Welcome back to Westeros! In this week's episode a boy became a man (several times over), a queen haggled for slaves, and Jaime Lannister's personal Applause-o-Meter took a permanent hit. Beware: here there be spoilers.
Let's start with Riverrun, a completely new location for the show, and ancestral home of Catelyn Stark. The show fast-forwarded through a lot of set-up for this new locale (Cat's father was already dead by the time she arrived; in the books they had an opportunity for closure), and just threw viewers into the mix without so much as an introduction to the new players. Those would be Cat's ass-kicking uncle, Brynden "Blackfish" Tully, and I assume the boastful ass was Edmure Tully, Cat's brother. I don't recall Edmure being such an idiot in the books. Not exactly the most competent soldier, perhaps, but here he seems like a willful douche. Not much else happened for the Riverrun crew except for a nice scene with Robb's wife, Talisa, tending to young Lannister prisoners of war. Talisa -- who doesn't exist in the books, but serves the same purpose as a character who will presumably never be introduced in the show -- has not been warmly received by readers of the books, but I thought that little interlude demonstrated that she's got some potential.
Also running around the River Lands are the "Brothers Without Banners," still apparently being led by Thoros of Myr (have they shown us BerricDondarrion since his brief appearance in S1? Or will Thoros just take over all of his parts?) and their quasi-captives, Arya, Gendry, and Hot Pie. The show has zipped through Arya's meanderings considerably, and you can argue that's for the best (I certainly hope it does the same with her story arc in the most recent books, which seems to be going nowhere). In this episode she parted ways amicably with her little baker friend and was once again acquainted with The Hound. The Hound only appeared briefly, but it again underlined my feeling that Rory McCann was woefully miscast in that role. The make-up job is bad, but beyond that McCann simply does not exude the menace that the character should. He always seems sad and bedraggled rather than quietly terrifying.
Mind you, back in Season 1 I had the same concerns about the casting of Emilia Clarke as Daenerys. I just didn't know if she would have the presence to pull off some of Dany's more intense scenes, like the ones currently playing out. And Clarke proved again this episode that she is absolutely the right actress for the role, as Dany wrestled with the concept of being a slave owner and haggled with the "great masters" of Astapor. One of the great joys of reading the "Song of Ice and Fire" novels is following Dany's progression from brow-beaten sister to full-fledged dragon queen, and Book 3 contains some incredible moments on her journey. Thus far the show seems to be following that script almost exactly - as it should. I don't know how you develop the character better than what George R.R. Martin wrote in "Storm of Swords." Next week looks like it will deliver one of the defining Dany moments. I cannot wait to watch that play out on screen.
Speaking of defining moments, the fantastic odd-couple storyline that is "Brienne the Beauty and the Kingslayer take Westeros" continued in grim fashion. Brienne and Jaime have been captured by (I think) Roose Bolton and his company (I believe this is a departure from the books, but I could be wrong) and the two of them had an intense discussion about the realities of Brienne's perilous situation, namely being the lone female captive in a back of sex-deprived, and simply depraved, men. In the books this storyline is crucial in helping to redeem Jaime's character after the whole incest/attempted-child-murder thing. In the show it's less important, because Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is so charming that you can't help but like him, no matter how many boys he throws out of windows. But the bond that develops between Brienne and Jaime is essential, and I love watching these two actors work off one another. They also provided another great "Oh, shit!" cliffhanger ending, as (spoiler alert!) Bolton cut off Jaime's sword hand to teach him a lesson about acting superior to his captors. I want to underline this for people who have not read the books: one of the greatest fighters in the land just lost his sword hand.
The two greatest scenes in the episode, however, took place in King's Landing. First, new Hand of the King TywinLannister gathered his Small Council, which engaged in a hilarious silent bit of musical chairs. That entire scene was brilliant, and Peter Dinklage'sTyrion is never better than when he's playing off the characters in that room. Second, newly named Master of Coin Tyrion treated his loyal servant Podrick to a reward for saving his life in the Battle of Blackwater by renting him three or four of Littlefinger's finest ladies of the evening. (Incidentally, I'm fairly sure that Pod died in battle in Book 2, so the fact that he's still here is an intriguing departure for the show.) The introduction of the whores was great, but even better was the scene with Tyrion, Bronn, and Pod discussing how the ladies declined payment after their afternoon with Pod. Kudos to everyone involved in that hilarious sequence.
Less funny were the goings-on in the North, as tortured captive TheonGreyjoy "escaped" from his tormentors only to be hunted down and then "saved" by the Bloody Bastard (this is potentially another interesting departure from the books). Red Priestess Melisandre gave Lord Stannis blue balls after she left Dragonstone to find...something, because his "fires burn low." She mentioned that the Lord of Light demands sacrifice, and others share Stannis' king's blood -- is she gathering more of Robert's bastards, or something else? We have yet to see Stannis's daughter, or her fool (who is himself something of a legendary figure in the books).
Meanwhile, what's left of the Night's Watch returned to Craster's Keep in time for Sam to get body shamed and then watch poor Gilly give birth to a boy, while the rest of the crows bristled under their host's "hospitality" and the inter-group resentments grew. And way in the north ManceRayder, Jon Snow, and the wildings discovered a lovely pinwheel made out of horse carcasses, but none of the corpses of their human riders. Mance gave the order for JormundGiantsbane to take a pack of wildings and attack the Wall. So I guess we're not even bringing up that giant Wall-breaking horn, then, show? Boo. I find those big-ass horns one of the more fascinating aspects of the books, even if that one kind of went nowhere.
Next: DaenerysTargaryen teaches the slave masters of Astapor an important lesson about how responsible dragon ownership.