If "Game of Thrones" is about one thing, it isn't war or honor, death or betrayal, succession or glory. It is, funny enough, about family, or the frayed remnants of whatever that word means to the individual. For Robb, that family is Talisa, his mother and the siblings he believes dead. For Daenerys, it's her dragons and the memory of her dead brothers, husband and son. For the Lannisters, it's the strange but unspoken sense of loyalty that binds them as one ragged, but surprisingly sturdy, unit. The boundaries between all the different families, from the blood-related to the scrounged and forged, is complicated, messy, never unmistakably clear. And even when they're physically there, the quest for family is never truly fulfilled.
Take Arya, for instance. Her sense of family is long-lost. This episode opens with a duel between the Hound and Beric Dondarrion, a battle the Hound wins when he stabs Beric to death, and a battle Arya observes and has a great stake in (remember, the Hound slaughtered her friend, the butcher's boy, back in season one). Because of this victory, the Hound is free to go per the Brotherhood's rules. But Beric isn't really dead, or at least not for long - the red priest, Thoros, resurrects him, for what we later learn is the sixth time. Despite this shocking revelation of magic (resurrection! That's a new one!), Arya seems unfazed. The murder of her friend was her first experience with death and the brutality of the world, and with the Hound free, any vengeful hope she'd been grasping at is easily deflated. As Thoros and Beric ramble on about their various resurrections, and the brutalities Beric has suffered because of them, Arya asks, rather innocently, "Could you bring back a man without a head?" It's the first time in a long time that we've heard her mention her family. And so we remember, once more, that she's still a little girl. A fatherless, motherless, siblingless child lost in the muck. And now that Gendry has left her for the Brotherhood (another play on family values - he admits to Arya that he's never had a family, and she replies, "I could be your family" - it's a gut-wrenching farewell), she's truly as alone as she's ever been.
North of the Wall, her brother, Jon, is in an opposite predicament - he's too close for comfort. The Wildlings are planning a merciless attack on Jon's black brothers, and he's still fibbing about being separate from them. Orell and Giantsbane taunt him for information, which he guiltily reveals. Poor Jon. Lucky for him, the pain of betraying his fellow men isn't long felt, for Ygritte lures him away from the camp and into a cave, and makes him prove once and for all that his oath his broken - a.k.a. she seduces him hardcore. He gives in, of course, because he's a man, of course. And despite his lack of experience, he seems pretty good at… well, doing what he does. The love scene comes awkwardly early in the episode, and we don't see the two again afterward, and so the weight of the moment is lost. Jon Snow loses his virginity! He swims naked with a girl in a bubbling spring! He teaches himself cunnungulis on accident! This shouldn't have happened in the first ten minutes, it's too hard to digest!
But there's just so much to digest, and therein lies everything that's good and bad with "Game of Thrones." Good, because it's such a rich world, and so fully realized that by now it feels like home (albeit it a pretty nasty, unwelcoming, brutal home). But bad because there's just so damn much of it. It's great to see Littlefinger up to no good again, this time meddling in the happiness of Sansa Stark's future (more on that in a bit), but it's lost in the delight of Lady Olenna's frequent discussion of bowel movements and the odd honor of Dany's new army (as well as the continued bickering between Jorah and Barristan). It's nice to see Loras get some male-on-male loving, but it's hard to remember when there are so many other sexual exploits going on (not that I mind).
Somewhat lost in this ruckus is the continued descent of Robb Stark. After his once trusted ally, Karstark, turns on him and kills the hostage Lannister squires in the night, Robb sees no choice but to execute him for his deeds. Talisa and Catelyn urge him to reconsider, to take Karstark as a hostage instead, but Robb has the nobility of his father, whom Karstark himself once served. He carries out the execution, in a scene that parallels Theon's rainy slaying of Rodrick last season. Unlike Theon, Robb swipes Karstark's head in one fellow swoop. But not before hearing his ominous final words: "Kill me and be cursed. You are no king of mine."