Game of Thrones episodes are typically busier than the whorehouses of King’s Landing, so you can see why the writers felt that a skirmish between Robb Stark’s army and some slack-jawed Lannisters would be best represented retrospectively in the opening scenes of tonight’s episode. But it’s safe to say that the self-proclaimed King of the North is developing a reputation as a half-decent tactician in Westeros. Anyone with an interest in the classics might also note some similarities between Ned’s lad and famed Punic General Hannibal, who won a series of victories in Northern Italy as he advanced upon Rome. As someone who’s avoided Martin’s novels, I can only hope he doesn’t share the Carthaginian’s fate.
Unlike most of the other power-brokers in HBO’s sweeping series, Robb isn’t ready to commit any war crimes just yet, but then he does have a sister with a crossbow pointed at her face down in the capital. The Stark’s have shown themselves to be a pretty frank mob, but Sansa has quickly learned the benefit of diplomacy and in Tyrion she has a master to take instruction from. It’s fast becoming a truism to say that Peter Dinklage is a show-stealer and amid all the speeches on the nature of power, George RR Martin’s beliefs on the subject are there for all to see. He is one of the few characters who exude charisma, social agility and a rather egalitarian moral compass. Brain over brawn and all that..
As the King’s Hand, mini-Lannister has reshuffled the Council like a master politician, yet his understandable penchant for undermining Joffrey will surely have consequences. Tonight we saw how unhinged the little bastard is becoming by their struggle. “There’s no cure for being a cunt” says Bronn and he’s not wrong.
Tyrion is also playing a dangerous game by recruiting Cersei’s new toyboy. Double agents can swing both ways and if Cersie and her sprog find out about his bit on the side, she’ll have more than her new duties to worry about. We didn’t see any of her tonight, but we remember how her arc is now entwined with Sansa, so keeping the young Queen as an ally could also be crucial. We sense Sansa will have a big part to play before this series is out.
One of the many excellent things about Game of Thrones is the way that fresh and fascinating odd couples seem to spring up every week. Tonight we saw Lord Tywin and Arya (of all people) get thrown together after old man Lannister became the first person to see past the young Stark’s half-arsed disguise, a touch that made him look like a veritable Benedict Cumberbatch compared to the the rest of the idiots under his command. Meanwhile Catelyn is now following Lord Renly about, while struggling not to roll her eyes as the Baratheon brothers continue to posture at each other. Her old mate Lord Balish also popped in, but he seems woefully short of form. Last year he looked like a master of realpolitik, but now his machinations seem laboured and transparent. His threats are laughed at, his feints are easily dodged and he seems to be overplaying his hand. He needs to stumble upon some political capital soon.
Meanwhile, down in the Dothraki Desert, Daenerys has finally found an ally. He has a name which is longer than most sentences and he seems willing to take a gamble on the Khaleesi, or to put a finer point on it, her dragons. After wandering around the Red Waste for the last three episodes, she stumbles upon Quarth (‘Karth’) or ‘The Greatest City That Ever Was Or Will Be’, a title which seems justified when they open the gates and reveal a Babylonian cityscape. We spy another political system to get our heads around. Daenerys is also discovering her ‘inner dragon’ (“I’ll destroy everyone – and you first!”) yet it seems that the Targareans are destined to require others to fight for them yet again. Those dragons need to spread their wings fast. And what the hell was going on with Melisandre? She’s given birth to a demon? We suspect that’s bad news for Renly’s army of tweens..