By the light of the seven, that was a good, if emotionally draining, episode. I feel a bit like Ygritte after a snowballing, if you get my drift.
But let's make like Gendry and forge on with this week's Game of Thrones Raven On recap.
(Reminder: spoilers will be included below. Only read on if you've seen the episode. We're discovering the storyline through the TV series – reading the books after each has finished – so no dropping important, future plot points in the comments, or we'll slice you with a flaming sword.)
For me, this episode was all about nudi ... family. Family. Not nudity. But, if I can briefly sidetrack – HELLO, NUDITY!
Family ties, family honour and family jewels have been a major theme of Game of Thrones from the start. But this episode struck me as being very heavy on the idea of expectations within a family unit, and what happens on both sides when those expectations are not met, or worse, betrayed.
Lord Karstark commits a terrible crime – the murder of the two Lannister boys, hostages at Riverrun. Who knows how he was able to get near them, but they ended up full of stab holes and dumped unceremoniously in the Great Hall.
Catelyn, Talisa and Edmure counsel Robb against carrying out retribution against Lord Karstark. It wasn't so much his ties to the Stark family through shared ancestry that worried them – it was the potential desertion of his troops at a critical juncture of the war.
The fools! Anyone can see Robb is Ned Stark's son, and he did exactly what his father would have done, right down to swinging the sword himself. But not before Lord Karstark left him with a parting curse: "You're no King in the North." Robb's dark fury was beautifully brooded by Richard Madden. Go back and watch him clench his hand after the beheading – there was blood on it all right.
The Karstark forces did indeed leave the camp, leaving Robb with only one strategy: take Casterly Rock while the Lannisters are in the capital. But there'll be an awkward family dinner to get through first: Robb will need to convince his supposed-to-be father-in-law Walder Frey that he's still worth supporting.
Finally, it's confirmed – the Flayed Men who captured Jaime and Brienne are indeed loyal to Roose Bolton, fetching up at Harrenhal where the Stark bannerman is camped. I wonder if that was a confusing detail for show-only watchers, as I pieced it together from my knowledge of Book 2.
Bolton shows his new guests a bit of respect, releasing Brienne, and getting Jaime Lannister some medical treatment. That dodgy maester only had to utter the phrase "my experiments" to confirm my theory that Jaime is going to end up with a magical robotic mecha-arm. Until then, it's regular old medieval ER – cut off the flesh and burn out the corruption with wine. Bottoms up.
Speaking of which, it was the Odd Couple's bath scene that just walloped me somewhere deep in the bowels. Jaime's bottom was a good start, but when Brienne forgot her reserve and stood right up out of the water, naked as the day she was born, I stopped breathing. It was a move of strength and self-preservation, a challenge and a giant f--- you. And Jaime backed down, admitted he trusted her, and for the first time ever, let down a wall.
Now, the Kingslayer is a crafty piece of work, but I actually felt like his tale of why he killed the Mad King was the truth. He had to protect his father and stop Aerys burning all of King's Landing to the ground – and he forced Brienne to consider whether she would sacrifice her family for an oath.
Oaths are all going to pot beyond the wall, where Jon Snow is still mistrusted by a bunch of the wildlings. For a fierce warrior type, Ygritte plays an incredibly girly game of chasey with Jon, trapping him in a cave of hot springs and demanding he break his celibacy oath right there on the rocky outcrop (which is a strange name for it).
Despite his inexperience, Jon turns out to be an expertly sensitive lover, surprising the lass with the redheaded collars by heading straight for the cuffs. This seems to melt her icy heart, and a spa bath spurs them into pledging their lives to each other with their mouths. But then, haven't we all done foolish things in a jacuzzi at some point?
Gendry's chosen a new family – the Brotherhood Without Banners. He tells an upset Arya that while she might choose him as her family, he can't choose her. It's an emo-ro-co (emotional rollercoaster) for Arya, who's had to watch the Hound escape justice, and discover that Beric Dondarrion can, in fact, return from the dead as long as Thoros of Myr whispers something about the Lord of Light into his ear. But the Stark girl does have the prospect of seeing her own family soon – the Brotherhood intend to ransom her to Robb Stark at Riverrun.
Across the Shivering Sea, Daenerys' new army of freed slaves (if they're not Unsullied any more, does it mean they're Sullied?) marches forward. Barristan and Jorah reminisce about past glories and reflect on what it would be like to serve a master who actually might be worth the bother. But Jorah gets a bit possessive when Barristan raises the prospect of him standing aside from any official position if/when Dany seizes power. For the disowned (and now, unbeknownst to him, fatherless) Jorah, Dany is his family, his whole world, and he won't brook any authority-questioning by some Selmy-come-lately.
Dany, meanwhile, has a beautiful moment with the newly appointed captain, Grey Worm, who rejects her kind offer of choosing a new, less slave-y name by suggesting it's actually lucky because it's the name he had when she freed him. Score another point in the PR war, Khaleesi.While Daenerys' family name is all-important, it was nice to see her realise that names don't have to be highborn to have honour.
I thought Lysa Arryn was the craziest mother in Westeros, but it turns out Stannis Baratheon's missus is chief cuckoo in the nest. Stannis seems to be having reservations about his sinful, shadow-spawning sex, but Selyse – even more entranced by Melisandre/Kate Bush than her husband – absolves him of any wrongdoing.
She blames herself for not providing Stannis with a son (BABIES. IN. JARS. WTF.), and even tries to keep him from his daughter, poor little scaly-faced Shireen. Stannis has an sweet, if awkward moment with his little girl – you get the feeling he wants to have a better relationship with her but hasn't the foggiest idea how to do it. But he sticks to his guns about Ser Davos, labelling him a traitor who's best forgotten.
Shireen, however, has other ideas – she's obviously inherited her father's stubborn streak and refuses to give up on the Onion Knight. She takes him books in his cell, then even begins teaching him how to read. The show just hinted at a father-daughter relationship between the pair, before swinging it around.
Also swinging away is Slow Lorus, sorry, Ser Loras, who impresses Sansa with his swordplay before impressing a squire with his ... er, swordplay. But the squire is – gasp – one of Lord Baelish's spies, and provides key information back to Littlefinger that sets the stage for the episode's dramatic climax.
It was the best scene of the show: Tyrion, gloating over treasury victories like a shorter Peter Costello, and being informed by a tense Tywin and smug Cersei that the Tyrells are indeed "plotting" against the Lannisters by marrying Sansa off to Slow Lorus, sorry, Ser Loras.
The solution? A new husband for Sansa. A sensible, within-the-family choice: Tyrion. My goodness, but I loved his disgusted reaction almost as much as I loved Cersei's desperate one when Tywin rounded on her and ordered her to marry Slow Lorus.
"I am the Queen Regent, not a brood mare!" came her cry of rage. Sorry Cersei, you're now the Black Caviar of Westeros. Tywin left the room with another cursory insult to the pair about dishonouring the Lannister name, and then we were left with awkward, angry silence.
All in all, the message for me was: "Families. You can't live with them, but you can't kill them. Except in Game of Thrones, where you probably can and will."
It was so good to see Lady Olenna and Tyrion in a scene together for the first time, and Diana Rigg owned it. Olenna knew exactly why an expensive royal wedding was needed, and was quick to remind Tyrion of the assistance the Tyrells are providing the royal family. Then she turned around and told him she was disappointed he wasn't the debauched imp she'd heard about. PWNED.
Maester: There will be pain.
Jaime: I'll scream.
Maester: Quite a lot of pain.
Jaime: I'll scream loudly.
BABIES. IN. JARS. SERIOUSLY, WTF?
Everything about Littlefinger. He's so slimy. That scene with Sansa, commenting on her hair and saying "I'm your friend". SO CREEPY.
Although not as creepy as BABIES. IN. JARS. Really, you guys, WTF is up with that?