The problem with the devil you know is that ignoring them doesn’t mean they simply lie in wait. It allows them time to do things like bring a species back from extinction, amass armies, revise their strategy and find new allies, until suddenly they're no longer the one you can afford to ignore.
No one has learned this more bitterly than the Lannisters, who vanquished all comers to win the War of Five Kings only to see Joffrey poisoned at his own wedding feast. Still no closer to solving who did it, Tywin Lannister will be damned if he sees his youngest grandson, Tommen Baratheon (also fair of hair, ahem), suffer the same fate. In the church-turned-mausoleum where Joffrey lies in state, Tywin questions Tommen about what makes a good king. With each virtue - holiness, justice and strength - he lists, Tywin names a great king who embodied it ... and the ignoble end it led him to suffer. No, the answer - and Cersei looks as dismayed as Tywin is proud when Tommen gives it - is wisdom, which Joffrey had literally rejected by shredding Tyrion’s wedding gift of “Lives of the Four Kings.”
A good king, then, is a wise king, which means listening to one’s advisers, according to Tywin, who as Hand is conveniently the leader of the Small Council. And as his first order of business, while leading Cersei's last child away from his mother’s side, Tywin points out that it is a king’s duty to marry and carry on the family line. His own children may have failed to secure his legacy, but Tywin knows a reasonable boy when he sees one.
As they exit, Jaime joins Cersei, who is convinced that Tyrion killed Joffrey out of his hatred for her, and demands that Jaime kill their brother because he’ll talk his way to freedom if put on trial. Jaime balks, but Cersei breaks down in his arms, wailing that “[Joffrey] was our baby boy” because she knows just how to push Jaime’s buttons. Except when Jaime takes her acknowledgement of their sexual history as an invitation, Cersei begs him to stop for an entirely different arbitrary reason than last time: Incest is wrong. But Jaime reads between the lines and understands that she doesn’t love him anymore, which doesn’t stop him from raping her in the sept as he asks heavenward, “Why have the gods made me love a hateful woman?”
Jaime is not the only man in Westeros who needs to learn that it’s not a reflection on a woman’s character if she doesn’t return his affection. It seems if Lord “Littlefinger” Baelish couldn’t have Catelyn Stark, he will settle for her daughter. The plot to smuggle Sansa out of King’s Landing as Joffrey was in his death throes ends with Ser Dontos taking her to a waiting ship, where Littlefinger’s men put a half-dozen arrows in him for his trouble. “Money buys a man’s silence for a time; a bolt in the heart buys it forever,” says Littlefinger, ensuring that no one knows what happened to Sansa while promising that she’s safe as they sail “home,” wherever that may be as Winterfell is, presumably, still burning after Theon Greyjoy’s siege.
Still winding toward a rich Stark aunt to whom the Hound is planning to ransom her, Arya plays the medieval version of “Are we there yet?” when a farmer and his young daughter ride by. The man offers them food and shelter when Arya lies about the Hound being her father, injured in the war fighting for House Tully, who opposed the Lannisters. They discuss the Red Wedding over dinner, because there’s nothing more appetizing than politics, and the farmer asks the Hound to stay and help for the season, but mostly look intimidating when the raiders who rove the countryside since the Tullys’ defeat come around.
But just as the Starks paid for their faith in guest rights at Walder Frey’s table, so does the farmer when the Hound bashes him in the head the next morning to steal his promised wages on their way out. Arya does her best Jiminy Cricket bit about stealing, but the Hound reminds her that, in a lawless land, morals are irrelevant: The farmer doesn’t need the money because he and his daughter will both be dead by winter. “I just see things for the way they are. How many Starks they gotta behead before you figure it out?” Arya’s silence as good as acknowledges his point.
In the West, Ser Davos is trying to rally forces for Stannis’ second attempt to reclaim the Iron Throne. With pickings slim after their defeat at the Battle of Blackwater, Davos suggests hiring an army, but while Stannis is apparently OK with blood magic, he draws the line at sellswords. As a former privateer, Davos knows there's plenty of gray between black and white: “Your father lacks an appreciation of the finer points of bad behavior,” he tells Stannis’ daughter, Shireen Baratheon. It’s while they’re discussing the distinction between smugglers and pirates that Davos has an idea involving the Iron Bank of Bravos. But what else can a bank do if not buy soldiers’ loyalty?
Back in Littlefinger’s brothel now that his obligations are completed, Oberyn Martell explains the finer points of bisexuality to his comparatively puritan male escort as his paramour is tended to by two women. “When it comes to war, I fight for Dorne. When it comes to love, I don’t choose sides,” he tells the young man, just before Tywin shows up to kill the buzz with questions about Oberyn’s expertise with poisons and how that might relate to Joffrey’s murder. “I don’t believe a child is responsible for the sins of his father, or his grandfather,” Oberyn says. Tywin seems to take him at his word, while offering his own that he had nothing to do with the murder of Oberyn’s sister, Elia Targaryen, at the hand of the Mountain.
As two men out for revenge, then, why not join forces? Oberyn will serve as a judge on the panel that decides Tyrion’s case and be named to the Small Council, and Tywin will arrange for him to face Elia’s killer. “We are not the Seven Kingdoms until Dorne returns to the fold,” Tywin says. One fewer knife at his throat, for the moment at least.
With Margaery’s father Mace Tyrell as the third judge, Tyrion’s neck is as good as in the noose, an upset Podrick Payne tells him in the Red Keep’s dungeon. Tyrion has two weeks to build a case, but virtually everyone he’d call as a witness is either missing or has been disallowed. Even Podrick had been offered a knighthood in exchange for saying that Tyrion had tried to buy a poison. Ironically, the only person he’s sure didn’t have anything to do with Joffrey’s murder is his vengeful sister Cersei, because she loves her children more than she hates Tyrion - “which makes it unique as King’s Landing murders go.” His last hope is Jaime, which could be a problem as he may well find himself in the cell next door soon enough.
Honor among thieves is what holds the outcasts of Castle Black together, and Sam’s not confident in how strong that glue is when it comes to Gilly. He’s working to spirit away Gilly and her baby from the band of 100 lonely men sworn to service and celibacy (because as Maester Aemon pointed out during Jon Snow’s trial, enforcing the latter would leave the Wall defenseless). But the combined forces of Tormund Giantsbane’s Wildling band and the Thenn have been busy well below the Wall, and spare a lone child from a village massacre to tell the Night’s Watch that they’re coming for them. This news comes just as two injured Night’s Watchmen return from the North with news that Mance Rayder’s Wildling forces are closing in - and when he gets to Castle Black he won’t meet the 1,000-strong force that Jon Snow told him to expect. “Mance has all he needs to crush us; he just doesn’t know it yet,” he says ominously.
Daenerys and her army have reached the massive gates of Meereen, the last of the three Slaver Cities. Their welcome is a champion who urinates on the ground before them while hurling sexist insults Daenerys, like he hadn’t gotten the memo that being a woman didn’t stop her from conquering Astapor and Yunkai. Her allies know better and fall over themselves offering to be her champion, but newcomer Daario Naharis wins on account of being the most expendable. He climbs a few notches after his flower stunt when he takes out the challenger's horse with a thrown knife, then culls the rider’s head with a scythe. Then he, too, pees on the ground, because when in Meereen.
Daenerys makes another customary monologue addressed only to the city’s slaves, who apparently comprise fully half its population, promising them the same freedom (to serve her) as the ones who stand behind her. She punctuates her call to arms by catapulting bundles of the former slaves’ collars over Meereen’s high walls, with a closing shot on a collared slave holding up one of them, then looking over his shoulder at his master. Not much left between the Mother of Dragons and Westeros than the Narrow Sea now.
Episode grade: B
Best quote goes to the other character hogging all the bon mots, Olenna Tyrell, in response to Margaery’s query about whether she’s queen: “More than you were with Renly [Baratheon], less than if Joffrey had done you the courtesy of consummating the marriage before dying.”
As a runner-up, Tyrion denies killing Joffrey: “I would like to think that if I were arranging a royal assassination, I wouldn’t be standing there gawking like a fool when the king died.”
One is unfortunate; two is a pattern. Margaery is wondering, after Renly was killed by the shadow assassin dispatched by Lady Melisandre and now Joffrey’s poisoning, whether she might be cursed. Could there be a supernatural element at work?