Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 3, Episode 1 of HBO's "Game of Thrones," titled "Valar Dohaeris."
"Big men fall just as quick as little ones, if you put a sword through their hearts." -- Jon Snow
"Game of Thrones" finally returned last night after 10 long months of silence. And with it, HuffPost TV's weekly "Game of Thrones" Power Ranking, brought to you by certified ASOIAF nerds Amy Lee and Joe Satran. In case you missed this recap series last season, we'll be writing a post every week after the episode airs in which we explain how the events of the previous nights episode affected the balance of power in Westeros. In the world of George R.R. Martin's series, power can change hands in a moment's notice, so you always have to be vigilant.
Season 3 picks up immediately after the end of Season 2: North of the Wall, with Samwell Tarly witnessing an attack on the Night's Watch camp at the Fist of the First Men by the Others. The rest of the episode involved a lot of scene-setting and recapping. We aren't griping -- it was delicious scene-setting and recapping -- but there wasn't all that much action. We were mostly seeing the after-effects of the startlingly dramatic final two episodes of the second season.
Still, the wheel of power never stops turning. So scroll down to see where the pieces sit on the board after this week's episode.
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 is winning the game of thrones at the end of the Season 3 premiere, "Valar Dohaeris."
1. Tywin Lannister (End of Season 2: 1) This episode, Tywin Lannister, the richest man in Westeros, showed that he intends to use every last ounce of the power granted to him by his position as Hand of the King. He takes the job even more seriously than his son Tyrion did last season, wielding his quill and ink with even more assurance that his son Jaime wields a sword. At this point, it's hard to tell how Tywin's harsh on-screen demeanor will translate into policy, or how his reign will affect laypeople or "the realm." But Lord Lannister's severity and imperiousness has already taken a toll on his family. Tywin doesn't visit his son Tyrion after the Battle of the Blackwater, even though Tyrion was severely wounded by his sister Cersei's lackey. So the Imp goes to visit him. Tyrion asks to be made heir to the family castle, noting that his older brother Jaime's position in the Kingsguard precludes him from inheriting lands. In an echo of Stannis's proclamation to his brother Renly at the beginning of Season 2, he says, "It is mine, by right." However, Tywin makes his own justice. Tyrion's injury and crucial role in the defense of King's Landing haven't convinced Tywin that his son deserves respect, or even pity. So Tywin rebuffs his own pathetic son. "Neither gods nor men will ever compel me to let you turn Casterly Rock into your whorehouse," he says. It's hard to think of a better definition of power than the ability to defy the law's of gods and men with impunity. Joffrey may sit on the Iron Throne, but it's his grandfather Tywin who rules the country with an iron fist.
2. Robb Stark (End of Season 2: 2) We don't see a great deal of Robb this episode -- just one sequence in Harrenhal -- but his position hasn't changed drastically from the end of Season 2. He's still undefeated in battle, but he also still has less gold and fewer troops than his Lannister enemies. There are also signs of growing discontent among his supporters. He sees Rickard Karstark and Roose Bolton, two of his foremost bannermen, whispering and glowering in his direction, prompting him to send his mother Catelyn (who released their prisoner Jaime against his will) to a cell in the castle.
3. Margaery Tyrell (End of Season 2: 3) Margaery proved right away that she plans to be a far more forceful fiancee to Joffrey than Sansa ever was. But she doesn't fight the Lions on their own terms by opposing their plans. Her form of resistance (unlike, say, Ned Stark's) isn't that overt. Instead, she casts herself into an appealing alternative to the Lannister hegemony. She bravely goes out into the city slums to conduct charity work in a bid to win popular support. And, as Cersei notes several times, she wears revealing clothing, showcasing her young supple body, in an attempt to lure Joffrey away from his mother and grandfather. But make no mistake: Her apparent gentleness is always backed up by military force and wealth. And she never lets the Lannisters forget it. At dinner, she slyly notes, "One hundred wagons arrive daily from the Reach carrying food. We've had a blessed harvest. But it's our duty to help the capital in a time of need." The Tyrells, unlike the Starks and Lannisters, have never been kings or queens -- their noble lineage extends back only as far as the Targaryen invasion 300 years before the show takes place, making them arrivistes in the Red Keep. But Margaery's talents could well change that before the series is done.
4. Cersei & Joffrey Lannister (End of Season 2: 4) Cersei is obviously threatened by Margaery, and rightly so. She's charming, sweet and personable where Cersei is hard and calculating. And Joffrey shows, at dinner with Cersei and Joffrey, that his allegiance is already starting to shift to his betrothed. But in the world of "Game of Thrones," kindness rarely beats brutality. Cersei and Joffrey are both brutal, and they both have access to tremendous reserves of soldiers and money. So if either of them should decide to go on the offensive, there's no guarantee that all the popular support or charm in the world would stop them.
5. Daenerys Targaryen (End of Season 2: --) In the last 10 minutes of Season 2, Dany showed some real fierceness when she invaded Xaro Xhoan Daxos's home, locked him in a vault and stole his gold to buy a ship to Astapor. But after the rough transition from Season 1 to Season 2 -- from dragons to the desert -- we weren't willing to grant her a place in the Power Rankings quite yet. But in the Season 3 premiere, she started to deliver on her promise. Her dragons have gotten (slightly) bigger. She landed in Astapor and contemplated buying a supernaturally obedient army of eunuch slave soldiers, The Unsullied -- and she gained the support of Ser Barristan Selmy, one of the greatest fighters in the world, whom we haven't seen since he was unceremoniously fired by Cersei at the end of the first season. She's still very far from Westeros, she still has little money and no land, but there's no doubting that Daenerys has the most room to grow of anyone on the list.
These characters are important, but don't make it to the top five in our Power Rankings -- yet.
Poor Tyrion. After playing a decisive role in the battle to defend King's Landing, Tyrion is short an ear, half a nose, and his position as Hand of the King. Now ensconced in a homely little room, Tyrion entertains his sister Cersei as she simultaneously gloats and prods Tyrion to reveal why he's going to see their father. Later, Tyrion visits Tywin, who reprimands him for spending his time "bedding harlots and drinking with thieves" instead of doing his job. After Tyrion complains that no one cared about his wounds or his efforts, Tywin rebuffs him. "Jugglers or singers require applause. You are a Lannister," he says.
Tyrion takes a different tack -- he wants his place as the rightful heir to Casterly Rock (which Jaime, as a member of the Kingsguard, cannot inherit).
"I would let myself be consumed by maggots before mocking the family name and making you heir to Casterly Rock," Tywin tells him.
"Why?" Tyrion asks.
"Why? You ask that, you who killed your mother to come into the world? You are an ill-made, spiteful little creature full of envy, lust and low cunning. Men's laws give you the right to bear my name and display my colors, since I cannot prove that you are not mine. And to teach me humility, the gods have condemned me to watch you waddle about, wearing the proud lion that was my father's sigil, and his father's sigil before him. But neither gods nor men will ever compel me to turn Casterly Rock into your whorehouse," Tywin answers.
The good news is that Sansa is no longer engaged to Joffrey. The bad news is that she's still in King's Landing and the best defense she has at the moment is Tyrion's favorite whore. It seems she may have one more friend -- Petyr Baelish, whose unrequited love for Sansa's mother is well-known across the kingdom. He tells her he's seen her mother and sister, and that he has a plan to help her escape from King's Landing. She's enthusiastically on board, but her handmaiden Shae is less than convinced of Littlefinger's good intentions; Sansa is getting to look quite like her mother did at her age.
"The truth is either terrible or boring," Sansa says at one point. In Westeros at the moment, we'd say it's more terrible than boring.
Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish
Petyr is hoping to go on an assignment that will take him "far away" from the capitol. And if he does, he'll (try) to take Sansa with him.
When we left off, Jon had just killed Quorin Halfhand, his brother in black. It's enough to convince the Wildlings -- or Ygritte at least -- that he's an ally, not an enemy. He's brought to meet Mance Rayder, the "King Beyond-the-Wall," but when he kneels to offer a courtly "Your Grace," the tent erupts in giggles. He's been kneeling to the wrong man. The real Rayder steps forward (a grizzled-up Ciaran Hinds), exuding warm charisma and a deceptively friendly face. But he's no fool. He presses Jon to give his reason for leaving his brothers for this band of outlaws.
"I want to be free," Jon says. Rayder contradicts him. "I think you want to be a hero," he says.
But Jon finds a better reason -- he tells the story of what happened at Craster's Keep (a baby boy is left in the woods as sacrifice to "one of them" -- a habit of which the Lord Commander is well aware). "I want to fight on the side of the living," he says. Rayder is convinced.
The army of Others we saw at the end of the Season 2 finale didn't spot Sam from shivering behind his rock, but a lone wight wielding a frozen battle-axe lunges towards him -- when Ghost comes out of the snow and drags the creature back. Sam reunites with the Night's Watch, only to be chewed out by the Lord Commander for failing to send the ravens, which was his only job.
One minute you're ravaging the enemy's confused forces, with dreams of the Iron Throne swirling through your brain, and the next, you're sulking in a stone chair by the sea. Melisandre has convinced Stannis that if she had been in Blackwater Bay, she would have stopped the fire and he would now be king. But Davos convinced him to leave her behind. So when Davos shows up, Stannis is less than enthused.
Davos might be one of the luckiest guys in Westeros. While everyone else is dying all over the place, Davos falls into a burning ocean and manages to wash up on a rock with injuries on par with a bad sunburn. A boat spots him flailing on said rock and, fortunately for Davos, it's Salladhor Saan, his pirate friend. But Saan is done with war. He tells Davos that Stannis has withdrawn into his room, while Melisandre burns unbelievers in the name of her god. Davos insists that he must go to Dragonstone, regardless.
"When you're dead. I'll gather your bones in a little sack and let your widow wear them around her neck," Saan tells him.
But when he finally returns to Stannis, Melisandre is beside him. With a well-timed jab about his dead son (he lost two in the Battle of Blackwater), she provokes Davos into attacking her, earning him a one-way ticket to the dungeons.
"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
Spilling the tea 24/7. Never miss a beat. Learn more