Thursday, 17 April 2014

Game of Thrones: The Lion and the Rose

I have just managed to see 'The Lion and the Rose', as I was away at the CA conference this week (and I noticed that I saw the major event revealed in at least two places online without me looking for anything Game of Thrones-related - luckily I'm a book reader so I knew what was going to happen in this episode anyway, but to avoid spoilers you really do have to avoid the internet sometimes don't you?!). I had originally been down to review this episode for Doux Reviews but had to rearrange due to the conference - just my luck! Anyway, all of this preamble is here to provide a nice big chunk of text as a spoiler-free safety net for anyone behind on Game of Thrones and the books its based on, and any TV fans who haven't read the books - spoilers lie ahead so stop reading now if you haven't read all of the books and seen up to season four, episode two.

Just to reiterate (and provide plenty of space before the spoilers come) - I will be spoiling all the books up to A Dance With Dragons and presumably upcoming episodes of the TV show. You have been warned.

There are plenty of excellent reviews of this episode out there so I won't go into great detail on the episode in general other than to say I was impressed with how tense the whole wedding sequence was despite the fact I knew exactly what was going to happen. I also loved all the little conversations going on through the wedding, with Jaime's 'oh crap' face when he sees Brienne and Cersei talking to each other being a particular highlight (and Cersei has a point about Brienne's ability to change sides). My least favourite aspects of the episode were Tyrion and Shae, whose story has been my least favourite aspect of the show for a while now and if the show follows the books, will actually be my least favourite thing about the entire series, so that's nothing new.

The reason I'm blogging it, however, is not to make up for missing out on reviewing it (oddly enough I quite enjoyed reviewing the premiere, even though it was much less exciting). What caught my eye Classics-wise was what looked to me like a couple of nice directorial references to I, Claudius.

As I mentioned when I looked at season one, blurbs on the Song of Ice and Fire books often compare the series to Suetonius' Twelve Caesars. I often have a sneaking suspicion that what they're really reminded of isn't so much Suetonius himself (though most of the lurid bits and pieces do come from his gossipy biographies) but Robert Graves' I, Claudius and especially the TV series based on it, which draw on Suetonius, Tacitus, a bit of Cassius Dio and, in the TV version, one spectacularly gory bit of pure invention. Martin certainly references it in the one tiny bit of background we have on the late Joanna Lannister - that Tywin ruled the kingdoms, but Joanna ruled Tywin ('Augustus ruled the world, but Livia ruled Augustus'). Whether that comparison is significant or not remains to be seen.

It's hardly surprising, then, that we see echoes of I, Claudius reverberating through an episode focused on the murder-by-poison of a king at a feast. According to the Roman mindset, poison was a woman's weapon. It is also a method of murder that in the days before forensic pathologists could look conveniently like a natural death - or, from the point of view of a gossipy historian or inventive author of historical fiction, allows for the re-casting of a natural death as a murder (Exhibit A: Augustus' natural death re-figured as Livia poisoning him with figs). It's hardly surprising that it features prominently in I, Claudius, a story which takes Tacitus' snide implications about Livia and really runs with them.

This episode of Game of Thrones, too, focuses heavily on women as the prime suspects in a royal poisoning. There are, of course, male suspects as well - Dontos, who ushers Sansa away; Loras, who storms off in a huff shortly before it all goes pear-shaped, and obviously Tyrion, the possibility of whose guilt the series has so far left open (the book tells this section from his point of view, so we know it wasn't him - though to be fair I've read detective stories in the past that have cleverly concealed the fact he narrator did it until the end). Frankly, I wouldn't even put it past Tywin, who has another grandson and is fed up of Joffrey, who's clearly a liability. Prime suspects, though, are Sansa, for obvious reasons, Margaery, whose acting skills are crumbling in the face of Joffrey's insanity (the character's acting skills that is - Natalie Dormer is excellent as ever) and Margaery's caring grandmother, Olenna Tyrell (we can probably discount Cersei, and Brienne would just have chopped his head off).

It's in the moments focused on Margaery that the I, Claudius references creep in. Desperate to distract Joffrey from tormenting people, she cries out 'Look! The pie!' with a level of excitement comparable to Augustus' daughter Julia spying cake (though in Julia's case she genuinely just wanted the cake) but the clue that it might be I, Claudius the director or writer is thinking of comes when she and Joffrey start eating the pie. She picks a piece off her own plate and feeds it to him from her fork - which is exactly the way the emperor Claudius is killed by his wife/niece Agrippinilla in I, Claudius (historically Agrippina the Younger). Agrippina supposedly poisoned a mushroom of her own and carefully fed it to her husband in order to get around his food tasters (I bet Jaime's wishing he'd thought of that right now, instead of fussing about where everyone was going to stand).

Now of course, book readers know that the deed was done by the process of Dontos, ordered by Littlefinger, giving Sansa poison to wear (here a necklace, in the book a hairnet) which Olenna then takes and sneaks into Joffrey's cup, making Littlefinger, Dontos, Sansa and Olenna all culpable, though Sansa doesn't appear to have known anything about it. It looks like the show is following the book in that, as it's while Olenna fiddles with Sansa's necklace (nabbing the poison) that she talks about how awful it is to kill a man at a wedding, sympathising with her over Robb's demise - there's no dramatic irony like really heavy-handed and unsubtle dramatic irony.

However, one of the big issues that's as yet unresolved in the books is whether Margaery knew about it. Olenna does it for Margaery - politically, she probably should have waited until Margaery and Joffrey had a child, preferably a son, before offing him, but she couldn't bear to let Margaery suffer being married to the little creep. But did Margaery know? Is she acting when she looks shocked and horrifed, or was she kept in the dark? We'll have to wait until Martin writes some more books and/or the series fills us in, but that visual reference is an interesting one - it certainly suggests to me that Margaery is in on it and as much a part of the poison plan as Olenna - it will be interesting to see how she reacts over the next few episodes.

More Game of Thrones thoughts


  1. I have not seen the series.

    I do know awhile back there was a great deal of shock over what was billed as the Red Wedding, for those who hadn't read the books.

  2. Could not agree with you more about Shae and Tyrion. I feel like I'm taking their mistake there harder, because the series has been so flawless so far, but they've just made a mess of it. The original changes to the character were great (because did anyone like book Shae?) but now they're trying to drive her towards the same end as book Shae and it just doesn't make sense. Their attempts to set it up have been uncharacteristically clumsy. Savvy, confident Shae suddenly losing it? Shae getting jealous over Tyrion being forced to marry Sansa against his will? No. Just no. It's totally out of character for her. Of course, they have the rest of the seasons to redeem itself and it's possible the whole thing's just a misdirect for us book readers.

    1. Spoiler warning for the books on my reply! (Just to make sure!)

      I really hope so - I honestly think it'll damage the series pretty badly if they follow the book. Book readers vary in their reactions, but book readers are in Tyrion's head and understand his thoughts - and even then, one of my OldHousemates and I were agreeing the other day that honestly, we don't really like Tyrion any more. We liked Book 4, but found Book 5 a drag, and part of that is because Jon and Dany's stories are moving at glacial speed and we're no longer invested in Tyrion. If you make that a visual on a TV screen, and without the same level of investment in Tysha (since it's impossible to be as invested in a backstory as in an onscreen character on a TV show) I think they might lose a lot of their audience if they go with the books. I'll definitely be less invested in the series myself (though I'm sure I'll keep watching).

  3. For book!Margaery I suppose it's something of an open question. She certainly would have been in the best position to slip him the poison. But Olenna might have been as well. It's been a while since I've read the book. It was certainly Olenna's idea.

    On the show, I've read that you can hear a clink when Margaery hands Joffrey his cup. If so, that's pretty damning.

    1. That does sound suspicious - though the trailer for next week implies she didn't know about it (obviously that may be out of context). We'll have to wait and see!

  4. I'll throw in another theory: remember how Nero poisoned Britannicus, at least according to a very "tranquil" historian ? Maybe Margaery chose to make a very tasty and salted cake, so Joffrey would have been much thirstier than usual and she'd have had plenty of chances to poison his wine.

    P.S. forgive my joke, but I couldn't resist ;)


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