Episode 2: The Lion and the Rose
Now what are we supposed to do? You have killed off the one character, the one character in the whole show, that we could hate without the least amount of remorse or pity. Hell, you even went ahead and made Ramsay somewhat sympathetic, or at least understandable and this was the very same episode that had Ramsay hunting down a girl and feeding her, alive, to a pair of hounds. What kind of mad world do we live in where we start to feel sorry for that castrating asshole because he gets a dressing down from his father? Your world, Martin. And I don’t want to live in it any longer. Especially if I can’t find as readily a dickish villain like the now departed Joffrey. Tywin’s too amazing. Olenna is too tricky. Cerei is too nuanced. Varys and Littlefinger are far too clever and scheming. Who?
Who is there left to hate?
Even readers of the book were probably surprised by the celerity in which this event occurred. The huge character deaths are meant for later in the season, when the stakes are ever higher. So to see the knowing looks as an unsuspecting book reader realizes that shit’s about to go down is almost as satisfying as the uninitiated’s confused look of catharsis and horror. After all, something was bound to go down this episode. Martin himself took care of writing duties on The Lion and the Rose, and the man only comes down from his ivory tower (where he is no doubt furiously writing the remaining books every waking moment of every day OR ELSE) when something truly special is about to happen. And for all the flak we give him about taking his sweet time with the story, watching the myriad of short stories and every excruciatingly painful moment in the entire 30 minute, uninterrupted wedding sequence, Martin is a truly gifted writer, completely unafraid to bring his characters down into the trenches and leave them there.
With all of the anticipation over the Red Wedding, I think readers forget just how impactful this, the ‘Purple Wedding’ is to the entire establishment of Westeros. You thought there was unrest when there were five kings vying for control? At least one of those kings was actually, you know, a king. What happens now? As terrible as the RW was, this one means much more in the long run.
We’ll head back to the events in at the wedding in a bit. First, what else is going on in Westeros this week? (The goings on in Essos are relegated to the sidelines this episode). For the first time in what feels like years, we finally get to see Theon, now known as Reek, doing something other than being tortured. Well, physically tortured. He is now the loyal dog of Ramsay Snow, Roose Bolton’s sadistic bastard who, as stated above, opens the episode with a page right out of The Most Dangerous Game. Alfie Allen, who turns in stellar work as Theon, even if the work hasn’t been that engaging as of late, ups his facial tics and slight mannerisms. He looks like a man at war with himself, the old Theon personality desperately trying to hold off the Reek one and losing, inch by inch. During a dressing down, Theon (and Allen) displays a tremendous skill in not slicing open Ramsay’s throat when he is directed to shave him, at which point the bastard Bolton begins to mock everything that Theon once loved, quite aware that no harm will come to his person, so thorough is the mental breaking he has performed on the only son of Balon Greyjoy. In an episode filled with uncomfortable moments heaped upon one another, this may be one of the most unsettling because of how personal and sick the whole endeavor is.
Bran makes his first appearance of the season. The pace of age is starting to outrun the pace of the books. Actor Isaac Hempstead is looking very teenager-esque now, despite only a year and change having passed by in show terms. This was always going to be an issue in dealing with such young, and talented actors, but it’s a bit jarring at first. Bran continues to warg into Summer, possessing the dire-wolf for hours and hours at a time. Jojen and Meera claim that, like making a face for too long, if you warg too long, you’ll lose your humanity. Bran seems just desperate enough to want to do that. When our band of Hodorites chances upon a Weirwood, one of the face-trees that are scattered around the North, we are treated to the only flashback of the show. Flashes of Ned Stark appear in Bran’s mind, and a large, cyclopean tree. A voice in his head tells Bran to find him under the tree, far to the north. The entire sequence is as visually resplendent as any in Game of Thrones, save for the opening credits. At last, Bran and co have not only the motivation they need, but a destination to find.
On Dragonstone, Stannis and Melisandre are once again burning heretics, because the night is dark and all that stuff. We get a little more of Stannis’ daughter, Shireen, afflicted with a condition known as the Greyscale, but more importantly, we get to see a touch more into the workings of Azor Ahai, the God of Light. Melisandre opens herself up to discuss theology with the impressionable Shireen. I like Stannis because it gives us an excuse to check in with Davos, but he is a wounded dog right now, hiding, licking his wounds. Whatever plans he is going to make must be relegated for another week. You can see the defeat in his eyes, the way he passively seems to surrender that burning his friends is just the way things are going to be from now on, a politician who finds something that can win him re-election but is soon forced to view it (being Melisandre) for something too powerful to control anymore.
GRRM is a fine writer and grand plotter, but I am sure he enjoys the chance for a do-over. SPOILER ALERT in the books, after Jaime returns, he trains his left hand with Ilyn Payne, the King’s Headsman, a mute sonofabitch. Though Ilyn is a character in the show, it makes much more sense to pair Jaime up with eternal GoT MVP Bronn, where the banter can be just as good as the swordplay. The episode’s sparring scene is a great example of what makes the show so enjoyable: likable characters, good dialogue and rousing physicality. I hope we are treated to more of these little bouts in the future.
I have given Shae a lot of flak in these columns. She’s been the King’s Landing equivalent of Ramsay torturing Theon every single week. Has she been wronged? Sortof? Can I see her point? Yes. Does that mean she’s not acting like some little selfish brat? No, because she is and has been and it has been getting tiring. That said, it’s heartbreaking watching Tyrion cast her aside. And to hear him use that word ‘whore’ just cuts straight to the bone. In her eyes, Tyrion’s the bad guy, but he’s doing it for all of the right reasons. Cersei and Tywin have caught wind that Tyrion is seeing a whore and Tywin will have none of that. Dinklage is an absolute horror of conflicted emotions, caught, like everyone in the world, between duty and emotion.
At last, the Purple Wedding. Martin’s writing and the direction of Alex Graves creates this wonderfully colorful quilt of short of stories. Everyone has a little moment, whether it’s a biting comment from Loras to Jaime, or the simmering rage Oberyn has for Tywin, or the small smirk between Oberyn and Loras as if to say ‘hey, come on over’. For the readers, it’s an unnerving, massive wrench in your stomach. You know what’s coming, but you can’t be quite sure when. Every sip of wine Joffrey takes stops your heart for just a moment. When he laughs and upchucked a bunch of spittle, the energy in the room was ready to explode. Martin ratchets up Joffrey’s horribleness, and Graves refuses to break away from every humiliation he piles onto his guests and Tyrion in particular. The wedding takes up the last half of the episode, the entire thirty minutes. It moves at a deliberate pace, like a party would, weaving in and out of moments, all building towards something, something, something. Even the unread would know something is about to happen. This is Game of Thrones. We don’t exactly have the best of luck with weddings. (Admittedly, according to Dothraki tradition, this is actually a bit of a disappointing celebration.)
So, who did it? There is not a person at the wedding, save Cersei and Jaime, and certainly no one in the audience, who didn’t want to see this little sociopath rot in hell. The motives are legion. Tyrion, for his endless humiliation. Sansa, for her betrayal and continued abuse. Olenna, because like hell if she’s letting her granddaughter marry such a monster. Even Tywin understands that such a boy should never be given power. (It should be noted that readers are just as in the dark as non-readers on this one).
Here it was. The moment. How much sadistic shit had we seen this brat inflict on everyone? We had waited years, YEARS!, to finally see him get his comeuppance. And yet, when it finally presents comes, what do we get? A choking, wheezing boy, no older than 16, being cradled in his weeping mother’s arms as the life drains out of him, lashing out at the only thing he can see to be responsible. I admit, even I felt a little sad. How does the saying go? “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.” How we do things matters and it wasn’t supposed to happen like this. The resurrected bodies of Ned, Robb and Catelyn Stark were supposed to appear and, through magic, shoot the sniveling bastard into the sun to the cheers of all of Westeros. He wasn’t supposed to die pathetic and helpless at his own wedding. There is no moral victory here, no hurrah for heroism. The good guys can’t chalk this one up on their scoreboard.
The worst, is that Joffrey’s death only solves a temporary problem. Joffrey, for all of his awfulness, was a small player in the game. So, good reader, relish the moment. I have little doubt that worser things will happen to better people, and all because you couldn’t wait to see that little brat taken down. That’s the thing about Karma. It will balance out…eventually. Those thinking that Joffrey’s death evens the scales are clearly unfamiliar with the Westerosi ideal of fairness.
Bronn Moment of the Week: “Now go drink until it feels like you did the right thing.”