Westeros Explainer: The 7 Questions You Had About ‘Game of Thrones’ 4×2

"The Lion and the Rose"

Weddings always make us cry. (HBO)
Weddings always make us cry. (HBO)

1. Who is Myranda, and why does Ramsay Snow kill a lady for her?

Remember that time that Theon Greyjoy lost his head, and then lost his other head? Ramsay has two of his concubines (in the books they are called “bedwarmers”) undress one another and start to seduce Theon, right before Ramsay enters and literally emasculates Theon. Myranda was one of these two.

The girl they hunt through the woods is named Tansy, and she’s another of Ramsay’s bedwarmers. He claims that they are killing her to mollify Myranda, who was becoming jealous that Ramsay was paying attention to her. But Ramsay is very special brand of crazy, so who knows why they’re really doing it? Probably because they think it’s fun. Charming, right?

2. How did Ramsay “act” without Roose’s consent? Why doesn’t Reek/Theon kill Ramsay?
Ah the Boltons. Or, er, awkward…the Bolton/Snow. It’s really heartwarming stuff if you think about it. On another show, a surly teenage son trying so desperately to get back into his dad’s good graces would be called Surviving Jack and would be unwatchable. But the filial dynamics in Game of Thrones are perversely heartwarming, and the fun of the show is identifying with the most cold-blooded of killers because of their daddy issues.

Ramsay, the cute mop-headed boy with a sadistic streak (and whom you might recognize as Simon from the British show Misfits), was revealed last season to be the bastard son (which is why Ramsay’s last name is Snow, not because he’s related to Jon) of Roose Bolton, the Northerner who betrayed the Starks at the Red Wedding and got a fat Frey wife and a Warden of the North title in the process. As Roose chided, he had ordered Ramsay to capture Theon to be used as a trading piece by the Lannisters when they attempt to overtake Moat Cailin, which is under management by Theon’s dad, Balon Greyjoy.

Now that Theon has been flayed and castrated (which, in a sitcom, would warrant a headshake, sigh, and the show’s signature catchphrase: “Oh, Ramsay, you so cray!”), he’s basically worthless to his father, so that is off off the table. Think of Moat Cailin like the Fort Lee lane on the George Washington Bridge, and Balon as Chris Christie, and Theon like the totally expendable Bridget Kelly. Now Roose will never get to invade the north in time for dinner! (That was the worst topical analogy I’ve ever made, I’m so sorry.)

You would think that when Theon has a sharp razor to his captor’s throat, he’d just kill him and get the hell out of there. Or at least use him as a captive while sloooowly backing out the door. But Theon-as-Reek is a broken eunuch. Not even the death of his almost-brother Robb and his almost-mom Catelyn can get him to take action. Also, Theon’s always been kind of a bitch about getting his hands dirty…he basically had to be goaded into beheading Sir Rodrik Cassel two seasons ago. Ramsay’s point is that now that Theon is the Boltons’ bitch, they can use him however they want, perhaps as a spy if they choose to trade him for the moat. Of course, that argument doesn’t really hold water since Ramsay sent Balon his son’s dick in a box, virtually guaranteeing that the salty Ironborn would find Theon more reprehensibly worthless than he already did.

3. Why is Joffrey repeatedly so horrible to Tyrion?

Because Tyrion is the only one that has ever called him out for being a little shit. While pretty much every single person around him, up to and including his doting mother, knows that Joffrey is a petulant idiot, he somehow has convinced himself that he has earned their respect and esteem. Tyrion, however, has made it very clear that he sees Joffrey for the vicious child that he actually is. Remember the slap, a.k.a. The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened on Television? Joffrey knows his uncle doesn’t respect him, and so, while he hates basically everyone and everything, he has a special hatred reserved for his uncle.

But why is all of this coming out now? Joffrey has been harboring this hatred for a while, so why is he being so demonstratively awful now (coincidentally just before he dies, and thus casting suspicion on Tyrion)?

Joffrey has been kept somewhat in check up to this point by his family, who he knows very powerful. But with his marriage, even though he is still technically underage, his mother can no longer be the Queen Regent, as there is now an of-age queen. (This is why Oberyn corrects himself and calls her “former Queen Regent Cersei Lannister.) Because his new wife prefers to mollify rather than frighten, Joffrey believes that his marriage has placed him above familial considerations.

In addition, formal, official, public situations provide the most cover for Joffrey. In private, his mother or grandfather may be able to chide him, but in public they don’t dare to contradict the king, which is technically an offense punishable by death. What’s more, Joffrey wants to embarrass Tyrion as much as possible, and this, the biggest social event for years, is the biggest audience he could hope for.

Finally, it is not as if Tyrion is completely innocent here. His wedding gift, a book, was clearly meant as something of a provocation to a king who is not what one would call an avid reader. And he presents it as a series of lessons for a king, suggesting not-so-subtly that Joffrey has a lot to learn. The choice of gift was a critical misstep on Tyrion’s part, inflaming the king’s already potent hatred of him.

4. What’s with Stannis burning people alive? How does seeing the rest of Stannis’ family interact with Melisandre change how we think of her role as Stannis’ confidant?

The Baratheons, like mostly everyone in Westeros outside of the North, ruled with the Faith of Seven. Melisandre, the show’s resident witch, has installed herself as Stannis’ right hand and her religion, which worships a “God of Light” named R’hllor, has a sort of unsympathetic view towards heretics. It’s unclear whether burning people alive–or “sacrificial immolation”– is a Red God thing (oh yeah, R’hllor has a bunch of names, too), or if it’s just Melisandre’s personal approach to dealing with dissidence in the ranks. But the implicit irony is that the witch woman who gets to put the flame to the traditionalist puritans; a fun twist on our own Salem history.

So up until this point, the show had us sort of believing that Stannis’s obsession with the priestess of R’hllor had to do with the fact that he was sleeping with her, not that he totally bought into her Lord of Light religious fervor. He’s actually been kind of a slow convert, the kind of guy who wants to see how his new god can work for him before he’s willing to start making human sacrifices.

But now we’re seeing that Melisandre has even more strident believers in his own household. His moony wife Lady Selyse was practically giddy to see her own family members burned alive on the stake so his “soul could be purged” or whatever. (She doesn’t have a brother in the books, so we assume the guy being eaten by the flames at Dragonstone is a variation of Alester Florent, an uncle.) After she basically floats the idea of doing the same to her daughter, whom she accuses Stannis of babying, we finally see that maybe he’s the sane one of the household. The idea of Stannis being the coddler in that couple is a big tip-off that something was wrong in this family long before Melisandre ever stepped in.

5. What are the religions in play here? And which is one is “winning”?
There are quite a few different religions in the world of Game of Thrones (remember that weird Drowned God that Theon got baptized to?), but three major ones come into play in this episode.

First off, we have the Faith of the Seven. This is the major, establishment religion in Westeros. Its adherents believe in seven deities, but they are really all aspects or faces of a single god. Sort of like the Christian trinity, but with seven aspects instead of three, and a very gendered and regimented taxonomy. They are the Father (male, stands for judgement and justice), the Mother (female, stands for motherhood, nurturing, mercy), the Warrior (male, stands for strength in battle), the Maiden (female, stands for innocence and chastity), the Smith (male, stands for labor and craftsmanship), the Crone (female, stands for wisdom) and the Stranger (ungendered, stands for death and the unknown). People will pray to a particular aspect of the seven depending on what they need. Those looking for guidance pray to the Crone, etc.

As it is the official religion, life in Westeros is very much entwined with the Faith of the Seven. Joffrey and Margaery get married in the Great Sept of Baelor — a sept (from the Latin root for seven) is a chapel of the Faith that generally has seven walls, one dedicated to each of the Seven. And note the giant seven-pointed star above the altar. (The main religious text of the Faith is called The Seven-Pointed Star.) Priests of the Faith are known as Septons, priestesses Septas. They’re supposed to be celibate, and yes, in case you were wondering, George R.R. Martin totally based this religion on Roman Catholicism.

Melisandre is a priestess of a different religion, dedicated to a different god, known variously as the Lord of Light, the Red God and R’hllor. This religion is a manichean one, in which the Lord of Light, who stands for everything good, is locked in eternal struggle against another god, the Lord of Darkness or the Great Other. Followers of the Red God believe that this struggle will continue until their messiah comes and breaks the stalemate.
Followers of the Lord of Light are all about fire. They pray to it for the resurrection of the dead, stare into it to see what they believe are visions of the future, and sometimes even (especially if they’re Melisandre) burn their enemies in it. And along with fire, their religion is tied to dragons. The messiah is supposed to bring back the dragons, so some people are obviously going to think that Dany is Jesus. Melisandre, though, thinks it is Stannis.

The third major religion in Game of Thrones is known simply as worship of the Old Gods, also known as the Old Gods of the Forest. It is a religion that has existed in Westeros since before recorded time, and has continued to exist alongside the Faith of the Seven as that religion became dominant on the continent. Some people, in fact, believe in both religions, sort of like Christians who are also “really into Buddhism.” This is especially true in the North, where the religion of the Old Gods is still most prevalent, and where you may have heard characters praying to “the Old Gods and the New.”

The religion is an animist one, in which the natural world is thought to be animated by countless unnnamed gods. The earliest practitioners of the religion carved faces into weirwood trees, like the one that Bran touches before he has his vision. These trees, known as heart trees, are sites of worship for the old religion. Adherents make oaths before such trees—Jon Snow took his oath to become a member of the Night’s Watch there, as did Sam Tarly, who was not from the North but effectively converted to the religion of the Old Gods at that point.

As for which of the religions is winning, it all depends on what you mean by “winning.” Obviously the Faith of the Seven is still in control of much of the continent and is a part of the daily practice of most people there. It is the established religion and all of society is suffused with it. That said, it isn’t a growing religion. People seem to practice it rather casually. The religion of the Lord of Light, on the other hand, is gaining ground. Its practitioners are fanatical, and it has one of the contenders for the crown fighting specifically under its banner. (It’s not as if the Lannisters are fighting to defend the honor of the Seven, after all — they’re just trying to maintain power.) And with the return of dragons, the magic of their religion is growing stronger and stronger.

But don’t count the religion of the Old Gods out entirely. It is not just the religion practiced by some in the North — it is also the belief system of all those north of the wall. And there is a massive army of Old God-believing wildlings on its way south…

6. Who is worse at wedding small talk: Jaime or Cersei? And who is best, Margaery or the Queen of Thorns? How do the wedding conversations show the Lannisters slipping place in society?

Even before Joffrey’s death, it’s evident that the Lannisters are beginning to lose the top slot in the power ranking of Westeros. It’s evident at every turn in the wedding, from Cersei trying to wrest back a modicum of power from new queen Margerie by demanding that the leftover feast goes not to the poor but to the dogs, to Loras Tyrell openly referencing Jaime’s incestuous relationship with his sister…to his face. This never would have flown before, but the Knight of the Flowers is protected from the Lannister wrath on two fronts: his own sister Margaery is going to be queen, and he’s slated up to marry Cersei. As is often the case on this show, the wedding is more of a brokerage deal than an act of love: the Tyrells are now the silent partners, co-running the throne.

That said, the best lines still go to Oberyn, the Inigo Montoya of Dorne. “It’s called the rich man’s disease,” he tells Tywin, referring to his brother’s gout. “It’s wonder you don’t have it.” He also manages the most epic burn ever said to a Lannister, one line later:

“People everywhere have their differences. In some places, the highborn frown on people of low birth. In other places, the rape and murder of women and children is considered distasteful.”

Ned Stark lost his head for saying that Joffrey was the result of incest. But Oberyn and the Martells can get away with spitting the same accusations (plus some more) at the royal family’s feet. The war may have been won by the Lannisters, but it has cost them so greatly that even the once formidable patriarch Tywin is reduced to taking shit from Margaery’s grandmother about how broke he is.

7. Why would anyone ever bother getting married in Westeros at this point??
Right?? Games of Thrones doesn’t paint weddings in the best light, but as a bride-to-be, I recognize that the amount of preparation and stress that goes into these events is often more conducive to a bloodbath than a party. Between the Red Wedding and last night’s death, just imagine how things would be different if we started treating our nuptials like they do in Game of Thrones: all the men would be wearing a billion layers of heavy material, anxious that they’d be missing their music cue, refusing to eat or drink anything. They’d basically be brides.

It’s not as graphic as last season’s bloodbath down the aisle, but the death count in last night’s episode is still a game changer. All men must die, sure, but do they all have to die at a wedding? Westeros Explainer: The 7 Questions You Had About ‘Game of Thrones’ 4×2