There are as many allegiances and agendas as there are characters on HBO's sprawling epic Game of Thrones. If the first season taught us any one lesson, and as Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) reminded us last night, Ned Stark (Sean Bean) helped bring about his own demise by being just too damn trusting: trusting of the system (lesson: never rely on a piece of paper to back your claims) and trusting of those allegedly there to serve him. Family and duty do not equal loyalty in this realm, so last night's episode, "What Is Dead May Never Die," saw several allegiances being put to the test.
Trust Issues Abound
The beheading of poor Ned Stark continues to serve as a cautionary tale for all of the major power players' movements, none more so than the dapper dwarf Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), who spends this episode taking more measures so as not to end up as his two predecessors.
You'll remember that Ned's biggest betrayers were that of the Small Council, who didn't bat an eye when Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and Cersei (Lena Headey) stepped up. The Red Keep is full of backstabbers, but the Hand must at least have a council that he can trust before anyone else. Knowing this, Tyrion stages a clever ruse to smoke out the council rat. In separate meetings with Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen), Varys, and Grand Maester Flash Pycelle (Julian Glover), Tyrion details a political plot to trade an arranged marriage with Joffrey's younger sister/cousin Myrcella for war allies, but he tells each of them a different family. When Cersei angrily approaches him recounting the details he specifically told Pycelle, Ty has his head goon Bronn (Jerome Flynn) haul Pycelle off to the dungeons, stripped of his swagged-out beard no less.
It turns out Pycelle is loyal to the Lannisters, specifically Tywin and Cersei, having sold out former hands Jon Arryn and, of course, Ned when they got too close to discovering the truth about the Baratheon bloodline. This tracks with last season's late revelation that the old dude is much more spry and aware than he lets on, and basically uses his perceived senility as a sleight of hand. Unlike Janos, his banishment is noticeably close by. Might he return later to stir things up?
Theon's Family Ties
Theon (Alfie Allen) finds himself in one of the show's most complex internal struggles. On the one hand, he was basically traded to the Starks (or the Wolves, as Balon likes to refer to them in sigil-speak) by his father (Patrick Malahide) in accordance with the peace treaty made after their failed uprising. Theoretically, his loyalty should lie with his own flesh and blood. On the other hand, the Starks welcomed him as one of their own, and, given that he was traded as a young boy, he's grown to view the likes of Robb and Bran as brothers.
It doesn't help matters that Balon treats Theon as a traitor, not a victim of the trade, and is blatantly emasculating him by giving more battle responsibility to his sister Yara (Gemma Whelan), the one who gets a kick out of letting her brother unknowingly fondle her.
Speaking of battles, Balon reveals that he has no interest in the Lannisters or the capitol. While Robb employs most of the northern forces on the battlefront, Balon plots to use the North's lack of armed presence to take the land, a siege that would eventually end with Winterfell. Theon wrestles with writing to Robb of the planned attack but ultimately sides with his blood. For now.
Three's Company (In The Bedroom)
Last night we finally got to check-in with Renly (Gethin Anthony), the other Baratheon plotting to make a bid for the throne. Just like his elder brother, Stannis, Renly is currently holed up on a remote location (Storm's End) prematurely parading around as king. The difference is he has about 100,000 men down to ride, plus Brienne the beauty (Gwendoline Christie), a female swordsmith dirtier than all of the dudes put together.
Lady Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) has arrived at Storm's End on behalf of Robb in an attempt to secure alliance with Renly and his forces. We don't see much of her, though, as most of this story's screen time is devoted to Renly's unnatural home life. He's still secretly playing for the other team with the aptly named Knight of the Flowers, Ser Loras, but for publicity and tradition's sake he's married to Loras's sister Margaery (Natalie Dormer).
Already feeling slighted by Renly's high praise of Brienne, Loras gets hot and heavy with Renly only to abruptly stop and force him to instead spend the rest of the night with Margaery so as to keep up appearances. Naturally, Renly fails spectacularly at feigning interest in sleeping with her, but it turns out she's already figured out the obvious. Surprisingly, she's A-OK with the situation, too, so long as Renly cements their marriage with a child, to strengthen their union politically. With this revelation, now every faction vying for the throne is complete with an ambitious, plotting woman in the fold.
To be fair, Yoren's (Francis Magee) bloody death should come as no shock after he invited the wrath of the knights last week. At least he went out like an inarguable G (a nod to Sean Bean's similar death scene as Boromir in Lord of the Rings perhaps?). He already won us over with the awesomely non-coddling revenge story he told a troubled Arya (Maisie Williams), but that kiss-off line he delivered to the King's Guard archer before taking him and several of his boys out was fucking epic.
Thankfully, he didn't die in vain, either. Of course, the Knight's Guard is there for Gendry (Joe Dempsie), and would gladly take Arya as well, but they don't know what either youngster looks like. So when one particularly nasty dude brutally kills a kid that tried to run off with Gendry's trademark, badass bull helmet, Arya cleverly convinces them that they got their man. That leaves Arya and Gendry safe, we assume, for now, but on the deadly King's Road with no one to watch over them. Damn, things never ease up for shorty, huh? Excuse us while we re-watch Yoren's last stand.
- Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) thinks he's inhabiting a dire wolf in his dreams, but Maester Luwin assures him that flights of fancy such as that or dragons are long gone. Seeing as how there are currently three baby dragons across the Narrow Sea, we're inclined to believe Bran. Do remember that last season his awakening from his coma was inter-cut with the death of a dire wolf as well.
- Desert Dany (Emilia Clarke) is off-screen this week. We estimate that she and the khalissar have progressed about a mile further in the world's longest, most aimless march ever. Dragonstone is M.I.A., as well. We figure Stannis is still getting it in on the top of his war table.
- Lord Craster evicts the Night's Watch from his premises as punishment for Jon Snow's (Kit Harrington) intrusion. Unfortunately, Jon's knowledge of Craster doesn't hold weight as Commander Mormont reminds him they have no jurisdiction over the wildlings. Even worse, Snow fails to put two and two together and deduce that that was a White Walker receiving the baby boy.
- Tyrion solves Shae's (Sibel Kekilli) boredom by assigning her to be aptive Sansa's (Sophie Turner) hand maiden. In a dinner scene that was a bit too on-the-nose, we're reminded of how bad both Stark girls have it, as Sansa is forced to dine and plead loyalty regularly to the people who murdered her father and plan to murder her brother. She may lash out annoyingly at times, but, really, who wouldn't?