This week's Game of Thrones is dark and full of terrors as a variety of torments are unleashed

“I love this season, but I’m having a hard time following it” — that’s the comment I’m hearing the most about Game of Thrones this year (right behind: “I want to kill Joffrey!”). So many characters, so many locations, and tonight there’s two new cities on our pop-up map. Have no fear. There’s relief around the corner. Tracking the story should get easier starting next week since most of the new characters and places are now in the game. And below I’ll do my best to clear up some of the potentially confusing bits.

So let’s get right to Episode 4: “Garden of Bones.” If the second episode this season was arguably the most sexually provocative, this week is possibly the most pain-filled — there’s an amputation, a disturbing prostitute beating, a shocking torture scene and a downright bizarre birth.

Opening: We meet two red shirt cloak guards in the Lannister army. We’re amused by the bawdy banter of the Westeros version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, then they’re attacked by Robb’s direwolf Grey Wind.

Next morning, Robb tours the grisly aftermath. One of his bannerman, Lord Bolton, is eager to torture the prisoners. Robb is too noble, and practical, for that. The young Stark meets a comely field medic diagnosing a soldier’s wound. The kid’s foot needs to come off. And by “come off” we mean gradually sawed through with a serrated blade right there on the field without anesthetic and a nasty piece of cloth stuffed in his mouth. I’ve seen this in so many movies, it’s a cliche, yet it always gets me squirming in discomfort.

We see Robb checking out Nurse Jigsaw out while she dourly cuts away. What’s the opposite of “meet-cute”? This.

After she’s finished, Robb follows her. He’s impressed by the cut of her jib, but she’s not a fan of war and killing. Their mismatched viewpoints spark amusing banter. “I have no hatred for the lad,” Robb says. “That should help his foot grow back,” she counters. Haha, it’s like watching a Thrones RomCom, How to Lose a Foot in 10 Minutes.

Interestingly, Robb admits he doesn’t want the Iron Throne and has no idea what he will do if he defeats the Lannisters. That’s sort of the same mistake his father made in the previous war which resulted in his ultimately lazy buddy Robert Baratheon taking the throne. You need an exit strategy.

King’s Landing: Joffrey is back this week and more psycho than ever. He torments Sansa, threatening her with a crossbow after hearing a rather inaccurate report that her brother Robb is using sorcery to control an “army of wolves” to defeat his men. Right now I bet she hates crossbows even more than Yoren (but I’m quite pleased, you can’t have too many crossbows in a story).

NEXT: Beware of Littlefingers bearing gifts; It puts the rat in the basket

Tyrion comes to her rescue before she’s stripped naked in the throne room. He asks if she wants out of the engagement. The question is absurd. Of course she wants out of the engagement! Sansa declines to confide in him. We know Tyrion might be helpful to her, but she’s still wise not to trust Lannisters in general.

Bronn suggests Joffrey just needs to get laid, that he’s “clogged,” and that’s why he’s being a raging murderous brat. Though Bronn also admits, “there’s no cure for being a c–t.” Really, Thrones gets more laugh-lines out of that word than any show since Deadwood.

So Tyrion sends Joffrey a late nameday gift: Two prostitutes, Ros and another girl. Like the amputation, this scene tough to watch. Tougher. I actually don’t even want to really describe it. We know Joffrey is going to do something horrible. We just don’t know how horrible. He ratchets up the sadism, forcing Ros to beat the other woman. “Harder!” he yells. Ugh. I suppose this is Joffrey’s idea of beating off. Could this character be any more despicable? Next week: An hour of Joffrey drowning kittens.

Renly camp: Littlefinger arrives, playing his part in the “deception” that Tyrion teased last week. He sees Renly, but really wants to talk to Catelyn. First he actually tries to woo her despite betraying Ned Stark. “Fate has given us this chance,” he says, to her horror. It’s tough to see what Littlefinger sees in Catelyn, though — they have nothing in common.

Then he makes his real pitch: Go behind Robb’s back and release Jaime. In return, the Lannisters will release her daughters Sansa and Arya. The Lannisters don’t have Arya of course, but she doesn’t know that … actually, the Lannisters do have Ayra, but they don’t know that. I know, it’s a lot to keep up with.

Then Littlefinger brings her a gift, a box containing her husband’s remains. Notice he produced this after he attempted the whole “fate has given us another chance” ploy. Otherwise he would have been trying to seduce her literally over her husband’s dead body. She kicks him out and is left alone with the box… I wonder where she keeps it at night … must stink … she wouldn’t keep it in her tent, would she? Just curious.

Harrenhal: New location #1! This is a creepy ruinous castle that was captured by the Lannisters. The current staff is a group of brutal sellswords hired by the Lannisters called The Brave Companions. Also on the scene is The Mountain — that evil knight who went on a horse-decapitating rampage during the jousting tournament last season. Basically, a cluster of bad guys you can feel free to dislike.

Arya and Gendry are put into a muddy, rainy cage. They learn The Mountain has been picking a prisoner every day to torture and kill. Great, so now after her successful escape from King’s Landing and deception of the soldiers, the Lannisters might end up killing her by accident.

Some poor sod is chosen to take a turn in the hot seat. The sellswords want to know about gold or silver hidden in nearby villages, also they’re looking for intel on “the brotherhood” (not really important but, they’re basically a militant group led by a house loyal to the Starks).

NEXT: Let’s get this parley started!

Now: We’ve all witnessed torture scenes in TV shows and movies. IMO, the most awful method is the Brazen Bull, which was featured in last year’s forgettable film Immortals and dates back to ancient Greece. The one redeeming quality about the story behind the Brazen Bull is that its inventor was supposedly executed with it as punishment for having invented the thing, which seems only fitting. Anyway: Thrones‘ rat trick is pretty awful too, and I bet even Jack Bauer would crack under what we’re about to see here.

When they put the rat into the bucket, I bet you thought they were going to put it over the guy’s head, Fear Factor style, right? But no! They strap the bucket onto the man’s chest and torch the bottom, heating it up and making the rat to burrow into the guy. It’s like Alien in reverse.

Arya gets a front-row seat to this awfulness and has started a bedtime death wish list. Unlike Yoren, she has a lot of names: Joffrey, Cersei, The Hound, Ilyn Payne (the mute court executioner). To this list she adds The Mountain and Polliver (one of the men holding her captive; the one holding Needle).

The next day, The Mountain chooses Gendry as his next victim. The secret bastard son of Robert Baratheon is strapped into the chair. His torturer gets another rat (at least, I’m assuming it’s another rat … I guess in theory they could reuse the rats?).

And it’s Tywin Lannister, of all people, to the rescue. Cersei and Tyrion’s dad puts an end to the suffering and torture, saying the camp needs able bodies and skilled laborers (Is there any humanity motivating him here? Presumably not.)

He then sees Arya, who is called a boy. “This one’s a girl, you idiot,” Tywin says, which is hilarious — he is the first person to see right through her, though he does not know she’s Arya Stark. She smartly explains she was disguised only because it’s safer for traveling. Tywin gives her a job — cup bearer. Ayra’s situation just improved … maybe.

Hilltop: Renly and Stannis meet on horseback for a parley, both backed up by their armies camped elsewhere. The Liam and Noel Gallagher of Westeros square off and you can see why they never really got along. Renly has a sense of humor but lacks maturity. Stannis is nothing but maturity and is utterly humorless.

Renly gets off some good quips, noting if the brothers used the same family banner “the battle would be terribly confusing” and mocks Melisandre’s line about Stannis being reborn “amid salt and smoke,” asking, “Is he a ham?”

“The Iron Throne is mine by right,” proclaims Stannis. “All those that deny that are my foes.”

“The whole realm denies it,” Renly says, and adds: “A man without friends is a man without power.”

Ahh, this is a call back to Cersei and Littlefinger’s fight about whether information or authority is power, and to Vary’s riddle about where power truly resides. For those writing their term paper on Thrones season two, there’s your theme: The nature of power. You’re welcome!

NEXT: It’s a boy, it’s a girl, it’s a … a …

Stannis gives Renly until morning to surrender, which Renly finds silly since Stannis is woefully outnumbered. Melisandre shoots Renly her catchphrase: “The night is dark and full of terrors.”

Gates of Qarth: New location #2! Dany gets word of a city by the sea that has agreed to receive her. She arrives at the luxurious gated community of Qarth, “the greatest city that ever was or will be.” A neighborhood watch group called The Thirteen, a council of city elders, comes out to chat. A man called the Spice King wants to see her dragons, but that’s the only card she has to play and they’re so vulnerable. She refuses to remove them from her Pier 1 dragon baskets.

The Spice King wants to let her group die in the desert. It seems he’s doing some racial profiling and doesn’t like the idea have notorious Dothraki wandering around inside their wealthy city.

Dany responds by threatening to kill them all later. She manages to sway one of the men, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, to play some ancient trump card to get group her inside. She walks in like she owns the place.

King’s Landing: What haven’t we seen yet this hour? Tyrion doing something really awesome. So let’s see that.

All cousin Lancel Lannister wants is to quickly drop off Cersei’s message to Tyrion demanding he release Pycelle from the Black Cells. But the lateness of the hour rouses Tyrion’s suspicion and he effortlessly draws Lancel into the room and turns to the tables on him. Within two minutes, Lancel goes from rudely dismissing Tyrion to begging on his knees. Tyrion threatens to reveal to Joffrey that Lancel has been having sex with Cersei. For the past few episodes, Tyrion has been getting rid of any snitches who might be loyal to Cersei. Now he’s recruiting spies of his own, convincing Lancel to spy on the queen regent. Tyrion also agrees to release Pycelle, but doesn’t want him on the Small Council.

Stannis’ Ship: Stannis wants Davos to smuggle Melisandre ashore for some secret purpose the night before they go to war with Renly. They take a boat ride where she declares that when it comes to morality, “a man is good or he is evil” (she has that in common with Stannis). Melisandre sees herself as purely good. She notes Davos has cheated on his wife and teases, “You want me. You want to see what’s beneath this robe. And you will.”

They enter a cave, but the passage has been blocked. She disrobes and–

Whoa, she’s preggers! Very much so. That was fast. Is this the son she promised Stannis? She lays back and starts going into her labor and begins moaning.

Beware. Melisandre’s ladyparts are dark and full of terrors. Is it a boy? A girl? It’s…

A bouncing baby WTF.

Some kind of black oil smoke creature thing.

I’m curious what non-book readers think of this development. This is probably the most shocking fantasy moment we’ve had so far. Sure there are dragons, but those were teased all last season, whereas this is more a left-field surprise. And what’s this smoke monster going to do next? (Aside from perhaps terrorizing a mysterious island of plane crash victims?).

Sound off your thoughts on this week’s episode of the greatest fantasy show that ever was or will be.

Episode Recaps

Game of Thrones

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

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