Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) was the real winner this episode. (Helen Sloan/HBO )
"Power resides where men believe it resides. It's a trick, a shadow on the wall. And a very small man can cast a very large shadow." -- Varys, talking to Tyrion.
Westeros is a pretty cruel place to be a child.
The third episode in HBO's second season of "Game of Thrones"began and ended with the slaughter of youths: First, with the wildling Craster (Robert Pugh) offering up one of his incestual sons to some weird gods (and Commander Mormont defending this behavior as an evil worth tolerating) and, lastly, with a Lannister soldier killing a young boy pledged to the Night's Watch by stabbing him through the throat after the boy said he would need to be carried.
"'Carry him,' he says," the soldier callously mocked.
How noble. (Though, I'll admit, somewhat funny in a sadistic way.)
There was a lot to like and a few things to dislike about the episode, "What is dead may never die."
The Bad: For starters, there was no Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), who had one of the best storylines of last season; and no Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) or Melisandre (Carice van Houten), who have one of the best storylines of the current season. Incidentally, though this isn't necessarily a bad thing: There was also very little sex. (Which should make happy the"Saturday Night Live" writers who mocked the show over the weekend as co-written by a sex-obsessed 13-year-old.) It's an immensely difficult job these writers have, trying to compress these 1,000-page books into 10-episode seasons, but this simple equation has held true thus far: More Dany = better episodes.
The Good: We can all now officially hate Theon Greyjoy (Aflie Allen) and Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover). You know you always hated these two snakes, deep down, right? It feels so freeing to finally be out in the open about it. In the episode, Theon backstabbed Robb Stark (Richard Madden) by joining his father's plots against the Starks; and Pycelle was exposed by Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) as a Cersei snitch.
The writers did a nice job of developing Renly's (Gethin Anthony) camp this episode. We meet the badass Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) after she defeats flower-knight Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) in a mock battle. "I'm no lady," Brienne says. And Renly's queen, Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), shows her political savviness, as she encourages her brother to join her and Renly in a secret threesome in order to fill her belly with a baby.
"There's no need for us to play games," she says. "Save your lies for court. You're going to need a lot of them."
Also at Renly's camp, Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) shows her strength and delivers some of the episode's best lines. For instance, after Loras chides her about Robb, she retorts: "My son is fighting a war, not playing at one."
But it's Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) who comes out of the episode in the best position. She saves three captives from burning to death (which could come back to help her in the future) and thinks up a smart, quick lie to save Gendry, Robert's bastard son, from death at Lannister hands. Arya is proving to be as clever as she is skilled with her swordplay.
It wasn't a great episode for fans of Dany or Stannis (or steadfast opponents of child slaughter). But if you're an Arya fan, you've got to be feeling pretty good about her future prospects, even with her now in Lannister hands. With Robb at war, Sansa betrothed to Joffrey and Bran paralyzed, the plight of this Stark child isn't looking so bad after all.