Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 3, Episode 8 of HBO's "Game of Thrones," titled "Second Sons."
"Ambitious climbers never want to stay on the second highest rung." -- Cersei Lannister
There aren't any runner-ups in the game of thrones. You win, or you die -- or so we've heard. This week's episode, "Second Sons," focuses on the ambitions of those who haven't yet reached the heights they seek -- Tyrion Lannister (a second son) marries Sansa Stark, in a drunk blaze, while Gendry's blood is used to advance the fortunes of another second son, Stannis Baratheon. Meanwhile, Arya continues her captivity at the hands of the Hound (a second son), Daenerys Targaryen wins the support of the mercenary band, the Second Sons, and Samwell Tarly encounters -- and defeats! -- a blue-eyed Other.
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 after the eighth episode of season three of "Game of Thrones," entitled "Second Sons."
1. Tywin Lannister (Last Episode: 1) Though he's managed to get Tyrion wed, he's more focused on the marriage bed. Watching his imp child get ragingly drunk, Tywin reminds him that he "needs to perform" if he wants a baby in his wife's stomach. Tyrion gets drunker, then tells Sansa he won't share her bed until she wants him there.
"But what if I never want to?" she asks him.
"And so my watch begins," he replies. Tywin may be waiting quite some time.
2. Margaery & Olenna Tyrell (Last Episode: 2) Margaery's charms work less well on the mother than the son. After she tells Cersei how much she's looking forward to being her sister, Cersei tells her the story behind the song, "The Rains of Castamere." House Reyne was the second wealthiest family in Westeros -- just like the Tyrells. But when they rebelled against the Lannisters, "every man, woman and child" was slaughtered and left to rot on the walls for a long summer.
"If you call me sister again I'll have you strangled in your sleep," Cersei tells her soon-to-be daughter- (and sister- !) in-law.
3. Daenerys Targaryen (Last Episode: 3) After the lords of Yunkai have departed, Dany has a meeting with the captains of the Second Sons, a mercenary band who sees her as nothing more than a clothed vagina with a scant 8,000 men. One of them offers to let Dany bear his second sons. Her response: "Give me your Second Sons and I may not have you gelded." The captains plot to have her murdered under the dark of the new moon, but instead, upstart Lieutenant Daario Naharis (a long-haired former whore, if the others are correct) chooses to uphold his personal philosophy, which heralds "the thrill of fucking a woman who wants to be fucked" and "the thrill of killing a man who wants to kill you." Her "beauty" was enough to convince him to turn on his comrades, he tells Dany. "I'm the simplest man you'll ever meet," he promises. "I only do what I want to do." He swears his sword, and his love, to the Dragon Queen.
4. Joffrey Baratheon (Last Episode: 5) The Shithead King is in fine form this episode, standing in as Sansa's father (her own, thanks to him, is not available) and taking away Tyrion's step stool so that Sansa is forced to kneel at his feet for the cloaking ceremony. Later, he takes Sansa aside and tells her sweetly how he will rape her as often as he chooses. But when he tries to initiate the bedding ceremony, Tyrion's had enough and warns him that he'll be "fucking [his] own bride with a wooden cock" if he continues to be such a miserable little wretch.
5. Robb Stark (Last Episode: 4) No Robb in this episode, but it doesn't help the North's cause to have his younger sister (and, in the eyes of many, his heir) married to a Lannister.
These characters are important, but don't make it to the top five in our Power Rankings -- yet.
Cersei Lannister Cersei's been testy with Margaery all season. But this episode, hostilities hit a new peak when Margaery referred to the Queen Regent as "sister." It's not likely Margaery will forget that one when she, not Cersei, is queen.
Nor is Cersei making inroads with her fiance Loras. He approaches her while she's looking out at Blackwater Bay and tries to tell her an anecdote that had been related to him by his father Mace. But she cuts him off. "Nobody cares what your father once told you," she says angrily.
Tyrion Lannister In terms of the balance of power, the most important event this episode was certainly Tyrion's unhappy marriage to Sansa. If the Lannisters win their war against Robb (by no means a given), the wedding will make Tyrion the Lord of Winterfell, securing Lannister preeminence across the vast majority of the country.
But Tyrion's still not happy about it. He knows full well that Sansa doesn't want to marry him. And he doesn't want to marry her. He tries to build a bridge to her, using their mutual distaste for the wedding, saying, "I know how you feel." But she doesn't take the bait, and instead keeps her distance. During the ceremony, he's embarrassed when he can't reach Sansa's shoulders to place his cloak atop them. And afterwards, he drinks enough wine to get utterly wasted, surpassing even the impressive level of inebriation Cersei demonstrated during the Battle of Blackwater last season. Though his father urges moderation, to make sure Tyrion will be able to consummate the wedding, Tyrion is too considerate of Sansa's (and Shae's) feelings to go through with the act once they're alone in their wedding chamber. He tells Sansa that they won't sleep together until she wants to. What a nice boy! But if part of his intent with this gesture was to win Sansa over with his chivalry, she isn't having any of it. "What if I never want to sleep with you?" she asks. Well, then the wedding wouldn't be a real wedding -- and Sansa could get an annulment.
Sansa Stark The character who's suffered the most this season is clearly Theon. But Sansa must be the runner-up. She looks like she's on the verge of tears throughout her entire wedding weekend, despite Tyrion's best efforts at gentlemanliness. That said, it's not necessarily too late for Sansa to have a comeback and take revenge on her enemies. The Tyrells clearly still like her -- and if she and Tyrion can reach some sort of truce, they'll wield enough influence to be a serious threat to Joffrey and Cersei ... not necessarily Tywin, but he'll die sooner or later. Valar morghulis! (The "hakuna matata" of our time?)
Arya Stark Arya's angry enough about having been captured by The Hound that she considers smashing his head in with a big rock. But he senses her presence and talks her out of it -- then reveals that he plans to take her to her brother and mother at the Twins, not back to King's Landing. It seems he's telling the truth when he says there are worse people than him -- even if he's just returning her for the reward the Starks will give him.
Gendry & Melisandre Once these two get to Dragonstone, Melisandre reveals that she intends to slaughter Gendry like a lamb -- but that she wants to make sure he doesn't see the knife coming before she makes the cut. So she plies him with wine, sex and promises of divine preordination. But it seems death isn't in the cards quite yet. Davos Seaworth's objections lead Stannis to command Melisandre to prove that Gendry's king's blood is as powerful as the Red Lady says. So she drops leeches all over his body instead...
Stannis Baratheon ...which Stannis drops in a brazier one by one, naming one of his usurper enemies each time he does. The idea here seems to be that, if Robb Stark, Balon Greyjoy and Joffrey Baratheon all die, it'll prove the power of Gendry's blood, allowing Stannis to sacrifice him despite their kinship.
Samwell Tarly Samwell's sequence, at the very end of this episode, very quickly transitioned from cute flirty banter with Gilly to the very scariest scene so far in "Game of Thrones." Crows start to caw outside their broken down hovel in the snow. The volume increases and Samwell offers to go outside, sword in hand. An Other approaches. Gilly shouts that it wants her baby, but Samwell is determined to keep it. He brandishes his sword -- and the magical creature snaps it in half then throws Samwell aside. The White Walker is about to grab Gilly's son when Samwell finds his antique obsidian arrowhead in his pocket. He takes it out, runs at the Other and plunges it into his back in a last ditch effort to save the baby. Miraculously, it works. The Other screams in pain, falls to the ground and shatters into a icy dust. What just happened?
"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.