Shoot, I'll just come out and say it since it's what we're all thinking. "The Prince of Winterfell" was probably the least exciting episode of Game of Thrones we've seen in a long, long time. Certainly of this season, right? This was a big-time talky-talky episode, and as was the case last week, sharp words spat at others can sometimes serve as a fantastic replacement for actual bloodletting. But "The Prince of Winterfell" felt more like the calm before the storm, with the purpose of continuing stories that will play out through the oncoming war, positioning characters throughout the land, and saying goodbyes before Blackwater Bay turns red with the blood of a million men.
But these not-as-thrilling (boring isn't the right word, boring is never the right word with Game of Thrones) episodes are necessary to beef up other episodes. Next week is the big George R.R. Martin-penned "Blackwater" episode, and I don't want to give too much away for those who want to go in blind, but let's just say it's supposedly going to kick your ass in all sorts of ways. That wouldn't be possible without tightening the wallet on "The Prince of Winterfell," a set-up episode that set things in motion for "Blackwater" and the finale not just with story but with production resources as well.
Whereas last week's dialogue was punctuated with verbal backhands and words as weapons, "The Prince of Winterfell" showed off a gentler side of Game of Thrones as the show took several relationships to new heights, probably with the intent of crushing them somewhere down the line and making us all the more sad. Robb and Talisa finally went where we all knew they would go (which was bow-chicka-wow-wow right on the floor), Ygritte came to Jon's defense instead of making fun of his swollen testicles, Yara laid off commenting on Theon's skirt and shared some loving sisterly words with him, and Tyrion got all puppy-eyed on his whore girlfriend Shae. (What!? She's literally a whore, I can say that! Shae's a whore Shae's a whore Shae's a whore!)
This is classic pre-war behavior. The days and hours before the big clash are surprisingly boring, and anticipation turns to reflection when death is around the corner. "The Prince of Winterfell" accurately relayed that feeling, which means one thing: Things are going to be awfully bloody next week and the week after that. I hope.
Now let's review what happened in "The Prince of Winterfell."
"Don't die so far from the sea."
Once again we started off with Theon and his half-hatched plan to take over Winterfell so his daddy will love him more. Yara finally arrived with the long-awaited reinforcements to hold Winterfell from the inevitable counter-attack by Robb's bannermen, but Theon must have accidentally written down, "Sister, need men to field softball team for epic tournament in the North" because Yara only brought an outfield, an infield, and a small bullpen. That's because she had no interest in holding Winterfell. She was only passing through to bring Theon the Conqueror back home so Balon could give him an A for effort.
Theon's plan was doomed from the start, more of a desperate cry for help rather than anything of tactical use to his people. The Greyjoys are sea-farers: Theon taking over a landlocked castle was like a bunch of snails squatting on a salt lick. But hey, great job Theon!
Before Yara left, she told Theon a sweet little story about how she almost killed him as a baby, but didn't. It doesn't sound as good in that sentence, but trust me, it was actually pretty sweet.
Later, and I suppose this was the episode's big reveal, Maester Llewyn noticed Osha sneaking bread into Winterfell's crypts, where Bran and Rickon (and sleeping Hodor) have been hiding out. See!? They're not dead! Those two pieces of jerky hanging from the walls were the farmer's new orphan kids. Not that anyone thought Bran and Rickon were really dead. (You didn't think they were really dead, did you?)
"We're even now, Jon Snow."
Meanwhile, in North Dakota, Jon Snow was being held prisoner by Wildlings after his unfortunate mishap while handling his own sexy prisoner, Ygritte. For Wildlings, extra prisoners just mean more mouths to feed, so a really cool Wildling with a really cool skull mask and a scarf made out of bones said to gut Jon because the group already had one captured crow (that's Wildling slang for "Night's Watch guy"). Say what!? Who? Qhorin Halfhand? No way! How did they catch him? Unfortunately, the only answer to that last question is, "Off camera." I bet it was a pretty good fight, though.
Ygritte stepped in to tell Bone Clothes that Jon was a valuable asset because he was Ned Stark's son, thus saving Jon's life. Probably because she has a crush on him and for once it might be nice to kiss someone without the mandible of a dead guy's skull getting in the way. That's the way to a Wildling woman's heart: Keep the bones off the face and in the pants.
Jon did that, "Hee hee, oops" thing to Qhorin and realized that it was his fault that all of Qhorin's homies had been killed. But Qhorin was pretty okay with it and opted to focus on their current situation: "Make sure it wasn't for nothing," he said. Later, he called Jon some bad names in front of the Wildlings right after telling Jon that one man on the inside of Mance Rayder's army would be worth more than one thousand fighting against him. Qhorin has a plan to get Jon undercover in Mance's army, but what is it?
And in South Dakota, Grenn was digging toilets in the snow when his shovel found a secret package left by someone from the Night's Watch a long, long time ago. It was a cloak full of dragon glass, known to us as obsidian. But instead of being just some stupid rocks people bring back from Hawaii as souvenirs, this dragon glass was crafted into sharp weapons. That should come in handy should something be extremely susceptible to dragon glass stabbing!
"I don't want you to marry her. But you needed that bridge."
At Camp Robb, Robb and Talisa were cracking nervous jokes about Robb getting married because it's always helpful to bring up someone's arranged marriage when you need to ease the thick sexual tension between two people who are certain to bone down. These two have come a long way since Robb first gazed upon the goddess sawing off a man's foot. And just as the flirting was getting hot and heavy, word came to Robb that Jaime had escaped. And that Catelyn was the one that let him go. Doh!
Naturally, Robb was pretty peeved about this. Jaime was the single best bargaining chip that Robb had, and Catelyn made the decision to cash it in because a mom's gotta do what a mom's gotta do. With Bran and Rickon captives of Theon's (she thinks), Sansa held by the Lannisters, and Arya who knows where, Catelyn felt like she needed to retrieve whatever kids she had left. Her plan was to send Jaime back to King's Landing with Brienne in hopes that the Lannisters might free Sansa or Arya. Silly woman! I know you're grieving, but use your head next time. The Lannisters are more likely to shoot Sansa out of a catapult in a general northward direction than they are to hand her over once Jaime knocks on Cersei's door. Let's think before we release the greatest prisoner in the history of war, okay?
But we should be thanking Cat for doing this because now we have Brienne and Jaime on a road trip to King's Landing! How amazing is this pairing? Brienne's appearance gives Jaime so much insult material to work with that his head is going to explode. I'm looking forward to Brienne smacking his face in almost as much as I'm anticipating Jaime asking her about her completely absent love life.
He won't be able to make such claims about Robb and Talisa, however! The two kids were in Robb's tent when Talisa told some story about CPR and then BAM! They just went at it like it was National Go At It Day. Right there on the floor! Robb seemed to hesitate for a moment when Talisa was on top of him, as if he knew his arranged marriage with the Frey Fugly was doomed, but c'mon, super fine Talisa was right there and ready, man! *High five Robb*
"Fine. Jaqen H'ghar."
Over at Castle Rubblestein, Tywin decided to march on Robb's forces to keep him from attacking Casterly Rock, which is the Lannisters' home. He left the Mountain That Rides, Mr. Gregor Clegane, in charge of Harrenhal and tasked him to squash the Brotherhood Without Banners. Leaving that guy in charge of a rock is crazy enough; what was Tywin thinking leaving him in charge of a castle?
Arya overheard Tywin's plan and decided to cash in her last death wish with Jaqen, but she didn't find him until it was too late. Hey Arya, the guy has a job to do! He's not your personal assassin! When she did finally find him, she named "Jaqen H'ghar" and the look on his face was priceless. Nice move, Arya! He wasn't too keen on killing himself so she said that he could help her and her friends escape instead. He did, and Arya, Hot Pie, and Gendry walked out of the gates of Harrenhal.
"I can't make promises for the wind, your grace."
Off in the sea, Stannis and Davos were chatting it up about Davos's past, explaining how he got the nickname the Onion Knight. Stannis and his men had been holding Storm's End for his brother, Robert, when the castle ended up surrounded and he and his buddies were forced to eat the horses, the cats, the dogs, and then the rats. I probably would have eaten cats last because cats rule. But Davos managed to sneak in with a bunch of onions, potatoes, and stewed beef, making all the men inside fall in love with him.
Stannis has always been thankful to Davos and knows Davos is a smart dude, so he asked Davos to be Hand of the King when the Iron Throne becomes his. Congratulations on the promotion, Stannis. I'm sure that Melisandre-Stannis-Davos situation will work out fine! Is it just me, or has there been a severe lack of Stannis, Davos, and Melisandre on this show lately? And when we do see them, it's awfully dark. Kind of ironic for Lord of the Light freaks.
"They have my dragons, a mother does not flee without her children."
After some interesting progress last week with Dany's stolen-dragons storyline, Dany got about 90 seconds of screen time in this episode. And it was pretty unsubstantial. Essentially she just confirmed what we always knew she was going to do: Check out the House of the Undying. Seriously, not much else happened with Dany except more conflict between her and Jorah. Will those two just go at it on the floor already?
"Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where is the god of tits and wine?"
Tyrion and Cersei went back to being bickering siblings after showing some sympathy toward one another last week. And Cersei brought out the big guns, telling Tyrion that she found his whore girlfriend and beat the snot out of her. Only Cersei thought Tyrion's woman was Ros, who continues to have a really lame life in King's Landing. She witnessed some baby-murdering, was forced to beat up a co-worker at Joffrey's twisted request, and now she's been mistaken for a common whore instead of the high-class madame she actually is. Poor girl! Someone needs to get her an all-inclusive vacation package to Sandals Resort when this thing is over.
Tyrion was relieved Cersei's big discovery wasn't actually Shae and went to her to tell her how much he loved her. Normally I'd be behind this and say things like, "Awwwww," but you all know how I feel about Shae. She's really insufferable, you know that, right?
Later Joffrey once again showed how inept he is at combat strategy by ordering a strike on the Starks just days before Stannis was attacking King's Landing. But the best part of this scene (and maybe the episode) was hearing Joffrey try to make a joke and totally bomb. "They say Stannis never smiles. I'll give him a red smile, from ear to ear." *crickets* BWAHHHAHHAHA. Nice try, Joffrey. That piece of writing was fantastic. Thank you, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. That made my week.
Varys and Tyrion spent a little more time talking about the future, and Varys mentioned that Daenerys Targaryen is still alive, and that she has three dragons. Tyrion was like, "whatever dude." And that let director Alan Taylor put together a neat shot with fire in the foreground and Tyrion and Varys chatting in the background. I can't wait to see Dany's lizards torch that place to the ground.
Game of Thrones Season 2 Power Rankings
I'll be ranking the ten episodes of Game of Thrones' second season from first to worst in terms of quality. But remember, these rankings are just, like, my opinion, man.
This Week: "The Prince of Winterfell" dragged its feet a bit as the series prepared for war. This was probably the least re-watchable episode of the season so far, except for checking out Talisa's butt in slow motion. I'll put it at the bottom of the list since it was Season 2's least eventful episode.
1. "Garden of Bones" (Episode 4)
Joffrey entertains a few ladies by having them beat each other; Melisandre gives birth to the Smoke Monster from Lost; Dany meets a bunch of salesmen from Qarth.
2. "The Ghost of Harrenhal" (Episode 5)
Shadow Baby gives Renly a big hug, wildfire wildfire wildfire!, Theon sets out for the North, and Arya's new friend does her bidding.
3. "The North Remembers" (Episode 1)
Annnnd we're back! Joffrey orders death for Robert's bastards; Melisandre, Davos, and Stannis make their grand entrance; Robb sends an
all tomato ultimatum to the Lannisters.
4. "The Old Gods and The New" (Episode 6)
Jon Snow meets a hot redhead in the snow, the people of King's Landing rebel, and Winterfell falls to Theon.
5. "A Man Without Honor" (Episode 7)
Theon takes drastic measures to hold Winterfell, revolution in Qarth means tough times for Dany, and Jaime Lannister returns to make fun of Brienne.
6. "The Night Lands" (Episode 2)
The Goldcloaks set out to find Gendry (and Arya); Theon gropes his sister and disappoints his dad; Jon sees something strange in the forest.
7. "What Is Dead May Never Die" (Episode 3)
Theon suits up for Team Greyjoy; Tyrion gives Pycelle the boot; Cat arrives to see Renly assembling a circus; Arya and Gendry get captured.
8. "The Prince of Winterfell" (Episode 8)
Talisa and Robb finally let their loins do the talking, Jon and Qhorin Halfhand are in the clutches of Wildlings, and Tyrion fears for Shae's safety.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom