When the power of Queen Mother Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) is threatened, she cynically aligns with religious fanatics who impose their harsh "morality" on the masses in "High Sparrow," Episode 43 of HBO's "Game of Thrones."
Fate has turned against Cersei. Her father Tywin (Charles Dance) and son Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) were murdered in quick succession, while the once-vast Lannister fortune has dwindled.
Moreover, Cersei's naive youngest son — recently crowned King Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) — has wed manipulative Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). And to bolster her new status, Queen Margaery schemes to drive Cersei out of Kings Landing and back to her ancestral home of Casterly Rock.
Cersei makes a bold move to regain her authority when the supreme religious leader of Westeros, the hypocritical High Septon (Paul Bentley), is caught "ministering" to prostitutes at a brothel. He's beaten and driven into the street by zealots known as Sparrows.
"An insult to me is an insult to the gods," the High Septon haughtily insists. "They left me naked and bleeding on the cobblestones!"
Rather than strike back at the Sparrows, Cersei arrests the High Septon. She also forms an alliance with the mysterious High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) by giving his Taliban-like followers free rein.
FOR THE RECORD
12:33 p.m.: An earlier version of this article contained a plot point from an upcoming episode. That information has been omitted.
"The faith and the crown are the two pillars that hold up this world," Cersei says to the High Sparrow, a seemingly humble man clad in a tunic. "One collapses, so does the other. We must do everything necessary to protect one another."
In Braavos, meanwhile, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) pursues her apprenticeship with the assassins' guild known as the Faceless Men. Her duties so far consist of washing corpses and sweeping the floor inside the eerie House of Black and White.
Committing to this new life involves discarding her old possessions. Arya throws them into the bay — all except her custom-made sword Needle, which she hides in some rocks.
As for Arya's older sister Sansa (Sophie Turner), she's being coerced into nuptials by her amoral uncle, Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen). He aims to control the north by uniting House Stark with House Bolton.
Sansa, however, is appalled at the thought of marrying Ramsay (Iwan Rheon), the bastard son of treacherous Lord Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton).
"Roose Bolton murdered my brother," Sansa tearfully protests. "He betrayed my family!"
Still, marrying Ramsay would protect Sansa from the vengeful Lannisters. And it would reconnect Sansa with her roots as the rightful heiress of Winterfell.
In the far north at Castle Black, Sansa's half-brother Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is asked to join wannabe monarch Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) in attacking Lord Bolton.
"As long as the Boltons rule the north, the north will suffer," warns Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), Stannis' Hand of the King.
While Jon ponders this weighty matter, he makes a life-or-death decision in his nascent role as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. When a belligerent officer refuses to obey an order, Jon whacks off his head as Stannis nods in approval.
Finally, Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) and fugitive Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) traverse the Long Bridge of Volantis as they seek to join Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) in her quest to claim the Iron Throne.
But Tyrion is kidnapped by disgraced Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), who was exiled by Dany after she discovered he once spied on her for Varys.
"I'm taking you to the queen," Jorah announces as he carries Tyrion away.