Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 4 of HBO's "Game of Thrones," entitled "Garden of Bones."
"The high road's very pretty, but you'll have a hard time marching your army down it." -- Roose Bolton
Last night's episode, "Garden of Bones," is without a doubt the most action-packed episode so far this season. After weeks of relative calm, Westeros erupts in violence and violent sex.
Essentially, the episode is all about the moral choices people make in the pursuit of power -- and the moral leeway that's given to the powerful. Part of what makes this show so engaging is that the stakes are daunting on both sides of that equation. Robb and the Harrenhall hobgoblins both had to decide how to treat their prisoners; Daenarys opts not to exploit her "children" to gain entrance through the gates of oasis city Qarth; Joffrey disgustingly marshalls his power for the sake of sexual humiliation; Stannis, convinced that "cleaner ways don't win wars," asks Davos Seaworth to smuggle Melisandre, carrying very black cargo indeed, beneath the walls of Storm's End.
To find out how did the moral calculus translate into power shifts, scroll down for this week's Power Rankings.
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 at this point of Season 2.
1. Renly Baratheon
Renly's still the most powerful military force in Westeros, and he knows it. As we've heard time and time again, he's mustered all the might of the Reach and the Stormlands for an assault on King's Landing. And despite Littlefinger's reminder to Margaery that arithmetic doesn't necessarily win wars, he looks likely to succeed. Anyway, in his parley with Stannis and in his private audience with Littlefinger, he speaks like a king. There are just two wrinkles in his plan. More and more people throughout the kingdom seem to know about his "secret" sexual proclivities. And then there's that scary, Melisandre-born shadow at the very end of the episode ...
2. Robb & Catelyn Stark
Holy direwolf! A stonefaced Robb takes down the Lannister forces, killing five western troops for every one of his northerners, but he won't torture the prisoners he's captured. Then, he shares a tender moment with a nurse, Talisa from Volantis, on the battlefield as she saws off a man's leg. "The high road's very pretty, but you'll have a hard time marching your army down it," Lord Roose Bolton, one of his foremost lieutenants, tells him. Kings don't fight fair. A just heart was the end of Ned Stark -- a lesson Robb has yet to learn.
3. Stannis Baratheon
Elder brother Baratheon gives Renly a chance to retreat, but Renly's not impressed. "Born amidst salt and smoke ... Is he a ham?" he responds to Melisandre's claim that Stannis is the chosen one. "No one wants you for a king," he tells Stannis, who says he'll name him his heir and put him on the council if he steps back now. Renly, of course, refuses. "We shall see. Come the dawn, we shall see," Stannis replies.
Come the night (dark and full of terrors indeed), Davos Seaworth smuggles some unlikely cargo -- Melisandre. "Man is good or he is evil," she tells him. She, of course, is good.
"You want me. You want to see what's beneath this robe," she says to him. "You will."
In a dark underground cavern, the two come to some bars. "They can't bar our passage," she tells him, before she makes good on her promise and slips off her red robe to reveal a luminous, bulging belly. She gets down on the ground and goes into ecstatic labor, as clawed black shadows stream from her ladyparts and through the gates. Is this Stannis' "son"? He might be even more horrific than the spawn of Cersei!
4. Tyrion & Tywin Lannister
Still the most honorable Lannister, for what it's worth, Tyrion manages to stop Joffrey before he has Sansa beaten and stripped in front of the crowd, proving he still wields the scepter in this court.
"The king can do as he likes," Joffrey says.
"The mad king did as he liked," Tyrion replies. "Did your Uncle Jamie ever tell you what happened to him?"
But his next move, sending a few whores Joffrey's way to ease his temper, backfires. Still, he manages to corral Cersei's sex partner and cousin, Lancel, into doing his bidding.
"Did Cersei have you knighted before or after she took you to her bed?" he asks. "Have you given any thought to what King Joffrey will have to say when he finds out you've been bedding his mother?" A perfect opening to some blackmail -- Tyrion has a mole in Cersei's bedroom now.
Tywin, absent so far this season, plays a similar role when he comes galloping into Harrenhall when he puts a halt to the cruel inquisition being held in castle courtyard. He also notices that Arya is not, despite his dress, a male, and hires her to be his cupbearer.
5. Joffrey & Cersei Lannister
He can't kill Sansa, but on "Game of Thrones," a loss of power in the political arena translates nicely to taking out your frustrations on a prostitute. With our favorite Shithead King, the ante's upped -- not just one, but two prostitutes. And not just sex, but a sadomasochistic torture fest that leaves everyone crying but the King.
Usually, when a man's yelling out "Harder!" he doesn't mean, "Hit her 'til she bleeds!" but as we've learned, Joffrey's no man -- just a sick little boy.
Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish
Littlefinger rides South from King's Landing to visit Renly's camp in the Stormlands. He pays unctuous homage to everyone's favorite closeted would-be monarch, and his wife Margaery, in the hopes of securing their favor should they come into power. But his real target is Catelyn Stark. He offers her a secret deal to trade Jaime for her "two" daughters. (It's not clear how he plans to account for the fact that the Lannisters don't actually have Arya.) To sweeten the pot, he gives Catelyn her husband's bones. His one misstep? Trying to use Ned's death as an excuse to get in Catelyn's pants.
The scene in which "Mother of Dragons" Daenarys negotiates with "The Thirteen" at the gates of Qarth is possibly the funniest so far in the series. Confronted with a surprisingly hostile reception, Jorah tells Daenarys that everyone's wary of a Dothraki horde. She glances at her meager host and whispers, incredulously, "Horde?!" She speaks more confidently, though, with the obese spokesman for The Thirteen. He asks to see her dragons. She refuses, angrily, and is about to be turned away. Then, she finds a savior in the form of Xaro Xhoan Daxos, whose name prompts more laughs. But stunned silence was the only possible response to the glamour of the city his friendship reveals.
Like the hot rats used to torture the prisoners at Harrenhall, Arya's getting angrier and angrier. Who knows what's in store when she becomes Tywin Lannister's cupbearer?
Sansa gets beaten and sexually humilated by Joffrey's goons at court right at the beginning of the episode before being rescued by Tyrion. He asks her if she honestly wants her engagement to proceed, and she gives the same loyal response she's been giving since her father's engagement. Tyrion marvels, to no one in particular, at her composure. "Lady Stark," he says, "You may just survive us yet."
Theon Greyjoy, Jon Snow, Bran & Rickon Stark: No-shows this episode...
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!
- The woman Robb meets in his Western campaign in the books is named Jeyne Westerling, not "Talisa," and she is a highborn Lady, not some nurse from Volantis!
- Tyrion doesn't send prostitutes to Joffrey for his nameday.
- Renly mocks Stannis at their parley in the books just as much as he does in the show, but it involves a pivotal peach in the books.
- Baelish doesn't come to Renly's camp in the books.
- In the books, Daenarys and her horde stop at an abandoned oasis, "The City of Bones," before arriving at Qarth.
- Arya doesn't meet Tywin in Harrenhall in the books; she does become a cupbearer, but for another lord entirely.
- Likewise, Melisandre does give birth to a shadow in the books, but not until later on.