“Anyone can be killed,” Arya Stark ominously reminds us in a scene from this week’s episode of ‘Game of Thrones’. That line could practically serve as author George R.R. Martin’s mission statement for the series, as he’s fond of demonstrating.
The most shocking development in ‘The Ghost of Harrenhal’ happens right off the bat. While in the middle of negotiating with Catelyn Stark to join forces with her son Robb’s army in exchange for Robb pledging him fealty, Renly Baratheon is murdered by the shadow monster that Melisandre birthed at the end of the last episode. His guard Brienne is mistakenly fingered as the assailant. She and Catelyn (who was also in the room) must go on the run. Later Brienne pledges her loyalty to Catelyn and will serve as her knight, on the condition that Catelyn allow her to personally kill Stannis as soon as she has a clear opportunity.
Almost immediately, Renly’s troops begin flocking to join Stannis. (The alternative, presumably, would be to wait for Stannis to wipe them out, which doesn’t seem so appealing.) With the combined land and sea might of both his own and now Renly’s armies, Stannis plans to invade King’s Landing. Baelish advises Renly’s wife Margaery and his lover (Margaery’s brother) Loras to flee so that they might avenge his death another day. Baelish knows how to play all the angles, so clearly he must see some potential in this pair.
Over in King’s Landing, Tyrion feels left out when neither Joffrey nor Cersei will share their plans to defend the capital with him. He does some snooping around town, and discovers that Joffrey has secretly had his alchemists building a stockpile of thousands of containers of “Wildfire,” a mystical substance that can melt steel, stone or flesh. Joffrey plans to have his troops fling these at Stannis’ advancing fleet. The problem, as both Tyrion and Bronn quickly surmise, is that the chaos of battle will assuredly result in this Wildfire doing as much or more damage to King’s Landing as it will to the enemy. Tyrion orders the chief alchemist to stop making Wildfire for Joffrey, and to start making it for him. What he plans to do with it isn’t yet known.
Poor, miserable Theon Greyjoy has been relegated by his father to command a crew of insubordinate wretches on a ship called the Sea Bitch. The task he’s been assigned is to pointlessly raid a harmless fishing village. Meanwhile, his sister Yara will command hundreds of ships in real battle. With a little prodding from his (surprisingly helpful) first mate Dagmer, Theon hatches a plan to raid the port of Torrhen’s Square instead, which is close to Winterfell and will draw some of the Stark forces to its defense, thus helping to overextend Robb’s army. His wheels now turning, Theon hopes to prove his worth to his father by taking this initiative. Young Bran Stark, left in charge of Winterfell, appears to fall into this trap when he sends 200 soldiers to the port.
Arya Stark is now the servant to Tywin Lannister, who still doesn’t know who she is. They have a terrific scene together where she delivers the “Anyone can be killed” line, supposedly in reference to Robb Stark not being the invincible warrior that he’s been built up as, but clearly with overtones that she means Tywin himself. Without really meaning to, Arya forms a pact with one of the prisoners that she rescued from the burning wagon previously, who has now joined Tywin’s army. To repay the favor, he offers to kill any three men of her choosing, like her very own homicidal genie. To test this, she names the torturer known as “The Tickler,” and sure enough, he’s dead in short order. With a gleam in her eye, Arya begins hatching plans for her remaining wishes.
North of the Wall, the Night’s Watch discover that the Wildings have been amassing and organizing under the command of a former Night’s Watch soldier named Mance Rayder, who knows their tactics. Realizing that they’re at a disadvantage and can’t either advance directly towards the camp or sneak around it, Lord Commander Mormont agrees to send a small raiding party to take out Mance’s lookouts. Jon Snow volunteers for this duty.
Within the city of Qarth, Daenerys Targaryen cleans up very nicely, but has to keep her people in check. Their barbarian instinct is to steal everything in sight, and there’s quite a lot to steal. Dany learns for the first time that King Robert is dead, which goes to show how far out of the loop she’s been. Xaro Xhoan Daxos, the richest man in the city (and thus the richest man anywhere), proposes that they marry as a political alignment. His wealth will fund her mission to claim the Iron Throne. In exchange, he’ll gain considerable power as the queen’s husband, and get her dragons as well. Dany sees this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and is eager to accept, but Jorah (who she’s only just realized is in love with her) advises caution. He tells her that the deal is too good to be true, and that she will find more genuine support as soon as she arrives in Westeros.
Whew! That’s quite a lot going on. This is another moving-the-pieces-into-place episode, but the intrigue is clearly building and the episode does a very good job of juggling the many storylines.