So far we’ve met four of the five kings we were promised this series. Now we are re-introduced to the familiar face of Renly Baratheon, who just so happens to be the fifth and final candidate to the throne.
Unlike his competitors he seems to be having much more fun wearing that crown and with the army gained by his marriage to Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) there are hints that he has enough power to keep it on his head.
Renly and his Knights of Summer seem to be having a whale of a time. Unlike his brother, Stannis, the youngest Baratheon is much less grim about this whole upcoming war business and is more bothered about the real meat and potatoes of kingship: leading tournaments, being a leader to his men and drinking copious amounts of wine.
There is an air of playfulness in his camp and in his manner as the world around him teeters on the brink which suggests that, despite having the men to do it, when push comes to shove he won’t be psychologically ready for the battles that await him. Catelyn Stark is quick to observe this, remarking that – unlike Renly – her son fights a war and isn’t just playing at one.
The hopeful king has another problem as well. He’s having an affair with Loras, his wife’s brother, meaning that he might not be able to provide an heir. Luckily (or incredibly embarrassingly in Renly’s case) Margaery is perfectly aware of this little hitch, and is willing to do anything that might put a ‘baby in (her) belly’; including bringing Loras into the bedroom as an incentive. She is shaping up to be an actual voice in Baratheon’s plans and not just a cog in them; adding another strong female influence to a cast that is already full of them.
Seeing as Peter Dinklage now has top billing in the opening credits, it is only natural that we get a massive focus on Tyrion and his activities in King’s Landing as well. As Varys, the spymaster, notes: “despite his small size, the Lord Lannister has the potential to cast the largest shadow on the wall”. This is demonstrated particularly well in both his scheming, providing three contradictory stories to the more suspicious members of The Small Council, and the way that he treats the traitor that they reveal: Grand Maester Pycelle.
Despite being a treacherous old man, the way Tyrion nonchalantly orders his beating and imprisonment is a sign that this new Hand isn’t taking any chances and will be brutal as needs must. He is definitely nothing like the honourable character we had in Ned Stark. Despite the amount of time he is on screen, it will be a long wait before we see all his hidden depths.
More uneasy alliances can be found in Theon’s story on the Iron Islands. With his family finally on the scene he’s being presented a dilemma that has only been hinted at before. Not truly part of either the Greyjoys or the Starks, he is eager for the approval of a father that hasn’t been present for the majority of his life. This leads to betrayal (and a rather sinister baptism scene on the coast) as Balon looks on with the smallest hint of approval as his son is brought back into the fold.
We also get our first real piece of action as the Night Watch convoy Arya is part of is attacked again; not by Watchmen this time, but by Lannister men. No matter how well it does political intrigue, Game of Thrones really does have a knack for brutal violence with a sense of panache. Safe to say much blood is spilt, and many orifices pierced, as all hopes of the young Stark getting back to Winterfell are quickly dashed.
Whilst we’re talking about Starks, Jon Snow’s story with the incestuous wildlings is rather disappointingly cut short. Simply having the Night’s Watch leave the camp after finding out that Craster is sacrificing his children to unseen forces seemed like a bit of a cop out. However, there is still a chance we might be seeing more of him soon. After all, the Night’s Watch have to find a way back to The Wall somehow.
All in all, it seems that the setting up of these earlier episodes is finally coming to end. All the kings have been introduced, and their allegiances have been mostly established. Sadly there was a complete lack of Danaerys in this instalment, but perhaps she’ll become a bigger influence soon.