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Bran’s dream come true!

This episode opens with the fall of Winterfell. Last time, Rodrick was dispatched to save Torrhen’s Square which we’ll remember was a diversion through which Theon Greyjoy planned to take his foster home for the Ironborn.

His first move after the violence is over is to go ask for Bran’s surrender. It’s a great moment for both actors, with Theon’s attitude being entirely that of an older brother. Bran gives him nothing, though, and shows a lot of what Sean Bean infused Ned Stark with. A quiet strength while doing the necessary, I guess.

Theon calls a big old assembly in the courtyard and extracts Bran’s surrender via the threat of force against his people. Even with men under his command now, Theon can’t quite keep away from his petulant lord voice. No one wants to listen to him until Bran gives the surrender, a subtle way of showing where the power really is. If Bran refused, he knows that it’ll cost the lives of everyone there as Winterfell’s people would just defy Theon until he’s forced to slaughter them all, and he would have to or face losing the precarious loyalty of his men. It’s a dicey, complex situation and we get everything we need to know in moments.

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A Stark he’s not.

This is one of the greatest opening sequences in any episode of Game of Thrones to date. Theon’s fall is handled with more nuance and significance in the show than it ever was in the book. It is also a great vehicle for the writers to draw parallels and create symbolism. When Theon is forced to behead Rodrick, it’s because that’s the Stark way and something even the Ironborn understand. Dagmer forces the execution, but it’s Bran who reminds Theon that the man who judges must also pass the judgment, a lesson we learned at the very beginning of the first season. This moment sets up a parallel between Theon and Ned and (later) Jon Snow. Theon botches the job, which is symbolic of his weaker nature and lack of conviction when compared to a man like Ned, his symbolic father, and even Jon, his symbolic brother.

And man, a shout out for the great music that plays during this sequence. We hear it again a time or two and I think of it as Theon’s Theme and it’s some of the best scoring in the show. Only eclipsed by the main title music, I think. You go Ramin Djiwadi. You go.

Game of Thrones likes to represent internal conflicts with external characters: Ned had Catelyn and Luwin, one on each shoulder, representing his conflicted feelings about becoming the Hand. Likewise, Theon has Dagmer Cleftjaw and Luwin again. Dagmer advises him according to what it is to be an Ironborn while Luwin is trying to remind him of his actual upbringing.

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Qhorin continues being awesomely realized.

While it’ll later seem like a shorted storyline, the show gets the brief mentorship of Qhorin Halfhand feeling just right. He imparts some wisdom on Jon, who responds with the blank idealism and romanticism with which he frames everything. Halfhand’s rebuke is another reminder to Jon that he needs to grow up and see things as they are.

Hilariously the word “crevasse” gets tossed around and Qhorin pronounces it with a slight French twinge that feels so out of place both in the show and coming from the character. Instead of annoying me, it endeared me to him somehow.

And looking at the actor who plays him, Simon Armstrong, I noticed that he looks quite a bit like the guy who played Yhoren. Both of them look a bit like the guy who played Benjen Stark. So it’s kind of like, did they intend to get these dudes who all look vaguely alike? Is the point that these are Northmen and Northmen just commonly have the big noses, strong brows, and firm mouths? It’s an interesting idea, that it was intentional, because the North would have a “look” just the same as parts of the UK where these fellas are being cast from have looks.

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Pretty dark pic but Arya’s skulking around in there.

Littlefinger visits Tywin, putting Arya in an awkward position as she serves them while trying to evade being recognized. The nice thing about this scene, aside from the dressing down Tywin gives Amory Lorch moments before, is that Arya gets to be a kid again. Sometimes she’s so quick, brave, and lucky that you forget she’s twelve. In this scene, Littlefinger’s presence makes her nervous and she slips up. Luckly, she doesn’t get recognized but she does overhear some interesting intel: Littlefinger is trying to set up a marriage between Margaery Tyrell and Joffrey in order to win the Tyrells to their side when Stannis attacks King’s Landing.

Of course, it’s also fun watching a guy like Tywin show his vast disapproval for poor Littlefinger. Like Ned Stark, Tywin has no patience for Littlefinger’s bullshit.

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Parallel!

The long-awaited meeting of Jon Snow and Ygritte comes as Qhorin and his troop find and attack a Wildling camp. Ygritte was very well cast, one of those bits where you just have to cheer inwardly because the vision you have from the books is so well realized. There’s also some fun exposition about Mance Rayder, great details like the fur Qhorin and his men use on their sword-hilts, and a bit of insight into Wildling mentality. They don’t think of themselvers as raiders or savages, but as the “Free Folk” who don’t practice feudalism as do the people of Westeros.

A key part of this scene is Jon’s volunteering to behead Ygritte. He does this without hesitation, being his father’s son, because he’s the one who apprehends here and therefore it’s simply his job. Compare this with Theon’s reluctance. Jon, unlike Theon, can’t kill someone who doesn’t deserve it’s interesting to consider where the actual act puts either of them in comparison with Ned. Would Ned have killed Ygritte? Would he not have killed Rodrick? I think both these guys are asking themselves this as they prepare to deliver “justice”. Perhaps the message is about the arbitrariness of justice or the rituals of “honor” that surround it for these men.

In any case, we never get to find out what Jon would end up doing because Ygritte uses his hesitation to escape!

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Sansa is so likable in the show.

Myrcella’s departure for Dorne is all the excuse the writers need to insert more redundant, repetitive sniping between Cersei and Tyrion. However, it’s also an excuse to have Sansa get a nice jab in at Joffrey. Always gotta love those.

Afterward, as they head back to the keep, the big fucking riot that’s been brewing all season long finally breaks out. All the subtle escalation of the situation among the peasants in King’s Landing is brought to bear in a chaotic sequence that feels just as terrifying as it should. It’s also satisfying in some ways, mostly in seeing Joffrey get a face full of cow shit and in seeing Sansa saved by the Hound, who rips apart a pile of would-be rapists.

On the other hand, the High Septon gets ripped the fuck apart by the peasants, who I guess are starving, like it’s Day of the Dead. That was a little weird.

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Not weird: Joffreyslap. Not weird at all.

Tyrion completely loses it on Joffrey and it is awesome and perversely satisfying, just like always. I shouldn’t like watching a fifteen your old brat get slapped as much as I do. But, you know, when in Westeros.

Peter Dinklage drops the cool, calculated facade a bit and just oozes exasperation and contempt. It’s a beautiful bit of acting.

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The Spice King, one of the worst characters.

Dany visits the Spice King to ask for the resources to invade Westeros. This is one of the most embarrassing scenes in the season for her. Every little idiotic part of her demands, her plan, and her whole deal is rationally picked apart and destroyed by the Spice King. This show’s anger at fat, white, schemers takes a break and the Spice King actually gets to make sense. Instead of making us feel sympathetic toward Dany, though, it just forces you to basically agree with the guy. He’s right, Dany is acting a fool.

What’s absolutely frustrating about this is how different it plays out in the book. Yeah the Qartheen are dicks to her, but she handles them with super class, wit, and intelligence. Here, she’s just whining and making threats. Emilia Clarke can’t seem to do fierce very well, so the quavering voice just makes her sound like the teen she ostensibly is, angry that her fatcat dad won’t buy her a new Audi.

The logic is like a reflexive criticism of how the writers have had Dany act this season. Her anger seems silly, and there’s just this total lack of conviction undermining her post-Dragunz scenes.

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Oh Arya, big risks dost thou take!

Another nice bit with Arya and Twyin follows the Dany embarrassment. This is a great follow-up because it countermands the downside of show-writer-tampering with a big blast of upside. This pairing is mostly an invention of the show and it’s such a welcome one because it’s well-written, thematically significant, and entertaining. The opposite of Dany’s storyline this season, pretty much.

This time around, Tywin talks about Jaime and tells a story that reveals the importance of discipline in his life and why he is such a fucking hard ass. Like the Starks, Tywin’s motivations are all tied up with the legacy of his father and the worth of his name. It connects him to Arya and this is why she doesn’t immediately have Jaqen kill him. Some part of her recognizes a kinship, just as Tywin recognizes it and therefore treats Arya as a confidant instead of as a servant.

However, Arya is still a Stark and knows what it’ll cost her to be revealed. She also knows what it might cost her brother and family if Tywin gets his way so she steals a letter containing war intel. Amory Lorch catches her, motivated partially by the humiliation he suffered at Twyin’s hands, with Arya serving as a focus for his rage thanks to Tywin. Lorch is a shorted character but he’s exactly the kind of D-lister that it’s fun to see but doesn’t need the kind of depth that the books afford.

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What’s in that letter, eh?

I still refuse to believe that Talisa isn’t going to turn out to be Talisa Westerling. Robb does a camp walkthrough where all his men show him immense respect and love. He runs into Talisa and they discuss where she’s from. Aside from other circumstantial evidence, Robb’s “brilliant liar” comment seems like foreshadowing. Recently, io9.com posted a bunch of pictures from Season 3. One showed Oona Chaplin as “Talisa Westerling” and this was later removed. Seems like an HBO PR slip-up to me.

Anyways. Awkward flirting abounds until Catelyn shows up, sniffing out the hormones in about five seconds and reminding Robb of his betrothal to one of the Frey daughters.

This is definitely foreshadowing, whoever Talisa turns out to be.

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Hahaha.

Looking at the weird furs the Wildlings wear and how they act as camouflage in the terrain of their lands, I gotta wonder what kind of animal it comes from or whether it’s painted or something. It’s a nice detail but it drives me a little crazy wondering where they get it.

Anyway, this is the scene where Ygritte shows Jon some feminine wiles. She likes him, you can tell, and keeps trying to convince him he should quit the Night’s Watch and go Wild. Mostly this scene is about pure enjoyment of the character and her affect on Jon. Writing a little about it is a great excuse to use that fucking .gif too.

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Oh Roose.

At Robb’s camp, everybody forgets about Talisa the mystery nurse as Roose lets Catelyn and Robb know about Theon taking Winterfell. Robb wants to embark immediately to retake his home, but Roose and Catelyn think this is unwise. Roose offers the services of his “bastard” who is still in the North and a reasonable distance from Winterfell.

This is total setup for later, obviously. People who watch the show but never read the books just are not prepared for Ramsay Snow.

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Nice as it is to see Osha naked, what is the point of this scene?

It sort of parallels Ygritte’s attempted use of sex, I guess, but Osha’s seduction of Theon feels like a brief cheat because there’s not much point to it other than to suggest she isn’t as loyal to Bran as she seems. Leaving this hang for an episode would have maybe been effective, but it doesn’t work here because she could have done the exact same thing had she not fucked Theon. I guess it distracts him? It’s thin.

The very next scene she’s in, she activates Escape Winterfell so it’s just like…. why?

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Another nice change from the book.

Making Shae act as Sansa’s handmaiden is a nice way to keep the season streamlined, but it’s also halfway to being a misstep if only for what it does to Tyrion’s storyline. They have like four scenes together in Season 2 and would have had to have more if they’d stuck to the book’s storyline. While Shae and Sansa are a good pairing, if a little bit misleading due to what Shae does later (unless they change her betrayal of Tyrion as well), it leaves Tyrion at the mercy of a half dozen hyper-repetitive scenes with Cersei. I guess having Tyrion running back and forth to the brothel wouldn’t have worked much better, but hey.

Anyways, Shae and Sansa deal with the aftermath of Sansa almost getting raped. They talk about trust and decide they are friends. Sansa is very freaked out by how the peasants feel about her class, so Shae imparts some wisdom about that. It’s interesting also because it helps to set up Sansa’s future tutelage under Littlefinger, where she will become a player instead of a piece.

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Uh oh, mah peepz.

Dany bitches to Xaro about her situation and all these deals that keep not working for her. Xaro again repeats the same self-narrative he repeats every fucking scene he’s in. Yes, we get it Game of Thrones, this guy pulled himself up from nothing. Give the fucking guy something else to say already.

After six episodes of meandering around with her storyline, the writers finally decide to spring. All Xaro’s peeps, as well as Dany’s, are slaughtered and the dragons are missing! The episode closes with Dany leaning over Irri’s poor dead body and then yelling the now-immortal (and still embarrassing) line:

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Yes, it’s a fucking meme now.

The closing shot of the episode is effective, all the Dany awfulness aside. A lonely figure is carrying them to the House of the Undying, the stronghold of the Warlocks led by creepy Pyat Pree. As we see this, we also hear their cries which sound eerily like a baby’s cry. This one juxtaposition of sound and image recall everything Dany’s been through and how the dragons are like (her) children and so on. It’s economic and awesome, the way Game of Thrones always is when it’s at its best.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t fix the Dany issues.