In part it is precisely the brutal realism of this show that has taught us how to savor a daring, slow-fuse episode like this one. We understand that the undercurrent of menace in these scenes is no idle threat. The rendering down of often much longer passages from the book is artfully done, which for a story geek like me is a pleasure in itself. Especially apt is the decision to streamline a major plot thread by giving Aidan Gillen's watchful manipulator Petyr Baelish (the Guardian’s pick as the series' Cromwell equivalent) an earlier and more central association with the gnawing ambition of Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) to slip the clutches of the evil, incestuous Lannisters.
The novel on which Season Three is based, "A Storm of Swords," is generally regarded as the strongest of the first five, and it is certainly packed with plot, whiplash reversals to rival anything that’s come before. I’ve been gleefully warning people who haven’t read it to hold onto their hats, they ain’t seen nothin' yet. What we’ve learned is that, for Martin and his adapters, the most startling twists are never just arbitrary shocks. They grow out of a sense of the way the world works that may be grim, but is never less than completely plausible, in this all-too real world that happens to have dragons.