As Game of Thrones has so bluntly pointed out, the world of Westeros is not the kind of place where strangers typically offer a kind word, a helping hand or anything else for that matter, without some kind of price attached.
Most of the time, anything remotely approaching goodwill comes with the stipulation of a debt to be repaid at some later date, begging the question: Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned generosity?
So, naturally, it comes as no surprise when several of the Stark children receive a visitor or a stranger whose words don't end in "your head on a pike" that they're more than a little skeptical. Ever since their father Ned (permanently) relocated to King's Landing, the world as they've known it has become a veritable hotbed of antagonistic behavior and people with colorful and descriptive names either trying to manipulate or kill them.
As if sensing the temperament of Bran, Sansa, Arya and, to a lesser degree, Rickon (but he seems okay to have the direwolves look after him), those who would seek audience with the Stark kids each take a different approach, with varying degrees of success, in order to offer some form of aid to the youngsters.
Once you factor in the amount of new faces that kind of look and sound like all of the old faces, it's plain to see why Weiss and Benioff held back from checking in with every single surviving Stark in last week's season premiere. Normally, when shows introduce new characters, it’s a sign things have taken a creative downturn, but thankfully, that's not the case with Game of Thrones.
For starters, the series isn't just introducing new characters - it's carting them in from all seven kingdoms by the barrelful. Moreover, with a storyline as occasionally discursive as this, such additions become a necessity, and they allow for wonderful actors like Ciáran Hinds and Mackenzie Crook to hop on board and add a little spice to the otherwise chilly world beyond the Wall that so far has been moderately seasoned with Jon Snow's pouty good looks and the sass of Ygritte.
But Orell's white-eyed vision of dead crows is only a small aspect of a broad, but surprisingly thematically fixed second episode. 'Dark Wings, Dark Words' has to move as many (if not more) pieces around than 'Valar Dohaeris,' but there's more sense that this portion of the journey is setting up elements that will truly impact the major players. Aside from brief glimpses at Robb's decision to head off toward Riverrun to honor yet another dead relative and a rather grim assessment of Theon's current circumstances, the episode primarily concerns itself with the worrisome notion of aid from heretofore unknown persons.
Plied with lemon cake and the prospect of some "real talk" in the company of cheese-loving Olenna Tyrell, Sansa's asked to give her honest impression of Joffrey – under the proviso that whatever she says will remain strictly confidential. For her part, Sansa is understandably more eager to inform the Tyrell women the kind of man Joffrey is than to dig into any treat. Besides, given the choice between a tasty little cake and the opportunity to unburden herself to a pair of savvy women, Sansa is clearly more inclined to choose the latter.
And while the Tyrells are pursuing this line of questioning less out of concern for the well-being of Sansa and more to ensure they know precisely what they're dealing with ("he's a monster," obviously), Sansa can still count on Shae to be in her corner.
Most interestingly, however, are the other Starks who are simultaneously en route to the Wall. Before they can get to the bottom of Arya's questionable targets for assassination, the trio (including Gendry and Hot Pie) find themselves in the questionable company of the Brotherhood without Banners. And while they utilize a similar technique to the Tyrells in acquiring the information they seek, it's not until the Hound locks eyes with Arya that the Brotherhood knows exactly what they've stumbled upon.
Things are clearer for Bran, as his portentous dreams continue to become more prevalent and even invite the presence of Liam Neeson's stepson from Love Actually. But the arrival of Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Jojen Reed is more significant that the questions of "where do I know his face?" would suggest. Jojen's insistence that he and Bran share a more-common-than-you-might-think ability is coupled with an offer of aid and some much-needed insight into Bran's burgeoning talent.
All in all, it goes to show that even in Game of Thrones, there comes a time when help can come to those who need it most. Whether or not that message will get through to Brienne and Jaime Lannister before things go from bad to worse, however, remains to be seen.
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday with 'Walk of Punishment' @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview of the episode below: