Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 2, Episode 6 of HBO's "Game of Thrones," entitled "The Old Gods And The New."
"Don't trust anyone. Life is safer that way." -- Shae
Everything is going pretty badly for everyone: Joffrey sits the Iron Throne, but no one -- no one -- wants him there; Theon seizes Winterfell, but instead of a pat on the back, receives a household full of men who hate him; and Daenerys loses her dragons.
In "The Old Gods and the New," we learn that it doesn't matter who you pray to, how often or how hard. It doesn't matter whether you were born to rule or born in a hut across the wall. It only matters whose sword is raised above your neck, ready to cleave it from your shoulders, and how quickly you can shove your own blade into your opponent's stomach.
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
No sign of Stannis this episode; the title "The Old Gods And The New" left no room for The Red God, the very newest one, as far as Westeros is concerned. Still, between the mysterious power Melisandre, his own fleet, Salladhor Saan's fleet and the bulk of Renly's army, Stannis is the one to beat. How long will he wait before marching north to King's Landing?
2. Tyrion & Tywin Lannister
The smart wing of the Lannister family is doing what it can with somewhat limited resources. Tywin is surrounded by semi-illiterate buffoons (plus one highly literate cupbearer) up in Harrenhall. And Tyrion is spending all his time and energy putting out fires starting by his nephew. Indeed, one of the most satisfying moments of the season this far is his post-riot castigation of Joffrey -- including one of his trademark Kingslaps!
Still, TyTy, as we like to call the pair, is very good at working mediocre situations to benefit the Lannister position: Tyrion showed that by following through on his plan to send Myrcella to Dorne, in the hopes of securing soldiers from the powerful House Martell. And Tywin, in his discussion with Lord Baelish, seemed open to the idea of binding his house to House Tyrell. If those two negotiations go well -- which never a given in turbulent Westeros -- they could end up mustering a force strong enough to defeat Stannis, Robb and anyone else that comes their way.
3. Joffrey & Cersei Lannister
Myrcella's off to Dorne, and just in time. As the royals make their way back, the peasants are rabblerousing. They call Joff a bastard as he trudges past, until one throws shit in his face and he orders his men to kill them all. Instead, the mob coagulates into a mass of hunger and anger, ripping the septon from limb to limb with their hands and thrusting his amputated arm into the air like a trophy.
"I want these people executed," Joffrey screams
"And they want the same for you," the Hound replies.
When they get back, Tyrion is overcome with rage.
"You blind bloody fool," he says. "We've had vicious kings and we've had idiot kings, but I don't know if we've ever been cursed with a vicious idiot king."
Tyrion smacks him, before sending men out for Sansa.
"If she dies, you'll never get your Uncle Jaime back," he says to Joff. "You owe him quite a bit, you know."
4. Robb & Catelyn Stark
The Starks are, in some ways, the Eeyores of Westeros, always spouting doom-and-gloom predictions about the proximity of winter. This episode showed why. Things don't generally go the Starks' way for long. As we see in the episode's first scene -- and as Robb and Catelyn discover near its end -- the North has fallen to, of all people, the Greyjoys. Including Winterfell! It seems likely that the Starks, with the help of Roose Bolton's bastard at the Dreadfort, will be able to win back their territory, given that they outnumber the Iron Islanders by a huge margin. But the attack on their home base means that their attention will be diverted from the main task at hand: taking down the Lannisters.
The other thorn in the Starks' side, at least as far as Catelyn is concerned, is Talisa of Volantis, who we at least now know to be a noblewoman, not just an itinerant nurse. When Catelyn arrives at Robb's camp, with Brienne of Tarth in tow, she finds Robb talking to the sultry foreigner. Robb introduces his two favorite ladies, prompting one of the most awkward exchanges in Game of Thrones history:
"Lady Talisa...?" Catelyn asks testily.
"Maigar," Talisa responds. Catelyn's face contorts wildly.
"Maigar," Catelyn says. "Forgive me. I do not know this name."
"An uncommon name here -- an old name in Volantis," Talisa mutters, before literally running away from Catelyn's fury.
Catelyn reminds Robb he's betrothed to Walder Frey's daughter, and so cannot follow his heart. Robb responds with a killer Tom Haverford impression when he mutters "I know..." in falsetto.
5. Margaery Tyrell
After the Lannisters and the Starks, the Tyrells have the greatest forces in Winterfell, according to Littlefinger. Their lands are the fertile crescent of Westeros, "feeding horses and soldiers." The Tyrells have not yet declared for a side, Loras wants revenge on Stannis, and Margaery wants to be queen -- wherever these flowers fall, they'll shift the tide, again.
As the riot turns to general melee, a band of men chase Sansa into a corner, where they rip her dress and prepare to rape her. Tyrion sends men after her, but the Hound gets there first. He lifts one man and stabs him, dragging his entrails out, before executing two others
"You're alright now, little bird. You're alright," he says, before throwing her over his shoulder.
Shae tends to Sansa, who doesn't understand why the enraged, starving peasants hate her so much.
"You are everything he will never have," Shae tells her. "Your horse eats better than his children." Sansa says she hates the king, before Shae shushes her, telling her, "Don't trust anybody. Life is safer that way."
There's a special visitor to Harrenhal this week -- Littlefinger.
But of course Arya knows Petyr -- and though she tries to hide her face, you get the sense he may know her too. In some get-to-know-you time with Tywin, we learn that Jaime, apparently, is dyslexic, and Tywin is a better father than he is a man. After stealing a letter, Arya is caught by Amory Lorch, who chases her. She finds our Cheshire-smile sporting foreigner, Jaqen H'ghar and exhorts him to kill Lorch.
Lorch then walks into Tywin's room ... before falling over dead.
The Little Lord has more composure than ex-foster brother Theon, who's come back to take Winterfell.
"I took it. I'm occupying it. I sent men over the walls with grappling claws and ropes," he tells Bran.
"Why?" Bran asks, as if Theon has just told him that he's stuck his finger up his nose and is now eating his own snot. Still, Bran yields, to keep his men safe. It doesn't work. As Osha tells him, his dream has come true. "The ocean has come to swallow this place," she says.
"Prince" Theon has come back to roost in Winterfell, but it's not quite the homecoming he expected.
"You know me," he says to the gathered Winterfell residents.
"We know you for a steaming sack of shit," one responds.
Theon is clearly no tactician, but he informs the Maester to tell his sister she will bring 500 men to Winterfell.
Ser Rodrik, one of the floating bodies Bran foresaw, is dragged in.
"It grieves me to meet you as an enemy," Theon says.
"It grieves me that you have less honor than a back alley whore," Rodrik says, before he spits in his face. Theon orders Rodrik to be locked up, but one of his men tells him that Rodrik must pay the iron price.
The Maester pleads with him, as Bran screams, but it's no good.
"I'm off to see your father," Rodrik says to Bran. Over the sound of Bran's wailing, Theon hacks at Rodrik's neck before giving up and kicking his head from his body as his men and the men of Winterfell look on. He can't even get this right. Osha offers her services to Theon, who's uninterested until she takes her shirt off. He gives her her freedom, and in return, she slits the throat of one of his men before escaping with Hodor, Bran, Rickon and their dogs.
"Gods help you, Theon Greyjoy," Rodrik says before he dies. "Now you are truly lost." Judging by the bleak look on Theon's blood spattered face, he's probably right.
As the men of the Wall trudge through the Arctic terrain of the North, Qhorin has some advice for Jon.
"Your death will be a gift to them south of the wall," he says. "They'll never know what you've done, they'll never know how you died, they'll never even know your damn name, but they'll be alive because some nameless bastard gave his life for theirs."
Jon seems impressed. Qhorin isn't.
"You're even dumber than you look," he says. "It's just words, boy. Keep us a little warmer in the night, make us feel like we got a purpose."
Soon, they come upon a band of wildlings and slay them -- but when Jon realizes the furry bundle he's about to kill is a woman, he can't do it. He volunteers to kill her, but she manages to run away before he pulls a Mario-style slide down the mountain and unlike Theon, he brings his sword down on the stone rather than killing her. She uses the moment to escape, before he captures her again. But by the time he's done, the men are gone and he has to bed down with Ygritte, his new redhaired wildling buddy. Like Qhorin, she recognizes his valor, and his idiocy.
"You're brave. Stupid, but brave," she says with a sort of longing on her face, before longing turns to mischief and she starts rubbing herself against Jon.
To mix references, Jon is definitely a Gryffindor.
Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish
Petyr comes with an offer for Tywin, who's unimpressed.
"Yes, a crisis is an opportunity. What other brilliant insights have you brought me today?" Tywin retorts.
Whether or not he sees Arya, nothing gets in the way of Littlefinger's profound skill for self-preservation.
As our silver-haired queen makes the rounds in Qarth like a startup founder pitching venture capitalists, she finds that dragons aren't quite enough to make her a good investment. The merchants dismiss her words as dreams.
But Dany responds: "I'm no ordinary woman. My dreams come true."
When she gets back to her lodgings, her men lay slain across the ground, her dragons are missing and a mysterious cloaked figure walks away with a screeching basket. Even the best of dreams can become nightmares.
Differences from the Book
As ever, chime in if you think we've missed something! These can be hard to spot. Though they were particularly numerous and egregious this week.
- While we appreciated the strange intimacy of the scene between Theon and Bran in Bran's bedroom, it wasn't quite an accurate depiction of Bran's decision to surrender in the book; there, it was Maester Luwin who urged Bran to yield.
- Ser Rodrik Cassell's death was completely different in the book. But the way it played out in the show didn't even seem internally consistent. What happened to Rodrik's 200 men? Surely they could have outfought a few dozen iron islanders -- and taken back Winterfell.
- Baelish did not visit Harrenhall in the book, as far as we know. The idea that he would travel all the way from Renly's camp to Harrenhall and then back to Highgarden, in the far south of Westeros, is absurd.
- Jon explicitly let Ygritte go in the book, and he did not chase after her.
- The riots following Myrcella's departure felt true in spirit, but not in specifics. Sansa was not almost raped in the books. A different, minor character from the royal court, however, was actually raped, many times.
- In the book, Amory Lorch was killed by a bear, not by Jaqen H'ghar.
- Catelyn and Robb were not so quickly reunited in the book. Lady Stark returned to Riverrun, not to Robb's camp in the West, in the book. Their separation led to questionable actions on both their parts.
- Rickon and Bran didn't escape with Osha and Hodor until significantly later in the books.
- Most of all: Dany's dragons were never, and would never have been, kidnapped in the books.