The big reveal at the end of Sunday night's episode of "Game of Thrones" is that the Stark children, Bran and Rickon, are not only alive, but hiding right beneath Theon Greyjoy's nose in Winterfell. So much for Greyjoy's relentless hunt.
Theon should have to duel Joffrey for the title of "World's Second Most Incompetent Leader."
Anyway, the news that the Stark children are alive was the biggest piece of plot development that happened in "The Prince of Winterfell," the eighth episode of Season 2. Other than that (and Jaime Lannister's escape, which I'll get into below) it served better as a set-up to the show's climax in the next weeks, rather than a stand-alone episode.
Still, the plot advanced incrementally, setting up Season 2's penultimate episode, which will be the looming battle between Stannis Baratheon and the Lannisters at King's Landing. (Note to the writers: Can Stannis please capture and torture Joffrey? Or at least can you make Tyrion slap Joffrey again? Thanks. Sincerely, Everyone.) The ninth episode is where the HBO show spent most of its budget for the season and hopefully will live up to the drama of Season 1's penultimate episode (you know, when scumbag Joffrey ordered Ned Stark's head chopped off. And, yes, I'm still mad about that).
The episode covered a lot of geographic ground -- from south to north to really, really north and, finally, to the east for Dany's prerequisite two minutes of screen time. Here's a rundown of what happened at each location.
Winterfell: The insufferable Theon Greyjoy (who holds Winterfell captive) is paid a visit by his smarter, tougher, more capable older sister Yara, whose name is Asha in the books. (Why the show's writers chose to change it is beyond me.) Within minutes of arriving Yara/Asha mocks her brother with a series of insults stemming from his supposed slaughter of the Stark children ("Which one gave you the greater fight? The cripple or the 6 year old?" / "You are weak and you're stupid." / "Every man in the north wants to see you hanged"). But then she shows a more tender side, imploring her brother to leave, saying "Don't die so far from the sea." The episode ends with the revelation that Theon has not actually killed the Starks, but slaughtered two completely innocent farmer's boys instead in an act of deception. (This is perhaps even worse and more cowardly than killing the Starks, but I'm glad the boys are alive. As a viewer, you have to root for the Starks.)
North of The Wall: Ygritte presents her captive Jon Snow to wildling officer, Lord of Bones, nicknamed "Rattleshirt" (who wears a giant's skull as a helmet, which one must admit is pretty badass). It turns out the wildings have also captured legendary Night's Watch ranger Qhorin Halfhand, who was taken while searching for Jon. "He runs, I'll chop his balls off," Rattleshirt says of Jon. As the wildlings march their captives through the mountains, Qhorin devises a plan to have the wildlings accept Jon Snow as one of their own, and begins to quarrel with Jon, shoving him down an embankment. Meanwhile, Samwell and the other men of the Night's Watch hit upon a useful find in the snow at The Fist of the First Men. Samwell finds, wrapped in a Night's Watch cloak, dragonglass and a horn, both of which one suspects were buried there for an important reason. (When watching "Game of Thrones," one must assume that anything that has to do with dragons is going to matter later on.)
Robb Stark's camp: Robb is finally getting some more screen time. (He gets very little upclose character development in the books.) Robb learns that his mother, Catelyn Stark, has let the captive Jaime Lannister go free and sent Brianne to escort him to King's Landing in a trade for Sansa and Arya. (She is hoping Arya is at King's Landing, when we know she's not.) This treasonous act would mean a quick beheading for anyone else, but since Catelyn is the king's mom, she just has to stay in her tent. "Jaime Lannister has played you for a fool," Robb says, before sending 80 men after The Kingslayer. Later in the episode, Robb falls for Lady Talisa, as expected, and prevents "The Prince of Winterfell" from becoming the second "Game of Thrones" episode in a row not to have a sex scene. (In the books, Robb falls for Jeyne Westerling -- which, again, is a detail I'm not sure why the writers changed. Anyway, the key plot development point is that he's not going to marry a Frey girl, which is perhaps a tactical error, since the Freys have provided him with a good amount of his army's strength.)