I didn’t think it would happen so soon!
But I’m sure glad it did.
Just in case you were unclear, there will be spoilers for the second episode of season four of Game of Thrones in this here recap/review. And, if you haven’t already, check you my thoughts on the premiere and watch/listen to our Game of Thrones-Cast discussing the start of season four.
When I imagined the episode structure for the ten episodes of this season, I knew the events of Joffrey’s wedding to Margeary Tyrell would have to figure fairly early. Too much occurred after the nuptials for it to be the 9th episode bang that the previous seasons have used to great effect. But the second episode? That’s a bit earlier than I anticipated, and I’m actually really glad that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff now have a substantial amount of screen time to play with in King’s Landing. That George R. R. Martin himself penned this episode is no surprise – the death of the series’ most despicable boy king could not have a better shepherd than the master fantasist who thought it up in the first place.
But I’m getting ahead of myself – there’s a fair bit that occurs in this episode before we ever get to the wedding.
The Boltons are just terrible people, and this episode makes a great case for the masters of the Dreadfort taking over as the new villains of Game of Thrones. Ramsey Snow starts the episode off with a horrific sequence in which he is hunting a human girl through the woods, taunting her all the while that he will let her be free if she can escape the forest. You might be hard pressed to recognize her with her clothes on, but one of the girls from last season who participated in Theon’s torture is with her lord – Ramsay calls her Myranda so at least we have another name to add to “the list”. Theon, now known as Reek, shuffles along behind the other two, clearly broken.
The sequence is shot horribly well, with a deliciously suspenseful moment of silence when the girl believes she may have evaded her hunters. Then the baying hounds track her down and eventually Myranda shoots the prey in the leg with an arrow. There’s a bit more comedy in how Ramsay portrays his villainy than Joffrey – Snow plays Myranda’s apparent jealousy over the prettier girl as an in-joke – but the whimpering, obviously panicking girl, is overwhelming to watch. Thankfully, the audience doesn’t witness the girl being ripped to shreds by Ramsay’s dogs, but Reek does, and seeing his reaction is actually worse, I’d argue.
Roose Bolton and his modest retinue returns to the Dreadfort, and Ramsay is there to welcome his father in the courtyard. Snow takes note of Wanda Frey’s weight, and there’s evidence of a smirk but little more. In the solar, Bolton reprimands his bastard for “flaying” Theon Greyjoy when the son of the Iron Islands was much more valuable as a hostage to trade for some territory. There’s a brief shot of a map, in which the geography is explained a bit, but I wonder if casual watchers will miss what exactly was discussed. Essentially, the Ironborn – Theon’s countrymen, including his sister Yara – occupy a stronghold that’s very difficult to capture due to it being surrounded by deep marshlands. Fifty men with longbows and enough ammunition can hold the Neck against 100 times their number, so trading Theon would have allowed a diplomatic resolution.
The relationship between Bolton and his bastard is played well as a counterpoint to Eddard Stark’s treatment of Jon Snow. In the Dreadfort, Bolton has his bastard act as lord in his absence, while Jon is shoved off to the Night’s Watch. Of course, Roose Bolton has no legal sons, so his options are limited, but even he shows some remorse in giving any power to his obviously disturbed bastard. “I give you far too much responsibility,” he says to his son. But then Ramsay surprises his father by showing Reek’s barber skills, rewarding us with one of the most memorable scenes from the episode. The shaving scene is almost as shudder-inducing as Ramsay’s torture scenes, because it shows just how broken Theon’s spirit is. He could have cut Snow’s throat when he learned of Robb Stark’s death, but he’s so afraid of his master that all he can do is pause and shake in fits before calmly continuing the shave.
I’m not sure Alfie Allen has the acting chops to pull off the transition from cocky prick to broken shell, but it doesn’t help that he doesn’t appear any different. In the books – and we’re pulling scenes from book five A Dance with Dragons at this point – Reek is nearly unrecognizable after his torture. He is kept in dungeons for months on end, starved, forced to eat rats to survive, and Ramsay removes several of Reek’s fingers. The process leaves a broken man who looks more like a hunched Maester than a lord. In the show, Reek still looks too much like Theon for us to believe he’s really changed. We’ll have to see how it plays out, but for now I do not believe the transition.
Bolton learns the Stark boys survived, and dispatches the guy who chopped off Jaime Lannister’s hand, known as Locke, to find them. Reek says Jon Snow is at Castle Black, so we’ll likely see Locke show up there this season. Ramsay and Reek will head south to try to win Moat Cailin from the Ironborn. All of this is outside the chronology of the books, and I’m interested to see if the reconstructed timeline starts to become confusing or not. In some ways, the show may end up with a better version of Martin’s story than Martin’s story actually was written – the author admitted he made a mistake in how he drafted books four and five, resulting in ten years of agonizing development that he still really hasn’t really recovered from.
But now let us move south to King’s Landing.
Jaime Lannister and Tyrion share a touching scene in which the younger brother tries to cheer up his crippled elder. It’s actually great to see the brothers interact again, and that Tyrion doesn’t lord over Jaime with a line like “See? Now you know how I feel!” The dwarf is genuinely saddened by his boyhood hero being brought low, and gives him the only thing he can, a “quiet” sellsword to spar with. Oh good! They totally are going to bring back Ilyn Payne, the royal headsman who had his tongue cut out. Yay! … Oh hells, it’s Bronn.
In all honesty, it could have been some very boring television to watch Jaime spar with a silent swordsman, but it would have worked. One of the aspect’s of Jaime’s character that we’re missing is his inner turmoil, and search for his self in the adder pit that is both his family and the capitol. To have him be compelled to talk, to get those emotions out and deliver them to a man for whom it is impossible to tell anyone Jaime’s secrets would have been great. I can see why the show’s creators went with Bronn – he is a fan-favorite character after all, and he doesn’t have much to do once his master is taken into custody – but I would have preferred Ser Ilyn Payne, if only to hear his clacking laugh at Jaime’s ineptitude.
Tyrion has some gut-wrenching scenes in this episode, before we even get to the poisoning. Varys the Spider tells him even more emphatically that Shae is in danger, and Tyrion pushes her away the only way he knows how, by telling her that he doesn’t love her. It’s an obvious lie, but that doesn’t mean she hurts any less. Bronn takes her away, and assures Tyrion she is on a ship across the Narrow Sea. But the seeds of discord have been planted.
The Lord of Light and his merry band makes a brief appearance. Stannis Baratheon and Melisandre burn his brother-in-law to death on the beach for upholding the Seven gods, Ser Davos grumbles a bit about the same old shit, and we get a more clear picture of the marital bliss his wife Selyse enjoy. Melisandre goes to visit Stannis’ daughter, who suffered from greyscale, a fatal disease for most but only left her scarred. These scenes do little to further the story other than to remind you of the characters, truly, but Melisandre does have one amazing line. “The only hell that exists is the one we’re living in right now,” she says to Shireen Baratheon. Ugh.
Before we get to the big ol’ wedding, there’s a short scene north of the Wall that is jam-packed with information. Bran is wolf walking again. Hodor says “Hodor” and wakes him up. The Reed kids, Jojen and Meera tell him it’s not a good idea to go into his wolf so much. Then the small party sees a weirwood tree, complete with a face carved in it, which means it’s a holy place for those follow the Old Gods. Bran asks Hodor to bring him close, touches the tree, and is blasted with a cavalcade of images: a huge heart tree on a cliff, a glimpse of his father in prison beneath the Red Keep, Bran himself being pushed out of the tower by Jaime, a shadow of dragon’s wings flapping over King’s Landing – and a voice that says, “Look for me … beneath the tree … north.” Welp, that’s three minutes of quest-giving that was sorely needed. I’m glad we only get a few glimpses of Bran’s journeys in these episodes as it’s mostly just boring walking through the cold in the books.
Semi-mystical interlude over. Back to the wedding.
Festivities start out with a breakfast in which the nobles of Westeros present gifts to the couple, most of them going to Joffrey. We finally see Mace Tyrell – I love that he is portrayed as an unimportant fool from the get-go – give a gift of a massive gold chalice to his king. Tyrion attempts to educate his nephew by giving him a book describing the reigns of the four kings in Westeros regarded to have been the most successful. Meaning they weren’t mad, or killed before their time. Joffrey shows impeccable restraint and actually thanks his dwarf uncle not unkindly. Everyone is surprised … until Lord Tywin presents his gift, the other Valyrian sword crafted in the last episode, and Joffrey becomes an annoying kid again.
He waves the sword around with glee, but without any expert swordsmanship. Joffrey asks the crowd for a name, and after some great ones he settles on the most offensive: Widow’s Wail. Seriously? That’s the name you go with? Well, then, Lord Tywin cautions his grandson to be careful where he swings it, Valyrian steel can cut anything after all, and wouldn’t you know it? Joffrey proceeds to chop up the rare book that Tyrion so kindly had given him not five minutes earlier. Now, this scene certainly does support the whole Joffrey hates Tyrion thing – there were a few slaps here and there that probably sealed the deal beforehand – but I really missed a shot of the chopped up book. Call me crazy, but seeing a book destroyed by a punk kid’s careless vandalism would have gone even further in making the audience hate him. Not that we needed more of a reason.
There follows an excellent scene between Tywin Lannister and Lady Olenna of House Tyrell. The two elder statespersons have an obvious respect for one another as the heads of powerful Houses – underlined by the Queen of Thorns’ dismissal of her son Mace when he tries to interrupt their conference. The conversation had the ring of an agreement between them, which might lend credence to the Game of Thrones-cast’s theory that Tywin was already considering how to remove Joffrey and might even have given Lady Olenna some sign of permission in this scene.
I also really enjoyed the verbal sparring between Tywin and Prince Oberyn. It’s all very pleasant, despite Cersei’s obvious clodding around attempting to insult everyone, until the Dornishman mentions how it’s inappropriate to butcher small children in his kingdom. And isn’t that good because that’s where the Princess, Cersei’s daughter, is being held as a hostage? The scene ends, and I’m left begging for there to be a swordfight so Oberyn can get his revenge. Soon!
Finally, the feast begins, and Joffrey is a right bastard through all of it. His queen Margeary is clearly enjoying the performance of a group of musicians (played by famed Icelandic trio Sigur Ros) – as was I, they had this cool organ pipe instrument and the vocalist was wonderful – but the boy king threw money at them and told them to stop. He does that with all the amusements, even asking the crowd to throw stuff at poor Ser Dontos, the fool who gave Sansa Stark that necklace. Then Joffrey steps it up a notch, insulting everyone in the room by bringing out five dwarves to clown around in a representation of the War of the Five Kings. The dwarf with his ass hanging out, and a dummy in front of him, to act as Renly Baratheon was especially good at pissing off Loras Tyrell, Renly’s lover who is also his widow’s brother. And the “King in the North” dwarf getting beheaded was horrible for Sansa to witness. The pompous Joffrey giggles and snorts like a child through it all, as if this was high comedy instead of deeply insensitive.
It gets worse. Oh, it gets so much worse. The next ten minutes are some of the most awkward and excruciating to watch television I’ve ever experienced. Not content with the display of dwarf clowns, Joffrey makes the obvious connection and asks Tyrion to join the fake fracas. “I’m sure they have an spare costume,” the king says. Tyrion, to his credit, makes a very level-headed response that still manages to call into question Joffrey’s lack of bravery at the Battle of the Blackwater. It could have ended there, but Joffrey walks over and pours wine on his uncle’s head. Whoops! Faux pas!
Tyrion endures insult after insult, knowing fully that any outwardly snide remark or violence would result in his death, not to mention the Lannister family being shamed by public in-fighting. Tyrion tries to defuse every new insult Joffrey throws at him. Even Margeary Tyrell helps by distracting her “love” from the torture of his uncle. Hearing her exclaim “Look the pie!” is a relief. But the boy king won’t be denied. He must have his revenge for all those slappings, and Joffrey’s a little too drunk to back down with any grace. Tyrion is forced to fill the king’s wine cup again, even as he’s trying to escape to change out of his wet clothes. The dwarf grabs the king’s cup, which was in front of Olenna Tyrell, fills it, and then goes to sit down.
Joffrey drinks his fill, takes a bite of the pie while trying to come up with some other form of verbal torture when he coughs. Once, twice. He drinks again. “I’m fine, it’s nothing,” he says.
But Tyrion knows it is not nothing. Through it all – all the torture, all the stupid things that Joffrey has done, all the wrongs, all the pain Tyrion has suffered from his family – his nephew is his blood, and the dwarf is genuinely concerned there is something wrong with his king. But by then it is too late. Margeary yells, “He’s choking!” The boy falls, grabbing at his neck. Jaime Lannister rushes in and tries to turn over the heaving, vomiting boy. Cersei screams at him to not touch her son and holds the purpling face in her hands.
The wedding is in disarray, but there are several details of which to take note. Dontos whispers in Sansa’s ear that they have to leave right now. She does. Tywin stares at his grandson dying with little emotion. Tyrion picks up the king’s cup, correctly guessing that maybe it was the vector for poison but this time his intelligence leads to trouble instead of safety. Joffrey in his death throes reaches for Tyrion, and Cersei latches onto that gesture as an accusation. “Take him! Take him! Take him!”
The closing shot of Joffrey’s disgusting, purple face is superb. Blood leaking out of his eyes, nose and mouth, he is finally as ugly as his horrible actions. He’s murdered whores, terrorized people, and caused the death of direwolves. There’s not one audience member watching Game of Thrones who feels sorry for the child king’s death.
I think the Hound said it best: “Fuck the king.”
Long live Tommen Lannister … err Baratheon … Oh wait, you don’t know who he is? Well, the show can’t get everything right.