Last tonight was the highly anticipated Purple Wedding, and George RR Martin does not disappoint. A wedding in Westeros should carry a safety warning on its invitations.
The episode opens with a horrific scene of right out of Greek mythology. Theon’s back – now as Reek – and as the ultimate symbol of his powerlessness, Ramsay forces Reek to participate in a nightmarish hunt right out of a Greek mythology. Ramsay and his bedwarmer Myranda are hunting a terrified blonde girl named Tansy, whose beauty made Myranda jealous. When Myranda’s arrow finally takes the girl down, they let the hounds eat the poor girl alive (while Theon tries not to watch).
(As a historical aside, Louis XI was known to let his dogs hunt prisoners down and rip them to shreds.)
This episode has loads of historical references and parallels, which we will be exploring over the upcoming weeks.
Perhaps Ramsay is in love (doubtful) now that he is found a soulmate in savagery, but he is all smiles when his father returns home and everything appears to be going well for him. Roose Bolton arrives the Dreadfort with his new wife, Walda Frey. Ramsay shares a laugh with Locke – apparently the two are old friends – about how Jaime screamed when Locke chopped Jaime Lannister’s hand off.
Roose Bolton, on the other hand, is not happy. The Lannisters have given him the North — but they “won’t lift a finger to help me take it” – and he’s desperate for leverage. Roose’s armies are trapped South of the Neck. They need to march through Moat Cailin, a swampy region and decaying but still serviceable stronghold, that is the entryway to the North. The problem is the Ironborn hold Moat Cailin. As Catelyn says in Storm of Swords (before she died), “No army has ever taken Moat Cailin from the south.” Roose wants to trade Theon for Moat Cailin, which he needs to march his armies north.
Ramsay quickly finds himself on the hotseat when his father sees Theon’s condition. It’s obvious Ramsay flayed and broke Theon. Roose holds his son to account.
Ramsay has to justify flaying Theon Greyjoy, and we get some interesting insight into his motivations. Ramsay’s father sees Theon as a bargaining chip to further his ambitions. To Theon, all enemies must be stopped – and hurt: “Theon was our enemy, but Reek will never betray us.” Ramsay has made Reek one of them, albeit their slave.
Roose isn’t happy – Theon was a valuable hostage whom Roose wanted to trade. As Roose informs his son, he had to smuggle himself into his own lands thanks to the Greyjoys – and now he has nothing he can use to negotiate. Roose puts Ramsay in his place, reminding him that the Flayed Man is on “my banners, not yours. You’re a Snow, not a Bolton.” and he should not send terms to Balon Greyjoy without his consent.
Roose icily dismisses son, “I place too much trust in you.” And, we get another glimpse behind the monster’s mask: Ramsay looks close to tears. Perhaps, this ice cold father with his flat emotionless eyes is what made Ramsay into a monster.
Ramsay desperately needs to redeem himself. To demonstrate how much he has broken Theon, Ramsay lets Theon shave him with a straight razor. Roose seems somewhat impressed.
Roose is still more impressed when Ramsay makes Theon admit that Bran and Rickon stark are alive. But, then Theon learns that Roose Bolton killed Robb Stark, and he is clearly devastated. Chocking back sobs, he continues to shave Roose without spilling a drop of blood – despite Ramsay’s goading. Theon is truly broken.
The scene ends when Roose challenges Ramsay to gather some men and take the Mote Cailin for the family.
In the North
Bran and the Reeds are hungry. Bran skinchanges into Summer’s skin. When Bran awakens, Jojen Reed warns him not to spend too long in another’s body or else he will forget what it was to be human. Bran touches a heart tree, which gives him a flash of the greensight. In his vision, the three-eyed crow speaks for the first time and tells him, “Look for me, beneath the tree.” Then we see the shadow of a huge dragon fly over King’s Landing. He awakens from his vision and tells the Reeds and Hodor he knows where they need to go.
It’s night and the beach is on fire again. Melisandre is burning “infidels” – those who don’t believe in the Lord of Light — at the stake both as a sacrifice to R’hllor and to purify them. Among those to be burnt is Queen Selyse’s brother, Lord Axel Florent. The doomed man calls out to his sister and King Stannis from the stake. But, both harden their hearts and he dies a horrid screaming death.
As usual, Davos is the only voice of reason in Dragonstone. He tries to prick Stannis’ conscience about these atrocities – even reminding him that Axel Florent was his brother-in-law and brought him men (soldiers) — but Stannis will hear none of it since Axel broke an order (to stop worshipping idols). The more-than-half-crazed Selyse exults in the immolated men’s deaths, claiming she saw their souls fly up to the Lord of Light.
Later over a cozy dinner with Selyse, Melisandre, and Stannis, Selyse expresses concern about her daughter’s Shireen’s sullen, stubborn, sinful ways and fears for her soul. Selyse would beat the faith into her. But Stannis forbids it.
Melisandre speaks to Shireen, explaining the religion of the Lord of Light. Shireen heard her Uncle Axel’s bloodcurdling screams and is having none of what Melisandre is selling. (Or, so I hope.)
In the South – King’s Landing
Everyone around Tyrion is falling apart, he can no longer please Shae. The bereaved Sansa won’t eat. His crippled brother Jaime is depressed: he is invested in his status as a knight and scared men will come after him once word gets out he can’t fight with his left hand. Tyrion suggests Jaime train with a discreet swordsman (Bronn, the sellsword).
Jaime meets for his first lesson in a partnership that promises to be amusing. The dirty-fighting Bronn is the perfect foil (no pun intended) for the chivalrous-to-a-fault Jaime. Bronn quickly bests Jaime with his trademark dirty tricks.
Terrified for Shae’s safety, Tyrion cruelly ends it with Shae – a ship is waiting in the harbor bound for Pentos. Later Bronn assures Tyrion that Shae is on the ship and Tyrion did the right thing.
At an outdoor breakfast banquet, Joffrey opens his wedding gifts and the events that lead up to the Purple Wedding ensue.
Mace Tyrell presents Joffrey with a magnificent golden goblet. Tyrion gives Joffrey a priceless history, Lives of Four Kings (“A book every king should read.”) This gift does not please Joffrey, who only thanks Tyrion graciously because Tywin is sitting nearby.
Tywin presents Joffrey with a new Valyrian steel sword – an extremely rare steel that is no longer forged. This new sword one is made from Ned Stark’s sword Ice, which Sansa quickly surmises.
In a frightening display of violence, Joffrey uses his new blade to chop the priceless book into pieces. (Perhaps, the book is a proxy for Tyrion?)
After the wedding ceremony, the reception begins. We are treated to a visual feast of minstrels juggling flaming batons, acrobats, and musicians. In what feels like foreshadowing, Olenna tells Tywin that regardless of his bravado, to enjoy the reception because the Iron Bank will soon have its due.
Soon there is another threat on the horizon: the revenge-bent Oberyn Martell is like a merry specter at the feast. When Oberyn encounters Cersei and Tywin, the latter of whom he blames for his sister’s slaughter, their exchange quickly becomes heated.
To ensure the Lannister’s feel vulnerable, Oberyn pointedly invokes the memory of his sister’s death – the rape of women and slaughter of children – and then reminds Cersei that her daughter is living in Dorne now and under his family’s protection.
Back at the high table, Olenna offers her condolences to Sansa in a line replete with foreshadowing and possibly irony: “War is war,” Olenna tells Sansa. “But killing a man at a wedding – horrid.” Interestingly, Olenna also makes a jab at Tyrion, describing him as her “pauper husband” and noting he could fund a visit to High Garden if he sold his mule and shoes.
Weddings are a time of transition as new alliance are formed. Everyone is a little uneasy as the balance of power shifts. For Jaime, the wedding is a reminder that the next wedding will be when Ser Loras marries Cersei, a prospect that fills him with an impotent jealousy. Cersei is wary about no longer being queen regent and threatened when she realizes Brienne loves Jaime.
Joffrey doesn’t help everyone’s unease when the entertainment he selects for between courses reminds every one of their loses in the War of the Five Kings.
Joffrey has arranged for a troupe of dwarves to reenact the War of the Five Kings – a multi-front attack on those who lost love ones in the war as well as humiliating his uncle Tyrion. The crowd roars as the dwarves wheel around on their mock horses. Tyrion clearly feels not only humiliated by the play but also pity for the dwarves – he instructs Bronn to give each actor 20 gold dragons.
The play also upsets Loras Tyrell — who does not enjoy seeing his deceased lover’s death mocked — and Sansa, who has to watch the dwarves reenact her Robb’s death and make obscene gestures with a wolf’s head.
The action really gets rolling when Joffrey requests Tyrion participate in the reenactment as his dwarf Joffrey’s challenger. Tyrion puts Joffrey in his place and then dumps wine from his golden goblet all over Tyrion’s head. So, he humiliates his uncle by function as his cupbearer, even trying to force him to kneel. But Margaery by distracting Tyrion when the servants bring out a giant pie – a traditional medieval entrement. Joffrey uses his new Valyrian sword to ferociously slice into the pie, which is filled with live birds, and kills half of them in his vigorous smashing.
Tyrion tries to leave, and Joffrey then refuses to let him leave. It is clear to everyone the two men are at each other’s throats – so to speak.
Joffrey begins choke and clutch his throat. Saliva froths at his mouth and his nose bleeds.
(Meanwhile, the king’s fool tries to get Sansa to leave feast and escape Westeros.)
In his last act, Joffrey’s last act, he silently points at Tyrion, his cupbearer - naming him as poisoner.
Television’s favorite villain is dead. Joffrey finally gets his comeuppance.
Cersei screams for Tyrion to be arrested.
The episode ends, and the mystery remains. Who killed Joffrey? Was it Tyrion? Sansa who touched the goblet? Margaery Tyrell who would have had to sleep with the savage? Or, Oberyn Martell who wanted to avenge his sister’s rape and murder?
Westerosi karma has repaid the Lanniters for the Red Wedding with a bloody wedding that takes their heir. The tide is turning, the Lannisters will be held to account, and they aren’t the only ones who pay their debts.