What. An. Episode. Last week's Blackwater was always going to take some beating, but this week Game of Thrones brought together a group of threads that have been building all season (and in some cases for two seasons) and blew our minds.
Despite having almost been beaten to within an inch of their lives during the Battle of Blackwater, this week the Lannisters are back to their usual, arrogant selves, and it's all perfectly summed up by the image of Tywin Lannister's horse going to the toilet in the hallway outside the king's throne room. Although it's Tywin's horse, the image sums up Cersei and Joffrey best - crapping over everyone and everything, and leaving someone else to clean up the mess.
There's no mention of the Lannisters' transgressions from last week - Cersei is pretending as though she didn't almost commit suicide and kill her son, Joffrey is pretending to be a great king, and nearly everyone is pretending that Tyrion doesn't exist.
Thank goodness for Varys then, and who ever thought we'd be saying that? He's well aware that although Tywin might have come to the rescue at the last minute, it's Tyrion who saved everyone. Without his intelligence and good planning, King's Landing would have been lost long before Tywin ever got there. But Joffrey is too busy making Tywin hand of the king, awarding Harrenhal to Littlefinger, and deciding to marry Margaery Tyrell to even think about Tyrion.
The latter is lying in small, dark chambers learning from Varys that Cersei gave an order to have him killed during battle. It's not because he's not useful that Tyrion is being sidelined - it's because Cersei is all too aware that Tyrion would make a better king than 10 of Joffrey. Killing him on the battlefield didn't work, so she's choosing to shove him away into a corner in the hopes that everyone will forget about him until she gets another opportunity to have him offed.
Still, it takes more than Cersei to make Tyrion run away, although he comes close when Shae visits. Although Shae seemed a bit player when she first appeared, she's actually been part of some of the most interesting scenes with Tyrion, where we see him stripped bare and showing his true emotions. We see it again here, when Tyrion, after telling Shae he won't run away because he's good at and likes plotting, breaks down because Shae tells him she'll stick by him. While his blood family ignore him, it's the family he chooses that give Tyrion the fight he needs to carry on. He may be down, but Tyrion Lannister is far from out.
Cersei doesn't realise that though, and she's busy lording it up with her son, Joffrey. She seems to have forgotten that just days earlier she was a drunk mess, about to feed poison to her youngest son and herself, and teaching Sansa life lessons. Now Cersei is lifting Joffrey to dizzy heights, and stomping on Sansa by getting Joffrey to cast her aside and marry Margaery.
And while Joffrey may think he's got the best of both worlds - Sansa to treat like a whore and Margaery to make his queen - I'm guessing he won't have it easy. Sansa and Margaery are both far too clever for the Meanest Character on Television™.
While most of the Lannisters enjoy themselves in victory, Jaime Lannister is still on the road with Brienne, and let me tell you, these two deserve their own buddy comedy (much like Bronn and Tyrion). Jaime's still taunting Brienne, who can more than hold her own. It takes Brienne killing a group of Stark men in Jaime's defence ("I don't serve the Starks, I serve Lady Catelyn) to make him realise she's someone he can respect. As these two carry on their road trip, their relationship is bound to develop and become more interesting.
As things get better for the Lannisters, they seem to get worse for the Starks.
Sansa has a moment of pure happiness and relief at not having to marry Joffrey, but it doesn't last long when Littlefinger corners her, telling her Joffrey is now free to use her to his heart's content without worrying about damaging her. Basically, Joffrey can take out his vicious fantasies on Sansa, because she's his whore, not his wife.
Littlefinger offers to help Sansa, in a really creepy way. He's been fluttering around all season, and I still can't tell what he's up to. Does he really want to help Sansa? Is he doing it to get in Catelyn's good books? Or is it something else? Only time will tell.
While Sansa is definitely not getting married, her brother Robb is - against his mother's wishes. Robb has decided he can no longer uphold his promise to marry the daughter of Walder Frey, and that he must marry the woman he loves - Talisa.
Despite not being happy with his mother for freeing Jaime, Robb still goes to Catelyn to tell her of his plans, and to get her advice, even though he doesn't take it. Instead, he and Talisa get married in a quiet ceremony. It might be romantic, but now Robb is not only going to be fighting the Lannisters, he'll also have his former allies the Freys vying for his blood.
That Robb goes to Catelyn for advice is a sign of their strong relationship, although neither is backing down at the moment - Robb is still punishing his mother for betraying his trust, and Catelyn is still acting like a lord at battle instead of a mother. Sure, she freed Jaime so she could get Arya and Sansa back, and we've seen her get emotional over Bran and Rickon, but Catelyn seems to be taking the son who is in front of her for granted, and not showing him her motherly compassion.
Arya is wandering the road, having escaped from Harrenhal with Jaqen H'gar's help. He turns up in the middle of nowhere to speak to Arya, and tell her he can teach her how to disappear, but she says she needs to get to Robb and Catelyn. Instead, Jaqen H'gar gives her a coin and tells her if she ever needs him to hand it to someone from Bravos and say the words "Valar Morghulis". And then he proceeds to completely change his looks (like Tonks from Harry Potter) and head off to who knows where.
The final Starks - Bran and Rickon - also find themselves on the road after Winterfell is burnt to the ground. In an emotional scene complete with mournful violins on the soundtrack Bran and Rickon walk through Winterfell, and see their childhood home ruined.
Maester Luwin tells them they must head for the Wall and Jon Snow's protection. Everyone knows nothing can be done to save Maester Luwin and it's up to Osha - who has been a tremendous defender of Bran and Rickon so far - to kill him at his request instead of letting him suffer.
So Stannis managed to get out of King's Landing alive, but he's not happy about it.
This episode was the first time, in my opinion, we've seen the real Stannis. He showed remorse over the fact that hundreds of his men died (although there was no personal mention of Ser Davos), and anger that it was on his orders.
And for the first time he showed some regret over Renly's death, and we heard him admit that he murdered Renly.
Still, this side of Stannis didn't last long, as we then saw him almost strangle Melisandre to death. Despite almost being choked to death, Melisandre still managed to work her creepy voodoo over Stannis, and whatever he saw in the fire that she got him to stare into, it was enough to strengthen his resolve to get his throne back.
After weeks of childish threats, Daenerys finally showed us some proper leader behaviour when she went in to the House of the Undying after her dragons.
While there she was briefly reunited with a fantasy of Drogo and their child, both of whom are dead. In a touching scene Dany and Drogo declared their love for each other, and Dany vowed: "Until the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, until the rivers run dry and the mountains blow in the wind like the leaves." And the she walks away.
It's a mark of how far Dany has come that she realises she must sacrifice what her heart desires to get her throne back. It's that strength that stays with her, and when her and her dragons are chained up, she channels something which makes them blow fire at Pyat Pree and kill him, freeing Dany and the dragons.
She heads back to Xaro Xhaon Daxos, and finds him in bed with Doreah. Opening up the vault Xaro promised her was filled with gold, she finds it empty. Still, this doesn't upset the new Dany, who takes it as a lesson learnt, and orders Xaro and Doreah put inside and locked up.
Dany and Jorah Marmont seem to bond again this week, and they end as friends, with Jorah heading off to buy ships for Dany to sail across the sea back to Westeros.
Theon Greyjoy is trapped inside Winterfell as a gang of men sent by Robb Stark surround the walls of the city and blow horns to torture Theon.
He's truly trapped, with no family rushing to his rescue. He does find a surprise ally in Maester Luwin, who tells him he should run to the Night's Watch, as no one will be able to touch him there once he takes the oath.
In the most honourable act we've seen from Theon so far, he refuses to run away, instead trying to whip his men up by giving them a pretty rousing battle speech. They let him talk, and even cheer him, only to bash him over the head and knock him out, and fatally wound Maester Luwin when he comes to Theon's rescue. It seems Theon's men have never learnt loyalty to him, and would rather go back home to the Iron Islands.
Although our last glimpse of Theon is of him being carted off with his head covered in a sackcloth, I can only guess he's being taken to see Robb, who's none too happy with him.
For one week, I've changed the order of this post round, putting Jon Snow after the Greyjoys, and that's because whatever else happened this episode, in the end it was all about beyond the Wall.
Jon was still being marched towards Mance Rayder, and Quorin Halfhand decided to sacrifice himself so Jon could infiltrate Rayder's army as a secret agent on behalf of the Night's Watch. Halfhand was going to die anyway, but watching Jon kill him hurt. But however bad we feel, we don't feel as bad as Jon, who looked like he was about to break. Still, he pulled himself together and headed down into the town to meet Rayder.
Meanwhile, Sam Tarwell and two of the other guys from the Night's Watch are out in the snow, digging for fuel when they hear Night Watchman's horn. One blast - rider returning. Two blasts - wildlings. Three blasts - White Walkers. As the third blast sounds the guys from the Night's Watch run, but clumsy Sam falls behind, and finally manages to find a rock to hide behind. It's not much cover for what appears though.
In a move that took Game of Thrones firmly into the realm of fantasy (more than the dragons) a gang of ghostly men, women and horses appear. They're dead, but not dead. Some are almost transparent, others, like the horse, have chunks ripped out of them and are dripping blood. And more importantly, there are hundreds of them, and they're heading for the Wall.
When you play the Game of Thrones...
There has been a real concentration this season about the fight for King's Landing, and the battles between the Lannisters, Starks and Baratheons, and Dany's battle to get back to Westeros. But the most important foe has only just appeared - the White Walkers.
In the opening episode of the first season of Game of Thrones, we saw the White Walkers, or at least heard about them. And we caught a brief glimpse of one when it came back from the dead on the Wall and was defeated by Jon Snow.
But the sight of hundreds of them is what Game of Thrones has been building towards for the last two seasons, and it was a shocking sight. The White Walkers also personified what Theon said in his speech at Winterfell, and the name of an earlier episode - "What is dead may never die." Well, the white walkers are dead, but they don't look like they've died to me.
However big the battles for King's Landing have seemed so far, season three is going to take the fight to a whole new level with the white walkers. I don't know if I can wait that long, so I'm off to read A Storm of Swords...