Note: Do not read on if you have not yet seen Season 3, Episode 2 of HBO's "Game of Thrones," titled "Dark Wings, Dark Words."
No fire, no dragons, no Others, no Khaleesi, no Melisandre, no gratuitous nudity. I'll say one thing for this episode: It'll be a cinch to cut it for basic cable. (By the time this show gets syndicated, I doubt they'll bother to bleep out The Hound's use of the F-word.)
If the Season 2 "Game of Thrones" premiere was all about new beginnings, this episode was about ... more new beginnings, as well as a few key discoveries. Margaery learned (or, more likely, confirmed) that Joffrey is a "monster"; the Brotherhood learned that Arya isn't just some random swashbuckling tomboy urchin; Bran learned that his dreams of a three-eyed raven aren't merely the effects of too much cheese before dinner; a contingent of Robb Stark's army learned the whereabouts of Jaime and Brienne; and those of us who haven't read the books (SORRY!) learned that Catelyn once prayed for an infant Jon Snow to die -- and now blames herself for the horrors that have since befallen the House of Stark.
I suspect the showrunners also learned that it's not entirely wise to pause for a season break in the middle of an onrushing narrative. Story-wise, I'd say only a few days have passed since the end of last season, making the onset of Bran's puberty feel sudden indeed. (Arya, too, appears to have grown about four inches in the 72 or so hours since she bid farewell to her shapeshifting assassin friend.)
Anyway, here's Bran chasing that three-eyed raven around his dreams again. His brothers appear, goading him into taking a shot at it with his arrow, then some weird kid materializes and explains that Bran can't kill the bird -- because the bird is Bran.
When he wakes up, Osha is a ball of stress. How the hell is she going to get this paraplegic kid and his oafish friend to The Wall? They are soon joined -- in reality, this time -- by the weird kid from Bran's dream, whose name is Jojen Reed. He blows Bran's mind with some #realtalk: The dreams depict real events, either past or present, and Bran's ability to see through the eyes of his direwolf means he's probably a warg.
What's a warg? Well, we get our first glimpse of one with Jon Snow and Mance Rayder. Apparently, it's a person who can communicate with animals by rolling his eyes way up into the top of his skull. Looks uncomfortable, but imagine the possibilities. A single cockroach could tell you all your neighbors' secrets within a week.
Last week I said I wasn't worried about Jon falling under the sway of Rayder, but now I am. The guy's army makes the Tower of Babel look like a North Korean choreography display, and even he admits that the only reason they're marching south together is that Option 2 is being conscripted into the White Walkers' zombie army. But maybe this is where the whole saga is headed: Jon Snow unites the wildlings with the bickering twits of the Seven Kingdoms, and together, they wage an all-out war against the Others? (I know, I know, if I read the books, I'd know full well that blah blah blah.)
After confusing the hell out of me with their visit to Harrenhal, Catelyn and Robb are making matters worse this week. I'm pretty sure Catelyn's father Lord Hoster Tully has died, and Robb has decided to divert the whole army to Riverrun, the Tully family seat, to attend the funeral. How any casual HBO viewer who may or may not have enjoyed two glasses of wine with dinner is supposed to figure all this out is beyond me, but feel free to ridicule me in the comments for missing the dozens of blatant giveaways embedded in the script.
I'm also unclear why Robb's wife Talisa is being blamed for this decision. (If anyone, shouldn't we be blaming Catelyn?) No matter, the occasion of her father's death coupled with the deeply troubling news from Winterfell puts Catelyn in a reflective if gloomy mood, and she bitterly tells Talisa why she blames herself for turning the Stark clan into Westeros' own House of Atreus. Turns out she was so angry when Ned returned from the wars with another woman's baby that she prayed for Jon Snow to die. The gods listened, he got the pox -- and then she lost her nerve. This time she prayed to the gods to save him, swearing that she would give him the Stark name and raise him as her own. He lived, but she went back on the promise, cursing the poor kid to a life of snow-bound servitude and abstinence (or not, if hot-blooded Ygritte can help it).
C'mon, Catelyn, don't be so hard on yourself. We all know the reason Ned died: He was the first resident of King's Landing to betray outward signs of possessing a conscience.
Well, if we can't have dragons, at least we have Arya back. Her run-in with the Brotherhood Without Banners is amusing enough -- I love that nifty trick of shooting an arrow into the sky and knowing exactly when and where it's going to land (answer: on Hot Pie's face, if he doesn't move). I also love the idea of having supernatural fighting skills and the ability to suck down horn after horn of Westeros' Genuine Draft at the pub.
Arya has just finished discovering the limits of her swordsmanship at the Brotherhood's local pub when someone arrives with a very large captive: Turns out it's The Hound, who immediately recognizes everyone's favorite Stark daughter. Only the writers and those of you who've read ahead know what will happen next, but I'm rooting for this crew to band together and take on ... somebody. We know The Hound has a soft spot for Stark daughters, having already saved Sansa from those filthy would-be rapists and then offered to spirit her away from King's Landing.
Speaking of Sansa, she appears to be altogether too trustful of Littlefinger and his promise to help her escape. Shae does her best to explain the facts of life to her, but Sansa can be a little thick, can't she? Littlefinger might be interested in my body? But he's too old. "Men never see it that way," Shae replies, which is a pretty good line. She decides to take her concerns to Tyrion, which ensures that we don't wind up with a Dinklage-free episode, at least. Tyrion explains that he's powerless to protect Sansa from Littlefinger, then puts his foot in it when he admits to having slept with Ros on one occasion -- OK, two. Whatever, it takes about five seconds for them to make up, and we all know a good jealous argument is the best foreplay anyway.
Meanwhile, Sansa is off to meet Margaery's grandmother Olenna Tyrell, portrayed by the formidable Diana Rigg. She is such a welcome addition to the show -- two parts Dowager Countess from "Downton Abbey," one part Aunt Edna from "National Lampoon's Vacation" -- that I almost forgive her for boxing Daenerys out of the episode. Together, she and Margaery persuade Sansa that it's safe to tell the truth about Joffrey. "He's a monster," Sansa finally admits, before begging them not to cancel the wedding. Not to worry, Olenna replies -- the Tyrell family isn't going to let anything as trivial as the king's sociopathic sadism get in the way of its royal destiny.
Perhaps sensing that her grip on her son is loosening (it is), Cersei tries to plant a few seeds of doubts in Joffrey's head concerning Margaery's motivations. The slutty outfits, the orphan outreach -- it's all so transparent. Joffrey doesn't want to hear it, but he is bothered enough to confront Margaery about her sex life with Renly Baratheon. She shrewdly makes it clear that Renly didn't enjoy the company of women, prompting Joffrey to float the idea of making homosexuality punishable by death. "Go for it!" Margaery essentially says, knowing full well that such a law would amount to a pretty heavy bummer for her brother.
I don't think she likes the idea of seeing her brother put to death. Rather, I think Margaery has decided to sail with the wind when it comes to her psychopathic husband. If Joffrey is a monster, she will show an interest in -- and an aptitude for -- monstrous things. Teach me how to shoot this crossbow, will you? Take me on a hunt! Would it turn you on to see me shoot a living creature in the face with an arrow? It would? Well, in that case ...
Yeah, I'm not too worried about Margaery Tyrell.
I am worried about Theon Greyjoy, however, whose slow-motion crucifixion, however richly deserved it may be, looks extremely painful. And what will happen now that Brienne and Jaime have had their endearingly lo-fi sword fight interrupted by soldiers loyal to Robb Stark? Brienne has made it abundantly clear that she's loyal to Catelyn, not the Starks in general, so I guess we'll have to tune in next week to find out.
"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.