If you listen very carefully, you’ll probably be able to catch the distant buzz of 6.6 million Game of Thrones viewers happily humming some equivalent of “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead” with contented smiles and raised glasses. We did it, folks. Thirty-two episodes, countless unwarranted casualties, and a fateful glass of wine later, the insufferable snot Joffrey Baratheon has finally kicked it. And the circumstances couldn’t have been grander. Sunday night’s Thrones episode saw one of the most extravagant parties in the show’s history go up in blonde flames with the long-awaited death of our new king – but let’s rewind a little.
“The Lion and the Rose” gives us this season’s first look at Theon Greyjoy since he’s been loosed from his physical chains – but he doesn’t seem to be all that much better off for it. After a long bout of ruthless torture from sadistic maniac Ramsay Bolton (the culmination of which was castration), Theon is a quivering shell of the arrogant fighter he once was. No matter how fierce your outrage at his betrayal of the Starks, it’s impossible not to want to wrap the guy in a blanket with some soup. Clearly abjectly terrified of Ramsay and his fondness for hacking off body parts, Theon now serves his captor as some sort of brainwashed slave, and it’s nothing less than heartbreaking to watch. His gaze is perpetually cast downward, he responds to Ramsay’s every beck and call with a trembling “Yes, master,” – and Ramsay knows exactly how short Theon’s leash is. In an attempt to convince his disappointed father (Roose Bolton of Red Wedding fame) that ruining Theon was worth the loss of his value as a bartering item, Ramsay delivers the news of Robb Stark’s murder while the silent prisoner shaves his throat. Displaying complete and utter brokenness, Theon merely grimaces and continues with his task. Some form of revolt is surely in the works for him – if anything were going to awaken the old Theon, the massacre of his best friend and honorary brother would have to be it.
At Dragonstone, Lady Melisandre and Stannis continue to pick people off one by one in the name of the Lord of Light. While Stannis appears to become a little wary of the whole business (or maybe he’s just a walking ice-block), his wife is a total Melisandre fangirl and subscribes 100% to the whole mess – an attitude that she makes very clear over an uncomfortable candlelit dinner between the three. “I fear for our daughter’s soul,” Selyse offers in some light table talk. “She’s sullen and stubborn and sinful. She needs the rod.” So, at Selyse’s prodding, Melisandre hikes up to what is presumably the uppermost chamber of Dragonstone to have a midnight chat with the scaly and adorable princess Shireen. It’s classic girl talk – why sinners must be burnt to a crisp, the god of light and the god of darkness, how the world of the living is actually hell, etc. Shireen seems to have her head screwed on pretty tight – hopefully she can dodge the rod for as long as possible.
Elsewhere, a grumpy Bran is awoken from a particularly delicious warg dream in which he is devouring a deer vicariously through a wolf’s senses. The Reed siblings ignore his sleepy protests and caution that he’s spending far too much time in the heads of other creatures – soon enough, he’ll lose sense of himself. Bran clearly takes their advice to heart because shortly afterwards, he slips back into a dream-state at the sight of a carved tree. The images and noises that flash through his mind make the next course of action clear – they have to go up North.
In retrospect, this episode’s pre-wedding goings-on in King’s Landing seem rather petty. In a morbid editing gag, we cut directly from Theon’s miserable expression to Tyrion slicing a breakfast sausage with considerable gusto. Okay, okay – it was pretty good. He then appoints Bronn as a discreet fighting partner for Jaime to flex his left-handed fighting skills away from the public eye. Later, Lord Varys tells the youngest Lannister that news of Shae’s true occupation and unwelcome presence in King’s Landing has finally reached Cersei, and it’s only a matter of time before Tywin finds out and tidies up the whole affair. There’s no more room left to dance around the issue any longer – if Shae stays, Shae dies – and we all know that she’s too stubborn to leave her “lion” if he’ll still have her. So, in a final act of desperation, Tyrion pulls the classic cold-shoulder stunt in an attempt to repel Shae and push her out of harm’s way once and for all. “You’re a whore,” he growls at her. “Sansa is fit to bear my children, and you are not. How many men have you been with – five hundred? Five thousand?” Dinklage strikes a perfect balance between melancholy and aggravation in this painful departure scene as Tyrion steers the woman he loves out the door. Shae has become a whiney burden and a dead plotline and I’m not sorry to see her go, but it sure is a bummer to see the one good thing in Tyrion’s life disappear. Poor little Lannister.
And now, it’s time. The wedding we’ve all been waiting for. Joffrey and Margaery’s service is a slicker, smoother mirror of last season’s Lannister matrimony – but the marriage itself is mere foreplay. The reception is one of unprecedented extravagance, even for Game of Thrones. Something between a carnival and a creative brothel, the royal party is gaudy, vibrant, and in typical Westeros fashion, ends in death. There are various dramatic encounters throughout the evening: Jaime threatens Ser Loras to stay away from his sister, Brienne receives similar messages from Cersei, Oberyn Martell and his partner face off with Tywin and Cersei, and Maester Pycelle is put in his sleazy place. But the real drama begins when Joffrey presents a raucous reenactment of the “War of the Five Kings,” the characters of which are portrayed by a cast of imps. At the end of the performance, Joffrey subjects Tyrion to a new level of public humiliation as he pours wine over his uncle’s head and mockingly appoints him as “cup-bearer.” The entire crowd remains dead silent as Tyrion bends down to retrieve Joffrey’s goblet every time it’s deliberately kicked under the table, and hardly a noise is uttered until finally, the massive wedding pie arrives and the guests erupt in cheers. Now we can all relax, right? Um, have you ever seen this show? Wrong. Joffrey chews on some pie for a moment until he decides it’s too dry – he needs some Tyrion-served wine to wash it down. All’s well for a few moments until the new king begins to cough and splutter, eventually collapsing on the floor in a purple-faced fit.
As Joffrey gives a final few gasps through popping veins and a bleeding nose, he points to his uncle Tyrion, who is examining the king’s last goblet with a perplexed look on his face. “He did this,” shrieks Cersei. “He poisoned my son – your king! Take him!” Another Westeros wedding ends in blood, another child’s death is blamed on poor Tyrion, another Thrones episode ends in questions: who killed Joffrey? Who will be the new king? How do they get Margaery’s hair to stay up like that? Joffrey’s death is one of the most anticipated and monumental events in the show’s history, and we’re only on the second episode. The season is kicking off at breakneck speed, and it likely won’t be getting any slower.
Photo Credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO