Game of Thrones: Season 4
Episode 2 – “The Lion and the Rose”
Aired: April 13, 2014
Director: Alex Graves
Writer: George R.R. Martin
The name of the game is … humiliation? Game of Thrones has never been a show where each episode has been perfectly self-contained because of its expanse of plotlines and character arcs. In fact, many would say each season doesn’t hit its stride until around episode four or five. This is because plots have to build and with so many characters spread across George R.R. Martin’s massive world, there are a lot of plot arcs and a lot of building.
This week’s episode serves this purpose, except for the last ten minutes, which we readers affectionately refer to as “The Purple Wedding.”
I don’t want to jump right to the end, because although some viewers may have seen this episode as slightly uneventful and lacking in nudity, there was a consistent undertone of tension pulled through each character’s story by acts of inhumanity and humiliation.
Our first glimpse of humiliation is at the Dreadfort where Ramsay Snow is hunting down a woman for sport. Lord Bolton returns to his bastard son to retrieve Theon Greyjoy to get Moat Cailin back from the Iron Islanders and secure the North. When Lord Bolton sees that Theon has been turned into a creature that Ramsay calls “Reek,” he doesn’t hesitate to scold his bastard for mistreating a valuable prisoner of war. Theon is no longer the pompous play boy he once was; he is a trembling broken thing that was once a man.
Ramsay assures his father that Reek is loyal to them, and to prove this he plays yet another sadistic mind game. He asks Reek to shave him, placing his neck at the mercy of the man he tortured and mutilated. The mind fuck doesn’t end there. He has Reek tell Lord Bolton that Bran and Rickon are still alive, and then he tells Reek that Robb Stark is dead by Lord Bolton’s own hand. Robb, who had once been like a brother to Theon has to be forgotten by Reek in order for him to survive. We see a glimmer of Theon in this moment, a flash of emotion, of that reckless boy who made bad decisions. But alas, he continues to shave Ramsay. Reek even goes so far as to suggest perhaps the boys have made for Jon Snow at The Wall. The Stark bastard is still viewed as threat to the Bolton claim of the North. So the hunt for the last Starks begins, and we have new people to despise.
Humiliation roles through King’s Landing, often aimed at Tyrion. As is custom, prior to the wedding the King and Queen receive gifts. Tyrion gives Joffrey a book about the great kings of Westeros (hint hint – you are an awful king), and after Lord Tywin presents Joffrey with the Valyrian steel sword he names “Widow’s Wail” he destroys the rare book with it. He proceeds to remind Sansa that his sword is made from the same great sword that took her father’s head, the sword that belonged to Lord Stark until it killed him. Joffrey and Ramsay would make great friends, they both like to torture and humiliate people, squeezing from them their dignity and warping them into empty creatures that only resemble their former selves.
The humiliation doesn’t stop there in King’s Landing. Tyrion knows Shae has been discovered. The only way he can save her is to get rid of her. To do this he reminds her that she is a whore. By talking down to her and reminding her of her station, he is breaking whatever they held sacred between them. We know that his heart is breaking and he uses his marriage to Sansa as his reasoning for sending Shae away. Sansa is noble and can bear his children, but Shae is nothing but a low born whore. Shae she leaves, but now she is a woman scorned by love. And we know those things never end well in situations like these, especially in Westeros.
Jamie and Tyrion bond over being disabled in the eyes of their father, and Jamie confesses that he can’t handle a sword with his left hand. He’s too humiliated to ask for help and the fact that he can’t practice with anyone for fear of being seen as weak and less of a man hold him back from cultivating strength in his one remaining sword arm. Tyrion arranges it so Bronn will train with Jamie and that scene reeks with tiny humiliations for Jamie as Bronn, the one with all the strength, pushes the Kingslayer around and brings him down to a new level.
Eventually, Margery and Joffrey wed, hence the title of the episode: The Lion and The Rose. Joffrey channels Ramsay during his wedding feast and decides this is the best time to humiliate Tyrion even further. The underlying tension and the careful focus on key players during these scenes pulses beneath the action, even the musical score shifts. Of course, in true Joffrey style, he presents the story of the five kings as re-told by a troop of dwarfs. It’s a tasteless display; an insult to Tyrion’s stature and a harsh reminder that Sansa’s brother was murdered and dismembered.
As Joffrey laughs, the game players all sense the rising tension, the rising inhumanity of yet another mad and grotesque King.
Humiliations are further exchanged between Tyrion and Joffrey, in which Joffrey demands Tyrion be his cup bearer. The powerplay in front of the public is ended by Margery’s declaration of the arrival of her father’s pie. But Joffrey won’t let Tyrion go, even after his new young wife feeds him her father’s gift of pie. And then, the thing happened that every viewer has been waiting to see happen since we first met the little prick. Joffrey dies of poison. His face turning purple and his last gracious act is to point at his uncle and blame him.
Now, strategically, would it make sense for Tyrion to poison his nephew? I’m not sure about that. It seems that Joffrey’s death and Tyrion’s imprisonment are an orchestration by someone who doesn’t like House Lannister … which could be anyone. Off to the side in the chaos we see Ser Dontos beg Sansa to leave with him. This would suggest that he is also a part of some scheme set into play when he gave her the necklace in the first episode. I’ve read the books so I know who is responsible for the poison, but it will be fascinating to watch it unfold. So far there are multiple players and many people who want Joffrey dead and House Lannister dismantled.
Overall, this episode expands on last week’s introduction of characters that have had their identities and purpose broken. The Lion and The Rose pushes the characters toward their breaking points, building tension and suspicion along the way of setting the stage for a very big season full of change and questionable ethics … per usual.
And another thing …
- We get a couple of brief glances at action happening elsewhere where the theme of inhumanity rages strong and so do the forces of magic. On Dragonstone, Melisandre sacrifices more non-believers, blurring the lines between what is right and what is wrong. I mean, ethnic cleansing is a pretty awful thing, but she still finds justification, comparing the screams of the men burning to the screams of a woman in labor. Princess Shireen reminds her that after birth there is a baby and after a burning there is only ash and bone. I bring this scene up because Melisandre is the one to lay down the lines that I think will come to serve the greater arc of the entire season: There are only two gods, “the god of light and love and joy and the god of darkness, evil and fear.” Everything in this show is at its core a battle between good and evil, the light and the dark. We can understand more now why the information from The Night’s Watch is important to Melisandre who is an agent of the Lord of Light, because up North – the god of darkness rises with the dead and marches on the realms of man.
- The North is where we find Bran traveling with the Reeds and Hodor beyond The Wall. Even Bran needs a firm reminder that he faces losing his humanity if he wargs into his Direworlf too often and forgets to take care of his human form. Jojen warns that he could remain stuck there inside Summer and forget all that has happened in the course of his human life. But could we blame Bran for wanting to escape the pain of being crippled and orphaned?
- And again, we get a very powerful line that speaks to the greater story arc in Game of Thrones story. Meera Reed tells Bran that he must not lose his humanity for the sake of feeling whole inside his wolf; he has to remember who he is and where he is from. She says, “If we lose you, we lose everything.” Bran is important to the realm, fighting the same battle as Melisandre in a different way. He is connected to the realms of men. When he places his hand on the weirwood tree he has a vision. He sees everything that has happened, is happening and will happen. He also receives the message, “look for me below the trees.” So we know that Bran’s journey will continue into the mysterious world north of The Wall and he will eventually go underground. But what is under there? Is Bran an agent of the light or the dark? Where does his magic come from and why is it amplified beyond The Wall?
Amanda Lowery lives, writes and studies in Baltimore where she is held hostage by potholes, stray cats and rats that make her watch way too much t.v. and rhyme unnecessarily. You can find her book reviews and pop culture thoughts at amandasthinkingoutloud.blogspot.com.