Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Game of Thrones each week in a series of letters.
If you ever find yourself transported to Westeros by some weird magical time-and-dimension traveling device, and you become a powerful figure, and suddenly you spot a famous indie musician from your previous life, and they are singing “The Rains of Castamere,” then I give you this advice: You’re probably about to die.
Luckily such means of transport don’t exist yet, and the only who died in last night’s “The Lion and the Rose” is Joffrey. And wow, did we get our money’s worth! I knew this was coming sometime this season, but I didn’t know it would be so early, and I didn’t know they’d build it up with an entire episode of Joffrey at his absolute worst. Brilliant work by the writers to really maximize our hatred before letting the poison do its work. I almost cheered when he began to choke, but then, holy hell, his face!
Here, I made an image for you:
Look at that face. It’s bloated, constricted, and terrified, but damned if Joffrey doesn’t retain some evil until his final moment, right?! Like, even while he’s choking to death, you can tell he’s kind of an asshole, and once again, I have to give actor Jack Gleeson a ton of credit. The guy just gets it done, and I’ll miss the idea of him, if not his actual character.
But hey, if Joffrey’s going down, he kind of hit a walk-off home run by implicating Tyrion as his final living act, right? It’s hard to tell yet if Cersei actually believes Tyrion is guilty (the rest of us can safely bet that if he was going to kill Joffrey, he wouldn’t stand there holding the cup with a deer-in-the-headlights look after the act) or if she’s just found the excuse she needed to get rid of a hated sibling, but it seems an awful lot like she’s going to milk this one for all its worth. Tywin’s expression made it seem like he believed her, and even Jaime, who ran to his nephew’s (cough cough, SON’s) side in an attempt to save him, probably won’t give his brother any sympathy. Not after he sat across from Tyrion and listened to him describe Cersei as “the mother of madness” a day earlier.
So where does that leave us? Joffrey’s donezo, but Margaery is the queen, so does she get the crown? Does it pass to Tommen? Would either of them want it? Say what you will about Melisandre, and her bad habit of burning people alive to “cleanse” them, but she seems to have it right that at least in Westeros, hell is a place on earth. (Thought: Can we get Sigur Ros to cover “Heaven is a Place On Earth” by Belinda Carlisle, but change it to “Hell is a Place On Earth,” and perform it at Joffrey’s funeral?)
In other news, Ramsay Snow is still horrible (and I’m still bored by him and his overly sadistic smile), the secret’s out that Bran & Rickon’s dead bodies may have been not as Starkish as once imagined, and Bran is entering a place of intense wargdom with the three-eyed raven. I had to laugh at the scene when he was in the direwolf’s body for too long, and Meera lectured him that if he keeps escaping, he’ll forget what it’s like to be human. You half expected him to be like, “yup, that’s exactly right. That’s exactly why I’m doing this. Because let me tell you, life is pretty awful. Life is where you get crippled and your family all dies and a weird Icelandic band sings about it.” It’d be like telling an addict to stop taking heroin, because it’s going to feel too good and help him forget that he’s enmired in a hopeless cycle of poverty and degradation. Oh, okay, let me stop now!
Saying the word Iceland made me realize that of all the places on Earth, Iceland sounds the most like it could be a place in the Game of Thrones universe. What other places would work? Here’s my top five:
3. The Netherlands
4. Cape Fear
5. Sarasota, Florida
Just kidding on that last one. But I’ll kick it back your way now—let me know your thoughts on these topics, and on a scale of 1-10, tell me how happy you are about Joffrey’s death compared to how happy you thought you’d be, with 1 being “way less happy” and 10 being “way more happy.”
Call it a 10. I was way more happy than I even thought. As soon as I realized that scene was coming, I was ready to get to the part where he started foaming at the mouth. George R.R. Martin has plenty of characters who occupy that gray area of morality, but he uses the entire spectrum, all the way to “evil psychopath who must die.” And way past the Hound, Tywin and even maybe Cersei are fully evil wretches like Joffrey, whom absolute power has corrupted absolutely. His complete lack of self-awareness or subtlety was on full display last night, and it was the perfect prelude to his just—and dove-stained—dessert. From his gleeful destruction of what looked to be a priceless book to his ham-fisted “it was meant to be an insult” retort to the way he couldn’t stop laughing at his tasteless re-creation of The War of Five Kings—this was Joffrey at his very worst, at least since he loosed a quiver of bolts from his crossbow on the prostitute. If we’d watched that at a movie theater, there would have been cheers from the audience when he collapsed. But at the same time, what a horrific death. We might have felt a little guilty about cheering once we saw him as a boy in his mother’s arms bleeding from his orifices. But probably not.
He wasn’t the only incarnation of depravity last night, though. Ramsay Snow is just as wicked, hunting a woman for sport and letting the dogs finish her off. But where Joffrey’s cruelty carried the story, like you, I find myself a little disappointed whenever he pops up on screen. Maybe it’s because the chief object of his torment isn’t particularly sympathetic to begin with. Theon’s own hubris turned him against the people who raised him, and he massacred those two innocent farm boys. His character arc is compelling in the books, but not yet so on screen.
But poor Tyrion! I imagine he thought the wedding couldn’t get much worse—humiliated before all his family. Forced to be cruel to the woman he loves to protect her from his father. Married to the most miserable girl in Westeros who finds him repulsive. And there he stands, drenched with wine and accused of murdering the king. He doesn’t even have time to take any comfort in his nephew’s demise.
Even before the power vacuum, you could see the struggle beginning between Margaery and Cersei, with the latter ensuring that the leftovers from the feast would be given to the dogs instead of the poor. King’s Landing is much more interesting without Joffrey sitting in the Iron Throne.
Some more replies to your thoughts: I love Sigur Rós, but that was really funny seeing Joffrey cut them off mid-”Castamere” by throwing coins at them, causing them to frantically pick them up and run. It may have taken me out of the moment a little, but it was completely worth it. And “You’re probably about to die” isn’t really advice. I think the real advice in your scenario should be “Don’t get married.” We all know about the Red Wedding. This one was an ungodly shade of Purple.
So how goes the Game of Thrones Badass Bracket? I see we’re down to the Final Four, and we’ve got two women and two men. Does last night hurt Tyrion’s chances of taking the crown? Humiliated and framed for the king’s murder does not a badass make. Or does the Peter Dinklage factor trump all of those indignities? He hasn’t actually been very good at this Game of Thrones ever since his father came to town.
Team Arya 4Evah.
I think it’s safe to reveal for our readers that the Final Four is now down to the Final Two in the Badass Bracket, with Tyrion squaring off against Arya, and you may be right—last night could severely impact his title chances. We went a whole episode without Arya, which theoretically gave Tyrion a chance to strut his stuff without interference, but in reality it didn’t go GREAT. If he had killed Joffrey, that would be one thing, but since it’s so obvious that he was caught in someone else’s conspiracy, some of his ‘cleverness factor’ may be diminished.
I’ll say this, though: ‘Tyrion in captivity’ is my favorite Tyrion, ranking in just ahead of ‘Tyrion with a little bit of power but still hugely vulnerable.’ He’s never quite so hilarious as when he has a powerful woman furious at him because they’re convinced he hurt a child. Catelyn and Cersei share a lot of the same traits, and I’m excited to watch Tyrion wriggle his way out of the latter’s bad graces just as he did with Lady Stark. If the climax is anything like the fight at the Eyrie, we’re in for a treat.
I want to get a little more in-depth on the Joffrey vs. Ramsay issue, and why Jack Gleeson is so enjoyable while Iwan Rheon (who, if he ever gets any bigger, will start a new American-mom-Irish-baby-naming craze) is just bleh. I think it’s because with Gleeson, we could see the intense rage that possessed Joffrey even in moments that should have been pleasant. He’s a cruel son of a bitch, but it seems like the kind of cruelty that’s motivated by a truly screwed-up, mentally ill brain, and one whose resting state is “simmering fury.” He has that quiet energy, where even when he’s at a feast being complimented by everyone, you can tell he’s mulling over some violent erotic fantasy, or dreaming up ways to make life unpleasant for those around him. He always wants to break into a tantrum, to perceive insults, and to cause suffering, and people like that, when given power, are terrifying. Gleeson is the most underrated actor on the show because he so effectively taps into that disturbing reservoir. I probably sound like a broken record, but what he did with Joffrey was truly great.
But Rheon as Ramsay Snow? That’s a silly fantasy of sadism, at least to me. The way he minces around with that creepy smile doing unspeakable acts is a bad cinematic simulacrum of insanity, and he comes off as a caricature. My memory of the character in the books may be a little hazy, but I recall Ramsay being a darker character, and a more competent military mind, to go along with his odd depravities. He was more like a Nazi with a streak of sadism, and less like someone constantly projecting his blatant shade of crazy to the extent that his father has to admonish him for his stupidity. It made him far scarier in the books, at least to me. George R.R. Martin writes everything with historical parallels, which is why his characters come off so real, and Jack Gleeson is like so many petulent children I’ve seen, just blown up on power. Ramsay Snow, though, is paper thin, and you’re right, neither he nor Theon move the dial.
They’re the exception, though; most of the other characters are terrific, and I could watch hours of the subtle power play unfolding between Cersei and Margaery. It’s nice to see the “former queen regent” up against someone she knows holds her in contempt, but who will never show it in a million years. She’s no match for Margaery, and it makes her own Joffrey-ness come out in peevish glory, as when she told Pycelle to feed the scraps to the dogs instead of the King’s Landing poor.
I see I’ve been rambling again, so I’ll kick it back to you. Any other real Earth locations that sound like they should be on Got? Any thoughts on Jaime getting trained by Bronn, which was a sneaky-awesome subplot of this episode?
First, Arya over Daenerys seems like a major upset, but she’s my favorite character in both the books and the TV series so I’m not complaining: an orphan girl whose response to all the injustice and cruelty she encounters is brazen defiance. She’s constantly in danger of being consumed by her own hate and rage, but the circumstances of what she’s endured justify that rage, and her temerity is the lens through which I most want to view this brutal world she inhabits.
But a close second is Tyrion, even when—or maybe, as you say, especially when—he’s at his lowest. Game of Thrones without the imp would be a shell of what we have. He provides the point of view most readers and viewers can best identify with, but it’s much more than that. He’s a balance of privilege and disadvantage, hedonism and morality, cunning and victimization. Peter Dinklage has made all those traits feel so deeply human and personal that we all live or die as Tyrion. And the tension in the show as he stands accused of regicide will be a key to this season.
You nailed what’s bothered me about Ramsay Snow since we met him last season. I think it was the eating of the sausages that made him a caricature to me—along with that goofy smile. But a final bravo for Jack Gleeson. I hope I get to continue to love hating his characters for years to come.
So on to your list of Game of Thrones locales. I’d have picked Denmark or Norway over the Netherlands; the upper reaches of Lapland for the lands beyond the wall; North Africa and the Mediterranean for the Free Cities; and Sicily for Dorne.
Bronn was terrific, playing tough drill sergeant to the Kingslayer. And the sneaky-awesome subplots abounded, as they often do. Melisandre’s creepy religious instruction to Shireen. Varys getting uninvited to the wedding because he was a foreigner (Joffrey was also a xenophobe!). Sansa getting stolen away in the chaos of Joffrey’s murder. And more great lines from Olenna Tyrell, my third favorite character on the show. It’s these little moments that make the show—and the world—seem so boundless and epic, all with only just the shadow of a single dragon.
Please don’t die, George R.R. Martin (who wrote this episode! Now get back to writing the books).
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