Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 1 of HBO's "Game of Thrones," entitled "The North Remembers."
"Power is power," Cersei Lannister.
Open the moon door, guys! "Game of Thrones" (Sundays, 9 p.m. ET on HBO) is finally back, with more boobs, more blood, more dragons and more clandestine machinations behind closed doors. So it's time for our second edition of the "Game of Thrones" Power Ranking; here's our first, chronicling the end of season one, in case you missed it.
Last season, we ended with Ned Stark dead and King Joffrey on the Iron Throne, with mother Cersei at his side and Uncle Tyrion newly named his Hand. Meanwhile, the Stark children are spread across the kingdom: Jon at the Wall, where Winter continues to creep forward, Arya on the back on a truck headed North, Sansa in King's Landing, and young Bran and Rickon still up at Winterfell. Brother Robb, the King of the North, and mother Catelyn, are amassing troops (with hostage Jaime Lannister in tow), while across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys and her reduced khalasar -- now with dragons -- wander without a destination in sight.
A bloody comet streaks across the sky (or has been pasted on using KidPix -- the increased budget clearly failed to cover astronomical phenomena). It might look pretty, but as everyone in Westeros knows, any omen that seems to promise bad times will probably bring the apocalypse. 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 going into Season 2.
1. Robb & Catelyn Stark (Up from No. 2)
At the beginning of Season 2, the Starks are on fire. Right now, they have the moral and military advantage in this war. The key idea is expressed in Robb's crackling dialogue with his prisoner Jaime. Jaime rightly noted that, "Three victories don't make you a conqueror" -- and Robb shot right back with, "It's better than three defeats." The momentum, in other words, is on the side of the Starks. Robb knows it; that's why he demands recognition of his total sovereignty in the North when he sends peace terms to the Lannisters in King's Landing. The Northern Rebels are still outnumbered and outgilded by the Lannisters, so no one expects the Lannisters to cave easily. But Robb and Catelyn are planning for the worst by seeking military support from ward Theon's family in the Iron Islands and, via diplomat Catelyn, from King Renly Baratheon.
2. Renly Baratheon (New to the rankings)
We still haven't seen Renly since his coronation, but this episode -- and the preview clips immediately afterwards -- gives us most of the information we need to assess his strength. Charming Renly holds the ancestral Baratheon lands around Storm's End, in the East. And he's gained the support of two major Southern Lords: the warlike Randyll Tarly, father of fat, sweet Night's Watchman Samwell Tarly; and the rich Mace Tyrrell, father of Renly's bride Margaery and his lover Loras. But Renly's biggest advantage is his gargantuan army -- which reportedly totals about 100,000 strong, far more than any other contestant to the throne, including the Lannisters. It's not hard to imagine that, if Renly and Robb really join forces, they'll have their cruel enemies at their heels in no time.
3. Tyrion & Tywin Lannister (Down from No. 1)
Sure, the Lannisters are as rich as ever, and nearly as powerful militarily. But we don't even catch a glimpse of Tywin this episode. And Tyrion's entrance in King's Landing does not go as well as he might have hoped -- it incites nothing but anger from Cersei, who is threatened by having a sibling join her on the Small Council. But the biggest Lannister liability is King Joffrey. They've hitched their solid gold cart to his horse, and the ride seems to get more precarious every day. Their survival will depend on Tyrion's ability to wrest power away from Cersei and Joffrey -- and his and Tywin's ability to parry the thrusts of the other three claimants to the throne.
4. Stannis Baratheon (New to the rankings)
Last season, we didn't meet Stannis, the dour older Baratheon, who probably has the most legitimate claim to the throne following the revelation of Lannister incest. But even if he's not the charmer Robert and Renly seem to be, he does have Melisandre, a lady all in red with some sort of pagan magic in her holster. Down on the beach, flaming effigies of the seven gods light the night as the red priestess anoints Stannis the 'Warrior of Light,' chanting, "Stars will bleed. The dead shall rise in the North. For the night is long, and full of terrors."
We don't know much -- about his plans or hers -- but after watching Stannis pulls a flaming sword from a stone, we know that more bodies will soon litter the ground.
His Maester is reluctant to follow, and tries to poison Melisandre, who kills him with some invisible force.
"The night is long, and full of terrors, old man," she tells him, "But the fire burns them all away."
5. Cersei & Joffrey Lannister (Down from No. 3)
The Shithead King isn't getting any smarter, but he's definitely getting crueler. It's Joffrey's name day, and he's redecorating his throne room to befit the conqueror he thinks he is.
"They're weak," he tells his mother of the Starks. "They put too much value on their women." He's heard a "disgusting lie," he tells her, about her and his Uncle Jaime. But he runs his mouth a little too far and Cersei slaps him -- bringing the room to dead silence, though no one does a thing. Hitting the King is punishable by death, but this little boy still can't stand up to his mama.
Besides, Cersei is one scary sister, though brother Tyrion's new position knocks her down a peg. "You love your children. It's your one redeeming quality," he tells her as she pouts. "That and your cheekbones."
"The throne is mine," Joffrey screams. But for how long? The episode ends with a bloodbath as each of Robert's bastards are murdered (which means, like "Battlestar Galactica," "GoT" has crossed the "killing a baby just to show you how bad these people are" line). It's bad luck to kill a man on your name day, Joffrey -- what you sow, you will reap all year.
Petyr Baelish (Down from No. 4): Poor Littlefinger. Cersei commands Baelish to find Arya Stark before the two indulge in a coded conversation. She mocks his self-made position and his unreciprocated infatuation with Catelyn Stark. He lets her know she's been sleeping with her brother -- and that Joffrey is no Baratheon.
"Knowledge is power," he says. Cersei responds by ordering her guard to slit his throat, then calling them off, telling them to take three paces and turn their backs, while she delivers her own motto: "Power is power," she says.
Jon Snow: Past the wall, Jon meets the wildling Craster, and his harem of young daughter-wives. A friend to the watch, Craster warns the men of Mance Rayder, a wildling with an army and yet another self-titled king. Jon's called out for noticing the ladies, earning him a dressing down from Lord-Commander Mormont.
"You want to lead one day?" Mormont asks Jon. "Learn how to follow."
Sansa Stark: Sansa's always been the best at playing the aristocrat, but her mask is starting to crack, like when she tries to stop Joffrey from funneling wine into man's body until he dies. Still, she manages to recover by manipulating the maniac into keeping the knight (Dontos the Red) as a jester. That's the kind of backbone she'll need to stay alive. "My father was a traitor. And my brother and lady mother are traitors as well. I am loyal to my beloved Joffrey," she tells Tyrion flatly when he expresses his condolences for her father's death.
Arya Stark: Everyone is looking for Arya Stark, but no one is looking for Arry, the filthy peasant boy she's become. She's still traveling the King's Road with Gendry -- the only one of Robert's bastards to survive the massacre.
Bran Stark: More visions for the paralyzed boy-seer -- blood, and snow, and, at last, the reflection of a direwolf in a pool. It's in this dream he first sees the comet. Does it portend Lannister red, blood for his father, or -- as Osha proclaims -- does it mean the dragons are back?
Daenerys Targaryen (Down fom No. 5): Because the dragons are definitely back. Though Dany's messiah-mother moment at the end of Season 1 left her looking like a threat, she's still trudging across the plains with a rag-tag band of Dothraki behind her, and right-hand man Jorah Mormont at her side. After the white horse Drogo gave her keels over and dies, Dany sends her men riding in all directions to find the nearest city.
"You must be their strength," Mormont tells Dany.
"As you are mine," she answers.
As Varys the eunuch has pointed out in nearly every promo trailer for Season 2 so far, "Power is a curious thing." So there's bound to be some disagreement surrounding the rankings. If you think we misjudged the situation, say so in the comments! And look out for our next installment of the "Game of Thrones" Power Rankings every Monday morning through the finale.