I'm going to recap Game if Thrones each week. Yes, I've read all the books, and I reserve the right to mention book items so long as I don't think they constitute a spoiler. You have the right to scream.
I also reserve the right to tell the story of how when George was nominated for the World Fantasy Award, there was another nominee standing right beside him on stage. See name above, and expect this story to be repeated.
Okay, let's go to Westeros.
One of the big problems with depicting Martin's sprawling sword and politics fantasy is the steadily spreading form of the narrative. Back in the first season, you had all the players assembled in a few locations, with only Dani forced to wander off on her own. But as the third season opens, characters are scattered like chestnuts after a storm. Increasingly the story is fragmenting into more threads, each of which has fewer and fewer of the characters we've come to care about.
It's an excellent way to reflect the cost and chaos of war, but it's a helluva thing to film and sometimes a frustrating thing to watch.
The first two episodes of this season each dealt with only a subset of the characters. It allowed us to get our feet back under us and spend longer bits of time moving each storyline forward. This week took a different approach, dropping in and out of character space so quickly that I might well have missed a few.
The Blackfish gets it done ...
We start out at Riverrun for the funeral of Catelyn Stark's father, Lord Hoster Tully. In a deviation from the books, Catelyn and Rob don't make it to Riverrun until Lord Hoster has passed. Which is probably a good thing. Considering the square miles of plot to be covered, not hovering by Hoster's deathbed is a more than reasonable sacrifice (though somewhere an elderly British actor is cursing his lost payday). What this scene delivers is that Robb's uncle, the new lord of the Riverlands, is an impetuous fool. However Catelyn's uncle, the Blackfish, is anything but. Perhaps even more interesting is what this segment shows of Robb. He may have begun the war with no experience, but it's clear that Robb hasn't been winning those battles by accident. He has a keen sense not just of strategy, but of his enemies. King Robb indeed.
Zipping over to King's Landing, we find Tywin holding court with the small council. Now that he's arrived, the senior Lannister is king in all but title. Tywin dispatches Littlefinger to charm the world's most disturbing breast feeder, Lysa Aryn. Tywin then surprises Tyrion by placing him in charge of the realm's finances—a lot to ask from a son Tywin recently dismissed as a freak possessed of only "low cunning."
Book readers undoubtedly grinned as the next scene opens with a verse of "The bear and the maiden fair." The grin continues as we watch Brienne and Jaime, trussed back to back on a horse. Brienne needles Jaime over his swordsmanship and dares to voice a thought that clearly stings the Kingslayer: Maybe Jamie Lannister is not really that good. Maybe people have just been telling him that he's so good because he's Jaime Lannister.
So long, and thanks for the dog bread
Over to the crossroads and that unfortunate inn. It's not as clear in the series as it is in the books, but half the realm's misery seems to be planned on this spot. So it's probably a good thing Arya and Gendry are getting out of there. We say a quick goodbye to Hot Pie, who presents Arya with a charming going away gift. We're going to miss you, Hot Pie, if only for the constant stream of recipes.
Another stop at Riverrun gives us the Blackfish and Catelyn reminiscing about Lord Hoster. There's a nice moment of nostalgia but, as we did last week, we see Cat groaning under the weight of the many losses she's taken in a matter of weeks. Before we leave, we get to see Rob's wife tending to some junior members of the Lannister clan and learn that Robb's fearsome reputation has taken on some hints of Larry Talbot.
Flying a thousand miles north, we drop in on John Snow and the wildlings as they reach the bodies left behind by the battle at the Fist of the First Men. Only there are no bodies, not of people anyway. This is not good.
A few frosty ridges away, Sam and the remnants of the Watch expedition return to the camp of the daughter-raping, baby sacrificing Craster. Craster continues to charm (and delivers the requisite number of fat jokes). Hey, Night's Watch guys, I know it's any port in a storm, but is there a reason we don't just kill this guy and left the women keep the fire burning? Just a thought.
Now it's time for Theon Torture Theater. And really, who wouldn't want a chance to smack the idiot from the iron islands? By the way, are we at Winterfell? This doesn't seem like the kind of gear Ned Stark would keep on hand, and the bit of castle we see doesn't look familiar. In any case, Theon gets a chance to leave. This whole segment is not in the books, but I can understand the producers wanting some Theon.
Also leaving: Mellisandra. She's taking a sabbatical from Stannis and the one true king clearly doesn't like it. Stannis wants the red priestess to deliver another shadow child that Stannis can aim at Tywin or Robb. However, it's clear that without some spiritual Viagra that's not gong to happen.
Dani strikes a deal.
Around the world to Astapor (tah dada da, tah dada da, tah dada da, dum dum) where Mormont and Barristan deliver some terrific banter as they try to sway Dani's decision. Dani shocks them both by offering to trade one of her dragons for 8,000 unsullied slaves. Like Robb, Dani seems to be thinking faster than her advisors. Oh and, in a repeat of last week, we get a very fun difference between what the slave traders of Astapor actually say, and what the translator relays to Dani.
Kings Landing again where Tyrion frets over taking the task of fiscal management from Littlefinger. But first, something more important: getting in a minimum of 30 seconds of brothel scenes. This time it comes in the form of providing Tyrion's close-mouthed squire, Pod, a reward for saving Tyrion in battle. Truthfully not much happens here except seriously limber nudity and a long stretch for a not very good joke. I think this is what happens when the show doesn't have time for the usual lengthy scene of sexposition.
Back to back we see Theon and Brienne facing a threat of rape. Both get saved. In Brienne's case, salvation comes in the form of a clever yarn spun by Jaime.
Unfortunately for Tywin's oldest son, no one saves him from a wound that will redefine the character. Unfortunately for us, the extremely brief scene and the many plot lines of the night deprive this moment of much of its emotional impact, making it more of a jump scare.
Unless I blinked and missed it, no Joffrey and no Margaery. No Bran or Sansa. Still, that's one heck of a lot of plotting for one night.