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Excuse me, I’m still stewing over having watched a Daenerys-less episode of Game of Thrones … hold on … almost there … a little longer … there. That should tide me over for at least a few hours.
Yet even ignoring that injustice (I understand that not even the show’s most enticing characters can’t appear in every episode; I don’t agree with that policy in Dany’s case, but I understand it), there is something off-putting about “The Lion and the Rose”.
Maybe (definitely) it has something to with the rather unsettling open, in which a pack of wild animals, two of whom are the prospective Lord of the North’s bastard and a lady friend of his, chase down a human victim for sport. A helpless young beauty who claims to have done everything asked of her hunters (I’m partial to believe the victim in this case) is hardly what Richard Connell meant by “the most dangerous game.”
But the dismay does not stop there. A one-time future lord of the Iron Islands shuffles helplessly in submission behind his sadistic master on each and every of his bits of terror inflicted on every moment he comes across. A bastard son severely disappoints his father while desperate for approval. The Master of Coin emotionally destroys the one woman he’s ever loved, the only way to save her life. The Lord of Dragonstone watches a triple-human sacrifice, executed in his name through a religion he doesn’t believe in, one of the victims his brother-in-law. An innocent man is seized for a murder he did not commit. A young lord of Winterfell longs sullenly to be whole again. A king is assassinated. And the audience is subjected to screen time for any Bolton not named Roose.
Of course, the king’s assassination isn’t so dismal, considering the excrement’s level of vileness. But his death also wasn’t all that surprising. And it’s clockwork when compared to the shaken earth left in the wake of the Red Wedding. You just can’t piss off as many people in King’s Landing as Joffrey did and expect to live for very long. Especially if you’re the king. It’s a hazardous perch. With the first three quarters of the episode essentially just shuffling the deck a bit, it would seem Joffrey’s death was to be the episode’s “moment” that saved it from being a middling hour. Instead it was commonplace.
At its best, the final minutes set up an intriguing mystery that’s hopefully to be answered next week: who, if anyone (though a solo operation seems highly, highly, unlikely), aided Sansa in the king’s assassination? It’s not like he doesn’t have his enemies. Could it have been Oberyn Martell? Master finger-sucker and hater of all things Lannister? Or how about either of our Tyrell girls, Margaery and Lady Olenna? As Joffrey’s wife, Marge’s life would have been chronically at stake, plus she has more of a bond with Sansa than nearly anyone in King’s Landing. Olenna’s words to Sansa, minutes before the deed is carried out, could either represent her aloofness towards the near future or one of several layers of implication, possibly even delivering the kingdom’s serum to the redheaded lady of the North at the very moment: “War is war. But killing a man at a wedding … horrid. What sort of monster would do such a thing?” Oh, the intrigue! Tyrion is almost too obvious a candidate for suspicion, and seems too genuinely surprised by his nephew’s demise to have been aware ahead of time. Varys is a fringe contender, but, as he tells Tyrion early in the episode, raising any suspicion from the Lannisters in any way spells death for the eunuch. Another person of interest is Shae. She has both the reason and the means, being a former woman of the night with a very close bond to Sansa, and reason enough to hurt any Lannister.
Perhaps it isn’t that much of a mystery, though. Because who is there to steal Sansa away from the (very, very loud) accusations of Cersei? Se Dontos. It’s possible he just recognizes the danger his savior is in, and does all he can to repay the favor in that instant. But he seems so calm under the weight of the moment that he likely knew what was coming. It’d be disappointing if such a major development with a character like Sansa (a friendship-turned-murder-pact with a knight-turned-fool), whose point of view we regularly see, is kept hidden from the audience in the name of surprising an audience, especially for an outcome that wasn’t all that surprising.
Jaime shares a warm moment with his younger brother, and where else would it occur other than the breakfast table? Both characters have undergone some sort of road-traveled transformation to distinguish themselves from the depths of their family’s generalized evil, and they’re left with the opportunity to form an unlikely team in King’s Landing that could do a lot of good (or damage, depending on one’s sigil). Tyrion supports Jaime, spilling his own wine on the table to impress what little matter it is that Jaime did the same unintentionally with his steel hand. Once the Kinglsayer admits he’s now unable to live up to that role with his left hand (contrary to the wonderfully cocky remarks regarding his off-hand in the previous episode), the Master of Coin encourages the Lord Commander to undergo rigorous training necessary to bring his left up to speed. But where to find an expert swordsman who can also keep his mouth shut? Thus forming the dream pairing: Jaime and Bronn.
Bronn chooses a secluded landing on a rocky beach as the site for Jaime’s training, where the sellsword already does a fair amount of discreet running-through, only with his other sword (“She’s a screamer, that one. If they don’t hear her, they won’t hear us.”). Bronn seems happy to impart his own style of fighting unto the Kingslayer. “Bold warrior you are,” Jaime says when Bronn strikes the lion’s hand in his attempt to lift his sparring sword. “Attacking a man with his guard down.”
“Best time to attack a man,” the sellsword responds. Bronn is not a forgiving trainer, nearly knocking the cripple into the sea, but Jaime respects it, acknowledging its necessity and fully prepared to make the long climb to left-handed swordsmanship (although I’m still a little fuzzy as to why they can’t just design a sword that fits to the stub of his right arm).
Jaime and Ser Loras have an exchange that begins (like all dialogues in Westeros) with pleasantries, but ends (like almost all dialogues in Westeros) in venomous insinuation. “You’ll never marry my sister,” says the Kingslayer.
“Neither will you,” Loras retorts cheekily.
Cersei does nothing to discourage the “Mother of Madness” title Tyrion assigned her at breakfast with Jaime. During the post-wedding-ceremony celebration, the most beautiful woman in all the kingdom lashes out, happy to undo the happiness of others or dishearten the indifferent. She lambasts Brienne for changing her loyalties based on convenience (which probably means she’s actually more equipped for King’s Landing than one might have originally thought; especially considering her abilities in ass-kickery), then tops it off by accusing the female knight of loving her brother.
Cersei also grins like a woman with nothing left in her heart but evil while Joffrey berates Tyrion at dinner, suggesting he do battle with the dwarves putting on a re-creation of Joffrey’s winning of the war.
Cersei also undermines the prospective queen’s decree that the wedding’s leftovers go to the city’s poorest. Cersei’s destination for the food? The dog kennels, of course. And for no reason other than her not having come up with the idea in the first place.
When her son finally goes down for the count, his mother predictably rushes to the conclusion to shift blame on the obviously innocent Tyrion, screaming “Take him!” at him over and over as if he were being guarded by Steve Novak.
I want to both high-five and hug Sansa for the massive service she’s done to Westeros and the Game of Thrones franchise (although I doubt she carried the deed out for anyone but herself; and with good reason), but there’s no time. She needs to disappear, and fast. Unfortunately, her attempt to rescue Tyrion from his false accusation is thwarted when Joffrey insists on his presence as the king’s cup bearer. Ser Dontos urges Sansa to flee with him, and it appears we’ll have yet another Stark without a home.
One such Stark, Bran, has an epiphany, a vision seen when he comes into contact with a tree of the old gods. In his vision, we see: the three-eyed raven, Ned Stark in captive below King’s Landing, snowy lands, an image of Bran standing in the snow and surrounded by ravens, the iron throne sitting alone in a snowy chamber, a worm’s-eye-view of Bran being launched from his tower and plummeting to his paralysis, and the shadow of a dragon over King’s Landing. All while a voice urges Bran to “Look for me … North.”
– Other than Roose, who manages to stay likable in his sadism, I couldn’t care less what happens to any member of the Bolton household, Reek included. Ramsay and Theon’s was a patience-trying arc in the previous season, and it seems prepared to excruciate audiences much the way Ramsay excruciates Reek.
– Oberyn proves his tongue has the sharpness his dagger exhibited in the season premiere. “Wearing the crown for so many years must have left your neck a bit crooked,” he jabs at Cersei, able to see right through her desperation in losing her grip on power, before reminding the queen-regent where her daughter Myrcella now resides.
– Tywin and Lady Olenna share yet another lively exchange. We could use more of these.
– Bronn gives his master some timeless advice: “Go drink until it feels like you did the right thing.”
– Ironically enough, Joffrey does seem to exhibit some sort of grasp on social grace, although I use that word more lightly than Valiryan steel. When presented with “a book every king should read,” by his uncle, Joffrey stymies his dissatisfaction and offers a very pragmatic and approving response. A lot of good it did him.