Robb Stark (Richard Madden) learns Winterfell has been taken by Theon Greyjoy, a man he once called brother.

★★★★½

A couple weeks ago when I reviewed “Garden of Bones,” I noted I was bummed we missed the brunt of another Robb battle. I recognize that as a TV show they don’t have Lord of the Rings money, but I so badly want to see Robb Stark slice and dice some Lannisters that I couldn’t help but sigh.

But I’ve figured out why those sequences can be skipped over. The romantic notion that faceless soldiers are rushing off to foreign lands and winning us our freedom by sacrificing their safety, shooting at whatever savage enemy threatens our way of life, is easy to root for, but it’s not warfare at its purest. Warfare is contained in intimate and brutal moments where the life men thought they knew is shattered along with his convictions, their heart melts as innocence and beauty are torn apart and he’s inspired to swear allegiance to whomever will allow them to seek revenge. Game of Thrones is so appropriately titled because it isn’t titled The War of Kings. Notice that besides Stannis’ shadow-stabbing his brother, no substantial movements toward attaining that coveted throne have been made.

We have four episodes left in the season and King’s Landing is untouched. However, on a small scale, assault after assault is derailing or emboldening the would-be rulers. And even more troubling for these commanders is the truth that much of their conquest depends on love and loyalty, a commodity in short supply. And then there’s the eternally undervalued assets: the women of Westeros. If this episode reminded us of anything, it’s that no matter how despicably these queens, princesses, and even wildings are treated, they govern the most vulnerable part of a knight’s armor, his heart.

Winterfell

Maester Luwin races against time to send out a messenger raven as Theon and his forces take Winterfell. His plan to draw out their men with a small raid on Torrhen’s Square worked splendidly. To be fair, the commander of these remaining Northern soldiers was like…a 10 year old cripple? So Theon is not exactly a military mastermind, just lucky his competition is weak. Regardless he storms into Bran’s bedroom and the sleepy lord pulls himself out of bed and refuses to surrender. Though there isn’t much choice and the kind-hearted boy wants to limit the casualties so he does concede. He asks his former “brother” a heartbreaking question, “Did you hate us the whole time?” It’s the perfect emotion for the boy to portray. Robb trusted him to enlist the Greyjoy fleet and they housed him for years treating him like one of their own. But as Balon Greyjoy has pointed out, Theon is not, and never will be, a Stark. His time in Winterfell was a condition of surrender, not a courtesy. Why should he feel like a traitor?

As Theon requested, Bran assembles his people in the courtyard. Osha tells the young lord that his dream has come true; the ocean has come to swallow this place. Ser Rodrik Cassel returns from Torrhen’s Square only to be captured immediately. When Rodrik sees Theon he berates the lad for this ungrateful and pitiful rebellion. He implores him to see that those who love him are there in Winterfell not at Pyke, but Theon’s mind is made up and he does not submit and assures the townspeople they will love him as they did Ned Stark. For comparing himself to his former and honorable lord, Rodrik spits in the face of his “conqueror.” Theon’s reaction is to throw him in jail, but his first mate demands Rodrik pay “the iron price” a.k.a execution.

Bran begs that cooler heads prevail, and the fear in Theon’s eyes reduces him to the forlorn child he really is. All he wanted was to belong to a house, and confronted with the choice he chooses the easy path of the sword. The brutal decision is reflected in the execution. You see how weak Theon is and how dull his sword is and you know this won’t be a clean hack. Rodrik’s last words are sure to haunt Theon: “Now you are truly lost.” He swings down on Rodrik’s neck a few times, and to finish off the beheading he kicks it off. This is one of the best cases I can make for the gratuitous violence. Although it’s repulsive, in this instance it shows how poorly suited Theon is for his position. He’s too green to be a slaughterer, but in this cruel world you will eventually be on one end of the sword, and the safest side is the least cleansing for the soul.

With the blood of his former protector on his hands, Theon enjoys his spoils. Osha, the wilding he helped capture last season pleads twice to serve her new lord. She first asks to be employed as a warrior, but Theon knows the risk of handing her a spear. So the second time around she bargains for her freedom by offering her body. We know from how he fondled his sister (he didn’t know it was her, to be fair) that Theon’s a dog, so this is a well-conceived play that he buys hook, line and sinker when she strips. Post-coitus, as he sleeps, Osha gets up and whisks Bran, little brother Rickon and Hodor out of the castle. I was legitimately shocked that she possessed such loyalty and the act immediately shot her up a few places to become one of my favorite Westerosi women. Arya and Margery still reign supreme, but she’s close with Daenerys, who I’ve become disappointed with and will discuss below.

North of the Wall

While our thrilling introduction of Winterfell’s siege sets a bleak and desperate tone, we get some hope on the horizon in the frigid north. Qhorin Halfhand leads Jon Snow into the Frostfangs mountain range hunting for wildlings. After all, beyond the wall you either kill while they sleep, or you might not wake up yourself. Halfhand further advises his new ranger to be naive and think his courage and heroic ambitions will save him. “Start thinking you know this place and it will kill you.” He also destroys his ideas of glory with another great line, “Your death will be a gift to those south of the wall…they won’t even know your name.”

They eventually descend upon one small group and Jon has one of them in his grasp. When he pulls off her hood he’s surprised to find a woman. He, of course, hesitates as she mocks him for never having killed a woman before. Halfhand orders him to execute her, a mirroring of Theon’s dilemma. As his superior and the others climb to the top, they leave Jon to his dirty work. Where Theon “succeeded” though, Jon fails. He intentionally misses her neck, and Ygritte scurries away. After a chase across the gorgeous frozen landscape, Jon tackles her. Now lost from the group Jon and his prisoner take shelter (well they just sort of plop on the ground) for the night.

The adorable Rose Leslie as Ygritte (who looks-wise is a hell of a challenger to Emilia Clarke’s Daenersy and Natalie Dormer’s Margery) suggests they’d be warmer if they snuggle. Jon reluctantly—though, come on, he perked up soon as she said that—agrees. The scene’s wonderful because I’ve been wondering with how good-looking Kit Harrington is if he was ever going to have a love interest. And how better to thaw a cold-hearted warrior than a woman’s warmth. When she wiggles a bit to get comfortable I wondered if Jon snipped at her because it excited him. I mean, she was kind of rubbing on him. Or maybe I’m just a pig, but he’s got to be thinking it, right? Didn’t Theon tease him for never having been with a woman? Well, you know he wants it, only a matter of time.

King’s Landing

Joffrey’s reign becomes even messier after a ceremony sending his sister, Myrcella, off to Dorne as Tyrion had arranged. Although, I’ll admit, I thought that engagement was all smoke and mirrors to uncover Pycelle’s treachery. Guess he was killing two messenger ravens with one arrow. During the proceedings, Cersei, playing up the bitter and scorned mother, threatens her imp brother by wishing that he one days knows love. She hopes that he finds a woman whom he cares for so deeply that he even sees her with his eyes closed. And then, once he’s found her, she’ll take her from him. Harsh as all hell, but it was a dick move on Tyrion’s part. Cersei doesn’t deserve kindness, but you’d imagine that besides her herself, her children are probably the only things that matter to the ice queen.

As the royalty is being escorted through the town square, his subjects mock Joffrey and one throws a cowpie (well let’s call it was it is, a piece of sh*t) serving as a catalyst for a full-on riot. Insulted, the fervid twerp barks at his guards to kill them all. The ensuing melee is equally as gruesome as Theon’s execution, especially when a high priest is torn limb from limb. In the scrum, Sansa Stark, Joffrey’s future queen, is displaced and run down by four peasants who intend to rape her when The Hound swoops in to rescue her, disposing of the savage subjects like it’s nothing.

Disgusted, Tyrion screams at his nephew for his foolishness. The peasants are upset because they are starving due to a war he started by decapitating Ned Stark. He is the only one to blame for the chaos. Joffrey whines like the runt he is that he can’t be spoken to that way. Tyrion delivers a typically gangster quip after he emphatically smacks the kid king upside the head: “And now I struck a king! Did my hand fall off?” What a badass mofo. And he’s absolutely right, the overwhelmed City Watch—who is mostly off fighting for Tywin—might fail to contain the damages because he couldn’t just wipe the sh*t off his face and move on. Joffrey doesn’t demand respect he cries for it like the baby he is. He’s so insecure about his own claim to the throne that he motivates others to take it from him because he rules so impulsively.

Harrenhal

Arya impresses Tywin Lannister with her capability and wit. He jokes that she should choose his next battle plan. Suddenly, Petyr Baelish pays him a visit and Arya cannot leave since she must serve wine, but Baelish after serving her father will surely recognize her face. She does the best she can to move swiftly, but from the quizzical look on Baelish’s face he must recognize her. Let’s hope if he has placed her he doesn’t intend to share this with Tywin. Though a part of me wonders how Tywin will react. He has treated her so kindly and they’ve developed a mutual respect, a bond of sorts. Would he spare her? Baelish’s business is probably on behalf of Margery Tyrell (I missed her so), possibly on his own, and interested in brokering an alliance between the Tyrells and the Lannisters to oppose the now inflated forces of Stannis Baratheon.

Later, a sneaky Arya, artfully dodges Tywin’s questions of how she learned to read. She answers that her father was a stonemason who taught her and himself and that loyalty killed him. At least the last part is true. Oh Arya, how awesome are you? Then when she baits him to discuss his father and upbringing she steals his battle plan off the table and runs off with it when he asks for a log for the fire. She runs into his knight Ser Amory Lorch who questions her about the paper. She scampers away and hurriedly finds Jaqen, who has two more people to kill for her. She insists he do it fast and just as Ser Lorch enters Tywin’s chamber he falls over with a dart in his neck. Two down, one to go. And Arya is once again resourceful, brilliant and the most badass little girl in the Seven Kingdoms. Maisie Williams, in an episode full of memorable acing, might still have the crown.

Robb Stark’s camp

Because the cosmos couldn’t have one one good-looking Stark brother with a lady friend and not the other, the nurse from two episodes ago, Talisa, appears again to charm Robb. I found their first encounter riveting given that she was basically insulting his leadership. She pointed out the needless bloodshed of war and the hypocrisy of it—that in fighting for peace you kill innocent men. But as mothers always do, Catelyn Stark arrives as he’s macking her. What a cockblock. Then she reminds him he’s betrothed, due to a debt they must repay. I’m thinking Robb gets out of it somehow because this one’s a keeper. And besides, he’s no Lannister, he doesn’t “always pay his debts.”

Robb also gets wind of the sacking of Winterfell by Theon. Considering he sent Theon to Pyke for recruiting purposes, he takes it personally. He commands a few hundred men led by Northern lord Roose Bolton’s bastard son Ramsay Snow—remember all bastards are named Snow in the North. All that Robb requires is that Theon’s brought back alive so he can ask him why, then kill him himself. Hell yeah, Robb. Show that adopted brother why he probably was right not to believe you were his family. Oh, wait.

Qarth

And lastly, Daenerys. Last season, she put in work. She seduced a Dothraki warlord, she watched as her brother was killed by molten gold, and she birthed some dragons. Not a bad few months. But as of lately, she hasn’t gotten very far. Well, she crossed the Red Waste and gained entry in Qarth on reputation and threats. But since last week, not much has happened. She denied Xaro (the richest man in Qarth) a marriage proposal, good for her. But she’s resorted to begging others now. Someone already offered you ships, you just had to marry him! You already married someone in your pursuit of the crown, why stop now? I guess she fell for Drogo, but now she wants to be principled? I’m not sure.

So she gets an audience with the eloquent and ruthless Spice King. She asks for a fleet of ships to cross the Narrow Sea. He says, I got a business to run, and I don’t blame him. It isn’t a solid investment. She has no army, and no real allies when you consider most people have forgotten the Targaryen name. Her passion is unrelenting and admirable, but all she has is the threat of dragons. She babbles some spiel about how her dreams come true (which sort of explains how she so confidently walked into fire in last season’s finale), but as a practical and self-made man, I can’t fault him. I love you, Daenerys darling, but you are grasping at straws here. Don’t let Jorah’s blinding feelings for you keep you from making a advantageous business transaction with Xaro. Then, as the episode ends with Xaro advising Daenerys that she’ll need less righteous means to attain such lofty goals, she discovers her guards and maidens have been murdered and her dragons stolen. Now, she really has nothing.

Many of those we want to succeed, and even those we wish ill of, are giving themselves away, hoping that their true freedom will come. In these grim times, like Brienne and Catelyn did last week, you must swear by something powerful to survive—even if if you don’t trust them or believe in what they stand for. Osha lets Theon have his way with her, the Tyrells are making deals with the deplorable Lannisters, and Daenerys might have to let go of her beliefs and succumb to Xaro so that she may leave Qarth at least with what she came with. And Arya’s problematic allegiances with Tywin and even Jaqen could easily combust if the truth comes to light. Robb and Jon have women who have ensnared their affections, but love can be the most deadly of loyalties. While I feel like by episode six they had built up more steam last season, there’s no doubt in my mind that with magic lingering over them and desperate alliances being forged, we could see a head-on collision of swords and shadows in the coming weeks.

Remember, don’t discuss elements of the books that haven’t aired yet. Don’t spoil it for everyone else in the comments section!

About The Author

Christopher Peck is a former Blast television editor

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