"You cannot give up on the gravy." So declares Hot Pie, former running buddy of Arya Stark and budding Great Chef of Westeros, to an unappreciative Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne. All they signed up for was a square meal and a place to spend the night on their quest for Sansa Stark. Instead, they get a monologue from a refugee from Flea Bottom who can't stop talking about what makes for a good pie. Eventually, the kid gives them information they find a bit more useful: Arya's alive and headed for her crazy aunt Lysa's place. He also dropped some science: Westeros may be a hellhole of murder and deception, but individual moments of pleasure and kindness are all the more vital for it. Ice demons, zombies, dragons, giant sword-wielding maniacs, it doesn't matter: You cannot give up on the gravy.
Or the hot sauce, for that matter. For all that we critique the show's handling of nudity and sexuality, we should probably also celebrate it when it's, you know, sexy. To wit: Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, getting some of that Daario D. Henry Kissinger once called power "the ultimate aphrodisiac," but it's unlikely he realized that it applies not just for those in the presence of power, but for those who wield it as well. Dany is intoxicated by her command of this swaggering sellsword, and the master/servant dynamic she establishes by making him drop trou in front of her – and the audience, woo-hoo! – is intensely erotic. The look on her face as she stares at Daario's exposed Naharis? Hot as dragonfire.
Melisandre's brazen bathtime romp before the eyes of her queen, Selyse Baratheon, is steamy in its own perverse way – and not just because Carice Van Houten is just as glorious a specimen of humanity in her way as actor Michel Huisman is in his own. (When you play the Game of Butts, everyone's a winner!) But even though there's nothing overtly sexual going on between the Red Woman and Stannis's missus, there's an undercurrent of sex via the commutative property, as it were: "This is the body I use to fuck the man you sometimes fuck yourself." Selyse's religiously mandated reaction to her cuckolding: a version of "Thank you, ma'am, may I have another?" It's refreshing to watch the show remove violence from the equation and simply examine sexuality in all its workaday interplay of desire, power, lust, shame, guilt, kink. The concoction's as potent as any of Melisandre's potions, and no less powerful for having unpleasant undertones.
Of course, genitals need not be involved for people to enjoy one another's company. As the Hot Pie/Brienne/Pod exchange indicates, this episode was also peppered with tiny moments of kindness of the sort that make life worth living, even if that life is lived in Melisandre's conception of hell. Take the parting handshake Bronn and Tyrion exchange as their long, fruitful partnership at last comes to a close. Despite being a blackhearted bastard who'd kill a kid if the price is right, Bronn can't quite bring himself to let go of the former Hand's hand. Not since Don Draper hung on to Peggy Olson has a handshake said so much on a Great TV Drama.
And while Dany's midriff-baring morning-after outfit might have stolen the spotlight, her conference with her lovelorn advisor Ser Jorah showed she still knows how to be a good friend, not just a strong leader. Convinced by Jorah to stay her hand against the Great Masters of Yunkai rather than executing them all outright, she tells the exiled knight to take the credit for changing her mind when he informs Daario of the decision. In one fell swoop, she evens things out a bit between the two rivals, confirms her trust and admiration for Jorah's judgment, and reinforces his perception that he's saved lives by speaking up. Sometimes, the personal really is political.
But that's a blade that cuts both ways. Jorah and Dany's close relationship prevents a blood bath, but all around Westeros, personal grudges seem likely to cause them. Up at the wall, Ser Alliser Thorne's long-standing beef with Jon Snow looks like it will leave the Wall's vulnerable gate open to attack by, well, giants. (Yes, this is a fantasy series.) Down in King's Landing, Prince Oberyn reveals that a young Cersei's heartbreak over her mother's death while giving birth to Tyrion led to literally a lifetime of enmity. It's a hatred so bone-deep, Oberyn suggests, that there are times Cersei doesn't even realize its impact – what she sincerely believed to be a heart-to-heart about their daughters, the Prince read, probably correctly, as an attempt to sway him against her kid brother. It's reminiscent, in its way, of the feud between Cersei's champion, Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane and his baby brother Sandor, aka the Hound – a feud that can still reduce the latter killing machine to a petulant, fearful child, and which created his nihilistic belief that we're all truly alone in the world.
Perhaps Sansa Stark would be better off if that were really true. Her own attempt at kindness, involving her cousin and future husband Robin Arryn in building a snowy replica of Winterfell, backfires when the kid freaks out. Her supposed protector, Littlefinger, comes on to her – which would be bad enough even if it weren't an attempt to bait her aunt Lysa into acting up, and that's up for debate. Sansa's life has been a nonstop parade of betrayal, just as her sister Arya's life has been a cavalcade of brutality. "Nothing isn't better or worse than anything," Arya tells a dying farmer before the Hound does him the courtesy of killing him rather than letting him painfully bleed to death. "Nothing is just nothing." Craving that nothingness is a point anyone can reach in a world where even kindness can kill.
Previously: Disorder in the Court