You’re a whore.
Specifically, you’re Ros, the redhead from Winterfell who came to King’s Landing, rose to the top at Littlefinger‘s high-class brothel, and wound up a pawn in the games of the kingdoms’ most powerful and dangerous men. You’ve just been arrested on order of Queen Cersei on suspicion of being the lover of her brother Tyrion. Tyrion, of course, is the man who bought you as a nameday present for King Joffrey, who celebrated by forcing you to brutally assault your fellow prostitute. Tyrion paid you for your trouble with a golden necklace in the shape of Lannister lions – it’s expensive, yes, but it also reads “DON’T FUCK WITH ME – I HAVE POWERFUL FRIENDS” in a language any of your potential clients can understand. Unfortunately it’s also a big neon arrow pointing in your direction if anyone comes looking for a whore the Hand of the King has been schtupping.
So you’re arrested, beaten, and dragged before the Queen and the Hand. At some point you’ve probably gathered what it is they’ve arrested you for, and what it is they’ll do to you if something goes wrong between the Lannisters. And while it’s true that, strictly speaking, you’ve been Tyrion’s lover – way back in the series premiere, in Winterfell’s friendly neighborhood whorehouse – you’re not the woman he loves. They’ve got the wrong whore.
So go ahead, tell them. Scream it so loud they hear it all throughout the Red Keep. What do you think they’ll do, apologize for the inconvenience and send you on your merry way? Yeah, right, and I’ve got a castle at Harrenhal to sell you. Nope, being mistaken for someone important is what got you into this life-or-death situation, but now it’s the only thing preventing you from exiting it Ned Stark-style. You know it, and Tyrion knows it, and each of you knows the other knows it. You both have to keep playing along, and hope you do it better than the other side does.
That’s pretty much the way of every storyline in the taut, terrific episode “The Prince of Winterfell,” handled by the Game of Thrones A-Team of writers/showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and director Alan Taylor. Nearly every player ended up in a trap, forced to play it as it lies.
One of the more poignant examples, believe it or not, is Theon Greyjoy. He’s discovering that conquering Winterfell is a lot easier than holding it, especially when his sister Yara isn’t foolhardy enough to help him try to hold on to the biggest prize in the North with a bunch of landlocked sailors. His naivete about the fate of the farmers whose adopted sons he killed for Bran and Rickon Stark ringers is a bit tough to swallow, but it shows that he really is trying to be only as brutal as necessary – he truly believes he’s been forced to do what he’s done. A part of him, probably too big a part for him to last very long, is still the crying baby Yara describes, searching for someone to look up to, to tell him it’s alright. (Of course, when Theon was taken from his family as a hostage by the Starks, he wasn’t much older than Bran, who’s getting a hard lesson himself right now about innocent bystanders.)
Further north, Jon Snow and (much to the chagrin of book loyalists, no doubt) Qhorin Halfhand find themselves trapped at the tender mercies of the Lord o‘ Bones, the wildling commander. Qhorin appears to be formulating the makings of a plan, dramatically faking a fight with the rookie immediately after suggesting there’s a way he can make their capture and the deaths of their comrades worthwhile. It’s an intriguing bit of improvisation under dire circumstances, but that’s what the Night’s Watch is known for, if that cache of mysterious “dragonglass” weapons that Sam and Grenn found is any indication.
And it’s more than Daenerys and Jorah Mormont can muster in Qarth, where their only options are to flee (Jorah’s choice – it wouldn’t be the first time he experienced exile and disgrace for a woman he loved, after all) or trust in Dany’s apparent invincibility and enter the warlocks’ probably inaccurately named House of the Undying. The clock’s ticking, and Dany’s going to need to call an audible if they have any hope of winning.
Faced with traps of their own, Jon’s Stark half-siblings are taking a mulligan. (I’m mixing my metaphors horrendously, I know. Would you believe sports aren’t the Game of Thrones recap guy’s strong suit?) Too smart for her own good as always, Arya forces the smoothly lethal Jaqen H‘gar into helping her escape by nearly forcing him to kill himself instead by using his own rules against him. The look on his face and the terror in his voice (that “please”!) is nearly as priceless as their echo in Arya, as she and Gendry and Hot Pie witness just how astonishingly dangerous this guy really is on their way out of Harrenhal’s gate.
Robb, too, tosses the rules – and possibly the war? – out the window by ignoring his vows to marry a Frey girl in exchange for her father’s crucial bridge and finally getting it on with the very noble noblewoman from Volantis, Lady Talisa. She’s a brand-new character invented by the show, and her backstory is smartly deployed, encouraging Robb to ditch his culture’s hidebound rules the same way she ditched her own. But book-readers will no doubt note the irony of finally hearing Ned Stark’s classic exchange about bravery – “How can a man be brave if he’s afraid?” “That’s the only time a man can be brave.” – in an episode where Robb’s “bravery” in declaring his feelings for Talisa is no doubt going to cause at least as much trouble as what his mother Catelyn did by freeing the Kingslayer, Jaime Lannister. At least Catelyn created another Lannister comedy duo in the process, with Jaime/Brienne joining Tywin/Arya, Tyrion/Bronn (jeez, they’re like an old married couple), and Tyrion/Varys in the long list of pairs I’d love to see Dan Harmon develop a sitcom around, now that he’s free and all.
Breaking the rules can result in a win now and then, though. Ask Ser Davos Seaworth, whose smuggled onions were worth their weight in gold to the besieged Stannis Baratheon during his brother Robert‘s rebellion years ago. Davos’s criminal enterprise cost him his knucklebones but earned him a knighthood and, if the battle of Blackwater goes well next week, the title of Hand of the King. Very, very smart of the show to pit Team Stannis’s most sympathetic character directly against Tyrion, who plays the same role for Team Lannister. “You enjoy the game…and you play it well,” Varys tells Tyrion. “I’d like to keep playing it,” Tyrion replies – just a few scenes before we see the one way in which he’s weak on D. In maybe the only shot that’s emphasized his height so far, he’s literally dwarfed by the woman he loves. I want to send a raven and warn him and Davos both: If you’re the Hand with a capital H, they cut off more than your knucklebones when the game doesn’t go your way.