The final act of Season 3 kicked off with several major plot points and some wonderful dialogue, making for another terrific episode in - I think - the strongest season of the show yet.
*The main plotline of the night took place in King's Landing, specifically the utterly joyless forced wedding of Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark. So many fantastic character moments leading up to, during, and after the nuptials, which went off with only a slight hitch when scumbag Joffrey removed the stepstool necessary for the cloaking ceremony (the Westeros equivalent of exchanging rings) for the sole purpose of humiliating his poor uncle. That scene in the book is more contentious. Book Sansa deliberately ignores Tyrion's request for her to kneel, and later Tyrion is less gallant about their wedding night. The show has been working to make Tyrion less morally ambiguous and more straight-up heroic, while softening Sansa's less-likable qualities (although most of those have been literally beaten out of her at this point), making for an oddly sweet pairing. Meanwhile, the show is taking great (yet silent) pains to establish Shaye's feelings about this whole mess, and it won't be long before that whole situation goes very, very sour.
Speaking of sour, there were a few uproarious wedding-related scenes with the Queen of Thorns figuring out the complicated family trees that will result from all of these Lannister weddings, and poor Loras awkwardly trying to start a conversation with his de facto betrothed, Cersei, before getting spectacularly shot down. The Loras/Cersei stuff was never part of the book, so I'm loving seeing that (and Loras has become a reliable punchline, which this show will increasingly need as it gets darker and darker). And Peter Dinklage should get another Emmy nod for his drunken yet heartfelt performance throughout the episode. Really terrific work.
*Elsewhere, the Mother of Dragons met with the captains of the Second Sons, the group of sellswords currently working for the slave masters of Yunkai. Daenerys offered their leader, a super hot but totally sexist piece of shit, a ton of gold and titles if they abandoned the Yunkai and worked for her instead. He and one of his lieutenants weren't interested, but the other - Bravosi Daario Naharis - was persuaded not only by Dany's words and money, but also her beauty. So he beheaded both of his comrades, dumped their noggins on the floor of Dany's tent, and pledged himself and his 2000 men to Dany's service. To be honest, I was less than pleased to watch this play out. First, by giving the viewers Daario's point of view, the show ruined one of the more dramatic moments from the books, when Daario visits Dany's camp in the night. Secondly, Ed Skrein is not even close to how I pictured Daario. He's supposed to be swarthy and impossibly sexy - the definition of masculinity. Skrein is blandly pretty, practically androgynous, and in this episode demonstrated very little magnetism. The disgusting pig of a leader he beheaded commanded the camera far more convincingly. Daario should be undeniable, for Dany and the viewer. I'm not seeing that in this casting at all.
*The Melisandre/Gendry plotline, which was arguably the show's biggest departure from the books, was brought more or less back to the source material this episode. Stannis had a frank conversation with Davos, who correctly argued that Stannis was obviously wrestling with the idea of sacrificing his bastard nephew to please the Red Priestess. Stannis released Davos (and bonus: Davos is now literate, thanks to the Westerosi "Reading Rainbow" that went down in his prison cell) in time to walk in on the aftermath and Melisandre seducing poor Gendry, dry humping him, and then leeching his chest and junk to get at his "king's blood." Note that it was slightly unclear, but Melisandre explained that the leeches were used because Stannis required proof that the "king's blood" was important - Gendry is still very much in danger of being totally sacrificed. (That is, if he doesn't die of blue balls first. That was brutal, Mel.) There is a scene in the books that features Mel throwing king's-blood-filled leeches into the fire, which produces godly visions for Stannis. We didn't necessarily get that here, but this does seem to be ending up back where the plot originated. I also liked that Stannis and Davos talked about what I consider to be one of the more interesting debates in the book. It's easy to look at Melisandre as a villain, or at best a zealot. But you can't deny that her power - and by extension her god - is very real based on what we've seen her do. So if you accept that at least part of her belief system is right, how can you doubt the rest of it? My interpretation remains that Mel is actually working on the "good" side (and that Dany, the dragonglass, etc. is all a part of it). Her methods are just massively skewed.
*On the dragonglass tip, the Sam plotline finally ignited as he, Gilly, and Gilly's wee babe came face to face with a White Walker north of the Wall. I appreciated the show explicitly arguing that the creature appeared to them because it wanted Gilly's baby, which Craster had promised to them along with all of his other sons. I honestly didn't pick that up while I was reading the books, I just figured it was Sam's shitty luck to run into one of them. With Gilly and the kid in danger Sam stepped up and attacked the wight. That didn't work out too well as it shattered his sword and sent Sam flying. He instinctively grabbed the shard of obsidian he found at the Fist of the First Men, stabbed the creature in the back, and it shrieked and split into teeny tiny pieces. And of course Sam, being Sam, grabbed Gilly and the kid and ran - leaving behind the very item that saved him. All in all I thought this was a well-executed scene, and I loved the attention to detail, with the crows swarming the tree and the wierwood crying. I'm not sold on the actors playing Sam or Gilly, though. Please know that I will always love Hannah Murray because she was my darling Cassie on "Skins," but both she and John Bradley are giving me too much slack-jawed mumbling and awkward sulking. Neither of those characters is terribly likable, and that's very strange, because I was instantly into them in the books.
*Finally, The Hound carted Arya around the River Lands in what looked like the most uncomfortable pony ride ever. Their brief scene served only to remind us that The Hound did in fact save Arya's sister, so he's not all bad, and to set up the fact that he's taking her to The Twins for the impending Tully/Frey nuptials. And if you thought this episode's wedding scene was memorable yet awkward, just you wait.
NEXT: We have a week off for Memorial Day, and also for the Liberace movie starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. Between all the gold, jewels, and simulated sodomy it won't be that dissimilar from the goings on in King's Landing. And then come back on June 2 for more tragedy and buttocks. And I'm not just talking about that ratty fur-fringed frock they forced on Brienne.