Game of Thrones S3E8: Will you take this man?

It's a war for the seven kingdoms! It's a soap opera with romantic weddings and blood sacrifices!!

It's the latest episode of Game of Thrones, and it's time to recap and discuss!

When we last left Arya Stark, she'd gotten fed up with the fire-worshipping Brotherhood Without Banners and their gold-hungry ways and run straight into the arms of Sandor "The Hound" Clegane, who killed her friend Mycah in a more innocent time.

The Hound is a great character: He never pretends to be a good person, but in his blunt honesty about all his deeds, you can see he's maybe not such a bad one. As he reminds Arya, he saved her sister Sansa from certain rape and likely death in the slums of King's Landing. It's a crude, candid kind of bargaining that puts Arya off her notion to try to kill him, and that same bleak pragmatism looks like it'll even lead him to bring her to the Twins to reunite with her family, just in time for her uncle Edmure's wedding to Roslin Frey.

Clegane knew about the upcoming wedding and suggests the Brothers ought to have told Arya — important note that occupied with other things and keeping to themselves, they probably just hadn't heard the latest, versus making an omission more convenient to their ends. In the massive world of Westeros information travels slowly and often unreliably, by raven or word of mouth, and by the time news reaches one's ear, the information may have changed.

That's actually a powerful plot device especially when it comes to the narrative of the Stark family, scattered to the winds, never quite sure if a brother or sister's last known location is accurate (Arya's family thinks she's still being held at King's Landing, for example, as the Lannisters have ensured the truth hasn't spread).

Arya sat side-saddle, clinging to the Hound, is a brilliant bit of scene framing. We usually see the camera close to her pensive face, or see her at an angle of some parity with the adults of her world. In this shot, she looks so tiny we can't help but remember she is a little girl, one who probably badly misses her family and wants her mom after all this time.

The slave city of Yunkai has hired a mercenary-for-hire army called The Second Sons to bolster its defense against Daenerys, her dragons and her thousands of Unsullied. In Qarth, she needed money, and in Astapor she needed armies, but this agenda against Yunkai is about her own savior complex and her well-intentioned, if ambitiously-simplistic, refusal to tolerate slavery. It doesn't seem likely that her upcoming fight against Yunkai's defenses is going to bear certain fruit for her war effort in Westeros, and in fact it might even be a costly distraction.

Again now the TV series does some tidy streamlining of the books — handsome Daario Naharis, the mellower foil to the Second Sons' grotesque and lecherous captain Mero, canonically originates from a different mercenary group, the Stormcrows. In the novels once Daenerys reaches Yunkai a number of military factions begin parlaying for or against her loyalty — it's so confusing I can hardly remember it myself — but making lusty aesthete Daario one of the Second Sons makes her acquisition of a mercenary group easier to follow.

It also makes her flicker of evident desire for the young warrior a little more plausible (the book gives him a multi-pronged, blue-dyed beard?!). Apparently rather than assassinate Daenerys as Mero would have liked, Daario Naharis would rather behead both his comrades and serve Dany strictly because of her beauty. Do you trust him?

Of course, Emilia Clarke is a startlingly beautiful human being. As she slowly rose from the bathwater and crossed the room to confront her suitor I might have made aloud some kind of awestruck exclamation including the word "perfect," to which my guy friends watching with me politely demurred "nahhh," presumably for my benefit.

Meanwhile at Dragonstone, Melisandre has arrived with Gendry, friend of Arya Stark and bastard of Robert Baratheon, whose king's blood she needs for her Red God ritual. With all her talk of knives and lamb slaughter, we presume she will be wining and dining the boy to his death. And we join Davos Seaworth, one of the series most lovable characters overall, as he diligently continues teaching himself to read with the Targaryen history book given to him by Stannis' daughter Shireen.

Davos is called the Onion Knight because he was once a lowborn smuggler, but snuck onions and produce to Stannis and his armies during the siege of Storm's End amid Robert's Rebellion, without which none of them would have survived against the Redwynes.That act earned Davos his knighthood — but it tells you a lot about Stannis that he nonetheless removed three of Davos' fingers in punishment for his past as a smuggler.

Still, for always telling Stannis the truth, Davos is his most loyal advisor. Stannis ostensibly comes to visit him in the dungeon to offer him his freedom in exchange for his acceptance of Melisandre and her sorcery — but he has to know that's not a bargain Davos would take, when there is an innocent boy's life at stake. Even at the risk of his own ongoing imprisonment he counsels Stannis to be more true to his nature ("you're not a man who slaughters innocents for gain or glory,") and less so to the spectre of R'hllor.

Yet there's evidence of Melisandre's power, from the shadow assassin she birthed to kill Renly to Stannis beginning to see his own visions in her fires. When we see the Red Priestess is thus far only leeching Gendry's blood, not killing him, Davos once again looks unjustly mistrustful of her in his King's eyes. When Stannis curses one of his "false king" enemies for each fat leech — Robb Stark, Balon Greyjoy and Joffrey Baratheon — is he dooming them to divine redemption? Is this the will of a higher power, some black magic, or the manipulations of a mad sorceress?

This episode gives us an incredibly bleak and gutting wedding, as Tyrion has to wed Sansa amid the open loathing she isn't crafty enough to hide. He feels mocked, being made to marry a beautiful, miserable young thing while the woman he really loves maintains a ruse of handmaidenship in the background. We also get a wonderfully harsh little bit of Cersei Lannister, who lets Margaery Tyrell know she isn't buying the manipulative, sweet sister act and has nothing to gain from playing along.

Cersei is, against all odds, one of my favorite characters in the entire canon. She's not so great at playing the game, but she never loses her nerve in the face of impossible odds — she's got a nightmare son, is a brood mare for her father's power plays, gets none of the regard of her famous twin brother and has even less value in her father's eyes than the younger brother he hates.

One can almost admire her unguarded nastiness. If she hadn't been so paranoid about her imagined rivalry with sweet-natured, bare-armed Lady Margaery, the Lannisters would have lost Sansa, and a crucial brick in their power struggle, to the Tyrells. Cersei's instincts are what began peeling back the layers of the obsequious Tyrell plan to usurp and undermine her family. Not that she'll be given the latitude to do anything about it, nor the credit for unveiling the problem.

When Margaery grasps Cersei's arm to ooze about being sisters, the Queen Regent lets her son's fiancee know, coolly, that the Tyrells are not fooling anyone. She explains the Rains of Castamere song to Margaery (sorry to have illustrated it for you a bit prematurely in last week's recap), the warning tune abut what must befall any family that tries to rival the Lannisters. And tells her in no uncertain terms that she has no interest in playing along with that fakey sister crap.

Cersei isn't graceful in general, simply brutal. But personally I can appreciate that rather more than Margaery's constantly-insincere, apple-cheeked opportunism. Machinations are going to go on at court either way, so it takes a certain bravery to be simply honest with your enemies, a certain toughness to refuse to play along.

Sansa is given away on her wedding day by the cruel little monster who had her father beheaded. No wonder this procession resembles a funeral. Joff thinks it's funny to torment his uncle by yanking away the stepstool provided to keep him level with his tall young bride, so that when Sansa has to be cloaked by her groom in the colors of her new family, the entire court assembly chuckles when Tyrion can't reach her.

Well. They chuckle until Tywin silences them with a stony look. And then Joff goes on laughing, a subtle bit of symbolism that even his powerful granddad can't get a rein on him. It's hard to read whether it simply does not occur to Sansa to kneel, or whether this is a subtle refusal on her part, the tiniest bit of claimed agency — what do you think?

Either way, it's cruel to Tyrion; her youth and beauty are cruel to him, as is the flinch-making "what if I never want you to" response she makes when he gently declines to make her consummate the marriage later in the episode. I feel for Tyrion, but one can't exactly blame Sansa for having run out of sympathy for the Lannisters, either — even her marriage doesn't look likely to free her from Joffrey's abuse, and Cersei's "suggestion" that her son pick on Margaery instead is easily rebuffed.

Poor Loras Tyrell, who will have to marry prickly Cersei now when neither of them want it whatsoever, is having a miserable time. He's also been made into something of a caricature, his homosexuality a sort of joke (note him eagerly chatting up a man to comedic effect as Margaery and Cersei stroll past). This portrayal of a flowery, lusty lad-lover is not exactly canonical with the quiet if lovely warrior who pined for the loss of Renly and probably would have never slept with Littlefinger's mole a few episodes back.

Joff has been particularly odious today, so when drunk Tyrion, pushed to his limit, threatens his nephew and sucks the last pretense of merriment out of the wedding day, it's a thrilling little moment. And no matter how drunk Tyrion has gotten, he can't bring himself to go to bed with a trembling 14 year-old girl who's near tears at the prospect.

This, of course, is much to Shae's delight when she checks the bedsheets in the morning. I still wonder why if she loves Tyrion so much, why she doesn't trust him or compromise with him, or leave King's Landing if these are circumstances she can't abide, but the look on her face upon stripping the unsullied marriage bed was very sweet.

Finally, Sam Tarly gets his chance to be a hero to Gilly and her baby, and we learn that "dragonglass" has some mysterious power against the White Walkers, news that's sure to be of use to the Night's Watch and the Wildlings alike. This scene is placed a little differently than in the books — Sam's act of heroism actually occurs earlier in the story, and in order to save his Black Brothers, not Gilly, but since the relationship with Gilly is of primary importance to Sam, this was an acceptable (and appropriately-dramatic) edit.

This was a subtler, less action-packed episode than maybe we're used to, but then, there are only two episodes left in the season now, so expect this is some kind of calm before a storm.

Who did you feel sorrier for, Sansa or Tyrion? Would you declare for Lannister or Tyrell? What do you make of Daario Naharis?