And that’s why you should never get married in Westeros.
King Joffrey, the first of his name and one of the most hated television characters of all time, has died, poisoned at his own wedding in front of thousands of guests. The people of King’s Landing are probably celebrating just as much as everyone on Twitter. While that last shot of Jack Gleeson‘s purple face, shaking as blood pours from his nose and Lena Headey screams above him is no doubt the high point of the episode, it’s the events that lead up to the poisoning that were truly entertaining, as all of the wedding guests took each other on with barely contained contempt.
First, though, we have the celebratory breakfast for the Lannister and Tyrell families, an event that is only really important because it seals Joffrey and Shae’s fates. While the tiny tyrant brags about his military prowess and chops Tyrion’s gift to pieces, Cersei and Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), set their sights on Shae, intending to take Tyrion down via his love. But Shae might be the only person this side of Dorne who isn’t afraid of the Lannisters, which means Tyrion must force her to leave by insulting her and claiming that she never meant anything to him. It’s a surprisingly heartbreaking scene, with Sibel Kekilli‘s proud determination breaking down into heaving sobs while Peter Dinklage struggles to maintain his disinterested facade. The relationship between Tyrion and Shae has been one of the show’s stablest and most affectionate, so it’s hard not to feel as if the Lannisters have won even if Shae managed to escape with her life. Although, like Tyrion, we have a feeling that Shae might not be gone for good.
But with a wedding to celebrate, there’s no time to dwell on lost loves. The Purple Wedding receives most of the episode’s attention, and with good reason. All of the characters present at the royal wedding hate each other, and the stakes are high. As Cersei wanders through the wedding, insulting Brienne and reversing all of Margaery’s decrees, it’s clear that she still percieves everyone who isn’t her immediate family to be a threat, and she plans on picking them off one by one. Headey plays the interactions with the perfect note of pettiness — Cersei is upset about the wedding, about losing her son and her crown to a family who might be even more skilled at playing the game than she is — and yet she maintains an air of power and sophistication about her, never losing face even as prince Oberyn delivers his cutting remarks.
Whatever Game of Thrones is losing in Joffrey and the Starks, they are more than getting back with the addition of Oberyn. His interactions with the Lannisters are still incredibly entertaining to watch, and Pedro Pascal delivers every veiled insult and threat with a charming smile and a barely suppressed sense of glee. Cersei and Tywin don’t seem to view him as a genuine threat yet, although his ending remarks condemning rape and murder make it very clear that he holds them personally responsible for what happened to his sister. Oberyn might also have an ally in Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones), who is possibly even more unhappy with his arranged marriage than Cersei is. Between Joffrey’s “joust” insulting the memory of Renly and Jaime attempting to threaten him about the upcoming nuptials — a threat which Loras manages to cut down with a beautifully timed burn — it seems like Loras might be reaching his breaking point with his new in-laws.
But none of these interactions can hold a candle to the wedding feast itself, with Joffrey’s despicable behavior making his sudden death seem well-deserved. Gleeson turned everything up to eleven for his final moments, swanning about and revelling in his percieved glory. Joffrey’s always been a spoiled brat, but he’s never seemed more childish than he did making the crowd throw oranges at Ser Dontos or pouring his wine over Tyrion’s head.
It’s this final showdown with Tyrion that really ratchets up the episode’s tension, with Dinklage working hard to keep his face and reactions neutral even as Gleeson slips into open revulsion. One of the best things that “The Lion and the Rose” does with these scenes is to keep cutting back to how uncomfortable everyone sitting at the high table is during these exchanges, because it gives you hope that someone will intervene and brake through the tense, awkward atmosphere before something terrible happens. Once Joffrey instructs his uncle to kneel at his feet, a humiliation beyond measure for Tyrion, and one that the camera accentuates by filming Dinklage from above, we, like the wedding guests, can hardly watch.
The scene drags out every glare, every stony silence and every insult so that each time that Margaery interjects and distracts her new husband, the relief is palpable. Natalie Dormer plays up the character’s innocent facade in these moments, finding just the right moment to put on her charm and pull Joffrey away from the situation before he does something irreversible. George R.R. Martin, who wrote the episode, times every beat of these scenes perfectly, so that the audience exhales along with the guests and feels the same kind of excruciating awkwardness that the characters feel in that moment.
And yet, when Joffrey finally does die in his parents’ arms, the satisfaction and shock we feel is undercut with a tiny bit of sadness. Yes, this child is a monster, but he’s also still a child in many ways, and the fact that we can feel sad as he convulses on the ground is a testament to Gleeson’s talent. We might not miss Joffrey — and nor, it seems, will anyone else, as not a single wedding guest moved to help him — but we will certainly miss the actor who brought him to life.
Elsewhere in the Seven Kingdoms, we catch up with the characters who couldn’t fit into the jam-packed premiere. Even though their expository scenes are undercut with a bit more action and violence than some of their counterparts, they all pale in comparison to what’s going on at King’s Landing. Ramsay Snow continues to be a complete pyschopath, although his pride at transforming Theon Greyjoy is cut short upon his father’s return. Iwan Rheon is delightfully creepy in his scenes, and he hints at a desperate desire to please Roose Bolton underneath all of his bravado, but the real star of the scene is Alfie Allen, who literally shakes with timidity as the broken Theon/Reek. Meanwhile, Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) is heading further North himself, and his warging abilities are growing stronger, and over in Dragonstone, everyone has completely dedicated themselves to the Lord of Light, believing it to be all Stannis will need to win the war.
While we’re not so sure if we agree with them, this would be the ideal time to strike, as it’s only a matter of time before the King’s death sends Westeros into complete chaos once more. Turns out that Joffrey’s death has a bigger impact on the world of Game of Thrones than his life ever did. Farewell, Joffrey: You will be remembered, although not very fondly.
Episode grade: A, or three wise-cracking Tyrions.