[This is a review of Game of Thrones season 4, episode 2. There will be SPOILERS]
After the death of Eddard Stark, Game of Thrones established itself as the kind of program wherein setting up grand events is no longer necessary; they simply happen and the audience is left to deal with the aftermath, often in stunned silence. So far this season, there's been little hint of earth shattering events on the horizon.
After all, last week's premiere spent most of its time introducing Oberyn Martell and establishing his grievances with the rulers of King's Landing. Interestingly enough, even though 'Two Swords' spanned great distances and managed to check in on Daenerys, Jon Snow, and even Arya and the Hound, the episode mainly hinged Westeros' most notorious family: the Lannisters.
In that regard, the discussion surrounding the clan had a great deal to do with Tywin shoring up accounts, and doing everything in his demonstrable power to ensure that the Lannister name is the name of kings long after he's gone. So, in a way, 'Two Swords' was about maintaining and broadening the Lannister legacy, now that Robb Stark's rebellion has successfully been quashed.
Tywin first did so symbolically, by dividing Ned Stark's sword amongst his son and his grandson. And later by charging Jaime with ruling Casterly Rock in his stead, remarking: "I will not see the Rock again before I am dead." That acknowledgement of his own mortality hung in the air just long enough before Jaime hit dear old dad with a refusal of his demand. In many ways, that "no" seemed to throw shade on all that Tywin has built, and no matter how determined he is to uphold and strengthen the Lannister name, like all other constructs in Westeros, it may prove to be far weaker than anyone had previously thought.
Of course, it could be argued, then, that the weakest element of the Lannister name is ostensibly the part holding up all of its power. So, as the events of 'The Lion and the Rose' demonstrate, once Joffrey is pulled out of the great Jenga tower that is Game of Thrones, the Lannister name may quickly find itself in a precipitous decline. For its part, the Purple Wedding (as it's called in the color-coded scheme of horrifying Westerosian nuptials) actually starts out dreadfully enough – in that anyone within their right mind should have serious reservations about Joffrey being one step closer to providing the kingdom with his legitimate progeny and heir to the throne. Thankfully, the evil boy-king never has the opportunity to sow his demented seed, as it were.
While the episode doesn’t have the grand sense of tragedy and unexpected brutality that 'The Rains of Castamere' did (for obvious reasons), the 'The Lion and the Rose' still delivers another sudden, shocking death, one that is made even more momentous by virtue of it having the entire Lannister clan in one place to bear witness to the occassion. The ongoing tension between the king and his uncle segued nicely into Joffrey's outright humiliation of Tyrion – from which the episode let the torment carry on just long enough that the king's sudden choking, which eventually gave way to his gruesome, purple-faced demise, felt more like a welcome respite than a sudden and shocking development.
Such is the death of a tyrant, apparently, as the only one to outwardly mourn and actively point a finger (a pickled finger, but a prominent digit nonetheless) at the one who may be responsible for the king's slaying is said tyrant's mother. But this only occurs at the end of the episode; once again demonstrating just how adept at pacing and portioning out these immense, game-changing moments David Benioff and D.B. Weiss actually are.
For the majority of 'The Lion and the Rose,' there were developments like any other episode. This chapter brought updates on Ramsay Snow, his newly domesticated pet Theon (a.k.a. Reek), and the return of Roose Bolton. Additionally, there was a brief status update with Bran Stark and the Children of the Weird, wherein Bran's abilities have extended to reading highly contextual messages while touching trees with faces carved into their trunks. Furthermore, Stannis and his Red Priestess continue to make the necessary sacrifices to bring him closer to the Iron Throne; upsetting Ser Davos, but prompting Stannis' wife to request Melisandre speak their strong-willed and opinionated daughter.
Melisandre's outward tenderness toward the would-be princess is unnerving to say the least. But the fact that Joffrey's assassination is coupled with the priestess' insistence that she only serves the god who brings love and joy asks a very important, very tantalizing question: Is there hopefulness on the horizon of Game of Thrones, or is the narrative simply trading one form of wickedness for another?
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday with 'Breaker of Chains' @9pm on HBO.
Photos: Helen Sloan & Macall B. Poley/HBO