Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 8 of HBO's "Game of Thrones," entitled "The Prince of Winterfell."
"If Stannis breaches the gates, the game is over." -- Tyrion Lannister
What does it mean to rule if all your subjects want to see you hanged? How can you cope with being a mother while your children are missing? How do you decide between love and duty when you're a king, a queen or a cupbearer?
These were the types of questions that each characters had to answer in the third-to-last episode of the second season of "Game of Thrones." Almost everyone was forced to confront the fact that their roles in the game do not always align with their personal desires. The is fact that a position can never make up an entire identity -- especially given that positions are always temporary.
On the face of it, these questions were vaguely undramatic, making "The Prince of Winterfell" the second dialogue-heavy, contemplative episode in a row. But the characters' answers are sure to have a major impact on our Power Rankings down the road -- and they've already shifted the balance of power. Find out how below.
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. Stannis Baratheon
Out on the sea, Stannis and his forces are getting closer and closer to King's Landing.
Stannis and Davos have a little chat and we discover why Davos has an onion flying on his banners -- and we get another lesson about the trials of siege. When Stannis held Storm's End (with 500 men), the people starved -- they ate the horses, then the cats, then the dogs, then the rats, before Davos slipped through with onions.
Stannis promises Davos that he will make him his hand once he is king.
2. Tywin & Tyrion Lannister
Stannis' proximity aside, this was actually a pretty good episode for TyTy.
In Harrenhal, Tywin led yet another war council. His brother Kevan suggests yet another ceasefire and gets denied for the second time -- making him into something like the Worf of the Westerlands. Instead, Tywin plans to surprise the Stark forces with a massive strike. Arya overhears him, and wants to stop him with the help of Jaqen H'ghar. But she can't find her assassin friend in time -- Tywin has already left the castle by the time she finds H'ghar. The Lion will live to fight another day.
Further south, Tyrion is frantically preparing for the Siege of King's Landing. He crams on tactical study by reading the Westeros equivalent of a history textbook by an archmaester with an unpronounceable name while Bronn and Varys look on. Bronn says that he'd trade all Tyrion's books for "a few good archers" -- but Tyrion and Varys are firm in their belief that a mind can be just as sharp as a sword. Later in the episode, they look over the city and consider the possibility that Stannis's victory will end their ability to play the game, though Varys notes that King Baratheon is only one of several threats on the horizon. He's caught wind of Daenarys and her dragons all the way in Qarth.
"Even if what they say is true, it will be years before her dragons are fully grown," Varys admits. "But then... there will be nowhere to hide."
"One game at a time," Tyrion says.
3. Robb & Catelyn Stark
Jaime Lannister has escaped. And it's Catelyn's fault -- she hopes that letting Jaime go (with Brienne -- an odd, hilarious coupling) will get her back her children. Robb disagrees, telling her she's committed treason and setting the guards to watch her.
Meanwhile, in what feels like a bad rom-com sequence ripped from a different universe, Robb continues to flirt with Talisa, the foreign nurse he has a big, juicy crush on. She tells him a story about how her brother almost drowned -- and he finds it so irresistible that the two begin ripping off their clothes, betrothal be damned.
4. Cersei & Joffrey Lannister
Cersei's decided that Tyrion's trying to kill her children, especially because Joffrey is to ride to battle. "Some men have a gift for this sort of thing," she says. "Some don't. His place is not on the battlefield."
"It's not on the throne either," Tyrion says. "Sadly for all of us ..."
"That little worm between your legs does half your thinking," Cersei says, before smiling, and telling Tyrion she has his "little whore." She intends to pay her debts -- but when the whore is brought out, it's the wrong whore, Roz. Tyrion plays it off, before telling Cersei: "I will hurt you for this. A day will come when you think you're safe and happy and your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth. And you'll know the debt is paid." Cersei smiles.
Joffrey, however, continues to bathe in unfiltered stupidity. He'd like to send forces to take down the Starks. And he plans to meet Stannis once he lands so that he can give him a "red smile from ear to ear." (SOMEONE'S been watching his Blu-Ray of "The Dark Knight" on repeat...) Tyrion and Varys don't bother to hide their derision.
5. Margaery Tyrell
Though we don't see them this episode, the Tyrells are still in position to sway the balance of power in Westeros, with their fields full of food and their large armies. They have not yet declared for any of the "Five Kings." So anything could happen! Maybe Margaery will marry Theon, uniting the Reach and the Iron Islands and turning "Game of Thrones" into a fantasy version of "The Odd Couple"!
Theon, Theon, Theon. Even if he's the Prince of Winterfell, his sister's come north to tell him what an idiot he's been and to bring him home. Winterfell is "hundreds of miles from the sea" she says, and "our power comes from our ships." Besides, after his slaughter of the Stark kids, every man in the north wants Theon dead.
"Your little boy prisoners made you a promise and you got mad when they broke it?" she asks him "Are you the dumbest c-nt alive? You are weak. And you're stupid."
Theon refuses to give up his little throne and his sister warns him:
"Don't die so far from the sea."
Theon wants to take the bodies down, and to send the farmer gold -- but the farmer and his wife are dead. His guilt is far too little, and far too late.
Bran & Rickon Stark
The kids are alright! Instead of going further into the North, they doubled back over their own tracks back to the castle. The Maester and Osha, the wildling, chat in the dark.
"The little lords have suffered enough," she says. We see Bran's somber face, as he lies awake.
When Jaqen can't promise he can kill Tywin at once, Arya names a different man -- Jaqen H'ghar.
"Unname me," he says. She says she will -- if he agrees to help her and her friends escape.
"A girl lacks honor," he says, but gives in. Arya, Gendry and Hotpie are to walk through the gate at midnight. They do. All the guards are already dead.
No Sansa this episode, though she's "a woman" now, so it won't be long before she's dealt with accordingly.
Ygritte manages to keep Jon alive by revealing he's Ned Stark's bastard. They're even now, she says.
Jon is put with the captured Qhorin, but finds out all the other rangers have been killed in the attempt to find him. But Qhorin has a way for Jon to be useful -- if he'll do "what has to be done." Qhorin shoves Jon down the snowbank, but not before telling him that one man from the wall on the inside will be invaluable when Mance rides on the wall.
Sam, who's with the latrine digging crew, comes upon a stone marked with the writing of the First Men -- inside, there's a horn and a cache of dragonglass.
Jorah wants the Mother of Dragons to sail to Astapor. She's not really the mother of dragons, he tells her, as they didn't grow in her womb or suckle at her breast.
We get the abridged version of Daenerys' "I am a magical powerful being of legend" speech, which also involves some inexplicable assertion about Daenarys not being able to have children besides the dragon. (Maybe there's some kind of connection between fire breathing and the hot flashes of early-onset menopause?) Dany insists that Jorah take her to her 'children' in the House of the Undying.
Who Do You Think Is Winning The "Game Of Thrones" This Week?
We think we do a pretty good job assessing the balance of power. But all these factors are totally subjective. So whether you agree with us -- or have other ideas entirely -- vote in the poll below for who you think is winning the dangerous "Game of Thrones." And don't forget to speak up in the comments section!
Differences From the Book
It's getting harder and harder to keep track of the differences, given that the plot of the show has swerved so far away from the text. (The butterfly effect means that entire scenes are bound to be new.) So let us know if you see others that we've missed:
- Qhorin Halfhand was never captured in the books.
- Catelyn's decision to release Jaime in "A Clash of Kings" was provoked by her finding out that Theon had killed Bran and Rickon. Without that impetus, it's less sympathetic.
- The whole sequence around Arya's escape and the third killing by Jaqen H'Ghar is completely different in the books. The two are separate -- Jaqen helps other people escape, not Arya -- and then he leaves the scene rather dramatically, Roose Bolton takes control of Harrenhal and Arya becomes his cupbearer. Only then, a little ways into his service, does she escape with Gendry and Hot Pie.
- In the book, Cersei finds and imprisons Chataya, who actually has a concrete connection to Shae. (Roz is not a major character in the books.)
- Robb's pre-marital liaison in the book takes place in the Cragg, not in his camp. (And as we've said before, it's not with anyone named Talisa.) There, he marries his non-Frey woman before finding out that his mother had freed Jaime; that makes him sympathetic to her decision.
- Maester Luwin does not find Bran and Rickon in the vaults in the books. No one does. It's hard to figure out how this will play out -- it was important, in the books, that no one knew that they were alive.