This review contains spoilers.
4.2 The Lion And The Rose
Put on your best furs, polish the rings, and prepare yourself. There’s a royal wedding to attend, and if you’re a viewer of Game Of Thrones, you’re invited to witness the marriage between King Joffrey of the Houses Lannister and Baratheon, and Queen Margaery of House Tyrell. There’s going to be all sorts of delicious food, awesome performance art, appearances by everyone’s favourite characters, and… oh yeah, maybe a little accident. Stop reading here if you’ve yet to watch Game Of Thrones for this week and haven’t read the books.
Director Alex Graves has done wonderful work with this episode, really creating a great deal of tension in both the major elements in the episode. The scene with Ramsay and Roose Bolton debating the relative merits of Ramsay’s creation of Reek after the Greyjoys rejected their offer of Theon’s life and health was very well done, particularly due to Alfie Allen’s twitchy, hollow-eyed performance, and the not-so-subtle tension between Bolton and his bastard. It’s delightfully tense, and it’s a good counterpoint to the rest of the episode, because it reminds us that the Boltons are just as crooked and scheming as the rest of Westeros, just in a different, bloodier, way. While Stannis burns his offerings and Bran wargs into Summer for a taste of freedom, the rest of Westeros’ noble classes continue to scheme, plot, play, and pick at one another like Tyrion picking at a delicious boar sausage.
Speaking of sausage, even a discussion of Theon’s missing genitalia and his inability to be a valuable bargaining chip with the Greyjoys pales in comparison to the tension at King Joffrey Baratheon’s wedding. The whole latter half of the episode is very cleverly constructed and very well executed by Graves and the writer of this particular episode, a newcomer by the name of George R. R. Martin. By weaving in the elements with Shae and Tyrion, Martin and company are able to cover a lot of ground without taking the focus away from the wedding, and it adds even more importance to the events at the wedding since we don’t really leave that scene.
We may switch from character to character as they travel from the sept to the reception in pairs and small groups, but no matter who we follow, they’re all heading to the same place. It’s very smooth in execution. Tyrion tells Shae she’s a whore and no longer necessary, leaving it to Bronn to send her on her way because he can’t bring himself to do it and even had to fake his distaste for her to get her to leave. Tywin and Olenna give us a brief respite to talk about the price of the wedding, then we immediately smash cut to the wedding at all its Renaissance fayre entertainments. Bronn will find Tyrion later at the wedding and counsel him to drink until he feels like he did the right thing. Oberyn will say hello not to Tyrion – as the little Lannister assumes – but to a flexible woman in a bikini doing contortions on a pedastle. The camera track and we go to Olenna talking to Sansa about how sorry she is about her brother’s death.
Repeat this process until we’ve checked in with every major character and have gotten through the bulk of the episode. I don’t mean that to sound dismissive, but it’s so smoothly-executed that it feels almost effortless (which means it was a lot of effort). The wedding really should be the centerpiece of the episode, because A) it looks phenomenal and B) everyone who matters is there, and it really gives Jack Gleeson a chance to really stretch his evil legs and revel in Joffrey’s cruelty. Even surrounded by some of the best characters on the show, Joffrey still manages to be the highlight right up until his wonderfully-staged demise.
It’s quite a masterful performance, full of fun little moments of sickening evil from everyone’s favorite monster. His first appearance in the episode suggests that Margaery Tyrell is having a positive effect on him; after all, he takes a gift of a book from Tyrion and doesn’t immediately crap all over it. Granted, he eventually tests out his new Valyrian steel sword from Tywin on said book, but for a good five or ten minutes, Joffrey is actually attempting to play the politics game, even if he’s bad at it.
Then, after blade chops book, Joffrey really just goes downhill. He seems to live for offending everyone at his wedding table, from his own family on down the line, with his little War of the Five Kings comedy act that leaves no face un-soured save Joffrey’s. Tyrion is offended that little people have to caper for his amusement. The contents of the play offend Loras and Brienne to no end, since Renly is the butt of many jokes. Poor Sansa seems to get it the worst of all. Even otherwise unsentimental folks like Oberyn, Mace, and Olenna seem offended by the show, or at least uncomfortable, and it all ends with a wonderfully over-the-top cutting of a pigeon pie and the feeding of a piece of said pigeon pie to a very unlucky boy-king.
Joffrey makes every point to pick on his Uncle Tyrion, from dumping wine on his head to kicking the goblet away from him when he goes to pick it up. The worse Tyrion treats his uncle, the more Joffrey seems to enjoy himself until, at some point, someone slips something into his drink (or perhaps into his dry pie) and Joffrey dies in a brutally effective performance from Jack Gleeson and the show’s special effects team. Of course, the show stages the poisoning in such a way that it could be any number of people doing the killing: Sansa and Tyrion handle the cup, Margaery feeds Joffrey the pie, Tywin is sitting right next to him the whole time, Olenna looks suspicious throughout, Ser Dontos sneaks up to the table to talk to Sansa during the meal, the Martells have nothing but hate for the Lannisters… anyone could have killed Joffrey (even Cersei might have been capable of it, since she watched her power in the kingdom slip away with every pretty Margaery smile), and the show does a great job of setting it up so everyone has a motive to kill Joffrey, especially on the day of his wedding.
This may be the first actual mystery (to non-book readers like myself) on Game Of Thrones. Everything else has been given some sort of foreshadowing or outright explained (“The Lannisters send their regards”) as it happened, but this… any number of people could have killed Joffrey, and pretty much everyone in the Seven Kingdoms had a reason to end his life. I have my suspicions about who may have been involved, but speculation is all part of the fun. What’s a mystery without it?
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Two Swords, here.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan will pass on the pigeon pie at the next wedding he attends. No matter how delicious it looks, or how many pigeons have been baked inside. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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