It’s only fitting to listen to Sigur Rós' funeral march sounding cover of "The Rains of Castamere" (played briefly by the actual band during the episode before backing the end credits) while reading this recap, so press play before proceeding. If you want...
”War is war but killing a man at a wedding, horrid. What sort of monster would do such a thing?”
Nothing like watching Game of Thrones do what it does best. The series tells a story that, to quote Aristotle on great endings (and come off as a complete wank), manages to feel both inevitable and yet surprising. No wonder "A Song of Ice and Fire" author George R.R. Martin wanted to write this particular and pivotal episode of the show adapted from his source material. Martin passed on a similar opportunity to pen last year's 'Red Wedding' because it proved too painful to revisit, however, he apparently had no such qualms when it came to the 'Purple Wedding.' Yes, these events all have long standing nicknames. While "Two Swords" served as a solid start to Game of Thrones' fourth season, "The Lion and the Rose" may be one of the best of the entire series. So far. It's only Episode 2. Valar Morghulis.
”I’m not a Bolton, father, what does it matter? Go on Reek, a nice, close shave.”
The Purple Wedding is obviously the most important aspect of "The Lion and the Rose" but the sequences preceding it were equally well crafted and, as usual, thematically linked with its fellow vignettes. It may seem stupid or simplistic to say that Game of Thrones is about family (cause, duh), however, it was the focus and connective tissue even more than usual this week. What is a wedding if not bringing together two Houses? House Bolton and Frey were recently joined as part of their Northern alliance and we see (poor) Lady Walda arrive at the Dreadfort to a warm welcome. If only she knew the kind of men that make up her new family.
The thrilling opening scene did a wonderful job reiterating Ramsay's sadistic nature as well as showing how far Theon, sorry, Reek, has come. He's just another one of Ramsay's dogs. Or girls, as he calls them. As for his real girls, I wonder if Myranda knows that she's likely to be the next Violet. Unless this is true Natural Born Killers love. Everyone has a weakness though and Ramsay's is his family. Or lack thereof. He's a Snow but wants to be a Bolton more than anything. He wants his father's love. That's a hard thing to get from Roose. He's not one for sentiment. Information and power, on the other hand. The shaving bit was brilliantly conceived to not only show the 'master's' hold on his Reek but also show how formidable the Boltons can be as a House. And Locke is now on the hunt to snuff out the remaining Starks to allow them unchallenged rule of the North.
”Look for me... Beneath the tree... North.”
"The Lion and the Rose" did catch up with one of the surviving Stark boys as Bran continues his journey North with the help of Meera and Jojen Reed and Hodor. Bran may be the rightful Lord of Winterfell but he has not concern for the wars of men, his task is much more fantastical than our other heroes. The direwolf POV seems to work better every time they use it, this time giving the sense of warging by clouding the edge of the image and using the camera for the hunt. It was also pretty amazing to see a dead deer say "Hodor!" Was the kill a young stag? Hm. Coincidence?
Even though the young Stark doesn't care about being a Lord, that doesn't mean he's stopped caring about his family as they continue to be the main force preventing him from warging full-time. He is Brandon Stark of Winterfell. He was raised better and will carry out his responsibilities, as he's perhaps the most 'Stark' of all. Drawn to a nearby weirwood tree, a symbol of the Old Gods and worshipped by his storied House, Bran is able to communicate with the carved face in the tree thanks to a vision of sorts similar to the one experienced by Daenerys when she visited the House of the Undying. If I'm not mistaken, she also saw the snowy ruins of a castle. Others things that flashed through his mind were a dead horse, a dead man and a child in the forest as well as the living weirwood tree talking to him. Things are about to get weird for the Lord of Winterfell.
”Lies and fables. Septons speak of seven gods, there are but two. A God of Light, love and joy. And a God of Darkness, evil and fear. Eternally at war.”
Game of Thrones has been becoming more and more fantastical as the show progresses and I like that "The Lion and the Rose" weighed Bran's spirituality against Melisandre's apparent zealotry because it makes the latter's claims seem all the more possible. We have witnessed magic from the Old Golds and from The Lord of Light, we have not seen a peep from the Seven. Of course, that too seems within the realm of possibilities as Westeros grows more and more susceptible to mysticism after the Dragons' awakening. And are any of the acts actually religious? Are they divided by faith or merely the product of it? After another one of Gendry's leech-kings died, it's going to be even harder for Davos to sway his King to not blindly follow the Light.
Davos is a great character in this world because he never stops being a pragmatist even though he's seen more supernatural occurrences than Melisandre's cult. The sequence also plays on the themes of family and the way other bonds may be stronger than blood. Stannis hypocrisy is also on display since he's willing to let his brother-in-law burn for his beliefs but not allow even a hand to be raised against his daughter. Unlike his crazy wife, Selyse, who happily sacrificed her brother and deems her child's illness a sign that she's not worthy of R'hllor, the LoL. Hah. When push comes to lighting her on fire, will Stannis stand up for Shireen? Oh, and no mention of their plans to head to the Wall and fight the Darkness (the cold) except Davos' plea not to diminish their fleet by burning Lord Florent.
”A toast to the proud Lannister children: The dwarf, the cripple and the mother of madness.”
Last week Jaime mused how every member of his family was being a pain in his ass but that's because he hadn't yet spent any time with his younger brother. Tyrion's 'welcome to the club' speech was a nice reminder of his tough love when visiting with both Jon Snow and Bran as well as a perfect demonstration of the brothers' love. The Lannister clan is an odd bunch to say the least. Some love others too much, some too little. The brother's bond is genuine though with Tyrion spilling his wine a lovely gesture. And to prove no part of him was enjoying his brother being knocked down a peg, he made sure to set up the lessons with Bronn. That scene was excellent. The banter and chemistry coming as fast as the fighting lessons.
Tyrion's other genuine relationship is in more jeopardy than ever with Varys confirming that Cersei and Tywin know about Shae. The 'Lion' quickly gives her the 'White Fang' treatment the same way Arya did to her direwolf, Nymeria, early in the first season. Do you think she's on that ship to Pentos? They really stressed that point. With Shae out of the way, it's almost time for the wedding. But first, a taste of what's to come as Tyrion and Joffrey manage to play nice for a second before the latter uses his new Valyrian steel sword to destroy his uncle's gift. That's how much the King cares about family and/or history. It's a brilliant little tease, building the tension before getting to the actual ceremony at the end of the installment. The Purple Wedding.
”We have a new Queen.”
"The Lion and the Rose" is uniquely formatted for an episode of Game of Thrones, with the first half spent in the usual cross-country-cutting fashion before the entire second exists solely in one location. This has been done before ("Blackwater") and might happen again soon, but it's still an anomaly. The show has done a much better job with each season in finding a way to balance the storylines. Early on it seemed as though a formula was being followed with each location visited (at least) twice per episode, once near the beginning and one near the end, however, now it's much more organic. Vignettes are placed against others with purpose and when an event of this scale comes along, it's given the uninterrupted time it deserves.
I said that the end of "Two Swords," The Adventures of Arya and the Hound, felt like its own short film but the wedding was even more impressive. An epic production, impeccably written, edited and directed. The way that the show was able to weave all of those characters and all of their motivations, sometimes expressed in a simple shot or cutaway, was beyond impressive. The attention to detail while dealing with such scale was perhaps the most satisfying part of the execution. (Pun always intended.) For example, "The Rains of Castamere," an ode to Lannister power, was stopped short during the reception by the boy King with no sense of history and it served as a nice symbol of the shift about to take place. The Royal Prick will be missed. His death face was haunting.
”People everywhere have their differences.”
Of course, that wasn’t the only cheeky bit of foreshadowing that occurred during the last two episodes. Both the premiere and this week's events before the regicide were overflowing with playful, hint-filled dialogue. It sheds a new light on the fourth season's open scene that saw Tywin basking in the glow of his House's seemingly invincible position. Or perhaps Tywin was the one who orchestrated the whole thing? Varys reminded us that the Lord of Casterly Rock doesn't make idle threats and last season saw him promise to take control of his reckless grandson. Any of the Tyrells make for a good suspect. Margaery and Olenna, the Queen of Thorns, have been aware of Joffrey's nature for some time and their House stands to gain quite a lot by having him out of the way.
Speaking of the Tyrells, we also met Mace, the Lord of HIghgarden, he was the bumbling one silence by his mother when she was talking business with Tywin. Could they be in league together? Conspiracies abound! And I haven't even mentioned the fiery Dornishman who just happens to despise the Lannisters and has been very open about his thirst for vengeance. He seems more like a stab you in the face kind of guy but this way he can hurt his enemies and not pay with his life. The one person we're sure is innocent is Tyrion, right? He looked as shocked as anyone. He did say something about finding another way to thank the King. And his wife, Sansa, was swept away in an all too timely fashion by Ser Dontos. After that reenactment of the ‘War of the Five Kings’ (and his horrible laugh), everyone in that room but his mother wanted him death. That sequence is one of the finest I’ve ever watched on the small-screen. With every cut you could feel the shot’s subject seething. Things are heating up on Law & Order: King's Landing.
"Widow’s Wail. I like that.”
The fourth season of Game of Thrones continues with “Breaker of Chains” next Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Based on the novels by George R.R. Martin, the TV series was adapted by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and stars Peter Dinklage, Kit Harrington, Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.
Those who have read GRRM’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”can head to the next page for a spoiler section and open comment thread...