You know, I'd always hoped there would be cause to use the words "Jon Snow" and "head" in a sentence again, but I must admit to hoping it would be in another context. Much the same way I thought the idea of the new Lord Commander "brandishing his sword" would be more exhilarating than it turned out to be.
Having said that – oh, Jon Snow, you can carry out your tough, uncompromising sense of justice on me anytime. Perhaps some hard labour? You know what they say about sparing the rod…
Ahem. Let's put innuendo aside and return to Jon Snow's ... storyline ... later. For there are many characters we must catch up with after this cracking episode of the Greatest Story Ever Told (because it has more nudity).
Remember, we're discovering the story though the TV show, not the books. Anyone who spoils will be set upon by Qyburn and a scalpel.
The standout through line this week was ritual – from weddings and beddings, courtships and charity, slave auctions and sexual display, it was a tumultuous hour of observing and breaking protocols, observances, customs and other words my thesaurus tells me are synonyms for ritual.
Despite her hopes being raised by her admission into the House of Black and White, Arya has found her career as a savage killing machine is still some way off. Every journey into a mad cult must begin with the ritual of sweeping the temple floors and receiving lectures on the best way to completely remove your sense of individuality and personal agency.
Confused by her architectural surroundings, Arya asks Jaqen H'ghar which is the Many-Faced God, the one the temple worships. There is only one God, Jaqen tells her. Gasp! Does this give some credence to the widely-circulated fan theory that Jaqen H'ghar is actually Syrio Forel, Arya's old dancing master from season one?
Some time later, Arya is set upon in her quarters by another servant of the temple, who whips her every time she claims to be be "no one". Now I've read The Da Vinci Code, so I know whipping is classic ritual behaviour. I'm not sure yelling back "C---!" is, but it sure would have perked up that dirge of a movie adaptation.
I got distracted by the whipping girl until I realised she'd been in another costume drama I like: The White Queen. Anyone else seen that? It's such a Game of Thrones rip-off – there are noble families competing in a fantastical series of battles called "The Wars of the Roses", and their country, "England", even had a North! George R.R. Martin should totally sue the guy who wrote the books, someone Shakespeare or something.
Anyway, whipping girl is interrupted by Jaqen H'ghar, who informs Arya that while she professes to be no one, she is surrounded by Arya Stark's things. This forces Arya to complete a ritual of her own – discarding her clothes and cash into the deep. However, she cannot dispense with Needle, bless her little heart. She buries it in a rock pile, retaining that Stark link to the past. Like Chekhov's infamous gun, you can bet your bottom bitcoin that sword will be back.
Arya ends up joining whipping girl in the cheery task of washing bodies of the dead, men who drank the waters of the temple. But are they victims (Valar Morghulis), or servants (Valar Doeharis)?
Tommen and Margaery's wedding was quite the speedy affair – we cut straight from the formal altar to the informal, sexy altar, at which Tommen was quite happy to worship, over and over again. I do feel slightly seedy making jokes about Tommen's bedroom shenanigans, as I'm fairly certain he's under 18, and I don't need another criminal record. Let's just say he's an enthusiastic learner.
Of course Kate Middleton's cunning plan to bind Tommen to her at the expense of his mother Cersei is working a treat. She delivers all those coy suggestions about Cersei never letting Tommen out of her sight with the sort of doe-eyed innocence you'd expect from the grand-daughter of Olenna Tyrell.
What was most stunning was Cersei's reaction to the Kate Middleton ascension. Having indicated deep disgust at hearing "Queen Margaery!" yelled in the streets, she goes to her new daughter-in-law the morning after almost as a supplicant. "If I can do anything for you, if there's anything you need…" Could Cersei actually be trying to get into Margaery's good books? The look on her face as she left, with peals of laughter from Margaery's ladies ringing out behind her, was pitiable.
Cersei's other challenge this episode came in the form of the so-called High Sparrow, whom she was inspired to visit after the High Septon came a crocker for indulging his religion a little too lustfully in one of Littlefinger's brothels. Just as he was about to get it on with the Maiden and the Stranger (two is extra, you know), a bunch of Sparrows burst in like Captain Jack on a bender. They forced him to march naked through Fleabottom as punishment for his sin, whipping him every time he tried to cover his, um, holy staff.
High Sparrow admits the High Septon's punishment was perhaps too rough, but he makes no apologies for calling out his hypocrisy. The Seven Gods treat all as equal; the sooner those in power realise that, the better. Cersei informs him that she agrees, and the High Septon is now in the dungeon for his behaviour. But can this pleasant start last? Cersei, clearly, has a lot of reasons to fear religious fanatics, being less than squeaky clean herself (cough twincest cough). Perhaps she hopes to tether herself to them before they have cause to cut her loose.
Meanwhile it's a credit to actor Jonathan Pryce that despite his renown, he sinks into his role very quickly. I was planning to call him either Juan Peron or Elliot Carver, his characters from Evita and Tomorrow Never Dies respectively, but neither of those men were humble like High Sparrow. Maybe we'll just stick to Big Bird.
Up north, we find Pod the squire assisting Brienne his knight, as usual. But this time in the ritual of removing her armour, she lets down her defences, and 'fesses up to a traumatic teenage moment of rejection. On the dancefloor, no less.
Oh, Brienne. So many of us have been there, and not all of us had a rad gay bestie like Renly to save us. Although I went to a private rugby-playing school, so I suspect all my potential gay besties had good reason to keep a lid on it. But still, another scene establishing Brienne as one of the most noble and brave characters on the show.
Pod also shared some D&M material with his knight about how he came to serve Tyrion, and told her how proud he was to serve such a good fighter. She apologised for snapping at him, he took it as cheerily as always, and the pair committed to a new routine: training up Pod. Maybe that's where we'll finally get our dearly longed-for '80s-style training montage?
The pair are of course following Littlefinger and Sansa Stark as they ride north to Winterfell. Sansa's initial creeping hint of joy at the prospect soon turned sour as she remembered Roose Bolton, that horrible man who killed her mother and brother, runs things in her home castle nowadays.
After two episodes of moodiness to match her new hairdo, I was pleased to see some of Sansa's old spunk when she threw a tantrum at the thought of going anywhere near Winterfell. However, it was followed by a creepy grope from Littlefinger who creepily told her how the best way to get revenge for her family was to marry into the Boltons.
Did anybody else respond to this scene with loud cries of "Noooo, Sansa, noooo!". Dealing with Joffrey was bad enough, please, do not let Sansa be subjected to brutality of Roose Bolton's no-longer-a-bastard-but-still-a-bastard son!
Roose, meanwhile, has a few problems of his own to deal with. The death of Tywin Lannister has put the protection their alliance allowed into doubt; and the troublesome Ramsay has been off ritualistically flaying local nobles who refuse to pay taxes to their new overlord.
The best alliances, Roose explains, are made through marriage, not fear, and Ramsay is soon onboard with the idea of linking up with the eldest surviving Stark (although his equally sadistic girlfriend doesn't look happy).
The look on Sansa's face upon greeting Roose Bolton blended disgust and a desire to run away, before she put on her best smile and curtsied just like a proper lady. Then, as she returned to her old rooms, the housekeeper greeted her "Welcome home, Lady Stark. The North remembers." Yes! Oh, I hope this works out for Sansa and she poisons all their dinners or stabs them all in the eye.
It'll be interesting to see how the relationship between Littlefinger and Roose Bolton goes – Baelish is as slippery as an eel in KY jelly (Cersei even refers to him as "slithering" around the Eyrie), and as a rank traitor himself, Bolton's not going to be big on trust. The delivery of Cersei's message is a reminder to Littlefinger he's not the only one with game-playing game.
As new Lord Commander of the Night's Watch (ooh, it's thrilling just to say that aloud) Jon Snow turns down Stannis Baratheon's offer of joining him on a vengeance mission south to retake Winterfell. Jon really does seem to want to go, but he's got responsibilities now, plus he's teaching young Ollie, his new steward, that you can't always put your own wishes first.
There's a moment of tension in the mess hall when Jon announces a new Latrine Captain, and it seems like the nasty Ser Alliser will get the job. But no, J-Sno is not like that, he's fair. He gives the shit job to a ginger (hey, I'm a ginger. Well, sometimes), and appoints Ser Alliser Thorne as First Ranger, despite Stannis' advice that it's foolhardy to keep your enemies close.
The real test comes when Ser Janos Slynt, a slimeball since the beginning, refuses a command to restore a crumbling tower, and not even Ser Alliser stands by him.
Parental theories aside, never has Jon Snow looked more like Ned Stark than in that moment on the platform, when he asks Slynt for his final words. Slynt, of course, caves like the shrivelling coward he is, begging for mercy. Jon almost grants it too, but then this is not Mance Raydar and he is now in command. The man who gives the sentence must swing the sword, and so Janos is no more.
Finally we come to Volantis, the sprawling city Tyrion jumps into after losing his mind in his travelling box. It's the kind of place that takes slaving seriously – indentured servants are branded according to their place in society.
He quickly nips away from Varys and becomes entranced by a red priestess holding a public preaching session. She praises Daenerys as a saviour, a concept Tyrion is happy to mock until the priestess turns her dark, knowing eyes upon him. "Let's find a brothel" is the only sensible solution to such a probe.
Upon arrival, it's clear Daenerys' influence has spilled over into the world of fantasy role-play, with the most popular working girl a Mother of Dragons imitator, complete with buttless cape. You could say that actor had quite the part.
Despite Tyrion's initially lusty intentions towards another girl – because of her sceptical mind, awww – he finds himself unable to muster the, ahem, courage to follow her to bed. Tiredness or excessive drinking, perhaps? Or memories of Shae, swimming back into his mind? Either way, it leaves Tyrion pondering a future without his all time favourite ritual.
Yay! Best Moments
Call me some sort of fetishist, but it's hard to beat Tyrion taking a leak when it comes to great moments in television history. The fact he was lassoed by the exiled Jorah Mormont was a fantastic cliffhanger ending.
"I'm taking you to the Queen," was Jorah's reasoning, leading us to think he might be after the reward Cersei has offered for her brother's head. But she's no longer technically queen – and Jorah has more to gain from someone who is – Daenerys. Could the little Lannister wind up where he was going anyway, just via a different means of transport?
Zing! Best Lines
It wasn't even a line, it was a look. The brothel bouncer rubs Tyrion's head, saying it's good luck to rub the head of a dwarf. Without skipping a beat, Tyrion replies "It's even better luck to suck a dwarf's c---", and Varys turns his head in the best possible "Oh, FFS" way in history.
Mind you, Tyrion's "I need to speak with someone with hair" to Varys and "What will I do with my spare time?" to the disappointed prostitute were pretty golden as well.
Qyburn is creating zombies, people. As I live and breathe, he is trying to make creatures that live and breathe down there in the bowels of King's Landing. Cooking up some Frankensteinian monster hellbent on destroying us all. "Shhh," he tells his moving table corpse as he dissects a rat. Forget Littlefinger, Qyburn is The New Creepy.
No Dany means no naked Maario this week. Also, one of my foster kittens got adopted, so my own hold on the title Mother of Kittens has been weakened. I wonder how Dany is doing with her dragons, after Drogon made a reappearance?