Hello all, and welcome once again to the great Chris & Nikki Game of Thrones co-blog. This post is a very special post, as we say a sombre goodbye to one of the show’s best loved characters, someone who warmed our hearts with his gentle generosity and simple compassion for his fellow …
Nah, I can’t keep that up. Joffrey is dead! Ha!
But in the interests of professionalism, I will attempt to keep my gloating to a minimum. I’ll let Nikki do the grave-dancing. But first …
Christopher: This episode is an excellent reminder that, however much we might complain about GRRM killing off our favourite characters, every so often he kills the people we hate with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. The wee prick is dead! But because I knew that was coming, and because I have enjoyed your vitriolic loathing of the little shit lo these three years, Nikki, I will let you do the first jig upon his grave in this post.
Instead, I will begin by talking about the beginning of this episode: last season we left Theon in the throes of torture, mind-games, and castration. This season we see that young Ramsay Bolton—sorry, Ramsay Snow—was not merely tormenting Theon for his own amusement. Oh, make no mistake: he was totally amused by the whole process, the sick bastard … but it was all also done with an eye to breaking and subjugating Theon to the Bastard of Bolton’s will.
Poor Theon. I know you have very little sympathy for him, Nikki, but I wonder if the events of this episode have softened that perspective at all. We first see him hobbling along as fast as he can behind Ramsay and his (apparently) equally sociopathic lady friend (I think I heard him call her Miranda?) as they chase a terrified girl through the woods. I must confess that, watching this scene, I could not help but think the same thing as when similar moments occur in A Dance With Dragons—namely, a flashback to that moment in the Simpsons when Ranier Wolfcastle announces at the local community center that he will be teaching people how to hunt “ze deadliest prey … maahhn.” Apparently, Ramsay took the remedial course, in which he learned to hunt helpless terrified chambermaids (I’d like to see him try to hunt Brienne).
However much my mind may jump to such inappropriate allusions, this opening scene serves as a reminder later that Ramsay is only partially a calculating psychopath, and that at heart he takes perverse joy in inflicting terror and pain. For me, the most affecting—and horrifying—moment of this scene is when Ramsay sics his hounds on the wounded girl, which we don’t see but hear … instead we see Theon’s tortured face as she screams. Again, Nikki, you have to admit: however much you might not care about Theon’s torments, Alfie Allen shows his acting chops in this episode. He has little enough to say, but shows everything on his face. In those few seconds of hearing the girl’s screams mingled with the hounds’ growls, we see Theon’s own terror, horror, fear, hatred, and self-loathing … in short, we see Reek.
And we see Reek again when Ramsay commands him to shave him in front of his father. “Theon was our enemy,” he tells Roose Bolton. “Reek? Reek will never betray us.” Roose has not appeared in the series as he is in the novels: in the novels he is described as slightly built, rheumy-eyed, pale, and generally physically unprepossessing … and yet carrying with him cold threat and danger, a man who looks through you. In A Game of Thrones (the novel), when Catelyn suggests at one point that Robb needs someone with cold cunning to lead his southern forces, Robb presciently replies “Roose Bolton. That man scares me.” In the series, Roose (played by actor Michael McElhatton) is somewhat more physically imposing than I imagined the character, but he does a good job of conveying Roose’s cold, calculating nature. We meet his new wife briefly: Lady Walda, a daughter of the Frey clan, part of his reward for helping Walder Frey betray the Starks. I’m probably spoiling a point that will be revealed in a later episode, but the deal with Frey was that Roose’s dowry would be his betrothed’s weight in gold. And so without hesitation he chose the most corpulent of the Frey girls. Roose is not, in other words, a man swayed by anything so fickle as sensual appetites (a reason he was probably disgusted with Robb Stark’s willingness to betray a marriage contract for love); and so we see his disappointment at the pleasure his bastard takes in torturing and killing. “We’ve been flaying our enemies for a thousand years!” Ramsay protests when his father takes umbrage at his treatment of Theon. “The flayed man is on our banners!” “MY banners,” Roose corrects him abruptly. “You’re not a Bolton. You’re a Snow.”
But however much Roose might regret the trust he put in his bastard, Ramsay’s exhibition of Theon’s compliance impresses him in spite of himself, and he suggests that, if Ramsay can retake Moat Caillin, perhaps—perhaps!—that designation of Snow can be reconsidered.
I’ll ask you what you thought of the Ramsay/Theon scenes, Nikki, but first—please, do your Dance of Joy on the corpse of the Wee Prick.
Ding dong, the little shit’s dead!
Which little shit?
The INBRED shit!
Ding dong, the lit-tle shit is DEAD!!
Ah. You know, I said last season that Joffrey deserved to die, and yet I didn’t want him to because I enjoyed hating him so much that my enjoyment in despising him outweighed wanting to see him die a horrible death. Now, I shall revel in the moment (even though I know I’ll probably miss him soon). Never has a mess of vomit and blood and snot been so… beautiful. I had no idea this was going to happen; as far as I’m concerned, GRRM kills off the characters we love, and the only time a bad guy dies is when it’s someone we haven’t much invested in (like Polliver in the previous episode). To take out the most despicable of the Lannisters? The king? The single worst person on television right now? Glorious.
And by the way, Joffrey had to die for so, so many reasons, but chucking money at Sigur Rós and telling them to stop playing and get out? DIE, YOU LITTLE SHIT, DIE! (Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows my deep devotion for the Icelandic band, who play the minstrels at the party and then sing “Rains of Castamere” over the end credits; they are easily my favourite band and the best live band I’ve ever seen. How DARE he?!)
But just in case it wasn’t clear that his death is definitely a good thing, they’ve really upped his dickishness these last episodes, especially in his despicable treatment of Tyrion. First bringing out a bunch of dwarf jesters to reenact the war between the kings of Westeros, once again beheading Ned Stark before his daughter Sansa, then treating Tyrion like garbage in front of the hundreds of guests, Joffrey’s sniveling face is the one every viewer most wants to smack, and has been since the first season.
Tyrion, I’ll let you have the honour:
However, beyond our personal grievances, and him being a horrible person in general, Joffrey is, quite simply, a terrible king. He’s weak, too scared to run into battle (as Tyrion brilliantly reminds him when he stands up at the wedding and tells Joffrey to reenact for all the guests how he had handled the Battle of Blackwater). He never, ever listens to any sort of counsel, whether it’s from Tyrion or Tywin or Cersei or Baelish. He knows very little about Westeros in general; remember in the previous episode where Daarios handed Daenerys the flowers and told her that in order to rule, she needs to understand the flora and fauna of the country, the people and what they need and want, and every bit of the landscape? Joffrey wouldn’t know what the difference between a flora and fauna was, much less have any sense of his people. The reason the marriage to Margaery was going to be positive was because she could stand before the people and say all the food was being given to the poor (an offer that Cersei quickly and privately repeals), which is the sort of thing Joffrey would never think of doing, but she tells everyone he did to make him look like a good and benevolent king. A king isn’t any sort of king if he doesn’t have one iota of support from his subjects.
The question now is, who could have done it? Was it Tyrion? He was holding the goblet, but there was really no time that I saw (having watched the wedding scene three times now) where he could have slipped something into that goblet. Could it have been Sansa, who holds the goblet at one point? (Again, she doesn’t seem to slip anything into it.) The final glass of wine was poured from the decanter sitting before Cersei, and she clearly didn’t do it, but that wine had to have been brought in from the kitchens. Sansa is quickly whisked away by the fool we’d seen in the previous episode, the man whose life she’d saved back in the second season, as if he’d known all along this was going to happen. Could he have poisoned Joffrey? Suddenly showing up the day before the wedding to say “heya” to Sansa and then grabbing her by the hand and telling her to run away seems a little suspicious. Could it have been the pie? Joffrey was drinking the wine the whole time, but it’s only after he takes a bit of the pie that he begins choking. Margaery is the one feeding it to him, and she never takes a bite (it’s passed around to others but you never see them bite into it, either). If someone had laced the pie, they would have been chancing killing everyone sitting up on the dais. It makes more sense to have put something in Joffrey’s goblet, but again, he’s using that goblet through the entire scene and it’s only at the end he begins choking.
In any case, there are so many people who would want him dead, the possibilities of who actually killed Joffrey are endless. Jaime for mocking him in the previous episode? (Jaime is his father, and seems to know that, so I doubt he’d kill his own son.)
The court jester?
Tyrion, just because he knows more than anyone what a sniveling little shit he is? (And for mercilessly slicing to bits the book that Tyrion had bought as a wedding gift, which had probably been handprinted and cost a fortune?)
Tywin? Seems like a long shot but since Joffrey’s such a horrible king, perhaps he was cleaning house with him the same way he was trying to do with Jaime? (If he’s willing to kill Shae, the woman Tyrion loves, why not kill the result of his twin children having an incestuous relationship?)
Lady Olenna? She seems pretty darn unfazed by the whole thing, and the goblet that he grabs right near the end is sitting on her table.
My money’s on Jónsi from Sigur Rós. As if I needed a reason to love that man more.
I’m sure the mystery will continue throughout the season, perhaps longer, perhaps just until the next episode, who knows, but at this point it doesn’t matter. All that matters is the king is dead, which will no doubt plunge all of Westeros into war once again. Although, we as viewers know that for all the talk of peace in the land and the war finally being over, there’s nothing but scheming and planning for more wars happening all around. That war will never be over.
I do want to add, however, one last time, that I think Jack Gleeson played Joffrey brilliantly. He was SO despicable, not just in his words, but in the way Gleeson held his lips in a constant sneer, in the way he always nonchalantly leaned against the sword on his hip, or crossed his arms in laid-back defiance, or flicked his hands about as if dismissing the one in front of him. I couldn’t imagine any actor playing him as perfectly as Gleeson did, and I really will miss the way he portrayed his character.
Back to Theon, you’re right, I’ve never been a fan, and perhaps it’s just that I’m not a fan of Alfie Allen. I don’t know why, he just bugs me. But it’s never clouded my judgment about the character and what is happening to him; I think his life has been difficult, being taken from his father as a spoil of war and being a second-rate child to Ned Stark his whole life, constantly reminded he is not a Stark, but a POW, essentially. And then when he finally returns to his own father, Balon shows him even less love and respect than did Ned. He’s spent his life trying to prove he’s someone, and now he’s been tortured both physically and psychologically, and reduced to this sniveling, shaking thing we see before us. The scene of him shaving Ramsay Snow is masterfully executed, from Ramsay’s flippant way of telling him that Robb Stark was dead, to Roose’s very subtle look that he might actually be impressed by what his bastard son has done to the creature, to Theon looking one second like he’s about to lose his mind and try to take all of them out with a razor, then keeping it together and getting back to the task of shaving his slave driver, and calmly and politely telling them the truth about Bran and Rickon, probably the most important bit of information anyone in the Seven Kingdoms could have right now.
Now that you’ve allowed me to rejoice and kick up my heels with glee (I thank you for that, sir), how did the death of Joffrey on-screen compare to what you read in the books?
Meanwhile, I shall continue to do the dance of joy.
Christopher: No longer do the dance of joy, Numfar! For though we rejoice at our least favourite Lannister’s timely and appropriately agonizing death, it looks as though our favourite Lannister will be taking the fall for it—whether he did it or not. And obviously I know who was actually responsible for the assassination, and just as obviously won’t betray that fact … and even more obviously will watch in glee as you try and figure it out.
But one way or another, Tyrion has been accused, and suddenly all those images from the trailers of him in a small, dark room make more sense. Cersei is obviously unhinged by her son’s death, which creates a perfect storm between her mother’s grief, her general irrationality, and her hatred of Tyrion. Will Tywin (reluctantly) defend his son? Will Jaime intercede? Or is this the end of Tyrion? Stay tuned!
This was a very Lannister-heavy episode, which makes sense … the final scenes can’t help but echo the toast raised by Tyrion at the beginning, “To the proud Lannister children: the dwarf, the cripple, and the mother of madness!” Joffrey’s madness—or at least his complete and utter willfulness and petulance—is certainly at the forefront of this episode. There is a brief moment when he seems to have attained some semblance of grace and generosity, first when he is magnanimous with Margaery’s fatuous father Mace Tyrell, and then again when he manages to be gracious about Tyrion’s gift of a book. Of course, that lasts only until he receives Tywin’s gift, which is exactly the kind of toy his sociopathic little mind delights in and cannot resist from cleaving Tyrion’s gift in two (it’s probably just as well there wasn’t a hapless servant in reach). As you say, Nikki, the book looks expensive, and it is—in the novel, Tyrion is beside himself, murmuring that that had been one of only four copies of the book in the world. We know, of course, how much Tyrion loves books: that he gave such a rare and valuable tome to Joffrey probably wasn’t the wisest course. He must have known such a gift would goad him (in the novel, after he hacks it apart, he sneers at Tyrion that “You owe me another gift, Uncle”); it would have been smarter to have given him some sort of innocuous weapon, but I tend to see the gift of that book as a moment of genuine hope and kindness on Tyrion’s part, the infinitesimal hope that Joffrey might actually learn something from it, and a kind gesture from someone who knows the true value of books and learning. Whatever moment of sanity Joffrey appears to have had vanishes as he acts out like a spoiled child on Christmas morning, so outraged by a gift that displeases him that he breaks it.
I think it is this essentially childish nature that makes Joffrey’s madness at once so infuriating and so terrifying. Imagine giving a willful toddler power of life and death, and adding into that mix innate sadism, and that’s what we have with Joffrey. His petulance at his own wedding reception is emblematic of this, when he gets impatient with Sigur Ros; also in his planned “entertainment,” which is comedy of the lowest possible brow. Any more lowbrow and it would be underground. What is most interesting about this scene is less the show itself than the reactions of its audience: how everyone responds is a good insight into their character. Margaery at first looks amused and happy, smiling and clapping—probably relieved to see her new husband in good humour for the first time that day—but quickly becomes perturbed as she realizes the cruel intent behind it. Joffrey’s little brother Prince Tommen, who is sitting beside Tyrion, laughs until he also suddenly realizes that it is meant to mock his uncle (his quick, chagrined sideways look at Tyrion exhibits more humanity in a nanosecond than Joffrey has shown in three seasons). Loras Tyrell looks disgusted, and exits as soon as the dwarf Renly is humiliated; his father, Mace Tyrell, looks dismayed; Sansa is in shock; Tywin is at first mildly amused, but slowly grows more obviously impatient with the proceedings; Varys can’t quite keep an appalled expression from his face.
The only person who seems as amused by the show (besides a handful of sycophants in the audience) is Cersei, who watches the whole event with a smug, indulgent smile. “Mother of madness,” indeed—it’s as if she’s the only person watching who hasn’t realized what a monster, and a childish one at that, her precious Joffrey is. She’s even delighted and amused when Joffrey is so convulsed with laughter that he spits wine.
And then … well, the entire confrontation between Joffrey and Tyrion plays out almost exactly as it does in the novel, and if possible, it is even tenser. I’ve got to hand it to GRRM: you know something bad is going down from the moment Tyrion verbally smacks Joffrey down, but you assume it’s going to happen to Tyrion … that he’ll be driven past whatever reserves of patience and calm he has to say or do something that will be unforgivable. It’s one thing to smack Joffrey when he’s still just a prince, with only the Hound and the horses in the stable as witnesses. It would be something else entirely to cuss out the king, or worse, strike him in front of hundreds of witnesses at his own wedding. And I honestly thought, the first time I read it, that that would be Tyrion’s downfall.
Instead, it’s Joffrey’s. But also Tyrion’s, as the distraught Cersei—showing herself as unreasoning at her son’s death as she was blind to her son’s life—points the finger at him.
But as delightful as it is to dance on the little shit’s grave, I suppose we should address the other two key parts of this episode: the ongoing saga of Lady Melissandre’s purgation of nonblievers in Stannis’ household, and Bran’s evolving talents as a skinchanger and seer. What did you make of the Stannis bits, Nikki? That scene does not, to the best of my memory, appear in the novels.
Nikki: You mean something ELSE happened in this episode? I’ll have to consult my notes… why yes, you’re right. I wanted to note first the sheer beauty of the production of the wedding scene: from the fire eaters and jugglers to the music and the banners; from the gorgeous dresses and hairstyles to the setting (I believe they actually filmed this scene in Croatia), once again the production values and set design of this show just send it soaring above everything else on television. And you commented on the direction of this scene, which is so true: Joffrey’s antics with the little people dancing about in their silly costumes is one thing, but far more important are the reactions to those around him, and I think the look on Varys’s face is the most telling of all. He’s the spider, the one who flits from side to side, knowing exactly what to do or say that will keep him alive, but still performing his little Machiavellian machinations behind the scenes.
He’s the one who has arranged for Shae’s comfortable life across the sea; it just took Tyrion to be cruel enough to get her on the boat (another terrible moment in this episode that is overshadowed by the ending). Tyrion certainly looks devastated when Joffrey chops the book to bits, but much of his moroseness can be chalked up to the fact that he’s just overheard Cersei consulting with Tywin, and he knows what he has to do. He finally found someone who was able to look past his physical stature to love the man, and he has to give her up. “You’re a whore! Sansa is fit to bear my children, and you are not.” Watch the body language in this scene; he stutters and stammers his way through his speech, and is unable to look Shae in the eye as he does so. What he’s doing is saving her life, but he’s destroying her soul — and part of his own — in doing so.
But now… to Dragonstone! “Lord of Light protect us, for the night is dark and full of terrors!” As we know, his wife is more of an acolyte and devoted follower of the Lord of Light than is Stannis, and when we first arrive at Dragonstone in season 4, it’s to see Selyse’s own brother being burned at the stake as a heretic. While most sisters would be horrified, begging Melisandre to reconsider, Selyse is so filled with the spirit of the Lord of Light that her face is glowing, and she looks like she’s on the verge of ecstacy. “Did you see? Their souls. It was their souls. Our Lord took them, did you see?” Stannis turns in disgust and walks away. I don’t think he saw what Selyse saw. Davos catches up to him to remind him what a travesty this is, that Stannis’s own father had worshipped the Seven Gods, and he was turning his back on his own tradition. Stannis just bluntly states that he’d told his brother-in-law to tear down his idols, and he’d refused. There’s very little conviction in Stannis’s voice; he believes in the Lord of Light — he definitely saw something come out of Melisandre back in the second season — but the Lord did him no favours at Blackwater, and there is doubt on his face. If he keeps killing the soldiers who don’t believe in Melisandre’s religion, he won’t have any left.
“Did you see, Ser Davos? They’re with our Lord now, their sins all burnt away. Did you see?” says Selyse, still beside herself with joy. “I’m sure they’re more than grateful, my queen,” Davos responds with fake sincerity, to the chagrin of Melisandre.
It’s interesting how the rituals to worship the Lord of Light always seem to happen in the dark.
Later, Melisandre goes to see Stannis’s daughter, and she’s gentle and kind, and tells Shireen that she doesn’t believe in a heaven and a hell, just a heaven. The only hell, she says, is the one we live in now. It’s rather difficult to disagree with her on that one.
I’m fascinated by the religion on the show (and as I’ve said before, it’s explained much better in the books) simply because in our world, so much of the turmoil, war, and hardship seems to stem from clashes of religious beliefs, far more than territory or personal grievances. Each group seems to worship someone different in Westeros, and while it rarely comes up as a topic of warfare, when it comes to Stannis, the religion and his devotion to Melisandre (which is stronger than his devotion to the Lord of Light) has been helping him make decisions. There’s an uneasy look on his face, however, that he’s not so sure about the results of those decisions so far…
One quieter aspect of religion on the show is the weirwood, the white trees with red leaves and sap that the Starks have always turned to in times of sorrow. What did you make of the Bran scene in this episode, Chris?
Christopher: Frankly, the Bran scene was a bit of a relief. For so long he’s been carried and dragged northward, with Jojen and Meera telling him how important he is, but with only a few exceptions—mostly when he sees through his direwolf’s eyes—we haven’t really had much evidence that this is in fact the case … instead, we’ve been treated to a rather tedious and uneventful journey north. It is a welcome change to have such a vivid scene in which we see through Summer’s eyes as he brings down a kill, and be about as irritated as Bran to be yanked out of it. Jojen reiterates a point (I think) he’s made before: that it is dangerous to spend too much time in your animal’s mind, for the longer you’re in there the more tenuous your grasp on your own humanity. His little speech does a good job in reminding us of the temptation for Bran: to be able not only to walk, not only to run, but to hunt, and be the master of the forest … “It must be glorious,” Jojen acknowledges, and for crippled Bran, who suffers the daily humiliation of having to be carried everywhere, it must be like a drug. But one that is, as Meera warns, just as addictive and even more dangerous.
It is not, apparently, just Summer who offers Bran oracular sight, however—the weirwood he touches gives him a series of visions more vivid than any he has yet experienced: he has visions of the past (his father polishing Ice in the Godswood, the tombs beneath Winterfell, himself falling from the tower); he sees his three-eyed crow; he sees the massive shadow of a dragon over King’s Landing; and he has the same vision Daenerys did in the House of the Undying, of a roofless and snow-filled throne room in King’s Landing. And repeated several times is the image of a great weirwood, with the whispered words “Look for me beneath the tree.”
It’s the first time since the assassin attempted to kill the sleeping Bran that any part of his storyline has given me chills. Any final thoughts, Nikki?
Nikki: I, too, got chills, and it was a thrill to see Ned Stark again, even if it was just a flash of his face from some piece of stock footage. I still miss him…
I’m definitely excited about next week’s episode, and the fall-out of Joffrey’s murder. Tyrion is clearly in for a world of hurt, Tommen suddenly has a new and huge responsibility, and I hope Sansa’s able to get away before the Lannisters capture her. Until then!!