If you have not watched "The Lion and the Rose" -- the second episode of "Game of Thrones" season four -- be warned: spoilers to follow.
Rejoice! Rejoice! The king is dead!
Ah, if only it were that simple. In true "Game of Thrones" fashion, George R.R. Martin -- who wrote Sunday's episode, "The Lion and the Rose" -- cannot give us even a minute of uninterrupted happiness. Though I didn't count the seconds from when I realized the despised King Joffrey's reign was about to come to a most welcome end and when Cersei pointed at the unlucky in love, unlucky in life Tyrion, screaming he be taken away, I don't think a full 60 seconds was given to properly praise the death of the most despicable television character since Marissa Cooper on "The O.C." (or Thomas and O'Brien on "Downton Abbey," Dana on "Homeland," or whoever you truly can't stand) So let us take the time Martin and director Alex Graves wouldn't and appreciate the end of young King Joffrey's far too lengthy reign.
Let's start with some praise. No, not for the King. I cannot and will not remember anything kind he ever did, and even if there was an example, he was undoubtedly tricked into it (though feel free to share some loving memories in the comments section, or as it will be known for this post: Least Favorite Joffrey Moments). I'm speaking of the actor who embodied a real and fictional world's worth of hatred these past three seasons, Jack Gleeson. The 21-year-old Irish actor laid his teeth into a role so dark and despicable it would have been easy for a lesser thespian to end up being comic relief. Sure, there were moments when we would laugh at Joffrey's wimpish immaturity, but never because the actor reached too far or failed to capture his character's deep-rooted Napoleon complex. Gleeson was a true master of malevolence. Even the way he held the fatal goblet of poisonous wine conveyed arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence all at once. Though I can't say I'll miss seeing Gleeson every week -- especially after the subtle and obvious reminders of his role in Ned Stark's death sprinkled throughout the episode (Ned's eye in Bran's visions as opposed to the reenactment of his murder, this time with extra head-humping) -- he did provide an anchor of vehemence that looks to be taken up quickly by his unforgiving mother.
Cersei's maniacal -- and rather overcooked -- scream to close out "The Lion and the Rose" places her as the top contender for "Worst Villain" on a show with many, many contenders. Not only did she relegate everyone's favorite drunkard to an indefinite prison sentence, but she also took food from the mouths of starving children, ordering the leftovers from the wedding feast be fed to the dogs instead. Cersei's status as lead scoundrel was first set in motion in the season premiere when she turned away the advances of Jaime, an unwholesome man himself who's gone through a bit of a rebirth since losing his hand. Seeing her spurn a fan favorite, or, if you haven't forgotten the attempted murder of Bran, the cold denial of a man that despondent did her no favors, and now she's the judgmental and irrational rage-monster who's imprisoned poor Tyrion.
Though "poor" does not begin to describe the depths of Tyrion's sorrows in "The Lion and the Rose." After being reminded once more of the danger facing his dearest lover Shae as long as she remains in the city, Tyrion is forced to send her away. In one of the more well-intentioned heart-wrenching scenes in "Game of Thrones," Tyrion calls her a whore, saying she could never bare his children. His passionate speech is convincing enough for her to finally flee the kingdom, but not before she slaps Bronn and runs weeping from Tyrion's bedroom. At this point, we know all Tyrion wants to do is get incredibly hammered, and he tries to do so quickly after King Joffrey's wedding. Sadly, he's interrupted by his King's torturous teasing in a grating scene that at first seemed to be setting up Tyrion's final breaking point. As Joffrey demanded more and more of his uncle, making him get on his hands and knees to search for the purposefully dropped goblet and then demanding he kneel when presenting him with the drink that would be his undoing, I kept waiting for the honorable man to lash out against the tyrant as he's done before but wouldn't get away with now.
Instead, it was the King who met his match on his wedding day, and the only question now is, "Who did it?" All signs point to Dontos Hollard who appeared shortly before Joffrey's death to whisk Sansa away to safety. Hollard has a history with the King. In season two, he was almost wine-boarded to death at Joffrey's order after appearing to be drunk at a joust on the King's name day. Sansa saved him, making him the fool, and he reappeared in last week's episode to give Sansa his mother's necklace as repayment for saving his life. Was thanking Sansa not enough? Did he need to seek vengeance on the boy who humiliated him and then beat the girl who saved his life? It certainly seems that way, but I wouldn't put it as past anyone involved with "Game of Thrones" to infuse one of their patented surprise twists into this revelation as well.
While there were certainly other happenings in Westeros this week -- Bran's visions, human sacrifices (Stannis Baratheon seems to be getting a little queasy of all this black magic, right?), Bronn training with the Kingslayer (cute couple alert!) and witnessing a man at his most broken in Theon Greyjoy, now the whipping boy of his new master, Ramsey Snow -- all of it still takes a back seat to the most welcome of twists and its most unwelcome consequence. The theme of the week seems to be balance, or, more accurately, unbalance. Joffrey's death was expected to be one of the happiest moments in a series lacking many. Instead, it was tarnished by the unjust blaming of Tyrion, making us worry for his life when we should be celebrating the loss of Joffrey's. Simultaneously, Cersei is elevated to the top of every fan's "most hated" list while also ascending in the power rankings right behind Joffrey's new wife, Margaery.
As is the consistent theme of "Game of Thrones," evil outweighs good. The scales always seem to tilt in the favor of misfortune, from the death of Ned Stark to The Red Wedding to Sunday night's mix of good and bad news. It's a delicate road we've started down at the end of "The Lion and the Rose," but one that has begun with a beautifully orchestrated moment of chaos. We'll see soon enough where it takes us and if the scales start to even out. If not, Tyrion's plight may only continue to grow.
Criticwire Grade: A-