The opening sequence introduces us to two new locations with the advent of Garden of Bones. Harrenhal, where Arya finds herself imprisoned by the Lannisters and Qarth, the greatest city that ever was or ever shall be and salvation for Daenerys Stormborn and her ragged band of followers. Written by Vanessa Taylor this episode is no holds barred and if you are tad squeamish you might have turned off after the first 10 minutes. Robb Stark goes into battle against Ser Stafford Lannister and emerges victorious with his direwolf, Grey Wind, at his side. The battle itself fades to black as Robb strikes and we only see the aftermath with Robb Stark walking across the battlefield with Roose Bolton – a hard man who is counselling Robb to not take so many prisoners. The pair of them stumble across a fallen lannister being tended to by an exotic, olive skinned nurse called Talisa from Valantis. She is no shrinking violet and holds Robb to account for his actions even if he does think he is fighting for justice and freedom. Its clear that Robb is taken by this woman, but she rides off the battlefield on the back of horse drawn cart with him watching her go.
Robb’s victory at Oxcross is bad news for his sister Sansa, still a prisoner in Kings Landing. The insufferable Lancel Lannister brings her before the King explaining that she must answer for her brothers crimes. There follows an uncomfortable scene where Sansa is totured mentally and physically, first by Joffrey threatening to shoot her with his crossbow then by Ser Meryn who takes great pleasure in carrying out the kings instructions to beat her. Only Tyrion prevents things from getting worse for Sansa as he arrives in the nick of time to tell Joffrey to stand down. Offering his hand to Sansa he escorts her from the room, apologising for his nephew’s behaviour. When he asks her if she wants an end to the engagement she says simply “I am loyal to King Joffrey, my one true Love”. Tyrion doesn’t know whether to be dismayed or impressed by her composure.
After this incident Tyrion and Bronn decide that the what the king needs is a whore – it might loosen him up a little they think. Sadly that doesnt work out very well for the whore they chose to service him – little Joffrey is a natural born sadist and I think I’ll just leave it there….
In the Storm Lands, Littlefinger arrives to parly with Renly. He tells Renly that he has many friends in court and makes him an offer – when Renly marches on Kings Landing he may find himself facing a protracted siege, or open gates. The rest of the negotiation is conducted off camera and we cut to Littlefinger returning to his tent, escorted by Renly’s Queen. He makes brief stop at Catelyn’s tent too, and she is mortified to see him. She grew up with this man and thought she could trust him – but he ultimately betrayed her husband Ned and she can never forgive Littlefinger for that. Littlefinger loses his customary composure when Catelyn rejects him and Aiden Gillen does good job of allowing to see a glimpse his anguish. Gathering he wits he tries to play on her maternal instinct with an attempt to get he to convince her son to trade Jaime Lannister for her daughters. Catelyn is no fool, mush as she would like this to happen, she knows the worth of Jaimie and there is no way her son would swap him for two girls – even they are ih his sisters. As a parting gesture he presents Catelyn with the bones of her dead husband – sent by Tyrion in a sign of good faith.
Across the narrow see now and Daenerys is cheered by the return of one of her bloodriders with news that a city has been discovered three days ride away. Ser Jorah tells her that the desert around the city is known as the garden of bones, if the city shuts its gates on a traveller, the garden grows. The bloodrider says that the ‘mother of dragons’ will be received, so Daenerys has no choice to go and see if the city will let them in.
Arys and Gendry are taken to Harrenhal, a giant imposing, black castle full to prisoners being tortured by the Lannisters. Arya is in for an uncomfortable ride and at night she lulls herself to sleep by reciting the names of all who have wronged her. In the morning the prisoners are rudely awakened, time for the man known as the Mountain (Gregor Clegane, brother of Joffrey’s personal Guard Sandor) to select the next captive for interrogation. The unfortunate victim is tied to a chair with a bucket strapped to his belly. A rat is placed inside the bucket and heat applied to it. Inside the bucket the rat frantically tries to escape by knawing at his soft flesh until he is dead. That night Arys has two new names to add to her list as she recites herself to sleep – the Mountain and the torturer, Polliver.
The folling day brings a meeting at Storms End between Renly and Stannis. There is no reconciling the two brothers however and the meeting is nothing more than petty one-up-manship, neither party will back down. Stannis is confident even though he faces an army this outnumbers his own greatly. As they part the Last thing Melisandre says to Renly is “Look to your sinse Lord Renly; the night is dark and full of terrors.”
Daenerys arrives at Qarth and is met at the gates by the Thirteen. She is worried at first since she had expected that she would be greeted with open arms, but it quickly becomes apparent that the Thirteen merely want to see he dragons. Daenarys tries to ingratiate herself, but mistakenly pronounces the famous city’s name incorrectly, calling it Quarth and not Qarth (perhaps this is an in joke – when reading the book I personally alternated between one pronunciation and the other, unable to decide how to say it!). Things get a bit prickly when Daenarys promises to show off the dragons when her followers have been admitted to the city and fed and watered. The spokesman for the thirteen is not so easily swayed – no dragons, no entry. He turns to leave and Daenarys implores him – if they do not let them in they will all die. Regrettable, he tells her but Qarth didnt become the greatest city that ever was or ever will be by letting in Drothraki savages. Daenerys draws on her noble bearing then, informing him that if they did not let them in then they would regret it when her dragons were grown. Hollow threats says the spokesman for the thirteen, since if they do not let the Khaleesi in then they will all be dead in a matter of days. Out of the blue on of the Thirteen steps forward to vouch for her Xaros Daxo Xhoan. Invoking sunnai he becomes repsonsible for Daenerys and her dragons while they are in the city. The city gates open and they are ushered inside.
Gendry is the next unfortunate victim chosen for interrogation, but his luck holds as Lord Tywin Lannister rides into Harrenhal. He is not happy to learn that they have been putting healthy bodies and skilled labourers to the sword. Harrenhal wont run itself after all. Gendry is freed and sent to work in the smiths. He spots Arya and realises instanlty that she is a girl and commands that she be freed into his custody, he needs a new cupbearer. The othe prisoners are to be put to work too.
Earlier we were introduced to the Queen’s cousin Lancel Lannister, and what a typically obnoxious Lannister he is too. He comes knocking on Tyrion’s door with a demand from the queen to free Grand Maester Pycelle. Tyrion quickly turns the table on Lancel however when her reveals that he knows he has been sleeping with Cersai (her own cousin, she certainly likes to keep in the family). Lancel is immediately compromised. He doesnt want Joffrey to find out (who would) and Tyrion promises not to tell her, but only if Lancel keeps him appraised of everything she is planning.
At Storms End Stannis and Melisandre put their plan into action. Stannis knows he cannot beat his brother in a straight fight, but he has a secret weapon in the mystical powers of the red priestess. Davos is commanded to take her into Renlys camp under cover of darkness across the sea under cover of darkness. He takes her as far as he can before in bars block their way. Melisandre takes over from there. Opening her cloak she reveals that her belly is swollen with child. Davos is startled by this, but not as startled as when he sees her lie down and a curling black shadow creature id borne from between her legs. This is the secret weapong with which Stannis hopes to win his war…..