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"Now we are in the power of a wolf, and if we do not flee, he will inevitably devour us."
Giovanni de' Medici

Having had such a big success with The Tudors, Showtime has continued the theme of sexy period drama by turning to another turbulent period of history, and another notorious family. Stage left; enter the Borgias.

The Borgias, or at least this particular branch of the family, have become a byword for corruption and decadence. It doesn't help that the head of the family, Rodrigo, is often believed to have bought his way into the papacy. Or that he had a string of mistresses well into his sixties, despite the fact that he was, you know, a cardinal and then Pope. Or that he installed at least one of them in the Vatican itself. Or that he also had at least four acknowledged children, again despite the cardinal and Pope schtick. Or that one of his sons, Cesare, was a Magnificent Bastard in every sense of the word. Or that his daughter, Lucrezia, has something of a reputation as a poisoner and a femme fatale. Or that one of her husbands accused her of committing incest with her father and brother. Or that Cesare is rumored to have killed his brother, Giovanni, and either murdered or ordered the murder of his sister's second husband. Or that...

Well, you get the picture. Let's not even start on 'The Banquet of the Chestnuts'. To be fair, the Borgias had many enemies and some of the stuff written about them was quite possibly exaggerated or expanded upon to demonize them. This does not, however, mean that they were nice people, even by the standards of the time; they weren't. Considering the world they lived in, they couldn't afford to be.

All this is portrayed in the series and then some. Jeremy Irons has top billing as Pope Alexander VI, and the series debuted in April 2011. It has garnered some of the highest ratings on Showtime, and was renewed for a second, and then a third season.

Not to be confused with a 1980 series, also called The Borgias, which was produced by The BBC. For reasons way too long to go into here, the BBC's version was a total flop and a temporary Genre Killer for the BBC Costume Drama.

Not to be confused either with Borgia the European 2011 version produced by Canal+ and created by Tom Fontana from Oz.


The Borgias provides examples of:

  • Acquired Poison Immunity: In "Day of Ashes" della Rovere gives his chosen assassin doses of cantarella poison to make him immune.
  • Affably Evil: How Jeremy Irons is playing Rodrigo Borgia, to a tee.
    • This impression is only furthered by the fact that he's one of the least all-around evil people in the show! It's hard to not feel a little sympathetic toward a character who clearly loves his children this much and who allows the persecuted Spanish Jews safe haven when so much of the rest of the cast are complete monsters.
    • In the second season, he is shown to be genuinely horrified by the poverty in Rome, and is openly furious with the Cardinal responsible for charity for having three palaces while the citizens starve. Generally speaking, Rodrigo is nice to anyone he doesn't need to be nasty to, and is sincere when he says that he plans to make Rome great again and make sure its common people share the glory.
  • Amicably Divorced: Vannozza and Theo are the 15th century version of this; he's retired to a farm paid for by Rodrigo in exchange for allowing Vannozza to do as she pleases.
  • Anachronism Stew: In "The Beautiful Deception" Rodrigo is worried because Lucrezia's refusal to nurse imperils her baby's health. In real life, a woman of Lucrezia's station at the end of the 15th century would have had a wet nurse feed the baby, or her brother and father would have put the child with a nurse.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Juan is this to Cesare. As François Arnaud put it in a recent interview, "Cesare profoundly believes that his brother is an idiot."
  • Anti-Hero: Rodrigo isn't overly malevolent; he rarely gives the order for an assassination, and seems to love his family, placing him somewhere around type IV. Cesare is soundly type IV, but quickly heading toward type V. If history is anything to go by, he'll be anti-villain or outright villain by the show's end.
  • Arranged Marriage: All of the Borgia children, save Cesare, but poor Lucrezia really gets the worst of it.
  • Arson, Murder, and Admiration: Cesare is deeply impressed by how well della Rovere has managed to evade the Borgia assassins, kill one of them himself, and nearly had his father deposed. He offers to team up, because della Rovere is the one man who can stand up to Rodrigo and keep him in line. della Rovere, unfortunately, declines.
  • Artistic License History: All over the place. For once, the siege of Lucca never happened (Rule of Drama, of course, but with the city whose walls still exist and are one of the greatest example of urban fortification?).
    • The presence of Machiavelli is an example too; the time frame isn't very clear after the 1492 title in the pilot episode, but most of the events depicted took place between 1492 and 1496 in real life. Machiavelli was elected head of the Second Chancery in 1498 and didn't hold any political position in Florence before that. Then again, the show seems to be under the impression that he worked for the Medici, so the year alone isn't the only bit of artistic license.
    • The siege at Forlì was led by Cesare, not Juan.
    • Right now it's safe to say that The Borgias' setting is more like an alternative universe than an historical one.
  • As You Know: In "The Beautiful Deception", Rodrigo tells Juan that Juan must go back to "our ancestral homeland, Spain". Presumably Juan knows where his family comes from.
    • Especially considering how much verbal abuse the entire family has suffered for being Spaniards in Rome.
  • Ask a Stupid Question: After Lucrezia and Giulia Farnese's flight, Giovanni Sforza whips Paolo asking him where they're heading. Well, genius, one is the Pope's daughter and the other the Pope's mistress. Maybe, just maybe, they're going to Rome?
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: When Rodrigo becomes Pope.
    • Charles gets one when Rodrigo crowns him King of France and Naples.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Juan claims this happened with him and his men during the battle at Forli, but it was a lie.
  • The Baroness: Caterina Sforza, who is implied to be the brains behind the entire Sforza family.
  • Batman Gambit: Rodrigo sends the French forces to take over their new kingdom of Naples... where The Black Death is waiting.
  • Beard of Evil: Both Lodovico and Giovanni Sforza.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Ursula asks Cesare to "liberate" her from her husband... and when he does, she suffers a massive Freak-Out and becomes a nun.
  • Berserk Button: Threaten Lucrezia in front of Cesare, I dare you. For that matter, don't call his mom a whore, either.
    • Don't lie to Vannozza, or tell her that the Pope has to be chaste and then turn around and start sleeping with another woman.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Lucrezia, Paolo the stable boy, and Francesca the maid have all suffered at Giovanni Sforza's hands, so they team up to make sure he himself suffers (in this case, a fall that immobilizes him).
    • Lucrezia nearly killing Juan after he murdered Paolo definitely counts as this, especially considering it only failed due to dumb luck.
  • Big Brother Attraction: While it seems to be innocent thus far, Lucrezia's feelings for Cesare do seem to skew this way; she tells him in "The Moor" that "I shall never love a husband as I love you".
    • Seems to be building in Season 2, where they talk more about "forbidden loves" while getting very close to each other, kiss each other full on the lips and Cesare asks if he should be jealous of Paolo.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family: The Borgias would count more if there were more than six of them. The Sforzas definitely do.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: In "Nessuno", scenes of the Black Plague-ravaged corpses of Naples are intercut with Lucrezia giving birth to her son and the entire extended Borgia family - Giulia and Ursula as well - gathered together.
  • Black and Gray Morality: And the Borgias themselves are the gray. Think about that.
  • The Black Death: Ravages Naples in "Nessuno".
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Lucrezia, Vannozza, and Giulia.
  • Blood From the Mouth: "The Moor"
  • Blood Knight: King Charles, though subverted in that while he enjoys battles and war, he doesn't get involved in the actual fighting and killing. He also does have some feelings of remorse, if not for making war, but for reveling in it.
  • Bond One-Liner: Della Rovere takes out two highwaymen who threaten him and the nun he is travelling with and says "Forgive me sister, sometimes goodness needs the help of a little badness"
  • Bread and Circuses: Part of the Pope's plan to bring Rome to glory.
  • Break the Cutie: Poor, poor Lucrezia.
  • Bridal Carry: Cesare carrying the sleeping Lucrezia to bed on her wedding night.
    • He does it again after she faints during the discovery of Paolo's corpse.
  • Cain and Abel: It remains to be seen how Jordan plans on interpreting the very ambiguous circumstances of Juan's eventual murder, but the antagonism between he and his brother is set up from day one.
    • Ironically enough, the first attempt on Juan's life comes from Lucrezia, who was turned into a Cain when Juan murdered Paolo.
  • Call Back: "I promised my sister your heart on a dinner plate!"
  • Career Killers: Abound in this show, but Micheletto is the most prominent example.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Rodrigo in "The Borgias in Love".
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: Probably the most spectacularly grisly aversion in recent memory. The French characters in this show are defined by how pitiless and terrifying they are as opponents in warfare.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The naked young lady in Rodrigo's bath in "The Borgia Bull"? We find out three episodes later in "Stray Dogs" she is Duchessa Bianca de Gonzaga of Milan, and allied with the Sforza family.
  • Children Are Innocent: Gioffre is completely unaware of what goes around him. Lucrezia too, at least at first.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Truth in Television in Italy both then and now.
  • Christmas Cake: Vannozza and Caterina.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Gioffre is nowhere to be seen and isn't even mentioned in Season 2.
  • City State Era: The show takes place during this period of Italian history.
  • The Clan: 15th-century Italy abounds with them; the city-states are all constantly dealing with Feuding Families, and it's this atmosphere into which the Borgias (who are too small a family to count themselves) enter as outsiders. The most prominent family is the Sforzas, of whom we have already met four members (Caterina, Ascanio, Lodovico and Giovanni).
  • Composite Character: Theo is an amalgam of two of Vanozza's four Real Life husbands (none of which were named Theo) while Alfonso seems to combine the historical King Alfonso II of Naples and his two surviving sons one of whom eventually married Lucrezia.
  • Confessional: Apparently a place to meet up with your girlfriend, plot with your partners in crime, and occasionally murder someone.
  • The Consigliere: Machiavelli to the Medici. Vannozza to the rest of her family, as well as Giulia.
  • Constantly Curious: Gioffre's curiosity provides his doting father Rodrigo with an opportunity for an Info Dump in which Rodrigo explains to him (and the viewers) what all the petty kingdoms on the Italian peninsula are, and how they're fitting into the power struggle.
  • Corrupt Church: However bad Rodrigo may be, imagine how messed up the religious system that allowed him to come to power is.
    • Considering the time period and the sort of environment that would lead to the Reformation, this is (for some, sadly) Truth in Television.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: Lucrezia is gradually becoming a case of this, after her marriage to Complete Monster Giovanni Sforza. It's not her fault, but with a Big Screwed-Up Family like hers, corruption's kind of unavoidable.
  • Costume Porn
  • Country Matters: "Source of disquiet".
  • Cuffs Off, Rub Wrists: Prince Alfonso of Naples after King Charles has him unshackled in "The Borgia Bull". Things do not go well for him afterwards.
  • Covered in Mud: In episode 3, assassin Micheletto goes to a sauna and has himself covered in mud as a disguise.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: Theo is on the losing end of one from Juan, who is pissed off that people are gossiping that he's Theo's son instead of Rodrigo's. Vannozza is not pleased and throws him out of her house, and Rodrigo gives him a blistering Reason You Suck Speech before slapping him and ordering him to beg forgiveness from his mother.
    • The city state of Lucca receives one from the French armies, who tore down the city fortifications with their cannon and slaughtered the population of the city. After they surrendered.
    • The French take out the first line of the Roman Army (who they already outnumber massively) with a single cannon salvo, and the only thing that stops them from completely wiping it out is Lucrezia's intervention.
  • Daddy's Girl: Lucrezia to Rodrigo.
  • Dances and Balls
  • Dark Mistress: Rodrigo's first mistress Vannozza (the mother of his children) doesn't fit this trope very well, but Giulia Farnese certainly does.
  • Dating Catwoman: Cesare and Caterina Sforza.
  • Dawson Casting: 23-year-old Holliday Grainger plays Lucrezia, who's 14 in the first episode. 18-year-old Cesare is played by 25-year-old Francois Arnaud, 33-year-old Emmanuelle Chriqui plays a teenage Sancia, and 15-year-old Giulia Farnese is played by 29-year-old Lotte Verbeek (though this last may count as Age Lift; Giulia's age is glossed over to the point where the only thing made clear is that she is much younger than Rodrigo).
    • Giulia's almost definitely an Age Lift. It's made pretty clear that she's been married to her husband for a good long time--long enough to conceive a child and learn the ways of court and men, as well as politics, on some level. She's definitely not fifteen, and probably isn't supposed to be a teenager, either. It's likely that the characterization is a combo of the real Giulia and Adriana da Mila, Lucrezia's real-life governess/mentor-type figure and a cousin to the Borgia family.
    • In a period piece, it's almost justifiable, considering how children were forced to grow up much faster in those days, so they would tend to prematurely age.
      • True, but it's still pretty clear that Giulia is not meant to be only one year older than Lucrezia.
  • Dead Guys On Display: Ask King Ferrante of Naples about his "Last Supper".
  • Deadly Decadent Court
  • Deadpan Snarker: Machiavelli. Rodrigo upon occasion as well, especially in the latter half of the first season.
  • Dead Star Walking: We hope you didn't come into this show for Derek Jacobi.
  • Dirty Coward: Juan runs away from "The Siege of Forli" after the Sforza army defeats his.
  • Domestic Abuser: Giovanni Sforza and Baron Bonadeo.
  • Double Agent: In the first episodes Micheletto serves Cesare and della Rovere simultaneously.
  • The Dragon: Micheletto to Cesare.
    • Cesare and Ascanio Sforza to Rodrigo. Though Ascanio is a Dragon with an Agenda.
    • Machiavelli to the House of Medici.
    • Giovanni Sforza might be this to Caterina, depending on how much she depends on him.
  • Dramatic Deadpan: Micheletto is utterly matter-of-fact when he informs Cesare that he murdered his own father, and Cesare's reaction is equally unfazed.
  • Duel to the Death: Cesare kills his girlfriend Ursula's husband in "The Borgias In Love". He uses this trope to justify the killing, claiming there was no murder.
  • Dream Sequence: Rodrigo keeps dreaming of Lucrezia after her marriage.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Savonarola, relating the future French invasion.
  • The Dutiful Son: Cesare turns reluctantly being this into an art.
  • Equal Opportunity Evil: Rodrigo, in a way. He has no problem with letting innocent Jews banished from Spain emigrate to Rome, something which appalls his fellow Catholics. However, the Jews aren't his Mooks, like the trope usually implies. They're just desperate immigrants.
    • In Season 2, he has no problem giving tasks of great importance to women, and again ignores the complaints about it.
  • The Eternal City: With Hungary and lots of studio sets standing in for Rome.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Do not insult Cesare's mother Vannozza by, say, calling her a Spanish whore. It will simply get your throat cut.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Micheletto kills the incompetent assassin that Juan hired to murder Djem, after learning that the assassin in question screwed up with his choice of poison, condemning Djem to an agonizing, weeks-long death. As merciless and amoral as Micheletto is, he does prefer to give his victims a relatively quick death.
    • Debatable. It might have been a case where death is the price of incompetence. Micheletto's a professional; his victims die quickly because it gives them less time to scream for help that way.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: In "Paolo" Cardinal della Rovere gets a monkey to taste his food to make sure it isn't poisoned. The irony of doing exactly what Cesare did in the first episode is not lost on him.
  • Evilly Affable: Cesare, more and more each episode.
  • Eye Open: Savonarola in "The Borgias in Love".
  • Eye Scream: Micheletto treats us to some by jamming his thumbs into a guard's eyes, underwater, in Naples ("The Moor").
    • One of Cesare's agents, posing as a monk, also gets stabbed in the eye by della Rovere.
  • Fan Service:
    • Topless Lotte Verbeek in most episodes.
    • Cesare. See Fetish Fuel Station Attendant.
    • Almost-naked David Oakes in "Death on a Pale Horse".
    • Lucrezia trying to seduce her husband.
    • Shirtless Luke Pasqualino. Twice.
    • Tons of topless prostitutes throughout.
    • The whipping scene. Oh Lordy, the whipping scene.
  • Femme Fatale: Lucrezia may turn out to be this, but in the meantime there's Caterina Sforza, who has an incredibly easy time seducing Cesare. Twice.
  • Fetish Fuel Station Attendant: Cesare. Count the tropes: Sexy Priest, Hell-Bent for Leather, Knight Templar Big Brother, Ho Yay, Incest Subtext, Bishonen...
    • Giulia and Sancia keep up the ladies' end.
  • Five-Bad Band
  • Five-Bad Band:(Season 2) Cesare seem to build his own little army.
  • Flynning: Between the elder Borgia brothers in "The Borgia Bull".
    • Possibly justified, in that while they are getting increasingly hostile, they are not really trying to kill each other.
  • Follow in My Footsteps: Cesare wants to be a soldier, but Rodrigo is adamant that his eldest son become a priest like him.
  • Foregone Conclusion: della Rovere becomes the next Pope.
    • Juan dies at Cesare's hand.
  • The Fundamentalist: Savonarola, who not only compares Rome with the Whore of Babylon and accuses Florence of usury, but also condemns wealth, art and comfort.
  • General Failure: Juan is bad at army stuff.
  • Girl-On-Girl Is Hot: Giulia's strategy to maintain Rodrigo's affections. It seems to be working.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Just look the assassin in "Lucrezia's Wedding", goddamn.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: It's set in Italy during the Renaissance; elaborate historical clothes are something of a given. Especially for the Pope and, of course, the women.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: This show takes an unholy glee in subverting it. The absolute crowner though, must be the demonstration of the French chained cannonballs in "The Art of War", wherein we see soldiers bisected.
  • Hair of Gold: Lucrezia, to the full embodiment of the trope so far. Time will tell if she evolves into the embodiment of the real Lucrezia's probably entirely fictional reputation as The Vamp, or if she'll become the cunning but ultimately good-hearted and victimized woman historians now think she was.
  • Hero Antagonist: della Rovere.
  • Heroic BSOD: Lucrezia after Paolo's death.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: The season 1 blooper reel has already hit the internet, and it's hysterical. Watching Jeremy Irons get his dress stepped on and try valiantly (but fail) to keep from dropping a Cluster F-Bomb in front of a child actor is worth the watch.
  • Historical Beauty Update: Apparent, but not to the same degree it was in The Tudors. Except for a few differences in hair color, it's possible to picture that if Renaissance artists painted the actors in costume, they wouldn't look too dissimilar from their real counterparts, with the notable exception of Rodrigo. Even Jeremy Irons thinks he doesn't look a thing like the actual Rodrigo and that they probably should have cast someone like James Gandolfini.
    • He was rumored by his contemporaries to be one of the most handsome guys around, much like Cesare later on (minus the syphilis marks). Maybe by the time of the portrait he just didn't care anymore, being pope and all.
  • Historical Domain Character: Virtually all of the cast. Rodrigo, Cesare, Lucrezia, Juan, and Gioffre Borgia, Vannozza dei Cattanei, Giulia Farnese, Ascanio Sforza, Giuliano della Rovere, Ludovico "Il Moro" Sforza, Giovanni Sforza, Sancia of Aragon, Prince Alfonso of Naples, Michelotto, Niccolò Machiavelli, King Charles VII of France, Savonarola . . . you get the picture. The only characters that are completely fictional are Ursula Bonadeo (Cesare had many lovers and killed many people) and Theo (Vannozza had four husbands, none were named Theo or were farmers), as well as servants Maria, Francesca, and Paolo ( who is based on a historical servant called Perotto).
  • Historical In-Joke: When news of the death of Prince Alfonso of Naples spreads to Rome, Rodrigo laments that he would have been a good match for Lucrezia.
    • Cardinal della Rovere names his pet monkey "Julius".
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: In the series Giovanni Sforza is an abusive husband and rapes Lucrezia. In real life Sforza didn't touch Lucrezia for months because she was young and childlike when they married.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Lucrezia arranges for her Domestic Abuser huntsman husband to have a fall from his horse. When they're setting his broken leg, she tells him to "be brave", thoroughly enjoying the pain he's experiencing for once.
    • Charles of France, who wants glory and battle and kills without mercy, is crowned King of Naples by Pope Alexander and sent to his new dominion. Shame about that plague.
    • Cardinal Orsini in the first episode.
    • Rodrigo, who threatens to support Ludovico Sforza's nephew's claim over Milan if Ludovico cooperates with della Rovere.While said nephew was prisoner of Ludovico. Cut to Ludovico killing the guy and helping della Rovere to prove the point to Rodrigo.
    • Cesare, who murders Giovanni Sforza, ends up potentially starting a war between the Sforzas and the Borgias and forcing Lucrezia to marry again.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Rodrigo suffers a severe case of this post-election.
  • Hot for Preacher: Ursula. She ends up entering a nunnery in penance for being accidentally party to said hot preacher's murder of her husband, though.
  • Humiliation Conga: Happens (and deservingly so) to Giovanni Sforza in "Nessuno". The process of annulling his marriage to Lucrezia involves either proving his "potency" in public in front of the entire College of Cardinals (and a deeply amused Rodrigo) or admitting he's impotent and lying about the consummation of his marriage. He chooses option B and leaves Rome to much mockery from the public, which includes a masked man holding a fruit as a Gag Penis.
  • The Hyena: Alfonso of Naples.
  • Idiot Ball: Placing Juan, a military commander with no battle experience, at the head of an army cobbled together to face the French (one of the most dominant and ruthless in the world)?! BAD PLAN, RODRIGO. The look on Cesare's face is pretty priceless, as well.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: Basically everyone except Rodrigo considers Juan to be this. Although Rodrigo does mention it after Juan curb-stomps poor Theo, voicing the popular opinion that Cesare would be better suited to the position and subtly threatening to disinherit Juan if he doesn't apologise and promise to restrain himself in the future.
  • Incest Subtext: Lucrezia and Cesare. Unsurprisingly. From early on in Season 2, it seems to be moving in the direction of full blown Incest Text.
    • For some, Rodrigo and Lucrezia's cuddling in "The French King" came off as this.
  • Infant Immortality: Brutally subverted with the French invasion of Lucca in "Death on a Pale Horse", where a young girl is skewered by one of the French soldiers.
  • Informed Ability: In "The Poisoned Chalice", both Giulia and Lucrezia have their portraits painted by "a new genius" called Pinturicchio. It's blink and you'll miss it, but in "The Moor" we see the portraits he's done on a wall, and they're about as good as the average third grader's.
  • In the Blood: Much is made of "Borgia blood", particularly by Giovanni Sforza "forgiving" Lucrezia the sin of her blood and informing her that when France invades Rome, her father, the source of the bad blood, will be deposed and killed.
    • After Paolo's murder, Lucrezia mentions that he loved her despite her "Borgia blood", and her feelings of guilt suggest that she is starting to believe that her blood might be tainted.
  • Ironic Echo: Savonarola's prophecy in "The Borgias in Love" is echoed in "Death on a Pale Horse", when it finally hits della Rovere that Savonarola foresaw the French invasion della Rovere himself brought about.
  • Irony: Juan is one giant walking example. Just to recapitulate: He refuses to marry Sancia because he considers that an illegitimate wife is beneath him, despite being illegitimate himself. He is, in fact, terrified of the possibility of not being actually Rodrigo's son but of his mother's actual husband and thus legitimate. Confused yet? Then you should know that he has an affair with the same illegitimate woman he refused to marry (who is basically his soul mate), both before and after she is married to his brother.
  • Is That What They're Calling It Now?: Rodrigo's politics lesson to Giulia. Her calf is Naples, her knee is Rome, her - er, "source of disquiet" is France, and he's about to "invade France".
  • Italian Wars
  • It's Always Spring: While remaining deliberately vague about the passing of time and moving some events up and down the time table for story-telling purposes, the first season seems to cover the years 1492-1495, but no sign of changing seasons is ever seen.
    • Although the climate in Italy is generally divided into two seasons, with mostly persistent weather throughout each of them.
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": For how well they've been doing with the rest of the names ("lu-CRETT-zee-ah" instead of "lu-CREE-zee-ah"), it's a little jarring when everyone on the show manages to pronounce Cesare as "Chessary" rather than Che-ZAR-ay
  • Kick the Dog: Poor Theo gets his ass kicked by Juan basically for being a commoner and his mother's actual husband. He believes the local gossip that Theo is his real father, and not Rodrigo.
    • Juan has a habit of doing bad things for this reason; his murder of Paolo for daring to have a relationship with Lucrezia is at least a case of this trope, if not a full-blown Moral Event Horizon.
  • Knight Templar Big Brother: Given the intense dynamic already established between the two, it's hard not to think Cesare's being entirely serious when he tells his sister he'll cut her husband's heart out with a dinner knife if he's "ungallant" towards her. As it turns out, he doesn't do anything that extreme, but he's clearly very unhappy that she's been mistreated. In season two, he follows through on that promise.
  • Kink Meme: Over here.
  • Kissing Cousins: Rodrigo catches Cardinal Sforza with his second cousin, and later, listens to him make a bawdy joke about Caterina. Although, really, there are a lot of Sforza cousins.
  • Kubrick Stare: Rodrigo's got the market cornered, though Cesare has apparently inherited it.
  • Large Ham: Jeremy Irons, not as much as one might expect, though he turns it Up to Eleven in "Death on a Pale Horse".
    • Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, even more than Rodrigo. He has absolutely No Indoor Voice.
  • Laughably Evil: Prince Alfonso. Young, spoiled, ruling in his father's stead in Naples, and very funny. Unfortunately, the French king does not seem to find him amusing enough to forgive him for letting the plague into "his" city.
  • Literary Allusion Title/Title Drop: Savonarola quotes Revelation 6:8 in "Death on a Pale Horse".

 And I looked, and beheld a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death and Hell followed with him.

  • The Mafia: Showtime's promo team seems fixated on pointing out the Godfather parallels. It's certainly not unwarranted - Mario Puzo was, after all, partly inspired by the Borgias when writing the story - but it's not quite as neat as they would have you believe.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places:
    • Micheletto and his lover Augustino do it in a graveyard.
    • Juan and one of his conquests also find themselves in this position--they're in regular bed, but they're also under a very pointy chandelier, and Lucrezia, having learned that Juan murdered Paolo, has set a candle right under the rope holding it aloft. It falls and kills Juan's bedmate while they're in the middle of sex.
    • Juan and Sancia on the table in the banquet room where the king of Naples keeps dead guests.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Cardinal della Rovere in Naples.
  • Man in the Iron Mask: Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, keeps the rightful holder of his dukedom in a tiny, filthy cell set into the floor of his dining room, almost as a freak attraction but without any physical or mental deficiencies.
  • Manly Gay: Micheletto
  • Marital Rape License: Giovanna Sforza believes in this.
  • Masquerade Ball: In Season 2 premiere "The Borgia Bull".
  • Master Poisoner: Micheletto. Lucrezia Borgia may become this in the future, depending on how many of the rumors about her the show runs with.
    • Averted with the anonymous kitchen hand who botches the poisoning of Djem the Moor.
  • May-December Romance: Rodrigo and Giulia Farnese. In real life Rodrigo was somewhere around his sixties and Giulia sixteen when they first hooked up. In the series, she is clearly much younger than him, but not that young, since she's old enough to have had a child and act as a mentor to the 14 year old Lucrezia.
  • Misaimed Fandom: To some degree. Neil Jordan intended to dispel a couple of the more outrageous rumors about the family--particularly that in which Cesare and Lucrezia were involved in an incestuous affair. Guess what is the fandom's most popular ship? In fact, the Will They or Won't They? aspect of the pairing (never mind what Jordan says) is often mentioned in articles about the series, and Showtime began promoting it quite early on.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: The first episode features a pet Capuchin Monkey from South America in a prominent way. Notice that the scene takes place within days of Rodrigo's election in August 1492, when Columbus still had to complete his first voyage.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Of the L-shaped variety for Cesare and Ursula in "The French King". Giulia wears one in this promotional poster.
  • Moe Greene Special: Cardinal della Rovere dispatches a spy with a dagger in "Lucrezia's Wedding".
  • Naughty Nuns: Genderflipped with pretty much every male cleric we see except Savonarola. Ursula, after joining the convent, is trying really hard to not become one, despite Cesare making this very difficult for her.
  • Naughty Under the Table: Sancia feels up Juan.
  • Necessarily Evil: Cardinal della Rovere struggles with whether or not he can bring himself to be what he sees as this, even asking aloud during confession if one act of evil can be excused if it prevents many greater ones.
    • Rodrigo, with his many Affably Evil Pet the Dog moments, and his sincerely held belief that the common people should be able to benefit from his plans to restore Rome, is trying to be this.
  • Neck Snap: Micheletto the assassin does this in "The Moor", twice.
    • He does this again in "Paolo" to a prostitute who was acting as a spy, though he seemed to strangle her for a bit first.
  • Nepotism: Rodrigo's appointments and politicking in the name of all of his children is seen as this, but the elevation of Cesare to Cardinal is perceived as the most appalling.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: In one of the promos for the first season, a completely nude Giulia Farnese advises Lucrezia to use her female beauty for gain, reassuring that "it can be deadly"; the two are apparently modeling for Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. This scene does not appear in the actual series, even though Giulia says the exact same words to Lucrezia at some point. Also, if all you knew about the series came from the promo material, you might think Cesare and Lucrezia's relationship is a lot more incestuous than it actually is.
  • New Old Flame: Vannozza's actual husband, Theo.
  • No Indoor Voice: Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. Some subtitlers had to transcribe his dialogue in all caps.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. Giulia Farnese tells Rodrigo they can't have sex because it's her time of the month. He doesn't care. (And we even see a spot of menstrual blood on her nightie.)
  • Nuns-N-Rosaries: Ursula feels guilty.
  • Oblivious Younger Sibling: Gioffre.
  • Old Man Marrying a Child: 14-year-old Lucrezia is forced to marry the much older Giovanni Sforza. Unfortunately, he believes in Marital Rape License.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Abounds.
  • Only Sane Man: Cardinal della Rovere and Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, and even they have to get their hands dirty to survive.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Vittoria is not particularly convincing as a boy.
  • Parental Favoritism: While Rodrigo is ambitious for all of his children and is doing his best to boost all of them up in the world, he's blinded to Juan's more unsavoury character traits and refuses to allow the far-more capable Cesare to replace him in his career. Lucrezia, however, is clearly his favorite.
  • Parent with New Paramour: Rodrigo and Giulia, with Cesare left to run interference to keep Vannozza from making scenes.
  • Pass Fail: Rodrigo's enemies believe him and his family to be marranos- that is, Sephardic Jews who converted to Catholicism sometime ago. Della Rovere, who has no liking for the Borgia family, nevertheless finds this to be an unfair accusation and a grave insult, which still carries some pretty deep Unfortunate Implications.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Machiavelli engages in this with Charles. Piero de Medici has just basically surrendered Florence to the French, against Machiavelli's wishes. When he meets Charles at the gates he politely asks him to not point his lance forward, as this is not how you enter the city of a friend. Charles complies and points it upwards, but then it would not fit beneath the gate, forcing him to point it backwards.
  • Pet the Dog: Even Jerkass Alfonso, who mocks his aged and deaf father, is still distraught when the old man dies.
    • Lucrezia's husband, who comes across as a Complete Monster in general life, has one moment where he half-admits that he "perhaps was not kind" to Lucrezia, and "forgives [her] the accident of her birth" (ie. being lower-born than him and a Borgia.) While this is a combination of a massive understatement and truly staggering arrogance (in addition to insulting her beloved family), it is an attempt to be nice to her.
  • Playing Against Type: Ronin Vibert, known for playing the pathetic and timid Lepidus on Rome, plays Lucrezia's Complete Monster rapist husband Giovanni Sforza.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Cardinal Orsini attempts to poison the Pope during a dinner, but Cesare bribes the assassin to switch their cups.
  • The Pope: One of the most controversial in History.
  • Power Blonde: Lucrezia
  • The Prince: Niccolo Machiavelli's hugely important political text was written, in part, in reaction to his encounters with Cesare when he was serving as Florentine diplomat. He shows up in "Lucrezia's Wedding".
  • Rape as Drama: Teenage Lucrezia is raped repeately after she is married to the sadist Giovanni Sforza. The trauma of the experience apparently morphs her into the scheming and lustful character she has entered the History books as.
  • Razor Floss: That Micheletto is a dangerous guy.
  • Really Gets Around: About half the cast.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Rodrigo gives one to Juan in "The French King", after Juan curb-stomps Theo.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The only reason Cesare is able to kill Giovanni Sforza is because, even though his enemies knew he was dangerous and ruthless, nobody thought he would be reckless enough to brutally murder a man of that rank on his own turf in broad daylight with no pre-planning.
    • Actually, a lot of Borgia successes seem to rely on this. Consequently, a lot of them appear on the series' Crowning Moment of Awesome page.
  • Replacement Goldfish: YMMV, but many fans think that Ursula Bonadeo was this for Cesare after Lucrezia was married off. She's blonde, wears hairnets, and suffers from an abusive husband... Hmmm...
  • Royal Brat: Juan.
    • Alfonso of Naples, too.
  • Royal We: Rodrigo adopts this after being elevated to Pope. King Charles of France also uses it.
  • Screaming Birth: Lucrezia in "Nessuno", though she's a bit better than most, with lots of standard grunting and heavy breathing too.
    • Plus, let's be honest--she's a teen mom living in an era when half the women die during/shortly after childbirth. And there isn't any pain medication. She did pretty well, considering.
  • Sexy Priest: Though Cesare wants desperately to stop being the second part. Rodrigo as well, if that's your thing.
  • Separated by the Wall: Cesare and Ursula in the confessional.
  • Ship Tease: Even though Word of God has repeatedly said they're not gonna go "there" with Cesare/Lucrezia, the promo material and the occasional ambiguous scene or line throw a bone to the (quite sizable) part of the fandom that wouldn't mind.
  • Sinister Minister: All of them.
  • Sociopathic Hero: He may not completely be there yet, but Cesare is willing to get his hands bloody for love and family--and if history's any indication, he's probably shaping up to be the less honorable sociopath as well.
  • Spiritual Successor: To The Tudors, though Neil Jordan had been attempting to get the project made as a film long before The Tudors existed on television. It's an odd case of a preexisting concept being turned into a kind of Dolled-Up Installment when it comes to spiritual succession.
  • Stalking Is Love: Cesare with Ursula, to some degree.
  • Start of Darkness: Season one is arguably this for Cesare and Lucrezia, though it isn't solidified until season two. Being raped and Paolo's death were arguably the most defined moments for her. He is noticeably different after killing Giovanni Sforza.
  • Storming the Castle: The French armies sack Lucca, throwing fear into the rest of Italy.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Vittoria the artisan's apprentice in S2
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Lucrezia, and to a lesser extent Giulia and Ursula, are type 1. Lucrezia manages to get a divorce out of type 4.
  • "Take That!" Kiss: Rodrigo gives two hilarious ones to Orsini and della Rovere, two of the cardinals who oppose him.
    • Classic example of Throw It In; Irons just thought it'd be funny to see the looks on their faces and went for it.
  • The Three Faces of Eve: Lucrezia ("Child"), Giulia ("Seductress"), and Vannozza ("Mother").
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Cesare firmly believes in this, especially in regards to his murder of Giovanni Sforza. It's not enough for him to kill him, but he has to stab him repeatedly and then attempt to cut his heart out of his body. Too bad he gets interrupted before he can find it.
  • This Is My Name on Foreign: Very mild example--Rodrigo gives his papal name a Latin number when spoken aloud ("Alexander Sextus" instead of "Alexander the Sixth"). Justified by the fact that at this point in history (and indeed until the 1960s), Church business was conducted in Latin.
  • Title Drop: Various episode titles, including Cesare in "Nessuno" (which is Italian for "nobody"). Also a Chekhov's Gun.
  • To the Pain: The doctor of Juan while explaining the treatment for his affection.
  • Token Good Teammate: Possibly Gioffre Borgia, who historically lacked the ambitions of his siblings and just wanted to settle down in the country with a family.
  • Too Dumb to Live: In "Nessuno"--Really, French soldiers? You're going to hold Micheletto and Cesare hostage and then ask them about their silently efficient killing methods and then ASK THEM TO SHOW YOU? And you don't think they're going to demonstrate on you? Good grief.
  • Traumatic Haircut / Important Haircut: When Ursula enters a convent after her husband's death, her hair is cut off. Notable, though, in that this is by choice, and the trauma in question is what lead to her making this decision rather than the haircut itself.
  • Unwanted Spouse: Ursula's husband and Giovanni Sforza. Gioffre and Sancia may become this for each other.
    • Historically, Gioffre loved Sancia, but Sancia clearly slept around on Gioffre.
  • Villain Protagonist: The Borgia family may be sympathetic, but straightforwardly heroic they are not.
  • Vorpal Pillow: "The Moor"
  • War Is Hell: The French troops march into Lucca and kill any man, woman, or child in their way. Charles attempts to justify it to a shocked della Rovere by saying "'tis war, Cardinal, plain and simple".
    • Which is more than mildly surprising, given della Rovere's historical actions after the time-frame of the series. Perhaps the series intends to show that for him, it will eventually get easier.
      • Historically, he was at times something akin to a condottiere even BEFORE the time-frame of the series.
  • We Can Rule Together: Cesare tries a variation of this with della Rovere. Although it's more of a "Dude, help me rein in my dad" kind of deal.
  • What Could Have Been: It was originally supposed to be a film, simply titled "Borgia", with Colin Farrell and Scarlett Johansson as Cesare and Lucrezia, but funding fell through. Director Neil Jordan eventually found the money with the Showtime network, and thus a series was born.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Prince Djem really didn't know where he was getting into... Neither, for that matter, did della Rovere when he sought help from the French army. However...
  • With Us or Against Us: Rodrigo actually delivers this line to the Cardinals when demanding Florence to resist against the French army and decides that Savonarola must burn
  • Woman Scorned: Vannozza, especially in "The Assassin", when she discovers Rodrigo is sleeping with Giulia Farnese.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • The French soldiers.
    • Micheletto drowns an altar boy.
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