Cal and the Sentinels march Mare and Maven to the throne room, where the king and queen await, away from the fray of the battle outside. The king has his ceremonial sword. Elara goes through Mare’s mind, seeing all her secrets. Elara pushes Maven’s face aside, not wanting to know what Mare knows about her son. The queen then orders the Sentinels to leave the throne room. Cal confirms her order, and all depart except the one who is muting Mare’s gift.
The king and queen are insulated from the actual dangers of all the political strife in the capital. For them, this is a game rather than a fight for life or death. The king’s ceremonial sword represents the fact that he thinks of himself as a ceremonial figurehead rather than a leader who must make sacrifices.
King Tiberias demands that his sons tell him what is going on. Maven confesses that he chose the assassination targets. Mare notices that although Maven and Elara look at each other, Elara refuses to look at Maven’s thoughts. Maven tells his father that he should be proud—after all, Maven has finally found a cause. The king then turns on Mare, telling her that she is responsible for Maven’s actions. Elara comes to Maven’s defense, and Mare is surprised to find herself mentally pleading with Elara to save Maven.
The king’s unwillingness to accept that Maven is responsible for his own actions shows blind parental loyalty, but his misplaced blame on Mare shows that the king is quick to use Reds as scapegoats for problems in his kingdom. This tendency is part of why the king has turned the Silvers so virulently against the Scarlet Guard. However, Mare’s hope that Elara can save Maven serves as a reminder that Elara is another powerful unit in the royal couple who has had something to do with this outcry against the Guard.
The king says that Maven has committed grave crimes that must be punished. Cal pleads with his father to spare Maven, but Tiberias tells Cal, “When you wear my crown, you will understand.” Elara then says that will never happen, and Mare notices that her eyes are the same as Maven’s. Tiberias tries to question Elara but seems unable to move. Mare realizes that she is seeing Elara control the king’s body, just as the whisper controlled the strongarm in the arena at the Feat of August.
Mare has heard many rumors of Elara’s power hungriness, but she now sees that Elara is willing to resort to actual mind and body control in order to manipulate the king. Mare is not sure yet what to make of this realization, but she does notice similarities between Elara and Maven in the moment when Elara takes control of the king’s body. Mare is also unsure what Elara means when she says that Cal will never wear the king’s crown.
Mare, shocked, thinks that Elara is saving her and Maven where Cal failed to do so. Cal tells Elara that he never believed Julian before when he said that Elara was responsible for hurting Coriane and Sara Skonos. Mare pleads with Elara not to be distracted and to get Maven out. Elara releases Maven, but neither of them does anything to release Mare from the shackles that are preventing her from using her gift.
Mare trusts Maven and Elara with her life even while Cal seems to be realizing something damning about Elara. Mare continues to hope that the queen is trustworthy until, in one fell swoop, Elara and a newly released Maven both fail to come to her aid. Mare’s slow realization of the betrayal demonstrates that despite her cynicism, Mare is a naturally trusting person.
Julian’s words, “Anyone can betray anyone,” crescendo in Mare’s head as she pleads with Maven to help her, and he refuses. Elara now has control of Cal, but he manages to shout for help from outside the throne room. Mare realizes that Maven is “truly his mother’s son” as he allows Elara to manipulate Cal’s body to turn toward the king.
Maven and Elara have created a situation in which Mare has no choice but to continue hoping for Maven’s help, even when he is demonstrating that he is not interested in helping her. Mare feels betrayed not only by Maven but also by herself because she placed so much blind trust in the wrong brother.
Mare realizes that Elara did not care about Maven’s presence in her memories because she knew about his involvement with the Scarlet Guard. Maven chose the assassination targets not because they were the Guard’s enemies, but, rather, because they were his enemies. Maven and Elara then confess that they have been using Mare and the Guard all along. For all Mare’s attempts at secrecy, Elara has known all along about her subterfuge and has been covering her tracks. Elara tells Mare, “But you are Red, and like all the others, you were doomed to fail.”
Mare had been gaining confidence in her ability to revolt against Silver tyranny by getting away with small rebellious acts. The revelation that she has not gotten away with these acts at all, and that some of her opportunities for rebellion were handed to her by those she thought she was working against, shakes her confidence deeply. However, Elara’s statement that Mare is doomed to fail because she is Red is a reminder that Mare’s biology does not, in fact, confine her to any one fate.
Mare feels foolish for trusting Maven and realizes that Elara must have used her knowledge of the inner workings of Mare’s mind to tell Maven what to say to win her over. Even Maven’s story of his fallen comrade was a lie.
Elara’s use of Mare’s thoughts to manipulate her is entirely unethical. It is also not far off from what many see as the unethical prying of governments and corporations into citizens’ private lives for the use of propaganda or advertisements.
Elara tells Maven to say his goodbyes to Mare. He says he does not have any, and instead confronts his father for only loving Cal. King Tiberias insists that he loves Maven too, and that not even Elara’s actions can change that. Elara says she is not doing anything. Cal, on the other hand, moves toward Tiberias like a puppet. Insisting that Tiberias does not love Maven like he loves Cal, Elara forces Cal to take the king’s ceremonial sword. Mare is powerless to intervene, and Maven chooses to stand by. Tiberias tells Cal that he knows it is not him as Cal raises the sword and beheads the king.
Elara and Maven clearly want the king dead. By taking control of Cal’s body and forcing him to do the dirty work of beheading the king, Elara and Maven can maintain some semblance of their innocence. Additionally, forcing Cal to kill his father is an attempt to destroy the relationship that Elara and Maven see as such a threat. Maven’s refusal to say anything to Mare makes Mare realize that she apparently means nothing to Maven.
The king’s silver blood pools on the floor, and the crown rolls to a stop at Maven’s feet. Elara begins screaming over the king’s body as the cameras turn back on. She acts as though Cal has cruelly murdered his own father. Mare finally understands what Julian once tried to teach her: what people believe matters more than the truth. Mare and Cal try to run, but resisting is futile. Realizing that the bond of loyalty has been broken between Cal and his soldiers, Cal and Mare allow themselves to be arrested.
The crown’s rolling to Maven’s feet symbolizes that as much as a family drama, this murder has been a grab for power. Through performative tactics, Elara is able to fabricate a reality in which she and Maven are innocent and in which Cal and Mare are responsible for the king’s death. In this way, Mare learns that it is folly to trust that which seems to be true.