Well, that was a fleeting moment of glory for House Lannister. While any “Game of Thrones” episode ultimately turns on the theme of betrayal (whose sting is still keenly felt in the wake of the Red Wedding) “The Lion and the Rose” was scandalous even by the standards of the characters themselves.
The corollary to the Lannister motto of always paying their debts is that every man has his price. Money buys power, sex, secrets, silence — but most valuable of all, loyalty. Back in Season 2, Lord Varys posed a riddle to Tyrion Lannister: A king, a priest and a rich man all command a sellsword to kill the other two. Who does he follow? Under the banner of a king has not been a safe place to stand since Robert Baratheon’s death started the eponymous game. The Old Gods are still revered in the North, but religion’s power has waned in the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. The answer, then, is the rich man, and so it comes as somewhat of a shock that the moment the Lannisters’ money fails them is during a lavish display of it.
To viewers, the tension was less about whether something would happen than when, as foreshadowing has loomed over each scene of preparation for Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell’s wedding. This week, the first hint of trouble comes with the second Valyrian steel blade made from Eddard Stark’s sword being presented to Joffrey as a wedding gift, which he decides (in a callback to last week’s episode about the vulgar sort of man who names his sword) to call Widow’s Wail.
Unlike the interminable, awkward scene of Tyrion and Sansa's wedding, this time the ceremony is largely glossed over, and the party moves outdoors for the massive reception. Olenna Tyrell, the grandmother of the bride, tells also-ran Sansa, still thousand-yard staring her way through the series, how sorry she was to hear about her brother Robb Stark’s death. “War is war, but killing a man at a wedding - horrid. What sort of monster would do such a thing?” she wonders rhetorically. First complimenting Brienne of Tarth last week, now cozying up to Sansa about their mutual distaste for all things Lannister — is Olenna trying to rally the marginalized women of King's Landing?
Obliged to endure the party, Joffrey amuses himself by pelting performers with coins, offering a reward for knocking off the jester Ser Dontos’ hat, and the pièce de résistance: a horrifyingly gauche reenactment of the War of the Five Kings by dwarfs. Joffrey goads Tyrion to join the troupe as another challenger to his reign, though it’s quite late into their sibling rivalry for Joffrey not to know that Tyrion has made an art form of dealing with such taunts longer than Joffrey’s been alive. The imp pays for his insolence with a goblet of wine poured over his head, then being ordered to serve as cupbearer to the king.
And it is with a drink from the newly filled goblet to wash down a piece of royal wedding pie that three seasons of Joffrey's petulant tyranny unravel in a gruesome choking death by poison. He dies in his distraught mother’s arms, and Cersei screams for the Kingsguard to lock up Tyrion. But who really killed the king?
It could have been Tyrion, as payback for years of torment, and we know from the Battle of the Blackwater that Cersei's not the only one who knows where to find the shady apothecaries of King’s Landing. Maybe his sullen wife Sansa, who had once been Joffrey's favorite target for tormenting, made her move, and then a quick exit with her new ally Ser Dontos? Or shrewd Olenna, who may not be as resigned to her granddaughter’s fate as the wife of a cruel man-child as she seems? Maester Pycell, dismissed from the party to the kitchens to do Cersei’s dirty work of undermining Margaery’s orders about donating the feast leftovers, maybe decided to take out his resentment on the wedding pie? Or was it the brash Prince Oberyn Martell, having made his intentions clear last week to avenge his sister’s murder at the hands of a Lannister goon? (It’s not been mentioned in the series, but Oberyn is known as Red Viper in the books for his skill with poisons.)
But there’s more betrayal, for both good and bad, beyond the Red Keep. The slow pace of Season 3 was never more apparent than with every increasingly excruciating scene of Theon Greyjoy being tortured. His brainwashing is so complete that he’s allowed to give his tormentor Ramsay Snow, the bastard son of co-Red Wedding planner Roose Bolton, a straight-razor shave. Yet the “slave” Ramsay calls incapable of betrayal pauses with the blade at his throat to seemingly consider what else he could be doing with it when Ramsay reveals that his father had killed Robb Stark, who had been like a brother to Theon during his captivity in Winterfell. It may have only been a glimpse, but Theon has begun to gather the last shreds of himself as he sets out by Ramsay’s side to take the Ironborn stronghold of Moat Cailin.
In King’s Landing, Tyrion was dealing with the fallout of other betrayals even before being accused of committing his own. He has little patience with Jaime’s ongoing self-pity for losing his fighting hand, and loans him Bronn for scenic sparring sessions on some remote cliffs overlooking the harbor. It’s where Bronn used to take a friend’s wife for their trysts; it’s not clear which use of the rocky outcropping he enjoys more.
But Tyrion’s brave face lasts only until Lord Varys tells him Shae’s been made and needs to be on the other side of the Narrow Sea lest she meet the same fate as the last girl Cersei and Tywin thought he fancied: shot full of crossbow bolts by Joffrey. She loves him though, and so Tyrion has to do the only thing that will drive her away: lie. He tells her he has a wife now and obligations to fulfill, and that Shae is a whore and unworthy of bearing his children, and he doesn’t look her in the eye for a second of it. “Go drink until it feels like you did the right thing,” Bronn says, in what passes for consolation among mercenaries.
Betrayal has both emboldened and, after his defeat at Blackwater, crippled Stannis Baratheon’s city of Dragonstone, where the priestess Melisandre’s efforts to convert people to the Lord of Light are escalating. Stannis’ wife has drunk her Kool Aid and chants joyfully as her brother and two others are burned at the stake for refusing to renounce the old gods. Stannis seems disturbed, but not enough to relinquish his one real chance of sitting on the Iron Throne: “I hate a good many things, but I suffer them all the same.” His wife thinks their deformed daughter’s soul needs tending, and sends Lady Melisandre to counsel her - by revealing that there is only one hell, and it’s Westeros. Does she intend to set just enough fires to watch the Seven Kingdoms burn, then? Might want to ask Tywin Lannister how the scorched earth policy has been working for him.
Amid the ugliness of politics and war, Bran Stark’s mystical trek beyond the Wall is always a welcome interlude. But while his own companions, Hodor and the Reed siblings, are loyal enough to walk into the realm of the White Walkers, Bran is struggling with the betrayal of his gifts. His warging is improving, but he’s spending hours lurking behind the eyes of his direwolf, which his spiritual guide Jojen acknowledges must feel amazing for a crippled boy, but could lead to Bran forgetting what it’s like to be human. He communes with a heart tree and has a vision of Daenerys’ dragons flying over King's Landing, a giant tree, the three-eyed crow that haunts his dreams, the Iron Throne covered in snow, and a voice that whispers, “North.” Not sure how much farther he can go before either snow or snow zombies render his destiny moot, but they’re going.
Theon Greyjoy may have been a sex-crazed brat, but the reminder of his castration with a cut from him to Tyrion being served a sausage was unnecessarily crass.
Ramsay Snow reveals that Bran and Rickon Stark weren’t killed in Theon’s siege of Winterfell, and if there’s one thing the North loves more than complaining about winter coming, it’s the Starks. Roose Bolton’s job of consolidating the North just got a lot harder.
Best quote, as it so often does, goes to Tyrion: “Try the boar,” he tells Jaime over lunch. “Cersei can’t get enough of it since one killed Robert for her.”
Ser Loras Tyrell, betrothed to Cersei because even gay princes must do their duty, makes eyes at new chief Lannister foe Oberyn Martell during the reception. Jaime reminds Loras that Cersei would sooner “murder you in your sleep” than go through with the marriage. Loras doesn’t contest this, but pointedly reminds Jaime that brothers don’t get to marry their sisters, either. Ah, so you got Stannis’ note!
Bronn says someone may have followed him and Shae to the Pentos-bound ship. Who would want to threaten Shae even after she’s so far from Tyrion?
When Jaime fumbles his wine with his fake hand during his and Tyrion’s toast to the dubious distinction of being born a Lannister, Tyrion upends his own cup, reassuring Jaime that “It’s only wine.” It’s a surprisingly touching moment among a family not known for them.
For a woman who claims she doesn’t want to continue in her incestuous ways, Cersei couldn’t resist cruelly calling out Brienne of Tarth on her love for Jaime. Will people on this show ever learn to stop getting attached to others? Will its audience?
Episode Grade: B