We start with the ever noble Samwell and Gilly–both now refugees from the slain Craster-the-Molester’s home. The two sit around a fire in the middle of the dark woods, along with Gilly’s incestuous baby. Samwell, thrust into the unlikely role of hero and guardian, tries his best to make Gilly comfortable–even showing her a bit of dragonglass, though he doesn’t know what it is yet. Gilly, a total hick, has never seen the Wall or anything beyond–and stares in fascination as Samwell talks about Castle Black. The scene fades away, with him singing a child’s lullaby in the dark forbidding forest.
We get some glimpses of Bran and company. Rickon gets a few lines. And even Hodor mutters a word, which is, of course–“Hodor.” Mostly, the scene revolves around Meera Reed and
Nymphadora Osha trading nasty barbs on the proper skinning of rabbits. Not sure where that rates on the Bechdel scale. Bran puts an end to it, telling them to make nice. Jojen Reed interrupts the mundane banter as he starts to have a seizure, which turns out to be a vision of Jon Snow on the wrong side of The Wall, surrounded by enemies.
Across that Wall, Jon Snow gets ready for one heck of a climb with Ygritte. The two do some dirty talk before she reveals that she knows he’s too loyal to have betrayed the Night’s Watch. Uh oh! She’s just blown his Donnie Brasco! But! She’ll keep his secret, because he will be loyal to her–his woman. You been claimed bro! She tells him the Night’s Watch cares nothing about him, just as Mance Rayder and his army will go on without her. All they have is each other. And he should never betray her–or she’ll castrate him and turn his naughty bits into jewelry. Ha Ha! She’s just joking. But she’s soooo not!
There’s a thrown in action scene with ice and a cut rope, but nothing new and meaningful there we didn’t already know so…moving on.
Somewhere in in the back woods of Westeros, Arya practices with a bow–naming her list of people she wants dead. It’s an interesting throwback to how we were first introduced to her, besting her brother at archery. As she gets some lessons, she notices someone moving in the distance. Turns out it’s Melisandre cuz…why not. The Red Lady confronts Thoros of Myr as a fellow acolyte of the Red God. She goes to see Beric, and is amazed at his many resurrections. Thoros tells of his loss of faith, his turn to drink and eventual return from the brink when the Red God first answered his prayers–bringing Beric back to life. When Melisandre asks what it is like to visit the other side, Beric tells her chillingly there’s nothing but darkness. When the theology discussion is done, the Red Priestess reveals she’s there for someone–which turns out to be Gendry. They sell him to her for two hefty bags of gold, to be taken away to likely be burned for the Red God due to his kingly Baratheon blood. When Arya confronts her, Melisandre takes hold of her face and claims she can see a darkness inside–of the eyes of many people she (Arya) will shut forever. Valar Morghulis and the Many-Faced-God.
None of this occurs in the book. But the changes do allow some possibilities. The meeting between the two acolytes of R’hllor gives some exposition on the faith, and a bit on Thoros’s back story. Gendry in the book goes on to do rather underwhelming things, so having him immolated–or disappeared for a bit–changes nothing major. We also get to see a bit into Arya’s future, which Melisandre glimpses. Most important, we get a good reasoning for Arya’s souring on the Brotherhood of Banners (which in the book was admittedly a bit weak). It also reminds us that no one’s hands here are clean, and even the self-proclaimed righteous defenders of justice make decisions that are pretty foul.
Elsewhere in Westeros, Theon gets the full Guantanamo treatment. His mysterious former-savior turned torturer, a certain skin-flaying psychotic bastard, decides to play a game with him. Theon has to guess where he is, who he is and why the torture is happening. When he asks if he will be released if he guesses correctly, his tormentor replies, “if you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” Damn. Theon makes some wrong guesses, and his tormentor stabs and flays the skin off one pinky finger–a pain so excruciating Theon simply begs him to cut it off. For a moment, Theon appears to have guessed correctly–that his tormentor is a Karstark, and he’s being tormented for his betrayal of the Starks. But then his tormentor reveals the truth–that everything he’s told Theon is a lie, and he may just be torturing him for the sake of torturing him. At which point, naturally, he begins torturing him again. Once more, a reminder on exactly why Frodo would NOT survive in Westeros. What rhymes with Reek?
Robb Stark meanwhile is meeting with two Freys to discuss terms of an alliance. After some haggling, Robb agrees to their terms, including an apology for not marrying the Frey daughter. Then they issue one more demand–that Robb’s uncle Edmure be married in Robb’s place to a Frey. Robb’s uncle is reluctant, but eventually acquiesces once the others push the issue. I think for this wedding, I’m going to get something…red.
And at Harrenhal, Jaime and a dolled up Brienne sit having dinner with the very soft-spoken Roose Bolton. Bolton makes a surprising offer–to allow Jaime to return to King’s Landing, but he insists on keeping Brienne. Something is afoot, no?
In King’s Landing, He-Who-Shits-Gold is meeting with the Queen of Thorns–a match of well honed and wizened wits. They banter on about the intended marriages Tywin wants between Lannister and Tyrell. When Tywin tries to force his hand by bringing up Loras’s man-on-man love, Lady Oleyn ups the ante by mentioning Cersei and Jaime’s incestuous relationship. Bew-tee-ful! Alas, Tywin wins the day however, out-maneuvering the Queen of Thorns by threatening to make Loras a member of the King’s Guard–who can thus never have children, dooming the Tyrell name to extinction.
Sansa Stark (devoid of the slightest hint of gaydar) and Loras have an awkward bit of courting while Tyrion and Cersei look on. Tyrion confronts his sister on who tried to kill him at the Battle of the Blackwater. Turns out, it was Joffrey. Cersei tells him it matters little now, because soon their role in making history will fade. The two greatest plotters in King’s Landing, now seemingly beaten, accept their fates with a sense of grim finality. The scene ends with Tyrion preparing to tell the clueless Sansa the fantastic news.
In the throne room, Varys walks in to find Littlefinger sitting and staring at the throne. The Spider begins to recount a popular folklore, of how the throne was forged in dragonfire from a thousand swords. Littlefinger cuts him off, pointing out there aren’t a thousand swords in the throne–not even a few hundred. He then informs the Spider that he knows of Ros the sex worker’s double-agent duties, and that being a poor investment, he has sold her to someone interested in doing something “daring.” When Varys states that he does what he does for the good of the kingdom, Littlefinger replies that the kingdom is nothing more than the fairy tale of the throne, held up by a great deal of myths. Varys warns that without that myth there is nothing but chaos. Littlefinger says, no. Chaos is a ladder, and in a dark speech recounts the results of his nefarious deeds–from an anguished Sansa Stark staring at his ship in the harbor (no doubt thinking now on his proposal in the face of her dashed hopes of marrying Loras Tyrell) to the dead body of Ros that Joffrey (who we are reminded is still every bit the Monster) has used as a macabre pin cushion for his crossbow. (I know she was an invented character, but not sure how I feel about this abrupt ending to Ros…there were some possibilities there!)
The only sliver of light in Littlefinger’s monologue are Jon Snow and Ygritte making it over the wall, and sharing a kiss high above the chaos of Westeros. Enjoy that brief bit of peace while it lasts.