This review may contain spoilers.
Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) has assembled an army of 100,000 strong to secure the Iron Throne as the Greyjoys prepare for a naval strike along the Stark's shores -- more than ever, the game is on.
Episode by episode, the scope of the coming conflict is emerging. And the looming clash, with so many players now involved, looks to be spectacle, much like this series. Never has political intrigue been so fascinating.
And a front runner for the master of intrigue trophy is Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), who systematically puts to the test some of his greatest threats in King's Landing: Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover) and Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen). Having already purged Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter), the commander of the Gold Cloaks, Tyrion sends Pycelle packing too -- right into a dungeon cell.
The Grand Maester revealed to Cersei (Lena Headey) that Tyrion intended to ship off her daughter, Myrcella (Aimee Richardson), to Dorne to secure an alliance; although true, Tyrion used the news leak to reveal who he could trust among the small council. Tyrion's ruse was simple but amusingly effective.
Weeding out his enemies isn't Tyrion's only concern, however. Shae (Sibel Kekilli) -- Tyrion's probable Achilles heel -- is in King's Landing despite Tywin Lannister's (Charles Dance) insistence that she remain behind. Attempting to hide her in plain sight, Tyrion assigns her as Sansa Stark's (Sophie Turner) handmaid. That is an incredibly bold move.
Meanwhile, Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) arrives at Renly's military camp to discuss a possible alliance. Renly is now married to Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer); although, his relationship with her brother, Ser Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones), complicates the union. Margaery pushes Renly for a baby to seal their new alliance. She clearly has her eyes on the Iron Throne too and wants Renly to succeed at any cost. She seems dangerous and possiblly another gifted player in the game of thrones.
On the Iron Islands, Theon Greyjoy's (Alfie Allen) homecoming continues to be far from pleasant. His disapproving father, Lord Balon (Patrick Malahide), intends to strike the Stark homeland while Robb Stark's (Richard Madden) army is south engaged with the Lannisters. Theon is finally forced to choose sides.
Lastly, the Sworn Brotherhood of the Night's Watch is kicked out of Craster's (Robert Pugh) keep following their realization that he is sacrificing his male offspring to the White Walkers. Far south of them, Yoren of the Night's Watch moves north with his recruits from King's Landing, including Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and Gendry Waters (Joe Dempsie), but they are intercepted and captured by Lannister soldiers. Yoren's confrontation with the Gold Cloaks in the last episode was bound to have consequences.
POINTS OF INTEREST
1. As Bran continues to struggle with the meaning behind his direwolf dreams, it's suggested that the magic of Westeros died with the dragons. Now that the dragons are back, perhaps we'll see more magic too.
2. The introduction of the warrior Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) is startling. Like in the books, she is extremely imposing! This is another outstanding casting job.
3. Myrcella and Tommen Baratheon (Callum Wharry) finally make another appearance. These two children seem a sharp contrast to their mother and psycho brother King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson).
Tyrion's sacking of Pycelle and Shae's appointment as Sansa's handmaid dovetail into one of the episode's best moments as he and Varys "the Spider" (Conleth Hill) meet to address these developments and exchange some razor-sharp dialogue. Scenes like this define a key part of the appeal behind George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels. It's nice to see such character moments so smartly brought to life on the screen.
In addition, Tyrion and Cersei face off over the issue of Myrcella's impending departure to Dorne, and the scene gives Dinklage and Headey another compelling moment to play off each other. Unfortunately, Cersei continues to not see the big picture.
Another fantastic performance is Allen as Theon, who was a mere background character in Season 1. He enjoys a major storyline now and brings a believable internal conflict to Theon's life as an attack against the Starks is set into motion. What a predicament. His family's story arc is positioned to add a captivating dimension to the show's already bustling political landscape.
Finally, the murder of the young Night's Watch recruit Lommy Greenhands (Eros Vlahos) by a Lannister soldier was striking. Nice, brutal effects work.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK
Shae seems hard to like most of the time. What does Tyrion see in her beside a pretty face and a snarky disposition? The fact he is risking so much by bringing her to King's Landing seems crazy. Is he truly in love? Send her to Casterly Rock!
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. "What Is Dead May Never Die" was written by Bryan Cogman, and it was directed by Alik Sakharov.
"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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