The result of these tightly crafted scenes is that the episode feels like it flies by, and the ever-so-extravagant and eventful royal wedding of Joffrey and Margaery, the titular Lion and Rose, is awarded the entire latter half of the hour, which is so densely packed with delicious exchanges and smug-offs between the Lannisters and Tyrells, all climaxing in the biggest blow to the Lannisters yet. It’s hard not to see how the Tyrells seem to be getting the upper hand on the Lannisters an awful lot of late. The show has progressed to the point that House Lannister is at the top of the heap, kings of the castle achieving everything they had set out to do and possessing all the power they had aspired to have—which means there’s nowhere for them to go but down.
And the cracks in their armor have been quietly expanding for a while, with the family suffering small but meaningful defeats on their way to the throne: Jaime is down to one non-dominant fighting hand (his days of dominance are over), and Cersei is realizing that Margaery is beating her in the quest to be as powerful as a woman is able to be in this world of kings. Meanwhile, Oberyn Martell is around anytime a Lannister needs to be reminded how differently, and perhaps better (maybe just more liberally), things are done in Dorne.
The pairings that occur before the climactic moment are pitch perfect, with families clashing by means of spoken conversation instead of swords. Tywin and Olenna Tyrell share a moment that features Olenna dismissing her son Mace with a casualty that Tywin is utterly incapable of; Jaime and Loras trade verbal blows over each of their complicated relationships with Cersei; and Cersei and Tywin appear to be outmatched by the cool bravado of Oberyn Martell, who is quickly becoming one of this season’s most magnetic characters.
The episode belongs to Joffrey, though, and actor Jack Gleason milks every moment for as much contempt and insufferability as humanly possible. His final moments are like a Greatest Hits album of Joffreyness. There’s his overconfident ineptitude with his new Valyrian sword, which he demonstrated before he is both clumsy and reckless with in further feeble attempts to prove some sort of machoness. We have his casual humiliation of Sansa, which is painful, and his uncle Tyrion, which for some reason is even more immediately, viscerally upsetting, even though his treatment of both is abhorrent. With Tyrion it becomes more personal, and more targeted at his perceived physical superiority, as though Joffrey thinks this is one person he can actually beat in combat, if not in wits. So, the re-enactment of the War of the Five Kings by a cast of dwarves becomes offensive on a number of levels, and is the most despicable and fitting tribute to a royal character so devoid of redeeming qualities that his death is a welcome blessing, a relief from a person who tortured other characters as well as the audience, and a satisfying end to the seemingly never-ending reign of King Joffrey Baratheon.
And yet there was something a little bit sad about those final images of his discolored face. There seems to be nearly universal celebration in the reactions I’ve read to Joffrey’s demise, which I relate to and share, but the virtuosity of this pivotal sequence in my mind is that director Alex Graves and company somehow, inexplicably, made a dying Joffrey the slightest bit sympathetic. The way it keeps cutting back to his face, an image we ourselves are dying to see as therapy for the smug look that his face held for the past three seasons, is visually and emotionally disturbing, particularly as he silently and helplessly gazes at his mother and father by his side, and at his uncle, whom he surely believes is his killer. His boyhood seemed to return in this moment, and part of me actually felt a pinch of sadness for him, the poor bastard. On the other hand, he was such a prick.
- Our exposure to Stannis and Davos and Melisandre is kept spare, but their story is one of constant intrigue, particularly the way Stannis is pushed further and further by those devoted to the Lord of Light. The table scene felt like a really dark episode of Downton Abbey.
- The ballad of Tyrion and Shae feels like it’s run its course, but Peter Dinklage’s work in their scene together is heartbreakingly beautiful, refusing to look her in the eye as he sends her away.
- Were those dragons flying over King’s Landing that Bran saw?
- The pairing of Jaime and Bron is pure bliss. I would not be opposed to a bottle episode of one of their sessions, just bantering back and forth with each other.
- The glance between Loras and Oberyn, whaaaaat!
- I didn’t realize Brienne was in love with Jaime. But wait, of course she was.
- Talk about getting a taste of humble pie. Sorry, I’m done.
For more on The Lion and the Rose, listen to the latest episode of our Game of Thrones podcast: The Cast Beyond The Wall!