[WARNING: This recap contains spoilers for 'The Ghost of Harrenhal.']
As suggested by Petyr Baelish (Aiden Gillen), if revenge is the truest of motivations, then the various kingdoms depicted in Game of Thrones are going to be mired in the pit of war for a very long time. As every killing is meant to place one at an advantage over another, or to right a wrong that occurred even years prior, the notion that there will ever be an end to the bloodshed may require the intervention of a power greater than mankind – or at least one mankind doesn't yet have the ability to control.
After 'Garden of Bones' left audiences with the unholy birthing of a shadow assassin by Melisandre (Carice van Houten) it certainly did not take the creature long to carry out its mission. The assassination of Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) comes so swiftly that it's clear all foreshadowing of the event happened in the last few minutes of 'Bones'. Of course, the death of Renly means depriving the Starks any chance for the sovereignty of the North they wanted, and depriving the people a ruler they may actually support. For now, the iron throne is a matter to be settled between Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and Stannis (Stephen Dillane) – neither of whom are too keen on the idea of Robb Stark (Richard Madden) acting as the King of the North.
Renly's death not only dashes the hopes of a swift end to the war, it displaces Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), who is thought by Renly's guards to have been the one to murder him, as well as putting Margaery (Natalie Dormer) and Loras (Finn Jones) on the run in Petyr Baelish's care. Naturally, Brienne's inclination toward conflict, and her loyalty to Renly, lead her to vow revenge against Stannis, but the calming influence of Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) delays her retribution just a little bit. In the end, Brienne pledges fealty to Catelyn, creating an interesting ally for the Starks in the future.
On the other end is Renly's young wife, Margaery, who is revealed to be more in thinking with Petyr Baelish than her brother or Brienne. For Margaery, the death of Renly is the loss of her chance to be Queen – not just a Queen, but the Queen. Vengeance is not on Margaery's mind, but rather how she can seek to gain from this loss and move closer to her ultimate goal.
As every character is driven by his or her own motivations, the concern of what the endgame is becomes even more pressing as events compound and begin to spin out of control. For example: even though Robb continues to deplete the forces of Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), the army that Stannis has amassed in the wake of Renly's death makes him the new primary threat to King's Landing – one Joffrey and his mother Cersei (Lena Heady) would defend against with the incredible stockpile of Wildfire being cooked up by Hallyne the Pyromancer (Roy Dotrice).
But unforeseen elements are also in play that will make things equally difficult for those in King's Landing as in Winterfell. On one hand, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) has taken up arms against the Starks by pledging loyalty to the father he's never known and plotting with his first mate to turn a simple raid into an assault on Torrhen's Square – the defense of which will stretch the Northern army beyond what it already has been.
Additionally is the more distant, but distinctly more problematic threat of Daenery's Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) - who, along with her band of Dothraki, has survived the Red Waste to be in the care of Xaro Xhoan Daxos (Nonso Anonzie) in the city of Qarth. It seems in vouching for Daenerys and her Dothraki, Xaro saw the chance to move higher than his already admirable perch in Qarth, by funding the Targaryen's assault on the throne in exchange for her hand in marriage. As Xaro said, men will lust for the power that comes from Daenerys' dragons – and he is clearly no different. However, before invitations to the Qarthian social event of the season can be sent, Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) talks sense into Daenerys by urging her to make her own way – a comment that calls to mind the plea of Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) to Stannis in regards to Melisandre's presence at the pending assault on King's Landing.
Despite all the maneuverings elsewhere in Westeros, the plight of the Night's Watch has Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) poised to finally become a Ranger after volunteering to accompany a few men looking to engage some of the wildlings unified under Mance Rayder. Perhaps it is the unforgiving landscape, the isolation or the threat of the White Walkers, but somehow this band of men marching through the snow has become one of the most harrowing segments of Game of Thrones.
Similarly, though Arya (Maisie Williams) has little to do directly with what's going on between those vying for the iron throne, her situation is equally thrilling. Now serving Tywin Lannister, Arya comes across Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha), who vows to kill any three men in exchange for the lives she saved in 'What is Dead May Never Die,' including his. Perhaps not fully convinced at first, Arya sees the light after the brutal interrogator known as The Tickler (Anthony Morris) is found to be the first life Jaqen pays to his debt.
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday with 'The Old Gods and the New' @9pm on HBO. Watch a preview below: