This week's Game of Thrones very much felt like the lead-up to the end of the season: all the characters are in place for the climactic battle, but before we dive into the endgame, a pause to catch our breath. There wasn't a great deal of action in this week's episode, just a lot of reaffirming where everyone stands before things get really crazy next week.
Yara shows up to congratulate Theon on taking Winterfell and show him the respect he's been so painfully craving. Or actually, no she doesn't, she calls him the dumbest (ladyparts!) alive for taking an inland fortress that the Greyjoy navy can't really defend and then killing the two young Stark boys, thus guaranteeing merciless retaliation. So attaboy, Theon! But then—twist!—she shows a touch of compassion, telling him "look, man, our dad's an ass. Now come back to the Iron Islands and don't get yourself killed out here." But of course Theon's staying at Winterfell: he hasn't made a single good decision this season.
The Stark boys are alive, of course, following the old trope of "if you didn't actually see it happen, it usually didn't." Brilliantly, Osha's hid them in the very last place Theon's men would ever look—at Winterfell. She's probably got to work a little harder at staying out of sight, though, unless she was revealing herself to Maester Luwin on purpose.
Down at the Stark war camp, we find out what happened after Catelyn asked for Brienne's sword: she let Jaime go. Why did she let Jaime go?? Sure, trading him for Sansa and Arya was the plan all along, but this isn't how hostage swaps usually work. I wouldn't exactly count on Joffrey and Cersei saying, "Yay, Jaime's back! Now let's send Sansa back to Winterfell, along with our heartfelt apologies for not knowing where the heck Arya is." It'll be more like, "Yay, Jaime's back! Now we have ALL THE CARDS." Dammit, Cat! But on the positive side, we now get The Road to King's Landing, starring Jaime and Brienne, who will now undoubtedly fall deeply in love and have really tall babies that are very good at swords.
Speaking of falling in love, Talisa the Distractingly Beautiful Nurse opens up to Robb about her secret origins in Volantis, and as anyone who's watched far too much dramatic television can tell you, talking about your backstory = foreplay, and Robb and Talisa finally stop dancing around each other and get busy. It just takes a minute for her to figure out how to open Robb's shirt, is all. This is probably the main reason why men's shirts aren't laced together anymore. Of course, this is potentially going to mess things up for Team Stark, as Robb's supposed to marry one of Walder Frey's daughters, and it's going to be exceedingly difficult for them all to get back to the North without access to Frey's bridge. Oh, if only Robb were free to marry for love... but alas, he's pretty much a Disney princess.
Meanwhile, back at King's Landing... Cersei, who showed glimmers of being an actual human being the last week, is back to her old stone-cold self again. She knows Tyrion's weakness, and plans to get back at him for sending her daughter away to a place that's not about to get attacked by torturing the prostitute he loves so deeply. Unfortunately, Cersei's been fed some incomplete information, as the beaten-up prostitute she trots out isn't Shae, but Roz, who hasn't been having a very good season at all.
In the meantime, Tyrion, Bronn, and Varys are putting their heads together to figure out how they're going to survive Stannis's upcoming siege, touching on important topics such as capes, literature as artillery, and how to pronounce long fantasy names with too many H's and not nearly enough vowels. They don't have much faith in the military leadership of Good King Joffrey—Tyrion and Varys's reaction to Joffrey's threat to "put a smile on Stannis's face" seemed to be "great, so we won't have to worry about this little psycho anymore. Moving on!" I can't wait to see Joffrey in actual battle. Although he'd have The Hound by his side the entire time, so there's a chance he might actually survive, which is just depressing so let's talk about something else.
Like Arya! Arya's the best. Unfortunately, she'd been dragging her feet just a bit too long on either killing Tywin Lannister herself or having Jaqen do it for her. Tywin is off to do battle with Robb, and so Arya's missed her shot to cut off Team Lannister's head. It's time for her to get moving, and so she cunningly uses her last "wish" with Jaqen to escape Harrenhal, bringing Gendry and, for some odd reason, the Fat Kid along with her. I'd been hoping she would get her sword Needle back before the Harrenhal adventure was done, but guess not. I'm pretty sure we haven't seen the last of Jaqen, however.
And up in the frozen North, Ygritte bargains with Skeletor for Jon Snow's life, so she and Jon are even on the not-killing-each-other front. Why did Skeletor (I didn't catch the bone-masked Wildling leader's actual name, so I'm calling him Skeletor, okay?!) want dumb, pretty Jon dead? 'Cause he already had a "crow" hostage—Night's Watch captain Qhorin Halfhand. Apparently, while Jon and Ygritte were having their adventures in prisoner-escort and sexual tension, the rest of the Night's Watch platoon went back to find Jon and got themselves ambushed by Ygritte's Ypeeps. So they're all dead. RIP Night's Watch extras. But Qhorin's got a plan to set Jon up as an inside man with the Wildlings, so here's hoping Jon can stop being such a dope long enough to figure it out.
Elsewhere: Stannis and Ser Davos have a moment while on their way to battle! Samwise—I mean Samwell—and the Night's Watch Irregulars uncover a cache of obsidian weapons! Daenerys wants her dragons back! Everything's all set up for next week's episode, where it looks like stuff is seriously—finally—going to get real! Can't wait!