The episode begins in King's Landing with the Hound in a fight—that ends very quickly, as he knocks his opponent over the edge of the battlement they're fighting on. The opponent doesn't land so much as a splash on the courtyard below, and everyone claps.
It's Joffrey's name day tournament. Remember what Joffrey was like last season? Well, now he's having a man drowned in wine for arriving to fight late and slightly drunk, isn't that nice? Sansa, thinking quickly, gets the tipsy Ser Dontos off the hook with a little help from Sandor, but it's clear everyone is taking care not to offend Joffrey. Except for Tyrion, who shows up out of the blue and also shows up Joffrey completely.
Tyrion then proceeds to the meeting of the Small Council to show up Joffrey's mother as well. Tyrion is definitely not the brother Cersei would prefer to see right now, but she's stuck with him—he's filling in for Tywin as Hand of the King, after all. He suggests that Arya Stark would be a great bargaining chip in negotiations with Robb Stark, and is none too pleased when Cersei admits that she not only let Joffrey behead Ned Stark, she's lost his younger daughter as well. "We had three Starks to trade. You chopped one's head off and let another escape? Father would be furious. Must be odd for you, to be the disappointing child."
Meanwhile, back in Winterfell, Bran is bored with being the Lord of a castle, but he's soon livened up by a wolf dream and a red comet. Osha has this to say: "The comet means one thing, boy. Dragons." Cut to...
...the Red Waste. Dany is currently minus a horse, since her Silver has just dropped dead, and being plus three (incredibly good CGI) dragons isn't as marvelous as you might expect, especially since she can't work out what to feed them. Or any of her khalasar, for that matter, as they're running low on supplies. In an attempt to find food or civilization somewhere, Dany sends out her bloodriders on a desperate search.
We follow the red comet to the Land Beyond the Wall, where Jon, Mormont, Sam and their party have been travelling for some time, and are now arriving at Craster's Keep. The good news is: Craster has lots of daughters! The bad news is: the lads can't touch them. The ugly news is: they're Craster's wives, too. Eeeesh. 'Your house, your rules' never sounded so nasty before. Jon is understandably as creeped out as we are, but Mormont, also understandably, tells him to keep his mouth shut. Also, where are all of Craster's sons?
Then to Dragonstone, where Stannis Baratheon is having a nighttime bonfire on the beach. And by bonfire we mean he's burning the statues of the Seven at the urging of Melisandre, who has a thing for red and fire and who is seeking to convert Stannis to her religion. "For the night is dark, and full of terrors." Maester Cressen and Davos, Stannis's right-hand man, aren't too happy about that. Cutting to inside the castle, Stannis dictates a very exact letter addressed to all the lords of the Seven Kingdoms, revealing that the Baratheon family tree wasn't exactly forkingnote . Neither was the Lannister one, for that matter. It turns out that Maester Cressen is so unhappy with Melisandre and the road she's planning to take Stannis down that he tries to poison her. Try being the word, because not only does he have to drink first to pretend the wine he offers is safe, but as she watches him die she takes a big draught without flinching, as the ruby at her throat flashes. "The night is dark and full of terrors, old man, but the fire burns them all away."
Stannis's ravens travel fast. Robb goes to confront Jaime Lannister, whom he's been dragging around with him wherever his army goes on their campaign in the Riverlands. Jaime is as cocky as he can be in reply, which is pretty hard when you have a really big wolf standing beside your captor looking quite ready to tear your throat out. Brave man, that Kingslayer.
Back in King's Landing, Tyrion and Shae have some time together where they discuss just how appalling the city smells, and Littlefinger tries to one-up Cersei. "Knowledge is power." It really doesn't work, since she pulls on him what he pulled on Ned last year—the palace guards belong to her, for the moment, and Littlefinger will have to watch himself. "Power is power," she says and smiles.
In Robb's camp, peace terms are under discussion between Robb and Alton Lannister. Robb basically wants his sisters, his father's bones and his father's sword back, and for the North to be recognized as an independent nation. Alton is amenable to the first three, not so much to the last one. And Robb reminds us, once again, that just about everyone now knows the Lannisters' dirty little secret, just before he dispatches Theon to the Iron Islands so as to drum up support from his family, and Catelyn to negotiate with Renly Baratheon.
Cut back to King's Landing, as ironically enough it seems that the last person to learn the secret is Joffrey himself. Not that he's willing to doubt his own legitimacy; he's more concerned about the existence of Robert's bastard children, as he believes they would be an insult to his father's memory. (The irony, it hurts.) In the midst of redecorating the throne room, he questions Cersei about it all and is pretty darn rude. Cersei does what all of us have been longing to and gets the requisite Joffrey slap of the season in. Unfortunately, it appears Joffrey isn't half so afraid of her as he is of Tyrion. "What you just did is punishable by death. You will never do it again. Never." Cersei's hold over her son is crumbling fast, and she knows it.
And she's powerless to stop what comes next, which happens to be a lot of Gold Cloaks bursting into Littlefinger's brothel, where Ros has apparently been promoted—by what means we shall not guess—and is coaching the girls with a rather familiar speech. Janos Slynt arrives, seizes Robert's infant daughter Barra and, as her mother screams, slits her throat. note
The same thing is happening to black-haired children all over the city. (How many bastard children did Joffrey think Robert had?) But, though they're prepared to torture Tobho Mott for information, they've managed to let at least one bastard slip through their grip...
...because Gendry and Arya are long gone, riding through the Dark Hedges and on their way to the North.
Tropes featured in this episode include:
- The Alcoholic: Ser Dontos the Red.
- A Fate Worse Than Death: Sansa convinces Joffrey that executing Ser Dontos would be mercy and that being made a fool (jester) would be worse punishment.
- Adaptational Early Appearance: Jon's subplot is taken from much later in the book.
- Adaptational Villainy:
- Here it is Joffrey and not Cersei the one who orders the massacre of Robert's bastards.
- Likewise, Janos Slynt killing Barra. In the books, it is one of his underlings, a goldcloak named Allar Deem.
- Ambiguously Evil: Melisandre, who claims to be doing her brutal deeds for the good of the world.
- Anyone Can Die: Cressen. And Barra. And several others of King Robert's bastards.
- Armor-Piercing Question: Cressen is unable to answer when Davos asks him, "What's the truth?"
- Badass Boast:
- A brief one by Cersei: after Littlefinger mocks the reveal of her Twincest and tells her, "Knowledge is power," she demonstrates how the Lannister guards will instantly follow her every command, including killing him, and replies, "Power is power."
- Melisandre, after deliberately drinking a poisoned cup: "The night is dark and full of terrors, old man. But the fire burns them all away."
- After Jaime Lannister again tries to rile him up, Robb gives him one of these about how he, "a boy," has done so well against the likes of the illustrious Kingslayer. He clinches it with an intimidating snap from his direwolf to boot.
- Bald of Evil: Janos Slynt.
- Blatant Lies: When Tyrion not-too-subtly prods Joffrey about his contributions to the war effort, he clumsily replies that he's been busy with kingly matters. At a self-effacing tournament.
- Break the Cutie: Poor Mhaegen.
- Broken Bird: Sansa.
- The Brute: Both the Kingsguard and Lord Janos Slynt are evil strongmen.
- Bullying a Dragon:
- Littlefinger dangles his knowledge of Cersei's Twincest in front of her as his "power" over her. She promptly proves to him that she could have his throat slit whenever she pleases and all that knowledge would be useless.
- Cersei slaps her son, only to be reminded that he is now King and can have her legally executed for that.
- Jaime just cannot shut his mouth, even as he is held captive by angry Northmen that want his head (perhaps knowing all too well that they Can't Kill You, Still Need You). His smug facade breaks when he comes face-to-face with Grey Wind.
- Canis Major: Grey Wind. Boy those direwolves sure grow fast.
- Canon Foreigner: Kovarro, one of Daenerys' three bloodriders. Alton Lannister, based on Ser Cleos Frey. Daisy the prostitute.
- Crossing the Desert: Daenerys' khalasar can't go west or south, as they would encounter enemies who would easily take her tiny, defenseless dragons. So they are forced to march east across the Red Wastes until they can find unguarded supplies.
- Dark Reprise: Of "The King's Arrival" as Robert's bastards are killed.
- Deadpan Snarker: Robb, of all people.
- Death by Adaptation: Daenerys's silver mare. In the books, she's still alive.
- Death of a Child: Not even Robert's youngest daughter is spared The Purge.
- Dirty Old Man: Craster marries his own daughters and fathers more daughters on them. He's been at it for long enough to have a lot of daughters.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Joffrey, for wanting Dontos killed for being drunk and late to a tournament.
- Establishing Character Moment: Oh, Dolorous Edd. "I was born in a place like this [Craster's ramshackle keep]. Later I fell on hard times."
- Foreshadowing: That tune Tyrion is whistling as he walks into the Small Council meeting? "The Rains of Castamere," which appears in full later in "Blackwater." It's also the musical cue that plays when Cersei outmaneuvers Littlefinger in this episode. For the rest of the series, it's going to be a background motif whenever the Lannisters do something particularly awesome and/or evil.
- Evil Redhead: Melisandre is Ambiguously Evil and has very red hair.
- Get Out!: A furious Cersei orders the Small Council remove themselves after Tryion reveals he's Hand of the King.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Attempted by Maester Cressen, unfortunately, Melisandre is protected from his poison and he isn't.
- Homoerotic Subtext
- Craster re Jon Snow. "You're prettier than half my daughters."
- Jaime re Robb. "Have you grown fond of me, Stark; is that it? I've never seen you with a girl."
- Implied Death Threat: Joffrey reminds Cersei that slapping him is punishable by death and she should avoid doing it again.
- Insult Backfire: Jaime mocks Robb's youth, only for Robb to remind him that he's been captured and imprisoned by the same person he's calling out for youthfulness and inexperience, thereby making himself look like a fool.
- Internal Reveal: Tyrion learns that unlike both the Stark and Lannister armies believe, Arya escaped prior to Ned's execution and Sansa is the only hostage they have.
- Ironic Echo:
- Ros chastises a prostitute for overdoing her performance with precisely the same words Littlefinger used on her when she did the same thing, shortly after getting employed at his brothel.
- In "Baelor," Robb said that one victory doesn't make them conquerors. Here Jaime says that three victories don't make Robb a conqueror. Well, his tally is rising, at least.
- Just a Kid:
- Cersei invokes this in her conversation with Tyrion.Cersei: Robb Stark is a child.
Tyrion: [as if talking to a child] Who's won every battle he's fought! Do you understand we're losing the war?
- And in Robb Stark's camp, we get the other half of that conversation:Jaime: Smart boy. [off Robb's look] What? Don't like being called a boy? Insulted?
Robb: You insult yourself, Kingslayer. You've been defeated by a boy. You're held captive by a boy. Perhaps you'll be killed by a boy.
- Cersei invokes this in her conversation with Tyrion.
- "Just Joking" Justification: Cersei cancels Littlefinger's death at the last moment by saying this.
- Knight Templar: Stannis will not make peace with Renly as long as he keeps declaring himself King. The same goes with Robb for declaring the North and the Riverlands an independent kingdom. This is despite both of them being potential allies, something he sorely needs if he's serious about taking the throne.
- Meaningful Look: Tyrion looks at Littlefinger while listing his recent misfortunes. "So many adventures. So much to be grateful for."
- My God, What Have I Done?:
- One of the Gold Cloaks is horrified over their killings of Robert's bastard children.
- Cersei is now really getting a sense of how out of her control Joffrey is.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Herod!: Joffrey's orders to the Gold Cloaks to kill all the black-haired bastard children in the city. Subverted in that Joffrey is only partly worried about some illegitimate claimant causing problems, and mostly wants to be rid of his "father's" bastards, as he sees them as a personal insult. Also, no such claimant exists, as almost all the victims are genuinely ignorant of their parentage and there is no shortage of other relations farther up the line of succession. Gendry, the bastard most capable of challenging Joffrey in one fashion or another, does escape the purge.
- Oh, Crap!:
- Check out Cersei's face when Joffrey threatens to kill her if she slaps him again. Pure "I think I've created a monster."
- Jaime keeps his Smug Snake persona...until Grey Wind makes an appearance.
- One Degree of Separation: The final scene. Gendry, the one Baratheon bastard who managed to get out of King's Landing, is naturally with Arya, the Stark on the run from the Lannisters. You have to admire Arya—of all the boys in the Night's Watch recruits she could befriend, she chooses the son of her Dad's best friend.
- Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Littlefinger tries the same verbal dueling he did with Varys in the previous season, but Cersei is not impressed.
- Parental Incest: Craster and his daughter-wives.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: The show creates a new Lannister, Ser Alton, to take the place of Ser Cleos Frey, so the episode can make better use of the time that would have gone toward explaining why Cleos is fighting for the Lannisters when we saw the Freys become allied with Robb.
- The Purge: Joffrey's slaughter of many black-haired commoner boys suspected of being Robert's bastards.
- Railing Kill: Sandor defeats his opponent in Joffrey's tournament and throws him off the castle wall in one move.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Osha talks about the comet rather than Old Nan, due to Margaret John's death.
- Refuge in Audacity:
- Tyrion, from the moment he arrives in King's Landing, struts around like he owns the place and gets away with it.
- Littlefinger tries to taunt Cersei and in the process show off how untouchable he is because of his valuable services to House Lannister. It backfires on him when Cersei demonstrates that she's just crazy enough to kill him regardless of the ramifications.
- Remember the New Guy?: Dolorous Edd is suddenly part of Lord Commander Mormont's group, without the scene from the book where he meets up with them.
- Self-Poisoning Gambit: Cressen attempts this on Melisandre, drinking poisoned wine first to "prove" it's safe and then offering her some. Unfortunately for him, she is protected by her magic and he dies.
- Shoulder-Sized Dragon: Dany is seen wearing a spaulder so one of her dragons can comfortably sit on her shoulder.
- The two brothers killed by the goldcloaks. In the books, there's a mention of Robert fathering twin bastards on a servingwoman at Casterly Rock who was killed under Cersei's orders.
- Also, Cersei's lesson to Littlefinger about how "Power is power" seems to have been taken from one of the lich Xykon's most famous moments in The Order of the Stick.Xykon: I used to think spells equaled power too, back when I was alive. I've learned a lot since then. You know what does equal power? Power. Power equals power.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!:Jaime: Three victories don't make you a conqueror.
Robb: [beat] It's still better than three defeats.
- Sinister Surveillance: After being humiliated by Cersei's demonstration of power, Littlefinger notices that a boy scrubbing the cobblestones has witnessed the entire scene. The boy looks a lot like one of the Spider's "little birds".
- Smug Smiler: Tyrion can barely conceal his glee at Cersei's fury and discomfort during their first meeting.
- Spared by the Adaptation: Doreah, who in the books dies in the Red Waste. Also Mhaegen, who dies, trying—unsuccessfully—to protect Barra.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
- Robb gives one to the Kingslayer even as he is doing his damnedest to stay smug despite his current situation.
- Tyrion also delivers one to Cersei about how her and Joffrey's screw-ups have made the Lannister war effort even more difficult and that in Tywin's eyes, she's now The Unfavorite.Tyrion: We had three Starks to trade. You chopped ones head off, and let another escape. Father would be furious. Must be hard for you, to be the disappointing child.
- Tranquil Fury:
- Robb indulges in this, as Jaime's value as a hostage is the one thing stopping him from beating the helpless Kingslayer with his bare hands.
- Joffrey also has a moment when he very calmly tells Cersei he will execute her if she slaps him again.
- Torture Always Works: The Gold Cloaks interrogate (torture) Tobho Mott about Gendry's whereabouts. He tells them everything.
- The Tourney: Joffrey hosts a name day celebration for himself that mostly consists of knights beating each other to death in front of him.
- The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter: Gilly, of course.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Craster and his daughter-wives, particularly Gilly.
- Villain Ball: Joffrey seems to be doing everything he can to avoid Pragmatic Villainy, showing such wanton cruelty (and in public!) that it can only undermine his reputation. His slaughter of the black-haired bastards likewise falls under this, and is likely to elicit horror and fury even from those members of his Small Council who don't have moral objections.
- What an Idiot!: Tyrion expresses this view (and asserts that Tywin shares the same) of Cersei and Joffrey, pointing out that they had three Stark hostages to trade for Jaime, and then Cersei let Joffrey execute Eddard and Arya slip through her fingers.
- Would Hurt a Child: The Gold Cloaks have no problem with massacring children on their King's orders, though at least a few of them seemed to draw the line at infants (unlike their commander, Slynt).