This review may contain spoilers.
Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) abruptly slips into the seat of power at Winterfell and delivers Robb Stark (Richard Madden) his first military blemish.
Loosing Winterfell is a staggering blow for the Starks, who lost their lord last season and subsequently have faced a grim series of setbacks in Westeros' treacherous tug-of-war for the Iron Throne.
Robb's misplaced trust in Theon cuts deep; although, to be fair, Theon initially had honorable intentions when confronting his father, Lord Balon (Patrick Malahide), with the Stark's proposal for an alliance against the Lannisters. Balon of course had other aspirations, just as Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) had warned. Choosing between family and loyalty to the Starks, Theon came to an understandable decision.
But Theon's impulse to launch a surprise attack on Winterfell quickly derailed any sympathy Robb might have harbored for his old friend. Add in Theon's brutal execution of Winterfell's master-at-arms, Ser Rodrik Cassel (Ron Donachie), and you can see why the Iron Islands have suddenly become no different than the Lannisters in the eyes of the embittered Starks. Fighting a war on two fronts will likely become a draining endeavor for Robb though.
Fortunately, the former wildling Osha (Natalia Tena) helps mask the escape of Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and Rickon (Art Parkinson), whose timely flight from Winterfell deprives the Greyjoys of a valuable ransom.
Winterfell, however, isn't the only seat of power in turmoil in this episode; citizens in King's Landing attack a royal procession lead by Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). The commoners are exasperated with the aloof royalty and the rumors of incest and underhanded power grabs. It's just unfortunate that Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) were caught in the mayhem too.
At Harrenhal, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) continues to prime his army for another campaign against Robb. Serving as his cupbearer, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) takes an opportunity to steal a letter off his table that involves Robb. However, her theft is almost exposed by one of Tywin's men, who she promptly has killed by the mysterious Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). It's now clear H'ghar is a highly skilled assassin and Arya is in a good position to get a little payback.
Meanwhile, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and the Night's Watch raid a small wildling encampment positioned as a mountainside lookout. Snow takes a female captive, Ygritte (Rose Leslie), and is ordered by Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong) to execute her. However, she slips his grasp and flees, leaving him separated from his party when he finally captures her again. Left on their own and lost, Snow decides to keep her alive. His recent track record of service for the Night's Watch hasn't been stellar -- this act can't help.
Finally, the episode concludes with another stunner, as an assault on Daenerys Targaryen's (Emilia Clarke) quarters in Qarth by an unknown party results in the theft of her three dragons. Daenerys without her fire-breathing children is an unsettling development.
POINTS OF INTEREST
1. Robb's growing affection for Talisa (Oona Chaplin) clearly ruffles Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley); after all, Robb is pledged to marry one of the daughters of Lord Walder Frey (David Bradley), who demanded the union after allowing the passage of the northern army across his castle's bridge during Season 1. With the Starks now poised to fight the Iron Islands, agitating Lord Frey is the last thing they need.
2. Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen) seems to recognize Arya during a meeting with Tywin. What is Baelish up to now?
Really, what could be better than Joffrey taking a ripe pile of manure to the noggin? Tyrion's subsequent slap down of Joffrey was a highlight too. This royal brat needs a serious reality check. A knifing would be the perfect cap.
Sandor "The Hound" Clegane's (Rory McCann) rescue of Sansa during the King's Landing riot is gory good. Thankfully for Sansa, Sandor seems to truly care what happens to her. With Sandor and Tyrion on her side, she may survive her captivity after all.
Daenerys' meeting with the Spice King (Nicholas Blane) was a standout moment for this episode; he clearly articulates her dilemma in regards to returning to Westeros to seize the Iron Throne. And in turn, she describes the significance of her dreams and how they lead to the birth of her dragons. Great dialogue!
Lastly, the exchanges between Tywin and Arya continue to be fascinating, with outstanding acting from both Dance and Williams. I could watch an entire series based on these two and their adventures traveling together in Westeros.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK
Theon's surprise grab of Winterfell is a watershed moment, yet the event passes with little coverage, much like many of the clashes between the Stark and Lannister armies. Although the show's focus on character is a signifiant strength, it would be a welcome change of pace to see some explosive glimpses of these noteworthy clashes.
Perhaps the producers are saving all of this season's battle scenes for Stannis Baratheon's (Stephen Dillane) looming invasion of King's Landing. That should be spectacular!
GIVING CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
"Game of Thrones" stars Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Michelle Fairley, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Harry Lloyd. "The Old Gods and the New" was written by Vanessa Taylor, and it was directed by David Nutter.
"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
See our Season 1 episode reviews for "Winter is Coming," "The Kingsroad," "Lord Snow," "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things," "The Wolf and the Lion," "A Golden Crown," "You Win or You Die," "The Pointy End," "Baelor" and "Fire and Blood."
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