The episode picks up just before the end of what fans of the series have dubbed the Purple Wedding, as Cersei screams at the top of her lungs for Tyrion to be arrested for Joffrey’s murder, and frantically demands Sansa be taken into custody as well. But let’s skip ahead to those two incredible scenes in the Great Sept of Baelor, both of which take place with Joffrey’s cold, lifeless body lying in the center of the room, ever-present in nearly all shots in this location.
Tywin Lannister, as played excellently by Charles Dance, is one of the most fascinating characters in the giant patchwork of Westeros. He’s the only character I care about enough to have watch one of those extensive YouTube supercuts stringing together all of his scenes in one video. (It’s a marvel how memorable he is with only around 85 minutes of screen time. What a supercut like that reveals is how maniacally obsessed Tywin is with preserving the permanent honor and prominence of House Lannister. In a previous season he made passing mention to his father, who nearly let the house fall into some ruin. As such, he’s made it his life’s mission to further the reputation of House Lannister at the cost of any happiness for his children, who he commands to do their duty to the family at all costs.
He’s also suffered personally since his wife died in childbirth. That doesn’t excuse his cold and dismissive attitude toward Tyrion, whom he continually mocks for being a freak who killed his wife coming into the world. But, like Cersei’s monologue about how she became hardened to the institution of marriage after being repeatedly raped by Robert, it explains how his personality has frozen into a cruel and loveless man who only thinks of pragmatic and cunning political and military strategy. He’s attempting to engineer a dynasty, and having won the war for control of the Iron Throne, he’s trying to keep hold of it—like those exceedingly wealthy families who attend conferences to learn strategies to make that wealth last for countless generations in the future.
Cersei and her younger son Tommen stand in the Sept, looking upon Joffrey’s body, when Tywin walks in and begins questioning Tommen. He’s the new King, and since Tywin is still the hand, he questions the boy about the qualities of a good king. It’s part history lesson on past rulers, part vicious insult to Robert Baratheon (Cersei’s deceased husband and Tommen’s father—Tywin does not pull punches), but mostly leading and manipulating the boy to the conclusion that he should trust his advisors. Joffrey wasn’t a wise king, and wasn’t a good king, and that’s probably why he’s dead at such a young age. Tommen will be a “good king” because he’s less likely to get in the way with his own aspirations. He’ll leave well enough alone while Tywin and the big boys hog the real power to themselves.
Tywin’s tone is so uncaring toward his daughter and dead grandson throughout the entire conversation perspective, but tact has always come secondary to sound strategy with the Lannister patriarch. He ignores Joffrey’s corpse as the remains of an uncontrollable brat now lost to history for good, and instead takes the new extension of the Lannister line on the throne under his wing to begin tutelage. Cersei’s reaction to her father’s constant question is remorse, as she blindly mourns the terror she brought up and could not control in the same way Tywin dominates his three children.
Wracked by grief, suspicion, and bloodlust, Cersei starts the episode as a screeching harpy, almost entirely unsympathetic as she moronically accuses her brother and his wife Sansa of Joffrey’s murder instead of, oh, I don’t know, any of the significantly more viable suspects, from Oberyn Martell to just about anyone other than Tyrion. As Dinklage says when his squire Podric comes to visit him in his prison cell: if he’d attempted to kill the king, he never would’ve designed it so that he ended up holding the cup and gawking right at Joffrey in the final moments. (For the record, the probable culprits have been sussed out elsewhere on the Internet. I don’t want to go into full spoiler territory, but a certain piece of less-than-reputable crystal jewelry may have been involved, unbeknownst to its owner at the time. Read the full story here if you know what this is about.)
The one real moment of humor during this scene is the transition, as Tywin leads Tommen out of the Sept while tentatively delving into the Westeros version of “The Birds And The Bees” talk. Jamie enters, and like any father-pretending-to-be-uncle would do, he attempts to comfort and reassure Tommen of his safety. And then the twin Lannister children are alone in the Sept. Cersei ceaselessly demands that Jamie, the father of her royal children, the subject of pernicious (true) rumors that threaten to disgrace the family, kill their brother Tyrion because she’s so (foolishly) sure that he murdered Joffrey despite the fact that he had little to gain by doing it except more ire from the family members he’s trying to avoid because they want him dead.
It’s at this moment, when Cersei is at her most insanely incredulous, that the two siblings give into the heightened emotion of the moment alone and kiss. But when Cersei pulls away, Jamie’s anger at her rejection ignites, and the tone flips almost immediately as he lashes out verbally and then proceeds to violently rape his sister, over her repeated protestations, up against the stone slab that supports the recently murdered body of their son. Cersei pleads, “Stop,” over and over again. Jamie says, “No.” Cersei screams, “It’s not right.” Jamie grunts, “I don’t care.”
It’s unflinchingly brutal, one of the most viscerally upsetting scenes depicted in an episode of Game Of Thrones that I can think of. (There have been other rapes that are only described, which have sounded more violent, but that scale is wholly useless.) Jamie, overcome with grief for his son, still upset at losing his hand and along with it his identity as a swordsman, lashes out at the woman he loves who continues to deny him. Again, like much of the behavior of the main figures in House Lannister, it’s not an excuse, merely an explanation for his complexity. This is why, for all the things Jamie says to Brienne, and that fledgling friendship, I still can’t root for the guy. He’s black as dragonglass at his core, but then again, so is Cersei. These are two morally complex characters who inflict terrible things upon outsiders and each other.
Tywin’s insistence on reputation and family prominence over any personal happiness may be working out in the short term of this single generation. After all, the Lannisters are still on the throne and control the realm. But the damage Tywin has inflicted upon his children means that the greatest threat to a millennia of Lannister rule atop the Iron Throne isn’t some outside army staking a claim and laying seize to King’s Landing, nor is it the threat of the Targaryen girl with three dragons across the sea—it’s the discord within the family itself, so tenuously holding on while privately falling to pieces. Tywin hasn’t been proven an utter hypocrite yet, like many of the other characters, but I think it’s safe to say at some point, all of that fervent abuse and strict control will come back to bite the Lannister patriarch right in the solar plexus.
Tyrion has demonstrated his motivation to help his family, similar to his father (and seeking approval though he’d never admit it and Tywin would never grant it), but also to do what little he can for the good of the realm, like in the Battle of Blackwater Bay, or his cunning logic. But he’s trapped in yet another trial situation, left high and dry as the prime suspect in a king’s murder. Sansa flees the capital, aided by Joffrey’s fool, who brings her out of the city to a boat where Lord Petyr Baelish awaits. He engineered the opportunity for Sansa to escape, and it’s not too much of a leap to presume he had a hand in Joffrey’s demise as well. That leaves Tyrion without a strong character witness. His goodbye to Podric is quite touching. That shred of decent humanity, coupled with his concern for Shae, his comedic barbs aimed at Tywin, Cersei, and just about everyone else, Tyrion is the Lannister who has been mistreated the most but managed to sweep as much as possible under the rug to keep on living. These Lannisters are alone at the top of Westeros now, but they’re finding that it’s lonely on the peak, and once up there the only people left to fight with belong to the family.
• Sam decides to move Gilly to a nearby village so she’s not in danger of any criminals forced to join the Night’s Watch attempting to assault her. To a certain extent Sam is correct to worry about danger coming to Castle Black, though for another reason, since the Wildlings are canvassing lands south of the Wall and massacring villages. When that news reaches the Night’s Watch, it combines with the surviving members of what turned into a mutiny group at Craster’s Keep. Jon Snow correctly observes that they now need to seek out those mutineers and put them down, lest Mance Rayder learn that the force at the Wall is significantly diminished.
• Two other small check-ins this week: The Hound takes advantage of a kind man who shelters him and Arya for the night, leading to a confrontation over her not recognizing that things are bad, and weak people just plain won’t survive in a harsh world like that. And Davos comes up with a plan to potentially get Stannis the troops he desires, now that his fortunes have improved with Joffrey’s death.
• Which brings us to Daenerys, tucked in right at the end of the episode once again so she can make a big dramatic speech and order some kind action that seems badass thanks to the swelling soundtrack. She’s a fan favorite, but really she’s a naïve liberator who hasn’t had the chance to settle down and actually attempt to rule. If she conquers Mereen, then she’ll finally have the chance to prove she can build something viable instead of just marauding and toppling slave cities and increasing her reputation by freeing all the slaves.