While the men of Westeros are once again preparing for battle, wallowing in long-lasting wounds, or just hanging on for dear life, the women are doing their own part to stave off a full-on civil war. Be it by brains or brawn, females are becoming key to the future of Westeros, playing the long game and demonstrating that all the swords in the Seven Kingdoms may be worthless without a wise political strategy.
Wisdom seems to be the weapon of choice of House Tyrell, who is quietly scheming to amass a wealth of power without spilling a single drop of blood. The torchbearer for this plan is Margaery Tyrell, who is deftly spinning a new image for her soon-to-be husband while keeping the rest of the Lannister cabal at arms length.
King Joffrey - who is growing into his role as a maniacal little despot - displays both ignorance and apathy to his mother's warnings of the Margaery's true intentions, on one hand believing that she's an intelligent woman "doing what she's told," the other hand enchanted by her subtle curiosity in Joffrey's bloodlust.
However, Margaery's political play is not a solo endeavor, as we are introduced to the matriarchal mastermind behind the Tyrells, Lady Olenna. A mix of wit, charm and grace, Olenna and Margaery pull Sansa Stark aside in order to gain some valuable intel on King Joffrey's mindset. A gravely frightened Stark gives the Tyrells just enough insight to rein in some political capital, informing them of Westeros's worst kept secret: Joffrey is a "monster."
In other areas of Westeros, we are reunited with a trio of women who are more inclined to wield their sword than curry political power. Brienne of Tarth is still stuck transporting Jaime Lannister to King's Landing. Arya Stark is on a quest to meet up with her brother, Robb, before he heads into battle. Osha, Bran Stark's wildling servant, is trying to keep the smaller Starks safe as they move to safer ground.
All three women soon find out that their weapons will only get them so far. Arya is taken in by a traveling bunch of outlaws and refugees, the Brotherhood Without Banners, who embarrass her in a swordfight before learning her true identity, with some help from the freshly captured Sandor Clegane.
After warming up to Lannister about her past, Brienne nearly slices Jaime Lannister in two as the Kingslayer tries to flee, but both are taken into custody by a group of men looking for a hefty ransom in returning Lannister to Robb Stark.
Osha is outmatched at knife point by two new characters, Jojen and Meera Reed, who prove to be much more than mischievous thieves looking for food and shelter.
While Arya, Brienne and Osha are physically overwhelmed, Catelyn Stark succumbs to an overwhelming sense of guilt. She learns of Theon Greyjoy's attack on Winterfell, and is worried that her two youngest boys may be dead. She later confides in Talisa, telling her how horrible she felt for her past inability to love Jon Snow when he was first brought into House Stark.
Mental anguish would be a welcome trade for the problems facing the men in this episode. Mance Rayder tells Jon Snow that the despite the need for survival, the separate factions of the wildling army despise one another. Samwell Tarly is given his own helping of disdain by the Night's Watch, saved from abandonment only after Commander Mormont "forbids him to die" in the white wilds of the North. Theon Greyjoy may soon welcome death, as he spends the episode being tortured in a variety of medieval ways.
As the stakes grow in Westeros, the quest for the Iron Throne is taking its toll. Those stuck without their families are finding it difficult to survive, let alone wage war, while those with strong family bonds are sowing strategic seeds that could reap massive benefits as future episodes unfold.
The core of these bonds is due in large part to the strong-willed women of Westeros, who are providing a mental or physical edge wherever its needed. As Meera Reed tells Osha, "Some people will always need help. That doesn't mean they aren't worth helping."