*** Caution: Here There Be Spoilers… ***

Of all the visceral emotions Game of Thrones evokes in its viewers, ‘relief’ is rarely amongst them. George R.R. Matin’s dragon-filled soap opera is often cruel and treats even its biggest fans with borderline contempt. First, Ned Stark was beheaded at the behest of sniveling King Joffrey while his daughters helplessly watched. The road to avenging his death seemed like it was well paved for young Robb Stark, King of the North, until he, his mother and pregnant wife were massacred by the Lannisters at the now infamous ‘Red Wedding’. The modus operandi for both the novels and the series seems to be providing a sliver of false hope for those willing to immerse themselves in the sex and violence stuffed world to cling to; a hero that stands tall as many snakes slither in the grass at their feet. Only when those snakes strike, Martin (along with show-runners David Benioff & D.B. Weiss) seem to revel in watching your champion die a slow, painful death, knowing full well  that you’re in just as much agony as the fictional character you’re mourning. It’s a mean-spirited streak not found in most mainstream media, black-hearted to the core and a big part of what makes the HBO series so special (or despicable, depending on your threshold for suffering).

But what happens when one of the villains finally gets their just desserts? Is it such a shock that the story would finally give us what we want? Or are there strings attached, as Martin & Co. just can’t help but add a caveat to our catharsis? Ladies and gentlemen, I present The Lion & The Rose, a detailed guide to how Game of Thrones doles out justice for its audience. 

In a continued assault on marriage that would cause Rick Santorum to call HIS Senator, Game of Thrones once again brings its patented lust for carnage to yet another matrimony. “Royal weddings aren’t amusements. They’re history!” King Joffrey barks out over the crowd at his “purple” event — a joining of House Lannister with House Tyrell. As his guests look on in horror, the diminutive blonde inbred crown-bearer unveils a band of imp performers, who mock both Tyrion and Sansa as they engage in a faux combat that pokes fun at the deaths of both Ned and Robb Stark (one tiny jester even pretends to, um, penetrate the decapitated head of a direwolf). To expand his insult and shock the crowd into full-blown Davidian discomfort, Joffrey then appoints his uncle “cup bearer” after pouring vino over his head and screaming at him to bow before him. Essentially, the kid has become worse than Sonny Corleone, as at least that married, psychotic hot head possessed the common courtesy to take bridesmaids behind closed doors before performing his dishonoring acts. Joffrey does it for his own amusement, all while the royal wedding watches.

The suspense built during Joffrey’s increasingly cruel party games is anxiety inducing. Furthermore, the show-runners do an incredible job reminding the audience of almost all of the Boy King’s past crimes (of which there is a veritable laundry list). By the time he finally takes a sip from that final goblet Tyrion hands him, we can’t help but cheer when he begins to cough and spit, choking on his own poisoned blood. And as his mother holds his tiny head in her hands, all he can do is point to the man he just worked so hard to humiliate, accusing him of being the death dealer.

Yes — like always, George R.R. Martin isn’t going to let us get off easy. While he finally delivers the head of the character we arguably hate the most, he does so at the expense of one of the most noble members of the Lannister family. It’s good that Tyrion just sent Shae away on that ship across the sea, as she would undoubtedly be used as a pawn in the Lannister Family’s sure-to-be-forthcoming efforts to torture a confession out of one of their own. Tyrion was the one to hand him the cup, after all — nevermind the fact that there’s a group of over a hundred witnesses who would be able to attest to his innocence. A King is dead, and now somebody has to pay.

Some other plot points are peppered in amongst the medieval Deer Hunter-style shenanigans. Roose Bolton returned to Dreadfort to finally lay eyes on how his bastard, Ramsay Snow, has destroyed Theon Greyjoy (who now answers to “Reek” and can’t even cut his new keeper’s throat when commanded to give him a “very close shave”). Ramsay prompts “Reek” to confess that he didn’t actually kill Bran and Rickon Stark, but faked their deaths by burning two poor farm boys beyond recognition. Castle Black is where he advises Roose to send a search party, as that’s where Bran and Rickon’s half-brother, Jon Snow, resides (who needs to be taken care of as well, given his own dose of Stark blood).

On Dragonstone, Stannis Baratheon and Melisandre participate in a horrifying ceremony sacrificing three screaming men to the Lord of Light. The dark priestess also pays a visit to Stannis’ daughter, rebuking her religious beliefs and teaching her that there are only two Gods (instead of the seven in which she previously believed): the Lord of Light and the Lord of Darkness. Not to bring up Senator Santorum again, but it’s a creepy moment that revels in the inherent insanity of being devoutly “Born Again”.

Meanwhile, while waiting for the wedding in King’s Landing, Jaime Lannister attempts to train his left and only remaining hand with some top-secret sword-fighting lessons administered by Tyrion’s right-hand man Bronn. It’s a rather sweet moment of brotherly graciousness set up by Tyrion, who finally has an ally at the bottom of the Lannister food chain. You can’t help but wonder if this newly rekindled bond may help Tyrion now that he’s locked up for allegedly poisoning Jaime’s son. Or will Jamie completely forget this act of kindness as the final memories of his boy’s wind-deprived, purple face now haunt his dreams?

It’s unorthodox for such a major event to come this early in the show’s season, but it looks like Benioff, Weiss & Martin are setting up this fourth run to be an all-timer. And while it’s certainly nice that we all got a chance to finally spit on Joffrey’s grave, you can’t help but wonder who’s going to be taken from us because of it. These storytellers aren’t nice people and the punishment for our cathartic reward is assuredly going to be painful.

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