Game of Thrones recap: 'The Lion and the Rose'
It's another wedding in Westeros. Those never go badly, right?
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to pay our respects to King Joffrey Baratheon, First of His Name, who died just a few hours after his wedding to Margaery Tyrell in tonight's "The Lion and the Rose." Though he was just 19 years old at the time of his death, he accomplished so much: Starting a pointless civil war by cutting off Ned Stark's head, killing babies and prostitutes, and claiming credit for a bunch of victories he had very little to do with, including the Battle of Blackwater and the Red Wedding. His final act on earth was a long, pointless attempt to humiliate his Uncle Tyrion by staging the little-person equivalent of a minstrel show.
Yes, King Joffrey died as he lived: as a smug, vindictive jerk. As usual, Tyrion said it best: "We've had vicious kings, and we've had idiot kings… but I don't know if we've ever been cursed with a vicious idiot for a king."
Okay, okay. Believe it or not, I am going to miss King Joffrey, who will surely go down as one of TV's all-time great villains. (There's a reason, after all, that a video of Tyrion slapping Joffrey for more than 10 consecutive minutes has earned 1.6 million views on YouTube.) From Game of Thrones very first episode, the smug, preening Joffrey has been a fascinating and infuriating villain to watch; I'll never forget the distinct feeling of wrongness I got when he took the Iron Throne in season one's "You Win or You Die," or the pit-in-the-stomach feeling that arose over the past couple seasons when he approached Sansa with that look of barely veiled demonic glee. At the very least, let's all pour out a goblet of Arbor Gold for actor Jack Gleeson — who reliably comes off as the nicest person in the world during interviews — and who now plans to retire from acting to focus, in part, on charity work.
"The Lion and the Rose" was an unusually focused episode of Game of Thrones; we check in with neither Daenerys nor Jon Snow, and see just a few characters who aren't a part of the tumultuous Royal Wedding. (Most notable is Roose Bolton's bastard son Ramsay — clearly being positioned to replace Joffrey as Game of Thrones' resident psychopath — who is sent off to capture a Northern fort alongside his broken, faithful servant Theon, whom he has re-christened "Reek.")
But the main event is the Royal Wedding, which would be riveting even if it didn't end with such a bang. We've been invited to more than a few wedding ceremonies over the course of the series. There was Daenerys' forced marriage to Khal Drogo, which was filled with foreign customs she didn't understand; Robb Stark's quiet marriage to Talisa, which was characterized by intimacy and love; Tyrion's awkward, politically mandated union with Sansa Stark; and, of course, the bloody, visceral horror of the Red Wedding, which practically tore the internet apart last year.
Still, we've never seen anything quite like the Royal Wedding, which probably represents the greatest concentration of major characters since the Starks and the Lannisters dined together in Game of Thrones' pilot. Joffrey and Margaery's ceremony was held in the Great Sept of Baelor — the center of religious worship that Joffrey first profaned when he had Ned Stark unjustly executed on its steps. Much like the last big Westerosi wedding, the ceremony goes smoothly; it's in the drunken aftermath that everything goes wrong.
Author George R.R. Martin wrote "The Lion and the Rose," and it's clear that he had a blast including all kinds of interactions between characters that wouldn't have fit into his book. Tywin Lannister and Olenna Tyrell — two of the smartest and most strategic people in Westeros — shift rapidly between discussions of politics and pleasure. ("You ought to try enjoying something before you die," she suggests. "You might find it suits you.") Ser Loras Tyrell and Prince Oberyn Martell exchange an extremely loaded glance. Cersei confronts Brienne about her love for Jaime — a fact that Brienne herself seemed not to have realized yet. And so on.
Through all the festivities, it's obvious which guests are having the worst time: Sansa, the hostage forced to watch as her onetime fiance gets everything he desires, and Tyrion, who has just sent Shae — the woman he truly loves — far away for her own protection. ("Go drink until it feels like you did the right thing," advises his eternally wise swordsman Bronn.)
Now, asking Joffrey not to be psychopathic is like asking the sun not to shine — but if there was ever a day when it seemed like he might be able to tone himself down for a minute, it was this one. His enemies are all but defeated, he's newly married to a beautiful queen, and the rest of his day is devoted to eating, drinking, receiving gifts, and hearing about how great he is. But Joffrey will be Joffrey; in the midst of the revels, he can't resist picking a nasty, public fight with Tyrion — and when Tyrion snarks back, Joffrey responds by dumping a goblet of wine on his head and anointing Tyrion his "cupbearer" for the evening.
It's shortly after Tyrion fulfills his degrading new title that everything goes wrong. At first, Margaery assumes that Joffrey is just choking — but it quickly becomes clear that something even worse his happening. His face goes red, his eyes glaze over, and blood starts pouring out of his nose. The poison kills him quickly, but not before he points to Tyrion as the culprit.
Now, as much as it hurts to lose such a memorable character, Joffrey's death — like the deaths of Ned Stark, Renly Baratheon, and Robb Stark — makes sense from a narrative perspective. Game of Thrones is a series that thrives on chaos, and as terrible as Joffrey's reign turned out to be, it also offered stability. Game of Thrones began its second season with five kings vying for the Iron Throne; only two of them are alive now, and neither of them is anywhere near King's Landing. Word travels slowly in Westeros, but power abhors a vacuum, and the Lannisters' hold on the Iron Throne hasn't been this tenuous since the Battle of Blackwater.
The episode ended with the screams of Joffrey's mother Cersei, losing her beloved firstborn son as "The Rains of Castamere" played. It's the same song that marked the beginning of the Red Wedding, marking the violent triumph of the Lannisters over the Starks. This time, it's a funeral dirge, marking the death of a king — and with all signs pointing to Tyrion as the killer, a storied family that will be fractured forever because of it.
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