GAME OF THRONES: “The Lion and the Rose”

If you ever receive a wedding invitation via raven, respectfully decline.

Killing a man at a wedding…horrid. What sort of monster would do such a thing? As if men needed another reason to fear marriage.

–Lady Olenna

Ding dong, the King is dead. And about bloody time.

Joffrey, being one of the most despised characters in television history, was in fact so loathed that his end was sure to come at a season’s climax, or towards the end of the series, with Arya finally getting a chance to stick him with the pointy end as Sansa beats him over the head with a chamber pot, and the ghost of Ned Stark looks on laughing. However, as we have been reminded time and time again, Game of Thrones does not play by your rules. Instead, the petulant, sadistic little punk gets what’s coming to him at his own wedding, a mere two hours into the season, and it doesn’t feel nearly as satisfying as we hoped — the sight of his purple, eminently punchable face, blood dripping from his mouth and nose, obviously poisoned by one of the hundreds of people with a score to settle — it stirs up relief, but also trepidation.

That the entire second half of the episode stayed in place at the royal wedding reception, marvelously (and stomach-churning-ly) building in tension as the smack talk and furtive glances flew, is a testament to the work of the quill of George R.R. Martin (who wrote this episode), and director Alex Graves, who joined the production stable last year and now has his own signature hour, alongside David Nutter’s “The Rains of Castamere” and Neil Marshall’s “Blackwater.” We know, the longer these Altman-esque vignettes play out, that something is wrong, something’s going to go down. Olenna up and telegraphs it by referencing the events at The Twins.

And it does get incredibly uncomfortable, with Cersei and her monstrous son taking most of the blame: the former, embittered over her loss of power as Queen Regent, undoing Margaery’s bidding to have the leftover wedding food given to the poor; browbeating Maester Pycelle because she can; asking Brienne if she loves Jamie just to get in her head; and “aw, SNAP”-ing Ellaria Sand for being a bastard (though, granted, Ellaria can give as good as she gets). There is not enough wine in Dorne for her to cope with her new station, so she will lash out at anyone unlucky enough to make eye contact.

Also having a terrible time (though, face it, everyone is having a terrible time) is Tyrion, who just had to give Shae the heave-ho in completely disingenuous fashion — though perhaps not in time, as we’ll soon see — and is made to suffer through myriad humiliations from his nephew. Leading up to the fateful moment, he’s already had to endure a dwarf re-enactment of the War of Five Kings — “A royal wedding is history,” after all — which is obviously designed by Joffrey to rattle him (and Sansa, and Brienne, and Oberyn, and Margaery, and…). When the King asks him to participate, Tyrion declines with all the sarcastic diplomacy he can muster, asking Joffrey to instead show off his new Valyrian sword and demonstrate how  “a true king wins his throne.” (That blade, the ridiculously-named “Widow’s Wail,” is a symbol to all who know the truth of just how terrible Joffrey is in combat. “When I swing it, it’ll be like taking Stark’s head all over again,” Joffrey says, of something he did not do.)

This, naturally, hits a nerve with the blonde despot, who pours out his wine glass on Tyrion’s head and makes him fetch another, while everyone looks on awkwardly. There is only one person besides Joffrey who takes any enjoyment from this whole scene, and that’s Cersei, whose perma-smirk might stick that way on her face forever if not for the events to come. But the goblet Tyrion hands over from the brideside table has a secret ingredient, and it isn’t long before Joffrey is gasping for air, ultimately collapsing in a bloody heap. In the cruelest irony of all, he dies in the arms of his real parents, with Jamie having hurtled through the crowd to protect the “rightful King,” and failing at that, too. Unable to speak, instead Joffrey’s raised, bloody finger marks Tyrion as the prime suspect. His day is about to get even worse.

(Farewell to Jack Gleeson, who embodied the role of Joffrey with gleeful menace, as the rest of the cast regularly fell all over themselves to talk about what a nice guy he is off screen. Even at the end, we were ultimately reminded that Joffrey was just a teenager. A twisted, disturbed teenager, but there was a flash of vulnerability there when his protective sneer finally crumbled. He will be missed — off to divinity school, Gleeson is — even if his character definitely, definitely will not.)

But if Tyrion didn’t do it, as he most certainly did not, who’s the real mastermind? It’s a whodunit Agatha Christie would be proud of. The quick rundown of suspicious parties:

Tyrion: Okay, so I just said it probably wasn’t him, but it’s not like he didn’t have cause. You all saw how poorly Joffrey treated him. (Joff even used his new sword on Tyrion’s gift, a book, because the only thing he despises more than his uncle is reading.) Also against Tyrion: his line to Cersei back in Season 2 warning that “One day…your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you will know the debt is paid.” You can bet she remembers that. At the wedding reception, he overheard his sister tattling to Tywin about Shae (to which Twyin requested Shae be brought to his chambers before the wedding — uh-oh), so maybe enough was enough, and he thought he could get away with slipping something into the goblet. To Sansa, at the reception: “I’ll have to find another way to thank the King.” Going forward, in which he will likely spend much time in the black cells, we could see just how much he means to those he cares about, beginning — of all people — with his brother Jamie. That Tyrion enlisted Bronn, in an act of kindness, to train Jamie in fighting with his left hand is a secret known only to them.

Sansa: No, Sansa couldn’t have done it, right? As much as she hated Joffrey, poisoned wine is too devious and risky a play (though her blooming friendship, actual friendship, with Tyrion has been pleasant to see.) But, it could have been someone close to her, as Ser Dontos’s sudden appearance at her side the moment Joffrey goes down, with the whole “if you want to leave, we have to leave now” bit, makes HIM a suspect. Does that necklace he gave her last week have anything to do with it? Did he know what was going to happen, or was he just sober enough to recognize an opportunity and spirit Sansa away?

The Tyrells: Pour one out for Lady Margaery, twice a Queen, twice widowed. She and her grandmother knew full well how awful Joffrey was, so it’s not like she’s not happy to see him go, but — and correct me if I’m fuzzy on Westerosi laws of succession — she’s got no power now, because they never consummated the marriage. Your new King is the blank slate Tommen, another illegitimate product of twincest, and who magically appeared on screen for the first time in a long time at the wedding ceremony (convenient.)

But even if Marg is innocent (“Look, the pie!”), that doesn’t begin to cover the Queen of Thorns, who since her first scene has given off the air of someone who knows much more than she’s letting on, and can match even the great Tywin Lannister scheme for scheme. After all, the fatal cup was on her table. In hindsight, perhaps it was crazy to think she was ever going to wed her family line to the Lannisters. As she warns Tywin, the Iron Bank is soon going to come-a-calling, as the crown as been bleeding funds for years, and now that’s solely a Lannister problem. Also presumably off the hook is Loras, who one can expect will now not be marrying Cersei, to the delight of all the parties involved (plus Jamie, though he and Loras sass each other good.)

Oberyn Martell: Perhaps the obvious choice, but we’ve already established that this guy didn’t come to King’s Landing for the dead-bird cake. He looked particularly unsurprised — or, at least, satisfied — as Joffrey started to choke on his own bile, but one can assume that if he’s responsible, there will be no evidence linking him to regicide. Dude’s an assassin. Revenge would have been long coming, but worth it. Now, the realm is thrust more into chaos, which as one enterprising man once said (a certain someone who has yet to appear this season), is not a pit, but a ladder.

Varys: Just throwing that out there. Not like he couldn’t if he wanted to. No one weeps for spiders…or whores.

But regardless of who did the deed, Joffrey is dead, and good riddance. Now what? (And don’t say “Cue up The Rains of Castamere,” the Electric Slide of Westerosi wedding bands.) Let’s take a quick look around the continent and see what the others are up to…

The Dreadfort. Yay, more Theon and Ramsey Snow! (Said no one.) The interminable, repetitive torture of the traitorous Greyjoy was easily the weakest element of the otherwise brilliant third season, and I couldn’t help but have a knee-jerk “Oh, great” when this episode opened with more Ramsey sadism, chasing down a girl with some dogs in a terrifying, horrific sequence. At least with Joffrey, you can understand — a little — how he’d been twisted the way he had, and much of his cruelty was a response to his own inadequacies. But Ramsey? He’s just a psychopath.

Even his father is a little tired of the routine, returning to the Dreadfort for the first time post-Red Wedding to admonish his bastard son: “Theon was a valuable hostage, not your plaything.” Theon isn’t even Theon anymore, but “Reek,” so psychologically broken by Ramsey’s treatment that he’s been essentially zombiefied, no more domesticated than the dogs (and treated like one.) Even given a razor blade — in Ramsey’s effort to show that Reek can now be trusted — he uses it properly, not slicing Ramsey’s neck open, and gives up the information that he did not actually kill Bran and Rickon Stark. For the new Lord of Winterfell (burning husk that it is), this is not welcome news, so Ramsey is sent to take nearby Moat Cailin and reassert some Bolton authority, even though he doesn’t get to use that name. (Something something contrast with the Sands of Dorne.)

Dragonstone. Melisandre is having another beach barbecue, sending the souls of the island’s remaining “pagans” up to the Lord of Light. Stannis, despite what he’s seen, is still only grudgingly accepting of all this nonsense, half-heartedly explaining to a protesting Davos that the sacrifices’ “sins are burned away.” (Davos: “I’m sure they’re more than grateful, my King.”) If there’s a campaign being mounted for the Wall, as we left off in “Mhysa,” no one mentions it. Instead, we spend some time discussing Stannis’s poor, greyscale-afflicted daughter Shireen. Selyse, Stannis’s fanatical wife (who you’ll recall was wholly supportive of her husband’s holy coupling with the Red Woman), wants to discipline the girl, but Stannis will have nothing of it. Shireen is, perhaps, the only person Stannis truly cares about, and it’s bad enough that she must stay in her room hiding her face without also being mistreated. So Melisandre pays her a visit, and the two bond a bit. Little is accomplished in this story thread save reminding us that these characters exist, but we do get this line from Mel, which I imagine every little girl wants to hear at bedtime: “There is only one hell, princess. The one we live in now.”

North of the Wall. Finally, Bran, who at this point looks old enough to run for office and is probably shaving in between scenes (hat tip to Chase for that joke), is spending so much time warging inside his direwolf, Summer, that the Reed siblings are starting to worry. Like in Inception, he could lose sight of who he really is, and that would be bad, and waste everyone’s time. But the group soon reaches their first destination, an old weirwood tree (you know, the kind with the faces on them), and is given a vision: he sees his father Ned, fell beasts over King’s Landing(!), and a variety of scattered, confusing images. He also hears a mysterious voice: “Look for me beneath the tree: North.” So how the superpowered paralytic fits into the grander narrative remains to be seen, or if he’ll ever return from the icy snowscape he’s leading loyal Hodor into, but at least someone‘s getting direct messages from a higher power. Hey, you think he can level up enough to warg into a dragon?

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