A who’s who of honored guests turns out for Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding in King’s Landing, with gifts given and discarded. Tthe king’s taste in entertainment rubs many of them the wrong way.
Like “Baelor”, “Blackwater”, and “The Rains of Castamere”, “The Lion and the Rose” is something that readers of the novels—or those who’ve spoiled themselves—will likely have been anticipating with particular level of interest since the “main event” of the episode is quite singular and significant in its way. Perhaps recognizing this, Benioff and Weiss turned scripting duties over to George R.R. Martin, and to good effect. For those who are not so versed in A Song of Ice and Fire, of course, this is the sort of episode where a more knowing friend or family member may be setting up a camera for a reaction shot. And, I suspect, a reaction will be had if for no better reason than that Jack Gleeson’s Joffrey Baratheon has been such a memorably despicable villain. And yet…
It doesn’t seem, in light of everything, that the impact of Joffrey’s death will be quite so significant as the events in the previously mentioned episodes. I think that will take a little wind out of the sails of any extreme fervor over it. The death of Ned Stark was a huge game-changer: it cemented a war, and in the minds of viewers it cemented the possibility that the hero was never safe. The huge spectacle of the battle for King’s Landing, a spectacle the show aimed itself toward from the outset, provided the most expansive canvas the show has yet had. The gore and tragedy of the Red Wedding reached operatic levels, and clearly transfixed a viewership that had largely found itself rooting for House Stark, and ready to fall to pieces when Ned Stark’s wife, eldest son, and pregnant daughter-in-law met their bloody ends in such a shocking, sudden way. But Joffrey? If anything, his death may be quite welcome, but those who think a moment or two may also realize it’s probably a boon for the Lannisters, who’ve been dealing with the fallout of Joffrey’s various impetuous, sociopathic decisions since the first season. I suspect the uproar will die rather faster than that which the Red Wedding caused. But then again, it’s only the 2nd episode, and a significant turn at this point will likely propel the season forward very nicely indeed. After all, the cliffhanger is not Joffrey’s death: it’s the fact that Tyrion is on the hook for the crime. HBO has made no bones at all that Tyrion will be imprisoned and tried this season, as sharp-eyed fans noticed how often he seemed to be in a cell or in chains in various teasers; now it makes sense, since it seems he’ll be in that state from episode 3 and down through the rest of the season.
With last year’s “The Rains of Castamere”, we remarked on how the final moments basically drown out everything else in the episode, and we think that this will probably be the case with this episode as well. The focus in the back half on the wedding certainly allowed the story to range across various vignettes as characters interacted—often characters who never interacted at all under such circumstances, and sometimes characters who might have had there only been a POV there to see it—but I have to admit not all of these glimpses really worked for me. There’s many fine moments in this section—the looks at a Varys notably less amused than everyone else (save Tyrion and Sansa), the mounting tension between Joffrey and Tyrion, the vulgarity of the dwarf mummery and the various reactions of the Tyrell family to its offensive depiction of Renly—but there are a handful of moments that feel, once again, far too blunt, not simply lacking subtlety but literally chasing it down and thrashing it into an early grave. (It does not escape me that this episode is written by George; or at least, much of it is written by him according to the outline provided by the executive producers , but unknown portions have been tweaked or even entirely written by Benioff and Weiss). In either case, Martin has to bear at least some of the blame for the bluntness of some of the scenes, especially when one considers how clever and implicit his characters can be in the novels.
The incredible aggression of Oberyn Martell towards the Lannisters, going so far as to insist on calling Cersei “Lady Cersei” despite her very real, continuing status as a dowager queen, is the most obvious case. Again and again, we are hammered with his hatred of the Lannisters, almost to the point of absurdity. Was it really necessary to name Cersei “former queen regent” not once, not twice, but thrice? It moves from being the sign of a dangerous person angered to seeming boorish and boring, a lot of talk without any real action. It would have been more satisfying to see Oberyn play it more coolly with Cersei and Tywin both, sly rather than obvious, but so it goes. Perhaps even more egregious is the later scene between Cersei and Brienne, which starts well, and then ends on such a dull, out-of-nowhere statement of fact from Cersei that Brienne loves Jaime. It feels absurd to see her depicted in such a way. What’s the point of the statement, after all? Cersei is surely capable of jealousy, and it’s not very strange if she gives mixed-signals to the audience, distancing herself from Jaime at one moment and jealous of his affections the other… but why would she feel threatend by Brienne, of all people? It would be inconceivable to her that Jaime cares at all about this ungainly, mannish woman. It would be something worth making a joke about, something belittling and cruel, but something to accuse Brienne over? We descend into soap opera with such blunt declaratives, verbal bombs thrown around artlessly, trying to create cheap drama. It’s a shame to have little quibbles like this detracting from the build up to the final moments of the episode.
For many, those final moments will be enough to make this memorable, and so good, and the problems will be blotted from memory. But some other things, I think, will also be blotted out: everything from the first half of the episode, which all seem very good indeed. The reunion of Roose Bolton with Ramsay Snow, the dynamic between them and between them and Reek, is exceptionally well-handled. Iwan Rheon’s performance when he registered Roose’s dismissive attitude towards his place in the family, and then his daring to let Reek shave him to prove that he’s tortured him into submission? Excellent work. And when Ramsay reveals to Reek that Robb Stark is dead, Alfie Allen’s trembling performance, that minute suggestion that he’s considering using that razor in an all together more bloody fashion? Very much deserving of praise. It’s excellent work by all the actors involved, and very quickly and crisply establishes the dynamics between the characters and what the narrative will be like in the North going forward. There is one small problem for me here as well, however: Myranda. The prostitute seen tempting Theon before his castration in “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”—one of the more reviled scenes of the season and, frankly, of the series, for our part—makes a return as a regular companion-in-cruelty of Ramsay, and I’m mistrustful of the reasoning behind it or where it will lead (beyond, one supposes, some strategically-employed nudity). Too early to tell where it’ll go, you say? True enough, but still, I have my doubts.
Though brief in its appearance, the Bran section very neatly bundles together several things: the hunger which they all face, Bran’s aggression as he spends too much time in Summer, and the way that Bran and company discover the place they need to go to. In the novels, there’s a guide who helps them along, but for obvious reasons the show runners have gone with a vision. And why not? This is likely the most explicit vision we’ve seen from Bran since the first season, or perhaps the second season. It’s quite the departure from the show, especially with the voice-over directing Bran to go north, and foregrounds the magic in the fantasy series in a way that it rarely does when there isn’t a dragon or an Other on the screen. It’s easy to forget that what “Winter is Coming” means is not just the coming of a season, but the coming of a season that may last years. Partly this isn’t helped by the fact that the North south of the Wall looks no colder than it did in the first season, and that if anything King’s Landing seems even balmier than it did at that time. Some references to the turn of the season, the cooling of the days, the autumn storms raging in the narrow sea, could be quite opportune in that regard.
But I digress. The other significant reintroduction in this episode is a return to Dragonstone, where a grimacing, clench-jawed Stannis Baratheon watches as his brothers-in-law are burned alive for failing to obey his command to remove idols of the Seven. The harshness of Stannis’s approach to his new-found religion (but not, really, his faith) seems zealous enough to please Melisandre, but there’s all-too-clearly an opportunistic aspect to it that’s handled well by Stephen Dillane. Liam Cunningham’s Davos, the voice of conscience so often ignored, plainly shows how troubled he is by such turns from Stannis, further proof (to him) of the malign influence of Melisandre. But the real focus of this episode is another party entirely: Selyse Baratheon. The queen is nothing but ecstatic at the burning of her own brothers, imaging having glimpsed their souls being purified and sent up to join the Lord of Light, and then moves suddenly to a strange domesticity: reminiscing about the pleasures of eating seagull during the siege of Storm’s End (for what it’s worth, my understanding is that sea gull tastes quite horrible due to their diet from scavenging including various unsavory things; I suppose it shows just how starving Selyse was to find those sea gulls delicious) at one moment, and then suddenly shifting to an unkind appraisal of her daughter that leads Stannis to intervene so that Selyse doesn’t get it into her head to punish Shireen for not adhering to her ideals. The final Dragonstone scene as Melisandre attempts to “educate” Shireen—largely a matter of evasive platitudes—draws to a close as Melisandre discuses the Manichean struggle between the Lord of Light and the god of darkness and then concludes with the belief that the world itself is hell. It paints her zealous belief in Stannis as the “warrior of light” in, well, a new light: there is something apocalyptic about her and her support, a belief that that perhaps self-destruction in the service of R’hllor is to be preferred than continuing to suffer the mortal coil.
“The Lion and the Rose” is another solid episode, made memorable by its final few minutes, but really just keeping pace with what came before. This isn’t a bad thing: better to be modestly successful, on the whole, then to veer wildly from triumph to tragedy.
The episode covers the following chapters of A Storm of Swords: Sansa IV and Tyrion VIII. As noted below, a number of scenes people brief episodes from other chapters from A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons.
Changes of note, chapter-by-chapter:
Ramsay’s hunt: This is inspired by events referenced in A Dance with Dragons, though no specific examples are ever shown in that novel. The addition of Myranda as a companion is not from the novels; Ramsay has a group of cronies, known as the Bastard’s Boys, in the book instead.
Jaime and Tyrion: As Jaime does not arrive in King’s Landing until after the death of Joffrey, such a conversation never takes place in the novels.
Jaime and Bronn: Drawing from Jaime’s desire to try and see how well he could fight from his left, this scene is loosely based by a reference in Jaime IX. However, in the novel Jaime practices with Ser Addam Marbrand, a friend from his youth at Casterly Rock, rather than Bronn. Finally, the notion that Jaime has only used live steel in practice since he was nine is, frankly, ridiculous in the setting. Very incongruous. All characters shown practicing at arms in the novels, including some of the most skilled swordsmen in Westeros, will use edgeless tourney swords.
Bolton reunion: The meeting of Roose and Ramsay is never depicted in A Dance with Dragons, but it happens much later than the point shown here; in the novel Roose Bolton remains south of Moat Cailin and does not, as in the show, “smuggle himself” to the Dreadfort. The tensions between father and son are somewhat unlike those in the novel, where Roose seems to have no questions about his son’s place in the family and indeed arranges for Ramsay to be legitimized. Somewhere in the course of the novels, Roose Bolton learns of the truth of Theon’s killing of the “Stark boys”, but it is off-page rather than directly depicted as here. Also in the novel the idea of an attack on Moat Cailin and Reek’s presence there appears to have been Ramsay’s own idea without Roose’s prompting.
Tyrion and Varys: Exchange at the end inspired by similar exchange in Tyrion VII, as well as a reference back to Varys’s remarks to Ned Stark. Finally, Roose dispatching Locke to infiltrate the Night’s Watch to murder Jon Snow seems very loosely inspired by a similar plot hatched by Cersei in A Feast for Crows.
Tyrion and Shae: While in the novels Tyrion considers bringing the relationship to an end, he envisioned marrying her off to a merchant or a hedge knight rather than trying to send her away across the sea. The angry argument are an invention of the show.
Dragonstone: The burnings on the basis of refusing to remove idols of the Seven is loosely inspired by the burnings of the Rambtons and Lord Sunglass, although in the novel this is done around the time of the Battle of the Blackwater, and said to have been done with Queen Selyse’s approval (Stannis laters takes responsibility for it, suggesting he may have given permission before departing). However, in both cases the burnings turned on the men denying commands from Stannis, rather than their refusing to turn to R’hllor; in the novels, so long as men are quiet about it and do not object to the spread of R’hllor at Stannis’s court, they are allowed to follow whatever gods they please. Perhaps more saliently, in A Feast for Crows we learn Lord Florent—Selyse’s uncle in the novels—was burned with Stannis’s direct approval, following his treason in A Storm of Swords when he attempted to negotiate Stannis’s surrender behind his back. Ser Axell Florent, another of Selyse’s uncles, is one of the Queen’s Men in the novels, quick to seem to devote himself to R’hllor, and is not burned. Other details—Selyse’s coldness towards her daughter, Melisandre’s claim that the only hell is the world they live in—are not from the novels. Finally, in the novels Selyse was not wed to Stannis until some years after Robert’s Rebellion, whereas on the show it seems they were already married while they were besieged by royalist forces at Storm’s End.
Bran: Bran’s journey beyond the Wall lacks the presence of the mysterious Coldhands, who acts as a guide and protector. Instead, Bran’s knowledge of where to go is shown through his strange weirwood vision, which seems to be very, very loosely influenced by a scene in A Dance with Dragons (in particular, glimpses of Ned Stark in the past fit in both cases). It’s worth noting that the dialog between Bran and Jojen after Bran is awoken from his skinchanging is quite similar to a similar discussion in Bran VII (A Clash of Kings).
Olenna and Tywin: Not a scene from the novels. Olenna stays to her position from last season that a royal wedding requires spectacle, and spectacle costs substantial money, but to contrast her Tywin Lannister is put in the position of being a miser who does not see the purpose of such display. Looking aside from the curious inconsistency of it all—in the previous episode Tywin was shown to spare no expense in creating unique blades with extremely costly, ostentatious hilts—the fact is that in the novels, Tywin Lannister strongly insists that the vast spectacle of the feast as planned by Cersei (including seven-and-seventy dishes) must go through, as a royal wedding fully demands such extravagance.
Bronn and Tyrion: As noted above, Tyrion never sends Shae away, so no equivalent scene exists in the novel.
Margaery’s announcement: Such an announcement is not made in the novels, but fits the show depicting Margaery as having a personal interest in the welfare of the poor.
Jaime and Loras: As noted last season, Loras Tyrell is a Knight of the Kingsguard by this point in the novels, so such a confrontation over the proposed wedding to Cersei would not take place.
Brienne: Again as previously noted, Brienne is not present at this time in the novels. She never interacts with Joffrey, and so far as we know may not have interacted with Margaery or Cersei either. At no point in the novels does Cersei seem to consider Brienne of Tarth anything to concern herself with. In A Dance with Dragons it’s reported that Jaime disappears with a woman, and that initially alarms Cersei, but when she learns it’s Brienne she supposes instead that Jaime never received the ravens she sent, thinking Brienne too huge and shambling and ugly to interest Jaime.
Cersei and Pycelle: This conversation presages—much as Cersei’s remarks about Qyburn in “Two Swords” did—Cersei’s attitude towards Pycelle as evidenced in A Feast for Crows. However, such a specific discussion and confrontation is not from the novels.
Martell and Lannister: Such a discussion does not take place in the novels, but several features are worth noting. First, in the novels there is no question that Cersei remains a queen—a dowager queen, perhaps, but a queen nonetheless; she would never be referred to as “Lady Cersei”. It’s difficult to say whether the show’s intention is to suggest that the protocal is different in the show’s universe, and she retains the title of queen only as a courtesy, or if the show intends to show Oberyn as deliberately very rude, while both Cersei and Tywin appear unwilling to correct him (I’d wager the former is intended). The discussion regarding bastards in Dorne is half-true—the bastards of nobles and their paramours are better regarded, but there’s no evidence that all bastards are treated particularly well. In the novels, Tyrion suggests that having Ellaria Sand “seated above the salt”—referring to her being at the high table, or close to it—would enrage Cersei, so certainly Cersei has issues with bastardy in general. Reference sto Doran’s gout are accurate to the novel. In general, in the novels Oberyn appears to have largely kept from annoying Tywin too much, if at all; one supposes his particular brand of caustic wit and observation may not have been the best suited for Tywin’s approval, but there’s no sign that Oberyn is extremely aggressive towards Tywin or, indeed, any other Lannister. The show has greatly increased the boldness of his sallies against the Lannisters.
Sansa and Dontos: Dontos is indeed present for the wedding feast in the novel, but he does not approach Sansa at that time. Instead, in the novels, he has planned with her the fact that something will happen at the wedding which will give her the opportunity to escape on her own. Having just reintroduced Dontos in the previous episode, the novels’ longer history with him—beginning in A Clash of Kings when he becomes her confidant and secretly promises to help her escape—has been excised, and so Sansa’s role in urging Dontos to act more swiftly, and preparing the way for her own escape, are gone.