Episode 4, “Garden of Bones” was unequivocally the best episode of Game of Thrones’ second season. The first three episodes showcased plenty of quality, but they lacked that must-see-what-happens-next effect which drove Season 1 to the top of the charts. For the first time, the separate storylines, all populating grittily in their various cells, began to bleed over into each other and provide real context for a dizzying future; at the same time, dormant tropes laid waste to Red Waste and suggested oases of things to come. Yes, Episode 4 was spectacular.

Robb Stark has turned into quite the general, and I can’t imagine anyone will be calling him “boy” after another victory in which, there were “five Lannisters dead for every one of ours.” As we learned in Episode 4, however, he may be proving his machismo on the battlefield, but he is still a boy at heart. That was evident when he fell over himself for a woman of Volantis – the conquered Lannister land. The chemistry between them was electric, even as she scolded him for his belligerent tactics and short-sighted strategy. Just the kind of woman he needs!

One thing that hasn’t changed is the vileness of Joffrey Lannister, who continues to grow more and more sadistic with each passing week. If it’s not slaughtering bastards or carrying out decapitations, it’s cruelly torturing Sansa to the point of bodily harm and making prostitutes engage in near-lethal S&M. It’s hard to imagine how he can get worse, and yet he seems to find new avenues for depravity. One of the great moments in Episode 4  is when Tyrion intervenes as Joffrey swears to punish Sansa for the sins of her “treacherous” brother. Crafty Tyrion is the only one who knows how to deal with the wiliest minds at court while also rebuffing the wicked insanity of nephew.

East of the Narrow Sea, the tale of Daenerys Targaryen has gotten a boost of new life; the lavish city of Qarth – the self-proclaimed “greatest city that ever was or ever will be” — is willing to receive her at its gates, though the 13 rulers prove to be swift-talking connivers with a sinister air; the “Garden of Bones” outside the gates is an indicator of what happens to those who are turned away. When Dany refuses to show them her dragons, they leave her to die, except for one man — Xaro Xhoan Daxos – who vouches for her. I am absolutely riveted by what Qarth is and how things will play out for Dany, which is a testament to the skill of George R.R. Martin’s text and HBO’s adaptation of it.

There are countless other plots in motion involving Littlefinger, Renly, Catelyn Stark, and the Tyrrells, all of them clashing in an inevitable conflict. Of course, in the midst of this winter is also coming, which should wreak havoc on all the petty squabbles going on south of the Wall. Fortunately for Arya Stark, she has been picked out by an unlikely savior – Tywin Lannister – to be a cupbearer and spared from barbaric torture. As long as Tywin fails to recognize her, he could paving the way for Arya to exact her own revenge … revenge on names she recites over and over again.

And as for Melisandre, she’s clearly not all lies with this Lord of Light stuff, because she finished the episode with something that left me gasping for air. Episode 5 cannot come soon enough.