Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 3 of HBO's "Game of Thrones," entitled "What Is Dead May Never Die."
Here's a lesson: If a bad man with a sword is holding the pointy side towards your neck, he's probably going to push it through until blood gushes from your mouth.
No one's in a good mood this week as the North continues to mobilize, the Baratheons gather their respective armies and the Lannisters cling to King's Landing. When a man's killed, is it the executioner who held the sword or the king who gave the order who's responsible?
The answer? Maybe neither. Maybe both. Maybe just the cruel wind of fate, blowing through Westeros and killing everything in its path.
Let's get down to it:
The Power Rankings
Using a complex algorithm that takes into account each player's wealth, military might and dominion over lands, along with a "bonus" factor that adjusts for unquantifiable assets that could influence events, we've surveyed the lay of the land to figure out who's winning the game of thrones after Episode 3 of Season 2.
1. Renly Baratheon
Last week, we expressed some doubt about the reality of the rumors of Renly's strength. Well, now we've seen his army and we can attest that it really is as fearsome as people say: 100,000 people! That's just crazy. And they're not nobodies. In the distance are the great lords Leyton Hightower (of Oldtown), Mace Tyrrell (of Highgarden) and Randyll Tarly (of Horn Hill). But in the foreground are several fierce, young supporters of Renly's claim. The fiercest in battle -- at least, to judge by a tourney -- is Brienne of Tarth, a gargantuan, blonde woman known, meanly, as "The Beauty." But the two closest to Renly himself are Mace Tyrrell's two children, Loras and Margaery. The former is Renly's true, forbidden love -- but the latter is his Lady Macbeth-like wife, who knows all about Renly's gay proclivities, but is willing to put up with it for the sake of power. With these allies at Renly's side, we believe him when he promises Catelyn to bring her Joffrey's head.
2. Robb & Catelyn Stark
The Starks have one big problem right now: Theon. They'd hoped he would broker them an alliance with House Greyjoy, thus gaining naval support in the attack on the Lannisters' home territory in Casterly Rock. But we learned this episode that Balon Greyjoy has different plans altogether -- and they aren't good for the North. Theon had a chance to warn Robb, but he chose instead to stick to his blood family, ensuring trouble for the Northern Rebellion. On the other hand, Robb is still the only King in Westeros who's won a real battle. So if he can finish up affairs in the South, get his enemies to agree to an armistice, and get home in time to defend the coast from the Ironborn, he may still establish a strong Kingdom in the North, thus ensuring Stark power for perpetuity.
3. Tyrion & Tywin Lannister
Tyrion reaffirmed his skill as a political mastermind this episode when he played the other members of the small council off one another to see whose loyalty he could command. As it turned out, he can't trust Grandmaester Pycelle, who's been Cersei's bought man all along. Pycelle quickly learned the price of crossing Tyrion when he found himself beardless, locked in a black cell beneath Maegor's Holdfast. One other thing to note: The messages Tyrion gave the three, concerning Myrcella's marriage to three potential allies, displayed a keen eye for diplomacy. Having Dorne, and House Martell, in the pocket of the Lannisters really would bolster Joffrey's claim to the Throne.
4. Stannis Baratheon
No sight of Stannis this week, but our first glimpse of Renly's army (and his nifty little stag crown) shows us big brother has a reason to worry. While Stannis is conducting pagan rituals on the beach, Renly is rounding up the troops.
5. Joffrey & Cersei Lannister
Tyrion's not content to be a puppet Hand, and Cersei no longer has a mole in the old Maester. He may sit on the Iron Throne, but the Shithead King doesn't have much of a say in governing his realm. Tyrion's trying to get Myrcella off to Dorne, leading Cersei to do the dramatic pushing-glasses-off-the-table move. But she has to be used -- to end the war Joffrey's started.
No Dany! No dragons! We assume she's still wandering the waste.
Sansa is counting the days till she can pledge her love to Joffrey, or so she says.
"Is Joffrey going to kill Sansa's brother?" Tommen asks at dinner?
"He might," says Cersei. "Would you like that?"
"No, I don't think so," Tommen replies, as Sansa stays silent.
But she's got a new handmaiden -- Tyrion's whore, Shae, who isn't very good at serving. Shae can't wash the linens, but she brushes Sansa's hair as she cries.
Our little crippled seer wakes with the taste of blood in his mouth, still reeling from a dream in which he killed in the body of his direwolf. The Maester isn't so sure, but Bran's convinced.
"My dreams are different. My dreams are true," he says.
Arya, meanwhile, can't sleep: The image of her father's execution flares behind her closed eyes. But it's okay -- before she has a chance to lie awake too long, red cloaks from the South, led by Ser Amory Lorch, ride in and start killing everyone. Arya frees some prisoners from a burning cart, before she's seized to be taken to Harrenhall.
A little boy lies on the ground with an arrow in his thigh. He can't walk, he tells the raiders.
"Can't walk?" one asks, before thrusting his sword through the boy's neck. But there's an upside -- Arya tells the men the dead boy is Gendry, saving this Baratheon bastard for now.
Craster's murdering his babies as offerings, but the Lord Commander's unfazed. Jon, however, has a difficult lesson to learn. "We have other wars to fight and like it or not, we need men like Craster," Mormont tells Jon. It doesn't pay to be a hero. Which doesn't stop poor romantic Samwell, who gives away his mother's thimble in lieu of saving his lady.
This former ward of the Starks doesn't have enough seawater in his veins to please daddy Balon, another megalomaniac monarch out to seize back his territory -- as well as the Stark lands of the North. While sister Yara gets 30 longships, Theon gets one (the Sea Bitch -- "We thought she'd be perfect for you," Yara says).
Theon's weak, Balon tells him, reminding him of the Iron Islands ethos: "We do not sow. We are iron born. We do not plough the fields or toil in the mine. We take what is ours." So Theon burns the warning letter he'd planned to send Robb and heads to the craggy shore to consecrate his faith to the Drowned God by a baptism of seawater.
"What is dead may never die," the priest says. "But rises again, harder and stronger."
Tyrion tells Petyr to get Myrcella married off to Robin of the Vale, promising him Harrenhal, and the title of Lord of the Riverlands, one of the most prominent positions in the country. Petyr's skeptical, but Tyrion leaves him no choice. Of course, Tyrion's been playing games. "I don't appreciate being made a fool of, dwarf," Petyr says. Tyrion's got another job for Littlefinger, though: negotiator-in-chief with Catelyn Stark.
"Well played, my lord hand," Varys compliments him on his ruse.
"Power resides where men believe it resides," the smiling eunuch tells Tyrion. "It's a trick, a shadow on the wall, and a very small man can cast a very large shadow."
Differences from the Book
This season is really going further and further off track from "A Clash of Kings," the novel upon which it's based. Some of the changes are completely understandable for the sake of expedience, but others are just plan weird. Here's what we noticed; as ever, let us know if you spotted others!
- Shae does eventually become Sansa's handmaiden in the books, but not nearly this early. She worked for another young noble, Lollys Stokeworth, beforehand.
- The entire sequence involving Arya's capture by Lannister forces is far more drawn out in the books. Though the battle is basically similar, there was a whole other part of the plot where Arya, Hot Pie, Gendry and Lommy walked, by foot, through the Riverlands.
- The Loras-Renly affair is not explicitly depicted in the books, so we didn't see the scene in which Maergery reveals her knowledge of it.
- Bran's line about his dream's being "true" was originally voiced by the Crannogman Jojen Reed, who we hear will not be appearing in the show.