Game of Thrones Revisited: 4.02 The Lion And The Rose
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And in 2019, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros and the rest of the world, continuing with the episode that saw the dramatic death of one of the show's key villains.
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
The Lion And The Rose is George RR Martin's final episode as writer for the TV series and what an episode it is. It completely subverts the slow build up to episode nine that previous seasons have had (though big things were still to come), by delivering a dramatic twist early into the fourth run that would change the show forever. This may have in part been because the fourth season mainly comprised of the adaptation of the second half of Martin's novel A Storm of Swords and the build up of that novel was already laid. But after three successful seasons, Game of Thrones could no longer rely on a continuous development of characters and plot. It needed to start shaking things up and the death of King Joffrey certainly achieves that.
Given that Martin is involved in writing duties, every scene he writes is rich with characterisation. Ramsey is developed beyond the vile psychopath that we saw introduced last season. While his cruel compulsions sees him hunt down one of his cohorts with a bow and arrow and pack of dogs for fun in the opening episode (thankfully sparing the visuals of her death), we start to see a vulnerability in him as his father Roose Bolton finally returns to the Dreadfort as Tywin Lannister's ally and new Warden of the North. Ramsey's claim of a prize in Reek, no longer the impetuous Theon Greyjoy of old, is met on deaf ears.
Roose wanted him as a prize to trade the Ironborn in exchange for gaining control of Moat Callin and the North. There was a quiet fury in Michael McElhatton's performance as he learned that Ramsey had already sent word to Balon Greyjoy and failed. For the first time, Iwan Rheon conveyed the weakness of Ramse, a boy just wanted to please his father. It certainly earned Ramsey no sympathy, but it did deepen his character, particularly the hidden fear as he was sent off to liberate Moat Callin even if it cost him his life.
Sticking with the north, we saw Bran and company for the first time as they continued their perilous journey beyond the Wall. There was a brief glimpse of his father Ned Stark as he experienced visions of the future and his past, something that would be explored further under his training with the Three Eyed Raven. The images of the silhouette of a dragon flying over King's Landing and the snow-filled throne room with the Night King's face also teased events that might yet play out in the final season next year. What the visions did too is finally give Bran some direction, even if their path took them into greater danger still.
The scenes on Dragonstone were disturbing, returning to the early days of Stannis and Melisandre in season two as three nobles were sacrificed in flames, including Stannis's brother in law, for failing to give up old idols. The desperation of Stannis, hidden behind the grim, broken façade, makes his alliance with the red priestess all the more dangerous. We saw more of Tara Fitzgerald's Selyse Baratheon too, a crazy, dangerous woman who would burn her brother and hurt their child. But there was also something rather pathetic and sympathetic about her too; under all that madness she is trying to reconnect with her husband about their past and he will hear none of that. It is the silence and rejection that has driven her to her beliefs, something that will have more horrifying consequences next season with poor Shireen.
These side stories enriched the central focus in King's Landing; the wedding of Joffrey Baratheon with Margaery Tyrell and the sealing of the alliance between the two houses. In his final episode in the show, Jack Gleeson brought out all the worst, most despicable acts of cruelty in the young, mad king, truly milking his satisfying and brutal death in the episode's closing moments. The breakfast scene was truly groan inducing for all the right ways, his false pleasantries as he accepted gifts all the while under the gaze of his stern grandfather giving away to his bratty, psychopathic teenager as he revelled in his gift of a Valyrian sword and proceeded to hack at Tyrion's book.
The scene where Tyrion finally broke up with Shae was heart-breaking; with his lover now in his father and sister's sights he heeded Varys's warning to get her out of the city by doing the only thing he could do; break her heart. Peter Dinklage and Sibel Kekilli have always had great chemistry but the forbidding romance between the Lannister and the whore was always doomed from the start.
The wedding celebrations themselves were packed with delightful character tete-e-tetes, each attempting to mock, belittle, scheme or manipulate through forced pleasantries. Diana Rigg and Charles Dance are always amazing on screen and the scene where Olenna and Tywin walk arm in arm to the celebration, softly berating the other, was fabulous. The war of minds between Margaery and Cersei continued, with the new queen proudly proclaiming that the leftovers of the wedding feast would be sent to feed to poor, before Cersei threatened doddering, creepy old Grand Maester Pycelle into undoing her daughter in law's orders and having the food fed to the dogs.
Cersei's first encounter with Brienne was an interesting one; at first she seems confused by the tall woman who saved her brother but she soon succumbs to jealousy; I've never really sussed if Brienne does love Jamie but Cersei is quick to cut her down. Giving how wonderful and loveable Gwendoline Christie is in the role, it makes Cersei's action all the more horrible to watch. And talking of Jamie, I loved his meeting of words with Loras; he was quick to tell Loras he would never marry his sister but Loras' come back of "neither will you" was a great cutting comeback and possibly my favourite Loras moment in the entire show.
Just as electric was the scene where Tywin and Cersei met Oberyn Martell and his paramour Ellaria Sand. Despite their obvious distaste at the Red Viper's choice of companion, it is he that gain the upper hand, with his constant allusions to her former title as Queen Regent.
Finally we have the infamous war of the five kings, reinacted with dwarfs in costume, playing Joffrey, Balon, Renly, Robb and Stannis. It is deeply uncomfortable viewing, only Joffrey opening laughing in delight and Cersei enjoying the spectacle while everyone else watches with deep unease. From Vary's discomfort to Sansa's revulsion, the grim look of Olenna, or the stony gaze of Tywin, this is the moment where Joffrey's cruel, sadistic humour reaches its apex. He is a spoilt brat with absolute power and his treatment of Tyrion, mocking him as his cup bearer is one moment of cruelty too far.
And yet there were moments of hope; Margaery trying to quell her husband's passions or Sansa coming to her husband's aid one last time as she passes him the goblet. And then, Joffrey starts to choke. It's a startling but triumphant fall for this cruel, mad young king, revealed not as a ruler of men but a desperate boy clawing for life in his mother's arms as he dies painfully. It is absolutely the death Joffrey deserved.
Of course, this puts all the focus on Tyrion as the man responsible for regicide and any last semblance of power he has left is quickly lost as he is carried away by the guards. It is also the moment Sansa finally makes her escape from King's Landing, lured away by Dontos the fool as chaos takes over the wedding celebrations. Both Tyrion and Sansa never see each other again (at least up to season seven) and the events of The Lion And The Rose will change their lives forever, though both their journeys will be painful to watch at times.
The Lion And The Rose is a terrific piece of writing, coupled with amazing performances from all involved. It's notable not just because it's the first real evidence of the bad guys losing but also because of how unexpectedly it comes, taking place so soon in the season. Joffrey Baratheon was a monster but he was kind of be missed...