Though not usually aware of it, as viewers of television and cinema, we are constantly making certain anticipations or predictions about what we’re watching. We suppose that there are certain “givens,” or things we know are safe to assume. We are able to do this because most of these shows or movies abide by a certain set of “rules” with which we’ve become familiar. It doesn’t mean we know every little thing that is going to happen, but we achieve an understanding of what’s in the realm of possibility and what simply isn’t. We can safely assume that there is no way Character A can die in this movie or Thing B can happen in that show. And while there is generally comfort for the viewer in being able to make certain assumptions, these very assumptions ultimately take away from the “realness” of what we are watching. The predictability, however small it may be, reminds us that we are in fact being told a predetermined story, bound by limitations of what we know can and cannot happen, rather than watching a real experience unfold before our eyes.
And this is one of the many brilliant ways that Thrones sets itself apart from just about everything else out there. George R.R. Martin has ignored all the conventional “rules” that often limit the possibilities of a story. Instead, he created a world that mirrors our own; one where possibility is endless, things are unpredictable and we are not always in control of what will come next. As a result, his story is not only more authentic, but also more relatable. It feels more real because it is more real.
While most of us will take away from this episode the death of King Joffrey, in reality, this was not necessarily the most significant plot-point of the episode. Rather, this was a simple reaffirmation that there is no “safe-zone” in this world; no assumptions can be made and no one life is more or less important than any other. We have been reminded of this fact time and time again, first with the death of beloved Ned Stark, then with the behanding of Jaime, and finally the unforgettable Red Wedding. Death is random, life is chaos and nothing can be taken for granted. Forget that, and you are in for a rude awakening, often without any warning at all.
And while the death of Joffrey was shocking, it should not be the only takeaway of this episode. Bran’s continued journey and the visions he experienced are far more meaningful than the loss of one life, even the death of a king. Moreover, Tyrion was forced to pretend that he no longer loves Shae; Lord Bolton finds out a powerful piece of information that few others know — the Stark children are still alive and rightful heirs to the North; Theon has gone completely mad; and Sansa appears to be on the run. Each of these events in their own right are quite significant, and despite Joffrey’s death being the headlining event of the episode, it would be a mistake to overlook all the other things that happened.
THE DWARF, THE CRIPPLE & THE MOTHER OF MADNESS
As Tyrion and Jaime catch up, Tyrion notes the unenviable position that the three Lannister children find themselves in: a dwarf, a cripple and a mother of madness. For them, power does not imply happiness. On the contrary, they have each had great prices to pay in order to help their family achieve this power. And now that they have it, their personal happiness appears to be more deteriorated than ever. After Jaime acknowledges to Tyrion that he is no longer an effective swordsman, Tyrion suggests that he needs a paid sword with whom he can train. Tyrion arranges for Jaime to meet and train with Bronn.
“YOU’RE NOT A BOLTON, YOU’RE A SNOW”
In another one of his perverse games, Ramsay Snow chases through the forest one of the girls that had been at his service previously. Claiming that she had been making his other girl jealous, they hunt her down and feed her to the dogs. At the Dreadfort, seat of House Bolton, Roose Bolton returns home after playing his part in the Red Wedding. We now see that the months of extreme torture have broken Theon; he has lost his mind and has become an obedient servant to Ramsay Snow. However, when Roose Bolton learns of this, he scolds Ramsay and reminds him of his bastard status, telling him “you’re not a Bolton, you’re a Snow.” The ironborn currently hold Moat Cailin, a strategic stronghold of the North that allows for passage from the south. Lord Bolton’s plan was to return Theon to his father, Balon, in exchange for Balon pulling all the ironborn from Moat Cailin. Thanks to Ramsay, Theon is now useless and Lord Bolton has lost his leverage.
However, Ramsay did accomplish one thing — through all the torture and “training” of Theon, Ramsay was able to learn that Bran and Rickon Stark are not in fact dead. After their escape from Winterfell, Theon killed two other boys and burned their bodies, pretending that they were the Stark boys to cover up that he let them escape. Only Theon and a couple others knew this very important fact — with Bran and Rickon still alive, they are the the rightful heirs to Winterfell and present a major threat to Roose Bolton, new warden of the North. Lord Bolton learning this information is a game-changer and he orders Vargo Hoat, the man who cut off Jaime’s hand, to lead a party in the search of the Stark boys. Theon also offers to them that Jon Snow is at Castle Black and could be protecting them. Last season, after Bran and Rickon split, it was decided that in fact, Rickon would head to Castle Black with Asha to seek out Jon Snow. Lord Bolton offers Ramsay a chance to prove that he is a Bolton and tells him to round up whatever men he can and to take back Moat Cailin for the family.
Of course, it was very significant that Lord Bolton learned of the Stark boys survival, as well as his order to Ramsay to take back Moat Cailin from the ironborn. However, the most powerful part of this all was to see the transformation of Theon. Episode after episode, we witnessed the brutal physical and emotional torture that he had to endure. And now, we see the full effects of what that torture has done to him. Like a dog, he has been fully trained to be obedient to his master. So much so that Ramsay trusted him to hold a blade to his neck. And, even as Theon held this blade to his neck and Ramsay told Theon that Lord Bolton had killed Robb Stark, Theon was still unable to do anything other than follow order.
THE COST OF LOVE
For much time, Tyrion has expressed to Shae the dangers of their relationship. And, now that Tyrion is married to Sansa, their relationship only grew more complicated and dangerous. After Varys tells Tyrion that Lord Tywin has threatened to hang the next whore that Tyrion is caught with, Tyrion realizes that he must take drastic action to get Shae out of King’s Landing. He has tried many times to tell her how dangerous it is, but she refuses to listen. So, now, he must lie to her and endure the pain of acting as if he doesn’t truly love her. The sad irony is that he is actually doing it all for love and trying to save her life. He tells her that she is a whore and not fit to be with him. He declares, “I have enjoyed my time with you most of all, but now that time is over.”
We once again see the recurring theme which reminds us that love will not always prevail. Though Tyrion loves Shae and she loves him back, there are other variables that simply make a life together impossible. It is sad to watch, but offers a more realistic view of love, rather than the romanticized storybook version we are used to seeing. Sometimes love is not enough and the realities of life can get in the way.
“THERE IS ONLY ONE HELL…AND WE ARE LIVING IN IT”
At Dragonstone, Stannis sacrifices several more of his men to the Lord of Light, including his own brother-in-law. True to form, Ser Davos is against these actions and tells Stannis that they were innocent men merely worshipping the gods of their fathers. Interesting to see, Stannis’ wife, Lady Selyse, appears to have become passionate about the Lord of Light. During dinner, she tells Stannis that their daughter, Shireen, needs to rot, claiming that the marks on her face show that she has been cast out by the Lord of Light. However, Stannis orders that he will not strike down his own daughter.
At Selyse’s recommendation, Melisandre goes to visit Shireen and they have a discussion about the gods. Shireen notes that she has read about the Faith of the Seven, though Melisandre quickly replies that these are only lies and fables. There are only two gods, one representing good, light and evil and the other representing cold, darkness and fear. She explains that these two gods are forever locked in an eternal struggle against one another. Asking about the many heavens of the Faith of the Seven, Shireen asks, “so there are not seven heavens?” to which Melisandre coldly responds, “there is only one hell and we are living in it.”
“IF WE LOSE YOU, WE LOSE EVERYTHING”
Though most viewers are probably still thinking about the death of Joffrey, it was Bran’s role in this episode that was truly major. Once again, we are taken into one of Bran’s skinchanger states where he has inhabited the mind of his direwolf, Summer. This one was longer and more personal than any we’ve seen before; we were able to feel what Bran might feel controlling the mind and body of his direwolf. When he is woken up, he tells that he was hungry and was just eating. The connection between he and Summer grows stronger, and it appears that he is starting to blur the line between his own identity and that of his direwolf. Jojen reminds him that he cannot survive off the food his direwolf eats and that Bran himself is not a direwolf.
Through his power of skinchanging, Bran is able to transcend the limits of his actual human life. As a cripple, Bran has lost his mobility — once a great climber, Bran can now barely move. However, all this changes when he takes over the mind and body of Summer. He is liberated, he is free. Able to run freely through the forest, hunt down food and feel the cold ground beneath him, Jojen acknowledges that it must be glorious for Bran to feel whole again. However, Jojen reminds Bran that spending too much time in the skin of another can be dangerous and Bran could start to forget what it is to be human. Reaffirming the importance of Bran’s journey, Meera chimes in telling Bran “if we lose you, we lose everything.”
As they continue through the forest, Bran sees Summer standing beneath a weirwood tree, illuminated by a mysterious light. As he approaches the tree, we see a face carved into it, a traditional practice of the Children of the Forest from thousands of years ago. As Bran connects with the tree, he again experiences greensight, or prophetic visions — this time, more powerful than any other we’ve seen.
In a brief moment, it appears he learns of everything that has happened, seeing visions of the past and learning clues of the future. Most of the things he sees were pulled from all different scenes of all different episodes that we’ve seen to date, though certain images we have never seen before. He first sees the three-eyed raven flying beneath the crypts of Winterfell, then a vision of Ned Stark being held a prisoner in King’s Landing. The three-eyed raven then lands on what appears to be a tree in the North, and we see a glimpse of a beautiful weirwood tree. Bran then sees the wight that we saw in the very first episode of Thrones, followed by the flock of crows that we saw after Samwell Tarly killed the White Walker. A mysterious voice says “look for me beneath the tree” as we again see a beautiful weirwood tree that is glowing in the light, followed by a brief glimpse of the roots below the tree. He then sees the dead horse missing half its face, resurrected back to life and ridden by a White Walker.
Interestingly, he then sees a vision which Khaleesi also saw in the Season 2 finale, when she entered the House of the Undying and fell under the magic of the Warlocks. It was during this “dream” that she was reunited with Khal Drogo and saw their baby. What she also saw, was a very dark and bleak vision of the Great Hall, the powerful room from where the king resides over the Iron Throne. In her vision, the Great Hall was completely empty and desolate. Walls were torn down and snow covered the hall. It was a powerful vision, and one that Bran is now sharing himself.
Bran then sees some sort of face, either being reflect by, or peering through what looks to be ice. It is not clear what this is a face of, but does not look human. He then sees the vision of himself being pushed by Jaime from Winterfell, and for the first time, remembers what happened. He sees the shadow of dragons flying over King’s Landing. And finally, he once again sees the beautiful weirwood tree, with the same voice proclaiming “North!”
To say the least, it was a lot to take in. There were so many images and visions and it happened so quickly. It is important to realize the visions he had and the select things that he saw. Several of the images we had seen already, and appear to simply provide Bran insight on some of the things that we as viewers already know. Bran being pushed by Jaime, what happened to Ned, and the existence of the White Walkers are all realizations that Bran now has, but did not before. However, there were also several powerful visions he had which were not about filling him in on the past, but rather about providing him clues of the future or guiding him on his journey. Several times we saw the same beautiful weirwood tree and the mysterious voice exclaimed “look for me beneath the tree,” before adding the clue “North.” When Bran regains his human consciousness, he now knows where he needs to go.
To understand the power of this scene, it is essential to stop and consider the power of the weirwood trees, their historical significance and the role these mystical trees played with the Children of the Forest thousands of years ago. For thousands of years, before anybody else arrived to Westeros, the magical Children of the Forest lived in harmony with the weirwood forests and worshipped these trees. They derived much of their power and magic from these trees and many of the Children of the Forest, like Bran, were greenseers who were able to connect with the trees and realize prophetic visions. After the First Men and the Andals invaded, most of the weirwood trees were cut down and the Children of the Forest were pushed near extinction; yet thousands of years later, Bran has powerful visions as he connects with a weirwood tree, and it appears that there is another weirwood tree, somewhere in the North, that Bran must find.
THE DEATH OF ANOTHER KING
In a scene that lasted 23 minutes, we finally see the grandiose wedding of King Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell. As the wedding party begins, Jaime bumps into Ser Loras Tyrell, who is set to marry Cercei. Jaime tells Ser Loras that he will not marry Cercei, in a way which implied Ser Loras would have no say in the matter.
Prince Oberyn comes face to face with Lord Tywin, and though no direct threat is made in this episode, Prince Oberyn, through backhanded remarks, makes it clear that there is still much bad blood between the Martells and Lannisters.
And finally, after Margaery announces that all the leftovers from the wedding feast will be donated to the poor of King’s Landing, Cercei orders Maestar Pycelle to feed the leftovers to the dogs. At this point, it is clear that Cercei is threatened by Margaery and attempts to thwart her plan, which would help Margaery to gain the love and support of the people of King’s Landing’s. When Maestar Pycelle notes that Margaery is now queen and that he must obey her orders, Cercei makes it clear who still holds the power and threatens his life should he disobey her orders.
And finally we arrive to the part of the episode that we all secretly hoped would happen, but still were not expecting — the death of King Joffrey. After Joffrey makes a point of publicly humiliating Tyrion and making him his cupbearer, he begins to cough violently, before falling to the ground and dying several moments later. As he gasps for air, it is Jaime Lannister that tries to revive him — one last attempt to save a son that he was never able to truly father.
It was unclear whether Joffrey was choking or was poisoned. It was also unclear who was behind this, if anybody. Though, in his last breathing moments, Joffrey points at Tyrion and Cercei immediately accuses her brother of the murder. Tywin does not object, and Tyrion is taken by the Kingsguard. In the madness of it all, we again see Ser Dontos, who grabs Sansa and tells her it is time to go. With Joffrey dead, his younger brother, Tommen, is next in line for the Throne. Though, like Joffrey, Tommen was born of incest and has no true claim to the throne, as he is actually a Lannister, not a Baratheon.