Riverrun finally makes the opening credit sequence and it was interesting to see a long-distance shot of House Frey as the camera swept north to Winterfell. I'd like to see them do the same for places like the Dreadfort (as the camera sweeps away from Castle Black, for example), if they can. They might as well exploit the brilliant opening as much as possible. I don't normally watch the credits that closely, but it struck me today that the three top names on the list are the three Lannister siblings. Funny how things work out sometimes.
We also get our first look at Brynden Tully, the Blackfish, in this episode. He was one of those side characters that book fans have been demanding almost since the series began, since he didn't appear in the House Arryn scenes as he does in the book. I've never felt a particular attachment to the character, so I wouldn't have been distraught if he was left out. However, he was given even more weight than in the books when Edmure is shown to miss the traditional funeral shot out of incompetence and the Blackfish takes over in frustration, rather than Edmure missing because of his grief and Brynden completing the ritual as an act of kindness. This incompetence is reinforced when the incident of Edmure spoiling Robb's plans is played out as in the book. So, again, adaptation and, perhaps, a more interesting angle on certain characters while still getting the story where it needs to go. (OTOH, the Blackfish is in, but Strong Belwas is definitely out. I understand why, but that doesn't alleviate the lameness.)
As an aside from the episode's dark foretelling and momentous events, the small council scene with the moving of the chairs was hilarious. You can see both the sibling rivalry and Tywin's outright disgust at having to deal with the drama. It was yet another high point in Dinklage's droll portrayal of the Imp. One odd point was Aidan Gillen's incredibly raspy voice.
And speaking of long awaited elements:
Obviously, the Brotherhood's version was more traditional but it has to be said: Best. Ending. Credit. Music. Ever!
The other part of the very brief look at Arya's adventures is the departure of Hot Pie. Again, like the Blackfish, I've never been enamored of the character in the way that so many fans seemingly are. Hot Pie is a detail that makes the world seem alive but there are thousands of such details. At the very least for those mourning his departure, he's not dead.
This episode was about the reinforcement of themes, as well. Tyrion becomes Master of Coin because he's responsible and a good organizer, no matter his claims to the contrary, and it's convenient for him to constantly be pushed in directions that he doesn't want but his father does. Likewise, Catelyn is called upon yet again to be strong for her children, regardless of her own grief and needs, when Brynden implores her to consider Robb before herself (and Bran and Rickon, for that matter.)
The most notable example of this is with Daenerys and her insistence that warfare be accomplished in the cleanest manner possible. As I've mentioned before, it's an ethical snarl that left A Dance with Dragons in stasis for several months while GRRM attempted to sort it out. It will be interesting to see non-reader audience reaction to that approach as her closest advisers (Mormont and Selmy) both attempt to coax her into doing things in the time-honored manner: Damn the casualties. Full slaughter ahead. That said, the Astapor material was, by far, the best segment of the episode. Amelia Clarke really, firmly, finally stepped into the leadership role just as Daenerys did in the books. Her withering look at Iain Glen when he stepped forward in surprise about her offering a dragon for the Unsullied was fantastic. That said, I anticipated that they would have finished the transaction by now.
Running a close second for best segment of the episode was Podrick gettin' some, courtesy the Master of Coin. Given that it was a Bronn scene, there were several great one-liners... but almost the entire scene was one great line after another. Interestingly, the contrast in relationships between Tyrion and Littlefinger and Tyrion and Varys was brought into high relief here. The former is cagey and adversarial. The latter is wary, but warm.
And, in third place, had to be the endlessly fascinating Jaime and his on-again, off-again relationship with Brienne. Coster-Waldau is bringing great things to the character and turning him into every inch the Jaime that he eventually becomes by Dance. On the one hand (heh), it was interesting to hear him essentially relay the same information about his upbringing and education that Tywin had mused upon to Arya last season. On the other hand (Ha. I'll stop. Really.), I wonder if that much dialogue was really necessary to get the point across. After all, to Jaime it's all offhand (Hee. For real this time.) blather as he deals with inferiors... a point driven home soon enough and one carried by the appearance of the Brotherhood this season and Daenerys' quest: most people are worth less than livestock to the upper crust (as Craster so deftly observes, since he's upper crust where he is.) But the answer to that is Mao Zedong philosophy writ large: Whosoever gots the blades, gots the power. In contrast to the Unsullied material, I didn't expect Jaime to meet this point in his life so soon in the season and it has interesting repercussions for the actor, at least. All of last season was spent sitting in the mud. Now he's doomed to spend the rest of this one (and the now-greenlit season 4) wearing a prosthetic. He deserves a hand for the effort...
The downsides? Only a couple. The throwaway scene with Talisa was weird. We already know she's a nurse who helps both sides and we already know that the Lannister men consider Robb to be relatively supernatural. Why was this here, except to troll the readers who can't stand her? All it did was highlight the fact that Jeyne Westerling is a non-entity in the books and Talisa likely should have been, as well. We had a scene that essentially did nothing but remind us that she's a speaking role. By the same token, the beach scene with Stannis and Melisandre was just off. The former expressing actual lust and the latter expressing seeming tenderness? WTF? And, finally, Melisandre leaving? Is this how they're going to get Davos out of the dungeon? But Stannis did that regardless of his attempt to kill Melisandre. That was Stannis making his own decisions as the character is wont to do. I'm not sure what this is or why it was necessary.
Lines of the episode:
"It comforts me to know that, even in the darkest days of war, in most places in the world, absolutely nothing is happening." - Brynden Tully with the sage advice so common to his character.
"I'd have turned you all away if I wasn't a godly man." - Craster again proving that it's all about perspective. Incidentally, there was fantastic pace and atmosphere for this scene, especially when Sam steps outside the main hall/shack. Good on Benioff for his first directing credit.
"Rhaegar fought valiantly. Rhaegar fought nobly. Rhaegar died." - Jorah Mormont's Sherman moment. I still think they blew an opportunity to tease a bit more of the Targaryen lore into the show when they failed to show Rhaegar during the House of the Undying visions scene last season.
"There are no masters in the grave, your grace." - Missandei with the hard truth. Right after this, she's the second character to invoke the trademark phrase "Valar morghulis." Daenerys' response is all Eowyn up in here: "All men must die. But we are not men."
"Unless Lord Twatbeard made it all up." - Bronn, on accounting.
"One of four women in the world who can perform a proper Meerenese Knot." - Tyrion trying to encourage Pod and making reference to the Daenerys quandary. Nicely done by Benioff and Weiss here. I'm dying to see someone perform the Knot. If it's anything like the basket thing in Bangkok, it must be quite the thrill. Bronn's "Pace yourself, lad!" as they exit was solid, as well.
"You little bastard!" - A nameless Dreadfort man with the peek...
"If you get in trouble, all you have to do is say 'My father.'" - The Bolton Vargo Hoat replacement highlighting one of Jaime's weaknesses: his inability to separate himself from the man who made him.
But the line of the episode goes to Mance Rayder, both for its humor and delivery in the face of another ominous foreshadowing scene, which is why it got the title: "Always the artists..." Actors, writers, and directors all.