This week’s episode of Game of Thrones, “Dark Wings, Dark Woods,” seamlessly brought back series favorites Arya Stark (Maise Williams) and Jaimie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), along with a host of other characters that never made an appearance in Valar Dohaeris. Their return reminded me of watching The Wire, a show that admired for its storytelling. There were so many intriguing characters in The Wire, but not enough screen time in each episode to showcase everyone’s abilities. Many characters barely made an appearance in numerous episodes, but it didn’t matter because in the end we watched the show for the story. HBO’s Game of Thrones has taken this idea of storytelling to another level. There are so many characters and storylines that the show understandably can’t fit them all into every episode. Yet, I hardly missed the feisty Arya Stark and the silver-tongued Jaime Lannister in last week’s season premiere even though they have been two of my favorite characters on the show.

House Stark finally makes an appearance in the newest season after being largely absent last week. Their awful luck still hasn’t changed though. It’s a dark and depressing world in Game of Thrones, and good folk like the Starks are set to lose. Robb (Richard Madden) and Lady Stark (Michelle Fairley) can’t even receive a message containing any good news. There’s only bad news and even worse news as they find out that Winterfell has been burned down, with Bran (Itsaac Hempstead Wright) and Rickon (Art Parkinson) missing and presumably dead. There is also the potential dissent in The Young Wolf’s army as Lord Karstark (John Stahl) candidly puts it, “I think you lost this war the day you married her [Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin)].”

Having escaped from the hell of Harrenhall with Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey), you would think that Arya would be left in peace as she tries to find her way back to safety and family. But she runs straight into the Brotherhood without Banners, a new faction in the game. The new group appears to be a merry “Robin Hood” type band, which is always endearing in the gloomy Westeros. Thoros (Paul Kaye), the leader of the group that finds Arya and company, is constantly full of ale and clever quips like his joke about Hot Pie, “Maybe he’s the reason half the country’s starving.” Of course, even in a merry group like the Brotherhood of Banners, being a Stark, Arya again finds herself in a perilous situation. As she’s about to leave the inn where she had received a hot meal from Thoros, the Brotherhood brings in a prisoner and one of the few men in Westeros who could recognize her – The Hound… (Rory McCann) “What in seven hells are you doing with a Stark bitch,” he growls at Thoros.

And yet somehow Arya has it easy compared to her older sister, Sansa (Sophie Turner). Ironically, as part of the 1% of Westeros, her life may very well be the worst out of all the Stark children. Her direwolf Lady was executed early in season one. She also had been married to King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) at one point only to find out that he was a psychopath. And now she is a pawn in everyone’s game. Between the Lannisters, Tyrells, Littlefinger (Aide Gillen), and her whore handmaiden Shae (Sibel Kekilli), who can she trust? Sansa is between a (Casterly) rock and a hard place (pun intended). Her emotional toil finally shows through in her lunch/semi – interrogation with Queen Margaery (Natalie Dorner) and Grandma Tyrell (Olenna Tyrell), whose outspoken wisdom and wit make her a unique blend between Tywin Lannister and Charles Barkley (Couldn’t you hear Sir Charles say, “Loras is young and very good at knocking men off horses with a stick. That does not make him wise.” on an “Inside the NBA” for Game of Thrones?). Sansa trembles in fear as she attempts to describe Joffrey to the Tyrells. All she really manages to say is, “He’s a monster!”

Sansa is not the only woman who has it tough in Game of Thrones. Women in the series live in a male-dominated society and are usually stuck as prostitutes or trophy wives. “That’s what intelligent women do. What they’re told,” Joffrey says, as King of Westeros or spokesperson for the Republican Party (Just kidding…). And for women who don’t do like they’re told, you can look at Catelyn Stark, who has been imprisoned by her own son. Positions of power are rare for women, which makes the position of Queen so appealing. Everyone knows that Joffrey is a figurehead king. But his borderline psychosis and arrogance has made him hard to rein in as his mother and former Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) quickly found out. It may be Margaery Tyrell’s time now as she plays the part of the housewife beautifully. She submissively replies to Geoffrey’s thinly veiled remarks about her previous relationship with the “degenerate” (homosexual) Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony). She was just trying to “do her duty as a wife… To provide him with children.” She later awkwardly poses with him in the mirror holding his crossbow, feeding him dialogue that brings out his misogynistic ways to the forefront. Margaery is feeling him out, testing the truths she learned from Sansa earlier. Even though Joffrey has the crossbow trained on her in the mirror, there’s no fear in her eyes. Queen Tyrell only has the look of confidence and ambition.

Further North in Westeros, “Dark Wing, Dark Woods” returned to some of the magical elements that make up the fantasy background of the series. I believe that part of the success of Game of Thrones has hinged on its ability to attract viewers who don’t necessarily enjoy fantasy stories. The series doesn’t shove dragons, magic, and other fantastical elements down their throats. It’s mostly grounded in realism, focusing on political maneuvering, whores, and medieval style battles. Glimpses of the fictional pieces of the world are spread out throughout the seasons. There aren’t zombie wights, dragons, and warlocks in every episode. Heck, the Stark direwolves just seem like very cool dogs. In the latest episode, we’re treated to Wargs, the newest mythical element introduced into our minds. “What, you’ve never met a Warg?” Ygritte (Rose Leslie) mocks Snow (Kit Harington) as he discovers for the first time that they are special people who can take over the vision of nearby animals. Of course we’ve seen Bran inhabit his direwolf mind before, which makes the wildling Warg the second one Snow has met before! This time it’s Ygritte, who “knows nothing.”

But Bran seems to be more than just an ordinary Warg. He has a certain foresight to him like his vision of Eddard Stark’s (Sean Bean) death and a three-eyed raven that constantly persists in his dreams. We’re treated to a new dream with the raven in this episode where he attempts to shoot it with an arrow. A mysterious boy appears and says, “You can’t kill it you know… Because the raven is you.” What does this mean? This is a question I constantly ask myself every time Bran’s storyline pops up because it’s so separate from the rest of the show. Luckily we are afforded some answers in this episode as the Bran meets the boy in real life. “I’m Jojen Reed (Thomas Brodie – Sangster). This is my sister Merra (Ellie Kendrick). We’ve come a long way to find you Brandon, and we have much further to go,” the boy announces. Jojen also has the sight that Bran has and accompanies the Starks as sort of a mentor – Dumbledore to Bran’s Harry Potter. But the story lacks any chemistry as it’s so bizarre compared to the rest of Game of Thrones.

Away from all the magic and political maneuvering, Jaime Lannister trudges along slowly to King’s Landing as captive of the “humanist mute” Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie). It’s plain fun just to listen to Jaime’s talking ability as he pries and prods at Brienne with his constant chattering. The conversation between the two is fairly one sided due to Brienne’s dull self; he more or less answers his own quips and questions, yet he still manages to find out about his captor’s past. He narrates the moral choices Brienne has to make like when Abed did voiceovers in Community. Jaime is such a fascinating character because of his moral ambivalence. There’s no apparent right or wrong/good or evil for him, there are only choices for survival and the end game. This philosophy is why he pushed Bran off the tower in season one and why he pushes Brienne to murder a villager passing by in case the man recognizes him. “We’re not doing it. He’s an innocent man,” Brienne says, to which Jaime quickly retorts, “More innocent than Lady Stark’s daughters?”

Jaime poses many of these moral questions, which poke holes in the Knight’s honor and reveals he has little morality in himself. He was the one who killed the Mad King Aerys even though he was sworn to protect him as a member of the Kingsguard. When Jaime manages to slip free of Brienne and gains the use of a sword, he delivers a simple philosophical scenario to Brienne during their ensuing swordplay, “A bit of a quandary for me. If you kill me, you fail Lady Stark, but if you don’t kill me, I’m going to kill you.” This scenario never gets resolved, though, as ironically, the innocent passerby that Jaime was adamant about killing ends up leading Robb’s men to the two knights.

While Jaime may not be an honorable knight by any means, he understands how things work in this world. The notion of right and wrong is arbitrary as the show constantly reminds us. Ned Stark’s good and honest nature got him executed, while immoral Geoffrey still rules as king. In “Dark Wing, Dark Woods,” characters who make the “right” or “honorable” choice are placed in precarious positions for their trouble. Robb’s decision to break his agreement with the Freys and marry the healer Talisa may cost him the war. And Brienne’s choice in letting the villager live could cost both hers and Jaime’s lives.

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