We can now see just how fitting it is that Littlefinger works as whoremaster. All he does is treat women as property. A sense of possession over Catelyn Stark fuels his conniving. For years he controlled Lysa, and then, when she was no longer of use, he literally threw her away—though only after revealing that he, like everyone else in her miserable life, preferred her sister. His plan to beguile Sansa, I imagine, is much the same as it was with her aunt: ensnaring her as coconspirator against mutual enemies, giving the appearance of radical honesty in explaining what he’s up to, and flattering with comparisons to his true love Lady Catelyn.
But Sansa won’t be duped, I hope. She has seen so many horrors, and now there’s another: Watching her supposed friend (who’d just made a move on her, with the creepiest compliment possible) kill his new wife, Sansa’s last known living relative. How can she ever trust this guy? Despite appearances, she’s not stupid. She builds a snow-castle Winterfell, but says she realizes she'll never see the real thing again—an image of a child who has kept her sweet, sentimental spirit alive while also becoming quite savvy.
Her sister, meanwhile, has reacted to all the horrors she’s seen by pretending to disappear entirely. I loved Arya’s poetry slam with the dying man:
“Nothing could be worse than this.”
“Maybe nothing is worse than this.”
“Nothing isn't better or worse than anything. Nothing is just nothing.”
“Who are you?”
“My name's Arya. Arya Stark.”
When was the last time that Arya said her own name out loud to anyone? Hearing that, and hearing the dying man call BS on her nihilism shtick, offered a reminder that her humanity remains intact under the calm-killer-kid demeanor—after all, if nothing really isn’t worse than anything, why wish death on so many who’ve wronged you? When The Hound, a supposedly callous warrior, rejects medical attention for emotional reasons and then shares the tale of his original humiliation/mutilation, the connection between this him and the Stark girls is clear: Trauma lasts, even if you must pretend it doesn’t.
One character who has stopped pretending is Tyrion, in open rebellion against all who mistreated him. You’re right that his combat request was impulsive, Chris, but it’s an impulse we can understand. With Oberyn’s spellbinding storytelling, we finally have a concrete sense for just how unfair the Imp’s life has been. Which, of course, makes it all the more heartbreaking—for Tyrion and for us—that the circumstances he’s struggled against for so long may finally win out.
In retrospect, of course Oberyn would come offering a torch in the dark, to right two separate injustices done by the Lannisters. But it’s to Thrones' credit that I hadn’t anticipated him stepping up as champion. When the episode opened in blackness, with a solemn conversation in a dungeon, I was reminded of the opening of Season One’s “Baelor,” and we all know how that hour ended. I shared Tyrion’s palpably rising dread as Jaime and then Bronn sensibly declined to fight; when Bronn asked what he’ll do and Tyrion said he’ll have to fight the Mountain himself, I thought that we really might be headed to a David/Goliath situation. Then again, I suppose that’s the situation even with the average-height Oberyn taking the ring—though poison-proficiency may be as good as a few extra inches.