The day of King Joffrey's wedding to Margaery Tyrell approaches, so a lot of the action in this week's visit isn't so much action, as it is exchanges of words, exchanges of gifts, and exchanges of cruelty. In fact, there's such a brisk trade in shaming that it's something of the theme of the episode. Little packages of humiliation wrapped in ribbons of indignity. The few swords that get waved in this episode aren't aimed at anyone's Adam's apple; the damage here is done with words, with gestures, and with ... well, we'll get to that later.
But before we settle down to watch people squirm, there are some B-side threads to deal with below the fold.
Way up north at the aptly named Dreadfort, Ramsay Snow continues his favorite game of inflicting both physical and mental cruelty. But returning poppa Roose Bolton is less than impressed at the conversion of Theon Greyjoy into Ramsay's simpering pet, "Reek."
Roose, in exchange for planting a knife in Robb Stark as the crowing bit of betrayal at that other big wedding feast, has been given the whole North to watch out for—the traditional role of the Starks. He's also gotten one of the innumerable daughters (granddaughters? great-granddaughters?) of Walder Frey as a new wife. Perhaps the ultimate game of thrones is that the Freys will simply marry their way into every castle in the Kingdoms, then count on a series of "accidents" to leave them standing alone ... Hmmm. Anyway, Roose first thinks that Theon has been turned into a worthless hostage, but sees that Ramsay's not-so-delicate brainwashing might be a little useful after all when Theon reveals that the youngest Stark boys are still alive. Naturally, he sends people off to make sure that situation doesn't last.
Speaking of Starks-the-younger, out in the snowy forest beyond the wall, Bran is warging out, and gets a bit of a finger shaking from the Reeds. Then it's vision time and boy, we really didn't spend much time with Bran and the Reeds. Hodor.
We make a longer visit to Dragonstone where Melisandre is roasting Stannis' brother-in-law to charge up the old connection to the lord of light. It's hard to think of any god as the good guy when the light is generated from human briquettes, but Queen Selyse—sister of the guy we just broiled and more talkative here than in seasons past—seems quite enthused.
At Selyse's suggestion, Melisandre pays a call on little Princess Shireen. From the expression on Melisandre's face, she doesn't seem as thrilled about this idea as she is about lighting people up. Everyone's favorite isolated little princess also doesn't seem keen on hanging with the Red Priestess. That's probably not improved when the pep talk borrows a little Faustus to explain that we're already living in Hell. So cheer up!
Okay, let's get to King's Landing and prep for that wedding.
Brothers Tyrion and Jaime share a emotionally and physically awkward meal. Jaime is more honest than he's been with anyone else, admitting that the loss of his right hand has made him unable to fight well. Tyrion arranges a few sessions with Bronn, the most brutally honest trainer possible. Give Jaime a few weeks of this, and he'll learn to use that left hand. Or he'll be dead.
Tyrion leans that his longtime live-in love, Shae, has come to the attention of both Cersei and Tywin. Later he gets a confirmation of this when he hears his family talking about Shae in giant "who cares if he hears us" stage whispers. When Tyrion warns her, Shae's response is to declare her steadfast love for Tyrion, her determination to stay by his side, and her certainty that they can face down whatever comes their way.
Shae has not been paying attention.
Much better acquainted with his own family, Tyrion puts on his old You Have to Be Cruel to be Kind forty-five and dismisses Shae, doing his (somewhat feeble, as Game of Thrones insults go, and transparently halfhearted) best to humiliate her into leaving. Of course, he also sets up a nice home for her safely across the sea in Pentos and provides a fair amount of loot, which to a casual observer might indicate that Tyrion's not exactly telling the truth when he says Shae means nothing to him. Tyrion is trying so hard, but Shae still refuses to go. Shae exits only under duress with a slap delivered at Bronn, who later kinda-sorta assures Tyrion that his true love is Pentos bound.
And it's wedding time. Let me pause here to say that Margaery survives an improbably huge mound of hair to look beautiful. Margaery would look beautiful in a mud bath.
Marching in and out gives us a chance to have mix and match pairs exchange a few words. Newly arrived Prince Oberyn gets to remind Cersei that her daughter is a hostage down in Dorne. Cersei gets to seethe. Tywin strolls with "Queen of Thorns" Olenna, and the two masterminds of this whole mess exchange a few wry remarks, with Olenna planting fourteen possible meanings in every turn of phrase.
The neat sequence of meet and greets continues for a bit, many of them serving as nice little underlines for the various characters. Towering Brienne fights past her own social awkwardness to wish the royal couple well, and Margaery once again displays her apparently genuine fondness for the Maid of Tarth. Meanwhile Cersei uses her brief meeting with Brienne as an opportunity to search for things that hurt her, finally hitting a sore spot in Brienne's relationship with Jamie. That's our Cersei.
Olenna comforts Sansa ... and drops a few words that may be coincidental bits of comfort. They may also be a very soon to be acted on bit of irony. There's a lot of that going around.
After the nice church ceremony, we gather at Joffrey's table for the feast. Get your steely knives ready.
We get another one of those wonderful "how the Lannisters do it vs. how the Tyrells do it" moments as Margaery announces all the scraps for the massive wedding feast are to be donated to the city's poor (that's what passes for generosity in these parts). Cersei promptly arranges for the food to go to the kennels instead, because starving a few peasants just to thwart Margaery is Cersei's idea of a good time. Joffrey did not fall far from the tree.
Speaking of which, just how much joy can a person take from causing another public humiliation? If that person is King Joffrey Baratheon, first of his name, then the answer is one heaping helluva lot. The feast gives Joffrey a chance to answer the question of just how sadistic, how crude, and how dim-witted he can be. The answer is... really, do you have to ask?
The more formal parts of the occasion clearly leave Joffrey bored and fidgety. He's anxious to get on to the fun part of the event: publicly insulting his uncle Tyrion with a side order of rubbing salt in Sansa's wounds.
He's carelessly cruel to Sansa. So painfully crude in his taunting of Tyrion that Margaery is left wincing. So downright tone deaf to the whole occasion that the wedding feast is often silent but for Joffrey's own cackles.
If only someone in Westeros had invented the chicken dance, perhaps Joffrey would be content to watch the awkward couple attempt to strut, instead he introduces a dwarf-themed farce that's in such hideous bad taste that it leaves even the King's Landing audience speechless. Only proud momma Cersei and grandpa Tywin seem to keep smiling through this painful event. Apparently his talent in being hideously abusive is one they can admire. Joffrey finds it all hilarious.
When Joffrey tries to engage in a little verbal jousting to augment his tasteless spectacle, Tyrion out-talks him at every opportunity, dropping pointed barbs about the boy king's cowardice in battle. Joffrey responds by pouring wine over his uncle's head, because that's just the kind of clever fellow he is.
Not through with insulting Tyrion, Joffrey works harder and harder at humiliating his uncle, forcing him to pour his wine and trying to make him kneel. At every moment, Tyrion struggles mightily to retain some shred of dignity for himself and for Sansa. At every moment, Joffrey spits on that shred. Through it all, Margaery tries to distract the king and stop the wedding feast from becoming an even bigger train wreck. Joffrey is having none of it. Even slicing open a giant pie to reveal live doves (killing a pair of doves in the process—nice touch) doesn't derail the king's Tyrion baiting.
Finally, Joffrey takes a swig of wine to wash down some hastily gobbled pie crust. And sputters. And chokes. And claws at his throat. And falls down. With Cersei kneeling over him in terror, Joffrey's face turns (royal) blue, his eyes bulge, his veins pop, and blood trickles from his nose and lips.
The king is dead, long live ... no wait. The king is dead! Hurrah!
In the chaotic moments that follow, Cersei accuses Tyrion of poisoning her son, knight turned fool Ser Dontos draws Sansa away, and everyone else in Westeros secretly cheers. Having been reminded that the war was over, the king was safe, and the Lannisters triumphant, it turns out all that certainty could be removed in seconds. Somehow I don't think this possibility appeared on one of Tywin's charts.
Who really killed the king? Well, there were a whole lot of goblets in play there in the last few minutes. Was one of them the goblet provided to Joffrey by Margaery's family? Did that final, fateful cup come in from one of the other tables? Who actually had opportunity? There's no point asking about motive. Everyone had motive. Which of the ten thousand people with a good reason to hate the king actually acted on that hatred?
Jack Gleeson, the actor who played Joffrey, has said that this isn't just the king's last moment, but the last of his career. He's moving on from acting and going off to do something else. Sad if true, because Gleeson did such a job infusing this character with character. It would be nice to see him tackle some very different role.
In any case, if he didn't exactly go out with a bang, it was certainly a blast.