If you read from this point on, you will find out what happened on Sunday’s episode of “Game of Thrones.” If you scream, “But you didn’t give a spoiler alert!” I will have no sympathy for you.
Just like I have no sympathy for the late King Joffrey Baratheon, who attempted to scream something — anything — as he choked to death, a victim of poisoning, on his wedding day. Yes, King Joffrey is dead. Another “Game of Thrones” wedding, another truly shocking death. One of the most hated characters on TV is gone and is it weird to already miss him a little bit? Ever since we were first introduced to the petulant and evil prince back in the first season, we’ve been waiting, knowing that the day will come when he gets what’s coming to him. And while the timing couldn’t have been more perfect — on his wedding day, after some of his worst behavior yet in humiliating Tyrion; and the final shot of his face — eyes and veins bulging and blood leaking from his nose — was perfect, I can’t believe I won’t get to wish him dead ever again. No more of that patented Left Lean, either.
[Note: At this point I will also direct you to the review written by my colleague, Alyssa Rosenberg on her Act Four blog. Alyssa is a book reader, and between the two of us, we more than have you covered. You'll find more of a play-by-play here, she'll do more of the analysis there. Here is her review: The Lion, the Rose and the Cruelty of Westeros. We did a video recap, too. Check it out below.]
To answer the main questions that face us now — who did it, and who ascends to the Iron Throne — it’s most helpful to look back at the wedding and search for some clues. Now remember, this is a book-free zone. I’ve got as much interest in reading “A Song of Ice and Fire” as Joffrey had in reading “Lives of the Four Kings.” All speculation is from watching the TV show only.
BEFORE THE BIG DAY, it was time for some ceremonial gift giving and we see Joffrey receive three presents. The first is a goblet from Daddy Tyrell. Nice enough. Then it’s Tyrion’s turn and he gives Joffrey “Lives of the Four Kings,” which he calls “a book every king should read.” Joffrey reacts basically like you’d expect a teenager to react when he gets a book as a present. But no matter, because the next gift is from Grandpa Tywin and it’s that second Valyrian steel sword he just had forged and Joffrey immediately puts it to use on “Lives of the Four Kings,” sending pages flying into the air. Joffrey loves his new sword and wants to give it a name, which brings to mind the Hound’s wonderful/unprintable quote from last episode about the types of people that name their swords. (Joffrey takes requests from the crowd and settles on Widow’s Wail.) Joffrey also says — within clear earshot of Sansa — that every time he uses the sword it will be like cutting Ned Stark’s head off all over again. Which is weird because he never did that the first time; it was Ser Ilyn Payne.
Fast forward to the wedding ceremony and everyone is gathered in the temple, in front of the giant seven-pointed star. Joffrey puts the cloak on Margaery, as was the style at the time, and then the official presiding of the over the wedding says: “Cursed be he who would seek to tear them asunder.” As this line is delivered, we see two faces clearly in focus, framing the happy couple — Oberyn Martell and Lady Olenna. I think it is fair to assume that there are no mise-en-scene coincidences this episode. (Or any other, for that matter.)
Then we get lots of talking before the reception starts. Tywin and Olenna trade barbs and match wits. They seem like a good match for each other. Could they be in cahoots? They walk together to the reception, arms locked. Could something as momentous as the murder of the king happen in King’s Landing without Tywin knowing about? If so, that would make him a whole lot less powerful than he seems. Tywin knows how impulsive and dangerous Joffrey is; maybe the puppetmaster needs a more reliable puppet.
Olenna visits Sansa at the VIP table, where all the most important members of the royal family are seated. She’s very handsy with her; Sansa is wearing the necklace given to her by the drunkard from last episode. Olenna offers her condolences about Robb. “Killing a man at a wedding … what kind of man would do such a thing?” she asks. Meanwhile, Margaery is really riding some chillwaves, vibing out to Sigur Ros playing “The Rains of Castamere,” but Joffrey throws coins at them, forcing them away.
Over at his front row seat in the crowd, Swingin’ Oberyn licks his fingers while making eyes at Loras, who soon has an awkward encounter with Jaime. It’s that same old conversation — the one knight who is in love with his own sister threatens the other knight — who is gay but will be marrying said sister to form a family alliance — and tells him he’ll never marry Cersei. “And neither will you,” replies Loras before walking away with a smile, knowing he has just dropped a “jerkstore“-level comeback.
More barb trading and small talk! As wedding season approaches, viewers can definitely get some tips for cocktail hour anecdotes from this episode. Brienne visits Margaery, who tells the tall one from Tarth, “I hope to see more of you.” Something is brewing there. Cersei has been in a bad mood all day (week, month, life) and confronts Brienne and calls her out for having feelings for Jaime. This makes an already-agitated Cersei even more annoyed and she uses it as an excuse to tell Grand Maester Pycelle that the leftovers from the wedding will not go to the city’s poor, as Margaery grandly announced moments ago, but instead to feed the dogs.
Some last threatening barbs must be traded before we get down to business. Oberyn meets with Tywin and Cersei and reminds her (and the viewers) that Cersei’s only daughter is currently a resident of Dorne, homeland of the Martells. If you’ve had enough small talk, so has the king. “A royal wedding is not an amusement. A royal wedding is history!” he declares. And what better way to commemorate history than with a handful of little people crashing into each other in fake combat? (In Joffrey’s defense, Vince McMahon had the same idea at Wrestlemania III.)
The little person reenactment of the War of the Five Kings is met with embarrassment by most guests as Joffrey laughs it up, even doing a spit take at one point. (Tyrion looks especially disgusted; little Tommen Baratheon/Lannister has a few laughs, though.) The camera pans to Olenna who looks particularly horrified and disgusted. No shot is an accident during this scene, right? When the mini-battle royal concludes, the real tension picks up. Dedicating the entire second half of the episode to one scene is already a grand statement on a show known for its incessant kingdom hopping, and the tension built over the episode’s final 10 minutes would have made this scene a classic even if it didn’t end the way it did.
Joffrey suggests that Tyrion get out there and fight with the people his size, and Tyrion stands up to the king and says Joffrey should be the one to “show everyone how a true king wins his throne,” invoking his heroism during the Battle of Blackwater, which everyone recognizes as a dig at Joffrey’s cowardice during that pivotal moment. Joffrey responds in a sensible way — walking over to Tyrion and pouring a full glass of wine on his head. (A bad week gets even worse for Tyrion, who earlier had to send his beloved, Shae, off to Pentos, very much against her will, for her own safety.) The eternally cheery Margaery tries to draw Joffrey back but Joffrey decides to make Tyrion his cupbearer. Tyrion says it would be an honor and Joffrey assures him that it is not. He emphasizes this by dropping his goblet and kicking it under the table. Tyrion searches for it under the table before Sansa hands it to him. Hmm.
As Tyrion hands a full cup of wine to Joffrey, Joffrey demands that Tyrion “kneel before your king.” Tyrion silently and stubbornly refuses and the tension ratchets up another notch. It’s broken by Margaery joyously shouting, “Look, the pie!” A huge cake is wheeled out, Joffrey uses his sword to slice it open and doves fly out. (Except for the poor few that met their end at the end of a blade.) Margaery feeds her new husband some cake. She is not seen eating any. Hmmm. As Tyrion tries to make a quiet exit, Joffrey demands more wine, claiming that the pie is dry. Cut to Olenna smiling. Hmmm. (It must be said that if Jack Gleeson, the actor who plays Joffrey, follows through on his promise to quit the profession after this role, he went out at his best.)
Then it all starts to happen. And it happens quickly and decisively. Joffrey starts coughing. He thinks some wine will help, but the coughing soon becomes choking. He falls from his podium to the ground. There’s vomiting. The drunkard who gave Sansa the necklace whisks her away. Margaery can be seen running off. Jaime is one of the first to try and assist the king. Cersei understandably starts shrieking as Joffrey gasps for air. As he draws his final breath, we see Tyrion, alone on the podium, holding the goblet. “He did this. He poisoned my son … take him!” she exclaims. Cersei demands he be taken, and some rough times are certainly in store for the Master of Coin.
SOME OTHER THINGS TRANSPIRED THIS WEEK, as we got the JV squad of storylines before the big wedding and bigger death. The episode opened with the now new, Undisputed King of Westeros Sadism, Ramsay Snow. He’s chasing some poor girl through the woods, accompanied by another lady, his neutered man-servant Reek (the Iron Born Formerly Known as Theon) and some hunting dogs. Ramsay puts an arrow into the girl being chased (one of the two who fake-seduced Theon last season?) and then lets the dogs feast on her. Lovely.
Later, back at the Dreadfort it’s a Terrible Character quorum when Lord Roose Bolton and Locke, his trusted hunter/Jaime Lannister hand-chopper-offer, return. Ramsay Snow thinks Bolton will be happy to see him, but the Lord is dismayed with his bastard son for castrating Theon and turning him into a shell of himself and thus lowering his trade value to Balon Greyjoy. See, Roose wanted to swap Theon and a conditional second round draft pick for Moat Cailin (helpfully spelled out on a map to save recappers one moment of Googling). But Balon can barely stand Theon as it is, and won’t have much use for Reek. Ramsay makes Reek tell Bolton that he didn’t kill, burn and hang Bran and Rickon, and that they are still alive. This is a problem for Bolton because as long as some Stark boys alive the northerners will always rally behind them. Bolton has been given the North by Tywin Lannister, but Tywin has no interest in helping Bolton take and defend it. Bolton tells Locke that there’s a thousand acres in it for him if he can track down the Stark boys. This scene also shows us that Reek is truly subservient to his new master, Ramsay, who he give a close shave, never considering using the blade to slice the throat of the man who had him castrated.
Speaking of Bran, he’s enjoying a nice nap/dream/warg experience, getting inside a direwolf and hunting some prey when that most annoying of alarm clocks goes off: HO-DOR. HO-DOR. It’s time for them and the Reed siblings to get going … somewhere. Bran gets more direction when he finds a tree, touches the tree and has some visions of the past and maybe the future (there’s Ned Stark in his pre-beheading cell, plus some dragon shadows). He knows where they must go. Hit the North.
And what’s that noise and smell? A man screaming while being burned alive as people surrounding him invoke a deity? Just another Saturday night in Dragonstone. Stannis’s wife, Selyse, swears she sees the soul of her brother as he’s burnt to a crisp — the Lord of the Light has taken the soul — but Stannis seems unmoved. Stannis always seems unmoved. That’s kind of his thing. The show’s most righteous character, Ser Davos Seaworth, seems troubled with this whole burning at the stake business. He seems troubled with basically everything Stannis oversees, yet remains unflinchingly loyal. At a post-burning dinner, Selyse is babbling something about how tasty seagull is but she’s concerned for the soul of her daughter, Shireen. She has the Red Lady, Melisandre, go talk to the sweetest scale-faced girl in the Seven Kingdoms. Shireen doesn’t understand why her uncle had to be killed, but Melisandre says his soul is better now. Shireen seems skeptical, and probably was back when she heard the same thing when her goldfish died. Melisandre leaves Shireen with this thought: There are no seven heavens, no seven hells, only one hell, the one we live in now. Good talk!
Even before this episode’s events, I considered Stannis Baratheon to be the One True King of Westeros. He may not win on personality points, but it’s pretty clear: Robert Baratheon was king. He died with no true heir, so his oldest brother should take his rightful seat on the Iron Throne. With illegitimate Joffrey now gone, Stannis’s claim is even more solid. But this we can look forward to having sorted out in coming weeks.