TV Review: "Game of Thrones" 4x02: "The Lion and the Rose"

Reminder: the review body has spoilers for the TV show up to the last episode; the bottom observations have book-only thoughts that will be covered and color coded for your safety.

Green will be spoilers for “A Storm of Swords”.
Red will be spoilers for “A Feast for Crows”.
White will be spoilers for "A Dance with Dragons".

The only season of Game of Thrones that I watched without knowing what was coming was season 2. That means that the Blackwater battle and Renly’s death are the only big shockers that got me good. Last year I paced my room like a caged animal for weeks waiting for “The Rains of Castamere” because I knew it was going to be horrifying, and it was.

That way, I know there are a couple of milestones I can’t wait for the show to reach. “The Lion & the Rose” was one of them. It appears that the folks in the writers room of “Game of Thrones” (and George RR Martin, who wrote this episode) know which are going to be their most memorable moments, and write particularly interesting episodes around them. Everyone remembers the Red Wedding because of how brutal and unexpected it was, but if you watch the episode again, you’ll notice there is a lot of huge and relevant stuff going on (Jon leaves Yggrite, Bran and Rickon split up, Dany takes Yunkai, etc).

They did something similar with this episode. If you read the book you knew that “The Lion & the Rose” also meant Purple Wedding, and though that was what I was looking forward to the most, I was very impressed to discover just how good everything else in the episode was. I had some minor problems with the last episode, but with this one I’m having trouble thinking of legit criticisms.

This episode welcomes back characters and storylines that feel like they’ve been gone for too long. I know Stannis the Mannis was in the third season finale but feels like I haven’t seen him in ages. I love this dude, but the only criticism I can think of making to this episode is that the Stannis scenes felt like a reminder that these characters exist more than anything. It’s great seeing Selyse again, as she’s barely been in the show, and it’s always great to see poor Shereen. I’ve felt that the show’s had a bit of trouble really portraying Selyse, but then again, she’s an awful character in the books as well. I just feel they don’t play the subtext card with her in the show; everything has to be really blunt, and I don’t know why.

The whole thing felt like a repetitive retread of season two Stannis when we’re being re-introduced to his batshit crazy religion and of course his Red Priestess. We didn’t even get to really see Davos. I really appreciated that they showed Stannis has a strong code when it comes to his daughter, and finally straight up admits/suggests that he can’t stand Selyse.  And I gotta be honest, though: I was a bit tense when Melisandre visited Shereen. To quote Ripley: Get away from her you bitch!

Beyond the Wall, we have Bran. This scene felt a bit off in some ways, like it almost didn’t belong in “Game of Thrones” but in a lesser fantasy show. Don’t get me wrong, the hallucination was visually incredible (I need that shot of the tree as my desktop wallpaper) and it’s the beginning of one of my favorite storylines in “A Dance with Dragons”, but something felt off. Bran didn’t do so well as an actor, playing his yearning to return to Summer a bit too obviously. Jojen’s dialogue was also a bit on the predictable and ordinary side. We get the circumstance of Bran’s desires and its dangers; you don’t have to be so upfront about it like we’re stupid. I think I see where they’re going here, but how they’re gonna get there is anyone’s guess. I’m not afraid of the possibility of filler, though; they did that with Dany back in season 2, and it only made her story better.

I don’t know what to say about the Reek/Bolton scene. Yeah, the huge Reek reveal in the books couldn’t be possible in TV (in the books, you have no idea Reek is Theon for a while), but they nailed Theon’s tragic transformation. The introduction served as a great little taste of what Ramsay Bolton is really like, and a swift reminder that Joffrey certainly isn’t the worst thing in Westeros. I loved the scene when Roose berates Ramsay for torturing Theon, as he was a political asset. I’m surprised they’re pushing forward that “A Dance with Dragons” plot already, but it makes a lot of sense.  Man, and what an elegant way of showing us Ramsay’s psychological torture tactics. Giving Theon a knife and telling him “Oh by the way, my dad killed Robb” was some serious top-tier sociopath shit: he had to show, even to himself, that Theon was completely broken.

But the center of this episode’s story takes place in King’s Landing, and they didn’t miss one beat in here. Every fucking scene in King’s Landing was phenomenal. I’m really glad to see Bronn replacing Ilyn Payne as Jaime’s new training partner (though I’m extremely saddened by the circumstances in which Payne’s actor finds himself). Part of the fun in here is the witty dialogue, and it wouldn’t be possible with Payne, and certainly not without Bronn, who is proving to be the funniest, most likeable character in the show (his crack about fucking the knight’s wife made me actually LOL).

Another aspect that is slowly convincing me of how I appear to be enjoying the show more than the books is that the drama is spread more evenly across every character. I’m talking about the scene between Shae and Tyrion when he Lassie’d her. Shae was a non-character in the book, and I sincerely didn’t give a shit about her, but this scene was incredibly hard to watch. Peter Dinklage keeps knocking it out of the park with his acting.

Quick shoutout to Varys. His time on-screen was short but he’s still one of the best characters in the show. I think this is the first time we see him losing his cool other than during Ned Stark’s execution. He really looked shaken.

The wedding ceremony itself was also another “Red Wedding” scenario that only shows how reading the books in no way ruins the show for you. Yeah, I knew Joffrey was going to die, but while you were chilling watching the wedding, I was eating my own fingers in anxiety. The buildup was tremendous and the payoff was a million times more brutal than I ever expected it to be. I know Joffrey is a wee prick, but I never expected to feel that sick to my stomach watching him die. Look guys, he’s a teenage little shit, and the way his death is portrayed is so chaotic and realistic and brutal. I can’t believe the subtleties in Gleeson’s acting, the red herrings for the book readers (notice how he flinches after taking the first sip, which made me think “Oh shit it’s happening!” but not yet), the make-up department winning a gold star in the end and of course the very Joffrey way in which, even with his last breath, he manages to fuck someone over hard. I hope Gleeson returns to acting eventually because he’s extremely talented, and I would love to see him play a likeable character.

And everything leading up to the big death was amazing. The political tension in the ceremony was like what I imagine it would be like if Obama, Putin, Rasmussen and Kim Jon Un played Risk while drinking. And telling yo momma jokes. The changes made to Joffrey’s circus act with the dwarfs was brilliant. In the book, it’s slightly different and the only one who is really humiliated is Tyrion. In here, making it a representation of the War of Five Kings was great, because it really pretty much offended everyone there in one way or another.

It’s great seeing Loras again; both his interactions were phenomenal. His epic third-degree skin-grafts-from-the-ass burn on Jaime was some serious sass, and it was funny to see him and Oberyn eye-fucking each other. Cersei and Brienne. Cersei and Pycelle. Cersei and Oberyn (man, Cersei got busy at that wedding!). And among all this Queen of Mount Crazy antagonizing, her interaction with Oberyn was by far the best. It’s a rare occurrence to see someone tell Tywin what’s what, and no one could do it like Oberyn can.

Bran’s scene aside and the apparent redundancy of Stannis’ scene, this has to be one of the most well-balanced “Game of Thrones” episodes since . . . well, fuck, “The Rains of Castamere”. A lot was set up, a lot happened, and it gave people a brief respite from evil always getting its way in Westeros. Remember though: before you celebrate too much, Tyrion is getting all the heat for Joffrey’s death. If you’ve been paying a lot of attention since the beginning, you might figure out who’s behind the death of the King. Any theories?

Reader Observations:
  • What’s going to happen with Asha/Yara Greyjoy? I know she was in the trailer, and probably headed for Moat Cailin but I sincerely have no goddamn clue what’s gonna happen. I was expecting Theon to go alone like he did in book 5, but who knows.
  • Though it's not really a tell, I didn't see who could be Penny among the show dwarfs. Is she getting written out (iamokaywiththis.jpg) or just written in differently?
  • I don’t have much more faith in Coldhands showing up in the show. I almost don’t want him to; riding an elk would look stupid, and if they changed it, the book fanboys would go all “It’s JAIME Lannister sends his regards, gawd!”
  • I kept looking at Sansa’s necklace to see if one of the stones was missing, but nothing. Or at least I didn’t catch anything. EDIT: Holy shit I totally missed this . On a rewatch, it's pretty clear.
  • I’m surprised Littlefinger hasn’t appeared in the first two episodes; he’s extremely important to the plot behind Joff’s death and Sansa’s escape.
  • What, exactly, is Mace Tyrell doing in “Game of Thrones”? They should’ve brought in Garlan, not Mace.
  • Did you see the preview of next episode? Looks like Yggrite might be the next casualty.

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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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