If Aerys Targaryen was the ‘Mad King’, Joffrey may one day be remembered as the ‘Cruel King’ where his torment knows no bounds — not even on his wedding day….
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
Cruelty comes in many forms on ‘Game of Thrones’.
Sometimes it’s the torment and torture of a prince to the point where he’s lost his name, and has been completely broken to the will of his master. Other times it’s the pained sadism of watching someone wiggle and worm under the thumb of a powerful king, whose only muse in life is inflicting suffering on any person unlucky enough to be in his court.
The great equalizer to cruelty would seem like compassion, but in the world of Westeros, revenge is the only thing that washes down like chalice full of wine, quenching and then constricting the throat until blood flows and debts are settled.
If Aerys Targaryen was known as the ‘Mad King’, then when the final book is written on Joffrey Baratheon (assuming it’s not chopped into little pieces by a fine sword of Valyrian steel), he may be best remembered as the ‘Cruel King’. Joffrey was a petulant child; first born of his name, and given everything he ever wanted from the time he was birthed from his mother’s belly. His uncle and grandfather did what they could to curb his sociopathic tendencies, but Joffrey’s idea of a good time was beating a prostitute before shooting her to death with arrows.
As Joffrey’s reign went full bore into a sadistic mocking of his uncle Tyrion, the old gods, new gods, drowned gods and fire gods saw fit to finally snuff the little monster from this world in a gruesome and painstaking death as the boy king could no longer draw a breath. Instead as he gasped, choking on his own blood, King Joffrey stared up at his uncle, convinced that he was the culprit who did this to him and even I have to wonder in those final seconds if he had time to contemplate how his special brand of cruelty was handed back to him three fold.
I will get back to Joffrey and the event now and forever known as ‘the Purple Wedding’ in a few moments, but let’s recap the other happenings around the five kingdoms before coming back to visit the king on his deathbed.
NOT A BOLTON YET
If Joffrey was the ‘cruel king’, then Ramsay Snow certainly is the prince. The bastard of the Dreadfort opened the episode by hunting down one of the two girls last seen tempting Theon Greyjoy before he had his favorite toy taken away from him a season ago. It appears, the other girl is Ramsay’s chosen lady and she’s grown jealous of this one, so instead of casting her out of the bedroom, she is hunted down like an animal, shot with an arrow and then torn apart by dogs all for the wit and whimsy of this bastard boy who wants nothing more than to be his father’s heir.
Roose Bolton returns home for the first time in ages, but he’s not nearly as happy with Ramsay as it may seem. The Iron Born have laid siege to Moat Cailin, a section of the North where Roose had planned on offering up Theon Greyjoy as a bargaining chip to his father Balon to get the men holding the area to leave and return ownership to the new warden of the North. Instead with Theon now being slightly less than a man, flayed and tortured into submission, there’s no hope that Balon will give up his conquered land and it’s forcing Roose’s hand in the matter. To make things worse, Theon, who now officially goes by his Ramsay given name of Reek, reveals that Bran and Rickon Stark didn’t actually die, and are still wandering around somewhere, presumably heading towards Castle Black to be with their brother, Jon Snow.
Ramsay has to find a way back into his father’s heart, so he shows what a good servant Reek can be by allowing him to shave his face with a straight razor, knowing he is one swipe away from killing the torturous wanna-be Bolton. Even upon hearing of Robb Stark’s death, Theon/Reek barely flinches as he finishes up the shave on his new master.
Roose commands Ramsay to root out the Iron Born while his pet Locke is off to find Bran and Rickon Stark, and then they can speak again about his placement in the kingdom. It’s clear Ramsay no longer wants to be a Snow, the name synonymous with bastards and instead only wants to be a Bolton. This appears to be the way he can find a place in his father’s hard heart once again.
Stannis Baratheon still sits in Dragonstone, no closer to the Iron Throne than he was last season, but since he’s got time on his hands he figures this would be a fine time to burn some people alive! Included among them is his brother-in-law, who the Lady Melisandre promises is now in a better place seated next to the Lord of Light. Ser Davos still has some serious misgivings about the red woman and her practices, but the sermon she preaches is infecting Stannis’ wife more and more.
Lady Selyse had no problem with her brother being sacrificed to the Lord of Light, and she’s even giving indications that her daughter’s affliction is a sign of her soul being full of sin. Stannis hears enough of this and puts a stop to her raving, but Selyse’s last suggestion is that Shireen sit and speak with Melisandre to understand what it means to worship the one true God. Melisandre’s visit with Shireen is met with a slight taste of contempt at first, but the little girl’s willpower is still that of a child, and as the lady in red explains how the Lord of Light is the one true power in the universe, and not the seven false prophets she’s been previously taught about, her mind soaks in the knowledge. Whether she’s buying any of it or would rather find out about these things from her brave uncle Davos remains to be seen.
On a sidenote, considering how dire the message from Maester Aemon of the Night’s Watch was last season, you’d think Stannis would be mounting ships and headed to the Wall, but he’s certainly taking his sweet time of it.
A WARGING WE WILL GO
Bran and his merry band are far north of the Wall now, but the elder Stark brother has not only accustomed himself to being a warg — he’s spending more time through the eyes of his direwolf Summer than he is in his own mind. For a boy that’s supposed to be maybe 10 or 11 years old, there may not be a worse fate than losing your legs so the freedom of just running and jumping and playing is probably far more intoxicating than I could ever imagine. But Bran gets a warning from Jojen and Meera — spending too much time behind the animal’s eyes can eventually make him get lost completely, to the point where he forgets his family, his mission and even his own identity and just becomes the wolf.
As the travels take them further into the woods, Bran spots a heart tree and has Hodor take him to it. There, Bran places his hands on the tree and a flood of images wash through his brain — some of which are the same ones that Daenerys witnessed during her journey in Qarth at the House of the Undying in season two such as the Iron Throne room being filled with snow (maybe the forewarning that winter is finally coming?) — but at the end of his vision, Bran reveals that he now knows where they are headed.
In King’s Landing, the Lannisters are the most wealthy and powerful family, but it doesn’t mean they are the happiest. Jamie is downtrodden after being spurned by Cersei, and the loss of his sword hand has left him incapable of truly protecting the king. Thankfully, Tyrion has a solution for at least one of these quandaries and he hires Bronn to teach his brother Jamie how to use a sword again, this time left-handed.
Meanwhile, Varys has to break the news to Tyrion that Cersei has learned about his relationship with Shae, and she either needs to go right away or she will be cut up and possibly served at the royal wedding the next day. Tyrion has to resort to the old trick of burning a bridge to save a life, so to get Shae to actually leave the city, he reminds her that she was nothing more than a whore and he has a wife now that will give him children worthy of the last name Lannister. Shae leaves in tears with Bronn in support as he puts her on a boat bound for the Narrow Sea, far away from the prying eyes of his sister, and even further way from the reach of his father, the Hand of the King.
THE PURPLE WEDDING
And that brings us to tonight’s main event — an occasion fans of the popular George R.R. Martin series dubbed ‘The Purple Wedding. Joffrey finally takes his queen, as Margaery Tyrell dawns the crown and the vows to wed the boy king. Her father briefly makes an appearance, although it’s clear Mace Tyrell bows and scrapes at the feet of his mother Olenna. The wedding is a grand affair, although truth be told, the show spent a lot more time on Tyrion marrying Sansa last season than they did this one, but the real event started in the courtyard after the vows were exchanged.
Joffrey’s malevolence appeared to be subdued at least somewhat during the giving of gifts prior to his wedding, and he even graciously accepted Tyrion’s offering — a book telling the history of three of the great kings of Westeros. A single look from his grandfather made Joffrey seem regal if only for a moment as he was then handed the real prize of his take that day — a Valyrian steel sword made from Ned Stark’s Ice, that he then called Widow’s Wail. The sword was put to good use as Joffrey chopped up Tyrion’s gift, as another reminder how this king had very little use for his uncle the imp. It was a not so subtle reminder that if not for having the last name Lannister, and Tywin secured as the Hand of the King, that Tyrion might find himself chained to a bed, shot full of arrows.
The royal reception was a gaudy affair, as expected. Musicians belted out renditions of ‘The Rains of Castamere’ as Joffrey tossed them pennies for their efforts. Fire blowers danced around the courtyard, and jesters were made fools as the crowd pelted them with biscuits and fruit at the king’s behest. The real party was during the interactions between guests at the gathering.
Tywin and Lady Olenna once again verbally sparred, although on this occasion, it was far less brutal than the last go round. Tywin also took time to say hello to Prince Oberyn Martell and his paramour, Ellaria Sand. She managed to go two rounds with Cersei, and lived to tell about it, while Oberyn tossed a few veiled threats at both of them, hinting about his knowledge of Tywin’s role in his sister’s death while reminding the former Queen that her daughter remains a guest of Dorne, destined to marry one of their princes. There was also the encounter between Jamie and Ser Loras, who he reminded that if the ‘Knight of Flowers’ actually marries his sister, Cersei will kill him in his sleep. Loras gives as good as he gets, and reminds Jamie that he can’t marry Cersei at all. Also, make sure to rewind and check out the look Loras gives to Prince Oberyn as he sits in the crowd. He may just join the Prince of Dorne in a night of debauchery while congregating on a shared hate for the Lannister clan. Cersei also comes face to face with Brienne of Tarth after she presents herself to the king and new queen. It doesn’t take Cersei long to realize Brienne is quite taken with her brother Jamie.
Then it was time for Joffrey’s parade of masochism to start as he first revealed the real entertainment for his wedding feast. A group of dwarves sauntered out, dressed as the five kings, meant to do battle for the realm. Among the costumes was a Robb Stark figure, wearing a wolf’s head, while Renly Baratheon mounted a blonde boy instead of a horse, as he was taking a lance up the you know where. Ser Loras looked on in disgust, while there were noticeable frowns on the faces of both Olenna and Tyrion as well. The real pain of the affair came in the sad eyes of Sansa Stark, who came to King’s Landing to be a queen and instead has been the subject of more anguish than anyone deserves. Her heart has been blistered time and again from numerous tortures — from watching her father beheaded to the news that her mother and brother were butchered — this poor girl has lived five lifetimes of torment in the matter of only a few short years. Seeing her brother’s life mocked in such a brutal way was only another reminder of the family she’s lost, destined to never see again.
Joffrey’s attention then lands squarely on Tyrion, the demon monkey who dared slap the king on two different occasions and continues to remind him of his cowardice during the battle of Blackwater Bay. The king decides to turn Tyrion into his cup bearer for the proceedings, ordering him to pick up his fallen chalice, filling it with wine before bowing and learning the true meaning of submissiveness. Margaery tries mightily to pull Joffrey’s attention back towards her, it being their wedding day and all, but the king’s real pleasure comes from the torment of others. Even as he bites on the pie to celebrate his nuptials, Joffrey’s stare is straight back at Tyrion time and again, wanting nothing more than to pluck his foul head off with one swipe of Widow’s Wail.
But then a strange thing happens — the king has lost his breath. A few more sips of wine do nothing to wash down whatever blocks his airway, and as he stumbles and falls, the entire court is ordered to help their king. It brings back memories of Stannis’ maester, who tried the same trick to rid Dragonstone of the Lady Melisandre, only to have it backfire as he choked on his own blood instead. This time, however, the intended targed was assassinated with devastating precision. As Jamie barrels through an aisle way of parishioners, he’s no longer concerned about protecting the throne as a member of the Kingsguard, but instead a father trying to reach his fallen son.
As Joffrey begs for air and the vomit spews up from his gut, he rolls over and can only look straight ahead at the vile little imp that did him in. Cersei wastes no time having her brother arrested for the murder of her son, and as Joffrey spits up his own blood, and the crimson streaks tear down his face, there’s a moment where you remember this king is still just a boy. A boy handed a crown and an Iron Throne at the age of 13 and told to go rule. But that moment of levity soon passes and the wicked torment suffered by Sansa Stark, who has been ushered off by the fool Dontos, flashes back in our minds. From Tyrion’s humiliation to the Stark family being turned to ghosts, this was a king who sat on a throne of cruelty and reigned with a torturous hand dipped in blood and thorns.
Throughout the course of ‘Game of Thrones’, Joffrey has become one of the most vile and despised villains in TV history. Unlike other shows or even films where the bad guy is still painted with brush strokes of psychotic cool, Joffrey was just a maniacal, blood-thirsty tyrant who only a mother loved. Joffrey’s demise will be met with effigies, not eulogies, and that’s what made him such an effective villain. In a day and age where more art is devoted to Darth Vader and The Joker than Luke Skywalker or Batman, Joffrey was the unique kind of monster than no one found redeeming and his master of cruelty was a special brand of evil. The truth is, even in this moment of celebration of folks saying ‘finally the good guys win one!’, the sadist that was Joffrey Baratheon was the perfect spoil to all those who dared challenge for the throne. We’ll never see him go head to head with Dany and her dragons or a wide-eyed, vengeance seeking Jon Snow. Instead our lasting image of King Joffrey is a blonde-haired boy, spilling up remnants of his wedding feast, soaked in poison and just desserts.
The song that closed tonight’s episode was a cover of ‘The Rains of Castamere’ by the group Sigur Ros.
Next week on Game of Thrones — the fallout from Joffrey’s death continues as Tyrion answers for the crime, but did he actually kill his nephew? And we catch up with Daenerys as she reaches the walls of the final and most fortified slave city known as Mereen.