Some try to take advantage of a king's death — while others merely try to survive it
Caution: Spoilers ahead.
“I will not become a page in someone else’s history book.”
Game of Thrones has always had an interest in history, in no small part because of the vast universe and backstory that George R.R. Martin built into his A Song of Fire and Ice novels. But in the fourth season of the HBO show, that interest has become an obsession. In the opening episode, Prince Oberyn recounted how the bad blood between the Lannisters and Martells boiled over. A few scenes later, Joffrey flipped through the pages of The Book of Brothers to belittle his uncle-father Jaime about his lack of accomplishment. Then, last week, Tyrion gave Joffrey the Lives of the Four Kings, which survived all of a few minutes before being chopped to pieces by Widow’s Wail. Shortly thereafter, Joffrey gave a speech about weddings being history, not amusement, after which he survived all of a few minutes before his death by poison.
Point being, history has become both a specter hanging above the Westerosi’s heads and the driving force behind their decisions. Stannis is determined to not become a footnote in it, Tywin is determined to keep his surviving grandson from repeating it and, right now, all Tyrion wants to do is survive it.
This week’s episode began right where we left off, with a dead king and his mother screaming for her brother to be arrested for committing the crime. As Tyrion is being hauled away, Ser Dontos is shuttling Sansa through King’s Landing in an attempt to escape the city before Tywin Lannister can have it completely closed off. The fact that Dontos — a literal fool — is able to thwart Tywin’s effort so effortlessly was a nice hint that he wasn’t acting alone. Strange things happen in Westeros all the time, but the idea that a bumbling former knight could thwart the designs of the realm’s most manipulative thinker would require too much suspension of disbelief. Sure enough, when Sansa and Dontos arrive at the large ship, accompanied by so much fog it practically deserves its own place in the credits, we discover that Littlefinger has been the one pulling these particular puppet strings.
For anyone who has paid even the slightest attention to Petyr Baelish’s actions over the course of the first three seasons, the idea that he could be the one behind Joffrey’s assassination isn’t far-fetched. After all, he’s the one who disputed Varys’ assertion last season that chaos is a gaping pit, instead insisting, “Chaos is a ladder.” If you go back and listen to that episode-ending monologue, it quickly becomes apparent that Littlefinger — with the proper plan and tools at his disposal — could be far more dangerous to Westeros than any of the Lannisters — even Joffrey.
Baelish’s scene with Sansa this week only helps to confirm that idea. Immediately after bringing her onboard his ship, he has his men put arrows through Ser Dontos, explaining, “Money buys a man’s silence for a time. Bolt to the heart buys it forever.” (There’s some delicious irony in the former Master of Coin criticizing Dontos for helping Sansa in exchange for money.) That’s something Sansa would be wise to remember, because just moments after reminding her that everyone in the capital lies, Littlefinger promises Sansa that she is now safe. Lord only knows how many dead Westerosi have heard those words from Baelish before. This turn of events doesn’t confirm that he’s the one who killed Joffrey, but it’s safe to say that he’s right at the top of the list.
Also near the top of that list is Tywin himself. It’s possible he’s just a kindly old grandfather trying to make the best of a bad situation, but that sounds even more far-fetched than the notion that Ser Dontos outsmarted him. As Cersei and Tommen grieve for Joffrey, Tywin enters to give his remaining grandson the sort of kingly advice that Joffrey would never accept. Tommen fails the Westeros version of the Little Big League managerial test, so Tywin tells him what he must do to be a good king (using history, naturally). Tommen must not be holy, lest he starve to death. He must not value justice above all else, lest his brother kill him in his sleep (that one seems a little far-fetched at this point, unless the White Walkers get ahold of Joffrey, but it’s certainly the sort of thing Joffrey would do if he were second-in-line to the throne). He must not focus solely on strength, lest he confuse winning with ruling as his “father,” Robert Baratheon once did.
Instead, Tywin instructs, Tommen must be wise in way that Joffrey never was. “Your brother was not a wise king — your brother was not a good king.” And according to Tywin, being wise means listening to his council — in particular the Hand of the King. As Tyrion later points out, Tommen will prove far more malleable than Joffrey ever did. Joffrey was Cersei’s son above all else, possessing all of her worst qualities and none of her best ones (few and far between though they may be). Tywin clearly hopes it’s not too late for Tommen to avoid that particular path. A clever bit of direction from Alex Graves drives the point home, as Tywin physically removes Tommen from his mother’s side, guiding him out of the hall with a hand on the future king’s shoulder.
Over in Dragonstone, the rightful king once again proves himself incomparably dour, even at the most opportune of moments. Stannis Baratheon is thrilled (well, at least his version of thrilled) that Joffrey is dead and that Melisandre’s magic appears to have worked its wonders yet again. But his excitement is outweighed by the fact that he sees no way to take advantage of the chaos that could follow in the wake of Joffrey’s demise. The biggest issue he faces: he simply has no men following his defeat at Blackwater. He rejects Ser Davos’ suggestion that they purchase the services of the Golden Company (10,ooo sell-swords) even though Davos is quick to point out Stannis’ hypocrisy: the would-be king is willing to use blood magic to put himself on the throne, but not willing to pay men to fight for him.
Of course, the bigger issue is that Stannis has no money. Fortunately for him, it seems that Davos is well aware of the debts that King’s Landing (more specifically, the Lannisters) have racked up with the Iron Bank over the years. Olenna Tyrell warned Tywin not to make enemies with the Braavosi bankers during last week’s wedding. If Davos’ plan is to use the Lannisters’ debt to gain the support of the Iron Bank for Stannis, that particular chicken may be coming home to roost for Tywin and company far sooner than anyone could have imagined.
More pressing for Tywin — who, it seems, is moving rapidly to the very center of the Game of Thrones universe — is his son’s imminent trial. Cersei’s accusations (along with Tywin’s apparent support) have landed Tyrion in jail and he has little recourse at his disposal. Sansa has fled the city, meaning she can’t appear as a witness for him. Varys has already been called as one of Cersei’s witnesses. And Podrick informs Tyrion that Bronn isn’t even permitted to visit the prison, due to his close relationship with Tyrion and repuation as a sell-sword. When Tyrion learns that Prince Oberyn is to serve as the third judge at his trial, he appears even more deflated (though he may recognize that regardless of what Tywin told Oberyn, the Dornish prince has far more reason to hate his father).
The subsequent farewell between Tyrion and Podrick provides a rare emotional moment in a week largely devoted to moving the show’s various pieces closer to position. Tyrion, after learning that Podrick was approached by “the ominous they,” immediately recognizes that his squire has two choices: talk willingly, or die after being compelled to talk. Podrick turned down the offer to become a knight in exchange for flipping on Tyrion, and any student of Westeros history knows all too well that a lack of self-interest never provides a happy ending for the selfless party (see: Stark, Ned).
Much of next week is likely to focus on the continued march toward Tyrion’s trial. When faced with a similar predicament way back in Season 1, he was able to thwart Caetlyn Stark’s attempts to have him executed (Cersei even mentions his uncanny ability to “squirm free” when talking with Jaime), but Tywin is a far more formidable opponent than any of the Starks. Only time will tell whether history is fated to repeat itself.
And now for the hail of arrows:
- Speaking of potential Joffrey assassins: Lady Tyrell doesn’t seem too broken-up over her grandson-in-law’s demise, telling Margaery she’s much better off than if she’d remained married to Joffrey (though Olenna likely would have had the good sense to allow the two to consummate the marriage before taking any action).
- Poor, poor Margaery. All she wants is be queen, but odds are she’ll have to settle for title of Kingslayer once Jaime is done with it — she’s already two-for-two with Renly and Joffrey. (Lady Tyrell: “Next one should be much easier.”)
- Seemed as though Cersei was as much trying to convince herself that Tyrion had killed Joffrey as she was Jaime. Then he raped her near the dead body of their son, so I guess the Kingslayer Character Rehabilitation Program was suspended this week.
- The Hound and Arya were back this week — this time not quite on the same page (he robs a father and daughter, then tells Arya: “There are plenty worse than me. I just understand the way things are. How many Starks will they have to behead before you figure it out?”) Guess all the rehabilitation programs are on hold for this week.
- Sam takes Gilly away from Castle Black, but her new home doesn’t seem a whole lot better than her last. Can we get these kids a spot on that ship with Shae so they can go live happily ever after?
- Prince Oberyn is quickly proving himself the rare worthy adversary for Tywin, but he doesn’t seem to have quite the same vision as the Hand of the King, who wants to barter the Mountain and a spot on the small council for Dornish support should Daenerys ever make it to Kings Landing (at this rate, in Season 32).
- Tyrion rightly points out that if he had arranged Joffrey’s death, he wouldn’t have done so only to be “standing there, gawking like a fool” when his nephew died.
- Also: “I’ll give it to my father — he never fails to take advantage of a family tragedy.”
- Between their paltry forces, the incoming Wildlings (led by the cannibalistic Thenns) and the information possessed by the mutineers beyond the wall, the gang at Castle Black finds themselves in a good bit of trouble. Let’s see how Jon Snow bails them out of this one.
- Oh yeah! Daenerys is continuing her long march, this time approaching the city of Meereen. Looks like she’ll be adding a few more slaves to her forces after Daario Naharis killed Meereen’s champion in truly badass fashion. Between him, Jorah Mormont, Barriston Selmy, the Unsullied and the dragons, Dany should truly be a force to be reckoned with — if she can ever get to Westeros.