Though it is loosely based on the events of the War of the Five Kings in Westeros, it contains drastic plot condensations, glaring omissions, mischaracterizations, gratuitous nudity, and lowbrow humor.
Performers and stage
- Izembaro.........................................King Robert Baratheon / Lord Tywin Lannister
- Bobono...........................................Tyrion Lannister, Hand of the King
- Lady Crane.....................................Queen Cersei Lannister
- Bianca.............................................Sansa Stark
- Clarenzo..........................................Prince/King Joffrey Baratheon
- Camello...........................................Lord Eddard Stark
- Unknown.........................................Margaery Tyrell
- Unknown (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)...................Music
- Mummer 1.........................................Stagehand
- Mummer 2.........................................Stagehand/the boar
- Mummer 3.........................................Stagehand
[This scene is shown in a deleted scene] King Robert Baratheon reveals his penchant for drinking wine to the audience. Cersei asks him to not drink so much, or he will not make good decisions during Small Council meetings. Robert slaps Cersei and calls such meetings boring. He says he would prefer if Ned Stark attends the meetings in his stead.
Tyrion Lannister plies Robert with more wine and, in an aside to the audience, reveals his plans to dispose of Robert and install Ned as the new king, with Tyrion taking the position of Hand. Cersei begs that Robert allow Joffrey to attend the Small Council meetings so that he can learn how to rule. Robert slaps Joffrey in the face and leaves for the boar hunt.
King Robert goes on a boar hunt while drunk and ends up being mortally wounded by a boar.
The scheming and villainous Tyrion Lannister, however, convinces Ned to try to seize the throne, and Tyrion will be his Hand of the King. At the last minute, Tyrion then reveals the conspiracy by laying sole blame on Ned Stark. Sansa Stark begs the good prince Joffrey to show her father mercy, and he agrees, but Ned gets beheaded after Tyrion bribes the headsman.
Tyrion's plan to remove Ned worked, because he was standing in his way. Now Tyrion presents a letter from his father Tywin proclaiming that he is the new Hand of the King in Ned's place, and he will continue to functionally rule over the realm during Joffrey's minority.
Tyrion also proclaims that the letter gives him permission to marry Ned's daughter Sansa against her will. He pulls open her dress to expose her breasts and feel her up, pushes her hand to his crotch, and announces he will force himself on her during their wedding night. The good queen Cersei is horrified.
Acts II & III
(There are presumably intervening Acts, but they are not shown on-screen)
Having defeated all of his enemies, King Joffrey marries Margaery Tyrell to unite "the lion and the rose", securing the alliance that won the war. Tyrion, however, as part of his ongoing plots against his family, poisons Joffrey's wine, killing his own nephew. Queen Cersei weeps over her son's corpse and gives a long and moving soliloquy about her sorrow - in a later rewrite, it is also about her thirst for vengeance.
His plots not finished, the evil Tyrion takes a crossbow and confronts his father Tywin while he sits on the privy, wondering if this will prove that his father really does "shit gold". Tyrion shoots Tywin with the crossbow, and as he dies Tywin denounces his son as the most evil man in Westeros.
Having just killed two of his close family members, Tyrion says he will flee across the Narrow Sea to continue his plots against his remaining family.
Arya Stark attends a production of the play in Braavos as part of an assignment for the Faceless Men. Though she enjoys the death of "King Robert", she is visibly unhappy with the play's depiction of her own family.
Arya watches the play again, and is shown smiling and laughing at the death of "Joffrey" (as she missed getting to watch the real Joffrey die in person). When the Cersei actress gives her speech at her son's death, her acting is so sincere that even Arya is moved by the death scene.
Arya sneaks back stage and runs into Lady Crane (who played Cersei), and Arya admits that this is the third time she has snuck in to see the play for free. Arya points out that "Cersei" would probably be filled with outrage at her son's death, so she might want to play it as a mix of both grief and anger. Lady Crane likes the idea so much that she later brings it up to Izembaro after the play, but he becomes deeply insulted that she wants to insert her own ideas into his script, and says that actors have no business telling writers what to put into the script.
However, during another play, it seems that Lady Crane managed to persuade Izembaro to change the script. This time, Lady Crane's Cersei seeks for vengeance against Tyrion and Sansa for killing her son, as Arya had previously suggested. The audience seems impressed by "Cersei"'s dialogue. 
Behind the scenes
Staff writer Bryan Cogman discussed the meta-narrative aspect of making a play-within-a-play which was a skewed adaptation of the events of the TV show, which is itself an adaptation of a book:
- "I come from theater and being able to comment on the show and the reactions to the show through the players were so much fun. The show is often accused of being gratuitous in all kinds of way – the violence and the bigness of the characters. It’s a huge operatic story. We’re able to lovingly spoof ourselves but also play with ideas about how audiences view the show, good and bad, and how a perspective of a story changes. Plus there’s the dramatic deliciousness of Arya watching her own life play out on stage."
The stage musicians for the play are actually a cameo appearance by the Icelandic indie folk/rock band Of Monsters and Men.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the play is titled The Bloody Hand and its author is Phario Forel, who is said to have the bloodiest quill in all of Braavos and is also the author of Wroth of the Dragonlords. The show's dialogue doesn't mention the name of the play but the title was confirmed to be the same in HBO's Official Viewer's Guide.
- In the book continuity, the play actually takes place in the unpublished sixth novel, but it occurs during a preview chapter which was released just prior to Season 5. A few plot elements from that chapter were moved around for the TV show: in the preview chapter, Arya works at the theater for some time to hone her acting/lying skills, when the Lannisters' Master of Coin who came to treat with the Iron Bank of Braavos comes to see the play - Harys Swyft in the novels, Mace Tyrell in the TV version. In his entourage, Arya recognizes Raff, one of Gregor Clegane's men who is on her kill list (condensed with Meryn Trant in the TV version, who is still alive in the novels). Arya lures Raff away by pretending to be a child prostitute, knowing he is a pedophile, and then when they are in private she kills him by stabbing him in the neck with Needle and sarcastically repeating what Raff said to Lommy before killing the boy.
- The TV version split this into three separate events and reshuffled them around somewhat: Arya kills Polliver in early Season 4 in the manner that she killed book-Raff, then she recognizes TV-Meryn in the embassy to the Iron Bank in Season 5 and kills him (how she recognized Raff in the novels, but not involving the play), and now the play is introduced separately. Of course, it is somewhat implied that the Faceless Men sent Arya to the theater knowing that Raff would should up there, and combined with a play loosely based on the downfall of Arya's family, wanted to see if it was enough to tempt her into taking personal revenge on Arya Stark's enemies, even though she is supposed to leave personal attachments behind. If this was a test in the books as well, the fallout from her "failure" has not yet been seen, as the preview chapter ends with her killing Raff.
- In the books, Arya is not a spectator but one of the actresses. She uses the alias "Mercedene" or "Mercy".
- The cast of characters is as followed:
- The Bloody Hand (aka the demonic dwarf) - played by Bobono
- The fat king (Robert Baratheon) - played by Izembaro
- The boy king (Joffrey) - by unknown actor
- The boar - played by Big Brusco
- The Stranger - played by Marro, a mummer
- The Queen (Cersei) - played by Lady Stork
- The maiden rape victim (Sansa) - played by Mercedene (Arya)
- The play itself that Arya sees in the TV version is very similar to how it was in the novels: a thoroughly ribald, mock-Shakespearean in style production which is obviously slanted in favor of the "official" version of events that Cersei Lannister and the royal court in King's Landing have been circulating: that Joffrey Baratheon was a decent king but Ned Stark tried to overthrow him to seize power, and that Tyrion Lannister must have not only encouraged Ned's betrayal - then turned on him in order to become Hand - but also poisoned Joffrey as well. The dwarf actor Bobono also ran around wearing a giant oversized codpiece, groped the breasts of the actress playing fake-Sansa, and at one point a prop bird "pooped" onto the head of an actor playing the Sealord of Braavos - who was in attendance at the theater and laughed. It is mentioned that in Braavos mummers are free to mock authorities and the mighty without fear of reprisal or persecution.
- In keeping with the mock-Shakespearean style of the play itself, it also seems to be a reference to the play within a play plot element from Shakespeare's Hamlet: Hamlet suspects that his uncle Claudius killed his own brother, Hamlet's father, to seize the throne, so Hamlet puts on a play for Claudius which is an exaggerated and offensive retelling of a very similar murder. Hamlet's plan is that the play will show "the conscience of the king", and it succeeds: Claudius is clearly deeply upset at the production, convincing Hamlet of his guilt. Similarly, the Faceless Men have Arya go to a play which exaggerates the details of the War of the Five Kings and downfall of her family, to see if she is truly "no one" or is still holding on to her past.
- The play has several extra sections which were left out of the TV version; it actually focuses on Tyrion and Ned doesn't appear, but they have roughly equal time in the TV version.
- Another possibility is that different "Acts" of the play will appear across multiple chapters in the sixth novel: the part seen in the preview chapter was apparently "Act II" and focusing on Tyrion's decision to poison Joffrey and rape Sansa - "Act I", explaining Robert's death through Ned's death, may have been presented in an earlier chapter.
- George R.R. Martin has said that one of his influences in developing the character of Tyrion Lannister was the title character from Shakspeare's Richard III. In the play, King Richard III is portrayed as an evil and scheming tyrant, and he is infamously hunchbacked and ugly. Richard III was a king from the House of York during the Wars of the Roses, however, and they were later deposed by their rivals the Lancasters at the end of the war, who founded the Tudor dynasty - and Shakespeare was writing during the later reign of the Tudors. Martin was fascinated with how history always has more than one point of view, which is one of the reasons he gave POV narration chapters to both the Stark and Lannister characters in his story - there isn't one "good" and one "evil" side, but both have their own views. Similarly, Martin was particularly fascinated with criticisms of Shakespeare's play which argue that "Richard III" the Shakespearean character and villain isn't historically accurate, but just Lancaster/Tudor propaganda which skewed the story of events after they defeated him. Thus, Martin wrote Tyrion as almost a revisionist Richard III if these criticisms were true: he is ugly and stunted (as a dwarf), and he is very cunning, but Tyrion is also actually a well-meaning and sympathetic character and not particularly villainous. Therefore, in the exaggerated play in this episode, we essentially see what Martin thinks might have happened to the real Richard III happening to Tyrion: the stories surrounding what happened mix with his enemies' propaganda, resulting in widespread belief in "popular culture" (theatrical plays) that Tyrion was actually an evil, scheming villain, just like Shakespeare's Richard III.
- The Cersei-actress's line in the play that "I feel the winds of winter as they lick across the land" is actually a reference to the title of the unreleased sixth novel in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, The Winds of Winter.
- The Bloody Hand play intentionally includes several outright inaccuracies which the troupe didn't intend, but which occur because they heard about the story second-hand and the facts have become distorted (in addition to wanting it to match the official Lannister version of events). This highlights that characters in Westeros and Essos only have a medieval level of communication, they don't have television or newspapers, so information gets distorted as it passes to foreign lands. Notice that all of the Heraldry it uses for the Baratheons, Lannisters, and Starks is slightly inaccurate compared to the official versions, and not as well drawn. Tyrion has a large scar on his face even before Ned Stark dies, when he only received the wound much later during the Battle of the Blackwater. For that matter, it is publicly known that Tyrion wasn't even in King's Landing until after Ned Stark died, so he couldn't have directly conspired with him like this.
- One detail that surprisingly remains intact is that Joffrey had nothing to do with Robert's death, and because he thought he was his actual father, he was reduced to genuine tears as Robert lay on his deathbed. The background painting for the stage of the Red Keep in King's Landing is also fairly accurate, as is their wooden mock-up of the Iron Throne.
- In the books, all of the characters in the play had obvious sound-alike names to the actual characters, i.e. the Starks were called the "Storks", and the character was called "Lady Stork" and not "Lady Crane". In the TV version they just outright call the play's characters by who they are parodying: "Ned Stark", "Tyrion", "Cersei", etc.
- As a parody of the first four TV seasons of Game of Thrones, the play is filled with exaggerations of several elements of the TV series which sometimes received criticism:
- Joffrey is repeatedly slapped in the face purely for comedic effect.
- It includes several fart jokes to pander to the audience's lowbrow sense of humor.
- Random acts of nudity occur to pander to the audience, when "Tyrion" pulls down "Sansa's" shirt to reveal her breasts.
- The play introduces a rape scene with Sansa Stark which didn't actually happen in the source material (Tyrion refused to consummate their marriage in disgust).
- Catelyn Stark's role has been significantly reduced (to the point that she doesn't appear), and Sansa doesn't have many lines or much agency in the play either (she's stated to only have two speaking lines).
The text of the play
[What follows is a transcription of what was shown on-screen, including during deleted scenes]
Enter Robert. Cersei enters midway through his speech.
I am Robert of House Baratheon, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of Wine, wine, bring more wine! I demand more wine!
The Red Keep has ten thousand barrels, and every drop is mine!
My love, I beg you, so much drink is sure to harm your health.
And when you meet with your Small Council, you won’t be yourself.
Robert slaps Cersei across the face.
My Small Council meetings, I hereby do submit,
Are duller than a broadsword made entirely of shit!
Let Ned Stark listen to those cunts admonish and opine,
I’m going on a wild boar hunt, as soon as I get more wine!
Enter Tyrion, carrying a jug of wine.
Here, your grace, one more cup!
One is not enough! Fuck sobriety in its muff!
Bed more whores, drink more wine,
Play right into my design!
Ned Stark will soon feel Fortune’s sting,
And I will be Hand of the King!
My love, our son’s a decent boy: kind-hearted and humane.
But he must learn to heed wise counsel, if he is to reign.
Take him to the Council chamber, sit him by your side.
Let him see what it means to rule with honour and with pride.
Please take me, father, if you could!
I’d be so grateful – I truly would!
Robert slaps Joffrey through the face. So does Tyrion, on the rebound. Exeunt all.
The hunt begins!
Enter Robert. He is searching for the boar. When his back is turned, the boar charges him. Robert turns and faces the boar with his long-spear, but the boar gores him in the gut.
Argh! Murdered by a boar!
The great big hairy whore!
He dug in his tusks, and dug out my guts!
And soon, I am no more!
Oh come, father – in bed you must lie!
I love you, father! Please don’t die!
Robert slaps Joffrey through the face.
Shut up, you swine!
Cersei, more wine!
Enter Cersei and Tyrion.
I feel the Winds of Winter as they lick across the land,
And our son alone, on that cold cold throne, without a guiding hand.
Who will teach him strength, who will teach him grace?
To whom will he turn when it’s time to learn to look darkness in the face?
Ned Stark will do fine!
Bring me more wine!
Oooh, what’s happened here then?
We’ve brought you here, Ned Stark, ’cause you’re the brightest fellow in the land.
You should be king of us all! And I should be your Hand.
Oh, we men of the North are right good hands at keeping people lawful.
I’d ask him for permission, but he smells too bloody awful!
Oh, oh, I die!
And here I now must lie.
Oh woe! Oh no!
Oh I am about to go!
Will you stay on as Joffrey’s Hand?
The Iron Throne’s what I demand!
You will not!
You dare not!
I dare yes!
But the line of succession!
What’s that mean?
The proper progression.
What’s that mean?
The lawful ascension!
What’s that mean?
Joffrey sits on the Iron Throne. Tyrion and Cersei stand on either side of the throne. Enter Ned.
So, move along, give me my chair, and there won’t be no more trouble!
Joffrey slaps Ned through the face. Ned reels backwards and finds Tyrion on a step, holding a knife to Ned's throat.
But, we had a deal – all done and dusted!
I’m starting to think that you can’t be trusted!
Ned is pulled off stage and Joffrey is crowned. Enter Sansa.
Save my father!
Truly, you should!
Killing the man will do you no good!
Save him, please!
Show him mercy!
Show the people what a good king should be.
Enter Ned. His head is on the chopping block. Tyrion gives the Executioner a bribe.
Good people, you may all relax!
My father’s friend shall be spared this–
The Executioner beheads Ned. His head rolls to Sansa, who picks it up. Exit Tyrion.
The Executioner pulls Ned's head out of Sansa’s hands. Joffrey comforts her. Enter Tyrion, waving a scroll.
Worry not, for all is well. I have here a decree
From my father, Tywin Lannister – the richest man you’ll see.
He proclaims me Hand of the King!
The position’s mine for life!
And he’s given me permission to take Sansa as my wife!
Tyrion grabs Sansa’s hand, and puts it against his crotch. Sansa screams. Joffrey tries to defend her but Tyrion slaps him through the face.
You’ll learn that what I lack in height,
I make up for in appetite!
Tyrion tears Sansa’s dress, revealing her breasts. Sansa screams and covers herself.
Forget about your plight!
And come and rehearse our wedding night!
Tyrion pulls Sansa off the stage. Exeunt all.
The wedding of Joffrey and Margaery. Cersei, Sansa and Tyrion are also in attendance. Joffrey slices upon his pigeon pie with a sword and birds fly out of it.
The Lion and the Rose are one! I thank the gods above.
And to you, my beauteous bride, I pledge undying love.
Joffrey kisses Margaery's hand.
Hail King Joffrey!
Hail Queen Margaery!
I’ll drink a toast to my new queen, for there is no one fairer.
Dear uncle, will you share my joy, and be my royal cup-bearer?
Drink long and deep, my noble king, from this cup of sweet wine.
Tyrion gives Joffrey a cup of wine.
The last drink he shall ever take, and vengeance shall be mine!
Joffrey drinks from the cup and starts to choke.
Argh! I’m poisoned! Murder! Gasp! I die! The Imp!
And it was he that poisoned me! My evil uncle, Imp!
Joffrey collapses. He is dead. Exit Tyrion, pulling Sansa with him. Cersei rushes to Joffrey.
Cersei: Re-write after Arya’s advice:
My firstborn son! My golden lion! My firstborn son! My child king!
Foully, falsely slain! Hush. Listen to the gods – for you they sing.
I pray you find a lasting peace, Fight no more, sweet child. Your wars are won.
Free from strife and pain. The wolves are buried, and the false stag done.
Hear my prayer, oh cruel gods! Shut your blue eyes, my love. Let the crown fall.
Take my life instead! The Father above beckons you to his hall.
For I cannot face another day In Seventh Heaven I will see you once more.
While my sweet boy is dead. But now I seek vengeance on Sansa the Whore.
Oh woe! Oh grief! Oh darkest day, And my brother, the Imp, who killed his own kin.
My heart is full of sorrow. Born amongst lions, our curse from within!
All hope is lost. All joy is gone. I will slay him, I swear: with noose or with knife!
And there is no tomorrow. Though it take me a fortnight, a moon or my life!
Cersei kisses Joffrey. Exeunt all.
Tywin sits on the privy. Enter Tyrion with a crossbow in hand.
What is that I hear and smell?
Someone I will soon send to Hell!
It’s time to see if truth they told,
Who said Tywin Lannister shits gold!
Tyrion shoots Tywin with an arrow.
You beast! You beast! You killed my wife!
And now you’ve taken your father’s life!
No worse child ever stained this land.
Curse the day I named you Hand!
My greatest crime! Now I must flee!
And sail across the Narrow Sea!
To do unto you more treachery!
Don’t fear Winter coming – fear me!
Tyrion fires an arrow into the air and laughs. Exit Tyrion.