Once their widespread jubilation over last week’s dire climactic moment had subsided, Game of Thrones viewers turned their attention to the big question of who orchestrated the deadly poisoning of the poor departed King Joffrey? This week’s episode, “Breaker of Chains,” is cleverly designed to provide some answers as well as some further complications to this mystery.
Like those of us in the audience, the characters of Westeros are scrambling to determine who is responsible for the gruesome regicide, with the immediate suspects being Tyrion, who is easily apprehended given that he is holding the king’s goblet in his hand, and Sansa, who we last saw being whisked away by Ser Dontos. At the start of the episode, she’s taken to meet a familiar face. In his first appearance all season, Petyr Baelish returns to reveal himself as clearly involved to a great degree in what appears to be a plan of a rather large conspiratorial nature.
This, fittingly, gives us a big piece of the puzzle—that Littlefinger was key to the orchestration of Joffrey’s offing—but that revelation inspires a number of new questions that we can only begin to figure out. What’s his deal, first of all? What’s his endgame? What is he planning to gain from his intention, previously hinted at, to create chaos in King’s Landing? And perhaps more interesting: who are his co-conspirators? After all, he was presumably miles away when the Purple Wedding went down. There had to have been others.
It provides a nifty layout for the episode, as one by one our attentions are directed toward potential suspects. Margaery and Lady Olenna have another heart to heart in their favorite conversation spot, with the former seeming affected which, after last week’s stage performance at Joffrey’s side, doesn’t reveal much, and with the latter seeming disaffected, which is equally in step with how she might respond to the events whether she was involved or not. Then there’s Tywin, who is doing all he can to capitalize on the Iron Throne’s new vacancy by taking King-apparent Tommen under his wing as immediately as possible. For a moment it almost seems as though Tywin could have been behind the murder, given his openly stated disdain for Joffrey as he looks upon his corpse, but he’s always been more of an opportunist than a long-game conspirator.
Tyrion rules out Cersei immediately, and there’s no mistaking her current state as anything but genuine grief. But it’s not only grief for her son, which is actually made real and painful by Lena Headey’s tremendous work; it also leaves her feeling even more powerless. Tywin has demonstrated the hold he has one the reigns of the kingdom by ordering Cersei to marry Loras Tyrell, and the close shots of her despondent face in the sept as she listens to her father begin to mold her son in his image draw attention to her sense that a world she once thought she had a tight grip upon is now slipping away from her.
All of this only complicates her scene with Jaime even more. I’m still figuring out exactly how I understand this scene, and it’s one that is sure to be talked about in the days to come, particularly in the context of Game of Thrones’ depiction of female characters and sexual violence. Many are pointing out that the literary description of this scene, which occurs in the book, is vastly different than what appears on screen, but I’m not completely convinced by this. A major distinction, in my view, is that the book is able to present the encounter entirely from inside Cersei’s mind, in order to make clear that their sex is, in her mind, welcome. But the book also seems to leave this somewhat ambiguous.
While it may be expressly “desired” sex in the book’s prose, it doesn’t appear to be “consensual.” Remove the text of Cersei’s inner monologue, and all we’re left with is observing what happened, which even by the book’s description would appear to the outsider as a rather brutal and forceful act of sexual assault. It’s rightly being referred to as rape. Any use of the phrase “it’s rape, but…” is fruitless. The assault is complicated, but should be considered horrific all the same. Now, the show’s attitude towards this subject is a more difficult thing to discern, and I’m curious to see how Benioff and Weiss, as well as director Alex Graves, respond to the questions that will and should be asked of them.