Last night's Game of Thrones episode was another hour of setup. There wasn't much in the way big, important events—it was a lot of anticipation for next week. Stannis' fleet is on the way to King's Landing, and this was the calm before the storm. Things are going to go boom, but first all the pieces need to be set up.

Spoilers, after the jump.

Rattleshirt looks like what would happen if Darth Vader mated with the Corpse Bride at a GWAR show.
  • Rattleshirt looks like what would happen if Darth Vader mated with the Corpse Bride at a GWAR show.

Oh, there you are, Halfhand! So we are doing that. Good.

Dammit, Catelyn. Mamma Stark let Jaime go, with the hopes that the Lannisters would give back Arya and Sansa. I've never understood why she did this in the books, and it was even more awkward last night. In the previous episode Catelyn called Jaime a "man without honor." Now she expects him and his to play by the rules and giver her daughters back. I'm sorry, it just doesn't work.

“You were a terrible baby.” HBO has so far done a very good job of expanding the role of Theon’s sister, and as much as I like their take on her, it still kind of hurts to think of her as “Yara.” Anyone who’s read the appendices of the various books knows that the series has just under a bajillion characters, and so far I've been very pleased with which characters have gotten screen time and which haven't. Asha/Yara is fun and interesting, and I welcome her additional prominence. If we never see the Tullys, I'm okay with that.

Humor! I’ve said before that A Song of Ice and Fire is many good things, but it is not especially funny. This episode, though, actually had several laugh lines. Even more remarkable, several of them were not spoken by Tyrion. My viewing party laughed audibly when Bronn went on about how cloaks are impractical, when multiple characters mispronounced a maester's name, and when Stannis expressed his approval of eating cats. Given that next week will likely be lots of bloody explosions, the levity was nice.

Robb and Talisa are now Special Naked Sexy Friends. Earlier in the episode Robb conveniently reminded Talisa (whom I still think of as “Not Jeyne”) that he’s betrothed to a Frey. In an unrelated scene, Cersei went on about how men think with their dicks. Soon after, Robb went and proved Cersei right, forsaking the marital commitments he made in the name of strategy and geopolitics all so he could do the no-pants-dance with the nice lady from Volantis.

I don’t miss Jeyne Westerling. In the books, she’s an utterly blank character who just kind of shows up out of nowhere, and Talisa is a pretty solid upgrade. It was also kind of a relief to see a sex scene in Game of Thrones that didn’t involve prostitution, rape, or Theon Greyjoy. Seeing two people having sex because they actually like each other is a rare thing for the series.

Dammit, Tywin. Lord Tywin has done all sorts of terrible things. He’s overseen a war that’s ravaged the countryside of Westeros and ended or upended the lives of thousands. Last night, though, he did the first thing that made me dislike him: He hurt Arya’s feelings. She seemed genuinely disappointed that he wouldn't be retaining her as a servant, and they wouldn't have any more of their little talks. Shame—I really enjoyed the interplay between Arya and Tywin.

Darth Wilding! It’s oft commented that Game of Thrones feels more like historical fiction than fantasy. The explicitly fantastic elements tend to be rare, dramatic, and dangerous, and because they’re used sparingly, magic and weirdness seem more alien and terrifying than they otherwise would. So far, the element of the show that most resembled conventional fantasy has not been the dragons, warlocks, or magic. No, the most fantasy genre thing from the show so far was Rattleshirt’s costume. Yeah, I know he looks like that in the book, and he’s supposed to be kind of bizarre and eccentric. However, a guy wearing lots of bones whose helmet is also a bone and who carries a bone staff and is known as the Lord of Bones is more at home in Frank Frazetta painting than on HBO.

Varys, stop saying “game!” We all get it. It’s like you’re almost saying the name of the show. Cut it out. It’s almost as bad as when Zeframe Cochrane said “So it’s like you guys are on some kind of star trek.” Remember that? That was awkward.

Bran and Rickon: Not dead. Even if you hadn't read the books, it was pretty obvious that Theon faked their deaths. Poor Theon. He is not good at being a Greyjoy.

My expectations are high for next week's episode, Blackwater. Stannis' fleet is on the way, and Tyrion is gearing up to meet him at King's Landing. As good as the show has been so far, it's been curiously lacking in big, showy, expensive battle sequences. Here's hoping the show is as good at blowing up boats as it is building up characters.