Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Game of Thrones Season 4 Episode 2 "The Lion and the Rose" Review

I stand silent in admiration. After “Blackwater” and “The Rains of Castamere”, no one could seriously doubt the skill of this crew, but they really pulled if off again. The sheer balls it took to fit such a world-shaking event in the second episode of a ten-episode-season alone! And then the neatly construction from start to finish. In several ways, the episode was a mirror to “The Rains of Castamere”, with – for book fans – the terrible mounting of suspense for a climax you know was coming and – for newcomers – a shocking event just at the end of the episode where least you expect it. I don’t know about you, but after Tyrion was seized and the credits were rolling, I didn’t feel like an hour had passed – I was genuinely surprised by the end of the episode, and isn’t that saying something.
Everyone loves a wedding!

In “The Lion and the Rose”, several storythreads that were only hinted at in recent episodes come to fruition. Very attentive viewers (or those watching a second time) can gather all the hints to what’s happening early on. Like in the books, they are there, neatly disguised, but clearly for those who care to look. We have Olenna Tyrell’s now infamous remark to Sansa “Murdering a man at a wedding – what sort of monster would do that?”, then the necklace in “Two Swords” that now finds its purpose. If you look real close, you can see Olenna taking away that one false stone, and in a Sansa-close-up it is missing. And then we have the speech for the ceremony, with the “curse who ever pulls them apart”-thing and the camera is centered in Olenna Tyrell. Wow, that’s some filmmaking here.

But let’s get the thing pealed up from the start. The wedding is the center-point of the whole episode, taking place in three steps, first with the breakfast, then with the ceremony in Baelor’s, and then the wedding feast proper. Before the real breakfast, we can see Tyrion and Jaime in their first (and probably only) friendly exchange, sitting at the table with Jaime confessing that he’s useless as a fighter. The scene is a nice reminder of the strong bond between the two; Jaime acknowledging this vital weakness to Tyrion shows the trust between the two, and Tyrion – short of Ilyn Payne due the actor’s tragic cancer discovery – has the solution: let Bronn train with Jaime, because Bronn can be trusted. It’s not really the book Bronn we’re talking about here; as with Shae, Tyrion’s relationships in the show are more meaningful than in the books. It’s a change that works, though, so I go along with it, especially since the sparring – verbal and physical – between Bronn and Jaime works very good.

We then get to the royal breakfast, where Margaery and Joffrey are presented with their wedding gifts. Like in the books, Tyrion presents the history of the four kings to Joffrey, who reacts with a strange courtesy. Really self-restrained, the boy, one might think, but it goes out of the window soon enough when he receives “Widow’s Wail” from Tywin. Not only does he hack the book in pieces, with a look of bloodlust on his face no one can miss, but he also declares right in front of Sansa that swinging the sword is like decapitating Ned Stark all over again. This is just the first of many things to come from Joffrey before the end – clearly, Martin (who wrote the episode) wanted everyone to be absolutely clear just who Joffrey is.

Tyrion learns that Cersei knows about Shae. Cersei knows he knows and tells Tywin in Tyrion’s earshot about her. For those who know the books, Tywin’s order to bring Shae to his chambers surely resonates. Tyrion dispatched Bronn to take her to a ship asap, but Shae – again – refuses. Tyrion takes her into his room and breaks up with her, telling her she meant nothing and she is only a whore. Didn’t see that coming, I have to admit. It answers the question just why she will later doom him – it all makes perfect sense, with her being genuinely hurt by Tyrion, whom she loved. Tysha all over again. It’s a shift from Tyrion’s hurt feelings (in the books) to Shae’s hurt feelings (in the show), and it’s a shift I feel benefits the diversity of characters at the expense of Tyrion’s egocentrism.

We then get the ceremony at Baelor’s, which evokes the comparison to Tyrion’s wedding. There are more people in attendance, everything is more splendid, and of course Joffrey manages to do the nuptials not only right, but performs them perfectly. Prick. After the ceremony, everyone walks to the feast. Tywin has a chat with Olenna Tyrell, proving again that everyone having conversations with Olenna Tyrell improves the show, and we get some more beats that define the characters a little more. No second of screen time is ever wasted on “Game of Thrones”. Plus, we get Mace Tyrell, who is reprimanded like the utter fool he is (“Not now, Mace, Tywin and I are speaking.”) 

Now is the hour of Cersei: Margaery, still catering to the populace, decrees that the leftovers of the feast go to the poorest, which prompts Cersei to insult Grandmaester Pycelle (“You are annoying me”) and order him to make sure the leftovers go the dogs. I really can’t imagine where Joffrey got his charm. When Brienne recites some courtesies, Cersei insults her and tells her right to her face that she’s in love with Jaime, at which point Brienne nearly cracks. The fact has been in the books, too, but more suppressed on Brienne’s part. Interesting to see how that will turn out in the future. Cersei goes right on, nearly starting a scandal when walking into Oberyn Martell’s trap to insult Ellaria Sand. Tywin prevents this, prompting insults from Oberyn with a nearly unveiled threat for the life of Myrcella. Everyone forgot her departure in season 2? Now she’s on our minds again. On a sidenote, either Tommen did really grow or they exchanged the actor. Just saying. Cersei is forced back into the background by Tywin, one can presume, because she refrains from starting wars at the wedding for the rest of the ceremony. Her reign in season five will be grand.

Jaime, in the meantime, has a chat with Loras and proves that his sister is not the only Lannister able to insult people without any need. He flatly tells him that he will kill him should he ever marry Cersei, at which point Loras retorts that Jaime won’t marry her, neither. Ouch. Jaime retreats to being a glorified bodyguard again.

While Joffrey uses his time to throw coins at singers that bore him and tells them to fuck off, we get a good look at the audience. You can see on all faces that the only person enjoying himself, totally oblivious to everything going on, is Joffrey. When they feel unobserved, everyone – from Random Guest 378 to Tywin Lannister, shows his or her disdain for the king and his antics. Was there ever a man so despised? You can see it working on Tywin’s face all the time: “How do I get this one under control?” Even Margaery loses her countenance at least twice.

And then, the War of the Five Kings. Five dwarves act out the war in the most insulting and awkward play ever. Dwarf Stannis rides on Melisandre, Dwarf Renly rides on Loras’ naked butt (who is in attendance!), Dwarf Robb has a wolf’s head. Dwarf Joffrey of course defeats all of them, finishing the war off by literally fucking Robb’s severed wolf’s head. You can see the utter disdain on everyone’s faces in this scene. To add injury to insult, Joffrey now demands that Tyrion fights, who insults Joffrey back after a long afternoon of slights. What follows is the chalice-chase, drawn out to greatest pain, with Joffrey kicking the thing twice so Tyrion can’t get it. Sansa helps him, overcoming her reservations in this moment of greatest humiliation. Tyrion gets drenched, Joffrey isn’t able to not act as a total prick – everything like in the books, but with such a love to detail that it hurts. It all takes so long, it is all so excruciating, but it needs to be.

The pie cometh. Joffrey, again swinging his Valyrian sword like the new favorite toy it is, kills several of the pigeons in the pie, ruining large parts of it (you have to love these little details), eats the pie – and chokes to death in a brutal, agonizing and strangely not satisfying scene. The horrible manner of his death makes it impossible to enjoy the retribution this brings to everyone. The whole feast is totally dumbstruck. Cersei is in agony over the death of her child, everyone is crying orders, Jaime sees the king he is sworn to protect die before him, and Sansa is spirited away by Dontos in the chaos. Tyrion himself is picking up Joffrey’s chalice, looking at it dumbstruck, before being arrested at Cersei’s order as the episode’s cliffhanger.

The Purple Wedding ends, but the season has only now really begun. There are still many lines of conflict open, and King’s Landing will remain the centerpiece of the plot even with – or especially with – Joffrey gone. While the wedding is still front and center, the plots missing from last episode are driven forward.

Ramsay Snow is shown hunting one of the two girls that seduced Theon, and he is helped along by Theon (“Reek” now) and Myranda, the other of the two girls, who envied the beauty of the prey. Some people complained about Ramsay taking on a partner on his hunt, but I don’t think it’s so much off-character – in the books, he has the Bastard’s Boys, but those he already killed, so it kinda makes sense. Back in the Dreadfort, Roose arrived. Obviously, he teleported back north, stating that he had to smuggled because Moat Cailin is blocked by the Ironmen, scolding Ramsay for wasting Theon before clearing the fortress and practically disowning him. Ramsay shows off his skillset: he orders Theon to shave him and, while being shaved, tells him that Robb Stark was killed, taunting him to kill him. Theon, however, is too much of Reek already, in total terror of more torture and flaying. Roose, reasonably impressed, sends Ramsay to Moat Cailin.

On Dragonstone, Stannis and Melisandre burn Axell Florent because he still clings to the Seven. Poor Axell was merged with Alester Florent and Lord Sunglass, obviously, but in the streamlined version of Dragonstone where Davos was made Hand before the Blackwater, it makes sense to do this. We see the believers in the beach in total fanatic mode, Selyse front and center, while Stannis doesn’t really care. Back in the castle, they eat, but since they are more or less under siege, there’s not much left. Stannis tells them to fish, because if he can suffer through the fish he hates, they can too. Oh Stannis, you’re so you. At least, he forbids Selyse to beat Shireen, who has “the mark of god” and is evil, according to Selyse. That women is clearly nuts. Melisandre is sent to talk to the girl, who doesn’t believe Melisandre’s bullshit about cleansing in the fire and yadda yadda, but Melisandre gives her a pep talk about salvation only coming in the afterlife the world being hell.

Cut to Bran beyond the Wall. You have to admit, they are really clever in the way they’re putting scenes together, aren’t they? Food is running low for the group, and Bran – warging in Summer – can’t live on the direwolve’s meals. The group seems lost, but this changes when Bran wargs into a weirwood and receives some strange visions from Bloodraven. Holy crap, that was fast.

Generally, we can see a new divergence of storylines this season. While the King’s Landing plot, baring the changed order of events by Jaime’s premature arrival, stays pretty close to the books, as does Stannis’ and Daenerys’ storyline, the whole northern plot is advancing pretty fast. The rationale to me seems to be economic pressure: the actors need to be in the show, so scenes have to be made, and there aren’t limitless sets. I’m not quite sure how this will play out in the future, though. I‘d wager we’ll see more dramatic divergences from the book timeline in future episodes this season already. So far, they’re pulling it off with verve.

8 comments:

  1. for grand jury list , if was not w
    yet clarified ; why Cersei wanted Trystane dead ?

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  2. Can someone explain the Cersei/Brienne scene? Seems kind of soap-operish.

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    1. It was exposition on what was going on, since we lack the internal monologues and dreams from the books.

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  3. Enjoyed reading your take on the episode, Stefan, as always. A significant part of fandom was bothered by the portrayal of Stannis in this episode particularly. You, on the other hand, think it's in accordance with the source material. Why do you think so many fans are totally outraged by show Stannis?

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    1. It's like so often - the specifics changed, but the core remains intact. Stannis' transformation is a bit faster, and I think many people didn't quite catch up that change in the first place and took the thing from Donal Noye (breaks before it bends) too much at face value. Steven Attewell commented pretty well on this.

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  4. Nice review :)

    Yep, Tommen is totally someone else now... it's weird. And I laughed at your comment at Roose Bolton's teleportation powers ;)

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  5. the avalanche begins and other metaphors are mangled as everything kicks off. Game of Thrones Episodes

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