s a wonderful scene where we see just how icy cold Arya is becoming lately. Arya also gets an offer from Jaqen H’gar who is now in the employ of the Lannisters (he’s the strange foreigner who Arya helped escape a couple weeks ago from burning to death). Because Arya saved his life (and his two companions), he will kill any three men that Arya names. Arya names the “Tickler”, the man that is the head torturer at Harrenhal.

Across the narrow sea in the mysterious city of Qarth, Dany still has her own hazards to navigate even though she is nominally a guest of the city. At a lavish party thrown by her immensely wealthy host Xaro Xhoan Daxos, a “warlock” from “the House of the Undying” introduces himself to Dany and his magic tricks. Xaro claims they are simply parlor tricks that are the product of a drug-addled mind, but Dany seems unsure. A masked woman also warns Jorah (and knows much of him) to keep close guard of Dany for she is not safe in Qarth. Later, Dany and Xaro go on a walk to Xaro’s massive vault of all of his riches. He offers her an army and a guaranteed victory in Westeros if she will be his bride (and also informs her of the death of Robert though he doesn’t know what happened to Renly yet). Dany honestly considers it but Jorah warns against it. If she invades Westeros with a foreign army, she will never have the love of the people. We also get even more hints of the romantic feelings that Jorah has developed for Dany over the course of the series. Somewhere in Westeros, Cately and Brienne are still running from the men loyal to Renly when Brienne declares her new loyalty to Cat, to serve and protect her as long as she doesn’t stop her from taking revenge against Stannis when the time comes. In Winterfell, Bran hears of the attack by Theon’s men (doesn’t know it’s Theon. Thinks it’s the Lannisters) and sends soldiers to defend Torrhen Square, unknowingly leaving Winterfell open to invasion. He also has a dream where the Sea destroys Winterfell. Beyond the Wall, the Night’s Watch are incredibly far north where they meet up with ranger-supreme Qhorin Halfhand who has dire news about the size and strength of Mance Rayder’s army. He takes Jon on a reconnaissance mission to further investigate the enemy position. The episode ends back in Harrenhal where Jaqen H’gar makes good on his promise to kill the Tickler when the Tickler winds up dead in the castle’s square. Valar Morghulis.

First off, a doff of the hat to Maisie Williams as Arya this episode. Her scene with Tywin Lannister was one of the best of the week. And it takes a special fierceness from a child actress (though she’s 15 so she’s not that young. She just looks absurdly young) to stand out in a scene with the imposing Charles Dance as Twyin. He reminds me of Christopher Lee as Saruman in Lord of the Rings. Yet, Maisie Williams made her lines ring harder than Valyrian steel. The child actors in this show have been without question impressive. Also, Iain Glen hasn’t had much to do this season as Ser Jorah (who is my favorite non-point of view character in the books. Along with, surprisingly enough, the Hound). But this week, he had a really great scene with Emilia Clarke (who looked stunning this week. She wasn’t wearing the dress she was supposed to be wearing from the books, but that’s a dumb complaint). There’s a lot of chemistry between these two, and they both showed some pains. Jorah loves her and must protect her at the cost of his happiness. And Dany doesn’t feel the same way about Jorah but still deeply cares for the man who has protected her through so much.

Let’s all sit back and think for a second about how dark of a sub-plot was just introduced at this half-point of the season involving one of the children heroes of the show. Jaqen H’gar is granting her the ability to kill three people that she chooses. And Arya is gladly accepting this offer. Arya winds up going down one of the most morally grey paths of the entire main cast (of the good guys anyways), and this is the beginning. Here is a child (for her character is much younger than the actress) ordering the cold-blooded assassinations of other men. She’s not killing them in self-defense or in a duel. She’s having them murdered. These are really evil men, but still. George R. R. Martin and HBO are continuing the trend from last week of not being afraid to have their kids do some really fucked up shit. What’s said is that I know the ultimate consequences of Arya choosing to kill some people instead of others, but I want get into spoilers. Also, I know just how dark this girl’s story is going to keep going and how relatively tame this is compared to things she’ll willingly be doing herself later in the show. If Maisie Williams continues to handle this material as maturely as she has this season, she could really gain a reputation as one of the capable young actresses in Hollywood handling disturbing material. She could wind up with the same kind of following as Chloe Grace Moretz in that regard.

I want to write more, but I also want to review Glee before I go to bed tonight. And I still have to review Bleach. I don’t know if I’ll actually wind up doing either of those. I’ve got a bit of a headache over the course of writing this post so I may end up just calling it an early night. We’ll see. It’s so weird that we’re officially half-way through the season though. I know HBO says it can’t really afford to do more than ten episode seasons of Game of Thrones but that sucks because this show is so great that it feels like a breath of fresh wind on TV that is snatched away from us nearly as quickly as it arrives. This episode was as busy as the show’s been all season, and if it lacked the extremely disturbing nature of last week, things are all relative in the Game of Thrones universe, and it’s still tackling heavier subject matter than nearly everything else on television. Things are only going to continue to pick up steam for the rest of the season. It’s been nearly a year since I read A Clash of Kings so while I remember the major details of what’s coming, I don’t actually remember many of the events that are coming leading up to the major climaxes of the season so for the first time in a while, I’ll actually be seeing the show without knowing where every plot point is heading, and I’m looking forward to it.

Final Score: A-