Who will the audience hate now? The king is dead. There are many characters to hate and loathe but none will repel and disgust an audience quite the way Joffrey Baratheon did in his short time as prince and the king of the realm. Jack Gleason played the part with malevolence brilliance, gleeful barbarity and brutality, and a joy barely any other character feels in Westeros. He was the worst. He chopped off Ned Stark’s head; he reminded Sansa constantly of her father’s grisly demise during their engagement period; he tortured whores for sport; his brave and macho public persona fell apart during the Battle of Blackwater Bay when he ran off from the battlefield, and the writing reminded us of the monster when he gleefully cheered the use of severed heads as weapons launched from catapults. The idea that Joffrey won—only Joffrey—when the Freys and the Boltons betrayed the Starks at the Red Wedding was the very worst. Lo and behold another wedding happens not much longer after the Red Wedding—this time a purple wedding—where Joffrey celebrates more power, more invulnerability, and where he reminds everyone in Westeros what kind of sadistic and raving mad king will rule over them for years or decades. Joffrey uses dwarfs to reenact the war of the five kings. Joffrey offends the Dornish, the Tyrells, the Starks, horrifies his grandfather, digs his claws into the still open wound of Brienne’s, and ferociously eats pigeon pie while downing rich wine from the south, insulting Tyrion all the while, and then dies, dies, dies—but not until he points the finger at his uncle.
Game-changing twists no longer change the game in the game of throne because Robb’s death, Catelyn’s death, the deaths of Renly and Robert, Ned Stark, and etc., are part of the game of thrones. Power plays resulting from power struggles motivate characters to make these kinds of moves. What matters more than what happens and how it happens in any story is why it happens. Robb died because he insulted the Freys. Robert died because of drink and a scornful wife. Renly died because of Stannis’ absolute claim to the throne, which Renly would not give up to his brother. Catelyn died because she was Ned Stark’s wife and because power does not transfer if the king dies without his mother dying too. Joffrey dies because he pissed off his uncle. Maybe Tyrion didn’t do it. Pointing the finger at a character usually absolves that character of the crime. So, after you pour your celebratory drinks and make your ‘Joffrey-is-dead!’ babies, ponder why the king died in that brutally painful way—choking, bleeding from the eyes and from the nose, and on his wedding day. There are many characters that want him dead, but most have not the power. The Starks are scattered, distracted, and Sansa can barely look at any Lannister before Ser Dontos pulls her away from the king’s death with the words ‘Come with me if you want to live.” Any wise consumer of art—whether that consumers watches a story or reads a story—should, with a microscope, pay close attentions to the details. In TV and film, the watcher should observe the quick, sudden shots of characters, particular lines of dialogue, conversations held in previous seasons, and then follow those links, until one hits upon what one missed in that initial experience of the work of art. All of which is to say the mystery of who killed Joffrey Baratheon is a jolly good one.
“The Lion and the Rose” continues the stories from last season with the fourth season now a ¾ of the way through the adaptation of A Storm of Swords. The final 20-25 minutes of the episode takes place at the royal wedding. Cersei remembers her royal venom when she makes a move against the new queen. Prince Oberon introduces himself to Cersei and Tywin with more venom, delicious venom. That introduction scene showed the tremendous character of Oberon much better than last week’s whorehouse scene that preceded his meeting with Tyrion Lannister. Oberon, in two minutes, insulted the family, their rule, the kingdom, and praised the more southern kingdoms in Westeros where the rape and murder of children aren’t ignored. Jaime threatens Loras. Loras endures the threat and then takes a shot of his own by reminding Jaime of what and whom he’ll never have. Throughout the wedding feast are reminders of what little changed with the war’s end. Brienne and Margaery bond over Renly. Oberon’s present to avenge atrocities committed by the Lannisters. Joffrey’s death underlines the line of difference between stability and instability. Reckless brutes don’t recognize the line.
Northward, Roose Bolton learns of what his bastard did to Theon Greyjoy, a very valuable hostage now rendered worthless. Ramsey, a brute but a less reckless one, lets his father know about the trick Theon played while sacking Winterfell. Roose sets men off to find Bran and Rickon, promising land and money to the men who capture either of the boys. The first scene of the episode follows Ramsey and a nameless female ridding themselves of a girl who’s play they tired of. Bran touched a tree that sent a series of vague images through his brain, confounding to the audience but understood by him. His journey with the Reeds and Hodor continues northward.
At Dragonstone, Stannis and Melisandre, along with Selyse, burned Selyse’s brother, making him an offering to the Lord of Light. Stannis continues to desire his rightful place in King’s Landing. Davos continues to look disturbed by each action taken by his king and the red priestess. Shireen’s the main piece of the little time spent at Dragonstone. Shireen is among maybe five innocent characters in the story. She tells Melisandre that she didn’t understand why her uncle had to die. Melisandre tells her of the Lord of Light, the falsity of the Septons, the Seven heavens and the Seven hells, and the truth that the only hell is present existence and only heaven the eternal embrace of R’hllor’s flames. Melisandre’s connection with her involves touching the greyscale on Shireen’s cheek. Greyscale keeps Shireen in Dragonstone’s darkness, making Melisandre’s powerful gesture an extension of her faith.
Westeros isn’t a total hell, though. The king is dead.
-Game of Thrones re-cast Tommen. Tommen’s one of my favorite characters in the series.
-No Littlefinger yet, but Varys pushed Tyrion to cruelly force Shae from King’s Landing. Of course, Littlefinger’s a ways away from the capital.
-George R.R. Martin wrote the episode. Alex Graves directed it.