Game of Thrones' third season might as well be subtitled 'Game of Weddings.' In contrast to the explosive violence of the show's second season, season 3's power plays have all been more subtly made through arranged marriages. Power and land can be ceded through the deaths of thousands, or through the simple exchange of vows. For those involved in this game, the collateral damage isn't their lives so much as it is their happiness or any chance or romantic fulfillment. The Starks are the only family in this series who appear to have married for love; the others use weddings as currency.
The centerpiece of "Second Sons," Sunday night's episode, was the wedding of Tyrion and Sansa, which wasn't so much a wedding as it was a humiliation. Not even the theatrics of the feast afterward could diguise the fact that Tyrion and Sansa were both Tywin's pawns. For Cersei, Loras, and Margaery, it served as a grim prediction of what was to come for them, but for Joffrey, it was just a gleeful excuse to torture the couple. The best moment of the episode came when he needled a drunken Tyrion just a step too far -- and Tyrion delivered his most explicit threat (of castration) to his nephew yet. Though Joffrey was prevented from retaliating by Tywin's commanding calmness (and Tyrion's drunken self-deprecation), Tyrion's words just opened a wound that even Tywin's diplomacy probably won't be able to solve for long.
But while Tyrion's reaction to this forced marriage was drunkenness, Sansa, as always, showed a brilliant capability for survival by simply going with the flow. Sure, she complained a bit too much -- as Margaery said last week, even with the scar Tyrion is by no means ugly -- but by the time the marriage rolled around she just silently dealt with it, even going so far as to poour herself to drink when it came time to consummate. Even though that final dig at Tyrion was a bit unnecessary, Sansa handled the complete decimation of all her childhood dreams like a champ. As frustrating of a character as she can be sometimes, you can't really deny that she's got the best chance of surviving this whole thing.
Outside of King's Landing, though, marital unhappiness seems a trivial thing. For Samwell Tarley, the threat of the White Walkers remains very real, even as he and Gilly attempt to return to the wall. A White Walker -- apparently the one we saw leading the charge in the season 2 finale -- tried to take Gilly's baby, but was thwarted with a dragonglass dagger to the back. As the threat of the Others mounts, it looks like Sam might have stumbled onto some really, really useful information -- although we still don't know what exactly it is that the White Walkers are doing with those babies.
For Daenerys, meanwhile, the focus isn't even on Westeros: she's still trying to conquer Yunkai, but she needs the help of the titular band of sellswords. Though the leader of the mercenaries is yet another lewd man preoccupied with sex, one of his lieutenants, Daario, is more of a suave figure who beheads his commanders and offers Daenerys the Second Sons -- and his heart. You can tell that he's being set up as a love interest -- how Jorah responds to that will be interesting indeed. (Also interesting -- Daenerys' rather defiant nudity as she steps out of the bath. "We are not impressed," it seems to communicate -- but there's also some pretty blatant sexual tension there, too.)
And, finally, let's talk about that Melisandre. Her religious zealotry is even starting to make Stannis a little nervous (as witnessed in his frank discussion with Davos, a very underused character). But while Stannis got a little nervous, Gendry was the one who was outright terrified as Melisandre seduced him, then tied him up and leeched him. It's the second time this season that sex has spelled unfortunate consequences for the men involved (though thankfully Theon wasn't in this episode). Melisandre, meanwhile, grows ever terrifying. Her lamb analogy was packed with recognizable religious imagery, and that only made her more chilling. But the spell she had Stannis cast -- I bet we'll see something come of that before long.
All in all, "Second Sons" was a solid episode. It wasn't as exciting as last week's bear fight, but it didn't come close to boring, either, even when the stakes weren't life-and-death.
Game of Thrones will take a week off and return on June 2 for the season's penultimate episode, "The Rains of Castamere."