Last season, Game of Thrones' most influential eunuch, Varys, told Tyrion Lannister that "power is a curious thing." He would have been just as accurate if he replaced the word "curious" with "costly." We have seen the battle for the Iron Throne take its toll in many ways - physically, emotionally, politically - but Sunday's episode showed how money can (or cannot) be used as a weapon in Westeros.
The kingdom is thrown a curveball early in the episode when at a council meeting, Tywin Lannister appoints Tyrion as "Master of the Coin," entrusted with overseeing the kingdom's finances. This comes as a shock to everyone, including Tyrion, who understands he has always been more Jack Sparrow than Jack Lew.
Despite admitting that he is "only good at spending, not at managing" money, daddy insists, and what Twyin wants, Twyin gets. Except for information about his other son's whereabouts, which eludes the rest of the council.
However, we soon find that the "Brave Companions" have taken Jaime Lannister hostage, along with Brienne, in order to be returned to Robb Stark for a hefty ransom. Fully aware of his value, Jaime warns Brienne that their abductors may not deem her as worthy, and in order to survive, she would be wise to put up with their forthcoming abuse, no matter how brutal.
As Robb Stark waits for Jaime's return, he is holed up in Riverrun, overseeing a funeral pyre for his grandfather and stewing about past battles gone askew. Despite his victories, he understands that the cards are still stacked against him, due to the Lannister's retreat back to King's Landing. While his top strategists argue about battles won and lands seized, Robb understands all the glory in the world isn't worth its weight in gold if Tywin Lannister is still alive.
In other family strongholds, two women are begged to reconsider decisions that jeopardize the only assets they are currently in control of.
Melisandre, Stannis Baratheon's fire priestess, is leaving Dragonstone indefinitely in order to gather more of her other-worldly powers. Despite Stannis' pitiful plea for Melisandre to stay, she assures him that while "his fires burn low," she will return with copious amounts of power and strength for him to wield.
In Astapor, Danerys makes an initial offer for the entire slave army, one that is laughed at by the army's leader. However, knowing the power of priceless assets, Danerys offers Kraznys one of her dragons for his legion of unsullied soldiers. Even with Danerys' closest allies shocked at the decision, she presses forward undeterred, insulted by the public questioning of her choices.
A line of questioning much less serious but all the more perplexing occurs later in King's Landing. Tyrion Lannister's squire, Podrick Payne, is rewarded for his bravery during the Battle at Blackwater Bay in the form of a sexual romp with three of Lord Baelish's escorts. Upon returning, Tyrion is shocked to find that the women did not accept the money he paid for the fling, but were instead content with Podrick's sexual prowess. Of all the harlots Tyrion has bedded in his lifetime, he can't recall one that didn't accept payment. It is tough for a man who always pays his debts to realize that money may not be the answer to every question, nor the solution to every problem.
As Tyrion wrestles with this quandary, his brother realizes this notion in swift and violent fashion. As Jaime predicted, the sellswords gather Brienne and take her off into the forest in order to gang rape her. Hearing her scream and struggle, Jaime informs the Brave Companion's leader that Brienne comes from a line of wealth, and that her father would handsomely reward him if she were returned unharmed. Realizing he is in possession of more assets than he once thought, the sellsword stops his henchmen before any atrocities are committed.
Seeing a window of opportunity, Jaime continues to bargain, informing the sellsword that aligning himself with the Lannisters would make him exponentially wealthier than anything Robb Stark is willing to pay him, and would put him on the right side of power when the war comes to an end.
Riches. Power. Distinction. Lannister has promised the sellsword a myriad of excess. The sellsword refuses it all. And after voicing his contempt for the entire Lannister family, the sellsword puts an end to Lannister's bargaining, taking a pound of flesh in the form of the Kingslayer's hand.
In Westeros, history doesn't remember the rich, only the powerful. Acquiring control through wealth is a risky venture, especially to those who would rather swing a sword than strike a deal. Wealth is only a weapon if it's wielded correctly. As Sunday's episode demonstrated, when used improperly, it proves costly.
*Theon Greyjoy is having a rough go. Tortured, freed, flailed, nearly sodomized, freed again. Give the guy a rest.
*Talisa continues to entertain: Telling Martin Lannister that her husband occasionally turns into a wolf and eats Lannister children. Martin Lannister: The Cowardly Lion.
Update 4/15/13: This story has been updated with a link to a recording of The Hold Steady’s closing credits song.