Spoiler Warning! Major spoiler for Game of Thrones Season 4 Episode 2 The Lion and the Rose
The last episode George R.R. Martin penned for Game of Thrones was the infamous Red Wedding episode “The Rains of Castamere“. Between A Song of Ice and Fire readers knowing what to expect in this episode and viewers looking forward to the wedding of Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell anticipation was high. And it delivered yet another huge shock.
Showrunner Dan Weiss discussed Joffrey’s swan song with EW “There are so many other actors who would have chosen a much more flashy route — flopping all over the floor. He made it feel real as he always has, and it’s the same as when reading the book. It’s a character you’ve despised for so long and wanted to see him killed, yet you’re seeing a young man — still a boy, really — choke to death, which is a horrible thing to witness. We didn’t want this to be a stand up and clap moment so much as a horrible death of a horrible person.”
It looks like Dan had a bit too much faith in the kindness of humanity. The internet exploded while fans celebrated the death of one of the most hated characters on Game of Thrones. Within minutes the internet was awash with screencaps of Joffrey’s gruesome death mask and jubilant tweets rejoicing in his grisly death. Jack Gleeson gave an outstanding performance in his final episode, and despite Dan’s wishes, only served to remind us why we loathe him so much.
“…the boy’s eyes met Tyrion’s. He has Jaime’s eyes. Only he had never seen Jaime look so scared. The boy’s only thirteen.” Tyrion A Storm of Swords p 1079
“Joffrey, as monstrous as he is — and certainly he’s just as monstrous in the books as he is in the TV show, and Jack has brought some incredible acting chops to the role that somehow makes him even more loathsome than he is on the page — but Joffrey in the books is still a 13-year-old kid,” George R.R. Martin told EW “And there’s kind of a moment there where he knows that he’s dying and he can’t get a breath and he’s kind of looking at Tyrion and at his mother and at the other people in the hall with just terror and appeal in his eyes—you know, “Help me mommy, I’m dying.” And in that moment, I think even Tyrion sees a 13-year-old boy dying before him. So I didn’t want it to be entirely, “Hey-ho, the witch is dead.” I wanted the impact of the death to still strike home on to perhaps more complex feelings on the part of the audience, not necessarily just cheering.”
George added some interesting elements to this episode. In A Storm of Swords we see the wedding from Tyrion’s perspective. On the whole the book version was more raucous, there was a lot more confusion and you have to read carefully to pick up hints on who poisoned Joffrey. The on-screen wedding was a little more sedate and heavy with clues. George even threw Sansa into the mix, she also handles the goblet before Tyrion fills it for Joffrey. But what I think was most interesting about the television version of the Purple Wedding was some of the other characters around Joffrey.
Margaery Tyrell was curious to watch. Margaery is a much more fleshed-out character on-screen than she is in the books, and more of a politician. Being warned of Joffrey’s true nature by Sansa Stark didn’t seem to worry her overmuch, Margarey merely pondered on how to manipulate Joffrey to keep him under control. She has smiled and charmed her way through the betrothal. It was only last week we saw a slight crack in her cool exterior, complaining that should Joffrey choose her necklace she would end up with a string of dead sparrows around her neck. Her attempts to calm a drunk Joffrey at the wedding become increasingly more desperate and shrill, indeed it is only the pie that interrupts the tense situation between Joffrey and Tyrion, and not Margaery’s attempts to diffuse the situation. It is obvious Margaery would not be able to manipulate Joffrey as she thought she could.
Dave Benioff told EW that Jack Gleeson’s initial audition convinced them to give Joffrey more thought “As he started speaking he changed our concept of what the character could be. I don’t think we expected to spend as much time with Joffrey until we cast Jack,” Dave said “There must be some dark part that Jack is able to access to play the role, but I’ve never seen it when the cameras aren’t rolling.”
I find it very odd that they didn’t consider that Joffrey was integral to the story. It is true he doesn’t get POV chapters in the books but he is central to both Sansa’s and Cersei’s journeys.
While Cersei smirked and snapped and sniped her way through the Purple Wedding I almost felt that George didn’t want us to sympathise with her. Up until this point television Cersei has been cut a lot of slack – as unbelievable as that may sound. Incidents and conversations -particularly about motherhood- have been created to slightly soften her character. At the wedding we see the real Cersei – she tries to intimidate Brienne, bullies Maester Pycelle and goes behind Margaery’s back to ensure the wedding feast leftovers be given to the dogs instead of the poor, insults Ellaria Sand and spends the rest of the time looking imperious. When she is crouched over the body of her dying son, she pushes Jaime away as he tries to help him. Even in this moment of terror Cersei manages to be self-absorbed.
There is far too much talk about Joffrey being the “product of incest”. When we think back to the first episode of Game of Thrones and see the relationship between Tyrion and Myrcella and Tommen as opposed to his relationship with Joffrey the disparities in their personalities are clear. Myrcella and Tommen are bright, happy and lovely children. They are also a product of Jaime and Cersei’s incestuous relationship but with none of the foulness of their elder brother. Joffrey’s sense of entitlement and arrogance is reminiscent of and encouraged by his mother. His thirst for violence and cruelty is evident when he is a child and Cersei dismisses it as mischief. When it is evident she is no longer able to discipline him she is less concerned about what sort of man he is becoming and more concerned that she is unable to manipulate him for her own needs. Cersei did not create the monster, Joffrey was born a monster, but she certainly did nurture it. This will be all the more evident as Cersei’s story arc unfolds.
Is it a little sad that there are few tears being shed for Joffrey? Maybe it’s difficult to remember the thirteen year-old boy when you think about the man he may have become.