That Big Game of Thrones Moment: Better for Book Readers, or Not?

Our roundtable on "The Lion and the Rose," the second episode of the HBO show's fourth season.

Spencer KornhaberChristopher Orr, and Amy Sullivan discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

Orr: So, Spencer, is your appetite for justice at least a little bit sated? Last episode ended with a Stark retrieving her sword and using it to mete out some bloody vengeance, and this one ended with a Lannister—the king, no less—gagging on a cup of the World’s Worst Vintage. Sure, the fact that they’re both children may complicate things morally, but you said you’d like a little payback, and you got it. I have more to say about what’s known colloquially as the Purple Wedding, but I’ll come back to it at the end.

Instead I’ll begin at the beginning, with the reintroduction of Ramsay, the Bastard of Bolton. Did you know that he’s a psychosexual sadist? If that somehow escaped your notice during the eleventy-six hours he spent torturing Theon last season, then you’re in luck! We have a nice remedial lesson lined up here in which he and a lady friend—I’m not sure who she is or whether we’ll be seeing more of her—hunt down an innocent girl and then let her go, literally, to the dogs. (Is it a coincidence that last episode ended with a metaphorical Hound having a bite of literal chicken and this one opens with literal hounds dining on a metaphorical “chick”? I doubt it.)

I explained my unhappiness with the way the Ramsay character has been used at length in last year’s final roundtable, and I won’t re-litigate it here again. I will, however, note that the minor Bolton vassal Locke—the guy who hacked off Jaime’s hand and reappeared at the Dreadfort this episode—is almost as problematic. In the books, the de-handing of Jaime was performed by borderline-lunatic mercenaries who answered to no lord. But Locke answers to Roose Bolton, and the idea that he’d maim a captive Lannister in a fit of class-envy pique and not be punished for it is simply ridiculous. Indeed, Roose notes witheringly to his son Ramsay—in front of Locke!—that “Theon was a valuable hostage, not your plaything.” How much angrier would he be at a non-blood-relative crippling a vastly more valuable hostage? Locke ought to be a dead man—indeed, his death would certainly have been a part of the price Tywin demanded when Roose switched sides—but instead, he’s yukking it up with Ramsay about how much fun it is to mutilate noble hostages. Lame. On the upside, at least Ramsay is getting sent south to take Moat Cailin so he’ll have something to do other than hunt and flay.

The Bran-and-Jojen-and-Meera-go-north storyline isn’t nearly as frustrating, but it is—and I fear it’s likely to remain—a bit dull. At least showrunners Benioff and Weiss have had the sense to generally keep the portions small. And I did like the thematic twinning of Ramsay and his dogs taking down an innocent girl, with Bran, inhabiting his direwolf Summer, feasting on doe. Westeros, as we’re learning, is a dog-eat-everything world.

I’m also looking forward to Stannis finding an excuse to get off Dragonstone. But in the meantime, I like what the show has done with his creepy wife, Selyse, who gets an orgasmic thrill from watching her own brother go up in flames, and his clever, greyscale-marked daughter, Shireen. Moreover, I’ve gradually become won over by Stephen Dillane and Carice van Houten as Stannis and Melisandre. Now the show just needs to give them some meaningful narrative purpose, which—if I’m not mistaken—it will within a few episodes.

Which brings us back to King’s Landing, where the bulk of the episode takes place. (Like you, Amy, I can’t get too much of the capital.) I quite liked the meal between Jaime and Tyrion, which seems to presage a reordering of Lannister affections. Disowned by his dad, semi-rejected by his sister/lover, Jaime may be finding that Tyrion is the only family he has that’s worth a damn. And the scene with Jaime training his left hand with Bronn is—like pretty much every scene involving Bronn—a pleasure.

The pre-wedding brunch at which Joffrey receives his Valyrian steel sword from Tywin (and uses it to chop up the tome on kingship that he got from Tyrion) seemed to me like the punch line of a joke that was set up last week. It was you, Amy, who cited the exchange between Arya and the Hound in which he made fun of her naming her sword. (Her: “A lot of people name their swords.” Him: “A lot of cunts.”) At the time, of course, he was referring to her Needle. But it’s no coincidence that just one episode later Joffrey—whom the Hound certainly considers more deserving of the C-word than anyone else in Westeros—is swinging his new toy around and declaring, “Such a great sword should have a name.” I could almost hear the bark of Hound’s bitter laughter in the distance.

But it’s at the reception following the wedding ceremony—which made up the last 20 minutes or so of the episode—that sparks truly begin to fly. Lady Olenna disses her son, the ineffectual Lord of Highgarden (“Not now, Mace. Lord Tywin and I are speaking”); Jaime and Loras bicker over Cersei; and the ongoing Cold War between Cersei and Margaery heats up a few degrees over the disposition of leftovers from the feast. Best of all, we have the first encounter between Prince Oberyn and his paramour Ellaria Sand, on the one hand, and Tywin and Cersei on the other. There is one passage by Oberyn in this exchange that’s so dense with meaning and inference that I want to pull it out for examination:

In some places, the highborn frown on those of low birth. In other places, the rape and murder of women and children is considered distasteful. What a fortunate thing for you, former Queen Regent, that your daughter Myrcella has been sent to live in the latter sort of place.

It goes by so quickly you could easily miss it, but in the space of those few words, Oberyn manages to a) register his displeasure with Cersei’s hauteur toward Ellaria; b) remind her that with Margaery’s rise the Lannisters no longer wield unilateral power in the capital; c) make clear to Lord Tywin that he holds the Lannisters responsible for the murder of his sister Elia and her children; and d) issue an implicit threat to Cersei that, if he wished, the same fate could befall her daughter—and soon-to-be-eldest living child—Myrcella, whom Tyrion shipped off to Dorne in season two. I can’t recall if this exchange happened in the same way in the books (or whether it took place at all), but this is great, great writing.

Presented by

Spencer Kornhaber is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he edits the Entertainment channel. More

Before coming to The Atlantic, he worked as an editor for AOL's and as a staff writer at Village Voice Media's OC Weekly. He has also written for Spin, The AV Club,, Field & Stream, and The Orange County Register.

Amy Sullivan is a correspondent for National Journal and the director of the Next Economy Project. More

Amy Sullivan is a writer and former senior editor at TIME Magazine who covers politics, religion and culture. She previously served as the magazine's nation editor and as editor of The Washington Monthly. Her first book, The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats are Closing the God Gap, was published by Scribner in 2008. She was a 2009 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science & Religion.

Christopher Orr is a senior editor and the principal film critic at The Atlantic. He has written on movies for The New Republic, LA Weekly, Salon, and The New York Sun, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications.

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