Game of Thrones: Series 2, Episode Eight – “The Prince of Winterfell”

The last series of Game of Thrones was much like a twisting country road. We were being introduced to a new world and new characters in a climate of intense political manoeuvring with quite a few big surprises. The most prominent one, the execution of Nedd Stark, proved to be the powder keg for the war the Seven Kingdoms now find themselves in.

This series, however, is a lot more like a straight downward slope. There’s been a few sharp veers to the left or the right but we know exactly where this journey is going to end – all-out war. This sense of inevitability is further stoked in this week’s episode which is mostly dedicated to arranging the players for their respective set pieces: Robb’s war in the North, Stannis’ siege of King’s Landing, and Danaerys’ invasion of the House of Undying to retrieve her dragons.

Talking of things going downhill, Theon Greyjoy’s situation at Winterfell hasn’t improved at all, especially with his sister, Yara, arriving on the scene. Turns out she isn’t as pleased with Theon’s achievements as he thought she might be. This disapproval manifests itself mostly in a scene full of the hot blooded rivalry we have seen defines the siblings’ relationship so far. However, there’s a surprisingly tender moment between the two as Yara reveals that, rather than hating Theon completely, there is still a tiny spark of love for him and she just doesn’t want to see him die when Robb Stark makes him pay for his mistakes. Theon, behaving as usual, refuses to acknowledge these warnings and prefers to hold onto the little glory he has gained from killing a couple of children and further angering the people who raised him for much of his life. Ultimately the scenes only further convince us that, when he does finally fall, it will be hard and fast.

Theon’s not the only one making mistakes in The North. Things aren’t going too well for Robb either, as he has to deal with his mother going behind his back and releasing Jaime Lannister in exchange for the safety of her daughters. The true conflict of Robb’s duties as the new king in the North and a member of the Stark family come to light as he places Catelyn under guard lest she cause more trouble by stirring discontent amongst the men.

Robb isn’t entirely innocent, though; the relationship he’s been building with Talisa, the nurse and noble woman from the distant city-state of Volantis, is finally consummated. Whilst this might not cause trouble on its own it should be noted that King Stark is already betrothed to a daughter of Lord Frey, a man who can hold a grudge with the rest of them. He might be good on the battlefield but Robb is turning out to be either incompetent or too compassionate in every other aspect of ruling; qualities that make it look more likely that at some point he’s going to make a mistake that he can’t simply fight his way out of.

Love is causing problems for Tyrion in King’s Landing as well. Stannis’ ships are gradually closing in on the capital and he has a siege to prepare for. Meanwhile, Cersei is trying to capture the girl closest to his heart to try to use her as a bargaining chip. Fortunately the queen gets the wrong girl, presenting her younger brother with Ros, one of Littlefinger’s ladies of the night, rather than his beloved Shae. It’s too much of a close shave and reminds us that Tyrion isn’t just trying to deal with the enemies outside the city walls but the ones within as well. Hopefully though, it will all come to a head next episode when Stannis is sure to invade.

Athough these are the big stories of this week’s episode we get a look at just about every major character. Arya, for instance, has taken true advantage of her friend Jaqen’s ‘name three people and I’ll kill them for you’ policy by naming the assassin himself as her third target. The catch? Help her and her friends escape from Harrenhal and she’ll un-name him. Luckily it goes swimmingly for all involved as Jaqen reluctantly agrees.

Jon Snow has been finally captured by Wildlings along with his Nights Watch companion ‘The Halfhand’. After a couple of episodes that have mostly consisted of dick jokes at Jon’s expense, this story is finally getting somewhere as Halfhand suggests the young bastard might be better off alive sowing discontent amongst their captors rather than dead at the bottom of some snowy ditch. It gives a brilliant opportunity for us to see more of the land beyond The Wall, a setting that always promises to present us with more mysteries than it solves.

The Prince Of Winterfell is all about setting the scene. All the characters are moving to the edges of their own particular cliffs, ready to jump off into the void. Seeing how things exploded in the ninth episode of last series, next week is sure to be full of surprises.

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