Spoilers. Spoilers spoilers spoilers. Are we good now? All right, let’s dig into “The Lion And The Rose,” which isn’t a particularly thrilling episode of Game Of Thrones, but does feature one giant event that most fans of the show have been waiting for since the very beginning.
I’m convinced that most of the people who profess publicly that they haven’t read the Song Of Ice And Fire books actually know most of what’s going to happen on the show. (I haven’t read the books. I know what’s going to happen. I’m not scared of spoilers. It is what it is.) There’s not much else to explain this piece, which stakes an early claim on “predicting” Joffrey’s death this season. And in true Game Of Thrones fashion, there’s no delay getting to that event. It’s shockingly cathartic for the object of most fans’ ire to sputter and expire in the second installment of a 10-episode season. King Joffrey is dead. Long live the equally illegitimate King Tommen.
George R.R. Martin writes one episode of the series each year. He wrote “The Pointy End” back in season one, which covered the immediate aftermath of Ned’s imprisonment after attempting to reveal Joffrey’s true lineage. In season two he took the big battle episode “Blackwater,” still one of the high water marks for the series. And last year Martin wrote “The Bear And The Maiden Fair,” notable for its final scene where Jamie rescues Brienne from a fight with a bear. “The Lion And The Rose” is the first episode written by Martin that falls in the first half of a season—but it’s clear from the dialogue that he’s responsible, and by the end it’s obvious why he chose to craft this part of the story himself.
In comparison to someone like Robb Stark, who was built up as a boring but likeable guy, an underdog to root for because of what happened to his father Ned, Joffrey is nothing more than a pissant. He’s a contemptible little cockroach who does nothing but snipe at those around him out of sheer boredom and in the eyes of most viewers deserved a far more excruciating death. But there’s a sinister poetry to his death at a wedding, after all immediate threats have been removed. This is the chaos of Westeros, where siege threats can be thwarted by magical fire, White Walkers roam the frozen North, and the most dangerous place for a King seems to be a royal wedding. Yes, that means that characters who traditionally would end up the conquering heroes are cut down before following through on that classical arc. But it also means that the evildoers, sinister little cretins who do nothing but destroy all hope for happiness in the world, can die early and without warning as well.
Game Of Thrones doesn’t have the same gleeful attitude toward Joffrey’s death as I imagine many viewers will. (Truth be told, the group I people I watched with sat with clenched fists as the tension grew, then burst out with rapturous joy when the episode concluded.) It treats the occurrence like any other significant event, given a weighty boost from dramatic music. Joffrey begins to cough—anyone who knew what would happen watched on pins and needles every time he brought the cup to his lips—and then sputters uncontrollably, while Cersei and Jamie (his true parents) struggle hopelessly to save him. This is the fate that can befall those in power—especially those who make new enemies daily by inflicting cruelly unnecessary punishment on everyone around.
And there are plenty of people who would want to see him dead. Oberyn Martell is a leading candidate, though he seems intent on the rape and torture of his enemies, so that they suffer as much as his sister did during Robert’s Rebellion. As such, simply poisoning the king’s wine cup seems beneath his penchant for theatricality. His conversation with Cersei and Tywin during the feats is but one of a handful of tense and wonderful scenes between subtly warring parties. The Martells and Lanniesters are joined in a marriage alliance thanks to Cersei’s daughter, but it’s one of political convenience. These families don’t like each other, don’t subscribe to the same social values, and the peace between them is tenuous at best.
Sansa is far too emotionally traumatized to come up with anything like this, but in the cacophony of Joffrey’s death, the King’s fool—the man who gifted Sansa a necklace in the premiere—tells her to follow him in order to escape. Clearly some kind of plan was in place there, designed to give Sansa an avenue to depart, only with an unseen hand creating the opportunity.
Then there’s Tyrion, Cersei’s suspect of choice. He’s the one serving as cupbearer, sure, but it appears that sometime between Joffrey’s first sip and the pie being served that some poison got slipped into the drink. And there’s certainly the appearance of motive, since Joffrey relentlessly torments his uncle with drinks over the head, a troupe of performing dwarves, demands to bend a knee, and constant insults. Plus, Tyrion receives news earlier in the episode from Varys that both his sister and father know about Shae. So Tyrion redoubles his efforts to ensure her safety, rejecting her with insulting words he doesn’t mean, intended to inflict pain on Shae so that she’ll agree to get on a boat across the Narrow Sea. Bronn sees her off and confirms the departure.
But Tyrion has only attempted to keep the peace among his siblings this season. He shares a meal with Jamie where he counsels his brother and tells him to seek out Bronn as a trustworthy sparring partner to train with his left hand. (That’s really the only comedic scene of the episode.) And he gifts Joffrey a book about past kings, meant as a gentle urge toward wisdom instead of arrogant, violent excess—which Joffrey quickly rejects, slicing the book to pieces with his new Valyrian sword. Joffrey was rash and unable to heed warnings, and now he’s been poisoned dead by one of his countless enemies. Tyrion though, is one of the most calculating characters on the show, needing all of his cunning to stay alive when so many of his own family members want him dead—but even that might not be enough to save him. The good and the bad all have to die sometime. It’s the great equalizer, regardless of personality or reputation.
Cersei and Jamie both insert themselves into little political squabbles at various points during the wedding. Jamie confronts Loris over his impending marriage to Cersei, directly stating that his sister will have Loris (and any potential child) killed rather than let the wedding go through. Cersei intercepts Maester Pycelle creepily cornering a young girl, and tells him to leave and feed the feast scraps to the dogs, directly contradicting Margaery’s edict (credited to the King) that the leftovers will go to fee the city’s poor. Cersei has been slowly losing her grip on power throughout the past season, as her son grew older and more depraved, and she’s pushed out as Queen Regent now that there’s an actual Queen in Margaery Tyrell. But in light of the episode’s ending, all of this shuffling and squabbling seems rather moot. Jockeying for position under one monarch is meaningless once that person has shuffled off this mortal coil and yet another figurehead gets installed. There’s a lot that happens in this episode, depicting all the little conflicts that dot the political landscape of King’s Landing, and all of them will intensify now that Joffrey has gurgled blood.
Okay, so that’s the end of King Joffrey of Houses Baratheon and Lannister. But this episode also checks in on a few locations that didn't make the cut for the premiere. Those all basically serve as the final initial drop-ins on the goings on around Westeros. Roose Bolton returns from the Red Wedding to his house seat at the Dreadfort. His bastard son Ramsay Snow continues to act like a sadistic jackass, hunting down a random girl for sport and letting dogs tear her apart in the opening scene. Oh, and Theon is still his prisoner, only dehumanized beyond recognition. He answers to the name “Reek” now, and has been tortured into such docility he will shave Ramsay with a straight razor, listen to news that Robb Stark is dead, and keep performing the task. His fate continues to draw out tragically, but the little bit of plot here is that Bolton has been made Warden of the North, only without any help from Tywin Lannister to take or hold those lands.
Over in Dragonstone, Stannis obeys Melisandre and burns heretics still praying to the old Gods on giant pyres, including his wife’s brother. It’s clear that Stannis and his mad wife Sylese don’t get along much, though it’s curious that a big point of contention is how to treat their daughter, the disfigured Shireen. Stannis doesn’t see her much, but wants her cared for without corporal punishiment. Sylese, a devout believer in the Lord Of Light, believes her daughter is stubborn and sinful, and deserves the rod. As a compromise, Melisandre talks to the girl, and it’s here where Martin gets out the episode distilled down into a single, easily quotable line: “There is only one hell: the one we live in now.” An apt description of a world where being in power only increases the size of the target on your back and two consecutive weddings have ended with key political assassinations. It’s not just the night that is dark and full of terrors—all hours of the day must now fear the unexpected wrath of cruel fate.
• Here’s one more round of applause for Jack Gleeson, who has been television’s most hated villain since 2011. He says he might retire from acting now that his stint on the show has ended, and in a way that makes me sad, but imbuing an iconic character with such malice is a tough thing to do on a consistent basis, and Gleeson did that masterfully.
• Up in the North, Bran, Jojen, Meera, and Hodor continue to seek out the three-eyed raven. Bran has been spending too much time in the mind of his direwolf, but later touches a tree, has a vision, and knows where they need to go. Mostly foreshadowing, but that vision sequence was quite engrossing in all that it encompassed.
• The Martells and Tyrells have names far too similar for me to accurately distinguish them at all times. Just wanted to make a note that I’m like everyone else in getting confused by the hundreds of characters swirling around in this story.