It always takes a couple of episodes for a new season of Game of Thrones to get going, but once it has built up momentum the fantasy juggernaut soon turns into utterly unmissable television. And Now His Watch Has Ended was an extraordinarily action-packed episode that delivered many great scenes and pushed the story forward in an exciting and adventurous direction.
From Jaime's grief at losing his swordhand, Cersei's scorn at being ignored as a woman and Clegane's refusal to be held account for his brother's atrocities, the figures of Westeros all battled against how they are perceived. In Varys and Daenerys, two figures on a quest for power, we also saw revenge as a dish that can be served both cold and very, very hot.
Jaime is now subdued after having his hand hacked off in last week's episode. Tauntingly hung round his neck, the once cavalier Kingslayer seems to have had the spirit sucked out of him. He desperately tries to escape by stealing a sword, but his left hand clearly can't use a weapon and he is quickly beaten down to the ground. For a man that has only ever been known as a warrior, he finds himself in an identity crisis. As he exclaims to Brienne, "I was that hand".
Brienne refuses to accept his capitulation, haranguing him for giving up the fight. Lying sullenly by the camp and refusing to eat, she says, "You sound like a bloody woman". There's now a mutual bond between the lady of Tarth trying to be a soldier and the Kingsguard warrior whose had his fighting prowess taken from him.
We are meant to dislike Jaime, the man who killed the old king, pushed Bran out of a window and has sex with his sister. And yet, his words saved Brienne's life. Jaime might think that his image is in his lost swordhand, but there is more to him that lies underneath.
But to his father Tywin he is still seen as the Lannister heir to Casterly Rock, unlike his twin sister Cersei. Desperate to throw off the shackles that being a woman places on you in this world, she confides with Olenna Tyrell of the ridiculous arrangement that the world belongs to their sons.
First we saw Tyrion rebuffed by his father for being born a dwarf, now it is Cersei's turn for being born a woman. She demands some involvement in the affairs of King's Landing, only for Tywin to coldly respond, "I don't distrust you because you're a woman, I distrust you because you're not as smart as you think you are".
She's smart enough to recognise Margaery Tyrell as a threat. The Queen-to-be seems to have Joffrey well and truly in her pocket, eschewing his view in the Sept that, "Sometimes severity is the price we pay for greatness".
Knowing the importance of how you are perceived, she tells Joffrey that the two should go out and greet the people of the city, saying, "If you give them your love they will return it a thousand-fold". From the monstrous boy king who caused riots in Flea Bottom, under Margaery's spell Joffrey could remarkably be turned into a ruler the people love.
Arya has always battled against how she is perceived as a girl, and is seen by the Brotherhood without Banners as the young Stark lady that could easily be ransomed. She's brave enough to speak out against Sandor Clegane and accuse him of murdering Mycah the butcher's boy.
With these charges of mass murder by leader of the group Beric Dondarrion, the Hound dismisses his actions as only part of the King's orders and the rest as the work of his older brother the Mountain. Tied by blood to his bestial brother, those from House Clegane are only seen as the dogs that do the dirty work for the rulers of the realm. Sandor will now have to prove his innocence in a trial by combat against one-eyed Beric.
The Night's Watch have already descended into violence as rock-bottom morale and Craster's lack of hospitality finally erupts into mutiny. Disgusted by the actions of the wildlings in the woods, the group decide they have had enough of being left to poor provisions and rebel.
It is an intensely gripping scene, and one that reaches a shockingly bloody conclusion as not just Craster but Jeor Mormont find themselves stabbed to death. Sam manages to run off with Gilly and her baby boy into the winter woods. Can Sam, the man derided for being a fat coward, go on and prove himself a hero?
Playing the game
We've already seen a lot of Littlefinger this season, so it was great this episode to catch up with the other arch-manipulator Varys. Continuing his discussion with Tyrion before the battle broke out, he explains how he was made a eunuch by a sorcerer in Myr.
Revealing that he has the sorcerer locked inside a crate might be contrived, but it also adds another deadly dimension to the Spider. Here is a man who is already plotting with Olenna Tyrell how to use Sansa, biding his time against Littlefinger, and aware that revenge is a dish best served cold.
Poor Theon Greyjoy. That deceptive cleaning boy escorts the former Stark ward through the woods to be reunited with his sister, only to take him back to the cell he was released from. All this after Theon tearfully admitted that betraying the Starks and taking Winterfell was a massive mistake. As for the cleaning boy, who is he, and what twisted game is he playing?
From loitering in Qarth, complaining about her lack of ships and then having to recover her stolen dragons, Daenerys storyline was easily the least engrossing in season two. This has immediately been remedied this year in what was one of the most satisfying scenes in the show to date.
After having various characters complain about how they are perceived, the last Targaryen triumphantly came into her own in a dazzlingly ruthless display against the slave lords of Astapor. Revealing Valyrian to be her mother tongue, Kraznys gets more than he bargained for when incinerated by Drogo the dragon.
Even better was the moment afterwards when the free Unsullied stay with the Khaleesi, stamping their spears in adulation of their seraphic leader. In season one she got the dragons. In season two she got the ships. We're only four episodes in and she's now got a colossal army at her disposal. For Daenerys, her unstoppable march towards the Seven Kingdoms continues.