Two characters are taken out by hitmen this week, tilting the scales of power in the struggle for the Iron Throne: But is Dany about to enter the game?
Credit: HBO

A man watches Game of Thrones. He sees the latest episode, “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” and thinks the season is gathering steam. The power structure has shifted once again in one of the strongest season two episodes yet.

Renly’s Camp: A windy night on the eve of Renly’s big battle with Stannis as the would-be king meets with Catelyn, accompanied by his trusted knight Brienne. Catelyn has an offer: Robb will back Renly and will not contest his claim to the Iron Throne. In exchange for Robb’s loyalty, Renly agrees to allow Robb to remain “King of the North.”

“Then I see no reason for hostility between us,” Renly says. “Together we can end this war in a fortnight.”

Well this is great news. Renly and Stark are both reasonable people. Together their armies will easily defeat the Lannisters. With Renly, Westeros will get fair-minded king, while the Starks can rule the north from Winterfell. Fantastic, nothing could possibly stop–

Smoke monster! Melisandre’s baby (which might as well be named Deus Ex Machina) appears behind Renly, stabs him, roars like Imhotep in The Mummy, then vanishes. Brienne gives a derp-faced wail. Two guards rush in, assume Brienne is the assassin and attack her — she slaughters them. This whole crime scene doesn’t look good for either of Brienne or Catelyn, so they take off.

So that’s one of the five prospective kings down. We’ll miss the dryly witty Renly, but at least this will make the storyline moving forward easier for some viewers to follow.

Later: Loras mourns the loss of his lover. Margaery mourns the loss of her husband. Thankfully the Tyrell siblings still have Littlefinger on hand to give them some advice. Say what you will about Littlefinger, the man knows how to survive. He urges them to flee before Renly’s men switch their loyalty to Stannis and turn on them.

“Do want to be a queen?” Littlefinger asks Margaery.

“No,” Margaery says, “I want to be the queen.”

Littlefinger gives a slight smile. Ambition. Now there’s a motive he can work with.

King’s Landing: Tyrion is tormenting his family members with his sharp wit, but he’s concerned about the prospect of Stannis attacking the city. “Aren’t you always so clever with your schemes and your plots,” says Cersei and Tyrion cannot resist pushing her: “Schemes and plots are the same thing.” Baiting Cersei is an indulgent misstep, however, because she takes some delight in refusing to tell Tyrion about Joffrey’s siege preparations.

So Tyrion enlists his newly drafted spy, cousin Lancel, to give him the scoop: Joffrey and Cersei are cooking something called wildfire that they plan to launch from the city walls at Stannis’ ships. Tyrion believes him, but makes Lancel grovel anyway. “Even torturing you is boring,” Tyrion says, then makes Lancel tell Bronn: “Please kill me if anything should happen to Lord Tyrion.”

NEXT: Tyrion the “demon monkey” … Theon gets an idea.

Later, Tyrion and Bronn stroll the city streets and find a protester bashing Cersei and the “fruit of their incest” King Joffrey. This is a sign of the growing civil unrest Tyrion hinted about in an earlier episode. Bronn makes a passing reference to the prostitute that Joffrey so disturbingly ordered beaten last week (so I guess that’s all the closure we’re getting on that beat?). “The king is a lost cause,” Tyrion says.

The street protestor claims Joffrey dances “to the tune of a twisted demon monkey” and Bronn helpfully explains to Tyrion that he’s the monkey. Tyrion is downright offended. This Westeros version of a blogger has it all wrong. “Blame me? I’m trying to save them,” Tyrion says. Perhaps Tyrion’s next cunning move should be to hire a publicist.

Stannis’ Camp: Davos wants to tell Stannis about Melisandre’s whole cave-based demon birth. You’d think Stannis would be at least a little curious what his mistress did in a cave … with his underling Davos … that resulted in the miraculous murder of his brother and political rival. I mean, wouldn’t you want to know? But Stannis doesn’t want to hear about it. Davos feels like a guy who’s trying to warn his best friend that the woman he’s dating is trouble, but he just can’t get through to him.

Stannis says Davos will lead the fleet of ships into Blackwater Bay at King’s Landing. But, wait, wasn’t Tyrion just told Joffrey is going to launch this wildfire stuff at the ships? Uh oh…

Pyke: Theon is back and is about to get his one ship — The Sea Bitch. Even as commander of this single vessel, the men under his command disrespect him. His sister stops by and disrespects him too — right in front of his men. “They’re not going to respect you until you prove yourself,” notes his new first mate, which frustrates him.

His first mate raises the idea of attacking a larger inland target than the mere fishing villages his father ordered him to plunder — like the Northern town of Torrhen’s Square, for instance. Theon says they can’t hold Torrhen’s Square, because if they attack it then Winterfell will send its men over to … to …

Theon has an idea.

Harrenhal: Arya is now a Westeros waitress, which means serving unruly customers and not getting any tips. She has the cool and somewhat terrifying gig of serving Lord Tywin as he makes battle plans against her brother. “You’ve been waiting for [Robb] to fail, he is not going to fail without our help,” Tywin tells his council. He orders Arya to bring them water instead of wine so they’ll be more productive — that’s how efficient Tywin is.

Suddenly he gets interested in Arya and starts grilling her about her background. He uncovers her first answer as deceptive so she gives him a lie that’s closer to the truth. She adds that she’s heard Robb Stark can’t be killed. Tywin asks if she believes that. “No, my lord,” she says, totally staring him down. “Anyone can be killed.” Great scene.

NEXT: Dragon seared meat … Tyrion meets a pyromancer

Later, Arya runs into Jaqen H’ghar, one of the three men she saved from being burned alive in that cart when her group was attacked. “A man pays his debts,” he says. “A man owes three. Only death may pay for life. Speak three names. And the man will do the rest.”

Whoa. It’s like a genie is granting Arya three death wishes (and yes, we’ve heard “only death may pay for life” before — that was from that village witch who cursed Drogo in season one). Jaqen is apparently offering to kill three people for Arya in return for her act of mercy. Across the country, viewers jump up on the couches yelling “Joffrey!” But you can’t really blame Arya for picking somebody more local and more recently loathsome — the man known as The Tickler who’s been torturing prisoners.

King’s Landing: Tyrion meets with a “pyromancer” who shows him some green liquid that looks like absinthe. Wildfire, we learn, burns so hot it melts steel and stone. Bronn is skeptical and makes a great point — war is messy and to introduce an element like this is really dangerous. You try flinging pots of fantasy-kingdom-napalm around, you’re bound to spill some and have an unbroken pot or two flung back at you. The pyromancer shows Tyrion a vault of thousands of pots and his jaw literally drops. This is enough to destroy Stannis’ army — and King’s Landing too.

“You won’t be making wildfire for my sister any longer, you’ll be making it for me,” Tyrion says.

Qarth: Dany looks recovered from wandering the desert and downright happy. She’s also figured out how to feed her dragons. They like cooked meat, it seems. Not only that, she’s taught them how to sear meat on command (which could also be handy if she’s making ahi tuna steaks for guests — who wouldn’t want some dragon-seared sashimi?).

She wants to find out more about her rich benefactor, Xaro Xhoan Daxos. She hints to her ex-pleasure-slave Doreah that “men like to talk about other men when they are happy” and Doreah lights up at the prospect of seducing guys for intel (and as far as obligatory Thrones sex goes, I’ll gladly take a scene with Doreah over yet another Ros/brothel scene).

At a garden party, Dany meets some of the strange Qarth locals. A creepy self-proclaimed warlock extends an invitation to visit a place called the House of the Undying, while a woman in a metal mask notes that “dragons are fire made flesh and fire is power” — hitting that “what is power?” theme again.

Later: Xaro takes a stroll with Dany. He casually drops that he thinks Ser Jorah is in love with her, and brings Dany to his vault. This is a crafty move by the writers. It costs money for a show’s prop department to make a bunch of riches. Instead, Thrones just shows you a strong vault door and gets you to imagine what’s behind it — a great example of how to do epic storytelling on a budget. Xaro says if Dany marries him, he will give her ships and an army to invade the Seven Kingdoms.

Dany’s Quarters: Dany is reeling from learning that the Iron Throne is now arguably up for grabs and is tempted to take Xaro’s offer. Jorah councils patience, that she should just get one ship, go to Westeros and then forge an allegiance with a Great House rather than showing up with a foreign army and trying to get the whole country to submit.

NEXT: Jon Snow gets a mission

Xaro’s offer is actually what both Dany’s ill-fated brother and Theon wanted — to be handed an army rather than earn one. Jorah wants her to do things the hard way. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to see her get married to somebody else? Jorah vows to find her a ship.

On the Run: Catelyn and Brienne decide to stick together and go join Robb. Brienne swears an oath to serve Catelyn (hopefully more effectively than she did Renly … I mean, his assassination is not her fault but still doesn’t exactly look good on a resume). Catelyn swears to not stand in Brienne’s way if there’s an opportunity for her to avenge Renly.

Brienne has been a tough character to capture in this show so far because she wants to be like the noble knights in the stories — the very high fantasy characters that Thrones typically subverts. But she can sometimes seem stiff, formal and dramatic instead of seeming like somebody who’s supposed to be stiff, formal and dramatic. Does that make sense? Her near-comedic, humorless intensity is a deliberate part of her character, but given how quickly things are moving on the show, it’s not entirely clear that, yes, other characters see her that way too.

Winterfell: Bran gets word that Torrhen’s Square’s is under attack and assumes it’s the work of the Lannisters. We know from earlier that it’s actually Theon’s Sea Bitch crew, not the Lannisters. As Theon expected, Bran sends troops to protect the other town.

Later, Bran tells Osha he had a dream that the sea came to Winterfell, water came flowing over the walls and flooded the castle and drowning the men. Osha is creeped out by Bran’s dream. Redrum! Redrum!

North of the Wall: Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch are gathered on a cliff and they’ve spotted a wildling army in the distance. I like that there’s a shot of Ghost just casually hanging out in the background rather than giving a CGI creature command of the frame like usual.

They meet up with Qhorin Halfhand, a famed ranger with the Night’s Watch. Unfortunately for people struggling to follow this story, he’s yet another gray-bearded middle-age white guy. Since they don’t have enough men to take on the wildling army, Halfhand wants to take a small group of scouts to find out the wildlings’ plans. Jon volunteers. At last, our mopey bastard has a mission! “I hope you make a better ranger than you do a steward,” the Lord Commander says.

Harrenhal: Gendry gets another scene shirtless (closest to sex we get in this hour — is this the first nudity-free Thrones episode we’ve had?) while chatting with Arya. There’s a scream and we see the man who tortured prisoners, The Tickler, has fallen to his death. High above, Jaqen looks pretty proud of himself. He really did it. That’s one. Arya has two more wishes.

What did you think of this week’s hour?

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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