All hail the purple wedding.
The episode opens with a rich, green, idyllic forest, unthreatened as yet by war from the south or winter from the north. The idyll is ruined slightly by the appearance of the Bastard of Bolton, his paramour Melynda, a pack of hunting dogs and Theon/Reek, limping along in their wake. Oh, and the dying screams of the terrified woman they’re hunting to death. As if we needed another reminder that Ramsay is an unhinged sadist.
But Daddy’s back, and he’s pissed that Ramsay mutilated Theon. Not for any humanitarian reason, of course, but because it seriously devalues his worth as a hostage (a view shared by Balon Greyjoy, but not Yara, as we saw last season). Having helped get rid of the Starks, Bolton now has a bigger problem: how to actually take control of the North when he can’t get his army past the Greyjoy hold on Moat Cailin. (This is another example of why I would never play Tywin Lannister at chess: if Roose is occupied with the North, he can hardly pose a threat to the new peace at the same time.) Theon would have been more useful whole.
But Ramsay’s methods have had their uses, too: his torture has revealed the secret that Reek couldn’t keep but Theon could’ve: Bran and Rickon are still alive. Thus, Ramsay is forgiven and dispatched to Moat Cailin to see what use his hostage might still be (aside from as a tame barber). With Yara on her way there as well, there might be potential for success; and if Ramsay pleases his father, he might get what he craves: legitimisation. As we’ve seen with Jon, and now Ellaria, being a bastard isn’t all honey cakes and locale-related surnames.
Did anyone else get the sense that this is the first time Ramsay has been released on the wider world outside his father’s lands? Meanwhile, Locke — leader of the merry band who tried to rape Brienne and actually did cut off Jaime’s hand — is to go in search of the Stark boys (and why was he not punished for mutilating his equally valuable hostage?).
I’m intrigued to see what role Melynda might have in this storyline – if I’m not mistaken she and the murdered blonde were the two women sent to torture Theon last season. [Editor’s note: The woman with the bow, yes, the woman eaten by dogs, no. She was named “Tansy,” per the credits.] Note also Walda Frey, the daughter of Walder offered to Roose Bolton along with a dowry of her weight in silver.
At least one Stark boy (or rather teenager, as Isaac Hempstead-Wright seems to have aged three years since last season) [Editor’s note: Vitamin Warg, for growing boys.] is still alive, though he won’t be for much longer if he insists on subsisting only on what Summer eats. Luckily though, there’s a convenient heart-tree nearby.
If you’re not sure why the hell these trees with red leaves and a face are important, last week’s episode where Sansa visits the Godswood in King’s Landing would’ve been a perfect opportunity to remind non-book-reading viewers about the Old Gods of the North. Instead that Godswood was bare, and we’re straight into Bran’s vision, with its message from the three-eyed raven:
Look for me beneath the tree.
(You’d think a mystical psychic tree would rhyme better.)
Also visible in this vision is the zombie horse Sam saw before the attack on the Fist of the First Men, and the throne room in King’s Landing, burned, empty and filling with snow. If this seems familiar it’s because that’s also what Dany saw in the House of the Undying in season two.
Of Rickon and Osha, however, there is no sign.
Ah, here’s Stannis, resolutely burning heretics at Melisandre’s behest while fending off both Davos’s objections and his wife Selyse’s enthusiasm (that one of those burned alive is her own brother Axel Florent only seems to help).
Then it’s on to dinner, where I’m reminded of Princess Diana’s famous comment about the number of people in her marriage. It’s Melisandre I (almost) feel sorry for here; Selyse is so adoring and Stannis so repulsed by it. Selyse’s other obsession is the budding “heretic” tendencies of little Shireen − which Selyse blames for the greyscale which marks her face − and wants to beat out of her. You get the sense that it isn’t the corporal punishment that Stannis objects to, but that he hates that it would be his wife who would punish his daughter. A marital entente cordiale is reached when it’s decided Melisandre will undertake the religious education of the royal daughter. Thus leading to perhaps the most apt quote of the series:
There is only one hell… the one we’re living in now.
Speaking of the capital, I’ve left it til last for obvious reasons… In preparation, the writers gave Joffrey free rein of his dickishness. I winced along with Tyrion when he chopped up the book with “Widow’s Wail” (remember what the Hound thinks of people who name their swords?). By the time we got to the “War of the Five Kings” show, Margaery looked like she wanted to vomit into the pie, and she wasn’t the only one.
It wasn’t only Joffrey at peak Lannister this episode, but also Cersei, with her petty displays of power over Pycelle, Margaery, and Ellaria − her attack on the latter most excellently put down by Oberyn:
In some places, the highborn frown on those of low birth. In other places, the rape and murder of women and children is considered distasteful. What a fortunate thing for you, former Queen Regent, that your daughter Myrcella has been sent to live in the latter sort of place.
Did Cersei temporarily forget Myrcella was in Dorne, or is she so hopped up on Lannister power that she didn’t think it mattered what she said? Love Oberyn for this, and for the nod to the effects of patriarchy.
Even Jaime attempts to get in on the act with his warning to Loras, and Tyrion channels his father when he brutally breaks up with Shae:
You’re a whore!… I can’t be in love with a whore, I can’t have children with a whore.
This broke my heart a little. He hated doing it, but he did it to save her from the imminent threat posed by Tywin’s overheard order to Cersei and Varys’s refusal to protect her any more. She doesn’t understand, and doesn’t go quietly. But given that we don’t see her leave, did she go at all?
Speaking of going, in the confusion as Joffrey chokes, Sansa is offered her third chance of escape… just as she and Tyrion seemed to be building a tentative alliance. But with him accused of Joffrey’s murder he can hardly protect her − will it be third time’s the charm with Dontos? And where to?
The one wrong note for me was Cersei’s conversation with Brienne. To have Brienne as the woman who lurches from one unrequited crush on an unavailable man to another leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It’s too soon for that topic, and I was willing her to deny it. Instead we got wounded silence from her and another triumph for Cersei.
Was Joffrey’s death a shock to you? Or was it as cathartic as you’d hoped? More importantly, who did it? And how in hell is Tyrion going to get out of this one?
(Still no Gendry, no Tullys, and no Littlefinger.)
UPDATED SPOILER WARNING: if you want to talk about the books from this event in A Storm of Swords on, please be nice and use rot13.com to encypher your comment (go to that site, write your comment, click, then copy and paste the new text back here). Events from the books that have already been depicted in the first three seasons of the show are not considered spoilers.
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