‘Game of Thrones’ Season 4 Episode 2 Recap: “The Lion and the Rose”

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Come down from that endorphin high yet? Game of Thrones has never been big on the non-boob-related fan service; in fact, most of its major twists are dedicated to letting readers know that there’s no such thing as karma in Westeros. There’s also only rarely such a thing as a pure Bad Guy, with a few notable exceptions. So tonight’s ending, which I’ll refrain from talking about more specifically until after the jump (consider this a spoiler warning), was doubly shocking: one of the only deaths longtime viewers actually wanted, delivered to us on a silver platter just when we wanted it most.

So, “The Lion and the Rose” will forever be known as The One Where Joffrey Bites It. And in quite a theatrical fashion, too; as the blood gushing from his eyes suggests, this was no run of the mill pie-choking incident. Someone poisoned him, and the list of people who want him dead is so long it’s difficult to know where to start looking for suspects. The only person who absolutely didn’t do it is Tyrion, the one guy who’s obviously set to take the fall. It’s George R.R. Martin’s nice little way of telling us that, no matter how overjoyed we are to watch a murderous teenager choke on his own wedding cake, this is still Game of Thrones. If we want a satisfying character death, we’ll have to deal with the universal fan favorite going down too.

Before we get to the Purple Wedding (its official name in fandom-speak), though, Game of Thrones gives us a few important developments. Two of them, notably, take the show’s weakest stories and make them a good deal stronger. Bran, for example, is still wandering aimlessly around the North with Jojen, Meera, and Hodor, but now he’s mastered the ability to slip into Summer’s body at will. Once that’s been demonstrated with some uncharacteristically hokey visual effects, we get a hint where Bran’s arc is leading. His vision quest is a bit confusing, but the gist is that the mind-control power also applies to an Avatar-like network of weirwoods, the trees with creepy faces on them located in godswoods like the one at Winterfell. Plus, the three-eyed crow is apparently a sentient being, and it’s telling Bran to head (further) north.

Along with some much-needed momentum for Bran and company, “The Lion and the Rose” also makes moves towards redeeming the most widely panned part of season three: Theon’s endless, arguably pointless torture scenes. This week’s scenes at the Dreadfort, the Bolton family holdfast that’s the newest location in the opening credits, show the new person Ramsay’s ministrations have made out of the man who used to be Theon Greyjoy. Game of Thrones‘s approach to Reek is the complete opposite of the books’, which took Theon out of commission for an entire book and reintroduced him as Ramsay’s plaything, leaving us to guess what could have turned one into the other.

The show, on the other hand, has opted for the opposite approach. At the very least, Reek’s existence retroactively gives all that screaming and castration a purpose, something it was conspicuously missing at the time. Benioff and Weiss are apparently well aware of this, since the cutaway from Ramsay’s dogs devouring a girl to Tyrion serving himself some sausage reads like a wink to one of last season’s torture-porniest moments. Dramatic as a domesticated Theon is, though, I’m still not convinced the show spent its resources wisely by adapting a bit of action Martin chose to leave out in the original. That bit about Jaime’s mutilator and Ramsay being best buds, though? A+.

The Stannis plot, though, remains as painful as ever. The color palate at Dragonstone remains the dreariest on the show, and the status quo there is basically unchanged since Davos set Gendry free. As Stannis continues to be cranky and Davos continues to play Cassandra, though, the women of the Baratheon family get more screen time. In Melisandre’s conversations with rabid zealot Selyse and precocious Shireen, the class differences between the red priestess and the royal family she serves become apparent. Selyse sees hunger as something that happens during a siege, not the everyday, and Shireen’s too preoccupied with her skin disease to realize she’s had a relatively comfortable childhood. Melisandre grew up as a slave, a background that’s led her to embrace her calling and thus Stannis, but also puts distance in between her and her patrons. That’s about the only interesting part of Stannis’s brooding at the moment, which explains why he didn’t make it into the premiere.

Which finally brings us up to speed and back to King’s Landing, where Joffrey and Margaery’s marital bliss comes to an end before the happy couple’s even done celebrating. The wedding preparations and feast take up nearly half of the episode, a masterful decision that gives Joffrey’s increasing cruelty time to build and every line gets the space it’s due. There are smaller vignettes, of course: Tywin and Olenna pull their older-and-wiser act, proving their desperate need for a spinoff; Loras and Jaime bicker over Cersei; Brienne gets a warm Lannister welcome from the queen, who’s broken up with her brother but still jealous of anyone who dares get too close.

The star of the show, though, is the showdown between Tyrion and his nephew. Tyrion’s always advocated for the interest of the Seven Kingdoms against his own best interest; Joffrey’s the king, after all, and Tyrion’s the most disposable member of a family that despises him. Add to that Joffrey’s sadistic streak, and you’ve got a recipe for the spectacular show of cruelty that is the dwarf melée.

It’s already been an awful day for Tyrion, who broke up with Shae in a last-ditch effort to convince her to leave. Peter Dinklage does a fantastic job of selling his speech, which does its damnedest to make Tyrion into a person worth abandoning. It’s completely unconvincing, but in a way that makes it even harder to watch—Dinklage is an actor playing a character who doesn’t have it in him to act, spitting out lines like “I can’t marry a whore” as if he’s reading off a cue card, forcing himself to get it over with before he changes his mind. We never see her actually board a ship, though, so I won’t be surprised if she shows up again before long.

Then there’s the wedding feast. Tyrion’s in no mood to put up with Joffrey’s attempts to humiliate him, and once Joffrey realizes he’s being outwitted, he resorts to increasingly crude ways to remind his uncle who’s boss. It’s fitting that Joffrey’s final act is a failed assertion of dominance. Despite Margaery’s attempts to rein him in, he’s unable to control his urge to prove that his position gives him license to do whatever he wants. Joffrey’s a child who never grew up and landed in an office he was disastrously ill-prepared for. And apparently he made one too enemies along the way, because one of the thousands of people at the wedding saw fit to poison him.

It’s Clue, Westeros-style. Was it Oberyn Martell with the wine in the kitchen? Olenna Tyrell with the pie? (“Killing a man at a wedding? Horrid. Who would do such a thing?”) Varys, taking a stand for once? Who cares, Joffrey’s dead! He won’t be missed, though I’m sorry to see Jack Gleeson go; he took a character who could easily come off as a cartoon and made him terrifyingly real. A moment of silence for him. Let the celebration begin!