Prepare for battle! Westeros braces for bloodshed as Robb Stark finds love and the Kingslayer slips away

By James Hibberd
Updated May 21, 2012 at 02:37 AM EDT

Breaking Bad showrunner Vince Gilligan once told me a season of TV is like a roller coaster. There are slower episodes that build the drama, and fast episodes that plummet the viewer into frightening drops and twists. This week’s episode of Game of Thrones was a builder. Tyrion and Joffrey are preparing to fight Stannis and Davos; Tywin is riding out against Robb Stark; Theon will soon have to defend Winterfell, and Dany is steeling herself to brave the House of the Undying.

Next week, however, is an hour where you’re going to want to ride in the front row, hands raised high, then buy a picture in the gift shop. Episode 9 is The Battle of Blackwater Bay. And has an exclusive and in-depth interview with Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss giving the behind-the-scenes story on how next week came together at the end of this week’s recap.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First let’s get to tonight’s episode, “The Prince of…

…Winterfell:” Dead ravens are dumped at Theon’s feet. His crew has killed the carrier birds to prevent Robb Stark from finding out about their hostile takeover of his castle (they’re crashing Winterfell’s r-mail servers, if you will). Little do they know that Maester Luwin secretly sent a message to Robb, who has dispatched one of his bannermen’s sons to retake the castle (yes, book readers, The Bastard of Bolton, though I suspect we won’t see him this season).

The gates open for Ironborn riders. Theon’s smile fades. Where are his 500 men? And why is his spunky sister Yara here?

Yara says their father wants Theon to give up the castle since it’s too far inland for him to successfully hold for long. “Father wants a word,” she says with witty understatement. Then she rips him for apparently executing the valuable Stark boys, calling him weak and stupid.

Theon is like a guy who gives his girlfriend a Saint Bernard for her birthday without pausing to consider that she has a tiny apartment and is allergic to dogs. He can’t understand why this gift isn’t valued. He’s finally achieved something — something huge and impressive! — and now everybody wants to take it away.

Yara gets him alone and, for the first time, speaks kindly to him. She pleads, “Don’t die so far from the sea.”

I remember reading this part of Theon’s story in A Clash of Kings and loving this whole complication. We always hear about heroes and villains capturing castles and territories in stories like they’re pieces on a game board. But we rarely get the details of what happens next — the challenge of holding onto a property and maintaining public support when everybody thinks you’re a jerk who’s stolen their lord’s home. It’s a classic George R.R. Martin narrative move to take a standard fantasy point that we’ve seen many times and inject real-world complications.

North of the Wall: Captured Jon Snow is brought across a frozen lake to Ygritte’s supervisor, the Lord of Bones. I wonder why he’s called that. Could be the hundreds of bones he’s decorated himself with? He sort of looks like a pudgy Skeletor.

NEXT: Mom, you’re embarrassing me again!

Ygritte convinces the Lord of Bones to spare Snow’s life, to let the King Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder, whom we haven’t yet met, (again, book readers, I don’t think this season) decide his fate. Jon Snow self-pityingly tells his fellow captured crow Qhorin Halfhand that the other men’s death is his fault. Halfhand is like, Yeah, it was your fault, so you better make it count, buddy.

Later, Halfhand quietly tells Jon that one Night’s Watch brother as a spy inside the Wildling camp is worth 1,000 men openly fighting against them. He loudly picks a fight with Jon. So Halfhand is suggesting that…that…

Okay, sorry, can I just say more thing about the Lord of Bones? It just seems really impractical to carry all that weight while hiking through the wilderness. And if you’re listening when he’s walking on screen past Jon, they’re noisy too. They rattle with his every step. How is he supposed to be this awesome snow warrior when all his mates are wearing their stealthy snow camouflage and he sounds like bamboo wind chimes that your retired neighbor buys and puts on her porch and thinks are soothing every time there’s a breeze but they secretly annoy the hell out you?

Robb Stark’s Camp: Robb is taking a walk with the hottie medic who says her name is “Talisa.” I put this in quotes because book readers aren’t certain if her identity has been changed from who she is in the books or if she’s still the same character and is being deceptive about her name. Robb and Talisa are having a romantic stroll along a hillside through 50-mph winds. Robb talks about the weight of leadership. An underling runs up and we learn–

The Kingslayer has escaped! And that Catelyn let him go.

Catelyn, Robb and the grieving father of the guard that Jaime murdered square off. Catelyn is trying to trade Jaime for her daughters. Robb wanted to retain Jaime as a future bargaining chip. The guard’s father wanted Jaime executed. All three have perfectly valid arguments, but Robb is the man in charge and he’s dead right that his mom undermined him. Yes, the grieving dad’s men may have been mustering up their courage to execute Jaime while he was away, but Catelyn could have had Brienne hide Jaime off site, or something, then bring him back later once Robb returned rather than continuing to frog march him all the way King’s Landing.

“Jaime Lannister has played you for a fool, you’ve weakened our position, you’ve brought discord into our camp,” Robb says, and orders his mom kept under guard, then doubtless thinks: Hmm, now where’s that hottie medic she doesn’t want me to have sex with…

NEXT: Jaime’s blind date; A man gets a request

Elsewhere: Jaime Lannister’s hood is removed and he gets a good look at his blind date — Brienne the Beauty. Putting these two together is potentially a fun move. They are both warriors, but with zero respect for each other. “You’re as boring as you are ugly,” Jaime says. She accuses him of trying to bait her into removing his chains. But he doesn’t have much of a motive to try and escape now that she’s bringing him back home.

Harrenhal: Tywin’s staff predicts that Stannis will capture King’s Landing. Tywin still doesn’t want Joffrey and his daughter Cersei to flee (Tyrion he presumably doesn’t much care about). “A king who runs will not be king for long,” he declares, then decides to go after Robb Stark.

Arya is alarmed. Tywin’s going to lead an army against her brother. Tywin also decides to give Arya to the psychopath knight called The Mountain so she can serve him instead.

This is bad news. Arya already had one of the worst waitress gigs in Westeros — no tips, cranky evil customers, having to lug water up that tall tower. Now it’s like she’s being demoted from El Paso strip club bartender to Denny’s truck stop waitress.

After her shift, she races around looking for Jaqen H’gar. When she finds him and gives him grief for his absence he protests: “A man has patrol duty!” (Admit it, you laughed too.)

He says to give him a name, any name other than Tywin. Apparently he can kill absolutely anybody — unless they just left on horseback a couple hours earlier. Viewers chant: “Jof-frey! Jof-frey!” But Ayra gives Jaqen his own name. A man is highly irritated. He asks her to take it back, like it’s school-yard name calling. Arya says she’ll only let him off the hook if he helps her and her friends escape Harrenhal. Getting them out means killing more than one person, which to Jaqen the Death Genie sounds like cheating. He accuses her of not being honorable. Arya gives a hilarious little shrug. He tells her she must follow his instructions.

“A girl will obey,” she agrees, that third-person speech catching on.

Later: Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie (yes, that’s really his name) find that Jaqen has, once again, pulled off the seemingly impossible. The gate guards are dead, but propped up to appear to a casual observer that they’re still at their post. They walk through the gates — but have they truly escaped?

King’s Landing: Tyrion is reading books trying to figure out how to thwart Stannis’ pending attack and bickering with Bronn. Love the debate over whether a gold cloak uniform is practical for fighting. Tyrion knows Stannis is coming with his ships. He know Stannis will probably land at a place called the Mud Gate. Once he’s inside, the Lannisters are screwed. Tyrion knows everything except how to stop them.

Later, Tyrion dines with his sister on fish pie (not Shae’s fish pie, presumably). Joffrey plans to go into battle and Tyrion can barely suppress his joy at this prospect. But when Cersei starts grinning he knows something is wrong. “Why are you happy?” he asks suspiciously, and with good reason.

NEXT: Queen takes Whore? — A bridge toll too far

Cersei says she’s taken his prostitute hostage, noting the girl was wearing a rather obvious Lannister lion necklace. If Joffrey survives the battle, she won’t be harmed — much. If he is hurt, “There isn’t a man alive who could devise a more painful death.”

Ah ha. In the game of chess between these two, Joffrey has threatened her King. So now: Queen takes Whore. Checkmate?

But it seems Cersei has the wrong whore, and we suspect — given that “obvious” Lannister lion necklace she mentioned — that Tyrion successfully set up this poor girl as a decoy. Still, Tyrion is super pissed. His damn family members keep beating on his whores! He makes righteous (and slightly over the top) threats against Cersei, while she gives him a perfect F-you “get out.”

Tyrion frantically finds Shae. He is more vulnerable here than we’ve ever seen him. Surrounded by all these threats, he needs to believe that she really truly loves him. “You’re mine,” he says. “Promise me.”

It seems to me that Tyrion has indeed forgotten, as he put it, “the most important thing about whores.”

Robb Stark Camp: Talisa stops by Robb’s tent. She apparently now has just-stop-by-anytime privileges with the King in the North. He starts complaining about the burden of command again, then catches himself whining.

She tells her backstory. At first I think “she hasn’t really earned a big monologue yet.” But it turns out to be a good story, well told, about how a slave rescued her brother and how that act made her want to live in a city without slaves. Moreover, the story demonstrates her moral values, which for an ethical guy like Robb, is the fastest way to turn him on.

“I don’t want to marry the Frey girl,” he blurts.

“I don’t want you to either,” she says (duh!), then adds: “But you needed that bridge.” Which is just a tad manipulative, pointing out how absurd his vow sounds.

They take a long time getting naked with all the strings and ties. A well done, sexy scene (and sorry Richard Madden fans, he’s just shirtless). And as for Talisa, wow, if sawing off legs gets you a body like that, half the ladies in Westeros would sign up for medic classes.

Stannis’ Ship: Another preparing-for-battle beat, now with Davos. We learn how The Onion Knight got his nickname. Stannis says that he will make Davos his Hand of the King if he claims the Iron Throne.

You know, Stannis would make a perfectly decent king too. So who are you rooting for, here? Because to root for Tyrion, as much as we all love Tyrion, is to root for Joffrey. And aren’t we rooting against Joffrey?

NEXT: Raising Bran, Blackwater interview

Qarth: Dany wants to go into the House of the Undying to get her dragons. She’s trying to convince Ser Jorah. He thinks going after the beasts is too dangerous. Dany starts to argue that the dragons are her children, the only ones she will ever have.

While she’s talking, she reaches out and caresses Ser Jorah’s face. And you can tell by Ser Jorah’s captivated expression that Dany now might as well be saying, “Blah blah blah dragons blah blah blah dragons.”

Winterfell: Looks like Theon has indeed decided to stay. He doesn’t know that all those men are coming straight for his ass. He at least wants to cut down the burned bodies of the children — as if they’re Christmas lights that are still wrapped around the roof of the house in February. His impetuous First Mate urges him to keep them up because they’re, like, great for moral or something.

Maester Luwin spies Osha sneaking some loaves of bread. He follows her to the castle’s underground crypts. There he discovers what you already suspected: Bran and Rickon are alive! They’re hiding right under Theon’s nose. It seems Theon killed two random kids instead and passed them off as extra-crispy Starks.

Fumed a friend after watching last week’s episode: “Those two kids better have been those farmer’s kids and not Bran and Rickon.”

“Because that makes it better?” I asked.

“Well, yes.”

It seems to make Theon’s actions better because we like Bran and Rickon. I’d argue that what Theon did was actually worse. If he killed the Stark boys, one could argue, just like he did, that he executed the kids for breaking their word, in addition to sending a message to the locals back at the castle that demonstrates his intolerance for rebellion. Stupid vengeance and terrible reasoning, sure, but at least there were a couple reasons for doing it, as bad as they are. Once he lost the Starks, however, only reason to kill the random kids was pride. He didn’t want to go back to Winterfell without evidence of his badassery.

Next week: Stannis will reach King’s Landing. We will witness the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Check out’s interview with the Thrones showrunners that reveal the (spoiler-free) backstory on how the episode was made — how the battle almost didn’t happen, how they persuaded HBO to chip in some extra funds to pull it all off, plus their thoughts on how the episode turned out. It’s all here.

Oh, and next week, we’re going to do the recap a little differently. Check out the Thrones recaps home page after the episode starts next Sunday night for more info.