The calm before the storm is upon Westeros — and that says a lot, considering that the so-called "calm" includes an obscenely abused prostitute in King's Landing, two charred hanging corpses in Winterfell, stolen dragons in Qarth and bruised, beaten prisoners of war north of the Wall.
But believe it or not, that really is just the palate-cleanser before a monumental battle strikes the Seven Kingdoms. All season long, HBO's "Game of Thrones" has warned viewers that "war is coming," and next week, it'll finally be here via the fabled Battle of Blackwater, an all-out slugfest between the Lannister forces and the trueborn Baratheons. Which side will win? It's too early to say. But no matter who emerges victorious, we can promise you this: Just as Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview once warned, there will be blood.
Keep reading for a recap of this week's "Game of Thrones," which sets the stage for next week's epic battle.
The Princes of Winterfell
Theon Greyjoy has fallen hard throughout season two. Last year, he was simply an unlikable boy; now, he's a full-on baby-killer who doesn't know when he's lost. Theon's unquenchable desire to please his father and prove himself a worthy Ironborn has turned him into one of the most wanted men in Westeros. Even his sister Yara, typically the type to smack Theon across the face well before offering him words of encouragement, expresses her sibling loyalty to the younger Greyjoy, doing her best to get him the hell out of Winterfell before Northerners come calling for his head. Her words fall on deaf ears; Theon stays in Winterfell, and the bastard Ramsay Bolton is just days away from claiming vengeance on behalf of Team Stark. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Theon, the boys he's so desperately looking for — Bran and Rickon — are more or less right under his nose, hiding in the crypts of Winterfell. A brilliant hiding spot ... spooky but brilliant.
The Seeds of Betrayal
Further north, Jon Snow's inability to kill the wildling girl Ygritte has led to his captivity at the redhead's hands, but it also might prove his saving grace: Ygritte clearly has interest in Jon, enough to keep him alive a little bit longer. (It doesn't hurt that the other wildlings, the Lord of Bones in particular, know that Jon's the bastard son of Ned Stark, either; that makes him a decent bargaining chip worth holding onto.) Another reason why Jon might flourish under captivity: Qhorin Halfhand, also a prisoner, is doing everything he can to distance himself from Jon, to make it clear that Snow betrayed his vows and the Night's Watch in keeping Ygritte alive. How much of it is Qhorin's actual wrath against Jon or just a ploy to weaken the wildlings? We'll have to keep watching to find out.
What's a Stark Without Honor?
Jon Snow isn't the only Stark dealing with issues of honor. After his mother, Catelyn, betrays the cause by freeing the king-slayer Jaime Lannister and shipping him back to King's Landing with Brienne in tow — all in an effort to rescue Sansa and Arya from the Lannisters' clutches, mind you — Robb is left feeling more crushed than ever. With the entire North looking to him for leadership and his own flesh and blood betraying him — not to mention the recent treachery of his best friend Theon — the King in the North is understandably down and out. So who can really blame him for doing the proverbial "dance with dragons" with Talisa of Volantis? Sure, he's promised to a Frey, but the man's got needs, and it's clear that this is more than just a physical fling. That said, there's also no doubting that Robb's dishonored himself by blemishing his pledge to marry a daughter of House Frey. Just how badly that comes back to haunt him and his is something we'll see in the future, I'm sure.
The Wolf and the Lion Break Up
More heartbreak for Team Stark, though this is more of the viewership variety: The secret "Tywin Loves Arya" show-within-a-show is now at an end. The Lannister patriarch leaves Harrenhal to defend King's Landing against Stannis, without so much as a parting word of advice for the young wolf. Their dynamic stands out as one of the highlights of season two, and it'll certainly be missed in the episodes to come. Still, Arya's continued friendship with faceless man Jaqen H'Ghar remains a strongpoint of the season, and I suspect we're not completely finished with their kill-happy partnership ... not just yet.
War, War Everywhere
King's Landing has been a spit-show all season long, and come next week's episode, it'll be a full-on bloodbath. The upcoming episode is appropriately titled "Blackwater," as in the bay King's Landing sits upon and the site of the impending battle between Lannister loyalists and Baratheon banner-men. Sunday's episode perfectly set the stage: In King's Landing, Tyrion does his best to keep himself together in light of Cersei ordering the prostitute Ros beaten beyond recognition (because she incorrectly believes her to be Tyrion's lover), the peoples' growing mistrust of Tyrion despite his behind-the-scenes efforts to protect them, and the very real threat of war coming to the Seven Kingdoms' capital in just a few short hours. Out at sea, Davos Seaworth is given the unexpected news that if Stannis beats Joffrey and claims the Iron Throne, the title of Hand of the King will be his. Without a doubt, the stakes are big on both sides of the battle, and it's hard to find someone to root for: Davos is likable enough, and Stannis, hard as he is, is certainly a better pick for king than the cruel Joffrey. But even though the Lannisters are horrible people, Tyrion's on their side, and we love Tyrion. What happens to the Imp if Stannis and his men win the day? For Tyrion's sake, let's hope we don't find out.
Tell us what you thought of this week's "Thrones" in the comments section below!