Revenge Is Sweet
The most hated person in all of HBO’s Game of Thrones was finally killed last Sunday as King Joffrey Baratheon (played by Jack Gleeson) was dispatched with all of the drama and pain the character so richly deserved. It was a sweet moment in an often bitter show for those who despised him (AKA: everyone).
Another wedding celebration, another brutal assassination. Such is the way of things in Westeros, where many want to be king, but most die before ever coming close to the Iron Throne. Last season’s Red Wedding shocked and saddened us, but this death surely produced more smiles than tears. (Except for Lena Headey’s Cersei, who scream-cried enough for everyone.)
Joffrey was a singularly repulsive figure. From his earliest moments as a spoiled brat, we knew he was no good. Once Robert Baratheon died and Joffrey ascended the throne, things only got worse. He was an almost magical amalgamation of hubris, pettiness, cruelty, jealously, sadism, and snark. Every season he upped his game, giving the audience (and most of the show’s characters) more and more reason to hate him. When Ros – the hooker with the heart of gold – was treated as a practice dummy for Joffrey’s archery skills, it was truly sickening.
His ending came after a long buildup during the second half of Sunday’s episode. Director Alex Graves (who helms next week’s followup as well) moved briskly through the wedding itself, but lingered on the celebratory feast. While many side conversations moved the various machinations of the many players forward, the party moved more and more toward Joffrey’s base tendency: being a jerk. The victim du jour was Tyrion, his uncle, a man with whom he has butted heads with before. Now neutered of all power, Tyrion – arguably the most beloved character on the show – was forced to endure this humiliation.
The show has invested significant time in exploring how Tyrion’s dwarfism is viewed as a cause of shame for his family, and how it has shaped both Tyrion’s temperament and the choices afforded him. Joffrey’s bullying here took things to a new level of distastefulness. He hired five little people to come out on toy ponies, jousting and bumbling to much laughter from the crowd. Everyone in attendance knew Tyrion was the butt of this joke, but he bore it with as much grace and forbearance as anyone could have managed. He was then forced to be the king’s cupbearer in a blatant display of bullying. It was during this prolonged embarrassment that things went awry. A drink of wine turned into a fit of coughing and finally into a death rattle as he lay cradled in his mother’s arms.
This series is known for its lasting images, be it the aforementioned Red Wedding, Ned Stark’s beheading, or a very special meal of sausage. Joffrey’s struggle to live, hacking and bleeding as the poison quickly overtook him, will stick with the audience as one of the more vivid images. Surrounded by his biological parents, the brother and sister duo of Cersei and Jaime, Joffrey turned pale as a sheet but with cheeks reddening quickly, soon to be streaked with blood from his nose. Once he finally passed, his blank stare into the camera hardened into a death mask. The wails from his mother only amplified the chaos of the moment.
Of course, that wasn’t the only death this episode. The other contender for “Worst Bastard of Westeros,” Ramsay Snow (Iwan Rheon), killed someone on a hunt through the forest, “The Most Dangerous Game”-style. He stalked a young woman using his snarling hounds, then had the dogs finish her in fashion too gruesome for the screen. As with every piece of violence in which he takes part, this one was as senseless as it was sadistic. Even when Snow is torturing Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) throughout season three, the audience knows full well it didn’t have to be this way. The young man seems hell bent on living up to his family’s sigil, the flayed man. He’ll never be king – if there’s anything right in this world – but just like Joffrey, he’ll make those around him suffer as long as he remains alive.
Now that he’s dead, audiences won’t have Joffrey to kick around anymore, but the show will move on; this momentous event happened in just the second episode of the season, presaging much more (and bigger?) to come. The death of such a hated figure is a small amount of righteous vengeance in a show filled mostly with heartbreaking sorrow. He won’t be missed.