We open more or less where he left off, with Craster giving Jon Snow a thrashing for having learned his gory secrets- he gives his male babes to the White Walkers. He commands that the men of the Night’s Watch leave and the Commander orders Jon to go outside. When Jon tries to tell the Commander about Craster’s secret, he quickly realizes that the man’s known all along. “Wildlings serve crueler gods than you or I” the man says. He tells Jon that they need men like Craster to fight the war, like it or not. He tells Jon that he’s likely to see the white walkers again and returns his sword to him. At daybreak, Sam packs up supplies as they get ready to clear out when he spots Gilly. He goes up to her and gives her something that used to belong to his mother, whom Sam appears to have been close to. Sam is basically too sweet for his own good and asks that Gilly hold on to it for him until he gets back.

In Winterfell, we get a long tracking shot, which means we’ve entered Direwolf-Dream-Vision with Bran Stark. We follow the direwolf Summer around the castle, it’s panting breath like a pulse over the soundtrack, right up until the point where it jumps onto Bran’s bed. Bran awakes to see the direwolf staring down at him, just as he dreamed. Bran attempts to explain his nightly dreams of being a direwolf to Maester Luwin, telling him about the stories Osha told him about people who have the ability to inhabit animals, wolves included. Luwin says that such people may have existed but they’re not gone from the world, and tells Bran that his dreams are just dreams, no matter how vivid or prophetic they are. He tells Bran that as a boy, he once tried his hand at learning magic, but it didn’t get him anywhere. “Maybe magic once was a mighty force in the world, but not anymore. The dragons are gone, the giants are dead, and the children of the forest forgotten.”

We open on a new place, namely the camp of Renly Baratheon, finally making his first appearance after so much mention. There is a fight between two knights taking place, much like the fight that opened the season at King’s Landing, only this one is not so vicious. Catelyn Stark joins the ranks of the cheering crowd and next to Renly, a woman stands and cheers for Loras Tyrell, whom many will remember as the well-beloved Knight of Flowers and Renly’s lover. However, Loras’ opponent tackles him and threatens him with a dagger until Loras yields. Renly asks the knight to approach. When the knight removes their helmet, it is revealed to be a woman, much to the audience’s surprise but not Renly’s, who calls her “all her father promised and more.” Her name is Brienne of Tarth and she is named the champion of the tournament. Because she has won, Renly says that he will grant to her whatever it is in his power to do. She asks to be a part of Renly’s Kingsguard, offering to pledge her life to him and serve. He grants her request, much to everyone’s shock.

Catelyn is announced to Renly, as she has come on behalf of Robb, whom she reminds everyone is “King in the North.” Renly introduces his wife, Margaery, of House Tyrell. Renly says that he promises to make the Lannisters answer for Ned Stark’s murder and that he will bring her Joffrey’s head. There’s obviously some conflict of interest going on here, since she considers her son a sovereign who would like to do some head cutting of his own. Brienne tells Catelyn that she should kneel in Renly’s presence, since he is considered the true King in these parts. Loras asks her if Robb’s marched on Tywin Lannister yet and says if he wants to make a pact with Renly, he ought to come here himself. “My son is fighting a war. Not playing at one.” she says coldly. Renly smirks. He seems to like her moxie.

Renly gives Catelyn a tour of Camp Baratheon (not to be confused with other Camp Baratheon), but Catelyn is basically unimpressed, saying that war is just a game to Renly. Renly seems pretty undisturbed by this suggestion. “These are the knights of summer, and winter is coming.” she warns. He tells Brienne, who has been following behind them like a watch dog, to escort Catelyn to her tent. Brienne and Catelyn walk side by side, and one can see that Brienne is a giantess in armor, towering along those around her. Catelyn compliments her on her fighting and Brienne says she was merely serving her king, and she is ready to fight for him and die for him on the battlefield. “And if it please you, Brienne’s enough. I’m no lady.” she says before walking away. I want to know more about her, this is for sure.

At Pyke, Yara finds Theon wandering around the castle. He gets up in her face about not revealing herself to him right away, basically put off that she let him shamelessly grope her without saying she was his sister. “I wanted to see who you were first. And I did.” she says with a smirk. Balon enters and begins to lay out his plans: while Robb is distracted by the Lannisters in the south, the Greyjoys will take control of the North, Winterfell included. He gives Yara the command of most of his fleet. Theon gets one ship, with which he is to raid the fishing villages. (The ship is called “the seabitch.”) Theon tries to convince them that there’s no way Robb would give up the North so easily, having fought with his men. Balon says that this is not their way; Greyjoys do not toil in the fields or in the mines, they are not slaves or subjects. “We do not sow.” are their house words. “Your time with the wolves has made you weak.” he says to Theon, which puts him right over the edge. Theon reminds him that Balon handed him over to Ned Stark when he was defeated by Robert Baratheon. “You gave me away!” he cries and Balon backhands him. “You gave away your last boy, like I was some dog you didn’t want anymore!” Yara tells Theon that he must choose between his loyalty to his family and to the Starks.

At King’s Landing, Shae is going stir crazy because Tyrion won’t let her out of the chambers he’s arranged for fear of what his adversaries might do to him. He says he could possibly bring her into the castle to pose as a scullery maid, but Shae refuses. “Every man who has tasted my cooking has told me what a good whore I am.” she says. He warns her that Cersei is looking for ways to hurt Tyrion and undermine his power, calling her his one weakness. “Being a weakness is a compliment?” she asks dubiously. She repeats that she refuses to be someone’s “wench”, even if she’s just posing.

Sansa dines with Cersei and her two youngest children, Myrcella and Tommen. Myrcella asks her mother when Sansa and Joffrey will be married and Sansa looks up from her meal as if she’s been told she’s going to be killed. Cersei replies that they will be married once the war is over. Myrcella talks about the new gown she’ll get for the ceremony, as well as Sansa’s own ivory bridal gown. Sansa says nothing until Cersei prompts her to. “I am counting the days until the fighting is done, and I can pledge my love to the King in sight of the gods.” Sansa looks as if she’s about to cry. Tommen asks if Joffrey will kill Robb, to which Cersei quietly replies “He might. Would you like that?” Tommen says no. “No matter what happens, Sansa will do her duty. Won’t you, little dove?” Cersei says to Sansa, looking as if she knows this situation all too well. In her room, Sansa stares into a mirror before she hears a knock on the door. She opens it and Shae appears. It seems that Tyrion’s found a place for her after all, posing as Sansa’s new hand maiden. But Sansa is hesitant and fears that Shae might be a spy, mostly because she doesn’t seem to know what a handmaiden does. Sansa frantically orders Shae around before finally just letting Shae brush her hair.

Tyrion meets with Maester Pycelle for his council and his laxatives, although its not clear how much he actually needs either. He begins to talk of forging new alliances, and that he plans to do it via matrimony. He wants to wed Myrcella off to House Martell of Dorne when she comes of age, so that the Lannisters can ensure their loyalties as well as have access to their armies. “The queen mustn’t know.” he says. Smash cut to Varys. “I love conversations that begin this way.” Varys says. Tyrion starts to tell him the same plan, only this time, he changes the Martells to Theon Greyjoy. Varys notes that Theon was a ward of the Starks but Tyrion seems to rely on Theon to destroy the army in the north from within. Smash cut to Littlefinger, and it’s the same story, only this time its Robin Arryn of the Vale. “Lysa is not fond of me.” (To say the least, Lysa Arryn almost had Tyrion executed.) Tyrion says he wants to mend the rift between houses. Littlerfinger asks how this plan will benefit him and Tyrion says he plans to make him lord of the Riverlands. Littlefinger reminds him that Janos Slint was once promised this position before Tyrion had him sent to the wall. “I didn’t need Janos Slint.” Littlefinger agrees to make these arrangements and Tyrion reminds him that Cersei is not to know about any of it.

 At Camp Baratheon, Renly and Loras are getting down to urgent matter, ie, they’re having sex, or at least attempting to, but Loras is too distracted by the idea that Renly appointed Brienne to the Kings Guard. “You’re jealous.” Renly teases but Loras is having none of it and pulls his clothes back on, telling Renly that he didn’t get his hands on the Tyrell army on charm alone. He stalks off saying that there’s another Tyrell that requires his attention. Later, Renly is alone, drinking wine when Margaery approaches. He warns her that he’s had a lot to drink, to which she breezily replies, is his right. He compliments her on her gown and after a quip about not being sure which way she likes her, she strips it off. It’s clear she’s making an honest attempt to seduce him, and Renly, being a gay man, is having some problems when it comes to “responding.” He apologizes, blaming the wine. But Margaery is no fool and she asks him if he’d prefer her brother to help him get started.  Renly seems stunned but she tells him, not unkindly, that he should save his lies for where he needs them. But she knows that the only way to strengthen their bond against their enemies is for her to have Renly’s child. “Whatever you need to do, you are a king.”

At King’s Landing, Cersei has found out about Tyrion’s plan to marry Myrcella and needless to say, she’s devastated. “I won’t have you ship her off to Dorne the way I was shipped off to Robert Baratheon!” Cersei says that the Martells hate the Lannisters and that Myrcella would be a hostage. (Much like Sansa is now.) Tyrion says that the Martells need to be seduced so they can gain their armies for the way, one that Joffrey started, he adds. But Cersei still can’t stand the idea of her only daughter sent away, especially the idea of Tyrion orchestrating it. He reminds her that if the city falls, that Myrcella will probably be raped and murdered. She pushes him over and orders him to get out, before sinking into a chair.

At Pyke, Theon looks over a letter he intends to send to Robb, warning him of his father’s plans to invade the North. He hesitates for a moment, before sticking the corner into a flame and burning it. On the cliffs of Pyke, the Greyjoy banners fly. Theon stands in the water with a priest, and agrees to consecrate his faith to the Drowned God. He is baptized in salt water and responds “What is dead may never die.” Balon and Yara watch from a distance.

Littlefinger confronts Tyrion about decieving him into speaking with the Arryns, resents that he was made a fool and tells him to leave him out of his plans. “That’s a shame because I was planning to use you in my next deception.” he says coolly. Tyrion wants Littlefinger to help get Jaime out of Robb’s stockade in the North. Littlefinger knows that Robb will never release Jaime because he’s too valuable, but Tyrion says that Catelyn might. He presses on, knowing that Catelyn is a delicate subject for him. Bronn enters, and Tyrion asks if he “found him.” Bronn says that he did and that the man has company. The man in question is Maester Pycelle and Bronn and another of Tyrion’s ax-brandishing servants storms into his room to find him with a prostitute. Tyrion says he knows that Maester Pycelle of his plan to marry Myrcella to the Dornish and accuses him of spying for Cersei. He tells the man with the ax to cut off his manhood and feed it to the goats. When he’s told that there are no goats, he responds “Well make do!” Pycelle says he’s always been loyal to the Lannisters no matter what and Tyrion has Bronn cut the man’s beard off. He reminds Pycelle that he has betrayed two Hands of the King: Jon Arryn and Ned Stark and he refuses to be next. He has his men throw Pycelle in one of the black cells.

Tyrion and Varys sit drinking wine and Varys says that Shae is getting along fine pretending to be Sansa’s handmaiden. When talking about Pycelle and Tyrion’s various uses and abuses of power as of late, Varys starts to tell a riddle. “A king, a priest and a rich man sit in a room. Between them sits a common sell-sword.” SHe asks Tyrion who lives and who dies, and Tyrion, fond of the under dog, says it depends on the sell-sword. This isn’t the right answer, because if all that relied on power was a sword, then most people wouldn’t need a king. “Power lies where men believe it resides. It’s a trick. A shadow on the wall. And one small man may cast a very large shadow.”

While the rest of the boys and men headed toward the wall sleep, Arya sharpens her sword. Joren approaches her and tells her she should go to sleep. Arya asks him how he can sleep at night when he’s seen so many awful things, especially one specific thing, ie., seeing her father beheaded. Joren says he made sure that Ayra didn’t see that, but she says she can still imagine it in her head. Joren says that when he was a boy he saw his brother get stabbed in the heart and bleed to death in front of their own house. He says he obsessed over the boy who killed him, even though he couldn’t picture his own brother’s face. He killed him, and was sent to the wall, where he’s been ever since. Outside, a raiding horn sounds and Joren commands that everyone get up and arm themselves, telling Arya and Gendry to keep out of sight. One of the boys grabs Gendry’s bull helmet. This time’s, it’s Tywin Lannister’s bannermen, come to find Gendry. When Joren refuses to answer to them, he’s shot in the chest with a crossbow. But before you can count him as finished, he growls “I always hated crossbows, take too long to load” and slices a man’s throat open.

It doesn’t take long before Joren is overcome and killed by the head bannerman. Defying Joren’s orders, Gendry leads the crew of misfits against them. Arya turns to see the cage of prisoners, including the weird and mysterious Jaqen H’Ghar, begging for Arya to free them from their cage, which is almost on fire. She releases them. The gang of boys are quickly overcome and Arya has her sword taken from her. One of them is shot in the leg, and a soldier, carrying Arya’s sword, asks him if he can walk. The boy defiantly says that they’ll have to carry him and the soldier stabs him in the throat. The leader asks for Gendry, threatening to blind them all if they don’t give him up. Arya steps forward. “You want Gendry? You already got him.” she says looking at the dead boy. “He loved that helmet.” Gendry’s bull helmet lies in the straw just beyond the boy’s head.

Power seems to be the big theme of this episode, as well as this season so far- power and how it is achieved. Almost all the different characters use different methods to achieve and retain power: Craster offers his male children up to a cruel sort of wild god, Margaery will have a child by her husband one way or another, Brienne will fight her way into the King’s Guard, Theon will forsake his allegiance to Robb and Tyrion will decieve his own council into finding out who might betray him as well as undermine his sister’s authority by hitting her where she is weakest. Bran thinks he’s starting to regain power of his own, and that he can inhabit his direwolf. Although he’s told he can’t, we’re pretty sure at this point that he probably can, and his talk with Maester Luwin, one of my favorite scenes of tonight’s episode, hints at something very great, very dark and very old on it’s way.

First and foremost, even more new players this week, although I call them welcome additions because of of the immediate interest they bring into seeing how these people, these ladies specifically, play into the larger plan. Firstly, there’s Brienne, a warrior first and foremost and definitely not the cliched ‘beautiful swordmaiden’ or any other tired fantasy trope, no- this woman looks like she could take out her fair share of enemies. I want to know where her devotion to Renly comes from and whether or not it’s true or some kind of deception. And then there’s Margaery, who could just be Renly’s long-suffering untouched wife, but since this is ‘Game of Thrones’, perish that thought immediately. I loved her ‘can do’ attitude about conceiving a child with Renly, not really caring much that he’s in love with her brother, as long as Renly seizes control of what she believes to be his. But she also seems to genuinely like him. For me, the jury’s still out on Renly as a person, but I agree with Catelyn that he might be charming, but he has no idea what he’s doing. He best figure it out, because big brother is rallying the pirates and his own treacherous red queen against him. Renly and Margaery seem very smart but they also seem very…nice. Is anyone really nice on ‘Game of Thrones’? Remains to be seen.

And oh, Tyrion. For someone who’s supposed to be an audience surrogate and a kind of underdog hero, he really is a malicious bastard sometimes. At first I thought the plan to give Myrcella to whomever accomplished it first might just be a clever ploy to undermine the council, but it seems he’s really going to go through with it, and damn if I didn’t feel pretty sad for Cersei when she confronted Tyrion about it, clearly having suffered from her own relationship with Robert Baratheon. Of course, the sympathy is undermined when you realize that what Cersei fears for her own daughter, being a “hostage” is currently happening to Sansa, under Cersei’s control. But of course, we don’t really have the same moral dilemmas that these people have, do we? I suspected that Theon’s daddy issues would be so great that he might forsake Robb and the Northern Army, and now, oh hell, we got the Greyjoys in on this war as well. But back to Tyrion, I always marvel at how likable Peter Dinklage makes him on a weekly basis, so likable that it takes actual effort to really parse through Tyrion’s actions, most of them questionable and realize- I have no idea what Tyrion’s endgame is. He has to have one, otherwise why go to all this trouble, when he could just be spending time with his ladyfriend. I loved Shae talking about how being someone’s weakness is not a compliment. And in this world, it’s not, it’s just a way to end up raped, betrayed or killed.

Oh, and just to make sure we’re all on the same page: Winter? Still coming. (Arrival Date TBA.)

If you missed the previous episode be sure to read our ‘Game of Thrones: The Night Lands’ recap to catch up.