Was this the most romantic Game of Thrones episode ever?S

Winter may be coming, but spring was in the air in last night's Game of Thrones. Everybody gets lucky! Well, sort of. Book author George R.R. Martin wrote this installment, and seized the chance to write a ton of scenes that weren't in his novel. And it was pretty fascinating stuff. Spoilers ahead...

Two triangles

Last night's episode is bookended by two situations in which two men are fighting for control over a woman — although only one of them is actually a love triangle, strictly speaking. First, Orell (the skinchanger with the scary eyes) is trying to steal Ygritte from Jon Snow, playing crazy mind games with both of them. And later, Locke tries to keep Jaime Lannister from rescuing Brienne from the bear pit.

Both of those situations are about trying to control the women in the middle, and in both cases Orell and Locke give similar sorts of speeches about nihilism and society and stuff. Orell tells Jon Snow that people form friendships when it suits them and kill each other when it suits them, and Locke tells Jaime that he's sick of the lords, er, lording it over him, and no gold could possibly give him as much satisfaction as Jaime's arm-stump.

Was this the most romantic Game of Thrones episode ever?S

Basically, both of these guys take a certain amount of pleasure in the idea that the world is brutal and nasty, and none of the stuff that people set store by means anything — because that's the kind of world in which they get to be powerful. Orell tells Ygritte that she won't love Jon Snow once she finds out what he really is — because the only world where Orell gets ahead is one where everybody is secretly terrible. Of course, he's right that Jon Snow is still loyal to the Night's Watch, but Ygritte already knows that.

And by slowly bringing characters like Locke and Orell to the fore, this show is being pretty subtle about showing that things are slowly getting worse in Westeros, as a result of all this endless war and upheaval — and it's not even winter yet. We're seeing characters like Jaime — and Theon, we'll get to him in a moment — much the worse for wear, but also some people with philosophies even less humanist than Littlefinger's are starting to become more influential.

Speaking of which, we get some great words of wisdom from Ser Bronn this week, including: "If you waste time trying to get people to love you, you'll end up the most popular dead man in town." Bronn, as he points out, is paid to kill people who annoy Tyrion — but he puts evil notions in Tyrion's head, free of charge.

Tyrion and Sansa 4ever

Speaking of love triangles that aren't love triangles, there's Sansa, Loras and Tyrion — Margaery Tyrell was all set to marry Sansa Stark to her brother Loras, but now she's officially betrothed to Tyrion instead. Neither Loras nor Tyrion actually want to marry poor Sansa, but she's still stuck on the beautiful, noble-seeming Knight of Flowers, and horrified by the idea of having sex with Tyrion — no matter how much Margaery tries to comfort her.

Was this the most romantic Game of Thrones episode ever?S

Sansa's scene starts off with her berating herself for her silly romantic illusions, that coming to King's Landing would be nothing but candles and shininess and knights in painted armor — whereas in fact it's been a nightmare. But the sad thing is, she's still just as mired in romantic illusion as she ever was, because she has this idealized vision of marriage to Loras that ignores all the many, many clues that it would never have worked out. She won't listen when Margaery, who has every reason to be disappointed about the failed Loras-Sansa match, tells her to be pragmatic about getting to produce the next heir to Casterly Rock and probably Winterfell as well.

Margaery — who has been steadily working to undermine Cersei's influence over King Joffrey — still clings to the idea that mothers can shape their children, so that if she has Joffrey's son, she'll be in a position to mold the next king. That's the true power that women get to have, Margaery insinuates, even though her own grandmother could also tell her differently.

To some extent, Sansa is clinging to her romantic notions about marriage to Loras, the storybook marriage to a beautiful knight, because she's still a product of the world that Ygritte makes fun of — the world of beautiful silk dresses and castles and armies that march with banners and drums down the road. But also, Sansa is the product of a marriage that was an actual loving partnership — almost the only one we've seen on this show, in fact. She can't imagine having the kind of relationship Ned and Catelyn had with Tyrion — which is too bad, actually.

Meanwhile, Tyrion is balking at the idea of deflowering someone who's still a child (not sure how old Sansa is supposed to be, but they keep mentioning she's flowered, so early teens I guess.) And meanwhile, he's caught in a nasty triangle of his own — his mistress, Shae, is insanely jealous that he's going to marry Shae's "mistress," and she's going to be stuck cleaning Tyrion's wife's chamberpot. Tyrion can offer Shae a house of her own, and even servants of her own — but he can't offer her legitimacy, even if he didn't marry Sansa. To some extent, Shae's freakout only makes sense if she's allowed herself to buy into the delusion that Tyrion's love for her means some kind of stability or guaranteed status in his life — which it can't, within the stratified society of Westeros.

So Tyrion's own "love triangle" involves two women who are clinging to illusions about love and relationships that will ultimately make them miserable — the same sort of illusions that Orell accuses Ygritte of harboring about Jon Snow, in fact.

Ain't no wedding like a Frey wedding

Meanwhile, Robb Stark might be the only other person who has a marriage that's built on love and communication — something we see in a nice, frisky scene between him and his wife Talisa. She's just shown that she's no delicate flower by not being put out by the Blackfish comparing Walder Frey to "wet shit," as they prepare to truck off to the Twins to marry Robb's uncle Edmure to one of Walder's daughters.

Was this the most romantic Game of Thrones episode ever?S

Robb and Talisa's little moment together is almost too perfect — it's like this weird encapsulation of the perfect dream of love and marriage that everybody else is yearning for. And the over-the-top quality of their happy interlude only increases when Robb and Talisa start talking about how when this is all over, they'll sail off to Volantis together, and everything will be grand. Luckily, that scene is already on Youtube:

The irony of Robb marrying for love and mutual respect, while demanding that his poor hapless uncle marry for expediency, never gets old.

Just how dangerous is Daenerys?

If Locke and Orell are to be believed, the world is a brutal place and only brutality wins respect — which means that Daenerys is quite possibly screwed, with her insistence on being idealistic and trying to free every slave in the world.

Was this the most romantic Game of Thrones episode ever?S

In the episode's great standout moment, Tywin Lannister comes to visit his grandson, the King, to counsel him, and tells him that Daenerys and her dragons are no great threat, because dragons may have been massive berserkers 300 years ago, but they had shrunk into mere "curiosities" by the time the last of them died. Dragons had become symbols of the King's power, rather than instruments of it, by the time the last Targaryen held the throne.

Symbols of power can be debated, reconstructed, interpreted — but actual power just smacks you in the face, and knocks your teeth out, leaving no room for interpretation.

And while Tywin is dismissing Daenerys' dragons (and by extension her power generally) as symbolic, she's facing her first actual test — she won in Qarth mostly through luck, and she tricked the slavers in Astapor. But now, it's her army of former slaves (and three immature dragons) against the walled city of Yunkai, which can withstand any siege. In a way, it's the situation that King Robert always predicted would happen if the Dothraki made it to Westeros, the nobles holed up inside their castles with the barbarians surrounding them.

Daenerys' dragons definitely do a good job of terrifying the slavemaster who's sent to negotiate with her, but they're not big enough to lay waste to a city yet. And Yunkai apparently has "powerful friends" who will crush anybody who attacks it, but we don't know who those are yet.

So why is Daenerys hanging around Yunkai anyway? Why isn't she just taking the ships the slavers offer her, and sailing back to Westeros with her army of Unsullied and her dragons? Partly, it's because then the TV show would be reaching its climax way too soon, and half the characters we've been following in Westeros would be dead. But also, her dragons aren't big enough yet — and that's not the kind of ruler she wants to be. She's bought into her own mythos as the mother of dragons and freer of slaves, but she also wants to be the sort of person who recognizes no limits to her reach — if she decides that Yunkai's 200,000 slaves need to be released, then she ought to be able to make that happen. To recognize any limits on her power is to become unworthy, in Daenerys' mind.

In a sense, her own will to power, not the physical qualities of her dragons, is what makes her more than a "curiosity," as Tywin would put it.

What makes a man?

Was this the most romantic Game of Thrones episode ever?S

Meanwhile, it's not just Robb who gets lucky in this episode — Theon Greyjoy also has some sexytime, with two hot ladies including one lapsed nun. It's just one non-stop party for Theon. Sadly, this lovely threesome is just another one of the nameless torturer's mindgames, once again building Theon up to break him down again. And this sexy interlude leads to — apparently — Theon joining Varys in the ranks of the eunuchs.

The whole scenario is designed to be as weird and humiliating as possible, with both women fussing over how great Theon's cock is, and then the torturer saying that he was wrong to believe that women loved him. The process is aimed at deconstructing Theon's masculinity before taking away his manhood, so that the result will be someone who's not just physically damaged, but psychologically as well.

Because you can recover from mere physical damage — Varys proves that, and elsewhere in this episode Bran reveals that he's decided he fell off that tower at Winterfell for a reason, and not just because of Jaime and Cersei's incestuous secret. Bran now believes that his accident was what brought him to the three-eyed crow, and that losing the use of his legs has effectively given him wings.

And Jojen, who's teaching Bran all about the power of his dreams and his need to find the crow, isn't just his spirit guide or whatever — he's a role model, a young lad who's not physically imposing but is spiritually powerful and seems absolutely certain of his visions, to the point where they choose their direction (North of the Wall, not Castle Black) based on Jojen's visions. Even in spite of Osha's warnings about ice zombies.

What does Jaime owe to Brienne?

In the end of the episode, Jaime rescues Brienne, thus apparently putting the lie to the Orell/Locke view of life — you don't just abandon people when it suits you, honor isn't just a pretty form of words. This is even more impressive because Brienne has let Jaime off the hook, letting him know that as long as he brings the Stark girls to their mother he'll have fulfilled his promises and will owe her nothing.

But Jaime feels responsible anyway, especially after he learns that his clever lie about Tarth being the "Sapphire Island" because of its sapphires helped lead to Locke rejecting Brienne's ransom.

Was this the most romantic Game of Thrones episode ever?S

By saving Brienne from the poor bear, Jaime is keeping a promise he didn't quite make — while Arya is pissed at the Brotherhood Without Banners for breaking their promises to Gendry the moment the Red Priestess showed up. Arya is even more pissed when the Brotherhood breaks its promises to deliver her to her family the next day, because they hear of a Lannister raiding party that might be easy pickings. Arya runs off — only to get caught by the Hound, who needs a hostage or maybe just a counterweight on his saddle.

Gendry, meanwhile, is finally learning the truth about his parentage — he's the bastard son of King Robert, and if Ned Stark had kept his own promises, Gendry would have been well provided for. Gendry is learning that he's a lot more important than he'd thought, just as Melisandre was able to rise from slave to priestess thanks to the Red God. This is sort of the flipside of the turbulence that allows men like Locke to become players.

But if Jaime's saving Brienne does prove that loyalty and bonds between people are meaningful after all, that doesn't guarantee that you'll get what you want. When Jon Snow tells Ygritte that the Wildlings absolutely cannot win in their seventh attempt to attack the Wall, Ygritte's only response is that the bonds between her and Jon are still meaningful — so if they die, they'll die together. And meanwhile, they'll fucking live, man. And that's really what loyalty and companionship get you in the end — they don't save you from dying, they just let you live while you're living.

Screencaps via Winter is Coming tumblr.