I talked last season about Game of Thrones’ dislike for weddings, not to mention my own dislike for the rather narcissistic event, but damn, does this show hate weddings or what? I knew Joffrey’s death was coming since I read the books, but my enjoyment wasn’t hindered because every time he took a sip from his cup I expected him to start choking. We really need to get a count going of how many people have died at weddings on this show.
I imagine George R. R. Martin, who wrote tonight’s episode, knew those of us who read the book would be in suspense, waiting for Joffrey to die, perhaps even knowing we’d be craving it. In typical fashion, Martin doesn’t allow us to enjoy Joffrey’s death since Tyrion is almost immediately fingered as the culprit by Cersei (in a great acting moment by Lena Headey whose face looks absolutely twisted as she goes back and forth between grief and anger). Martin knows Joffrey is one of the most hated characters, but he also knows Tyrion is one of the most loved. By making Joffrey’s death come at the expense of Tyrion’s freedom he causes an interesting reaction in the audience. Joffrey is responsible for much of the evil that has befallen our beloved Starks, but Tyrion is responsible for many of the more heartwarming moments the series has given us. This leads us to be briefly happy before going, “Oh, shit.” It’s a great duality and one the show will no doubt explore further next episode as the repercussions for Tyrion being in the wrong place at the wrong time become more apparent.
Joffrey’s death is played out as more gruesome that even some of his haters would like. Instead of being quickly stabbed or shot with a crossbow, he slowly chokes before spitting out blood and turning purple all while looking at everyone around him, hoping someone will be able to help him. A quick death would’ve allowed the audience more catharsis, but playing it out longer takes a little bit away from the death and when that is combined with Tyrion’s fate up in the air, Joffrey’s death becomes significantly less satisfying. It’s an appropriate twist for Game of Thrones as it seldom likes to let you enjoy any of the deaths without reminding you of the repercussions. Joffrey’s death is a brilliant twist and it’s played out spectacularly here by Martin and director Alex Graves (a veteran of The West Wing).
The lengthy scene leading up to Joffrey’s death is similarly excellent and actor Jack Gleason, who plays Joffrey, gets to show off just how good he is before he exits the show. I can’t have been the only person who laughed when he lost complete interest in Brienne once he learned she wasn’t the one who stabbed Renly (it was the smoke monster from Melisandre’s vagina, remember? Now there’s something I never thought I’d type.). His slicing of the pie is absurd and then repugnant when Graves offers us a quick shot of the dead doves he killed when he cleaved the cake. It’s an appropriate image considering just how vulgar he is when he tries and takes Tyrion down by forcing him to watch dwarves perform a comedic reenactment of the War of the Five Kings and then telling Tyrion to be his cupbearer. Gone are Tyrion’s comebacks in previous episodes since Joffrey refuses to let Tyrion have the last word, this time high on power and eager to savor every moment of Tyrion’s humiliation.
Joffrey is far from the only character to belittle others in tonight’s episode. Cersei, angry at Margery’s popularity, informs Maester Pycelle to give the leftover food to the dogs instead of to the poor as Margery wished. She’s not satisfied with only that, though; no, Margery makes sure to bring down Pycelle, telling him how much he annoys her and telling him she’ll feed him to the dogs should he not follow her instructions. It’s over the top because Cersei is well aware she’s losing her power, Oberyn points it out by referring to her as former Queen Regent, and she’s trying to exercise what little of it remains.
And that’s what we see on display through most of tonight’s episode: people who desperately need to convince not just others, but also themselves that they have power and that they’re important in Westeros. Their actions are not simply self-centered, but also homicidal. Cersei’s actions will result in the poor continuing to starve, while Ramsay Snow, who we briefly see this week, shows off his power by having dogs hunt down and rip apart a woman who was becoming a distraction in his court thanks to her looks.
Westeros is an ugly world made uglier by the insecure, petty people who hold power. Let’s hope Bran’s visions will lead to a better future. Bran/Hodor 2016, eh?
Donald McCarthy is a teacher and writer. His fiction has appeared with KZine, Cover of Darkness, and The Washington Pastime. His non-fiction has been featured in The Progressive Populist, Screen Spy, and AOL Patch News. And here, too, but that was probably obvious. His twitter is @donaldtmccarthy and his website is donaldmccarthy.com.