This was one of those Game of Thrones episodes that ends so shockingly and perfectly, that it’s easy to forget how tremendously executed the preceding 45 minutes were. “The Lion and the Rose” will be remembered—like “The Rains of Castamere” and “Baelor”—as “that episode where that really big, important thing happened at the end.” In other words, it’s the type of episode you really don’t want to read about on Twitter or elsewhere before seeing it for yourself, because having one of the few satisfying game-changing moments from this series spoiled for you would be almost enough to dampen one’s mirth over the fact that one of television’s most loathed characters received a send-off worthy of his loathsomeness.
But let’s work our way toward that. After all, this episode and a large portion of the previous seasons have slowly built the momentum for this final, breathtaking (so to speak) moment.
One word many people are using to describe Game of Thrones since last season has been “confident.” Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have seemingly eased their way toward a level of comfort in their unfolding of the numerous stories throughout Westeros that is noticeably different from its first and second seasons. Or maybe it just seems that way. These are vague descriptors that express something that is difficult to articulate: what exactly does everyone mean when they talk about this show’s confidence?
This episode just happens to be full of examples. Its opening scene is a curiosity; several details make it difficult to decipher at first, and yet it’s captivating. We see a youthful-looking group running through a lush forest, green on green. It feels like forever since this kind of color and energy has been seen on this show, and I’m curious to know whether anyone else suspected for a moment initially that it might be a flashback to simpler times at Winterfell. Then comes the subtle reveal: not dire wolves, but hounds. These aren’t youths playing at hunting each other, but actually a hunt for a real girl. Suddenly it becomes a terrorizing chase, culminating in a reintroduction to Ramsay Snow/Bolton and a broken Theon, now called Reek. It takes confidence in audience to recall where to place these characters and in the show’s ability to maintain our interest through the action depicted until we figure out what it is we’re looking at.
So many storylines are going on at once in Game of Thrones that there are some that occasionally fall by the wayside, but this was one episode that devoted what felt like the right amount of time to the right mix of plots. It takes confidence to convince the audience that what they’re watching is more interesting than what else may be going on in that moment, and the later scene between the Boltons uses Ramsay’s own skills of persuasion to do this. While some of the drawn out scenes between Ramsay and Theon last season felt like a bit of a drag, their purpose is becoming clearer, culminating in this episode with the tensest shave this side of Sweeney Todd. Credit Roose Bolton’s quiet intrigue and the inquisitive face of actor Michael McElhatton with indicating to us that Ramsay just might be on to something here. He is reminiscent of Tywin Lannister, except that he seems to listen to those around him. Perhaps this could prove crucial down the road.
Another story that became exciting again this episode is that of Bran, as well as Hodor and the Reed siblings. His reintroduction comes in a sequence similar to the opening moments of the episode, except devoid of color, far in the dark snowy North, accompanied by the snarls of the dire wolf to remove all ambiguity: this is Bran in the skin of Summer, and the hunt is for food. I’ve always been a fan of the way the show depicts the interior of Bran’s mind through these mesmerizing impressionistic montages—when they end, it’s almost as disappointing for me as it is for Bran, who is reminded (and reminded further by Jojen here) that in Summer he’s whole, but as Bran, he is still physically broken. Enter the Heart Tree, a warmly lit oasis in the bleak, blue cold of the North, and for once, the post-vision Bran is clear of purpose. Another scene that is taken up and then left at precisely the right moments.