Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 3, Episode 4 of HBO's "Game of Thrones," titled "And Now His Watch Is Ended."
"He would see this country burn so he could be king of the ashes," -- Varys
In this episode, as in most, everyone's being played by someone, though some people are canny enough to realize what's going on. The situation seems even more desperate this week, as a mutilated Jaime enjoys more hospitality from his captors, everyone mills around King's Landing plotting furiously, the men of the Night's Watch become truly hangry, and Daenerys picks up an army of 8,000 castrated killing machines. All the drama makes this the best and most exciting episode so far this season. But that doesn't mean it's fun for the characters. Despite all the blood and glory, this week also reminds us that "shoveling shit really is most of it," as one disgruntled Westerosi puts it.
The Power Rankings
Using a complex algorithm that takes into account each player's wealth, military might and dominion over lands, along with a "bonus" factor that adjusts for unquantifiable assets that could influence events, we've surveyed the lay of the land to figure out who is winning the game of thrones after the fourth episode of season three of "Game of Thrones," entitled "And Now His Watch Is Ended."
1. Tywin Lannister (Last Episode: 1) As usual, Tywin is hunched over his desk busily signing important papers. We're treated to another charming display of his parenting skills, this time with daughter Cersei who receives Tywin's reassurance that he's doing what he can to get Jaime back. After batting away Cersei's concerns over Joffrey and Margaery's blooming love, Tywin tells her, "I don't distrust you because you're a woman. I distrust you because you're not as smart as you think you are." Apparently, Grandpa Lannister is aware that the king is a sadistic creep, and that Cersei's not exactly the most disciplined parent. But, as Cersei reminds him, it's not easy to keep Joffrey from "doing what he likes."
2. Margaery & Olenna Tyrell (Last Episode, without Olenna: 2) "He ate her while her son watched," Joffrey giggles to a seemingly rapt Margaery, who very convincingly tells him that his tour of the tombs is "just like taking a walk through history!" Appealing to his baser side, she tells him that "sometimes severity is the price we pay for greatness." He mulls that over with a villainous gleam in his eye before she basically double dares him to open the doors to the crowd. There's a moment where it seems like the rabble will rush in and trample dear Joffrey, but instead, they're calling out for Margaery. She's Evita meets Princess Diana meets Lady Macbeth. Later, she tries to pull little Sansa under her wing, even suggesting that she could marry Loras -- once Margaery is the queen. Margaery's cute joke about her bullying cousin (the punchline: she dies in agony as her face melts off) only reinforces the sense that for all her smiles and affirmations, Margaery's in it to win it.
3. Daenerys Targaryen (Last Episode: 5) Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen (which seems to be the proper way to refer to her, based on the number of times she's used it to refer to herself) is back setting cities to fire and wreaking vengeance on unsuspecting slaveowners who call her a bitch. Eight thousand Unsullied stand ready to be bought, as Daenerys takes Drogon out on a chain like a fire-spitting party balloon and hands him over. In return, she gets a whip. Revealing that she spoke Valyrian this entire time, she begins to command the army, as the slavemaster struggles with the recalcitrant dragon.
"A dragon is not a slave," she tells him, before she commands her new army to kill every soldier, whip-holder and non-child in the city.
"Kill her!" screams the slavemaster, who is promptly burned alive by Dracarys.
Later, standing in the dust and ash of the sacked Astapor, she frees her Unsullied, who choose to fight for her anyway. She promised to trade a dragon for an army of slaves and instead, walks away with 8,000 free troops without losing a single dragon. The shot of them streaming out of Astapor, martial music blaring, was the most stirring in the show since at least the "Blackwater" episode in Season 2.
4. Robb Stark (Last Episode: 4) No visit to the Stark camp this week, who last we saw, were grieving for the death of Lord Tully.
5. Joffrey Baratheon (Last Episode, with Cersei: 3) Despite being able to reel off every ghastly death and torture related factoid about the castle, Joffrey is another Lannister who isn't as smart as he thinks he is. This week, it's Margaery who's holding his strings, as Cersei glowers from a corner. She and Olenna Tyrell discuss the "ridiculous arrangement" that put men in charge of the realm, which does nothing to stop Margaery from trying to put herself in charge of Joffrey. She seems to be succeeding, which is why we're separating Cersei and Joffrey in our Power Rankings.
These characters are important, but don't make it to the top five in our Power Rankings -- yet.
Brienne of Tarth & Jaime Lannister Poor dyslexic Jaime is depressed! Because of his new handlessness. Without the ability to wield a sword, he feels like life has no purpose. (The fact that his captors tricked him into drinking a flask of equine urine, then kicked him into the mud, probably didn't help.) But Brienne, like any good life coach or personal trainer, wants him to snap out of it. "You have a taste -- one taste of the real world, where people have important things taken from them -- and you whine and cry and quit," she shouts. "You sound like a bloody woman!" Strange stance towards feminism perhaps, but just what Jaime needs to hear right now.
Cersei Lannister Cersei's lost most of her sway over Joffrey to Margaery, leaving her with significantly diminished resources. She appeals to her father Tywin for help in her struggle against Margaery and Olenna, but he's not interested in helping her. She's all alone.
Tyrion Lannister The Imp visits the eunuch in an attempt to get proof of his sister's attempt to kill him. Varys can't help him there, but he assures Tyrion that if he's patient, he'll eventually have enough sway to beat out his sister. "I am confident the revenge you seek will be yours in time," he says.
Varys In that same meeting with Tyrion, Varys also reveals how he became a eunuch. He was sold to a sorcerer, who sliced off his private parts to use in a magical ritual, which made Varys hate magic "and all those who practice it." But in an illustration of his belief that "influence grows like a weed," Varys cracks open a heavy wooden chest -- which contains that same sorcerer, who was shipped to King's Landing at his request for some kind of long-awaited, grisly revenge. Varys loves the long game. Another long game he's playing? Matchmaker to Sansa Stark. He wants to subvert Littlefinger's plans to marry her by striking an alliance with Olenna Tyrell -- because he considers Littlefinger "one of the most dangerous men in Westeros."
Sansa Stark Though Olenna and Varys don't think Sansa's a particularly interesting girl, they both agree that she had a "very interesting childhood" -- and that her beauty and famous name make her one of the most eligible bachelorettes in Westeros. They hatch a plan to marry Sansa off to the dashing Loras Tyrell, which would unite the power of Highgarden and Winterfell. (In the books, Loras had two older brothers, Garlan and Willas, and the Tyrell woman suggested that Sansa marry the latter, but it seems like Loras has taken over their duties.) When Margaery mentions the idea to Sansa, she seems excited. Lush, warm Highgarden would certainly be a welcome change after years under Cersei's thumb in King's Landing.
Arya Stark Thoros of Myr takes Arya, Gendry and Sandor Clegane to the Brotherhood Without Banners' subterranean headquarters with hoods on their heads and blackstrap rum in their hands. (Arya doesn't partake, but Gendry does.) When they enter, they discover that the leader of the ragtag group is none other than Lord Beric Dondarrion, who'd been dispatched to the Riverlands to arrest the Hound's brother Gregor Clegane, a.k.a. "The Mountain." Lord Dondarrion -- who's played, in case you don't recognize him, by a different actor than he was in the first season -- accuses The Hound of killing children. But Sandor denies it, blaming his brother and asking, "Is it a crime to be born a Clegane?" It seems like it's going to work until Arya speaks up and tells everyone how The Hound killed her friend Mycah, a defenseless boy. Beric Dondarrion challenges The Hound to trial by combat to answer for the crime.
Theon Greyjoy At the start of the episode, Theon's riding through the north with his nameless new fried, who claims to have grown up in the Iron Islands. They chat about fatherhood and loyalty a bit. Theon gets teary when talking about Ned Stark, whom he thinks of as his "real father." (It kind of seems like Alfie Allen is going after an Emmy with all this emoting, no?) But then Theon's guide picks a lock and leads him into a dark room in the castle, where Theon expects to find his sister -- and discovers, instead, the slanted crucifix/rack where he'd been tortured before. The guide's face transforms into a sadistic grin as he tells the other torturers to put Theon "back where he belongs." It was all some sort of strange trick. To what end, we're not yet sure. But Theon is surely in for a lot more pain.
Jon Snow No Jon this episode! He's assumedly on his way to the Wall with Tormund Giantsbane, Ygritte and a band of other Wildling raiders.
Samwell Tarly There was plenty of Jon's best friend Sam though, who's also north of the Wall. He watches as his sworn brothers, angry at Craster over the death of their friend Bannon, mutiny against Lord Commander Mormont, killing him and Craster in the process. Sam reacted fast to the carnage, running out of Craster's Keep to grab Gilly and her baby. They run out together. It's still a long walk back to the Wall -- and the night is dark and full of terrors. Namely, the Others and their army of zombified Night's Watchmen. And if they get past them, Gilly will face an even greater challenge: picking a name for her son.
"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
CORRECTION: This piece has been amended to correct several spelling errors.