In "Second Sons," episode eight of "Game of Thrones," we see a wedding, a bedding (but not one with the bride and groom), and a beheading (or two). Standard fare for the series, really. The latest episode is setting up pieces for another big climax in the last two episodes of the third season.

We open with Arya creeping up on the sleeping Hound with a big rock. Before she can smash his head in, the Hound wakes and says she can try and kill him, but if she fails he’ll break both her hands. She elects to put the rock down. As bad as the Hound is, he says there are worse men out there – his brother, the Mountain, for example. Surprisingly, the Hound reveals that he’s taking Arya not back to King’s Landing but to her mother and brother at the Twins, hopefully in time for her uncle’s wedding.

Daenerys and her men discover the “powerful friends” that the Yunkish slavers' emissary warned about. Yunkai has hired the Second Sons, a fearsome group of mercenaries led by a man called the Titan’s Bastard. She meets with three of the officers of the Second Sons, to try and persuade them to come over to her side. The Titan’s Bastard scoffs at her, saying Daenerys can’t take the city, as she has no siege weapons.

“A fortnight ago I had no army; a year ago I had no dragons,” Daenerys points out.

Melisandre returns to Stannis with Gendry in tow, and orders that the boy be made comfortable. Stannis wonders why she doesn’t just spill Gendry’s blood and work her magic, but Melisandre says that if you’re slaughtering a lamb, you don’t want to show it the blade; fear will spoil the meat. (This is actually kind of true! Pigs that experience severe stress right before they’re killed yield a pale, acidic pork that has poor flavor, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization. Of course, in our world this has more to do with lactic acid in the muscles than with the blood of kings flowing through veins.)

Stannis goes to the dungeons and visits Davos, who’s using his new reading skills to work his way through something that looks like “A Children’s Treasury Of Targaryen Conquests.” Davos begs him not to kill Gendry. Stannis wonders what the life of one bastard child is worth, weighed against the lives of all those that might die in a war for the throne.

The captains of the Second Sons meet, and the Titan’s Bastard has decided the easiest thing to do will be to send someone to assassinate Daenerys (don’t they know that warlocks and winesellers have already tried that?) The task falls to the youngest, handsomest officer of the three, Daario Naharis, but it seems like he wants Daenerys for a different reason.

Time for wedding bells in King’s Landing! Margaery tries to work her charm on her soon-to-be mother in law, but Cersei reminds Margaery about the story behind the Lannister song, “The Rains of Castamere.” It seems that years ago, a social-climbing family called the Reynes attempted to rebel against Tywin, who responded by slaughtering them all: men, women and children.

As if Sansa wasn’t unhappy enough about her wedding day, King Joffrey shows up to giver her away in her late father’s place. Joffrey walks her down the aisle, and also humiliates Tyrion by snatching away the footstool that he needed for part of the ceremony.

At the reception, Tyrion just gets miserably drunk, and Sansa steals away. Tywin reminds his son that he needs to father a Lannister baby with his new bride quickly, to seal the family’s claim to the North. Joffrey catches hold of Sansa and leers at her, telling her that it might not matter which Lannister puts a baby inside of her. The king tries to start the ritual of the bedding – basically, the wedding guests help the bride and groom up to the bedchamber and out of their clothes – but Tyrion slams his knife down on the table and threatens his nephew with castration. Joffrey’s quite furious, but Tywin says that Tyrion is just drunk, which is self-evident.

In their bedchamber, Tyrion’s desire and shame are plainly readable as Sansa unhappily prepares for their marriage to be consummated. Tyrion stops her, and says he won’t obey his father on this – he won’t touch her until she wants him to. (“And what if I never want you to, my lord?” Sansa asks. Tyrion pours himself another cup of wine, and toasts sardonically to celibacy: “And now my Watch begins.”)

The wine is also flowing at Dragonstone, where Melisandre is delivering another food-related metaphor for magic. Gendry likes the wine, but doesn’t know where it comes from; likewise, a blood is powerful or it is not, no matter the origin. At first it seems like the ritual might be more pleasant than Gendry imagined, but mid-coitus, Melisandre binds him to the bed and attaches leeches to his chest, stomach and nethers (Season three is really shaping up to be the Painful Genital Mutilation Season).

Stannis and the newly freed Davos enter, and Melisandre removes the engorged leeches to perform a demonstration.  Stannis casts the three leeches into a fire and ominously names the three usurpers of his throne: Joffrey Baratheon, Balon Greyjoy and Robb Stark.

Daario, disguised as an Unsullied warrior, steals into Daenerys’ tent and delivers a surprise: the heads of the other two sellsword officers. He pledges Daenerys his sword and his heart, but more importantly, the two thousand (well, 1,998, now) swords of the Seconds Sons.

Out in the wilderness, Gilly and Sam take refuge in a little shack. While they’re starting a fire and discussing names for Gilly’s baby, the croaking of ravens becomes louder and louder, until Sam emerges to find a White Walker approaching them. The Walker shatters Sam’s sword without breaking a sweat, and advances on Gilly – until Sam stabs the creature in the back with one of the obsidian daggers he found on the Fist of the First Men. The creature shatters, and the pair flees. Sam finally found his courage.