There's riddles, tricks, schemes and deceptions this week, but who's fooling who?

By James Hibberd
April 16, 2012 at 01:47 AM EDT
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What a great week for Game of Thrones fans. We still have most of the second season ahead, the first couple episodes delivered terrific ratings, and HBO has renewed the fantasy epic for season 3 (save the date!). Tonight’s hour, “What Is Dead May Never Die,” has several characters scheming and deceiving, with varying degrees of success. So let’s begin:

North of the Wall: Craster the Molester kicks around Jon Snow for witnessing last week’s midnight baby sacrifice. How dare this young man come into Craster’s shack, enjoy the wood-gathering services of his abused children, then get curious about how he disposes of the inconvenient boy babies?

“He’s killing them, all the boys,” Jon complains to the lord commander, who looks at him like: Yes, the rest of us figured that out two episodes ago.

The lord commander explains that they “need men like Craster” and that Craster’s services have saved the lives of Night’s Watch brothers. And, really, what else is poor Craster supposed to do? It’s not like he can raise the boys and kill the girls. We’re North of The Wall, not North of the Great Wall.

So now the brothers are kicked off the homestead. Gilly looks annoyed at Sam — all that flirting for nothing. But he gives Gilly his mom’s thimble. “I’m not giving it away. I’m giving it to you. Keep it safe until I come back.” Their low-expectations romance makes me warm and fuzzy.

Winterfell: Crippled Bran is dreaming in WolfVision. He’s apparently able to see through the eyes of his direwolf Summer. It’s like playing a First Person Shooter only instead of controlling a space marine with a steroid abuse problem you’re a vicious wolf. He can experience all the joys of running through the godswood, killing prey and humping Osha’s leg.

Maester Luwin disses Bran’s insistence that his dreams are real. But just because Luwin’s attempts to become Harry Potter as a kid didn’t work out, it doesn’t mean Bran is wrong. “The dragons are gone,” Luwin lectures, though we know that’s not true. “The giants are dead.” (Somewhere an HBO executive in charge of Thrones‘ budget mutters to himself, “And they better stay dead!”).

Renly’s Camp: Knight fight! Renly Baratheon watches two armored warriors brutally compete. The crown on his head, the platform, the tournament all suggest King Robert’s youngest brother is very much playing the part of being king, even though he’s not gained the Iron Throne yet.

The defeated knight is Loras Tyrell. You remember him from season one, when he jousted in the tournament and was later revealed to be Renly’s lover. The victor is … a woman! Her hair is too short to do the usual slow-motion mane-tossing move after removing her helm. This is Brienne of Tarth, sometimes mockingly called Brienne the Beauty.

NEXT: Brienne’s request; Theon’s awkward position

In exchange for winning the tournament, Brienne wants to join Renly’s elite Kingsguard. He hesitates. This is a big deal, because knights in general and Kingsguard in particular are supposed to be men. But look at her — she’s huge! — and when you’re running for king, it never hurts to impress female voters (start your Monty Python riffing now).

Catelyn Stark arrives to negotiate an allegiance. “When I take King’s Landing, I will bring you Joffrey’s head,” Renly says, drawing cheers from the crowd (and probably from a few viewers).

Brienne chastises Lady Stark for not addressing Renly as “Your Grace,” which is a bit impetuous considering she just got this gig 10 seconds ago.

“My son is fighting a war, not playing at one,” Catelyn snaps, which seems like a misstep too — you don’t gain a man’s allegiance by mocking him in front of his men.

Pyke: We learn Balon Greyjoy’s secret battle plan is to go after The North while Robb Stark busies himself fighting the Lannisters.

This puts Theon in a really awkward position. He came to Pyke to convince his father to help support his surrogate family/abductors. But faster than you can say “Stockholm,” he’s faced with the brutal choice of supporting the warm family he loves vs. the cold family he was born into.

To make matters worse, Yara will get 30 ships to conquer the Northern coastline, while Theon will get one — called The Sea Bitch, no less — to raid fishing villages.

“I’m to fight fishermen!?” he sputters.

“Be careful of their nets,” Yara snarks.

“Your time with the wolves has made you weak,” his father says [recapper bites tongue…].

Theon yells at his dad: “You gave me away! Your boy! You gave me away like a dog you didn’t want anymore! And now you curse me because I’ve come home! You act like I wanted to go!” I love Theon standing up to his father here. Also: If I ever buy a boat, I’m going to christen it The Sea Bitch.

Later, Theon pens a letter to Robb warning him of the impending invasion — then burns it. He’s decided. He gets re-baptized in the name of the Iron Islands’ watery deity The Drowned God before his father and Yara. As stated in the Wiki of Ice and Fire entry, the Iron Islands folk believe The Drowned God created them to “reave and rape, to carve out kingdoms and to make their names known in fire and blood and song.”

Which sounds pretty f–king awful to me, especially compared to the other Westeros religions. Stannis Baratheon’s new Lord of Light gives him flaming swords and hot witches to have sex with. Even the Starks’ Old Gods at least have some neat trees where you can hang out. All Theon’s ceremony offers is freezing your ass off and having salt water poured over your head by a creepy old priest. Wrong team, buddy.

NEXT: Tyrion launches a scheme, Shae gets a job, Renly gets rejected

King’s Landing: We get another scene with Shae being annoying. I’m starting to wonder what Tyrion sees in Shae. She’s crafty enough, and fun in bed (presumably) but her other good qualities are…?

Shae refuses to accept a job as a kitchen wench that will help protect her secret prostitute profession. “Every man who has tasted my cooking has told me what a good whore I am,” she says (except for her now-legendary fish pie, of course).

Elsewhere: Sansa eats like a robot with Cersei and her two youngest children, Myrcella and Tommen (like Joffrey, these kids are also Jaimie’s incestuous spawn). Tommen asks if Joffrey is going to kill Robb. Sansa has to chug wine to get through this conversation. “Even if he does, Sansa will do her duty,” Cersei reassures.

Later in her chambers, Sansa stares at her reflection: Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the most depressed Thrones character of them all? Enter Shae, her new handmaiden. Whaaa? This should be interesting (and, yes, a departure from the book). Shae could certainly teach Sansa a thing or two about the world. But Sansa has a nervous breakdown just trying to give her simple directions.

Next, we get the episode’s best sequence: Tyrion previously said he knows how the political game is played in King’s Landing, now he gets to really show us.

He tells Grand Maester P, Varys and Littlefinger three versions of the same plan: To marry off Myrcella to strengthen their relationships with one of the Great Houses. He warns each of them “the queen must not know.” (Varys has the best response: “I love conversations that begin this way.”) Who will Tyrion catch?

Renly’s Camp: And now, a lusty Thrones sex scene! Judging from viewer comments last year, perhaps not a scene some of you expected. Book readers were shocked — shocked! — to discover Renly was gay. It was not explicitly stated in the novels, but it was heavily hinted. So there’s some man-kissing, then Loras acts all wounded because Renly gave the Kingsguard slot to Brienne.

Now here’s what might be a tad confusing for those who haven’t read the books. Sometime after season 1, Renly  married Loras’ sister Margaery Tyrell (played by Natalie Dormer, who was terrific in the similarly booby role of Anne Boleyn on Showtime’s The Tudors). The marriage was part of a deal to gain the Tyrell family’s support for Renly’s bid for the throne.

Loras tells Renly he should give some loving to his new wife, warning “your vassals are starting to snigger behind your back” and sends in his sister. Renly makes like Sansa and gulps some wine. Margaery Tyrell strips and tries to get him excited.

NEXT: Margaery offers her services; Tyrion discovers the snitch

“Must be the wine,” Renly says, but that excuse doesn’t fool women in Westeros any more than it does here. Too bad he didn’t stop by Pycelle’s on the way out of King’s Landing, the maester might have some blue potion for this problem.

“Do you want my brother to come in and help?” Margaery asks. “He can get you started, I really don’t mind. Or I can turn over and you can pretend I’m him.”

Wow. Not only does Margaery know what’s going on between her brother and Renly, she’s the most accommodating beard ever. What religion does she practice, anyway? Scientology?

“Your enemies aren’t happy about us,” she warns. “The best way to stop them is to put your baby in my belly.”

King’s Landing: Cersei is furious at Tyrion about his plan to marry off her daughter. He, of course, doesn’t care. He just wants to know who she thinks her daughter is marrying. Ah-ha — Dorne, it was Pycelle!

Cersei screams and throws things and pushes Tyrion down. She doesn’t want her daughter in a loveless marriage like hers to King Robert, because then she might turn into a cold bitter ice queen just like her.  Though, once again, Tyrion is right. This move protects the princess to get her away from King’s Landing during a time of war.

But you have to wonder: What if more than one of the advisers had tipped off the queen, wouldn’t that have blown his plan? And Tyrion argues that little Myrcella should really go through with the marriage plan. Would he have stuck to whatever other plan leaked to the queen, no matter which it was?

King’s Landing: Tyrion busts Pycelle, who sputters and pretends like he’s a confused old man (we know from last season it’s partly an act). Tyrion, meanwhile, is playing with a brass instrument that looks very hurty. He has Pycelle thrown into the Black Cells, then thoughtfully double-tips Pycelle’s prostitute. I appreciate that prison chambers in Westeros have such handy descriptive names — Sky Cells, Black Cells. You really know what you’re getting that way.

Later, Tyrion sits with Varys. There seems to be at least one of these stand-out, quiet Emmy-bait scenes in each episode. The premiere had Tyrion and Cersei, the second episode had Littlefinger and Ros. Now it’s Tyrion and Varys, with the eunuch telling the Hand a riddle that we first heard in the season 2 trailer.

There is heaping spoonfuls of awesome in this exchange. “The small council grows smaller every day … “I’ve decided I don’t like riddles,” etc. (Actually, while Vary’s question meets the definition of a riddle, it’s a bit of a bummer since it lacks a snappy definitive answer. So let’s give you a more traditional one; this reference seems fitting for Thrones: What is “a box without hinges, key or lid, yet a golden treasure inside is hid?”)

NEXT: Yoren trouble!

The Kingsroad: Arya stays up late polishing Needle, thinking about her father’s murder. We saw Ned Stark contemplatively polishing his sword in the pilot, so Arya may be unconsciously mimicking her father here — or the writers could just be giving her something to do (someday, somebody is going to make a YouTube video of all the shots of Thrones characters polishing and sharpening their swords).

Yoren tells Arya how he ended up in the Night’s Watch, and about his habit of saying the name of his brother’s killer each night before he went to sleep.

An alarm! The king’s troops are back with more men — just like they promised. They’re decent enough to give Yoren a chance to surrender Gendry, but after he refuses, they show no mercy. Yoren is shot with an arrow and growls “I always hated crossbows” — love that. He fights to a heroic, Boromir-style death. Alas, poor Yoren, we barely knew him.

Arya and Gendry are captured. The king’s men demand the prisoners identify Gendry. Arya smartly points to a murdered boy who was unfortunate enough to have swiped Gendry’s helmet.

So: Master deceiver Tyrion is ridding the Small Council of rats. Arya and Gendry are captured (but have successfully deceived their captors). Theon couldn’t bring himself to betray his family, so he’s going to betray the Starks instead. Renly isn’t fooling anybody, so he’s bracing himself for woman-sex. Sansa and Shae are barely able to hide their true feelings about their current positions. Jon, who doesn’t have an ounce of deceit in him, is continuing his journey north. And Robb, Dany and Jaime … well, we didn’t even have time for them this week.

What did you think of this episode? Better or worse than last week’s sex-stuffed hour? Sound off, my sniggering vassals!

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HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.
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