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After two entertaining episodes that arguably didn't quite reach their potential, Game of Thrones delivered with "What Is Dead May Never Die." For the first time this season, the show really used the profusion of characters to its advantage.
In my two previous reviews, I quickly noted how transitions between the many storylines were not always what they could have been. The truth is that such technical missteps are more likely to draw our attention when the episode is not grabbing enough. In "What Is Dead May Never Die," whether we dreamed with Bran Stark, enjoyed the intrigues and petty drama at King's Landing or witnessed the real homecoming of Theon Greyjoy, we were too busy absorbing it all to question how we got there.
Moving ahead with the steady drip of new characters, the episode introduces Margaery Tyrell, the new bride of "King" Renly Baratheon, Lord of Storm's End. We first see her during a tournament where she is enthusiastically encouraging her brother Ser Loras Tyrell, "Lord of Flowers," and Renly's lover. The scenes at Storm's End briefly present Lady Catelyn Stark sent by her son, Robb Stark, "King" in the North, to win Renly's support. However, they never go beyond initial civilities laden with both camps' attempts to advance their superiority or the nobility of their actions and claims. Instead, we are dazzled (and maybe her new husband with us) by a young new "queen" with a disarming realism—she has no illusions on her husband's relationship with her brother—and a mind quicker than Renly's to grasp the importance of fathering a son. That son being the one who would reinforce the alliance between the claimant king and her family, House Tyrell, but also secure her own position at the new court.
Meanwhile at King's Landing, two very different chains of events lead to equally different conclusions, though both connected in some ways to Tyrion Lannister, the acting hand of the king. Determined to identify a possible spy in the small council, Tyrion shares with each of its members his intention to offer the hand of Queen Cersei's daughter in marriage to a powerful lord (or heir to a lord), asking them explicitly not to mention it to his sister. Having picked a different lord for each member of the council, he is led to Maester Pycelle when Cersei storms in, complaining about her daughter being sent to Dorne in the South. Even if we could argue that the stratagem only helped identify the quickest one to betray, it led to the dramatic arrest and to the delightful riddle from "Lord" Varys ending with the no less dramatic, "Power resides where men believe it resides. It's a trick, a shadow on the wall. And, a very small man can cast a very large shadow."
In spite of the plot's enjoyable conversations and dramatic ending, of the two main storylines at King's Landing, a personal favorite is what happened with Sansa Stark and Tyrion's consort, Shae. The foreign companion of the mischievous Lannister was understandably bored in her gilded tower and wanted to spread her wings, causing Tyrion to literally bang his head on a wall, looking for a solution. For her part, the eldest Stark daughter has been essentially held captive in the capital since her father’s beheading in season one, and has been routinely humiliated by King Joffrey and his mother. In this episode, after a particularly trying dinner with Cersei, Sansa is attempting to recover in her room when Shae, her new handmaiden, introduces herself and, through her obvious inexperience, offers the only spoiled Stark the opportunity to unload her frustration on someone else. The scene is remarkable for its content, but even more for its potential for the story and the two characters. Sansa's dreams of happiness as Queen of Westeros are all but shattered and the lonely young girl, who is not yet quite a woman, could benefit from her exposure to a seasoned "traveler" like Shae, a beautiful woman who seems to have much more to her than meets the eye.
Although Theon Greyjoy got to his family residence on the Iron Islands in the previous episode, he truly only arrived home in "What Is Dead May Never Die." Torn between his "brothers" from the North and the call of what he considers his birthright, Theon, who for a fleeting second gave the impression he would say "Winter Is Coming" (House Stark's words) instead of House Greyjoy's "We Do Not Sow" when asked his family's words, ultimately burned what was undoubtedly a warning to Robb Stark. Through his surviving family and his own desperate cry to his father ("You gave me away like I was some dog you didn't want anymore, and now you curse me because I've come home?"), the show skillfully led us along the way, making his burning of the warning and his subsequent submission to the Drowned God the strongest emotional moments of the episode. It is only fitting that the title of the episode, "What Is Dead May Never Die," was uttered by a defiant Theon in the latter scene ritual after staring at his father and sister. Just like it has done and is still doing with Daenerys Targaryen, Game of Thrones is gradually driving another character to its full potential.
"What Is Dead May Never Die" wasn't without fault, but with its struggling Theon Greyjoy, its remarkable array of strong women and its continuous drip of mysteries in the North, it reached a level that will be hard to match. On the subject of women, it should be stressed that for a show criticized for its portrayal of the ladies, this episode delivered a vibrant rebuttal to the argument. From the muscular Brienne of Tarth, to the seductive Shae, the conniving queens and even the young, sensitive-but-courageous Arya Stark, women seem to be wielding every facet of power and they are the reason why this episode flowed so well.