Ding dong, the king is dead.
It was quick, it was brutal, and I even found myself feeling sorry for him in those final moments (what can I say? I don't have the stomach for gruesome deaths). And whether or not you knew what was coming, the way the show lingered over the wedding feast built the tension to almost unbearable levels, making it one of the best episodes of the series so far. In the end, it isn't the brutality and shocks that makes a powerful and enjoyable episode. It's the anticipation of that shock, the sense that something bad is going to happen, that someone is going to snap, without knowing precisely when all the tension will break.
I loved the fact that this episode took the time to linger. It wasn't worried that it needed constant action and drama to hold our attention. It let the gradual, rising tension speak for itself, and gave us many fascinating character interactions in the process. Characters who don't normally get to interact, like Olenna and Sansa, or Joffrey and Brienne, had their moments. The camera felt free to linger on characters' reactions and expressions, particularly Sansa's. Sophie Turner proved once again what a talented actress she is, and how well she can express emotion with a single glance. A shot of her heartbroken face was as powerful as any long scene, and I really appreciated that the show took the time to show us things from Sansa's point of view once again.
Of course, the Tyrells ruled the day, with the Queen of Thorns's faux concern and the wonder of Margaery's expressions in the background. This really was a week for the show's female characters to shine.
The only exception, perhaps, was Cersei. I seem to be in the rare camp that enjoyed seeing her interaction with Brienne, but beyond that, Cersei seemed to spend most of the wedding being as pointlessly petty as possible. Why, exactly, did she need to threaten Pycelle to go against Margaery's orders, just because Margaery ordered it? There'll be plenty of time for her insane hatred of the younger queen to grow soon enough. And why did she bother to challenge Brienne at all, when an ugly sword maiden wouldn't even be a blip of Cersei's radar? Even her reaction to Joffrey's death felt off. Her grief felt mild and short-lived, switching to a desire for vengeance against Tyrion so quickly that it seemed like revenge was the only thing she cared about. Her son dying was sad, yes, but now she finally had something she could destroy Tyrion with, and that was the thing that counted most. I can see where that conclusion would come from in the books, but I think understating Cersei's love for her children, even for Joffrey, does her character a great disservice. The show has put a lot of effort into softening Cersei over the past few seasons. Why, then, would they take this away?
The otherwise fantastic wedding was also marred by that one pointless shot of a spead-eagle naked woman. I guess this week had no time for an unnecessary brothel scene, or George RR Martin didn't write one in, so the show had to improvise to meet its naked objectification quota. Never mind the fact that this is the king's wedding in King's Landing, and that that probably wouldn't be part of the entertainment. All of this plot and drama was getting a bit stale, and we needed a quick naked shot to encourage us to pay attention.
Just who do the writers think is watching this show? What sort of viewer would expect or be pleased by such a pointless aside? Are those the viewers the show really wants to court?
Meanwhile, Tyrion and Shae's story took a twist that I was not expecting this week, and to be honest, I'm not certain what to make of it. At least, I don't know how this is going to affect their storyline for the rest of the season. Will Shae remain out of the way? Will she believe he really didn't love her and be heartbroken or feeling vengeful? I'm going to reserve judgement on this one and see where it ends up going.
However, the scene itself seemed poorly done to me. We're clearly supposed to see Tyrion as a tragic figure, forced to renounce the woman he loves to save her life. But I hate when characters decide to lie to and hurt others "for their own good." The martyr complex, and the way it takes away the other character's agency completely, makes my skin crawl. "I know better than you," it says. "You can't be trusted to make your own decisions. My manipulation of you is for your own good!" So watching Tyrion being cruel to Shae for her own good didn't exactly endear him to me or make me sympathetic to his plight.
Then again, Shae also seemed somewhat out of character in that scene. Shae has been shown to be an excellent reader of people, and fiercely independent and resilient. Her naivety about the dangers that Tyrion's family pose is fitting for book Shae, perhaps, but not for the intelligent women we've seen so far in the show. And her reaction to Tyrion's words, as she stands there and sobs in the middle of the room, seemed more for the benefit of Tyrion's character than her own. She stood there and sobbed not because that was how Shae would react, but because that image was the one that would hurt Tyrion the most, and so make viewers the most sympathetic to his plight.
I know that George RR Martin wrote the scene, but something about it felt off to me. Perhaps it was the clash of George RR Martin's Shae and the show's Shae. Perhaps it was the plot and the characters no longer gelling together. I don't know. But something felt off.
Of course, Game of Thrones wouldn't be Game of Thrones without some misogyny and mindless brutality, which brings us to the first Ramsey Snow scene in the woods. It's a brutal and horrifying scene, but it also shows just how much the show has screwed itself over by making brutality, objectification and misogyny commonplace. With Joffrey dead, the Boltons are our main remaining "villain" characters (at least for now), and Ramsey is the worst of the lot. He's one of the few characters, in the book and in the show, who is purely, 100%, psychotically, twistedly, irredeemably evil. But the impact of this is ruined, in part, because everyone else in Westeros is the same.
The hunt in the woods is book canon. It's horrific, but it's book canon. But in the show, we've seen it all before. We've seen so many similar scenes that we're almost immune to it now. The show can't treat female characters like this every week, and then expect us to be shocked when a character acts in the same vein. Ramsey's animalistic cruelty just seems... commonplace. Unsurprising.
But, overall, The Lion and the Rose was a damn good episode that achieved everything it needed to achieve. Take out the unnecessary misogyny and some weird character choices, and I'd be praising it from the rooftops. If it weren't for that pesky "writing Book 6 and 7" thing, I'd be asking for George RR Martin to be the episode writer every week. Strange how things always turn out better when he's around.