‘Game of Thrones’ – ‘What Is Dead May Never Die’: The queen mustn’t know

A review of tonight’s “Game of Thrones” coming up just as soon as I cut off your beard…

“Power resides where men believe it resides.” -Varys

This is a season of many kings, and many gods, all in a struggle for supremacy, and with it a lot of debate over what truly defines power. As a non-reader of the books(*), I have no idea where this is all going, but I have a feeling we’re going to get evidence of what kind of power truly reigns supreme in Westeros. And in “What Is Dead May Never Die,” we get practical demonstrations of many different kinds.

(*) And you really, really want to read the spoiler warning this week. Trust me.

Like Littlefinger and Varys, Tyrion is a strong believer that knowledge and cleverness equal power, and he gets to show that off beautifully with the scam he runs on those two and Maester Pycelle to figure out which of them is loyal to Cersei above all others. Tyrion having variations of the same discussion with all three of them was among the most purely entertaining sequences the show’s done to date. (And it was followed beautifully, hilariously by Tyrion leaving an extra coin for the whore’s trouble.) Between Tyrion’s  brains and Bronn’s steel, Cersei’s going to have a much harder time getting rid of the new hand than the previous two.

There’s the power of blood and guilt, as Balon Greyjoy forces Theon to choose the family that birthed him and gave him away over the one that stole him but cared for him. Balon’s uncompromising approach, and insistence that everyone in his family pay the iron price for everything, gives Theon no wiggle room. He can’t persuade his father to do anything different, can’t even risk sending a letter of warning to Robb, if he wants back in with House Greyjoy, so he burns the letter, throws in with his blood and lets himself be consecrated to the drowned god, stuck with a father who neither respects nor trusts him, a sister who’s surpassed him and for now a minor role in the sneak attack on the north.

There’s the power of politics, both the traditional and sexual kinds, as Renly is learning through his marriage to Loras Tyrell’s sister Margaery(**), which has helped give him the 100,000 soldiers he and his supporters are always bragging about. (The power of superior numbers.) We know Renly’s not interested in his new bride, and it turns out that she knows it, too, and is okay with it if it means a chance to become the one true queen of Westeros. Theirs is far from the first marriage in human history to be based on political expediency, after all.

(**) Apparently, there isn’t a widely-used fan abbreviation for this spelling the way there is for Dany. Sorely tempted to just call her “Marg” from here on out so I don’t have to keep looking it up. Am open to other suggestions that will be easy to remember. And no, telling me to just make a macro is not useful, for reasons too boring to go into.

And in our first extended glimpse of Renly’s camp, we see an example of good old-fashioned physical power, as Loras gets his behind well and truly kicked by the big, strong, dedicated Brienne of Tarth (spectacularly embodied by actress Gwendoline Christie). Watching her make such easy work of the Knight of the Flowers, and be so devoted to her new role as a member of his royal guard, made me imagine that this is who Arya could grow up to be if she manages to survive her current desperate circumstances. (And gains, like, four feet in height.) We get another impressive display of physical power when her protector Yoren is killed fighting against more of Joffrey’s men. Like Syrio before him, Yoren dies, but not before displaying an exceedingly high level of badassery, at one point taking on a half-dozen men simultaneously even while he has a crossbow bolt sticking out of him.

And when Yoren falls, it’s back to brain power once again as Arya quickly figures out a way to protect Gendry’s identity by temporarily loaning it to the recruit who was just murdered (and was dumb enough to be carrying Gendry’s helmet around with him).

Brains? Brawn? Family? Political savvy? Superior numbers? What’s to win the day? Too much season still to play out, but the stakes keep feeling higher.

Some other thoughts:

* Jon Snow survives Craster’s attack with only the loss of his pride, and some faith in Commander Mormont, who’s known all along about the baby sacrifices. Meanwhile, Sam gets a nice moment, and a bit more backstory, when he gives Craster’s pregnant wife Gilly the thimble he got from his beloved mother.

* Hodor speaks! Hodor! Hodor! “HODOR!” Two episodes later than it should have happened, but they finally gave the people what they want.

* Bran’s direwolf dreams continue, and now there’s a suggestion that he and his wolf are actually connected in some magical way. But because characters like Maester Luwin don’t know that magic has returned to this world the way we do, Bran is dismissed for now.

* Sansa continues to struggle in horrible, horrible circumstances as a prisoner of her father’s murderers who’s expected to act like a member of their family. (Makes me wonder if this is what Theon’s early days in Winterfell were like.) And we get an unlikely pairing when Tyrion assigns Shae to be her handmaiden as a kind of secret identity so Cersei and/or Tywin won’t find out about her.

* The cast is pretty damn huge at this point, especially with all the new additions. Even last year, most of the actors weren’t in every episode (Lena Headey’s the only one I’m sure was in all of them), and tonight’s episode does without Dany and Jorah, Robb, Jaime, Catelyn and all our new friends from Dragonstone. Much as I like most of the characters, I think this is the way to go. The flow is much better, and the individual stories have more impact, when we’re not bouncing around quite as much.

Finally, let’s talk spoilers – AND EVERYONE NEEDS TO READ THIS, EVEN IF YOU’VE READ THE SPOILER WARNING BEFORE, BECAUSE THIS IS NEW – because the comments last week trended back to the point of unacceptable. Let’s go through this again: we are here to talk about “Game of Thrones” AS A TV SHOW, AND NOT AS AN ADAPTATION OF THE BOOKS, with endless compare/contrasts, complaints about casting, hints about what’s coming, etc. Period.

Things got so bad by the second day of discussion last week that I decided it was time to take action. I can’t do separate blog posts for readers and non-readers, because I see all the comments and would get quickly, hopelessly spoiled. But I don’t have to look at HitFix’s new message boards if I don’t want to, so I set up a spoiler-friendly discussion thread for “The Night Lands.” Only a handful of people wound up using it, in part because I set it up after everyone had already read the review and begun commenting. But that’s not the case here. I’ve already created a message board topic to discuss this episode, so if you’ve read the books and want to discuss anything related to them, have a party.

I’m seriously fed up by everyone not paying attention to the rules on this, and if the blog comments this week do not improve, I’m seriously going to consider just not allowing comments at all on my “Game of Thrones” reviews, setting up separate message board topics for readers and non-readers, and walking away.

I get that many of you have read the books, and that you’re eager to discuss the show in comparison to what you’ve read, and what’s coming. But not only are there many, many other websites where you can do just that, but I’ve now set up an option for you to do it on this website. Follow it, or I take this particular commenting ball and go home.

With that in mind, what did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com