“There’s been too much amusement here today. A royal wedding is not a place for amusement.”
Ah, weddings. I must say, personally I have rather a dread of them. I’ve never encountered one that hasn’t been an awkward occasion, as you gingerly tread the minefield of half-understood family politics and longstanding grudges. Inevitably (in my experience), at least some part of it ends in tears, as Aunt Maisie, tipsy on complimentary cava, finally confronts Cousin Jane over the long-disputed inheritance of that cherished family heirloom, followed by the equally inevitable punch-up between their dutifully defensive and equally tipsy husbands.
In Westeros, of course, such grudges tend to end up in something rather more serious than a drunken punch up and some regrettable photos posted on Facebook. The high watermark is obviously last season’s Red Wedding, where the family politics ended in a massacre that changed the course of a civil war.
This week’s much-anticipated union between Caligula-alike King Joffrey Baratheon and scheming Princess of spin Margaery Tyrell had, admittedly, a smaller body count (so far); though it’s no less a game-changer when the sole casualty is the King himself. As an aside, ironic kudos should be given to the GoT-obsessed Guardian, who rather gave the game away yesterday morning with a front page article entitled “Game of Thrones: a tribute to King Joffrey Baratheon”. The headline was later changed to something less spoilery, but I was glad I’d read the books and knew this was coming, else I’d have been annoyed enough to go all Lannister on their sub-editors.
With the lion’s share of the characters now present at King’s Landing, and the royal wedding taking up most of the episode, there was little space to catch up on the characters we hadn’t met up with last week. Nevertheless, the script (this year’s contribution by George RR Martin himself) found time for a few vignettes from elsewhere. Initially, we were thrust into a sylvan glen through which the dastardly Ramsay Snow was hunting an unfortunate young lady – with the aid of some particularly vicious dogs. And, of course, the snivelling ‘Reek’.
Given that the show is depicting a plot thread here that was only implied in flashbacks in the novels, Martin did rather well at showing the dynamics of the characters we saw; not just Ramsay and ‘Reek’, but Ramsay and his cold (but less obviously insane) father. Lord Roose Bolton was plainly fresh returned from the Red Wedding, and none too pleased with his bastard offspring for maiming (and thus ruining the value of) an important hostage.
The confrontation was well-played by Michael McElhatton as Roose and Iwan Rheon as Ramsay, who’s plainly desperate for his emotionally distant father’s approval. Rheon, an actor capable of considerable subtlety elsewhere, is plainly having the time of his life as the deranged and sadistic Ramsay – to his credit, he’s chewing the scenery like a starving Brian Blessed, all pop eyes and manic grin.
Up in t’North, we briefly caught up with Bran Stark and his party, trekking to… who knows where. Once again, Isaac Hempstead-Wright seems to have had a puberty-prompted growth spurt between seasons; which curiously means that he now seems about the same age as the Peter Pan-like Thomas Sangster who plays Jojen Reed (for the record, Isaac is now 15, and Thomas 23). Fortunately, the crippled Bran is incapable of standing up, so viewers won’t be able to see how much he may have shot up in height; still, in this kind of show perhaps his in-universe rapid growth can be explained away somehow. “It’s a kind of magic…”
Bran’s been spending a little too much time warging, it seems – Jojen warned him that it’s not good for you. But a brief encounter with a godswood tree showed that he could warg into plants as well as animals – and didn’t some of the shots in the ensuing vision look rather familiar? The dragon shadow over King’s Landing, and the Iron Throne room filling with snow from a broken roof; I’m pretty sure these were in Dany’s visions at the House of the Undying in Qarth, way back at the end of season two. Portents of things to come, we can assume.
There was also a glimpse at the goings on in Dragonstone, where Melisandre was busy burning more unbelievers. This time, the heretics included Stannis’ own brother in law, a fact which seemed to bother his wife Selyse not at all; still, as we saw last time we met her, she’s so devoted to the Red God that she doesn’t even mind her husband sleeping with its priestess.
Stephen Dillane was as dour as ever as Stannis, only prompted to something like empathy by Selyse’s insistence that their daughter Shireen be “chastised” for her affliction. It was interesting to see that Melisandre took a less harsh view, despite some perceptive questioning from the little girl which gave a bit more insight into the ‘Lord of Light’. Kerry Ingram as Shireen is another of the superb child actors the show seems so good at finding; I hope we see more of the dynamic between her, Stannis and Davos this season. But wasn’t Stannis supposed to be rushing to the aid of the Night’s Watch? And what became of Gendry, last seen rowing into the distance?
However, the main event this week was the royal wedding, and all these vignettes were dealt with early in the episode so as to give a near-uninterrupted focus on events at King’s Landing. This may not have had the body count of the Red Wedding, but it was certainly up there with my own experience of awkward social occasions full of snide backbiting and veiled insults. The difference being that, with these wedding guests, there were multiple histories of actual murder – so another shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise.
Martin’s script actually seemed to be channelling the style of Agatha Christie in setting up multiple motivations and opportunities for the suspects – which are, in effect, most of the guests and not a few of the servants. As if the many longstanding rivalries and personal blood debts weren’t enough, Joffrey was at his most obnoxious this week, seemingly going out of his way to piss off as many of the people at the wedding as possible.
Having already infuriated Tyrion by using his shiny new Valyrian steel sword to slice through his wedding gift (a book “every king should read”), Joffrey went on to present a mummer’s show in which the “five kings” were represented by comical dwarves. Plenty to upset Tyrion then. And Sansa, still fresh with grief, was noticeably horrified by the depiction of Robb Stark with a sewn-on direwolf head. Later, Tyrion’s attempt to defuse the tension just made things worse, with Joffrey humiliating him into becoming the royal cupbearer. So, plenty of motive for both Tyrion and Sansa –and opportunity too. He served the King wine, but she retrieved the cup from beneath the table.
They were far from the only suspects; Ser Loras was plainly very upset at the mockery of his beloved Renly. As, presumably, was Brienne. And both had shared barbed words with Lannisters beforehand, Loras with Jaime, and Brienne with Cersei. Loras was at the table with Joffrey, and had plenty of chances to slip something into the wine before leaving in disgust. Or maybe it wasn’t the wine – that pie looked pretty dodgy, and judging by Joffrey’s treatment of the musicians (a surprise cameo from Sigur Ros, covering “The Rains of Castamere” in their inimitable style), his underlings have no reason to be fond of him either.
Ser Loras isn’t the only Tyrell to bear a grudge, of course. Lady Olenna is plainly the ruler of that House (as we saw with her abrupt dismissal of the newly-introduced Mace Tyrell), and she was having some very barbed words with Tywin just before the feast. Not to mention the fact that, with Margaery now married to Joffrey, the Tyrell ties to the Iron Throne are now secure, and the inconveniently bonkers King could be got out of the way. And Olenna it was who remarked on the Red Wedding, saying, “war is war, but killing a man at a wedding? What sort of monster would do such a thing?” A statement to be taken at face value, or was it delivered with a knowing irony?
Still in the Tyrell camp, what about Margaery herself? She plainly takes after her grandmother in terms of political savvy, and she can’t have been looking forward to married life with Joffrey. Not to mention her own disgust at his conduct during the Feast. Could the King’s own wife have been behind his murder? That would be pretty Shakespearean…
For added motive, the King’s mother was not winning friends at the wedding either. Having pulled the ever-lecherous Maester Pycelle off a reluctant serving girl (good to see Julian Glover back again), Cersei ordered him to serve the feast’s leftovers to the dogs, making a sham of Margaery’s calculated hearts-and-minds winning promise to donate them to the poor. Currently motivated seemingly by little more than spite, Cersei is nonetheless an unlikely suspect in the murder; her angry, tearful reaction to Joffrey’s death was what one would expect from a protective mother, even one who knows her son to be a monster. Nevertheless, she’s had a longstanding grudge against Tyrion – and she’s pointed him out as the most likely suspect. So I wouldn’t necessarily rule her out.
Then there’s the newly arrived Oberyn Martell, and his illegitimate sister Ellaria. Already smarting at the rape and murder of his other sister during the Lannister-led Siege of King’s Landing, the veiled insults from both Tywin and Cersei at the feast can’t have improved his views of the Lannisters any. And the most important Lannister – in to all concerned – was of course Joffrey. Plenty of motive there.
Of course, if you’ve read the books, you already know the answer – but I’m not going to spoiler anyone with it here. However, it takes several volumes before we find out the truth; I hope one of the changes introduced for the adaptation will be to give the viewers an answer rather sooner – by the end of the season at least. And of course, there’s no guarantee the culprit will be the same here as it was there…
Sex and violence
In a novel twist for this show, pretty much none of either this week. Oh sure, Ramsay Snow had his dogs tear apart the unfortunate girl he was hunting, but we didn’t actually see that – the look on Reek’s face conveyed the horror well enough. And even the burning of the ‘heretics’ at Dragonstone was seen in the distance, with a few remote screams – nothing visibly horrid there. Probably the nastiest thing to be seen this week was the death of Joffrey himself, with indeterminate fluids pouring from every orifice:
No sex either. Shae’s been sent off to Pentos (for her own protection), so she wasn’t lunging seductively round in Tyrion’s quarters. And the usual end-of-wedding hook-ups have presumably been kiboshed by the surprise murder of the groom. Pity, judging from the very significant exchange of longing looks between Ser Loras and Prince Oberyn, something’s definitely brewing there, and that’s a sex scene I wouldn’t mind seeing!
So, farewell then, Joffrey Baratheon. Never the most caring of monarchs, I can’t imagine the people of Westeros will miss him. But we viewers will; he’s been reliably loathsome and hissable since about episode two. It’s a shame we won’t be seeing more of Jack Gleeson in the part; I must confess, I was beginning to find him more than a little attractive…
More to the point though, what happens to the succession now? Is everything up for grabs again? If we’re assuming that the heirs of Robert Baratheon have the most legitimate claim to the Throne, that’s either Stannis (unlikely), Gendry (extremely unlikely) or Joffrey’s brother Tommen. But what will the Tyrells want? After all, Margaery’s Queen now. Or will Daenerys Targaryen finally give up her slave-liberating quest and return to her original aim – seizing the Throne that Robert’s Rebellion took from her family?
In many a show, this kind of plot climax would have been a season finale. This being Game of Thrones, it was only episode 2; which makes one wonder what they’ve got planned for the rest of the season. Certainly, they’re going to go beyond George RR Martin’s third novel in the series, as all this takes place close to the end of that one. Books four and five take place (for the most part) concurrently, following different plot threads taking place at the same time in Westeros and Essos. Knowing how the show mixes up the book’s narratives, usually to great effect, for a different medium, I’d expect to see chunks of both. Given that George has yet to finish book six, the show’s swiftly catching up with him…