“Dark Wings, Dark Words” might deliver a bunch of bad news to the players in “Game of Thrones,” but for fans the outlook is sunny. The wise masters who run HBO have looked deep into the Nielsen fires, read the signs (4.4 million viewers for the season premiere last week, as reported by Variety), and issued a completely unsurprising proclamation: We will be getting a fourth season! Which is good, because ending the show halfway through the third book would likely result in a horde of angry nerds attacking the cable-television station’s offices. It is known.
The actual dark wings bearing dark words belong to ravens that are sent to Robb Stark at Harrenhal. One message, from the stronghold of Riverrun, tells Robb his grandfather (Catelyn’s dad) Hoster Tully is dead. Another bears news from Winterfell, where Robb’s bannerman Roose Bolton has sent his bastard son. The whole place has been burnt (as has the tiny Winterfell replica in the opening credits), presumably by Theon’s men, and Rickon and Bran are nowhere to be found.
The younger brothers Stark are doing fine, but Bran has stopped dreaming that he’s a wolf and started dreaming of three-eyed crows and the little boy from “Love, Actually” (he’s 22 now, actually, according to IMDB). The mysterious boy then appears to Bran in real life, along with a knife-wielding sister. The kids, Jojen and Meera Reed, belong to a clan called the crannogmen, who live in swamps and are sworn to the Starks. Jojen and Meera’s father, Howland Reed, saved the late Ned Stark during Robert’s Rebellion.
Jojen, like the wildling Osha, is keenly interested in Bran’s dreams where he sees through his wolf’s eyes. This, Jojen says, means he’s a warg -- someone who can enter the mind of animals. But Bran may also have some additional powers to unlock, as the three-eyed raven is associated with “the sight”: seeing things in the past, future, and current events happening far away. Nitpicky book readers may howl that the bird Bran sees is supposed to be a three-eyed crow: Alas, it appears there was some corvid confusion on set.
Beyond the Wall, Sam’s feeling guilty, and nearly collapses on the Night’s Watch survivor march home. But he gets up and soldiers on again after Lord Commander Mormont gives probably the best pep talk ever: “Tarly, I forbid you to die.”
Jon Snow, now sporting the snow-camo cloak of the wildlings, is getting a lecture on leadership from Mance Rayder. Rayder has to corral dozens of separate wildling tribes and clans (not to mention giants) who speak seven separate tongues, all with long-standing grudges (for whatever reason, “everyone hates the cave people” is among the most hysterical lines uttered in “Game of Thrones.”) How did Mance even get everyone to march in the first place? By telling them all they were going to die, apparently. Jon also meets a bona fide warg named Orell, who’s scouting for the wildlings with his mind-linked eagle. Orell’s apparently spotted the carnage over at the Fist of the First Men.
Somewhere in the woods, the newly escaped trio of Arya Stark, Gendry and Hot Pie hear a man singing. They plot to rob him, but the singer turns out to be Thoros of Myr, a member of the Brotherhood Without Banners, the “outlaws” that the Lannisters’ men have been scouring the countryside for. (Ned Stark, if you can remember back to the first season, initially sent those men out under the command of a young lord named Beric Dondarrion.) Thoros takes the kids over to an inn and feeds them. They're about to leave when the Brotherhood brings in a new prisoner: Sandor Clegane, the Hound, who we last saw deserting the Kingsguard and Joffrey during the Battle of the Blackwater. The Hound recognizes Arya and reveals her identity.
In King’s Landing, Cersei is trying to stave off Margaery’s appeal to Joffrey by reminding him that she was once married to his enemy, and makes some catty comments about her dress. Joffrey seems to be already on Team Margaery though, and waves off the previous marriage by saying she was only doing what she was told -- as women should, he says pointedly to Cersei.
Sansa meets with Margaery Tyrell and your new favorite character, Margaery’s grandmother Olenna, who may be Tyrion Lannister’s chief rival in the Game of One-Liners (“Once the cow’s been milked, there’s no squirting the cream back up her udder, so here we are to see things through.”) The Tyrells want to take the measure of Joffrey, and after some hesitation, Sansa tells the truth: Joffrey’s a monster. The Tyrells are dismayed, but the wedding is still on.
Armed with that knowledge, Margaery approaches Joffrey and plays it sweet. Then there’s a lot of suggestive crossbow-handling and wonderfully creepy murder talk. Remember that Margaery was willing to embrace incestuous threesomes to be Renly’s queen -- a little sociopathic fantasy play is no big deal in comparison.
Shae and Tyrion have a little domestic spat. What starts as Shae warning Tyrion to watch out for Littlefinger around Sansa devolves into a fight over whether he himself wants to get with Sansa. (“Her face is quite pleasing ... to other men!” Not the best save, Tyrion.)
Robb makes his way to Riverrun to lay his grandfather to rest, but there’s still dissension in the ranks. Lord Karstark grumbles to Robb that the Young Wolf lost the war the day he married Talisa. Catelyn and Talisa have a pretty heavy talk where Catelyn wonders if her family’s cursed because she could never bring herself to love Jon Snow as a son.
Theon turns up alive and captured by persons unknown. He gets tortured in a way that will make you think lightly about using the word “screwed” in jest, but there’s a glimmer of hope -- a young man secretly approaches him and says he’s been sent by Theon’s sister Yara.
Somewhere in the Riverlands, Brienne of Tarth has Jaime Lannister on a leash, but she probably wishes she had a gag. The Kingslayer needles her about her unrequited love for Renly and is generally displaying the trademark Lannister mouth. A peasant spots them, and Jaime urges Brienne to kill him in case he recognizes the Kingslayer, but she refuses.
Later, on a bridge crossing, Jaime manages to steal one of Brienne’s swords. They clash, and the lady knight seems to have the upper hand -- but then the peasant returns, leading a troop of mounted horsemen, points them out, and they’re taken prisoner.
And that’s it for this installment of “Game of Thrones”! Next week’s episode is called “Walk of Punishment.”
For those who are fond of speculation and theories, there’s a fan-made video going around that makes a convincing case for a certain Lannister plot.
Warning: Some implied spoilers for the end of this season! And the comments under the YouTube video are a bit of a minefield too. Those who have not read the book should proceed with caution.