Last week marked the triumphant return of Game of Thrones, and what an episode it was! “Two Swords” easily ranks as the best season opener of the series, deftly blending riveting character development with heart-stopping action and a dash of humor to create a nearly unrivaled viewing experience. Naturally, the episode's closing scene left us desperate for more and reminded us just how painful a week long wait can be. Fortunately, this week's episode, “The Lion and the Rose,” delivers on all fronts, boasting an ending that rivals the shock value of last season's game-changing “Rains of Castamere” episode. This review is littered with MAJOR SPOILERS. If you do not wish to know what happened in Westeros tonight, stop reading now. You have been warned.
“The Lion and the Rose” opens with a chase. The murderous Ramsay Snow (Iwan Rheon), an equally cruel female archer, and Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), are hot on the trail of a very terrified girl. It appears that they are hunting her purely for sport, further emphasizing Ramsay's blatant disregard for human life. After a notable absence in the season premiere, Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and Melisandre (Carice van Houton) return, but their stories don't really add much here. The slimy Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) makes a brief appearance, as do Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), Jojen and Meera Reed (Thomas Sangster and Ellie Kendrick), and Hodor (Kristian Nairn), but their scenes are of little importance compared to the events transpiring at King's Landing. After several episodes of teasing and foreshadowing, the deplorable King Joffery Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) and the manipulative Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) are finally wed, but their marriage is extremely short-lived. In the midst of his wedding celebration, Joffrey is poisoned and dies shortly after. Enraged, Cersei (Lena Headey) blames her brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) for the murder, and he is quickly hauled away.
For many, the demise of Joffrey has been a long time coming. His cruelty claims many lives (most notably Ned Stark's), and his general attitude and treatment of others doesn't really gain him admirers either. Believe it or not, though, there's a downside to his death. Thanks to Jack Gleeson's electrifying performance, King Joffrey has been a character people absolutely love to hate. He antagonizes everyone he knows for no reason, something that he appears to take great pleasure in. Without such an evil character to rally against, viewers may find themselves lost. The other Lannisters are not awesome people either, but they can, at the very least, back up their actions with solid reasoning. Cersei and Tywin strive to preserve and protect the Lannister name, while Tyrion and Jaime work tirelessly to protect the people they care about. During his short reign, Joffrey displayed little interest in the lives or fates of others. If someone so much as wounded his ego, he'd have their head lopped off and their body abused. People loved to imagine Joffrey suffering a long, painful death, but now that it's finally happened and he's gone, they can't seem to find any other character that sparks the same deep hatred.
After this week's shocking episode, it'll be fascinating to see what happens to certain key players, particularly Tyrion. The fan-favorite character has seen some rough times, but it looks like his situation is fixin' to become much, much worse. Murdering royalty is a HUGE no-no in Westeros, and Tyrion will have to rely on more than just his superior wit to get out of this pickle.
“The Lion and the Rose” not only raises the bar for future episodes in the series, it also increases the stakes and once again reminds viewers that no one, not even the seemingly untouchable Joffrey Baratheon, is safe.
The inevitable repercussions from tonight's events will certainly be addressed in the coming episodes, but we'll have to wait another agonizing seven days to find out what those consequences are. As always, peruse Starburst for all your Game of Thrones needs, and check back next week for our review and recap of the season's third episode, “Breaker of Chains.”