Before any board game, you have to set up the pieces. Maybe you’re arranging army tokens all over a Risk board or distributing resources all over a Settlers of Catan map, but inherent in that setup phase is suspense and conjecture. You’re trying to guess, from the setup, what the players are going to do and where the pieces are going to move. You’re looking for points of potential conflict and areas of difficulty. Maybe in this game of Risk everyone will be fighting over Africa. Perhaps in this go of Catan the players will all be squabbling over sheep. You don’t know yet- but you’re squinting at the board and trying to make a guess.

That was last night’s episode of Game of Thrones- chessmen were lined up, points of conflict were defined, and all the players were staring at the board, wondering where this was all going to go. It wasn’t exactly filled with blood and battles, but as setups go, it did the job.

Spoilers after the jump.

Dinklage didn't chop off his nose for the role. Slacker.
  • Dinklage didn't chop off his nose for the role. Slacker.

Tiny Winterfell is now tiny on fire. Game of Thrones has, bar none, the single best title sequence of any television show that has ever been made, ever, and that's mainly because it's dynamic. The tiny castles change from episode to episode and give the viewer something of a preview of where shit is going to go down for the next hour. Winterfell, one of the only castles to appear in every title sequence, has been one of the more static fixtures of the credits, but that changed last night. The Stark stronghold, a smoking ruin in the show, is now a smoking ruin in the title sequence as well.

GIANT! At the end of last season Night's Watchman/boring person Jon Snow went into deep cover to infiltrate the wildlings, a group of lawless snow hippies who frequently pillage civilization. (They are led, by the way, by a guy called Mance Rayder, presumably named for his love of raiding manses.) During his time at Snowy Burning Man, Snow happened upon a giant who had joined up with the wildlings. The giant wasn't presented with a lot of fanfare or whatnot, and it continued Game of Thrones' habit of presenting fantasy elements in a matter-of-fact way. Suddenly there's a giant. Not a huge deal. Just a giant. Hanging out. Driving posts into the ground. That was cool. On the other hand, though, did anyone else think that his eyebrow makeup looked just a little too Star Trek-y?

DRAGONS DRAGONS DRAGONS DRAGONS! And, on the complete opposite of the spectrum we've got Daenerys' dragons. These little guys are accompanied by swooping camerawork, music, aerial acrobatics, splashing oceanic vistas, and bright orange sails. You can tell that the show creators want us to go "HOLY SHIT DRAGONS!" every time we see the dragons. As an unapologetic Daenerys fanboy, I'm fine with this, even if things do get kind of Pern-y now and then.

Meanwhile, where sex is happening... There was no reason for our first shot of the events in King's Landing to be Bronn-based sexytimes. None. Last night's boobage was wholly and completely gratuitous, but whatever. Bronn continues to be a great source of comic relief, and his rapport with Tyrion remains the best dialogue in the show. Tyrion, for his part, has gotten screwed in all the bad ways. He saved the Lannister regime, and gets nothing for it but scars and contempt.

I was curious about how they were going to handle Tyrion's scars from the Battle of Blackwater. In the book, most of his face is fucked up and his nose is gone. Here, the've given him more of a sexy scar that isn't all that grotesque at all. They even lampshaded this when Cersei said “they said you lost your nose, but it’s not as gruesome as all that.” In any case, the adaptation works. Even though Dinklage still has his whole nose, the tone of the book has been preserved. The other Lannisters, particular his father, Tywin, have nothing but condemnation and resentment for him after he saved all of their asses. Talk about daddy issues. I'm sure the Lannisters will resolve their family problems peacefully, though.

I love Salladhor Saan now. Speaking of adaptation: There really isn't anything to book Salladhor. He's some guy with ships who shows up and fights for Stannis because, hey, he's a pirate and wants the cash. That's it. TV Salladhor is great, though. He seemed at ease with himself, funny, and piratical as fuck. I want to see a show where he's the main character, raiding ports, sinking ships, and getting sweet-ass animal skins for his captain's cabin. Davos, meanwhile, talked back to Melissandre and got thrown into a dungeon. How's that for gratitude? At least Tyrion wasn't locked up.

Margaery VS Cersei: FIGHT! I'm looking forward to this. If last night's episode is any indication, we have a whole lot of subtle insults, slights, and catty asides to look forward to. The game, after all, isn't just played on the battlefield.

Barristan! I love Barristan Selmy. He's like your crusty old uncle who tells you about 'Nam and actually takes Flag Day seriously but isn't a dick about it. Instead, it comes off as charming and principled. He joined up with Daenerys last night, saving her from a kiddie assassin. Oh, Barristan. Please don't die horribly.

All the pieces are in place. Tyrion and the rest of the Lannisters. Davos and Melissandre. Margaery and Cersei. Daenerys and whoever tried to kill her. Conflicts are imminent. The players are ready. Let's do this.