Game of Thrones sure loves to play with the empathy we feel for its characters, don't it?
It's way easier to like Joffrey after he's been hit with cow crap and the flat of his uncle's slappin' hand. It's easier to like Cersei after the most beloved possession in her pitiful life is shipped off on a crappy little boat to Dorn. It's easier to like The Hound for saving Sansa from a very unpleasant roll in the hay, just as it's easier to hate the starving peasants who would show her no mercy.
Episode 2.6's driving theme/reason why you probably need to update your list of favorite/least-favorite characters is just that: mercy.
While Joffrey gets bitten in the bum for being a jerk to his citizens and Arya plays confidante to her worstest enemy Tywin Lannister, the meat of this episode deals with the MASSIVE character development and plays of mercy (and lack thereof) in two of the series' most important POV torch-bearers: Jon Snow, and Theon Greyjoy.
Jon and Theon, though not related by blood, are kin as outsiders. Jon is a bastard, Theon a remnant of the send-a-slave-abroad program implemented during the bloody war between Winterfell and the Iron Islands way back when. Neither boy is an eligible heir to the Stark empire, yet both were raised by Ned and Catelyn and loved as brothers to Rob and Bran. But these boys, alike in social disadvantage, have turned into two very different men. One is awesome. The other is a big, bearded BUTT.
The episode opens with Theon "taking" Winterfell in the name of Pike while Bran, understandably, provides his most earnest WTH? face. In a play to assert his power and authority over the now captive citizens of Winterfell, Theon gets goaded into chopping off Sir Roderick's head, and does a piss-poor job of it. It's a tough scene to watch. Not just because Roderick (despite his inexplicable neck beard) was a cool dude who deserved better, but also because Theon is SO. TERRIBLE. at being a badass you just feel sorry for him while he hacks away at Roddy's noggin to a chorus of borderline comical bone crackles and blood glorps.
This, by the way, is why peer pressure sucks.
Meanwhile, North of The Wall, Jon Snow and his new supporting cast of crustpunk mountaineers kill a scout troupe of wildlings and take the prettiest one captive. Jon, like Theon, is basically goaded into beheading his new captive as a grim symbol of the Night Watch's authority over the unincorporated tribes of the North. And, like Theon, Jon swings and misses the mark. The difference, though, is that Jon's blade steers clear of his captive's flesh out of compassion, not incompetence.
At this point in the plot, Theon Greyjoy has no empathy for his fellow man. He only cares about his own image. Jon Snow has too much empathy. He'll get lost in the frigid-as-Wampa-teats wilderness just to avoid killing one cute stranger. All of this is revealed in a matter of 20 minutes. With only four episodes left in the season, prepare for a whirlwind of polarizing character developments to come.
Random notes from Season 2 Episode 6:
Episode highlight: Tyrion slapping Joffrey. Duh.
LOL moment of the episode: The quick cut between Arya pleading that Jaqen kill that nosy guard as her second victim, and the guard falling dead on Tywin's floor. Certainly the most lighthearted (and guilt-free) death in an episode bloated with violent death, don't you think?
Runner-up LOL moment: Catelyn Stark killing Rob's game with that fine young battlefield nurse. This romantic sub-plot is an interesting addition to the series. What's the point though? To serve as a stark reminder (lol westeros puns) that Rob's old life as a boy of urges and fancies is gone forever, whether he wants it to be or not? That Rob had to grow up far too soon? That love is a battlefield?
Film dork moment of the episode: That low-angle shot of the staircase in Qarth is really cool. Also, that shot of Jon and Co. killing wildlings while a ripe orange sun hangs over the plains of Iceland. Few TV dramas would travel so far for a shot so bomb.com.
Questionable costume of the episode: Nice shoulder pads, Queen of Dragons. Are you also the Prince of Saiyans?
First bare breasts of the episode: 47 minutes in. That's an enormous show of restraint, given the rest of this nude-alicious season.
Which reminds us! Melisandre wasn't in this episode, presumably because she ran out of lines (also because there just wasn't any time for her). Good thing, too. For a while there Mel was starting to sound like a broken carrier raven. Let's help her come up with a new catchphrase!
"The night is dark and full of _________."
d) [add your own in the comments!]