Have I mentioned how much I love the opening credits? I mean, everyone loves the credits with the tiny, mechanical Westeros, but this season those models have an actual emotional punch. The twisted and still hulk of Harrenhall, poor smoking and ruined Winterfell. Sigh. Can't someone please build me a Game of Thrones coffee table with pop up castles?

This week the story actually skates across no fewer than 19 scene changes, giving each encounter an average of less than three minutes. Even so, it comes off as actually less choppy and more coherent than previous episodes through the simple expedient of keeping the focus in the same area over a series of scenes. It makes the viewer less dizzy. And just think of the mileage they saved.

This week we open in the cave/camp of the Brotherhood without Banners where Beric Dondarion is prepared to put the Hound to a test of arms. Before the fight, a little benediction. Why does the whole lord of light spiel sound 78 percent less evil when Thoros delivers it? Dondarion fights with a surprising lack of finesse, making wild swings with a flaming sword (the one thing sure to put the Hound in a lather). The Hound's reply is at first one of brute force, but it's a turn of speed that allows the big man to skewer the Lightning Lord and end the contest. Arya clearly hasn't forgiven the Hound as she rushes in the try her blade. Then Dondarion rises. Just because these guys don't read as evil, doesn't mean they're not spooky.

Come below the fold for the rest of the 19 scene changes.

Meanwhile north of the wall, Jon Snow treks along with the wildlings. Asked by Mance to reveal the defenses of the Watch, Jon tells the truth about manned towers, but exaggerates the force at Castle Black. Ygritte leaps to John's defense, then leads John into a cave and delivers a ... very, very compelling reason why he should break his vows to the Night's Watch. The momentous decision takes John about 10 seconds. And what's this? A little sex talk delivered, for once, with a light humor that remains in character and a sex scene that's both sexy and restrained. Hmmm. You can have a sex scene that provides character development and moves the plot without massive exposition? Who knew?

Down the Kingsroad, Roose Bolton's men reach Harrenhall and turn over the battered Jaime and Brienne. Lord Bolton comes off as surprisingly compassionate. Which in this show only serves to make me more suspicious. Taken to see a less than comforting healer, the kingslayer endures agony in a scene that hurts just to watch as gangrene is burned away from his handless right arm.

King's Landing time. Cersei and Littlefinger have a fast exchange. Cersei is clearly less confident, and her exchange with Littlefinger seems a good deal more on equal terms than their last discussion.

Across town, the Queen of Thornes is meeting with Tyrion—a pairing that immediately makes me smile in anticipation. Tyrion, who has been the smartest guy in the room through just about every room for two seasons, suddenly seems like a piker. The Queen of Thornes delivers a glorious dressing down to "browbeaten bookkeeper" Tyrion. Can we just get a spinoff series with these two characters and forget the rest?

Back with the Brotherhood, Gendry decides not to travel on but to stay at the cave and use his blacksmithing skills to help Dondarion. Arya, aching at seeing the last of her friends falling away offers a tearful "I can be your family," reminding us that she is just a kid after all, but Gendry can't see past the social difference between them. *sniff*

Over at Riverrun, Lord Karstark and company break into the prison and kill two Lannister squires, forcing Rob into a test of leadership that offers no good answers. For Karstark this seems like a completely nonsensical action. No matter how badly he wants revenge, how can he imagine that this will end without lots more of his family dying? Damn you, Karstark. Rob may not have Ice, but he gets through the big lord's thick neck well enough.

At the cave again, as she prepares to leave, Arya recites her "I Am So Going To Kill You" list. Thoros and Beric tell of the Lightning Lord's many deaths and returns—each time coming back as something less. The Brotherhood is just so damn sad.

Hey, it's Stannis' wife! Long time no see. Wait. Did we ever see? Stannis confesses that he's been with Melisandre. This family scene is a surprise. I thought we'd never get around to seeing ... Oh hell it's a super creepy collection of stillborn children in tubes. On second thought, I don't want to be here.

We do get to visit with sweet, but disfigured daughter Shireen. For book fans, you may not get the fool, Patchface, but at least Shireen delivers some of the fool's lyrics.

Brienne and Jaime at the baths. Jaime tells of the final days of the mad king and how he came to be the kingslayer in detail that's so horrifying and sad that it's almost enough to make you feel bad for him ... if you forget that he entered the story throwing a child from a window. And hey, did we handle nudity with some taste and restraint? What show is this?

Popping back to Dragonstone, little Shireen visits Davos in his dungeon cell. This kid has all the love and forgiveness her cold father is lacking. Let's make her queen.

Big jump over the Narrow Sea to watch Mormont and Selmy trading war stories. Dany offers the unsullied the right to choose their own names. The dedication they show to Dany clearly unsettles her.

While it may have started off friendly, the banter between Mormont and Selmy turns ugly as Selmy (more than) implies the Mormont isn't good enough to be around Dany. This isn't going to end well. How many weeks till we see if old Barristan is still as good as he says he is?

At Riverrun, Rob is dealing with the loss of half his army, seeing as the Karstarks have now all gone home. He's trapped in the south, his forces are in disarray, and there doesn't seem to be any way forward. Without losing a battle, Rob is near to losing the war. The only thing he can think of to keep victory possible is to make a deal with Lord Frey. That better be one helluva new deal to make Walder Frey forget that Rob reneged on the old deal that he would marry one of Frey's daughters.

Sansa and Margaery watch Loras sparring. Poor Sansa. (I always think "Poor Sansa" whenever I see this girl). Then Loras does bed-sparring with a servant who turns out to be a spy for Littlefinger. And hey, even this sex scene is handled with barely beyond PG-13 staging. Did George write this episode?

Littlefinger offers to take Sansa with him when he leaves King's Landing, and throws in a few creepy hints about how he sees her. But Sansa (Poor Sansa) is starry-eyed over Loras and decides to stay in the city where her father was beheaded. Ah, love. Pitiful, one-sided love.

But back in the council chamber Tyrion is called to a surprise meeting with papa Tywin and sweet sister Cersei. Tywin doesn't appreciate the Tyrells seeking to marry Sansa to Loras. Tywin plans to give Sansa to Tyrion, which even Tyrion finds cruel. Cersei loves this until she gets her part of the deal—she's to be married to Loras. But hey, she'll probably have to sleep with him even less than she did with Robert. Even so, Cersei is pissed. She thought she was out of this rolling around with men (other than Jaime) business.

Again, Tywin shows he's the real ruler, and as we close out this sad episode it looks like he's inches away from winning the whole game.

Originally posted to Devil's Tower on Mon Apr 29, 2013 at 07:10 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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