Game of Thrones started as a wildly unpredictable show, then became almost predictable in its unpredictability. We came to expect that the biggest twists would happen in the penultimate (second to last) episodes of the season. First, there was “Baelor,” when we lost who we thought to be the main character, Ned Stark. It was then we knew this show was going to be different. Then, there was “Blackwater,” where the Lannisters were able to successfully defend King’s Landing against Stannis Baratheon’s assault. The episode subverted our expectations, featuring only one setting instead of the many different parallel storylines. Last season, of course, was “The Rains of Castamere,” also known as the Red Wedding. Though it was a devastating episode, by this point we had come to expect the unexpected. Over the last few years, seasons progressed swiftly to the climactic ninth episode, leaving it to the season finale to roughly tie things up until next time.
The Purple Wedding, as it’s come to be known by fans, kills off a major player in the series in only the second episode of the season. Once again, fans of the show are reminded of their initial sense that nothing in the series can be anticipated. Though Joffrey had it coming for a long time, his death is another bold signal that, in the game of thrones, no one is safe– not even the villains.
The episode opens on a hunt that appears to be all laughter and fun until you realize that the prey is a live woman named Tansy. The rules are simple: “If you make it out of the woods, you win!” Ramsay Snow (the bastard son of the traitorous Roose Bolton) shouts at her. Tansy and the woman hunting her (Myranda) are presumably “bedwarming” servants of Ramsay, and Myranda has grown jealous of the other woman’s charms. Myranda was one of the servants who was sent to seduce Theon last season, to lure him into letting his guard down just before Ramsay cut off his favorite body part. Ramsay, never one to pass up an opportunity to kill, injure, or maim someone, lets Myranda shoot Tansy and sets his dogs on her.
Theon, who is trailing along in the hunt, is mindlessly and thoroughly beaten. Like a whipped dog, he cannot look anyone in the eye and is often twitching. Given the opportunity to slice Ramsay’s neck, he simply shaves his beard, even after he learns of his friend Robb Stark’s death. Ramsay uses this as proof to his skeptical father that Theon, though broken, can still be of use to their cause. “We’ve been flaying our enemies for a thousand years,” he says. However, Roose is quick to remind him that he is a Snow, not a Bolton (Snow being the last name for all bastards in the North). Ramsay still has to prove himself, and so far his father is not very impressed; ransoming Theon would have been central to his plan to get the Greyjoy men out of Moat Cailin, and they can no longer do that with him in his current state.
Roose explains (a bit too quickly) that Moat Cailin has been taken over by Balon Greyjoy’s men, also known as the “ironborn.” Though Roose has been granted dominion over the North by Tywin Lannister (in exchange for tearing down the previous authority: the Stark family), he is on his own to take it back. He cannot move his troops north without going through Moat Cailin, which is currently in the enemy’s hands. This ancient fortress is the only safe route of travel through the great swamp called the Neck. Previously, before it was taken over by the Greyjoys, it was controlled by House Reed. Reed, you’ll remember, is the name of the two children traveling with Bran in the North: Jojen and Meera. This family is a great friend and ally to the Starks, so it is probably fortunate that Roose Bolton only has to deal with the Greyjoys in his attempt to move northward. We learn that he gets through to his castle, the Dreadfort, only by being smuggled in. Theon (now called by his pet name, “Reek”) will need to play a part in dealing with the ironborn in Moat Cailin, even if Balon Greyjoy will not trade the fortress for his son’s life.
Roose learns from Theon that he never actually killed the Stark boys, Bran and Rickon. Theon suggests that the two boys may be harbored at Castle Black, where their half-brother Jon Snow lives. Roose sends Locke (the man who cut off Jaime’s hand) to the North to find the remaining Stark boys and deal with the threat of Jon Snow. Meanwhile, Ramsay is sent to the South with Theon in an attempt to take back Moat Cailin in the name of the Bolton family.
The middle of the episode features the three most popular religions of the Westerosi people. First, Stannis Baratheon and Melisandre burn three victims as both a sacrifice to the Lord of Light and a punishment for worshiping false idols. One of those men is Queen Selyse’s brother, a man named Lord Florent, who worshiped the Old Gods of the Forest: the gods still embraced by the Stark family, and the Baratheons themselves before Stannis’s conversion.
In the North, we find Bran hunting in Summer’s body. When he is shaken awake, Jojen Reed warns him not to spend too much time in his direwolf’s body, or he may lose himself– an apt metaphor for the corruption of power seen elsewhere, in characters like King Joffrey. Later, the group comes across a weirwood tree basked in a warm glow among the snow. This ancient tree still has a human face carved in it, making it a sacred heart tree. This shrine to the old gods is potentially thousands of years old, and Bran seeks it out in order to perform the ritual of praying before it. When Bran touches the tree, he is transported immediately, as if taken down through its roots and across time. “Look for me beneath the tree. North,” a voice tells him. There are many visions of the past and, potentially, the future, including the three-eyed crow, his fall from the tower, his father before his death, and a dragon’s shadow flying over King’s Landing. Though he did not witness these things, he watches them as if on film.
Back on Dragonstone, Melisandre also visits Stannis’s daughter, Shireen, who suffered from an often-fatal disease called Greyscale. The disease left half of her face dry and cracked like stone, and the her mother takes it as a mark of her wickedness. Melisandre speaks with the wise young girl and asks her what she knows of religion. Shireen tells the red priestess that she read a book called the Seven-Pointed Star about the gods of the Faith of the Seven, as practiced in the capital. Melisandre tells her that there are only two gods: the god of Light and the god of Darkness. There are no seven heavens or seven hells; ”There’s only one hell, Princess: the one we live in now.”
In King’s Landing, Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding ceremony is held in the Great Sept of Baelor, otherwise known as the center of the Faith of the Seven religion. Seven-pointed stars are on the floor and in the giant window behind the priest. Large statues of the gods tower over the young couple as they go through the rituals of marriage. This religion, housed in the seat of power in Westeros, is the dominant faith of the region, but the old gods and the new continue to stir people around the edges of this land. Nothing in the capital remains safe.
Varys tells Tyrion that Shae has been found out and offers her a comfortable life in Pentos across the sea. He reminds Tyrion of Tywin’s threat to kill the next whore found in his bed. In a later scene, Tyrion insists to Shae that he only enjoyed her a little more than his other whores. He truly loves Shae, but has to pretend otherwise in order to save her. His sacrifice is great and weighs on him heavily throughout the wedding ceremony and feast.
Joffrey contributes to Tyrion’s misery throughout the episode, relentlessly tormenting his uncle, only to him and his mother’s obvious delight. At the first event, where guests deliver gifts to the young king, Tyrion gives Joffrey a book called Lives of Four Kings. The book is incredibly famous and only four original copies still exist… until Joffrey slices it up with his new Valyrian steel sword, affectionately called the “Widow’s Wail.” The destroyed book depicted the life of four Targaryen kings, some parts good and bad. “A book every king should read, Your Grace,” Tyrion says, alluding to the wisdom of the descriptions of imperfect kings. Joffrey has no tolerance for wisdom and refuses to learn from his own mistakes, let alone the mistakes and successes of others. His willful arrogance blinds him to any potential threats around him. He is propelled by the belief that he is young and invincible, and continues to do whatever he wants.
The wedding reception is dominated by Joffrey’s need for attention, positive or negative. He has his guests pelt the fool, Ser Dontos, and stages a War of Five Kings among several little people dressed the part of each king, alive or dead. The Tyrells are insulted by Renly’s portrayal, who is seen riding a doll that looks like Ser Loras in place of a horse. Sansa is also horrified by the depiction of her brother’s death. Only Cersei, the “former Queen Regent,” as Oberyn keeps reminding her, seems to find delight in her son’s brutal ways. Lord knows why; with the marriage, she has lost almost all of her power and is increasingly threatened by the women around her. She lashes out at them by undermining the new queen Margaery and insulting Brienne, ruthless in her cruelty. Tyrion is less amused by his nephew’s antics, telling Podrick that they’ll have to find another way to thank the king for staging such an insulting performance. This threat may or may not have been immediately realized.
The “best time to attack a man” is when his guard is down, as Bronn tells Jaime during their left-handed sword fighting lesson. What better time than at a young king’s wedding? We already learned of the effectiveness of this technique in Tywin’s plot against the young wolf, Robb Stark. Lady Olenna references the Red Wedding and foreshadows her new grandson-in-law’s demise as she comforts Sansa Stark, playing with her hair and touching the necklace Ser Dontos gave her as she says, ”War is war, but killing a man at a wedding? Horrid. What sort of monster would do such a thing?”
What sort of monster, indeed? Plenty of people have motive and even more have a desire. George R.R. Martin, who wrote this episode, was sure to put red herrings all over the scene. It could be anyone, from Tywin Lannister to Professor Plum with the candlestick. The lengthy scene at the wedding reception is set up like a classic murder mystery, with subtle clues sprinkled throughout to both illuminate and obscure the crime.
Could it be Oberyn Martell, come to exact his vengeance on the Lannister family in the name of his murdered sister? After all, he threatened them through Tyrion last episode, reminding them that the Lannisters are not the only ones who pay their debts.
Tywin Lannister has staged similar murders and is clearly willing to do whatever it takes to preserve his family. Maybe he felt that Joffrey believed his power was far too absolute, and that there was too much volatility in his grandson’s rule. As Joffrey twitches and dies, Tywin stands and watches on coolly, without moving to help, already calculating his next move. Even Cersei, as horrified and angered as she appears over her son’s death, had the decanter of wine sitting right in front of her and had a chance to poison it before Tyrion used it to fill Joffrey’s glass.
Of course it was Tyrion who had the most obvious opportunity, but that alone seems like it could prove his innocence; isn’t Tyrion smarter than that? Still, he carried Joffrey’s cup and filled it with wine, albeit on the king’s obnoxious requests. He has been humiliated by Joffrey in the past, but never more so than throughout the course of that day. When Jaime spilled wine earlier in the episode, Tyrion remarked that it was not a big deal and poured out some wine in commiseration. But later, as Joffrey dumps his goblet over his uncle’s head, the tension is palpable. It could have been the last straw for the Imp, who has threatened the king on more than one occasion. When Joffrey called his uncle a monster last season, Tyrion was quick to quip, “Monsters are dangerous, and just now kings are dying like flies.”
Sansa also had more than a little desire to see to the king’s death. She was the one who picked up the goblet after Joffrey kicked it under the table, and could have slipped something in it then. She has plenty of reason to kill the king, as even the fool Ser Dontos realizes; when he finds her in the confusion of Joffrey’s death, he says, ”If you want to live, we have to leave.” Ser Dontos himself seems particularly knowledgeable about what’s happening to Joffrey in the midst of his convulsions.
Meanwhile, Margaery and her grandmother are also not above suspicion. Perhaps Sansa’s tales of Joffrey’s cruelty and sadism pushed them over the edge. Margaery, though she acts surprised and implores people for help, was the one to feed him pie and pass him the cup in the last moment. She may have figured that there was always another king in line. After all, she has already been linked to two kings (Renly and Joffrey); what’s one more? This time it would be Tommen, the fair-haired boy who was seen at Cersei’s side, and he could not possibly be worse than his crazed brother.
Margaery’s grandmother, Lady Olenna, is seen throughout the episode looking less than amused on the day of her granddaughter’s wedding. She does not clap when she is supposed to and all of her sharp-witted good nature is gone. She was also the one who paid for all of the food and wine. It would not have been too difficult for her to have poisoned the wine or the pie she provided. Could the “Queen of Thorns” herself be the monster she alluded to?
If you’re to believe the power of Melisandre’s magic, even Stannis might be to blame. Last season, as he burned leeches filled with the blood of a king, he uttered the words: ”The usurper Robb Stark, the usurper Balon Greyjoy, the usurper Joffrey Baratheon.” Now, two of those three are dead, and we haven’t heard from Balon in a while. After all, he and Melisandre were responsible for the mystical death of his own brother, Renly Baratheon, so their powers clearly have reach beyond rational explanation.
Though there are many potential killers, Tyrion is the one who is blamed. Joffrey summons his last remaining strength to accuse his uncle, and Cersei, in her distress, follows his lead; she orders the Kingsguard to arrest him on the spot.
The episode ends on one last, gruesome shot of King Joffrey’s disfigured, purple face. It was so easy to forget that Joffrey was only still just a boy, a child who took lives from others and had his own taken from him right back. A thousand voices cried out in satisfaction: ding, dong, the king is dead! However, in the wake of the Purple Wedding, there is a Joffrey-sized void that will be hard to fill; after all, it is difficult to pack so much abject, willful cruelty into one tiny frame. In the end, happy as we may be, I cannot help but feel that television has lost one of its greatest villains. Bravo to Jack Gleeson for bringing Joffrey to life in ways that made us all love to hate him.
Other thoughts and highlights from “The Lion and the Rose”:
- Interesting that Brienne all but admits to loving Jaime when Cersei confronts her about it. She also loved Renly before him. This is a unique take on chivalry and courtly love. In the medieval chivalric code, it is sometimes said that knights had a duty to love the ladies they protected (who were always married to other men), like Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere. Here, Brienne once again subverts gender roles by loving the lords she protects, though their hearts are committed to others.
- Tywin wanted Shae to be brought to his tower before the wedding, though Bronn claims to Tyrion that she’s on the ship she was meant to leave on. It is not clear what happened to her, or if she managed to leave King’s Landing before she was summoned to the Tower of the Hand.
- Tyrion: ”Try the boar. Cersei can’t get enough of it since one killed Robert for her.”
- Tyrion offered a fitting toast to his generation of Lannisters: “A toast to the proud Lannister children. The dwarf, the cripple, the mother of madness.”
- Bronn, to Jaime: “[Tyrion] tells me you shit gold, just like your father.”
- Lady Olenna: “War is war, but killing a man at a wedding? Horrid. What sort of monster would do such a thing? As if men need more reasons to fear marriage.”
- Jaime, on Cersei: “You’ll never marry her.” Ser Loras: “And neither will you.”
- Lady Olenna dismissing her son and supposed head of their great house, Mace Tyrell, with one simple, “Not now, Tywin and I are speaking,” was all that ever needed to be said of who really pulls the strings in the Tyrell family. Has anyone started shipping Lady Olenna and Tywin Lannister? Power couple.