There and Bran Again
Andy Greenwald: Four years in, a pattern has emerged to Game of Thrones. Season premieres swoop and dive over the show’s most beloved characters like a raven sauced on Dornish wine, reminding us of where they are and where they still have to go. It’s a time to revisit all our favorites: Jon Snow, Arya Stark, Tyrion Lannister, and, across the Narrow Sea, the great emancipator Daenerys Stormborn and those trapped in her ever-swelling friend zone. Second episodes, by contrast, tend to check in with the JV squad: your Theons, your Stannises and the like. For 30 minutes, last week was no exception. And then a Westerosi wedding broke out and we all know how those tend to end: with chaos, corpses, and people hurling accusations instead of rice.
Because of this, my recap completely ignored the season’s first look at Bran Stark and his never-ending up-north trip. This was unfortunate but not entirely unintentional. Of all the knotty branches emerging from the Stark family tree, the least interesting by far has been Bran’s. It’s not for lack of trying. Isaac Hempstead Wright has grown into a fine, solemn beanpole of a performer. His companions — including Natalia Tena’s gruff Osha, Kristian Nairn’s disyllabic Hodor, the Wonder Twins and little Rickon, a.k.a. The Forgotten Stark — are pleasant enough company. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have done a fine job dipping in and out of their story line without ever overplaying their hand or overstaying their welcome. And it’s clear that Bran’s spiritual trek — easily the best extended TV dream sequence involving a mystical canine since Johnny Cash showed up on The Simpsons — holds real import for the lives of all the major characters, not to mention the future of Westeros itself.
But is it enough? One of the great luxuries afforded to Benioff and Weiss is that, unlike shows that are still laying the track even as the locomotion of production threatens to run them over, Game of Thrones purrs along a preestablished path. Because of this, audiences are more than willing to invest precious time and energy into story lines that have spent years meandering along the edges. This is unique, especially considering the savviness and general impatience of contemporary TV fans. Homeland viewers were ready to court-martial Dana Brody, for example, after just three digressive episodes in her presence. Yet with Game of Thrones there’s an implicit assumption of a payoff lurking, like one of Varys’s spies, somewhere just ahead.
Still, there’s no denying that, after multiple years of wandering and intermittent warging, the entire Bran story still feels utterly tangential in a way that Daenerys’s equally disconnected plot does not. Perhaps it’s the lack of Daenerys herself. Or perhaps it’s the lack of her dragons. Either way, watching a boy’s tender journey toward becoming a wolf isn’t exactly compelling viewing, not even with the reliable Hodor there to pick up both the slack and the boy. So what to make of the turn of events last week, when Bran skipped out of his body and apparently into another fantasy series altogether? Not everything about his vision quest was clear, but the implied message was hard to miss: After two seasons of trekking north, it was time to turn around and head south. [Update: Apparently I managed to miss it. Oh well. Regardless, I think my overall point stands, even if it’s still facing north.]
This was good news for those of us eager to see Bran reunited with somebody — anybody! — from his past. But I can’t help but wonder if this sort of extended digression might cause more frustration than anything else. Is mind-melding with birds worth years of walking in circles? Those who have read the books love to scold me and my fellow illiterates for our grasping and fumbling for Old (TV) Gods concepts like theme, momentum, and meaning. But despite all its unique characteristics, Game of Thrones is still a television show first and foremost and, occasionally, it needs to act like one. Just telling us Bran is important isn’t enough. Eventually, we’re going to have to be shown. Not to come off as petulant as Joffrey (R.I.P.!), but doing so sooner rather than later would be especially appreciated.
For now I’m more than happy to take the long view. Other than the continued absence of Official Best Character Salladhor Saan, Game of Thrones has yet to truly disappoint. Still, if Bran & Co. really do start retracing their steps, it’s precisely the sort of vexing development worth keeping an eye on, especially as the show rumbles toward Seasons 5, 6, and beyond. “Influence is largely a matter of patience,” Varys said a year ago. But what happens when that patience runs out?
“Hahahaha! A dozen doves in a wedding pie means I live forever! Praise the old gods and the new! Who wants a drink? I’m parched with good fortune! “
Requiem for the King
Mark Lisanti: There’s nothing quite like watching your favorite villain get got, especially when it’s a bad guy you’ve been tortured by for years, enduring his operatic cruelty with the clenched anticipation of the delicious justice surely to be served at any moment, but which eludes him again and again, extending his reign of terror and intensifying your well-earned bloodlust.
And Joffrey was the best of the bad. There was absolutely nothing to root for but his violent end, no glimmer of humanity in those beady eyes, no knowingness in his crooked smirk. He was the weasel-faced, twincest-born false inheritor of his throne, the murder-horny brat who ordered the beheading of his soon-to-be father-in-law with the family broadsword, the pubescent tyrant prematurely ejaculating crossbow bolts into any woman unlucky enough to be trapped in his bedchamber. He was the coward who sought refuge in the castle while his subjects gave their lives and his grandpop won him a war. And so it was with a special glee that we all watched him quaff his final goblet of wine — the pie is dry! The pie is dry! — cheeks quickly flushing with the encroaching spiderwebs of death, coughing forth the final poisoned bits of his wretched life on all fours like a greedy dog gorged on tainted grass. Just desserts, and all that. Fuck that dude! Yeah!
But holy crap, you guys, I want him back!
After we’ve finished twerking in the generous warmth of the funeral pyre, there’s an important question to ask: Who’s going to fill the yawning void left by his departure? Tywin, glowering across a giant table, funneling his well-managed rage into murderous calligraphy? Cersei? She may never again look up from the bottom of her wine glass long enough to cook up a fresh bastard with her one-handed, forbidden lover. Tommen, because who the hell is that? He’s like 10, he probably can’t even load the crossbow. We don’t have the kind of time to properly groom a new child king to his brother’s evil heights, anyway.
There’s no good answer. There will never be another Joffrey. We need to accept that and move on.
Joffrey Took His Own Death Much Better Than a Lot of People
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Superfan Crazyperson Power Rankings of the Week: Hit List Wish List!
Learning to redirect our (totally normal, totally rational, put down the phone, there’s no need to call the therapist, really) loathing now that the most hated inbred girly-man in Westeros has choked to death on his own goo.
The Top Five
Being evil enough to make Theon a genuinely sympathetic character is a rare gift, but one Bolton’s bastard possesses in abundance. A quick recap of Ramsay’s crimes to date: He burned Winterfell to the ground; captured and tortured Theon; staged an elaborate ruse to convince Theon he was an ally, then captured and tortured Theon all over again; cut off Theon’s kraken (though in Ramsay’s defense, he did let Theon enjoy one final boner before making him pay the Iron Price); mailed that severed penis to Theon’s father; convinced the addled Theon he’s a creature called “Reek”; and encouraged a pack of wild dogs to chase and eat a Dreadfort servant girl. Most Thrones villains are motivated by a specific, semi-defensible desire to protect their family, legacy, or honor, but Ramsay’s sole propelling force is a desire to inflict pain. When he met new stepmom Fat Walda Frey on Sunday, he was clearly flaying her with his eyes, calculating how many cloaks, quivers, and restraints he’d be able to make from her skin. Feed him a schlong sausage, then feed him to the dogs.
Asshole. Oathbreaker. Human filth! What would Mrs. Norris say? The Late Lord Frey was deplorable from the start, slobbering on Catelyn’s hand, publicly groping his young wife’s ass, and bartering his way to a better position while men fought and died around him. But he earned a spot in the Judas Hall of Fame for his part in the Red Wedding, granting his guests safe haven by giving them bread and salt, then murdering them under his roof. If there’s any justice in this world or its fictional parallel, the not-so-subtle Season 3 finale segue from Bran’s Rat Cook story (mmmm, pie) to Walder Frey’s stupid face will prove prophetic. He’s done something the gods cannot forgive, and needs to be burdened with a hunger he cannot sate.
He’s basically a horrible hybrid of Ramsay and Lord Frey, but instead of making him twice as bad, it makes him half as horrid. Still, he’s a despicable wannabe who made his way to Warden of the North on the blood and bones of those he swore to serve, and he’s so blinded by greed and ambition that he intentionally chose a bulbous bride after being promised his mate’s weight in gold. The naked man has few secrets, the flayed man has none, and now we know all of his. Here’s hoping Fat Walda smothers him to death during a passionate bout of lovemaking gone wrong.
The Iron Throne may be his by rights, but being the most boring man in Westeros should be punishable by death. He’s got a flaming sword, a hot naked chick who always wants to bone, and a wife who’s totally into that freaky swinger thang, yet all he wants to do is mope around and pout about how Renly got this and Robert got that and They will bend the knee or I will destroy them! Yeah, yeah. Melisandre, please, stick a leech on his dragon stones and drain his life’s blood away.
Sure, it’s tempting to grieve for the mother who just watched her eldest son die in her arms. It’s a lot less tempting, however, when we remember all the terrible things Cersei has done, like torment our beloved Tyrion, and contrive King Robert’s murder, and try to shame Lady Margaery into showing less skin. She even refused to have sex with her recently crippled brother, despite him asking so nicely! Selfish old biddy. Whether you blame nature or nurture for Joffrey being the world’s biggest shit smear, Cersei’s to blame. Give her the Essence of Nightshade she was going to use to kill Tommen, and call it a life.
A Confusing Case
Tywin Lannister: This one’s tough. On the one hand, Tywin is the show’s current arch villain, oppressing our heroes, masterminding schemes and plots (“Schemes and plots are the same thing!”), and, most egregiously of all, failing to pick up on the senior-citizen sexy time vibes Lady Olenna is throwing his way. On the other hand, watching him maneuver is an utter delight! No character sparks more cognitive dissonance than Tywin. He deserves to sleep with the fishes … but it’s also unspeakably mesmerizing to watch him fish with the fishes:
1. The Mountain: Gotta say, the Westerosi justice system could use a reboot. It’s pretty easy for a known rapist, murderer, and pillager to keep strutting about. Please, Gods, let the Hound shove his brother’s head into a fire. That burning flesh would smell even sweeter than a roasting chicken. And hey, Arya could help!
2. Alliser Thorne: This clown was already an insufferable jackass, and he’s only going to get worse now that he’s acting Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Ghost, buddy, do us all a solid and send Ser Alliser to walk with the whites.
3. Daario Naharis: Daario seems like a cool bro, so call this a plea of passion: I want Jorah to stick Daario with his longsword so the exiled knight can finally stick Daenerys with his other longsword. (If you know what I’m saying.) (And I think you do.) (Guys, come on, “longsword” is a euphemism for “penis.”)
BONUS! Borderline Weird Mallory Rubin Game of Thrones Memorabilia of the Week:
Someone Even More Dedicated Than the Previous Superfan Crazyperson Made This
The Zapruder Wedding Film
John Lopez: “Who killed Joffrey?” isn’t exactly a state secret; but that doesn’t mean analyzing it to death isn’t fun! So let’s Zapruderize Joffrey’s last seven minutes and try to beat the game of three-card murder monte: Keep your eye on the moving poison cup! (All times refer to HBO Go, because, let’s face it, you probably watched it using your rich uncle’s account anyway.)
This is a bold kill. Especially because the assassin (or assassins) couldn’t possibly have planned for everything, like obscene dwarf burlesque (41:30) or Joffrey whimsically demeaning his uncle (44:35). How did the assassins know Joffrey would dump wine all over Tyrion’s head (45:37), thus providing them a perfect opportunity?
Classic bully technique here (46:36): Joffrey drops the cup, then kicks it under the table with true dickhead flair. But it gives the killers their first chance as the cup disappears from view (46:50)…
And is picked up by Sansa Stark (47:00) — or so we think! (Yeah, no, it’s probably her.) Assuming a vengeful cabal of dwarf performers armed with poison weren’t hiding undertable during the cut, Sansa’s our first real candidate. She’s got the motive, the opportunity, but does she have the competence? In a word: no.
“Fill it,” Joffrey demands with all the latent rage of a snack-size Biff Tannen (47:16). Tyrion fills the cup from the decanter in front of Cersei and Tywin (47:25). That certainly gives credence to the idea that Tywin would off his obnoxious grandson. And honestly, in George R.R. Martin land you can’t rule out a mother killing her own son.
Now Margaery distracts Joffrey with the pie (48:02). And Joffrey hands the cup back (48:16) to Margaery, who places it on the royal table before showing off his dove-sushi skills. Hmm, Margaery has a chance here, but she’d have to have mastered some sleight of hand not to be noticed by everyone.
Now the cup’s right by Lady Olenna, the Queen of Thorns. Could she spike the cup without being seen? Well, she’s standing until 48:39. Margaery feeds Joffrey the infamous dry pie (48:44) and he demands a sip of his tasty beverage from Tyrion (49:07). Tyrion obliges, taking the cup from the table (49:19) in a nicely framed shot of a suspicious looking Lady Olenna.
And Joffrey dies (50:59). But wait; go back to when Joffrey takes a casual sip (48:12) from the cup in the wide shot before Margaery sets it down on the table. Back and to the left. Back and to the left. So it probably wasn’t poisoned until that point. And how could Lady Olenna, Tywin, or Sansa poison it after that in plain sight? Margaery has the biggest window. But let’s go crazy here: What if it wasn’t the cup; what if it was the dry pie! Since that was conveniently ferried in by a serving girl, really the assassin could be anyone. Or maybe Joffrey just choked on a dove bone?
Thrones vs. Coachella
Emily Yoshida: I would have liked to stay till the last possible minute of the last day of the Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival, but it was a Sunday night, and like any responsible media correspondent, I had to get home for Game of Thrones. Luckily, I was pleased to discover that “The Lion and the Rose” bore more than a passing resemblance to the three-day marathon of culture and revelry I had just departed. For example:
Disrespectful Young People
Power Couple Power Strolls
Young Monarchs Suffering Respiratory Problems